Friday, May 30, 2008

Baldacci X 2

I just read two more books by David Baldacci--Split Second and Simple Genius. It turns out that I've read numbers one and three of a series. Now I'll have to beat it back to the library next week for book two. It would really be helpful if all authors numbered their series or something.

Both of the books were really suspenseful thrillers, which is what I needed while dealing with the chaos that constitutes the end of school. Actually, I manage fairly well with student-generated chaos, but administratively created contradictory instructions really get on my nerves. I sneaked into hiding at one point today and knit a few surreptitious rounds on a sock just to calm my nerves. All that remains is the faculty breakfast in the morning followed by a checkout in the office. Hallelujah!

Knitting progress--I've begun the sleeves on Wallaby 2. Baby M1 is not very big, so they will go quickly.

I also got the Folk Vests book on interlibrary loan. I am glad that I did that before buying it. The sizing in the book is a problem. I'm going to have to consider whether or not I want to invest in a book that I will have to work so hard to adapt, or just write down a few ideas and look for other patterns on Ravelry.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Today has truly been a time to reflect about the sacrifices that have allowed us to have the freedoms we enjoy today. Of course, it is a day to remember the sacrifices of those in the military and their families, but it is also a time to remember those who have gone before us who have left the world a little bit better. We owe all of those people a debt of gratitude for the freedoms and prosperity we enjoy today. We would do well to remember their hard work and courage when we complain about the hours we work and the price we have to pay for gasoline--or the fact that the DSL router has to be rebooted again. Today I drove by the place where my grandparents settled in New Mexico Territory with 6 children in a dugout, having moved out here from Illinois. I sailed by the place at 60 mph in an air-conditioned vehicle on my way home from lunch at Chili's.

The weekend has been wonderful. I had a peaceful Saturday at home, did a little Wallaby knitting that evening, spent Sunday in Amarillo to celebrate a DGS's birthday at Jump 'n Jive, and drove home in time to knit and watch the Coca Cola 600.

Today, I've been reading and doing a little laundry. I haven't even stopped to knit, but I did work on my car sock on the way to an out of town lunch.
I just finished reading David Baldacci's The Camel Club, a book I almost missed because I had read the other two in the series first and thought book number two was number one.

Tomorrow it is back to school for exam week, a 5-day week in spite of the holiday because we will work next Saturday. However, the schedule is somewhat more relaxed, even with all the end-of-year paperwork. One of the nice things about teaching that you don't have in other jobs is that you have lots of new beginnings. You get to wrap up, evaluate, revise, and start anew, hoping that changes you make will make things better. Not every job gives you that opportunity.

I've also been working with the new computer at home. I'm so excited to have Outlook again with some organizational capabilities that I haven't had for a couple of years, and I'm really enjoying a two-monitor setup.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Reading Express

I had a wonderful day at school yesterday. It was the last regular (sort of) day of school before final exams begin on Tuesday. I checked in books--everyone had his book. There was an assembly, but I had a student who had not finished his in-class research paper, so I had to stay in my room and monitor him. Therefore, I got my finals finished and printed. After lunch there was a schoolwide juniors v. seniors soccer game. I was supposed to have duty in the stands, but instead I ended up having to keep the study hall for those who weren't allowed to go to the game for various reasons. There were 5, plus my research student. Again, I was in my classroom with all that free time, so I got even more tasks done. I had expected to have to bring work home with me and go back to school on Memorial Day to work, and now I don't have to. Yippee!

After school, I stopped by the public library to pick up some weekend reading material. I chose a couple of novels, but then when I checked out, the desk clerk mentioned a book that would be due on the 27th. I had ordered the next book in the Rick Riordan series, The Titan's Curse, and had forgotten I had ordered it. The library hadn't notified me that it had come on interlibrary loan. There's no way to extend the due date, so I brought it home with me and read it straight through. I finished it this morning--got too sleepy to read last night. I really liked the book, the third in the series. I was very enthusiastic about the first book, the second was good, and this one was, in my opinion, better than the second. Of course, the fact that their journey went through one of our old vacation spots was interesting. I think the "journey across America, finding signs of the gods in familiar places" was the aspect I missed in the second book, which was obviously based on The Odyssey. Now I have to return it promptly to the after hours check in so that it can go back first thing Tuesday morning and send an e-mail requesting book four.

