Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Celebrating Tori's 17th Birthday

In a few days – three, to be exact – I get to celebrate my daughter’s seventeenth birthday. I don’t know where the time has gone. I can’t believe that seventeen years ago I could still feel her kick inside me. Seventeen years – it sounds like such a long time and yet it feels like yesterday.

I remember her as that tiny baby who didn’t even fill my arms when we brought her home. I remember her as a toddler running through my parents’ house , walking underneath their kitchen table without needing to stoop to do so, sitting in my dad’s recliner with him as he ever-so-patiently taught her her colors and how to write her name, and I remember her playing in the yard with my mom as Mom tended her flowers.

Then she went to school. I can still see her standing outside the school door, the first day of kindergarten, her face pressed up to the glass, hands beside her head, as she peered in, trying to see what lay before her on that monumental day.

Tori’s life has filled mine with more laughter and love than I have the capacity to convey. I love being her mom, sharing her life, more than I can tell you. I lament, sometimes, how fast the years seem to go. It won’t be long, now, before she’ll be out on her own, at college, really, truly making her own way. It will be here before I can blink.

I know that anyone reading this who is a parent can relate to what I’m saying. The love we have for our children is like no other love in the world. I try to remind myself to hug Tori as often I can, to tell her that I love her whenever I’m thinking it, because we all know that we never know what lies ahead through the next door, or down the next mile of the highway.

Two days ago, two young women from our town were in a horrible car accident. One of them, a freshman in college, died. The other, a junior in Tori’s class, is still in the hospital, but she will recover – physically – from her injuries. We pray that God will help her recover completely. No one could have predicted this tragedy. I’m sure that neither set of parents, when they said goodbye to their daughter that day before the wreck, knew what the day would hold for them.

Ali’s parents will never plan another birthday party for their daughter, as Tori and I have been doing these last couple days. The pictures and memories they have of Ali are all they will ever have, and my heart breaks for them and all they have lost.

God truly blessed me when he gave Tori to me. I pray every day that He will guide me and help me do the best job I can with her, and that He will always be with her, no matter what. Because I can’t be. Because really sad things happen when you least expect them. Because if God is with us, we are never truly lost.

I am grateful for every single hour I get to spend with my daughter, and I’m excited about the rest of her life, about seeing what she does with it, who she is going to become. She’s going to do great things because that’s who she is, and she makes me so proud.

When Tori told me today, all excited about her upcoming party, “I love my birthday!” all I could do was hug her and say, “Me too.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

Love you, Dixie

Dixie was a purebred German shorthair, but she never put on airs. She was just everyday folk, and she was a beloved member of our family for sixteen years. Today, she went to sleep, and I pray that when she woke up in her heaven, it was a field filled with critters to chase, places to investigate, and that her body felt as young and limber as it did so many years ago here with us.

There’s so much I could tell you about Dixie. I could tell you how it always made Mom and me smile when we’d watch Dad leave the house in the pickup, Dixie sitting on the bench seat beside him, their two heads close enough together that Mom and I were certain they were sharing secrets known only to them.

I could tell you about the way Dixie liked to cuddle down on her bed at night with her bear – a stuffed animal Mom would buy for Dixie each Christmas. (But if Mom bought one with a squeaker in it, she’d have to operate on the toy and remove the noisemaker before giving it to Dixie because Dix never liked to think she was hurting the toy when she carried it in her mouth.)

I could tell you about sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying a meal with the family, and feeling Dixie’s gentle nudge on my leg with her nose, her soulful, big brown eyes begging for a taste of just about anything on my plate. She was rarely refused. And I should also tell you that the nudge came as she stretched her neck into the kitchen from the back porch, where her (back) feet stayed planted. She knew her place, but she also knew how much she was loved, and how much she could get away with because of it. She enjoyed many delectable bits from many, many dinners, and often she enjoyed her own scrambled egg in the morning, courtesy of Mom.

I could tell you about how she shadowed my dad wherever he went outside. As soon as that back porch door swung open to greet the day, Dixie was out and trotting towards the barn, checking everything out as she went, making sure everything was ok before Dad got there. She would – as I already mentioned – ride in the pickup with Dad, trot along beside the tractor wherever that tractor might be going, or walk with Mom and Dad (and us kids) whenever we had places to explore on the farm.

I could tell you she was the best dog ever, and she was. (You might argue, if you have a best friend of the four-legged variety living with you.) But what I really want to tell you is that we lost a member of our family today, and that we’re grateful we got to spend so many years with an amazing dog named Dixie.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

3OH!3 in Indianapolis - fun party!

3OH!3 threw a house party in the Egyptian Room at the Old National Centre in Indianapolis Monday night. Although the room wasn’t packed, the several hundred who were there did their best to bring the house down as they jumped and sang all through the band’s hour-plus set.

Sean Foreman and Nat Motte – the duo who are 3OH!3 – have said more than once that they want their music and their performances to be fun more than anything else. With lyrics about parties, drinking, rebellion, and sex, it’s probably not necessary to actually make that statement. Regardless, the audience did have fun, mirroring the group’s tremendous energy, shaking the floor under their feet as they bounced to the hip-hop mixes.

On tour to promote their new album, Streets of Gold, 3OH!3 borrowed heavily from that disc for their performance. Opening with “Beaumount,” then sliding right into “I can do anything,” they got the crowd ready for many of their new singles.

Highlights of the set included “Touchin on my,” “I know how to say,” and “My first kiss,” the single that features Ke$ha on the disc. Before they performed “House party,” Nat told the crowd he’d been to a house party in Indy – Bridgewater, to be specific – one night after watching the Indy 500. The crowd loved the anecdote, jumping even more through that song, screaming the lyrics back to the band.

The duo wound up their first set with the title track from the new CD and walked off the stage still singing “Streets of gold.” Returning to the stage for their encore, they played “Love 2012,” a song they had played live only once before – Sunday night in Kentucky. With a slower groove, the song didn’t generate as much energy as earlier performances, although the crowd did seem to enjoy it.

What the audience loved, though, were a couple spoofs the band played next – one of them set to the score for Jurassic Park. As mentioned earlier, 3OH!3 is all about the fun and provided a lot of it, including performances at the end of the show of two fan favorites, “Double vision” and the single that really launched the group, “Don’t trust me.”

After telling everyone to “Shush girl, shut your lips, do the Helen Keller, and talk with your hips,” Nat and Sean jumped off the stage and walked through the crowd as they headed backstage, getting up close and personal with some of their fans.

Although the fun ended when 3OH!3 left the stage, it didn’t start with them. Three opening acts took the stage before the headliners, including Neon Hitch, Down with Webster, and Hellogoodbye. Down with Webster, a Canadian hip-hop group impressed the crowd and channeled their inner Eminem with “Whoa is Me,” while Hellogoodbye broke out the ukulele and sent happy vibes into the crowd.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Visit the country of Panem - and be grateful you can leave!

Every summer, I try and read as many of the Young Hoosier Book Award Nominees as I can. There are always 20 of them, and they are usually entertaining, sometimes thought-provoking books. I read them to try and stay at least somewhat current with what my students are reading.

This year, THE HUNGER GAMES is on the list. Published in 2008, I'd never heard of it until I saw it on the list. I didn't get to it over the summer. I might not have gotten to it at all - shame on me! - if my teacher's assistant (who's a freshman) hadn't raved about it and told me I HAD to read it. She was right.

THE HUNGER GAMES is the first in a sci-fi/fantasy trilogy that is so well-written, and so feasible that I didn't want to put any of them down once I'd started them. The concept behind them is so original, the characters so well drawn, the suspense palpable enough to turn the pages itself, that I seriously cannot recommend these books highly enough.

The gist of the story is this: At some point in the not-so-distant future, North America is ravaged by storms, droughts, and fires, and the oceans steal much of our coastal regions. Wars erupt in an effort to survive, and out of the wars comes Panem, a country of thirteen districts ruled by the Capitol. For a while, there is peace, until the Dark Days come and the districts rebel against the Capital. District 13 is destroyed in the rebellion, which the Capitol eventually squashes, and the remaining twelve districts exist at the mercy of the Capitol.

As a reminder to the districts that they must never try and rebel again, the Capitol institutes the annual Hunger Games. For these games, each district must offer up one girl and one boy, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, as tributes. The 24 tributes are taken to an arena chosen by the Capitol - it could be a desert, or a glacier, or a mountain range, or anything else imaginable - and there, they fight to the death. The one tribute who survives is the winner.

Suzanne Collins created not only action-packed, suspenseful stories, she created psychological studies of us as humans. What would you do to survive? What would you do to keep those you love alive? And how do you live with yourself when it's all over?

I've told my classes about the books, but I decided that wasn't enough. I'm reading THE HUNGER GAMES to them. Some of them can't wait on me to finish. They're clamoring to the library for copies of their own. Our librarian is stopping at Barnes & Noble this weekend to buy more copies.

Yes, those books are really that good. Read them.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What happens when we live in fear?

I've had a few discussions in the last couple weeks with my eighth graders about Muslims. The first one came about because someone brought up the proposed mosque near Ground Zero. There was a variety of opinions, all over the spectrum. The scary ones were the ones who said we should let them build the mosque and then blow it up, or we should "round up" all of the Muslims and "send them back where they came from." I tried my best to counter those views, and I was heartened when other students seconded my opinion, but I knew I didn't (really) change any of their minds.

The topic came up again on Friday because we were getting ready to read a piece of a memoir written by a woman who was second-generation Japanese and who was sent with her family to one the internment camps we had in our country during World War II. I spent quite a bit of time describing those camps to the kids, many of whom hadn't known they'd ever existed. I drew the lines connecting our internment camps and Hitler's concentration camps, focusing on the fact that the people we put into them were rounded up solely because of their ethnicity.

