* All the Little Children

All the Little Children,” by Jo Furniss, is fantastic.  You might think that an apocalyptic plot is overused these days, even passé, but this book will blow your socks off.  The story is set in northern England.  It could have taken place this week.  Marlene and her sister-in-law, Joni, have ventured on a camping trip deep in the woods with their kids.  The trip was precipitated by Marlene’s selfish husband’s need to have them “out of his hair” while he packed up to leave the family.   Marlene, a successful businesswoman, has always placed her work and her needs above those of her kids.  She’s even trying to hide in the trees, talking to a partner in China, when her phone stops working.  Then Peter climbs a tree and sees “volcanoes” across the countryside.  Their magical trip is transformed into a nightmare.  People are dead, animals are dying, and some local children- Wild Things- are left to fend for themselves.

All the Little Children

This is a book of stark contrasts, of lyrical writing amidst the buzz of flies on dead bodies.  Of selfishness and incredible sacrifice.  Of Lord of the Flies and the humorous antics of little kids.  I must share a quote to give you some sense of the author’s gift to her readers, of her ability to breathe vivid imagery into every moment.  Marlene tells the story as she searches for some Wild Things:

We traveled a land of little terrors, a place where one misstep might kill; one gulp of tainted air, one wound we couldn’t treat, one single bullet.  Death would be small.  Tiny.  It would snatch us in the space between one breath and the next.

All the Little Children” recounts Marlene’s transformation as she shepherds Joni and all the little lost ones.  As she is accused of murder by the very kids she struggles to save.  This is a terrifying book.  We see the world through Marlene’s eyes and wonder how we might cope in that wasteland.  The book ends abruptly but with hope.

And I do hope the author is working on another amazing story!

 

* Saying goodbye

Our adventures, tutoring, and movie nights with the kiddos have come to an end.  After a couple of years here in North Carolina, my nephews and niece have returned to Texas.  It was tough to say goodbye.  They arrived quite traumatized, but were nurtured by a most precious couple who sacrificed greatly in restoring these dear ones.  It was a joint effort to socialize them, to love them through their sometimes unlovable moments.  That is when we all most need to be loved, right?  When we are at our most unlovable?

We had many many delightful movie nights, digital events where they played hard and mostly cooperatively.

movie night

There were some days that I failed miserably, when my patience evaporated, but overall, we learned and loved together.

Speaking of learning (so get ready for the teacher in me), there was absolutely no learning curve for this Action Movie FX app (below).  Created by Bad Robot Interactive, it features every kind of Star Wars menace (and more) that you can imagine.  Fortunately, this is not our car!  Once I contained them inside, they became quite adept at blowing up every person and every piece of furniture as well.

Our goodbyes today at the airport were difficult.  Plus I thought I might get stopped by security with that guitar case, which seemed like a perfect cover for an automatic weapon.  Yes, I’ve seen too many movies.

airport

As the departure time neared, Christopher hid his tearful face while Isaac gave me hugs every few minutes.  We waved faithfully every time they looked back at us on the other side of the security check.  Christopher yelled a reminder that I will tutor him via Google Hangouts.  Or else.

One consolation for us all is that they will spend summers here in NC.  I imagine my patience will be tested again, but I smile at the thought of greeting them next June.  I love you, dearest kiddos.

 

* Back to school we go

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As long as I can remember, each year begins at the start of school.  I may be semi-retired, but I’m already having those back-to-school nightmares dreams!  Here are some teacher survival tips for handling the new school year.

  1.  Never live for vacations.  Sure, they can be marvelous, but there’s no telling what might happen during that supposedly carefree time off.  I’ve had a taste of that disappointment.  Live for each day instead.  Live for each school day.
  2.  Cut yourself some slack.   The beginning of school can be hectic, so don’t beat yourself up if those trips to the gym or time with a loved one get squished a bit.  Or a lot.  Give yourself time to get into the workplace rhythm again.
  3.   Set up your room early, if possible.  If you get a head start on organizing bulletin boards and arranging tables and chairs, you’ll have more time to catch up with colleagues and offer support to others.
  4.  Assess your digital organization.  Maybe your desktop is neatly organized without stray files and your documents are not tossed into one humongous file called “school.”  If not, this is a great time to think about more specific categories for documents, purge junk, and clear that inbox.
  5.   Get back on a workday sleeping schedule.  If you’re a night owl, it’s time to transition to being an early bird.  (Hey, wasn’t that clever?)  There are apps for that transition; iPhones also delight in giving you bedtime reminders.  If you have to drink a lot of caffeine to focus, you might not be getting enough sleep.
  6.  Remember that the only behavior you can control is your own.  Sure, you must set up an environment and use strategies that encourage cooperation and a sense of community among your students.  But in the end, all you control is your response to those around you.  Respond with kindness, patience, self-control, and flexibility.
  7.  Look forward to all you will learn this year.  Isn’t that why we teach?  Because we love to learn?  You’ll learn from everyone, including those tough kiddos, if you have that growth mindset we are endlessly hammering into kids.
  8.  Teach all kids well, not just those who look like you.  