Holiday plans--a DGS's birthday party, a leisurely day today cleaning some troublespots around the house that are bugging me (a start on afterschool cleaning), reading, and knitting on the Wonderful Wallaby I've started for DGD2. I planned Wallabies for all the DGC for Christmas, but I've decided to make them for earlier. As quickly as children grow, it's a shame to waste some good sweater months waiting for the holidays. I may even slip into spinning on Monday if the weekend remains quiet.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Yarn Preferences

I've been doing quite a bit of knitting for preschoolers. My budget and the easy care needs of active children prohibit the expense of "fine" yarns. I see no real point in knitting something that requires so much special care that it becomes an expense or a burden to the recipient or to a busy mom. My favorite yarns, so far:

  • Lion Brand Cotton Ease--I love this yarn and the product that I get from it. I like the feel, and I like the way it launders. What don't I like? The color choices are much too limited.
  • Red Heart Kids--A comfy 100% acrylic. I made a couple of hats, and they turned out great. Again, the color choices are very limited.
  • Plymouth Encore--An acrylic-wool blend. I love knitting with it because it's not splitty. I like the range of colors and the colorspun blends. I like the feel of the finished product. Unfortunately, I cannot find a dealer in my area, so I have to order.
  • Lion Brand Wool Ease--Also an acrylic-wool blend. Available almost everywhere around here at good prices. Although this yarn has almost the same fiber content at Encore, I find it to be splittier. The color choices are excellent, and if I want a finished product that looks more like wool, this one does the job.
  • Bernat Satin--I've made a couple of Mason-Dixon baby kimonos. This yarn has a wonderful feel. It is really inexpensive. The color choices, however, are extremely limited, mostly infant.

I'd love to hear how others feel about these yarns and if there are more suggestions.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Rant

I've been in the field of education for a very long time--took several years off in the middle of my career working in our retail business but still stayed in contact. I've seen many trends come and go, most of them promising to be "the answer." Recently, the Legislature/Education Agency has come up with a new one. I can live with it. We are already implementing it. Will it be THE answer? No, but almost every one of these plans does have something worthwhile to contribute, a small part that sticks and makes things better. That is pretty much all I ask anymore, and it does make innovation worthwhile. Please understand I'm not griping about "progress."

We have one more week of classes before final exams. I am frantically trying to finish up research papers in my Pre-AP classes and Macbeth in my English IV classes. We need every minute of class time we can muster with everyone in class and ready to go. Yesterday, we had short classes so that students could be dismissed so that we could have training on the above program. The training was to be presented by experts from the regional office--a general education specialist, a special education specialist, and a reading specialist. Our faculty of 45 or so has 3 special education personnel, one reading teacher (Yes, that's different from English Language Arts.), and everyone else is general education. The only specialist who showed up was the special education person, who was obviously not prepared to present to people who did not know every acronym used in that field for the last 10 years. She also focused on primary and elementary almost entirely. That was ok, too; I have sat through worse. Why am I ranting? We were told at the beginning that the general education person who was supposed to speak to us couldn't come because she had decided to retire, and they were having a retirement reception for her that afternoon. Not only did she not come, but the reading person didn't come either because she was attending the reception. I can also be understanding about that. But at the end of the presentation, on the printed out copies of the PowerPoint that she had read every word of aloud, including the ones she didn't understand because they had been prepared by the other people, those two absent people were listed as resources to contact. I presumed that the speaker would give us another reference to replace the person with the obviously very imminent retirement. No! And do you know why? That person is not retiring until August! For this we gave up two scenes of Macbeth, and I couldn't help students after school with their research papers. The regional center they work for is open all summer. They scheduled the meeting. I really resent that my time and the time of my students was considered less valuable than their late plans.

A First

Somehow I had managed never to have read a Stephen King novel. I'd read some short stories, watched several of the movies, listened to book reports on some of the novels, and even read his book about the craft, On Writing. I am not a great fan of horror stories, but I really liked what I saw of some of his work as it was adapted to film--Christine, Dolores Claiborne, and The Stand, in particular. In fact, a certain phrase from Dolores Claiborne, together with "Towanda!" from Fried Green Tomatoes, became something of a catchword for me, my daughter, and occasionally a friend of hers when it came to standing up for ourselves and getting our own back.
Earlier this week, I checked out Duma Key from the local public library. It was an original, interesting, and suspenseful read. I will not say that I couldn't put it down because I did have to put it down several times because I was so jumpy that I could not keep reading and had to quit for awhile. I know now that I will read more of his work.