For the most part, the kids were taken aback to learn about these camps. For the most part, they thought it was horrible that Japanese Americans were robbed of their civil liberties simply because they were Japanese. I took advantage of those feelings to bring up the conversation we'd had before about the Muslims, to remind them about those who'd said we should do to the Muslims what we'd done to the Japanese, what Hitler had done to the Jews. I was hoping I'd see light bulbs go on and that they'd realize this wasn't a road our country should go down again - that we should never cast a net wide enough to catch an entire group of people just because they share a nationality or a religious conviction.

The ones who had earlier said we should round up the Muslims and send them back, that we should, in essence, do away with them all, had not changed their minds one bit. And now, I think I know (at least partially) why. They're scared.

I tried to counter their arguments. I tried to explain what a scary place this country would be if we started condemning groups as they want to condemn all Muslims. Then, one student said, "I think everyone's still so sensitive about 9/11, Mrs. Honeycutt." And I think she's right.

I think we all remember how unbelievably catastrophic that day was, and all of the days that came after, as people tried to make sense of it, tried to recover from it, tried to figure out how to go on. We mourned deeply. And now, nine years later, we've moved on in a lot of ways. But we're still scared.

We're scared it could happen again. We're scared we're going to continue to lose troops overseas. We scared there's no way to really, truly protect ourselves. And what happens when we get scared? We look for the monster under the bed. If we can find the monster, we can chase it out of the house, we can scare it away, we can kill it. We can be safe again.

I think that's where this hatred, this mistrust of all Muslims is coming from in my kids. They need a monster to point at, to chase from the house. And I'm betting that their parents, or other adults they admire and respect, are pointing first. And that scares me.

When we start making characterizations and decisions based on fear, we make mistakes. Creating scapegoats solves nothing, accomplishes nothing. I thought we learned that lesson when Hitler built his concentration camps. But I have students who want to bomb mosques, and I don't know how to change their minds.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I've been to Glamnation and want to go back

I had several things I wanted to do this summer, and, on Aug. 31, I got to check the final one off my list - I saw Adam Lambert live.

Performing at Clowes Hall at Butler, Adam packed the auditorium with such a variety of people, I found myself trying to sort the audience into groups and just couldn't do it cleanly. There was, of course, the rainbow-wearing contengency, enthusiastically dancing to all of the recorded club tracks by MJ, Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Buckcherry, and Ke$ha (to name a few) played before Adam even took the stage. There were the cougars that seem to chase Adam wherever he goes. There were the tweens. But there was also the guy in the plaid shirt with the John Deere cap and big silver belt buckle. There were elderly couples. There were boyfriends with girlfriends and husbands with wives. Say what you want about him, he draws a VERY diverse crowd.

Here, though, is what I want to say about him: THE MAN CAN SING. He opened the show with a song I didn't know - "Voodoo." Theatrically staged, it was a great opener. He kept up the pace with "Fever" and definitely had me hot and bothered by the end of it. (Yes, everyone, I know he's gay. But he's also gorgeous!!)

It wasn't long into the show before he slowed things down, and this is where he really tore me up, and where his vocals absolutely soared. He strung together "Whataya Want from Me," "Time for Miracles," and "Aftermath" with a narrative about love being the most important thing we have to share. I've been going through a rough time in my personal life, and hearing him sing those songs live, in that pure, vibrant voice really touched me. I'll never forget it.

After the ballads, Adam revved us back up with songs I'd been dying to hear from him: "Strut," "Sure Fire Winners," "Sleepwalker," and, thank God, "If I Had You," which was his encore.

There was about an hour between Allison Iraheta's opening show (which was quite good) and Adam's performance - that's a lot of downtime between acts, and I have to admit I was getting a little perturbed. But once he hit the stage, all was forgiven, and I just wanted more. Adam's the real deal, a unique, quality performer, and I can't wait to revisit his Glamnation.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lady Gaga was AMAZING!!

There was a party in Indy Thursday night – a Monster Ball to be more precise – and all the freaks were outside. At least, that’s what Lady Gaga said.

The platinum-selling superstar performed all of her hits from both "The Fame" and "The Fame Monster" as well as a few older songs not included on either album. For two hours, Gaga gave her “little monsters” everything they’d hoped for – intricately choreographed dance routines, incredible vocal and musical performances, and an amazing stage show.

It wouldn’t be a complete review of a Lady Gaga performance if the music and costumes were ignored, but it’s important to take a minute to mention her message. When Gaga said “all the freaks are outside,” she did so to try and convey to her fans that they are not freaks, as society so often attempts to paint them.

“Let go of all your insecurities,” she said after singing “Love Game” and before launching into “Boys, Boys, Boys.”

“Reject anyone that said you’re not good enough. You remember you’re a superstar, and you were born that way. Tonight will be your liberation!”

Speaking often about how she wasn’t accepted as a teenager and how she still doesn’t fit into “that whole celebrity thing,” Gaga brought her audience closer to her by identifying with many of them who – judging by their responses – had often felt the same way.

After performing “Money Honey” and before she catapulted into the crazy popular “Telephone,” Gaga took several minutes to talk about the RE*Generation charity she is actively involved with through Virgin Mobile, her tour promoter. RE*Generation works to help the growing number of homeless youth which, according to Gaga, is heavily populated with members of the gay, lesbian, transgendered, and bisexual community. She encouraged her fans to support the charity however they could – through texting donations or even volunteering their time to help organizations supported by RE*Generation.

Judging from the attire of many of her “superfans,” as she liked to refer to the concert-goers, Lady Gaga’s wardrobe is one of the reasons they love her so much. Imitation being the richest form of flattery, there were many in attendance whose outfits were – without a doubt – inspired by “Mother Monster.” With a total of at least 14 costume changes throughout the show, Gaga certainly gave her fans new ideas for the future.

Known for her outrageous outfits, Gaga didn’t disappoint those who were hoping to see some. While performing “The Fame,” she came out in a voluminous red cloak, a la Scarlett O’Hara, as it looked as if curtain rods were the main suspension piece at her shoulders supporting the cloak. Past midpoint of the show, Gaga disappeared inside a round, opaque screen which rather resembled an upside down wedding cake, and came out of it wrapped in a dress comprised of layers and layers of white satin and tulle, complete with a flowing train, a headpiece that looked like a white fan that would open and shut, and silver wings that also opened and closed. In that costume, and in shoes that seemed impossible to walk in, she performed “So Happy I Could Die,” at times more than twenty feet above the stage courtesy of a hydraulic lift.

Perhaps the most outrageous costume of the night was actually three-in-one. At the beginning of “Monster,” in a set comprised of huge, thorn trees and park benches whose backs were overgrown razor blades, Gaga emerged in what could only be described as a gigantic white lamp shade decorated with long white fringe. When she cast that aside, she exposed a jacket made up of very long blonde and brown hair and brightly colored sequins. After her dancers (she had no fewer than ten) “attacked” her and tore the hair jacket from her, she was left in nothing but a black leotard and short black boots. Oh, and she was bloody from where the “monster” had ripped out her heart.

Lady Gaga’s fans adore her. They ate up her performances of “Love Game,” “Telephone,” “Monster,” “Alejandro,” “Poker Face,” and her encore performance of “Bad Romance.” They jumped, they screamed, they danced and screamed some more. And “they” were people of all ages and ethnicities. Couples in their 50s and 60s sat next to others in their late teens or twenties who sat in front of parents with their “tween”-age children. People-watching at Gaga’s show is a great opening act.

And speaking of the opening act, Gaga’s longtime friends Semi-Precious Weapons opened the show with their self-titled track from their new album "You Love You." The four-man band is an interesting blend of punk and rock and their stage performance is even better than the studio-mixed version on the disc. They are high-energy, in-your-face musicians and shouldn’t be missed. Shame on those who came too late to see them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A fun, shivery read - overall

I sift through a lot of book recommendations, wherever they come from, so when several recommended Christopher Ransom’s The Birthing House, I paid attention. It’s a horror story, and the concept sounded interesting, so I bought and read it.

The gist of the story is this: Jo and Conrad Harrison have a troubled marriage. When Conrad’s dad dies and Conrad comes into a substantial inheritance, he buys – on a whim – a 140-year-old Victorian birthing house in Wisconsin. He believes that leaving LA and moving to the rural Midwest will save his marriage.

The birthing house – as you might have guessed from the title – is at the center of the story. For decades, it served as a place for women to have their children under a doctor’s care. I kind of see it as a “midwife clinic,” except that it’s a doctor instead of a midwife.

You learn early on that the house has secrets and probably ghosts. You also learn that even though we tend to think of birth as a happy time, a time of celebration, that isn’t always the case. The house is stained – figuratively and literally.

When Jo gets a job offer that she can’t refuse, she leaves Conrad and the new home for an eight-week training session in Michigan. In her absence, Conrad has to deal with the house and its secrets alone, which isn’t the best for him – physically or mentally.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the book as a whole. I like a good scary story, and there are definitely parts in the novel where I was truly creeped out. I like to read at night, when the house is quiet and dark, and there were times when I’d find myself double-checking a shadow in my room or listening twice to the creak of the house. I like it when a book can do that to me. Would it have done that if I’d read it on my wooden bench in the back yard in the middle of the afternoon? I don’t know. Regardless, I have to give Ransom high marks for the creepy factor. I also really liked the idea behind the story. I’d never read about a birthing house before (although the author lives in one, so I guess they existed), so that was a unique concept for me.

