Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Santa Sells Out

Today, in a last minute frantic rush to get everything done, I realized we hadn't gone to see Santa yet. So, I packed up snacks, braved the new 2" of snow and set out for the mall. I have to say that I am proud of the fact that this was my first trip to the mall this season. However, when I got to the Santa line, I read a sign that said something to the effect of: "You can take pictures with your own camera, but we require a minimum picture purchase." WHAT?! I can't take my own freakin' pictures! Oh, but Ma'am, you can, you just have to buy our 4x6 picture for $15.00!!!!!!! Now, I'm usually not such a scrooge, but this just seemed like milking the public who is already strapped this season. I wanted to punch Santa's Little Helper in the nose! Okay. I feel better now. I didn't punch him in the nose.

What I did do is this. I took pictures of my kids everywhere in the whole Santa Menagerie except with him. I even took a solo picture of Santa! Maybe I can airbrush the kids in later? Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Musing

In between reading and trying to keep the house clean with four people constantly trying to thwart me, I am taking lots of time to ponder the holidays. While out running errands tonight I heard a clip on the radio about some churches holding "Blue Christmas" masses because so many people become depressed and have difficulty around this time of year. These are apparently church services focused on healing and the stress and difficulty surrounding this time of year. Partially because of the stress, partially because of the shortened days, it seems this seasonal depression is quite common. I was so down yesterday (even though it was a snow day) that I thought something was wrong with me. Granted, we've had some not so great news come our way over the last week, but I know we'll get through it. We just have to tighten our belts and hunker down to ride out this recession like everyone else. I've been googling "positive thinking" and "happy thoughts" to try and keep my chin up. However, I seem to have lost my patience with everyone and the season. The commercialism has always gotten to me, but this year seems to be especially bad.

While I think I would be lonely for extended family if we did indeed hole up in a log cabin, it sure sounds like a great idea right now. But, then, why would I have more patience with everyone in a log cabin if I can't handle everyone underfoot at the present moment? The idyllic image I have in my head of all of us cozied up around a fire with hot chocolate is immediately blown out by the fact that we'd have to have a television, toys, fighting, etc. How to find peace in this season of giving?

The True Adventures of Charley Darwin

I have just finished The True Adventures of Charley Darwin which is coming out on Jan. 1, 2009. Carolyn Meyer, whose main genre is wonderful historical fiction, doesn't disappoint with this one. We are introduced to a motherless 8 year-old Charley in the early chapters and we see how he is spirited away to Shrewsbury School, a boarding school for boys, where Charley's brother Erasmus is already safely tucked away. Ironically, the school is not far from Charley's home and his doctor father and many sisters, and Charley often secretly runs the entire distance home to visit his doting sisters.

Who would have ever known Charles Darwin was a poor student? He hated being told what to read and write and he harbored a special abhorrence for the Greek and Latin he was meant to study. Instead, he found friends to run in nature with him so he could nourish his love of natural science and history. Eventually, Charley convinces his father he isn't a great student and his father suggests Charles become a clergyman! Before taking Holy Orders, Charley is offered space on The Beagle, a ship where he can sail for two years exploring the parts of the natural world he is so drawn to. With his father's hesitant blessing, Charley boards The Beagle, which turns into a five-year journey. The novel ends shortly after his return and his marriage to a cousin.

One of the intriguing pieces of this novel is that Meyer chose to tell it in a first person journal, which makes the reader definitely feel part of the historical plot. I found this book fascinating because I love historical fiction and I had limited knowledge about the early life of Charles Darwin. However, I think it would have limited appeal with middle grade readers. The plot sort of plods along with not much action except that Darwin knew his passion at a young age and pretty much eschewed all of the formal education he received in his privileged life.

Because I did love the slow, romantic story of how young Charley Darwin found his way into our history textbooks, I am going to give this ARC to my resident 8th grade historical fiction reviewer- I'll call her Michelle. I'm interested to see what an 8th grader has to say about this hovel and I will publish her response at a later date.