As a side note--I do not watch The Shining--the one with Jack Nicholson--ever. I do not talk about it; I do not walk through a room while anyone else is watching it; I won't watch advertisements or previews when it is to be shown on tv. We went to see it in the theater when I was pregnant with my first child, at that time in my pregnancy when one is prone to nightmares. I dreamed that movie every night for a couple of months! It was a few years before I could stand to watch Jack Nicholson in anything. Even though I know that King was not terribly pleased with the movie either, that there is a new version, and that this new version is presumably much closer to the book and his original theme--I don't care! Not watching it--no way, no how!

I've spent the day with my 14-month-old DGD and some time with my son when he came to pick her up. That's always a treat.

I have also put together my our new computer setup. A 17-inch laptop with an extra monitor that extends my desktop to spread windows out so I can go back and forth more easily, and an external keyboard and mouse. I can type much faster on a "real" keyboard, and the trackpad on a laptop slows me down as well. This will, however, give me portability when I need it. Work aside, it is great for Ravelry, with Ravelry up on one screen and friends' blogs popping up on the other. I am also enjoying having an up-to-date e-mail program again that will let me organize incoming mail, sort out junk, and organize myself with calendar and note capabilities.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Good Read Listen

I just finished listening to The Lighthouse, by P.D. James on an audiobook download from Overdrive loaded into my MP3 player. The narration was just right, clear and understandable and decidedly British, which, in my opinion, was exactly what the book required. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it.

Alas, though, now I want to download another book, and I've been trying on my new computer and am not having any luck connecting. I think I remember reading something about connection problems with Vista in some posts on the Ravelry Audiobook forum. I've sent in a request for help to Overdrive, but I know I won't get a weekend response. I'll try the group.

Still no knitting in the past couple of days, but the yarn to complete my Panel Jacket came in yesterday. It's here with the computer boxes. I'll get back to knitting this weekend as soon as I get this machine set up properly.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"The Best-Laid Plans. . . ."

This post was supposed to have beautiful pictures of carousel horses. We are fortunate to have a small carousel in our area, at Wonderland Park in Amarillo, that has "real" wooden carousel horses. They maintain it very carefully. I've always loved the real carousels since I was a little girl and we used to go to Denver to the museum and the amusement parks. I don't even remember whether the big carousel was at Lakeside or Elitch's (not sure of the spelling), but I remember how I loved it.

Yesterday, we took 59 high school students to Wonderland for a day out. They had all given up evenings and weekends to compete in academic events, and we thought they deserved some kind of reward for that. I sneaked in my camera, intending to give you beautiful horse pictures. The weather was perfect--high 60s in the morning to low 80s when we left. However, since all the school groups that were there were older, the rides for younger customers never opened. The side drops on the carousel stayed down all day. So there are no pictures. You can, however, see a little bit if you click on the merry-go-round on this map and then enlarge the tiny pictures. I suppose this is really more of a merry-go-round than a carousel because of its size and the fact that it is just horses instead of the menagerie of animals on the big carousels. If you happen to be coming through Amarillo, this is a very nice family-owned park with many more rides than you would expect in a city of this size. It is always clean and well-kept with topnotch personnel. It's also not dreadfully expensive for a family outing.

There are no knitting pictures either. I had to make a computer change earlier than I expected. I'm replacing an older desktop with a large laptop, but I will also have a real keyboard (I'm faster and more accurate that way) and a mouse. I am not a touchpad person. In fact, I'm typing on the laptop right now, and my cell phone is lying here because I was calling my children for tech support on configuring some of the programs. I have grabbed it two or three times without thinking and scooted it around the table like a mouse. I get a lot of practice on laptops with the portable computer labs at school, but I still like a regular keyboard. The nifty thing is that my DD promises me that I can use the laptop and hook up an extra monitor that I have and be able to go back and forth from one window to another without having to switch layers all the time. That sounds wonderful!

Now I'm going to bed to dream about e-mail and the Stephen King novel I'm reading.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Whee! I'm on a (Mini)Vacation!