Until I got to the last twenty or thirty pages, I really liked the book. The end got weird. I think I understand what happened in most of those pages, but I truly don’t get the ending. I don’t really know what happened to him, and I don’t think it’s one of those books that is supposed to leave you guessing. I got the feeling I was supposed to understand, and I just didn’t, and I blame that on his writing. It read as though he knew what he meant, but he didn’t get it down on paper to make it as clear to everyone else. I might be off on that, and would welcome other opinions.

Overall, I’d recommend this one if you like to read at night and feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It’s fun and it’s interesting through most of the story. And if you know what happens to Conrad at the end, please, share that with the rest of the class.

Stephen King's legacy - It's not just his books

I have to admit that when I picked up Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, I did so because he’s Stephen King’s son, and I was curious what his writing skills and story-telling were like. From now on, I’ll pick up his books because both are high caliber.

Judas (Jude) Coyne is a fifty-something, semi-retired, mega-successful hard rock star. He lives on a farm in rural New York State with his two dogs, Angus and Bon. There is a slowly-revolving door on his house which allows for the entry and exit of young, gothic female fans whom he refers to by the name of the state from which they come. Georgia lives with him when the novel begins. It is his relationships with these young women, his penchant for collecting occult memorabilia, and his ugly childhood that turn the wheels of this story.

When the story opens, Jude’s assistant tells him about an interesting item up for auction online. For $1,000, Jude can own a ghost. It’s a no-brainer. Jude tells his assistant to buy it. A few days later, a heart-shaped box arrives at Jude’s farmhouse and inside the box is a dead man’s suit. With the suit came the ghost. And from that point on, things go increasingly bad for Jude and Georgia.

I don’t know how someone could grow up with Stephen King as his father and remain uninfluenced by the man and his books. The connections are easy to see. (I even think there’s a subtle nod to Maximum Overdrive in Heart-Shaped Box.) But I don’t want you to think that Hill is another King, because he isn’t. His voice is original and strong and this novel was unique and fun to read. Hill’s second novel, Horns, is next on my list. It’s about a guy who wakes up hungover from a wild night and has horns growing out of his head. He’s not sure anyone else can see them, but he can, and he can feel them. I’m looking forward to that ride as well.

Joe Hill is the real deal. He carved a place for himself long before anyone even knew the secret of his family tree. But if you glance at the author’s photo, there’s no denying who his daddy is.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A birthday retrospective

I turned 42 today and decided to look backward for a little while. On the walk I took yesterday, I walked one direction for a half hour then turned around and went back the way I’d come. I thought there was something in that – looking at things you’d seen before but from a different perspective. The sunlight was hitting the trees differently, there were fewer shadows (because the sun had risen a little more), I walked on the other side of the road, so I saw things on that side I hadn’t seen on the first half of my walk. I knew that little nugget of an idea would become something, and here it is: my birthday blog.

I turned two in 1970. I’ve perused events from that year and have chosen a few to share – some personal, some not. In January, the first 747 entered into service. I’ve been on several of those in my life. They’ve taken me to some wonderful vacation spots: Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, the Bahamas, Phoenix. The two that stand out for me are Cabo in 2008 because it was a family vacation and unforgettable because of those shared memories, and Phoenix – basically for the same reason. I took Tori to see my brother and his wife. It was the first time Tori flew and we had a blast! Also, in July of 1970, American Top 40 with Casey Kasem debuted. I have so many teen memories of that radio show, listening to see who was going to be on top each week. (And I have to admit, I loved the long distance dedications.)

In 1980, Mom remarried and Bob became my dad. There’s not a “step” needed, wanted, or included. Dad has taught me the value of work, laughter, and friendship (and the importance of keeping the oil changed in my car!). Together, he and Mom have taught me the meaning of family. The other big personal milestone for me in 1980 was beginning junior high. ‘Nuff said on that, right? The music world lost Bon Scott, John Bonham, and John Lennon. I don’t remember being affected by the first two – which is ironic because I became a fan of both AC/DC and Zeppelin – but I do remember Lennon’s assassination. Tori and I visited the memorial mosaic in Strawberry Fields in Central Park last year. And then, finally, the film Ordinary People was released. Last fall, the high school drama department staged this, and they did an amazing job with such mature material.

Ten years later, in 1990, I met Jim Gardner, whom I would marry the following year. The marriage didn’t work out, but Tori resulted from it, so I will never, ever regret that marriage. It was a very volatile year: I changed – and lost – jobs more than once. I moved twice – the first time being out of my family home and in with my soon-to-be husband. Lots of emotions ran around that year. On a broader spectrum, here are some international/national events that made me stop and go “Hmmmm” when I surveyed the list for the year: The Hubble Telescope was launched into space. Have you seen any of the pictures that thing has taken? If not, you need to Google them. They’re amazing. On a sad note, Jim Henson died in May. I was a big fan of the Muppets TV show and don’t think I could name just one favorite. Could you? Also in May, the WHO removed homosexuality from its list of diseases. I can’t believe it took that long, and I can’t believe how far we, as a society, are yet from acceptance of homosexuals. In August, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and we know the history of that, don’t we? At the end of September, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. was finished, and I think I’ll finally get to see it next year!!

Ten years ago, in 2000, I was 32 years old and wrapping up my first year as a high school English teacher while Tori was wrapping up her year as a kindergartener. We were living in our very first apartment – just the two of us – and were very happy as the budding “Gardner Girls.” Looking outside my little world, Charlie Brown missed his last football kick in February when Charles Schulz died. I still love to watch the Peanuts specials at the holidays, don’t you? Playstation 2 was launched early in the year, and do you know, I still have never played with one? We don’t own one – any of the PS versions – and I have absolutely no desire to. In October, Al-Qaeda attacked the USS Cole. Tragically, we know where they struck less than a year later.

So, here I am. It’s 2010 and I’m 42 years old. I have a 16-year-old daughter and am still teaching English, although it’s now to middle school students (whom I much prefer!!). I have a lot to be grateful for in my life: I have a great family and amazing friends. I live my dream every time I sit down to my computer and work on one of my novels. Maybe someday I’ll be published, but maybe I won’t. That’s why it’s a dream. I have a roof over my head, food on my table, and people in my life who care about me.

My hope is that I’ve lived my life in a way that has shown people that I care about them too, that their happiness and well-being are important to me. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to any of us, so, before I close, please know that I’m grateful for all the goodness God has blessed me with and that I will continue to try and live my life in a way that shows it. To my family and friends – I love ya. Thanks for being part of my life.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

COLUMBINE: No more myths

It’s difficult to find an appropriate word to use to describe Dave Cullen’s COLUMBINE. If I had to pick one, I think I’d go with “engrossing.”

During the span of ten years, Cullen pored over tens of thousands of pages of police documents and records, and interviewed survivors, victims’ families, and other members of the community that surrounded Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.

In my opinion, COLUMBINE should be required reading in any beginning journalism class. In a society that seems to accept opinion and speculation from the mainstream media as fact and “news,” Cullen takes one of the most emotionally-charged events in our nation’s history and reports it, period. He has plenty of opportunities to profess anger, sadness, sympathy, and disbelief, but he doesn’t. He refuses to point a finger of blame at anyone other than the two boys who committed the crime, and then, you know he points that finger only because it’s so obvious what they did. Cullen’s book is journalism at its best: he presents the facts – all of them, in all of their gory, infuriating, heart-wrenching details – and allows his readers to come to their own conclusions. He cites his sources unwaveringly and never places himself in the story. Journalism 101.

Although I stand by my description of the book as “engrossing,” it was an incredibly difficult read. I have a very clear understanding now – probably the best I can hope to have not having lived through it personally – of what went through the minds of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold for years prior to the attack. Cullen walks his readers through everything, literally step by step in some instances. By the end of the book, there is very little left to wonder.

There are triumphs in the story, and they help to assuage the pain and disbelief, but they don’t negate it completely. I think overall I am glad that I read COLUMBINE. I think it’s good to have a bit of understanding when something so unspeakably tragic takes place. I think I learned from it. I know I’ll never hear “Columbine” again without shuddering a little, without thinking about the thirteen who died, the one who dreamed it all up, and the one who followed.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Read GONE, BABY, GONE (with a word of caution)

So, I became a Dennis Lehane fan after reading SHUTTER ISLAND. I wanted to read the book (amazing!) before seeing the movie (have yet to see). Upon finishing SHUTTER ISLAND, I went looking for his earlier novels and began reading the Patrick Kenzie/Angie Gennaro series. A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR is the first in that series and successfully pulled me into the dark Boston world where Kenzie and Gennaro live and work as private detectives investigating heinous crimes.

GONE, BABY, GONE is the fourth in that series and is the basis for the movie of the same name (which I haven’t seen). Lehane’s writing and character development are what keep me coming back to his stories. The plots are always interesting, and I’m always wondering whodunit? but I’m much more intrigued by how his characters act and react in the situations they encounter.

The mystery that opens GONE, BABY, GONE revolves around the disappearance of four-year-old Amanda McCready. Every available police officer in the Boston area has been pulled into the search; all resources are in play. Regardless, Amanda’s been missing for three days when Kenzie and Gennaro are brought in and neither have any hope of finding the girl alive. It’s the little girl’s aunt Beatrice who pleads for help, though, and to whom Angie can’t say no.

The search for Amanda brings new characters into Patrick and Angie’s world: a couple of detectives named Poole and Broussard, as well as a convicted drug dealer named Cheese Olamon. There are other new bad guys, some recurring good guys, and, in true Lehane fashion, it’s a little unclear through most of the book as to who’s bad and who’s good. It’s fun guessing, though.

