Sunday, December 28, 2008

I'm not here anymore!

I finally set up my new blog.  Go check it out here and sign up to follow it there.  I'm excited about the new me.  I think I look 10 years younger--uh, well, so go see anyway.  What are you still doing here?

Monday, December 22, 2008

This Week

Posting will be suspended for the week of Christmas since my computer access is limited.

I hope all of you have a grand holiday, and I'll stop by your blogs as time permits.

Merry Christmas!

Lois Moss

Friday, December 19, 2008

What is in a name?

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  How about a lotus?  It has other names: Nymphaea and Water Lily.  Here's one from Monet's garden in Giverny.  

They're amazing and beautiful and symbolic.  I love them, and I identify with them.  Part of it is that as a child a family friend called me Lotus Blossom.  I always loved that.  It made me feel like I was beautiful and special like a lotus blossom.  With a given name like Lois, people were constantly giving me nicknames.  That was fine by me.  I thought my name was old fashioned and lame.  It stuck out wherever I went.  Spelling it was a problem. Pronouncing it was a problem.  I've been called Louis and Louise more times than I can count.  Even my mother, who I was named after, didn't go by Lois.  It was even old fashioned in her generation.

I have made peace with my name over the years, and now I like it.  If someone comes into a room and calls for me.  I know it's for me.  There are not 10 people named Lois in any given room ever.  (Maybe at a Lois convention, but otherwise...)  There have been a few times in my life when there have been 2, but you get my drift.  It's unique, and that works for me now.

I was chatting with a friend yesterday about the name of my blog, my username, a possible pen name, and my real name.  As an author, what do we do with our names?  We want people to be able to remember them.  We want it to pop up with us first on the list of google searches.  We want our blogs accessible and welcoming.  What to do?

When I first set up my blog, I wasn't really thinking about all that.  I was looking more to being incognito.  I like my privacy and was concerned about putting myself out there on the world wide web.  Now I'm thinking I should have done things differently.  I'm thinking that before I do much more with this blog that maybe I should set up one with a more accessible name.  No one, as yet, has been able to get "domus muscida" on the first go round, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th either for that matter.  What?  You're not all Latin scholars?  

And Lotusloq as a username may have to go too.  It's short for Lotusloquax which is what I use on Livejournal.  It means "speaking lotus."  

I think I would like to keep the Lotus part.  It has depth, meaning, and beauty like the flower, and I think using Nymphaea is fraught with double entendre that I don't want.  Haha!  

Do you have any ideas out there?  What do you think?  Should I change?  Should I make everyone bend to my geeky ways?  Any name ideas?

Maybe I should go with just the English:  Speaking Lotus or Lotus speaking?  or Lotus Blossom Moss?  haha!  Can you see I'm floundering?  Help!  Please!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday=Book Review Time

Up for today:  I'D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU, BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU and CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY by Ally Carter and A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS by Eva Ibbotson

*Keep in mind that my reviews are strictly on my impressions of the books and the ratings are based on my enjoyment of the books and not necessarily a reflection of their literary merit

           i'd tell you i love you but then i'd have to kill you by msannakoval
I'D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU, BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU

Why I bought it?  This is one I had seen a few times and almost picked up because the title is so catchy, but I didn't--more shame for me.  This was my daughter's choice when we were at the BN together, and it was the snazzy title that sealed the deal for her.  She was the one who read it first and then recommended it to me.

Synopsis:  Cammie Morgan is training to be a spy and goes to an exclusive, secretive all-girl school for spies.  When she falls for one of the local town's "normal" boys she discovers how hard it is to have a relationship with someone who can never know who she really is.   She and her friends are geniuses and can speak 14 different languages and kill a guy 7 different ways with their bare hands, but with boys they are clueless--well, except for the despised new girl. 

The premise is fun and the book really delivers.  I was captivated from the first page.  The narrator's voice is charming and snappy.  It's a very quick read and seemed to just fly by.  I never wanted to put it down.  When I was done, I was disappointed that it was already over.  I'll definitely read it again when I need something light and fun.  It has been optioned by Disney, so I'm sure there will be a film soon. It will translate well to the big screen--lots of action and comedy and romance.  What more could a gal want?  I'd tell ya, but then I'd have to, you know, kill ya.