I hope your new school year is a wonderful adventure!

* Mark of the Plague

mark of the plague

A student just finished “Mark of the Plague,” the second in Kevin Sands’ Blackthorn Key series.  What a winner!  As in the first book, Christopher, an apothecary’s apprentice, gets caught up in mystery and death, with self-sacrificing best friend, Tom.  Christopher also renews a casual relationship with Sally, another former orphan from Cripplegate.

The year is 1665, the city is London, and the plague death toll is already 30,551.   The wealthy folks of London have fled and the remaining population lives mostly indoors, in dread of contracting “the sickness.”  Christopher is struggling to make ends meet after the death of Master Benedict and reverts to his usual love of pyrotechnics.  When an old friend, Isaac, gives them a paltry sum for shopping, he also describes a prophet who’s come to London, some extraordinary figure who can predict the course of the plague.  Isaac also shocks them by revealing that Master Benedict has left Christopher a hidden treasure, one that must be solved by following impossibly cryptic clues.   The boys head to the market, eventually rescuing Sally from ruffians on the streets, at least temporarily.  While at the Exchange, they are amazed by an apothecary, Galen, who claims to have a free plague cure.  From that point on, the three young friends find themselves in serious danger from all sides.

“Mark of the Plague” is an excellent mystery for middle schoolers and up, with complex characters and a battle against evil machinations and a devastating illness.  There are a number of significant themes in the book, drawn against a backdrop of bizarre plague remedies, minds overwhelmed by grief, and cruel greed.  The author faithfully represents this time of despair while leading his main characters through life-and-death struggles and into a newfound freedom.  Students will marvel at the complexity of the plot, which is equally likely to stump adult readers.  And the ending?  Even more remarkable than the previous book.

I highly recommend “Mark of the Plague” and await the third in The Blackthorn series, “The Assassin’s Curse.”  

* The One True Love of Alice-Ann

Enthralling.  Captivating.  I was shocked by The One True Love of Alice-Ann.  I could not put it down until I’d read it from cover to cover.  Alice-Ann was more like a movie than a book.  The author, Eva Marie Everson, has created a full screen novel of life in a sleepy southern town in 1941.  When Pearl Harbor was attacked.  When young men rushed eagerly to war.  When an awkward 16 year old falls in love- or does she?  And when the men don’t return, or come back broken in body and spirit.

Why was I shocked by The One True Love of Alice-Ann?  Because romance novels are at the bottom of my reading list.  Give me a detective or legal thriller, please.  Yet this book amazed me.  I crouched in Alice-Ann’s bedroom, watching her weep over precious letters from the man of her fantasies.  I hid behind the door as she tended to a friend who came home blinded and crippled.  I eavesdropped on Alice-Ann’s conversations with her father, aunt, friends.  I heard her crying.  I watched her grow up in a time of great despair.

Alice-Ann was an inspiration to me, and I’m 50+ years older!  She served and loved and judged and prayed and cried.  Wait a minute.  Alice-Ann is not real, is she?  Eva Marie Everson has a gift, folks.  Whatever your preferred genre of books, The One True Love of Alice-Ann should be on your reading list.  Read it in full technicolor.  You won’t be disappointed. Alice-Ann

* Long Story, Short

Long Story, Short spells d-o-o-m for my bogging posts.  This is one area where blogging and reality coincide.  I have three versions of any story (or any thought, for that matter):  one for my dearest teaching widower (his preference being 10 words or less), one that struggles to include no more than 4 tangential topics, and the Real Deal, an unscripted, spider-webbing marathon.  The latter version is best shared with family, who are forced to love you, or good friends, who then take a turn with their own Long Story, Short.

Don’t get me wrong.  Some folks can actually tell a Long Story, Short.  Our son and his wife both fall into that rare category.  I’m so glad they are forced to love me.  When I started blogging, my posts were typically 1,000+ words, paralleling my conversational “skills.”  The only people who read them were spammers, but in my naivete, I thought they were similarly challenged folks who enjoyed reading my blog.  When i clicked on their links, I ended up in boat manufacturing and cosmetics, with nary a story to be found.

The key to my success as a blogger?

No, I’m not using a picky definition of ‘success.’

* Camp Wonderopolis 2017- WOW!