One word of caution: Lehane is not afraid to make children the victims in his stories. As they search for Amanda, Patrick and Angie come across people who commit horrific crimes against kids, and Lehane doesn’t pull any punches as he describes these circumstances. I’m not sure why he chooses this route so often – why kids are so often the ones who suffer in his stories. If I ever have a chance to talk to him, that’s probably going to be my first question. If it weren’t for the fact that he writes so darn well, I might not be able to pick up another of his books that put children at the center of crime.

Maybe that’s his point. Maybe he wants us to think about the fact that children are violated in a multitude of ways in our country and the ones who could be rescued often aren’t. The end of GONE, BABY, GONE makes me wonder if this isn’t the impetus behind his writing. Face what’s going on and figure out what you can do to help.

Believe me, by the end of this book, you’ll be wondering a lot of things. I’d love to hear what some of them are.


Looking for something a little different to read? Try Jean Kwok’s GIRL IN TRANSLATION.

In the early 1980’s, Kimberly Chang emigrates with her mother from Hong Kong to New York City in search of a better life. They believe they have a shot at something good because Kimberly’s aunt Paula, her mother’s sister, had married an American and together the couple had built a business in the garment district. When Kimberly and her mom see the apartment Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob found for them, though, the fantasy of life in America comes to an abrupt end.

The apartment is in a condemned building and Kimberly and her mother are the only occupants. There is no heat when they arrive in the middle of winter. Two windows are broken in the kitchen and covered with plastic trash bags. Roaches and rats are everywhere.

When Kimberly and her mother report to the factory Paula and Bob own, they discover it’s a sweatshop filled with other Chinese immigrants – some old enough to be grandparents, some much younger than Kimberly’s eleven years. The workers are paid according to how many pieces they finish, not how many hours they work, which is illegal, and Kimberly’s mother is treated the same as everyone else. It doesn’t take Kimberly long to understand that she will have to work in the factory with her mother – after school is out each day – if they have any hope of getting out of the horrible apartment and paying off the debt they owe to Paula and Bob for bringing them to the United States.

From the description so far, the book probably sounds pretty bleak, and, in places it is. Kwok immigrated to the United States when she was a child, coming from Hong Kong just as Kimberly did. With her family, Kwok also worked in a sweatshop, so it’s not hard to believe the horrible conditions under which Kimberly and her mother work – Kwok is writing what she knows.

But as much as the book is a condemnation of modern life in the garment district, it’s also a celebration of the strength and resilience of Kimberly and her mother. Nothing is easy for the two of them. Everything they have – even the stuffed animal material they rescue from a Dumpster and turn into blankets and clothes – is gained through incredible struggles and is held onto with a determination you have no choice but to applaud.

GIRL IN TRANSLATION is a bittersweet story of hope and survival, and, ultimately, success and redemption. It will make you count your blessings.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Picoult's newest was a forced march

Normally, when I have a new Jodi Picoult novel on my bookshelf, I am torn between whisking it into my hands and devouring it in a day or two, and leaving it there for maybe a week or more, letting the anticipation build until I can't stand it anymore and absolutely have to read it NOW. That's how it was with her newest, HOUSE RULES. I should have let it sit a while longer.

As usual, Picoult's newest story brings into focus a current topic of discussion, centering the conflict around that topic and a family in distress. There is, of course, the requisite courtroom battle meant to divide the reader's loyalty among the characters in play. The topic in HOUSE RULES is autism, Asperger's Syndrome specifically. The family is a single mom who has been raising her older son (the one with AS) and her younger son (who is "neurotypical" - in other words "normal") on her own for about fifteen years. Jacob, the older boy with Asperger's, is accused of murdering his counselor and the only hope his attorney has for acquittal is claiming insanity due to the AS.

The premise sounds interesting, doesn't it? I thought so too. As I mentioned above, I'm a loyal, diehard Picoult fan, and I looked forward to reading this book. So what was wrong with it, you ask? It's difficult to put my finger on the problem, but I'm going to try.

The first element of the book that really threw me off was the constant descriptions of what Asperger's Syndrome is, how it manifests itself, how it affects Jacob's functioning in the world, and how it affects the people closest to him. Those descriptions really never stop. Sometimes they're necessary and add to the narrative, but often they're repetitive and dry - often even clinical. Many times the book read as though Picoult simply quoted her notes from interviews she conducted with various doctors, counselors, and Asperger's patients. There were pages in the last third of the book that I practically skipped - barely skimmed - because it was the doctor's testimony about what AS is and believe me - by that point in the book, you've been there done that.

I think another issue I had was that this time - and this just never happens with her books - the characters were not very well developed. Or maybe that's not quite right. Let me say it this way: Jacob's character is very well developed. I've had students with Asperger's Syndrome, and I wish that I'd had this book to read before I had them in the classroom because I feel like I understand them so much better than I ever did before. Jacob was real and complete for me. The other characters - his mom, his brother, and his attorney specifically - seem to be developed only as far as necessary to allow them to interact with Jacob. This could have been done intentionally because living with Jacob doesn't allow anyone to have much else in his or her life. Maybe those characters felt incomplete to me because they were truly incomplete people. I'm not sure. All I know is that it didn't work for me.

The plot itself is compelling, although I knew very, very early in the story what the surprise was going to be at the end. Jacob is interesting, and it's sad to think about people having to live their lives with AS and around it. It's one of those stories that makes me grateful to God that my daughter is healthy.

This book will in no way turn me away from Jodi Picoult. She's a master storyteller, period. I am hoping that this was just a slight bump in the road that I've traveled happily - and smoothly - for years with her in her books. I was ready to put HOUSE RULES down and be done with it, but I'm just as eager to read her next one, whatever it may be.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

THE KITCHEN HOUSE delivers the real meaning of "family"

I love to read, so I'm always open to suggestions for new books and authors, which is the main reason I still subscribe to both The Mystery Guild and The Literary Guild. A couple months ago, The Literary Guild sent me an email recommending THE KITCHEN HOUSE. I saved the email, but I didn't pay much attention to it at first. Then, a few weeks later, they sent me an email about an upcoming sale. I remembered the recommendation, went ahead and ordered THE KITCHEN HOUSE, and devoured it in a few days.

In 1791, a seven-year-old Irish orphan winds up on a Virginia tobacco plantation after her parents (who were indentured to the plantation owner) die on the ocean voyage and are buried at sea. After her traumatic trip - and her subsequent separation from her brother - Lavinia retreats into herself, refusing to eat or speak.

It is the love and support that she receives from a family of black slaves on the plantation that brings Lavinia around. Mama Mae reaches out first, coaxing the bird-like orphan's appetite and trust, but it is Belle - the kitchen house worker - whom Lavinia ties herself most tightly to.

The book's prologue opens in 1810 with Lavinia racing through the woods towards a fire, trailed by her own young daughter. Emerging from the woods, Lavinia is horrified by the sight of a black woman hanging from an old oak tree. Having come to love the slaves on the plantation as much as Lavinia does, I am plagued throughout the book by the knowledge that one of them will be murdered in the end.

THE KITCHEN HOUSE, a debut novel by Kathleen Grissom, is my favorite kind of story, and anyone who has read my other reviews could probably recite the criteria themselves: characters that are so well drawn you feel as if you've known them forever and miss them when they're gone, as well as a plot that continuely compels me to keep turning the pages, leaving a hole inside me when there are no more to turn.

I am so grateful The Literary Guild recommended this book. I hope you'll read it and feel the same way.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lescroart's newest delivers on suspense

I've been a fan of suspense writer John Lescroart for years. His Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky series contains all the ingredients of a great story: well-developed, likable characters who share multi-faceted relationships; interesting crimes twisted up in unpredictable ways; and dry, sarcastic humor.

Dismas Hardy is a defense attorney in San Francisco. He has an interesting past that I won't reveal because I heartily encourage the reading of the early volumes in this series. He has a knack, though, for defending clients that you want to believe (most of the time) are innocent, but who you can also believe are guilty of the crimes they're charged with. Working your way through the legal puzzles is always fun with Lescroart.

Abe Glitsky is (now) a lieutenant in the San Francisco police force and is best friends with Hardy. See the potential conflicts there already? How much do they tell each other about the case they share - albeit on opposite sides? Glitsky is a man of few words, but you always want to listen when he talks.

In Lescroart's newest novel in this series, A PLAGUE OF SECRETS, Hardy takes a case representing a socialite accused of murder. She owns a successful coffee shop on the corner of Haight and Ashbury but becomes the target of a police investigation when the shop's manager is discovered shot to death in the alley behind the business. To make matters worse, it comes to light that the manager had been selling pot - lots of it - out of the shop and had been blackmailing the owner. She had opportunity and motive - even Hardy comes to believe his client is guilty.

The criminal puzzle in PLAGUE is exactly what I've come to expect - and love - about Lescroart's books. It's original and kept me guessing throughout the whole story ... suspense at its best. (I was amazed, too, at the rights the federal government has - at how easily it can lay claim to our possessions, our lives.)

The only small disappointment for me was I wanted a little more time with Hardy and Glitzky. I keep coming back to Lescroart's books because I love those characters, and I miss them in between novels. Glitzky's family goes through a major trauma in PLAGUE, but even with that, we don't spend as much time with them as I'd like. There's not as much interaction between the two men as I've grown accustomed to, and it left me wanting.

Other than that, the novel was great. If you're already a fan of Lescroart's, you definitely want to pick this one up. The criminal story is excellent and you'll want to read about what happens with Abe. If you're new to Lescroart, go grab DEAD IRISH - the first in the series - and get busy reading!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I'd rather keep walking this road

How many of you, if given the chance, would go back and relive your late teens or even your 20s? How many of you would like to remain that age forever? My eighth graders think they would.