My rating:  ****1/2
My daughter's rating:  ****1/2  (Wow!  We agreed!  That's saying something!)

CS:  3  This is really only for the "violence" parts which are really pretty tame.  It ends up really being more about the intrigue.  I kept thinking that there was a little language because there's an edgy vibe to the MC, but I've gone back through and other than a few British swears (by a British friend) and "Oh Jeez!" and "Heck" appearances and the like there's not much I could find.  For the movie rating I'd say probably a PG, because you know they'll show someone getting punched in the solar plexus.  G seems to be the kiss of death for a teen movie.


Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy

CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY

Why did I buy this?  I was browsing at the BN and saw it and immediately recognized it as the sequel.  I couldn't buy it fast enough.  

Synopsis:  Cam's in real trouble for her relationship with the town boy from book 1.  It breaks all protocol.  Will she have to give him up forever?  There's a big mystery going on at the school that brings some unexpected guests--some unexpected male guests. I don't want to say too much and make this a spoiler for the 1st book for those who haven't read it already, but I wanted to include this review with the first because if you loved the first one you will definitely want to read the second.

This sequel does not disappoint.  I was worried at first, but I actually liked it better than the first.  There's no question as to whether I'll read this again.  Absolutely!  This one would make an even better movie.

My rating:  *****
My daughter's rating:  *****  (Agreement again!  Does that tell you how good it is?)

CS:  3--ditto as for the first book



            a countess below stairs by ryfkm79

A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS

Why I bought it?  I had seen it quite a few times at BN and had wondered if it would be any good.  Then, when I was on Amazon buying something for my book club that I hadn't been able to find in the store, this came up as a recommendation.  I finally decided to take the plunge and read one of Ibbotson's books to see if they were as good as they looked like they would be.  The synopsis seemed interesting and the general reviews seemed high, so...

Synopsis:  Anna is a displaced Russian countess in England after the Russian Revolution.  She ends up working below stairs as a maid for an Earl and his household.  She works very hard and is determined that no one will know of her past, but her manner conveys that she is more than a servant.  It's hard to hide that royal upbringing, you know.  She starts falling for the Earl, but his mean old fiancee is in the way.  As the earl falls for her the conflicts deepen.  He is trapped by honor.  He will not go back on his promise no matter what.  

I'm a romantic softy at heart, and so I was hoping to enjoy this.  I'm always looking for good YA romance stories without the racy stuff.  This one is pretty good, but I didn't have much trouble putting it down.  That's never a good sign.  There were times that the writing was more long-winded than I like.  Sometimes though it was pretty lyrical.  I enjoyed the storyline pretty well and the denoument was unexpected yet satisfying--actually it was kind of crazy.  I'm glad I read it, but I don't plan on reading it again.   I will recommend it to my daughter.  I think she would like it.  I will definitely read some of Ibbotson's other books though.

My rating:  ***1/2

CS:  3--mostly for situation stuff--there's not really any language issues that I recall. 


  

Monday, December 15, 2008

When inspiration strikes


What do you do when inspiration strikes right when you're going to bed--when that proverbial light comes on in the darkness?  Roll over, tell your brain to shut up, and go on to sleep? or are you afraid you'll forget?  Do you jump right out and grab a piece of paper or fire up the computer and get busy?

Last night a new idea for the beginning of my novel I've been working on for a while hit me right at that point of drifting off, and I knew I would not remember the details if I didn't get them down on paper, so I drug myself out of the nice warm bed and grabbed pen and paper and the ideas poured for 4 pages.  It pulls the whole novel together and sets the tone I've been looking for.  Woo hoo!!  I feel like celebrating!

Friday, December 12, 2008

International Stories

Ah!  La Belle France!  Paris!  I read a blog yesterday that was talking about stories set in Foreign locals.   It got me thinking about how much I love books that are set in far away places. I love learning about the cultures and the people that live there.  I would love to see more books like this.  I understand that the location needs to be integral to the storyline of the book, but I think there's a market out there for these types of books.  What do y'all say?  Books set in Paris or Cannes or Nice or wherever?  Are they for you? 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wednesday=Book Review Time

As promised no ***1/2 stars this week!

