* 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.

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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

* Belief: a lesson from my friend

“I am an A student.”  My friend told herself that after failing her freshman year in college.  She never studied and wasn’t sure what “A students” did.  She asked a med student who was frequently studying, one who appeared quite organized with binders and notebooks.  That kind med student shared her studying routine with my friend, who went on to earn straight A’s.  Teachers remarked that no one else had ever earned 100% on their tests. The college dean requested a meeting with my friend to ask her how she had transformed her grades.

My friend told me that she believed she was an A student.  Even while she still had D’s and F’s, she simply KNEW she was an A student.  Her past grades didn’t define her.  “There was no F hanging over my head,” she told me.

How was my brilliant friend transformed?  To me, the power of belief, the power of faith, the power of encouragement, and the power of mentoring all played a crucial role in her success.  Today, this friend and teacher continues to share her wisdom and to mentor others, including me.

Successful teachers believe in their kids.  They help kids believe in themselves.  Successful and ethical teachers do not look at black kids and think, “Oh well, I’ll do what I can, but….”  Neither do they promote a false sense of “You can be anything you want!”  I don’t think any of us can be whatever we want, even if we are very smart.  My dearest teaching widower would agree that I can’t be an accountant, administrator, or statistician.  BUT could most kiddos be “A students?”  Absolutely.  

To my dearest friend, thank you for teaching me more than I can possibly express.

C and I

More tomorrow on another lesson she taught me.

* Independence Day by Frederick Douglass, Part 2

The fiery speech delivered by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852, should have melted the hearts and minds of his listeners.  What hardness could stand before the flame of Douglass’ words?  I urge you to read the speech in its entirety; it is a masterpiece of faith in the face of unimaginable circumstances.  His efforts were not in vain.  By 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery.

Why is Douglass’ speech relevant today?  I believe our nation remains in the shadows of slavery, of its declared message that blacks were not human, not capable of learning.  (Don’t you wonder why whites were so determined that slaves not learn to read or write?)  Douglass was frequently accused of not authoring his many works because it was outside the white experience that blacks would perform exceptionally.  Today, we find select charter schools with low income students far outperforming most public schools.  Why?  We know what to do: provide high expectations, qualified teachers, a growth mindset, and small class size.

Why are we still waiting for nationwide success of all our children?  Do we really believe that black kids can succeed?  Do black kids believe they can succeed?  Black Stanford undergrads scored measurably worse on tests when asked to record their race or told that the test measured intellectual ability.  We can do better.  We must do better because we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all children are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

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* On a tightrope

I love Cee’s Share Your World Challenge.  No, it couldn’t possibly be that my favorite subject is MYSELF!  No no no!

Since this is NOT all about me, here we go:

For your main meal do you prefer sweet and sour, hot and spicy, spicy and sweet, bitter, salty, bland or other?  Hot and spicy.  It’s a proven fact that as you age, you lose taste buds, among other vital cells.  Thank goodness I can’t see what’s happening in my brain, but my tongue is as smooth as a baby’s something-or-other.  I can eat foods now that I would never have tried decades ago, simply because everything tastes so bland without a LOT of extra kick.

baby 2

Oh, baby, enjoy it while you can!

Where do you hide junk when people come over?  We are blessed to have an abundance of places to hide junk.  I know, it is also a curse, because we are close to being stars on the Hoarders TV show.  If we have time, upstairs is our perfect “ditch the junk” spot.  In a hurry, and we do not welcome drop-ins, everything gets tossed onto the washer and dryer with doors quickly smashed shut.

Junk-ditching reaches a crisis point when folks are spending the night.  We do have a dedicated junk room, of course, but our other favorite spots (the landing, the upstairs hallway, and our bedroom) are in peril if people can walk around freely.  Granted, our guests may find it odd to have every upstairs door shut and locked, but we don’t stand on pride in this hoarder’s paradise.  I would show you photos, but that defeats the purpose of hiding spots, right?

What daily habit would you like to introduce to your life?  Um, cleaning up the junk?  Seriously, that is on the top of my Google Keep list.  And I stare at that item every day.  Then I take a tranquilizer and the moment passes.  Just kidding; the moment never passes.  That list weighs more than an elephant.

If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?  So, speaking of elephants, I would not ever ride another one as long as I live.  The human hips are not meant to be spread at such an angle, believe me.  No, I have always longed to be a tightrope artist.  I’m fascinated by Charles Blondin, who walked over Niagara Falls carrying a man on his back (and also cooked an omelet while perching up there).  It’s a wonderful thing that my fear of heights is a “controlled” phobia.  (You’ll have to read this if you want the inside scoop.)

So I don’t feel alone in this, tell me how much you like to write about yourself!