The journal prompt I gave them today was this: Imagine you’ve found the fountain of youth. Once you drink from it, you will remain the age you are at that point in time forever. You’ll be immortal (but not a vampire, for all the Twilight fans out there). At what age would you drink from it and why? (I also told them that they could choose not to drink from it.)

Of the 70 kids I have, I think the number who chose not to drink from it hovered somewhere between ten and fifteen. Some of them explained their choice by saying it went against their faith. Others said they thought they would simply get bored if they stayed the same age forever.

Many, many, many of them said they would want to be about 21 or 22. Can you guess why? Their explanations went something like this: “If I’m 21, then I’m old enough to move away from my parents and to buy certain things.” (It was funny – alcohol was on all of their minds, but most came up with a euphemism for it.) These kids basically saw it as an eternal party and were very excited about that prospect.

The ones who didn’t choose 21 or 22 invariably chose their mid- to late-20s. They included the same reasons as the younger age group, but added that they would be past the party-all-the-time stage (although they still could if they wanted to, they said!) and that they would be ready to have a family. At that point, I asked if they would have their family drink from the fountain. They all said yes, although there were some frowns when I asked at what age they would have their children drink from it.

I told them that I’d like to see them all again when they’re actually in their mid-20s to see if their perspectives had changed. Would they still want to drink from the fountain at that age or would they want to wait until they were in their 30s? 40s? Would any of them want to go back to their teens?

It wasn’t until my last class of the day that one of my students – JD – asked me when I would want to drink from the fountain. I said that I wouldn’t. His quick response? “Why? Ya too old now?” I laughed (as did the rest of the kids).

I told him, no, it wasn’t that I thought I was too old. I said it was because of my faith and because as much as I enjoyed my teens, my 20s, and my 30s, I have no desire to live them again. I said that everything that’s happened to me in my life has helped shape who I am today. I’m happy with who I am, and I wouldn’t want to risk the person I am today by missing out on some of my life experiences. I’m still looking forward to many things in my life and have no desire to freeze myself at this or any age.

It’s natural, I think, for the kids to have the kinds of thoughts they did today. (How many of us didn't ache for our 20s when we were still in high school?)

It is my hope, though, that they live the kind of lives that will change their minds by the time they’re my age. And I hope that’s the kind of life you’re living too. After all, it's not the destination, is it? I think it's the journey.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why don't you go Under the Dome

Several months ago, my husband decided to buy Stephen King’s Under the Dome. He’s a huge fan of Uncle Stevie and was eager to read this almost 1,100-page tome. However, he was only willing to buy this doorstop if I agreed to read it too. I also enjoy a good Stephen King novel – although I’ve read fewer of his books than Terry has – so I said, sure, I’ll read it too.

Terry read it almost immediately after buying it and has been after me ever since to read it. I have so many books on my bookshelves calling to me that I put it off and put it off, knowing how long it would take me to get through it. Finally, though, his puppy-dog eyes worked their magic and I picked up the book (using a crane and a hydraulic lift).

I finished Under the Dome today. I had planned to take today as a personal day, so after sleeping in, I moved to the living room, picked up the book, cuddled under a blanket, and read and read and read. It was a great day because there’s little I love to do more with my free time than read, and the book was a pleasure.

You might be intimidated when you pick up the book at first because I’m not kidding, the size of it is frightening. I’m an ebook hater – I want to turn pages, feel the book, smell the book, etc. – but if I were ever to consider buying one, it would be to make reading such a big book easier. However, I caution you: Don’t let the heft of it prevent you from reading it.

Uncle Stevie creates an entire town of incredibly individual characters in this book, and they are my main reason for recommending it. Some of them are inspiring, some of them are gaping-mouth stupid, some of them are evil, and some are just plain sick in the head. Some are even a whole lot like you and me.

The premise of the book is that the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, is all of the sudden stuck under an invisible, indestructible dome. Of course, there’s the mystery surrounding the dome itself – where did it come from and will it ever go away? But the story is more about how the town’s inhabitants live under the dome, completely cut off from the rest of the world – who rises, who falls, who survives and who becomes a victim of the dome.

My favorite books are the ones whose characters stay with me long after finishing the book. Uncle Stevie did that with the dome. I dare you to read it and not be haunted by Big Jim. Or the Chef. Or maybe even Junior.

Let me know how that goes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

8th graders discuss genetic engineering: 3-parent embryos, anyone?

Yesterday, I gave my students a journal prompt from a news article I came across explaining that scientists in the UK have figured out how to “fix” embryos with genetic defects. After fertilizing the mother’s egg with her partner’s sperm in the lab, creating an embryo, the nucleus of this (suspected genetically defective) embryo is removed and transferred to the “donor” embryo that has had its nucleus removed. It is believed that this transfer will leave the faulty, defective DNA behind and allow the embryo to grow (if actually implanted in the mother) into a healthy child – a child with three parents (one man, two women). Because of the ethical complications of this process, scientists have not actually implanted human embryos, but they believe they will be able to within the next three years. They’ve already done it with monkeys and are pleased with the results.

I had my students write whatever their thoughts, feelings, or questions were about this topic, and I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of their thoughts. We had substantial discussions (each lasting at least twenty minutes – the longest lasting forty) and the kids were able to share their opinions (some of them WIDELY different from others) without telling each other they were wrong. Would you like to hear some of what they said?

Several of them believed this process was akin to abortion. They felt that removing the nucleus from the first embryo destroyed that particular child. Many said that God creates us and intends for us to be who He wants us to be and that man should not interfere with that at all. Regardless of whatever genetic defect the child might be born with, they didn’t feel science should be part of the process.

I had students who straddled the fence. The process seemed to make them uncomfortable – they didn’t seem to like the idea of science messing around with the construction of a human being – but they did admit to being in favor of it if it would fix a lethal defect. If the child would be born dead or would die soon after birth, they said they would be in favor of the process.

On the other side of the fence were the students who believed that eliminating genetic defects would be good for everyone. They said the child would have a more meaningful life, and they said some parents just couldn’t handle raising and caring for children who are born with genetic defects. They mentioned too the lessened financial burden parents (and society) would carry if these children were born healthy and without the need for advanced medical care and treatments.

There were a couple students who stunned me with their comments. One young man said that he was entirely in favor of the process and took it a step further. He said he thinks women should have to register with the government when they want to become pregnant and should be tested for the possibility of giving birth to genetically defective children. If results indicate they could have genetically defective children, then they should have to go through this process to avoid it.

I kept my own thoughts and comments to myself all day, with one exception. (I didn’t want to influence what they were saying, and I didn’t want anyone to feel inhibited by anything I might say.) The one exception was to this particular student’s comments about government intervention. I asked him where this government intervention would stop. Maybe they would begin by preventing the birth of children with lethal defects, but it wouldn’t be long before they would decide that another “defect” is undesirable, and so is this one and that one. I asked him how long he thought it would be before the government began deciding brown hair and dark eyes were undesirable, as Hitler did. He’s a smart kid – really smart – and it truly scared me that these were reasonable thoughts in his mind. Where are our kids getting these ideas?

The other comment that surprised me was a very logical question coming from a boy that on most days I would gleefully strangle because he can’t stay in his seat and he can’t be quiet. He asked, “Couldn’t the woman who donated the egg sue for custody or visitation?” Pretty insightful, huh?

This post has already gotten very long, and I haven’t mentioned everything we talked about. I think you can see, though, from the samples I’ve shared, that it was a thought-provoking discussion.

Our children do think. They have opinions and lots of questions. I hope they also have people in their lives who will listen to them and talk with them so that we can raise a generation that doesn’t want to dictate – even fears to dictate – what constitutes a perfect child. I don’t want a roomful of students that look and sound alike. I want variety. God save us from Sameness. (The Giver, anyone?)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Demon has a heart

When you think of Gene Simmons, what comes to mind? KISS? His seven-inch-long tongue? Thousands of women?

If these details construct your whole frame of reference for the infamous rocker in the sky-high platform boots, then it won't surprise you to know that he hooked up with a Playboy model, will it?

Yeah, it didn't surprise me either. Then I started watching Gene Simmons Family Jewels, and my perspective on Gene Simmons has changed immensely.

Did you know he likes to sleep in footie pajamas? Or that he has never had a drink of alcohol, never smoked, never partaken of illegal drugs, or that he has no tattoos?

Would it surprise you to know that he and Shannon Tweed (the Playboy model I mentioned) have been "life partners" for the last 26 years? They have two children together - Sophie, 18, and Nick, 21 - and they live an unbelievably (in Gene's words) "unconventional conventional life." It is that unconventional conventionality that draws me to the show.

It's fun to watch Family Jewels because, after all, it is Gene Simmons! He's very funny. But he's also a truly dedicated father and "boyfriend." (Gene refuses to marry Shannon, no matter how often she asks.)

I decided to write this post after watching the opening episode for Season 5. Shannon found a lump in her breast and went to have it checked. The lump she'd found was nothing but a cyst, but the doctor, while examining her, found a different, suspicious one and decided Shannon needed a biopsy. KISS had just started a new tour, and Gene was on the road. Shannon thought it best to keep the biopsy from Gene (and the kids). Nick and Sophie found out, though, and Nick called "Daddo." Gene came home.

When Shannon went for her biopsy, she let the cameras in. Even though she's beautiful and a former Playboy model, there was nothing sexual when she bared herself for the biopsy. She was simply a woman living a moment thousands of other women live every day. But Shannon forewent the privacy most of us cling to and underwent the procedure honestly and openly for her viewers to watch. I, for one, am grateful.