Up for this week:  North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

NORTH AND SOUTH:  
Why I bought it?  I had rented the movie through Netflix because I love all the BBC classic movies.  I absolutely loved the movie.  It became a quick favorite, and I wanted to read the original.  I couldn't find it at my BN, and so I ordered it online at Amazon.

Brief Synopsis:  This is not the North and South that tells of the US civil war.  No Patrick Swayze.  Sorry Girls!  This story is set in England and tells of an upper-class family from the south that has to relocate to an industrial city in the north because of a significant reduction in income.  Margaret Hale, the MC and daughter in this family, has to adjust to the change of climate, status, responsibilities, and prejudices (that she holds) to make her way in her new life.  The wealthy mill owner, Mr. Thornton, being a tradesman is not of her class, and yet there is something "more" in him.  

If you've seen the movie (you know, I take back my "sorry" above.  There's nothing to be sorry for with Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton.), I'd still suggest reading the book.  There are some significant changes from the movie.  I have to say, as much as I loved the movie, the book was better (Isn't that the way it usually is?).  The Mr. Thornton in the book is much gentler than the one in the movie, but I understand that the film makers wanted to be sure that a modern audience would understand why Margaret looked down so much on Mr. Thornton, and with his harshness at the beginning of the movie it is not necessary to understand the importance of class ranking in that time period.  (Elizabeth Gaskell was a contemporary and friend of Charles Dickens, so if that helps you with the time period.)

This is one of my all-time favorite books.  I absolutely loved it.  Mr. Thornton, to me, ranks right up there with Mr. Darcy.  

Rating:  *****  

The newest aspect of the book reviews is going to be cleanness score (CS), because I have young family members that will read these reviews, and so I want them and their moms to know what they will get with the books I review, and I think that others of you out there picking books for your kids might like to know.  (Is that enough ands?)  That said--my scale is going to be from 0 to 10.  0 has absolutely nothing the least bit offensive in it and 10 is for those books that have very offensive material.  (I think I can guarantee that there will be no 10s in any of my book reviews, but it will still be on the scale for gauging purposes.) 

CS=3 for slight language, mild violence, social unrest (In a theatre it would probably be rated G or PG max.)


JUST LISTEN:  
Why I bought it?  I had read another book by Sarah Dessen and loved the way she expressed herself.   It also helped that it has a southern setting, and I like novels set in the south since I grew up there.  I saw it when I was browsing in the BN.  The cover caught my eye, I had liked the other book of hers, and so I read through the inside flap.  It intrigued me, so chaching! Sold!  
Synopsis:  Annabel Greene, the MC, is a model for the local department store and has a TV commercial running for back-to-school that features her as the girl who has it all.  Her reality is far from the fantasy of the commercial.  Her family is treading on thin ice, her self-image is damaged, and her best friend has dumped her and taken all their mutual friends with her in a scandalous scene.  She feels lost and alone and scared.  There's a mystery as to what really happened between her and her best friend.  Even her friend doesn't really know.  Enter Owen Armstrong!  The angriest kid in school who's a stickler for telling the truth and expects it from everyone around him.

Sarah Dessen is a master at this.  She unfolds the story bit by bit, building and then backing away.  Her characters are totally real and raw at times.  The text is sprinkled with nuggets of wisdom, and the honesty is compelling.  There are moments of anguish nestled together with moments of subtle humor--heck, some are laugh out loud funny.  I love this book.  It is another one of my all-time favorites.  Owen ranks right up there as one of my favorite leading men.   

Rating:  *****

CS:  6,  a bit of language throughout, but not a lot--there are a couple of F words though,  some violence, I don't want to give away important plot points, so I'll just state it as some PG-15 situations.  I haven't given it to my 14 year old yet to read, so if that gives you a gauge.  I'm pretty conservative.  I suppose some 13 year olds would think nothing of it.  It would depend on what they are exposed to everyday.  In a theatre it would probably be rated PG-13 on the edgy side.

So there you have it.  A couple of my favorite books.  A couple of my favorite leading men that not everyone is aware of.  Let me know what you think.  Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Let a little light shine through

Thanks to all of you for the comments on what YA writing is.  I think it's also important for those of us who are writing for a YA audience that we include a bit of light in our writings.  Whatever it may be for us.  Sometimes levity is enough to lighten a book; sometimes it is hope.  I don't think moralizing does it.   Preachiness is worse than moralizing.    