Because our state legislature, prompted by the Chambers of Commerce, decreed that our school calendars had to be set back a week, our spring vacations were messed up. In effect, we lost one. Our Superintendent did, however, work in a couple of early-release days on Fridays. Today was one of them. It's amazing how a 3-hour afternoon can feel like a whole day off at this time of the year. I was very productive; I zipped down to our business and paid invoices, dashed into the public library, picked up a hamburger, and took a bubble bath with Stephen King. (His new book--Duma Key.) After that, I admired my garden:

A few grape tomato plants. If I can make these produce, they should be a big money-saver, since I can eat a $2.50 carton of them at a meal--not to mention that I have to drive 35 miles one way to buy any. The plants were a birthday gift from my DD.
On the knitting front, the Panel Jacket is stalled. It is a stash-busting project, so naturally I'm having to buy more yarn to finish it. Therefore, I'm returning to the Heartbeat Sweater for awhile. I should make fairly good progress this weekend--two evening NASCAR races!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

"Tra La, It's May!"

School Again!

My senior AP Literature class had, as their final project for the year, the task of reading and teaching a contemporary novel. Working in groups of four members, they read, studied independently, organized, and creatively "taught" the novel to the class. I did not make as many pictures as I wanted to because I did not want to intimidate their presentations. I also just do not feel comfortable posting student pictures without permission, so you'll get mostly description here without pictures.

Novel 1--The Things They Carried, a novel about the Vietnam War by Tim O'Brien. Four young men showed up in fatigues with real ammo box (empty) and a very non-realistic machine gun. One of them had an authentic Vietnam-era helmet. If you have read the novel, you know that much of the first chapter is a summary of what the men carried in their packs. There are many lists of items, and much of the meaning of the chapter lies in the differences rather than in the many, many items that are the same for every soldier. There is also much emphasis on the emotional baggage that each man toted around with him, or "humped" as the narrator reminds us. The young men had diligently hunted down pictures of most of the common items in the packs and displayed the tiny pictures on two posterboards. To illustrate the historical and cultural background of the period (a requirement of the assignment), they produced an original film showing the draft, draft-dodging, the death of Ho Chi Minh, the election of Richard Nixon, Watergate, Kent State, the first moments of the Ford Presidency (Accompanied by an apology for depicting Gerald Ford with hair and a scene in which Nixon bumps into Ford on the way out of the White House and says, "Oh, pardon me!"). In spite of the humor in the film, their analysis of the novel, its organization, its themes, and the literary devices used was outstanding. As a side note, one of the young men read the book "by hand;" the others listened to an audiobook and then used his copy to look up quotations and evidence for their projects.

Novel 2--The Memory Keeper's Daughter. Four girls more than adequately covered all the aspects of the novel, produced some showy tri-fold posters and an in-depth character analysis, and did a great job of teaching about Down's syndrome with a Power Point. The students, thanks to their advanced science classes, followed the charts on chromosomes. I just stared blankly at them. They followed their presentation with a team against team Jeopardy game with candy bars for prizes. The girls were all dressed in black with hot pink accents to match their trifolds.

Novel 3--The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. The audience sat on quilts on the classroom floor while the girls in semitropical and 60s dress served a traditional Congolese food.

They had also made a film using an opening blossom and the leaves on the trees to illustrate the organizational structure of the novel. They used two different PowerPoints in the course of their presentation of the required evidence about literary elements. The character analyses were presented on a poster. I'm including pictures here because they illustrated their characters with appliques of craft foam and other objects. Here's the closeup of one character:

And here is the entire Price family, with analyses below:

Novel 4--All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. The most unusual feature of this presentation was the use of Google Earth to trace the journey of a 16-year-old on horseback from San Angelo, Texas, to deep into Mexico in 1949. These students set the scene for this presentation with Western clothes, a saddle, a cowboy hat, and a sombrero. They did an outstanding job of recognizing the story as a journey of discovery and initiation into adulthood for the young man, John Grady Cole. They particularly enjoyed the cultural backgrounds of the novel since we live in both. The discussion of diction as evidence of educational background and social class included not only the English in the novel but also the Spanish. They also had a quiz for the audience.

Perhaps I should have had the students write formal research papers over the novels they read, but this assignment accomplished much the same purpose. They already know how to properly research, write, and document a paper, and it is the spring of their senior year, and they are tired. I think an outlet for creativity was a good thing.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Still Testing!

Off for another day of test administration--3 of 4. We have all been exhausted at the end of the day. There is nothing quite so tiring as boredom (the watching) accompanied by sheer terror (what if we do something wrong in spite of all the precautions?). Of course, the students are not in the loveliest of moods either.

This afternoon, however, my dual-credit seniors will be coming in to present their final projects. I'm looking forward to that. They are a lovely group, and they've worked hard on these projects about contemporary novels. They will be using everything from technology to artwork to skits to present their novels, and the creativity of the afternoon will offset the morning monotony nicely.