Watching the doctor perform the biopsy demystified that process for me. If I should ever have to go through that myself, at least now I have a frame of reference for the process. I'll have enough to worry about if that ever happens. Thanks to Shannon's generosity in sharing her experience, I won't have to worry about what the needle looks like, how much it will hurt, or how they'll find the lump with the needle. I'll just have to wait for the results, as Shannon did.

When her appointment to meet with the doctor and go over the test results rolled around, Gene was back on the road. Shannon made her way to the doctor's office alone, but found Gene sitting in the waiting room when she got there. As she hugged him, Shannon said something like, "Somewhere there are 60,000 very disappointed KISS fans." He told her there was no place else he needed to be. Unconventionally conventional.

Shannon's tests were negative. The lump was a benign cyst. Having lived through the ordeal, Shannon decided to volunteer at a breast cancer center in LA, and Sophie joined her. There's also a link on the Family Jewels page about breast cancer awareness.

There's just nothing to dislike about this show. Unless, of course, you have something against laughing from your gut and wiping away the occasional tear. Oh, and watching Gene Simmons walk around in footie PJs is pretty cool too.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Criminal parents excused?

I completely believe parents should be trusted to raise their children. They should be able (dare I say allowed) to teach them to pray or not to pray; to teach them to value education or not; to teach them to have respect for themselves, for others, for life itself or not to respect anything or anyone. Of course I have my own personal hopes as to what parents will teach their children, but we live in a country where we should have the liberty to approach this all-important role in whatever way we see best.

Here's the big HOWEVER -

Parents should have their children's well-being in mind at all times - their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Always in all ways. I hold fast to that without exception. Children are the greatest gifts we can be blessed with. We are entrusted with their development as human beings. We owe them the best we have to give.

So, when a father forces his 8-year-old and his 9-year-old daughters to watch hard-core porn online while visiting him at his home, I believe this goes against so many facets of what is good and healthy for children that it's criminal. He is truly harming them in more ways than one.

We should be able to choose whether or not to teach our children to pray, to read, to love, but we should not be allowed to hurt them. (And yes, I believe not teaching them to pray, read, and love hurts them, but stick with me...I hope my point makes sense.)

This man lives in Amarillo, Texas, and there is a public indecency law that is written there in a way that prohibits him from being prosecuted because it was written so that parents could be allowed to teach their children about sex without fear of prosecution for that. It also explicitly says that parents are allowed to show "harmful" material to their children (so that they can teach them about sex, I guess).

My guess is this law was written at a time when sex education was taboo and some parents were catching flak for speaking openly to their children about the whole process. Some legislator took up the cause, wrote a bill, and got a bunch of his friends on board. Voila! It's now legal to talk to your children about sex.

Why in the world couldn't parents have had the implicit right to teach their children about sex (as I believe it should be) without any law being written to protect them while they do that, so that when a criminal exposes his chlidren to hard-core pornography for his own deviate reasons he can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law? There's an AP story that covers this briefly as well as one from if you'd like to read more.

The prosecutor has filed charges against the man under a statute that prohibits endangering children. He isn't sure his suit will stand up in court because he has to battle the public indecency one.

To me, this is a case where too much government has tied the hands of law enforcement. Parents should be able to be parents. Criminals should be at the mercy of the law. Period.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Undercover Boss - Good karma at work

I've always been a firm believer in you get what you give. If you treat people with kindness, respect, and affection, then I believe that's what you'll get back from the world. I know it's not like that all the time, believe me. And goodness knows, I'm not successful all the time being the person I want to be. But I do try.

Sometimes it's hard to be upbeat and positive. When bad luck rains down, sometimes the inclination is to drown in that flood, to lose hold of your good intentions, your optimistic attitude.

That's why I like the new show (that's already coming to an end for the season - sad!) - Undercover Boss. Mom got Terry and me hooked on this show, and we look forward to it every week. (If you're interested, follow the link, and you can watch full episodes online!)

What I love about this show is that it highlights human beings. You see people just being who they are. Most of them do their jobs with amazing, inspiring attitudes; many of them go above and beyond their job descriptions to reach out and help others when maybe they themselves could use a helping hand as well. They're living their lives in a positive manner, they're being good people, and guess what - it comes back to them by the end of the episode.

The reason this show often gives me the warm fuzzies is that these people are being good because that's just who they are. They don't know they're working beside the president of their company or that there could be a reward waiting for them a few days down the road.

It's the karma thing coming to life - to real life. Good people, doing good things and getting good things in return. Rewards they never expected. Rewards they weren't working to earn.

How is that not cool? How could that not inspire all of us to keep the faith, to be the people we know we can be? Not for the rewards we may receive but because it's simply the right thing to do.

Tiger Woods is a person, right?

To continue the idea I began in the title of this blog...He's not a head of state. He's definitely not a deity. Yet, the media is treating him as if he is something more than a man who plays a sport very well, who is worth millions and millions of dollars, and who slept with many women who were not married to him.

Does it drive anyone else crazy when you hear the fervor in a reporter's voice as he talks about Tiger's return to golf? I listened to Rafer Weigel this morning on HLN (a guy I usually enjoy listening to) talking about Tiger at the Masters. Rafer is already there at Augusta was all a-tremble because Tiger showed up earlier than expected (on Sunday) and Rafer and his compatriots got to see Tiger play nine holes. Woo Hoo.... Are you trembling yet?

Then, of course, Rafer was even more excited at the prospect of being able to actually ask Tiger a question. He was practically drooling. I didn't watch the press conference, but I did just spend about 15 minutes of my life that I'll never get back reading a large portion of the transcript on CNN's website. There was very little of interest to me in the transcript. He's still sorry. He's still undergoing therapy for his "problem." He's still trying to hold his family together (and, no, Elin won't be at the Masters). He's taken Ambien and Vicodin in the past but neither contributed to the car wreck last year. He loves being back on the golf course. He appreciates the support he's received from his fans and his friends. Blah, blah, blah.

I don't care.

It's that simple. I don't care about this man and his infedelity. If anything, I'm fascinated by the media's fascination with him and his indiscretions. Are there really hundreds of thousands - millions even - of people who care about this? Who can't seem to eat their morning toast or bagel without their daily dose of Tiger? Is he really that GGGRRRREEEAAAATTTT?? Is the media's unending coverage of Tiger Woods a result of demands of an insatiable public, or does the public become insatiable because the media insists on cramming their Tiger bytes down our throats?

I am tired of being force-fed this particular brand of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night snack.

He's a man. He's made mistakes that hurt his family badly, but he didn't hurt me. My day moves along quite well - splendidly, actually - without any Tiger updates. Why, oh why, oh why won't they stop? And please, tell me who cares. Isn't there anything more important, more worthwhile, going on in the world than this?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trail #2

There isn't a day goes by that I don't wish I was full time at work. However, on days like today, when I get to leave work at 1:00 in the afternoon, when the sun is shining and the temps are in the (say it with me!) upper 70s, I do smile at the glass-half-full side of being part-time.

I've been trying to motivate myself to start exercising again, so I started walking a couple days ago, covering several blocks in town. Yesterday, my schedule didn't work out as well, and I didn't make it outside. (Bad Odie!) Today, I knew I had to get out in that sunshine. Instead of heading out on the sidewalk, though, I decided to drive to the state park and walk one of those trails.

Because I hadn't had lunch yet and was hungry, I chose one of the trails closest to the park's entrance so that I could get parked and get walking. It was already 1:30 by the time I got out of the car.

Trail #2 is not just a hiking trail, it's also a horse trail. Our state park is very horse-friendly, so the horse trails get used a lot. I knew it was a shared trail, but I didn't anticipate that being an issue. It was, but probably not for the reason you might be thinking. (I didn't step in, or have to dodge anything stinky.)

The ground under the trail I'd chosen had a high concentration of sand mixed in it. Four-legged hikers, shod in iron shoes, had churned up the soil so that it reminded me of walking on the beach. In many places, the trail sank between banks almost a foot high of the same sandy soil, and all of it was covered in dead, dry leaves. It was not an easy walk (which is good news, on the exercise front).

As I chugged up the trail, wallowing in the horses' footsteps, I glanced at the forest floor that ran beside the soft trail, and I thought, "I bet it'd be easier to walk there. It looks flatter, smoother, less beach-like." So, I tried it, with "try" being the key word.

The ground beside the trail wasn't as churned up as the trail itself, so my feet didn't sink into the sand. Unfortunately, there were lots of little switches and branches with briars growing along the trail, so I traded my sand-filled shoes for scratches on my legs. I also found it difficult to stay off the trail. My feet were constantly slipping down the little banks and slopes - the leaves worked against me and the sandy ground kept eroding. It was more work - and more painful - trying to stay off the trail than it was to stay on it.

It dawned on me, as I tried to avoid the overused path and blaze my own - parallel to, yet different from the established one - that it was a great symbol for life choices. Some people choose to follow the herd, to stay on the chartered path, even when the path isn't exactly what they thought it would be. They follow it diligently and usually end up right where they thought they would. They measure their success in reaching the desired destination.

Then there are those who refuse to walk in others' footsteps, who fight to make their own way, who stumble and fall and wear themselves out in an effort to do it differently. Sometimes, they fully abandon the established trail and forge into the wilderness with little more than a good pair of boots and a backpack full of hope. Sometimes, these wanderers blaze a trail others can't help but follow; once in a while, the mavericks simply get lost. Whether they end up at a predetermined destination or discover a whole new world, they measure their success in the journey they took to get there.