In the books that I have been reading lately, I want to avoid reading the ones that seem to have little or no light in them.  That's why I have 3 half started books and one series of 6 books that I have almost finished reading since I started those others.  I just don't want to pick them up any more.  Where's the light?

What kind of things do you think bring light into a book?  


Friday, December 5, 2008

What really makes a book YA?

Since I've commented on 2 blogs already today about this issue, I felt the need to bring it up here.  There has been a lot of criticism of Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight series because of the messages that it sends to young teenage girls--especially in the realm of healthy romantic relationships.  Regardless of what you think of her writing style, I think it is important to point out that SM originally wrote the book for herself and then tried to publish it for adults.  It was not until the publishing industry got involved that she was told that the book should be classified as Young Adult.   

It obviously appeals to a lot of YA females.  It appeals to a lot of Adult females.  Where do we draw the line, though, in what is appropriate for the YA audience?  I personally think that this book got classified as YA because it had little language and no blatant immorality.   

Is it the author's responsibility to classify the book or the publishing industry's?  Is it Stephenie Meyer's decision or her agent's or her publisher's?  or should we open it up to the national movie rating system's?  If I were rating the book like a movie, I would give it a PG-13 rating.  Does that mean then that it is appropriate for 13 year olds?  I'm just asking.  I'd love to hear what you all are thinking.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wednesday=Book Review Time

Up for this week:  Savvy by Ingrid Law and Chalice by Robin McKinley.

Savvy

Why I bought it? (This is going to be an official part of my reviews for the marketing people out there.) I was trolling for some fun books for my kids, and I saw the bright cover and picked it up.  I liked the artwork and title, so I thought I'd see what it was about.  The back was enough to hook me.  "What if your Grandpa moves mountains, one of your brothers causes hurricanes, another creates electricity, and now it's your turn?"  I didn't even open it and read inside the front cover (which I will generally always do with an unknown author and title).  I knew my daughter would love this book (as long as it delivered--these kind of supernatural things happening are right down her alley), and she did and insisted that I read it.  

It's definitely more of a MG book than YA.  The MC, Mibs, is a 12 yr. old girl turning 13.  Her father has been in an accident and is in critical condition.  The mother and oldest brother go to be with him at the hospital leaving the rest of the family behind with the grandfather.  Mibs, two of her brothers, and 2 friends hop on a pink bible delivery bus to make it to the hospital 90 miles away.  This initial premise is terribly far-fetched to me.  It seemed crazy that there would be no plans made for bringing the younger kids to see their father in the hospital, but it didn't bother my daughter.  There are some crazy antics and interesting developments as the trip progresses and as Mibs gets her "Savvy."  

It's pretty funny and a bit outlandish, but I think that is what my daughter particularly liked.  I had a harder time overlooking the parts of the story that were not realistic, and I don't mean the supernatural parts.  I mean the stupidity of many of the adults in the book.  Of course, kids do seem to like the adults being clueless in their entertainment.  Not really one I'd read again.

My rating:  3 1/2 stars
My daughter's rating:  4 1/2 stars


Chalice

Why I bought it?  Robin McKinley wrote it.   I like most of her books and love some of them, especially The Blue Sword which is one of my all time favorites.  I saw it on a display table at the B&N and snatched it right up with anticipation.

This is more of a YA book.  Mirasol, the MC, is a humble beekeeper and becomes the Chalice when the old Chalice and Master die unexpectedly.  The new Master has been in training to be a fire priest and is no longer quite human.  This is a problem because the Master needs to be human.  They must work together to help keep their homeland from falling apart.  It's an interesting premise and the interactions of Chalice and Master push the story forward.  I found it slow going, especially at first, and it took me a while to get into.  There was very little dialog.  In some ways, this reinforced the idea of peace coming from the Chalice, but it slowed  things way down.  The language and imagery is well done as you would expect with McKinley.  

I liked it, but I didn't love it.  I would like to read it again though to see if it improves with familiarity.  This is where being someone like Robin McKinley works for you.  I'm willing to cut her a little slack and read it again thinking that maybe I was too distracted when I read it the first time to truly appreciate it.