Camp Wonderopolis 2017 is the BEST ever!   This STEM-based set of activities is divided into six tracks, with 7 excellent lessons for each.  New this year: Each track also includes a Maker Activity, a hands-on, fun way to extend the primary concept of each track.  A helpful video also accompanies each Activity.  The creators of this Wonderful camp have added a slew of additional resources for each lesson, access to a Wonder Wall for posting comments, and a cool representation of progress (such as completion of a graphic power plant) in addition to the previous representations of completion.  Kids still earn those awesome Wonder Cards by taking a 6-question quiz related to the basic concepts and vocabulary of the lesson.

Camp Wonderopolis 2017

Kids with reading struggles are not neglected.  Each lesson features an audio track, so those smart kids who can’t wade through paragraphs of unfamiliar words won’t have to!  Kids on the autism spectrum or those with language/ auditory processing problems may also benefit from the audio and video features, as well as time spent on “Spin a Wonder Wheel,” which reviews key vocabulary.

So here’s my Wonder question:  How do they keep making Camp Wonderopolis better each year?  

* Sunrise Sermon: Tunnel Vision

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Michelle Malone has written another winner! What’s one thing YOU will do differently today for yourself? I was going to say, “Eat chocolate,” but that’s not different. Perhaps I will go to bed before midnight!

Two Are Better Than One

Are you one of those folks who walks through life looking straight ahead — not looking to your left or to your right — just straight ahead? Perhaps most days you’re looking down at your phone — hurrying to get to work, a meeting, your second job, or your kids’ after school activities. Here’s a question for you (and I hope you pause long enough to read it). Do you ever slow down or simply stop to look at your surroundings and see what you’ve been missing?

Many of us run through life as if we’re on borrowed time, and actually we are. We’re always borrowing time from something to do something else. Do you ever cut into your family time by staying at work a little longer? If so, you’re borrowing time from your family. Will you ever pay them back? Maybe you have to finish typing an important…

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* Cees’ Oddball Challenge

OK, I should “win” Cee’s blogging challenge because I’m already an oddball, even without a photograph.  Or you could say I am a divergent thinker with ADD.  Or you could say I have a split personality.  I mean, how on earth did this photo happen?  Seriously, folks, I did not photoshop it or alter it in any way.  My dearest widower will confirm that he took the photo as I kept saying, “Push the button!  Push the button!”  Of course, iPhone buttons can’t be pushed, so perhaps that explains it.  After watching 2 episodes of “People of Earth,” I might consider this my alien abduction experience.  It reminds me of the old double exposure days of film-in-a camera.  Yikes.

me 1.JPG

Wait, wait, wait!  I do remember what happened!  Wow.  It’s all so clear now.  We were trying to film a fourth of July family video for one of my students.   The four of us were playing a board game and I pulled out my camera, not really asking anyone if we could make a quick video.  I set the camera on video, handed the phone to my teaching widower, and as he fumbled with it, I admit my voice got higher and louder as I said, “Push the button!  Push the button!”  (As a former Brit, I was thinking, “Push the bloody button!”)  He said something odd about pans and I snatched the phone back.  It was on Pano setting and he did push the bloody button after all.  The photo above is me, thinking, “Push the bloody button!”  And yes, we did get a video made after we stopped laughing hysterically at pans and Pano[rama].

* Clutter: another lesson in belief

“I am not a hoarder!  In fact, I am quite organized.”  I can see your eyebrows rising in disbelief.  Yeah, we have an uncontrolled junk room, tons of closets stuffed to the brim, and every drawer and shelf in the house is packed.  But that clutter is not hanging over my head, as of a day ago.  My dearest friend, who shared her “A-student” story, has inspired me to ignore the whispers of “clutterer.”  Those shelves and shelves of teaching supplies?  Their days are numbered.  Today I filled up 2 bags of clothes for the thrift shop.  Whee!

In the past, in a far away land, my cleaning binge radar was firmly fixed on my dearest teaching widower’s clutter.  In fact, my own stacks seemed to disappear as I grunted and glared at his piles of paper, pounds of erasers shavings (he writes by HAND), and random books, paper clips, dead staples, and wine-stained napkins.  My displaced clutter-righteousness had no bounds, kinda like my own messes.  Poor guy.  But NO MORE!

junk 2

 

The New Me does not need to focus on my dearest widower’s writing detritus.  I don’t need to accomplish a clutter-free environment today or tomorrow or within a month.  I don’t feel intimidated by what needs to be done.  I want to do a little every day.  How obvious, you say.  It’s not rocket science.  But until I heard the A-Student story, I was crushed under the weight of clutter.

With my confident belief and God’s grace, along with a dearest friend to whom I can be accountable, the era of clutter in this house is over.  I am so excited!  In fact, this will be my “before” photo:

junk 3