I think I'm a little bit of both. I like to know where I'm going, and I like the comfort that comes from knowing there's a path that will get me there. At the same time, though, I want to make my mark on the world. I want my footprints to stand out from the rest, somewhere along the path I'm walking.

I came out of the woods where I planned to today - with sand in my shoes and scratches on my legs.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

No Idol left behind

I think anyone who reads my blog knows that I'm a teacher. I also hope that those who know that about me also believe I work really hard at my job and love spending time in the classroom with the kids. I try to see the best in each of them and to encourage them to be their very best.

That being said, I don't like the No Child Left Behind act passed by the federal government years ago. It basically says that every child can succeed in all academic areas - that every child can master algebra for one thing. No they can't. That doesn't mean they can't succeed at anything, but it does mean that not everyone is going to be successful (to the same degree) in school. Common sense should tell us that, shouldn't it?

Know why I'm thinking about this tonight? I'm watching American Idol. The judges (with the exception of Simon), the audience, and Ryan, they all seem incapable of telling many of the contestants that singing should not be their chosen profession. They don't want to tell them the truth: Pick another path. Choose another dream. But please, for all of our sakes, STOP SINGING!!!

Why are they so reluctant to just say that? Why do they have to cushion the blows by saying, "We love YOU, but that song choice was bad." Or this one, "You've got mad skills, dawg. This was just an off night." No. They can't sing. They can't hit the key they're aiming for and they're hurting my ears.

Now, again, I'm generalizing. I could listen to Crystal Bowersox all night. I'm not a fan of Big Mike, but he hit it out of the park tonight, IMHO. Lee Dwyze was good and (thank God!!) Andrew was great! I think these people prove my point. Some can do it. Some can't. We can't all be stars.

But what I'm wondering about Idol and about No Child Left Behind is this: Is this what society is pushing? Let's prop everyone up. Let's make all of these special arrangements to make everything and everyone equal. That way, everyone can feel good about themselves.

Except that's not real life, is it?

We aren't all equal. We aren't all good at the same things. We aren't all winners at everything. That doesn't mean that we can't have pride in ourselves. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't push ourselves. That doesn't mean we can't excel - it just means we should be honest with ourselves and with each other about what we're really good at.

I'm sure we've all got mad skills for something, dawg, but jeez, could ya just get off the stage? I want a "vote off" number, please....

Teacher stories

Hi everyone! For lots of reasons, I'm hoping you will all be willing to tell me who your favorite teacher was (or teachers were) and why? What did they do that makes them stay in your memories? It would also be awesome if these were teachers that you learned from too!! Anyway, if you'll share your stories, I'd be very grateful!! THANKS!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

My two daughters

I have the rare opportunity to see my daughter in her environment at school (because it's where I work), and it's truly fascinating seeing her in her element there. She's the same Tori I see at home, yet she's not. I know many of you who have children know what I mean, and if they're too young yet to fully grasp it, don't worry - one day all too soon you will.

Tori is the light of my life. She makes me laugh. She fills me with pride. She astonishes me with her wit, her wisdom, and her insight. And every day she brings love to my life. At home, she is familiar to me.

I know what jokes she'll laugh at on TV because they're usually the same ones I laugh at. I know when she'll roll her eyes at Terry because I'm usually rolling mine as well. I anticipate the light in her eyes when she's talking about band or guard or ... Jimmy. I hate the frowns and the tears I've witnessed when friends fail her.

This is my daughter.

Some other creature inhabits her body at school . . . and I don't mean that in a bad way. It's quite interesting, actually.

Tori at school doesn't see me when I'm standing twenty or thirty feet away from her in the hall. It's not that she's ignoring me - I'm just not on her radar. She's still on mine - how else would I be able to tell you that I'm the invisible mother? I watch her come down the stairs, gabbing a mile a minute to her friends, laughing loudly enough sometimes that I can hear her.

I teased her a couple days ago about wanting to chaperone the prom this year because she's going for the first time. I told her how cool I thought it would be if we got to share that "first" of hers together - all night. (It was all tongue-in-cheek, of course, and she knew that - I think!) She made it very clear to me that I was not wanted nor was I needed at the prom. If I was asked to chaperone, she said I had to turn them down. She was denying me entrance into that part of her world. I laughed at her as she squirmed, trying to figure out if I was serious about wanting to come. The daughter-Tori didn't want to hurt my feelings. The school-Tori doesn't care about my feelings. That girl does not want me at that party.

And that's okay with me.

Our kids have to grow up. They have to become individuals and live their own lives. It's what we want for them. It's what we hope we've prepared them to do well. When I see her in the halls at school and she doesn't see me, I know she's on her way. And she's laughing and smiling with friends as she goes.

Prom is her night. I'm staying home.

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's my money!

I had to laugh at Headline News this morning. They came back from a commercial break with "iReporter" footage of people gathered outside a Utah representative's office in support of the health care bill and then different iReporter footage of people protesting it at the Capitol. After showing both of those short segments, they zoomed back to Susan Hendricks in the studio who says, "The big story of the morning is ... Tiger Woods's first interview since ... " and we all know how she finished that sentence.

Silly me, I thought the big news of the morning was the passage of the health care bill.

God knows, I don't know or understand all of the ins and outs of the behemoth of a bill. I doubt many of those who voted on it understand all of it. So this morning I went looking (not for the first time) for info on the Web about the bill. I found a great article listing 26 facts and figures about the bill, which was an excellent starting place. Click here to read it.

Within this article are links to several others, most of which I read. The best one of these, IMHO, was the one titled, "Checking the Math on Health Care" from The New York Times. Although my husband may disagree (though hopefully not before reading it - hi, honey!), it provided a balanced look at both sides and was fairly indepth.

Since Terry lost his job in June 2008, he and I have been without medical coverage. I'm only a part-time teacher and do not have medical coverage available to me. If I were full-time, it would cost us more than $700 a month to insure our family. Terry is self-employed now, and we have looked at independent policies, but they cost more (anywhere from $350-$500+ per month) than we can afford right now.

I've been afraid that once this bill passed, we'd have to go out right away and buy insurance. After reading these articles I've mentioned here, I've discovered that's not the case. We'll simply be penalized in the future if we don't buy it. And that, my friends, is where I have a problem with the whole thing.

As soon as Obama signs this bill, we will have in place a law telling us we have to buy something (health insurance) and that if we don't buy it, the government will penalize us for our refusal. That is a scary slope to start down, don't you think?

There are other implications that my non-economist brain doesn't completely grasp. Larger corporations will be affected if they aren't providing health care coverage to their employees as will the wealthier segment of our population when they have to pay Medicare taxes on their capital gains. What those effects will be, no one knows.

State governements will be affected, and we know the state of our state governments right now, don't we? (There's good information in that NYT article about the effects on the states and the handouts they're already looking for....)

There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to ObamaCare. Here's what I do know. I know that 219 members of the House voted for the bill while 212 voted against it. With such a tiny margin in favor, I know that I abhor the way the bill was pushed through and will be watching closely to see whether the courts believe it was constitutional.

I also know that now the government has the right to tell me I have to spend my money on something I can't afford and that if I don't, I'll be penalized.

I am certain that I don't like THAT.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I miss Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter!!

Kathryn Stockett's THE HELP is one of the most memorable books I've read in a long time. I read a review of it in Entertainment Weekly when it first came out. The review was a rave, but the description of the book was vague enough that I just didn't "get it." I put it on my list of "read when nothing else is jumping off the shelf at me." Stupid, stupid, stupid. I can't believe I waited a YEAR to read this book!

THE HELP intertwines the lives of black women working as domestic help for white, upperclass women in Jackson, Mississippi in the early (think early Civil Rights Era) 1960s. Aibileen is in her 50s and has been working for white families since she was a teenager. She's strong, quietly proud, and tender in the care she takes of the white children she's hired to raise. In stark contrast to Aibileen is Minny, fifteen years younger than the older (and often wiser) Aibileen. Because of her sharp tongue, Minny has a hard time keeping a job, and the needs of her large family and abusive husband demand that she work. But it's not just her mouth that gets Minny in trouble, it's the Terrible.Awful.Thing she did that haunts her footsteps.

Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan grew up on a cotton plantation that her father sweats over from sunup to sundown and that her mother lords over from the family home. The Phelans also had a black maid when Skeeter was growing up, but the mystery of her beloved Constantine's departure from the Phelan household goes unsolved for a large portion of the book. When Skeeter finds out what happened to Constantine, it personally reinforces for her the theme of the book she's been writing with the help of Aibileen and Minny. The book that provides the first honest, open look at what it's like for a black woman to work for a white family in Jackson before Civil Rights took hold. Some of it is as horrible as you'd think it would be. Some of it illustrates how close people can grow to each other, even when society works hard to keep them separate. The book Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny construct is called HELP.

Stockett grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. Her family had a black woman who worked for them for many, many years. While the fictitious Minny is famous for her caramel cakes, Demetrie actually baked them for Stocketts. THE HELP is a novel, but the honesty of it is undeniable. The characters are so real, I long to find them somewhere, invite them over for a cup of coffee, and continue getting to know them. I am not ready to let go of them, and I know I will reread this book over and over. It doesn't matter that I know what happens.

I want to hear Aibileen tell Mae Mobley what a wonderful girl she is again. I want to hear Minny tell the story again about the Terrible.Awful.Thing. I want to see Skeeter crouched in the pantry, the phone to her ear, taking a chance to do something that might just change the world she lives in, if it doesn't kill her, Aibileen, and Minny first.

I will read it again. You need to read it. Now.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Imagine this...