My rating:  3 1/2 stars with potential for a higher rating later

This is getting to be a trend.  I promise next time I won't give 3 1/2 stars even if I have to pick something I read ages ago.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving and traffic

Yea!  We're back!  The vacation was great, but the driving was horrendous.  What was normally about a 6 hour drive took 9 hours on the way over and about 8 and a half on the way back!  There were 2 spots with accidents both directions and on the way over we had been so delayed that we ended up in Knoxville's rush hour traffic.  

I am thankful that we weren't in any accidents.  There was so much insanity on the roads.  It amazes me how many people don't know the rules of the road, much less the common courtesies and unwritten rules of driving.  My husband never wants to drive again during the Thanksgiving holidays.  Sorry Sandy!  Next year it's your turn.

At least our time celebrating Thanksgiving was wonderful.  The cousins all had a grand time and got along extremely well.  Yea!  The food was tremendous.  I spent most of Thursday in a triptophan coma.  Mmmm!  And the family time was delicious as well.

Our Friday did get spent shopping for a while, but not at 5 am and not in any kind of frenzy.  I'm appalled and horrified at what happened in some places.  In our lines everyone was very friendly and we helped each other out.  We chatted with the lady in front of us (that we didn't know) the whole time.  She offered to let us put our stuff on her cart so we wouldn't have to hold it (there were no carts left when we came) and when she remembered something she had forgotten we held her spot while she ran to look so she wouldn't lose her place in line.  Small things, I know, but nice things.  It was all very civil and nice even if the lines did go all the way to the back of the store.  We found some incredible deals just like everyone else.

Now it's back to business as usual.  I'm going to working on splitting and reducing the fluff from my novel.  My goal weight is now 70K words.  Thanks for all the input!  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

To split, or not to split? That is the question!

The tree did split.  Fun one, huh?  It's from the parking lot of the school where Elizabeth does orchestra.  I got bored sitting there and had to get creative.  Should I split though?  That is the real question.  I've been trying to decide if I'm going to split the book that I've been working on.  I keep waffling.  

Here's the thing:  YA books' target length is 60K-80K words, and mine weighs in at a whopping 115K.   I've shaved and cut and that's where it stands.  In the euphoria of finishing my manuscript, I sent out some so-so queries stupidly to the wrong people (who accept YA but not what I write--now that I've seen what they particularly want online--oops!  sorry about that!  I was so naive.) and some of the right people (who weren't interested at this time, thank you very much) that I got from a book.  I looked online too, but obviously not enough. 

There is so much stuff out there once you start looking and know what you're looking for.  Now that I kind of have a clue about what I'm doing, (Thanks to Nathan Bransford and other agents' websites like his--Thanks Nathan!  I worship at your feet--well sort of, and not in any stalker-like manner) I want to start all over again.  I didn't completely strike out.  I had some interest and even a request for a full, but no takers so far.  I still have yet to hear back from 2 agents. When I hear back from them I'm starting over with a little savvy this time.  If I need to make the split this is the perfect time to do it.

Some of the things I've read lately talk about how much harder it is for anyone to take on a new author (in this economy) especially if the book is long.  It's such a big risk for the publishers, etc., etc., and I totally get that.  The agent who requested the full said that she didn't think it was commercial enough in the current market.   Is a part of it, that it is too long?  It could be.  So I think I really should split my book.  There's a natural break about half way through that with a little tweaking could be the end of the first book.  It would be right about 80K words.  Still in the ballpark. Then there's a built in sequel.

I finally make up my mind that splitting it is the best thing to do, and then I think I've lost the aforementioned mind.  There is so much great stuff going on in the second half of the book.  What if the book tanks because the best part is in the second half and no one gets to read it.  The sequel never happens because the 1st book stinks.  Waaah! 

Then I think I should just lose the first half of the book and incorporate what's necessary in the 2nd half and voila a shorter book, but the building up of the tension and characters is what makes the 2nd half of the story make sense.

Some agents say that it's the writing that counts.  Yeah, but what about all those agents who won't read something over 80K for YA?  I'm in such a quandary.  Any ideas? advice? 

Friday, November 21, 2008

How about a book review?

One of the many publishing blogs I read these days said that it is a good idea for writers to include book reviews on their blogs and so here I go.  I'd like to try posting one day of reviews a week.  That may change depending on interest, but for now that is my plan.