Post reading, I find that young Charley as a character has stayed with me for several days after finishing the story. Additionally, I found it interesting that he was so pampered by his father; I didn't know Darwin came from a wealthy family. The fact that his father tried to convince Charles to become part of the church seems so humorous to me right now! The church and Darwin have been at odds since his Origin of Species was published! At least he told his wife before marrying her that his views didn't really mesh with those of the church.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Books I Want to Read During Break

There are so many books I want to get through during break, that I wonder if my family would mind terribly if I holed myself up in a small log cabin with a fireplace and a coffee pot for about six or seven days. Because they might all watch tv until their eyes crossed, I think I'll opt for my cozy chair in my bedroom with a cup of hot mint tea and some shortbread. Here is what I want to accomplish:

Teaching/YA Lit.
1. Less Is More
2. Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle (she's awesome!)
3. The Spectacular Now
4. 3 Willows: A New Sisterhood Begins

Adult Fiction:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Benedictine Book Group:
Seeking God by Esther DeWaal

These are lofty goals but I look at this two weeks as a good time to relax, renew and refresh my blog!

Vacation is Here!

Well, a bit early due to the snow, but we have a vacation commencement. Though my husband's been away and I didn't get a chance to bring in the yummy treats I made for my colleagues, I'm sure they will still be appreciated in January.

As the year winds down and our country is devastated by financial issues (I can't tell you how many people I know who are out of jobs), I want to try and focus on what I am grateful for:

1. My husband and children
2. The Benedictine Monks of St. Benedict Monastery in Oxford, MI
3. My teaching job
4. The first African-American president
5. Books- especially ARCs that are coming in for review (thank you publishers and those who have been so generous with helping me so far)
6. snow days :)
7. Renewed contact with my very dear friend in Venezuela (thank you Facebook)
8. The opportunity to run a support group for my church for women dealing with infertility.
8. Freedom of speech and the ability to vote as I please in my own country.
9. A white christmas
10. Early mornings to write and muse about life.

I am in the process of finishing Carolyn Meyer's book The True Adventures of Charley Darwin and will post a review within a few days. Additionally, I just finished the audio version of The Calder Game by Blue Balliett and have to say that I LOVE the way she incorporates art and math and youthful intelligence into the mysteries that she writes. When I read Chasing Vermeer in it's hardback publication (years ago) I don't think I appreciated the intelligent way that Balliett wove her story. I know I enjoyed it, but found it a bit quirky for me. Either my tastes have changed or she has grown on me as an author, but my 8 year-old is transfixed by the narrative as well. Even the twins are talking about Calder since we all listen to audiobooks in the car whenever we are driving. (Much better than "Hillary Duck" or depressing financial/war news) Perhaps the audio version suits me better as a listener? I did get The Wright 3 from the school library so my 8 year-old and I can read it together over the break.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What I Saw and How I Lied

After all the buzz of the National Book Award, I had to blow through this one to see what the hype was. Wow! Judy Blundell has created a setting not often seen in YA novels. First of all, while we have lots of WWII books, this one takes place about 5 or 6 years after the war has ended. Evie Spooner and her mom and stepdad decide to take a break and vacation in the sparsely inhabited or visited, Palm Beach, FL. While we think of the 50's as bucolic and prosperous, there was actually enough anti-semitism that Palm Beach had a "no Jews" and "no coloreds" law. Thus, it is that the new friends the Spooners make at the undervisited hotel are asked to leave. They are there under a false name- a gentile one rather than their Jewish name by which they are known in NYC.

Evie believes she's ugly because she is constantly comparing herself to her drop dead gorgeous mother. Actually, Evie has become a beautiful young woman at 15, and she catches the eye of a 23 year-old veteran of the recent war, coincidentally a colleague of her father's from his platoon. While Evie pines away for Peter and Peter tries to constantly remember their age difference, another illicit relationship is brewing between Peter and Evie's mother. However, Evie isn't privvy to this information until after a boating accident puts all of the Spooners into the spotlight- on trial. At a crossroads now, Evie has a difficult decision to make.

This is a searing novel where the main character has a painful revelation of the fallibility of her own mother on top of some hard hitting revelations about what it means to grow up. I have read lots of coming-of-age novels, but this one really gripped me with the decisions that Evie was forced to make. She truly matured in a matter of 200+ pages. Her innocence was taken in her new view of the world and her parents. (By the way, the dad has adopted Evie and the mother was previously a single mother in the early 1940's-very taboo.) The hurricane in the novel is a wonderful metaphor for the flight of Evie's childhood and a realization that she has been ushered into a new phase of her life.

I instantly thought of one of my students when I read this book. She, too, devoured it along with her mother. The appeal of Evie and the dramatic irony so cleverly constructed by the author makes this a difficult book for anyone, any age, to put down.