I almost started this blog last week and then thought, "No, you're being an old crone. Don't write that." But I just finished reading a review in Entertainment Weekly of a new video game called Heavy Rain, and the same idea came back to me. So, old crone or not, I'm going to lament a little. Let me know if you are commiserating with me or if you think I need to start looking for a walker.

I'm a big fan of the imagination. When I was little (elementary school age), my friends and I played all sorts of games. We turned the big propane tank outside my house into horses and became cowgirls. My best friend and I ran around her house, over a fence, into the dog kennel, and back over the fence because we were cops chasing the bad guys. Diane Bauer (rest in peace) and I were ElectroWoman and DynaGirl in the gym at school during recess. Other than the propane tank, none of us really had props or costumes - just our imaginations, and they took us so many places.

I also use my imagination when I read. For as long as I can remember, reading has been one of my favorite pastimes. I imagine the settings and characters in my mind and hold onto those images as I read. That's one of the reasons I'm always reticent to see the movie version of a book I've read - I'm afraid the "motion picture" will pale in comparison to the one I've created for myself.

I've contended for a long time that one of the reasons our kids' critical thinking skills aren't what we want them to be is that so little is asked of their imaginations anymore. As they're growing, they aren't always asked to think for themselves as much as we used to be. Video games are so realistic now that they immerse you in fantasy worlds as you become a character within those worlds. No imagination required. It's all right there in front of your face.

I mentioned that I thought about writing this blog a week ago. I'd just read an article in EW (yes, I love that magazine) about the future of movies - specifically the future of movies in 3D. The general consensus from that article is that we will eventually see all movies in 3D. The phenomenom was related to the transition from black-and-white movies to color. At first, color movies were a treat and only a few were made. Then, they became more common, even though black-and-white ones were still being shot. Now, as we all know, color is the common medium. Following that logic, I can believe that eventually all we'll have is 3D.

My problem with this is the same as the one I mentioned regarding video games. We will need even less of an imagination - or, if you prefer, we'll use our imaginations even less - when we are completely immersed in the movies we go to see.

I fear we're becoming more and more apathetic and uninvolved. Our imaginations aren't as necessary as they used to be. They aren't being used enough, so that when situations arise where they would benefit us, we don't even know enough about them to call them up. And that just makes me sad.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Starting school after Labor Day?

There are a lot of changes coming to education in Indiana - actually to almost every state in the country - but I live and teach here, my daughter goes to school here, so it's Indiana I'm concerned about.

On Tuesday this week, the state senate passed HB 1367 with some amendments of their own. It is my understanding that the biggest portion of HB 1367 is dedicated to giving school corporations more discretion as to how to spend their money, i.e. money can be moved from fund to fund. I see this as a good thing. If a corporation has enough money to build a new gym but not enough to keep its lights on or pay its teachers, it ought to be able to transfer money from the building fund to the operating costs fund. Makes sense, right?

One of the amendments the senate added to HB 1367 mandates that children cannot be passed on to fourth grade if they can't read at a third grade level. This seems to me like a no-brainer, but evidently there is evidence this is happening. Personally, I think we need to work on remediation much sooner. It's not as though a child hits third grade and suddenly can't read. However, I do know that I've had way too many children in middle school (and yes, high school) who don't read as well as they should, so the problem is out there. If your child is lagging behind, if you're worried about your child's progress but you don't believe your child's teacher is worried about it, speak up. Ask questions. Be an advocate for your child. I think we need these things - remediation and more parent involvement - more than we need a law like this, but that's just me.

Another amendment the senate tacked on to HB 1367 is to begin the school year AFTER Labor Day. The state (I'm quite sure) is still going to require 180 days in the school year, so the year will extend well into June if it doesn't start until September. I have one major issue with this, but in talking to my students about it in depth yesterday, they brought up many more.

My issue has to do with ISTEP. Currently, the ISTEP is given in two sections. The first section is being given next week - the first week of March - when we still have three months of school left. The second section is given the end of April or first of May, when most schools still have at least a month left. As (hopefully) any parent or teacher knows, these tests are incredibly important for all involved. A student's success on the test influences his assignment to future classes and grade levels. ISTEP scores are going to very soon begin influencing teacher evaluations and job retention. Students' cumulative scores influence the corporation's evaluation by the state and affect how much or how little state intervention the corporation receives.

When these tests are given at a point in the school year when there are still months of instruction left, it is unavoidable that there will be some standards left unaddressed. There simply isn't enough time before the tests to get to everything - to teach it well and ensure student understanding. English - my area - is probably the easiest to try and cover all of the core standards before testing because so many of them are used throughout the year. However, we're on the trimester system, so the students I have now, I have only had for a week. They have only had one-half of eighth grade English so far. So have I taught all of eighth grade standards to my satisfaction to those students yet? I certainly haven't. Give me another three months and it will be a different conversation. Even if I had had them all year, I would still be concerned about a few of the standards. There just isn't enough time.

Now, think about science (which is tested in fourth and sixth grade), social studies (which is tested in fifth and seventh grade), and math (which is tested in all grades 3-8). Math and science build throughout the year, right? What do you suppose those kids have yet to be exposed to when they still have months to go in the year? Regarding social studies, students are taught Indiana history in fourth grade. How far will they have gotten by March?

The ISTEP tests what students should know at the end of each year, but they are given before we reach the actual end of the year. Now, we push the end of the school year into June, so, if we don't move the testing dates, what do you suppose will happen to the ISTEP scores? That's my main concern. It took a Herculean effort to move that test from the fall to spring a year ago. How long do you think it will take to move it again?

The students' concerns were no less valid, even if they weren't quite as academically centered. The athletes are concerned about playing seasons. Will fall sports seasons be shortened? Will they be playing football in the snow, or in 30-degree temperatures? Many young athletes today play in summer leagues whose seasons kick into high gear in May and June. Those who plaly in these leagues are concerned about the effect this new school year will have on their ability to participate in those leagues.

Another concern was for 4-H members. Most 4-H fairs take place in July, which means members are incredibly busy during June completing projects for the fair. If school lasts into the second or third week of June, they fear they won't have the necessary time to complete their proejcts.

This proposed change to the school year is far-reaching in its ramifications. As usual, I'm worried that the people considering the change are people who are clueless when it comes to actually working in education or are people who are influenced by strong lobbyists.

The whole point of this post is to let you know that it isn't a done deal. The bill passed the senate by a vote of 31-19, so it has strong support in the senate. However, it was sent back to the house for reconsideration because of the amendments the senate added. If you have an opinion about the bill, get a hold of your local legislators. Tell them how you feel.

I'm going to.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Courage looks different to everyone. It can even look different to you on one day that it does another day. Let me tell you what it looked like to me today.

Today was the last day of our trimester. Yesterday, one of my classes revised essays they wrote last week, so I took them home and graded them last night. When I returned them to the kids today, I also delivered the news that they were going to have to stand up in front of the class and read them. I heard the expected moans and groans, as well as the, "Do we have to?" questions. Yes, they had to.

There are several English standards that require the students to speak or present in front of their classmates. Luckily, our school also has a communications class that covers many of these standards, but I like to try and incorporate a little of it in English. It's hard for most kids to get up in front of their peers and do this, I know, but I chose today's essay because it wasn't a personal one. It was about a book they had all read, so the topic wouldn't be embarrassing for them to talk about in front of others, and they would gain some (a little) public speaking experience.

I called the kids up alphabetically and everyone participated good-naturedly. The ones who were sitting and listening actually sat and listened, being respectful and considerate in ways they often aren't when it's me up there. I was proud of them.

Then I came to a boy I'll just call "T." This boy is an odd mixture of personalities. He has a good sense of humor and will once in a while participate in discussions and read-alouds. He often has stories to share about his life, but he doesn't always do his homework. He's usually respectful. Today, though, when I called his name to read his essay, he said, "No. I'm not doing it."

I don't like to be told no.

I started to tell him he had to, that it would be insubordination if he refused, and then he started to sob. Not weep. Not tear up. He sobbed. Head down on his desk, he bawled in my classroom. My jaw hit the ground.

Another boy caught my eye and said, "This happens when he has to speak in front of the class."

I looked at T for a second or two, listening to him cry, and I said, "T, I want you to calm down and take a few breaths. I'm not going to make you do this, but I want you to think about something. Everyone in here is doing this and living through it. Everyone is being kind to each other. At some point, you're going to have to do this for school and if you don't, it will really hurt your grade. I want you to try and do it here, where no one will laugh and you can see that you can do it."

I didn't know if my words had any effect on him because his crying continued, but I hoped they had. I called the next name and three or four students took their turns. Time was running out on the class, and I noticed that T had stopped crying and was sitting up straight in his chair. He had his essay in his hand.

Before I called the next name on my list, I said, "T, are you thinking you want to try it?"

He said, "Yeah, I'm just gonna do it." The entire class clapped as he went to the front of the room.

T stood at the front of the room, read the first few words on his paper, and started crying again. Hard. He'd read a couple words, sob a little bit, wipe away his tears with his arms, and read a couple more, then cry, dab his tears, read a few more, and so on.

I told him very, very early in his attempt that he didn't have to do it. But I guess something inside him said he had to. Because he finished that essay. He sobbed all the way through it, but he finished it.

I had tears in my eyes as I watched him. I have tears in my eyes now as I type this. Several of my other students turned at various times to look at me as T struggled in front of them, their eyes as wide as mine felt, but I had no answers.

I had given him an out. He refused to take it.

When he finished, we all clapped vigorously for him. I was standing, and I'd wanted to hug him, but that never felt quite right in that moment, so I just stood where I was and clapped really hard and really long.

When the clapping died down, I said, "T, that's the bravest thing I've ever seen a student do."

I'll never forget it.