Just a little warning I have eclectic tastes.  I read just about anything except horror and erotica.  I especially love YA (young adult/teen) and MG (middle grade) literature, and so I read a lot of it.  I find myself continually drawn to it, and that is what I tend to write as well.  I am so amazed that it took me so many years to find the phenomenal writing that is all through so much of the "children's lit" out there.  I was such a grown-up and book snob.

I came to discover the wealth of children's lit when my oldest daughter started reading.  I was 34 with my feet firmly planted in classical and literary writing, but I wanted to read the books before she did to make sure they were appropriate for her age.  I found a rich treasure trove of stories and authors.  As she got into reading the MG lit, I found some of the books stuck with me and moved me more than the books for adults that I had read. As a result you will find a lot of YA and MG books in my reviews.  

For my first review I will present two books.  A favorite--Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse and the book I finished today--Izzy Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voigt.  

OUT OF THE DUST  was one of the first YA/MG books I ever read and it blew me away.  It let me know with a vengeance that golden nuggets lurked in the children's section.  I would sit waiting in the pick-up line to get my kids from school and be transported to the dust bowl in Oklahoma in 1934-5--in one or two page snippets.  Written completely in verse, the terseness of the language captures the atmosphere of the novel and would leave me laughing or crying or both.  

There are so many vivid images that I had never thought of.  One that has never left me is that of the dishes set on the table upside down so they would not fill with dust before dinner was served.  Billie Jo, the main character, goes through many harrowing times through the course of the novel and discovers what she's made of.  I would and have read this over and over again.  This is the year I'm going to have my daughter read it.  I wanted her old enough to appreciate the poetry.

I highly recommend this Newberry Medal winner.  5 stars--easy!

IZZY WILLY-NILLY caught my attention because I've been wanting to read something by Cynthia Voigt that wasn't a series and my mother's name is Izzy.  So I thought it would be fun.  

Synopsis:  Izzy is a beautiful cheerleader who's pretty happy with her life.  She's a good person and has lots of friends.  When she loses a leg in a car crash on the way home from a party where her date had been drinking heavily, she has to deal with family and friends who aren't sure how to treat her anymore and her anger at the boy who never even apologizes.  An unexpected friend surfaces to help her make peace with her new self-image (well mostly) and others join in.

It was a compelling read.  I enjoyed the story quite a bit, but some references are dated--understandable since it was written in 1986.  The events and problems that Izzy face are still relevant today though.  Peer pressure, body image ideals, loss of friends, finding a place to fit in.  I probably wouldn't read it again, but I will recommend it for my daughter to read.

I give it 3 and 1/2 of 5 stars. 



Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Writing for money?

One of the blogs I follow regularly raised the issue of writing for money or literary acclaim.  It has started me thinking about why I write.  

What makes me sit for hours plunking away at a computer or pouring over page after page of my manuscript to try to make it work?  I like the story.  I like stringing the words together and making it all come together.  The actual act of writing is fun for me.  Sometimes it even makes me giddy.  I wish I could do it all day without interruption.  

I long to be an author, and yet so far I have nothing published.  Can I still be an author if I have nothing published?  I've done plenty of writing.  Does that count?

Do I want literary acclaim, or would I be happy as a hack making an obscene amount of money?  I always used to think I would want literary acclaim, but the more I write, the more I just want to create a story that people will enjoy reading.  If I write a book that is entertaining, will that lead to a tidy sum of money or at least some money.  I sure hope so.   Does that mean I'm a sellout?  Or should I just say "Who cares?" and go with the flow?

What do y'all think? 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sugar Coma Heaven: the salvation of the apples and pears

Hear ye!  Hear ye!  Apples and pears going over the edge can be saved!  They do not have to go down the dispos-all, into the kitchen trash, or on the compost pile.  They can be taken to Sugar Coma Heaven and take everyone along with them.  Hallelujah!  

My beloved band of readers will remember our jaunt into the highlands of southern Virginia to pick apples.  After gorging on apples, and pears and cider, oh my, until we were almost sick (That's an awful lot of excess fiber, folks!), we slowed our consumption.  Whew!  All the while the apples and pears were getting older and lost that crispy freshness that made them, in a word, irresistible.  

I was on the verge of committing mass fruit carnage when its salvation came in the form of my mother.  All hail the Mama Supreme!

She lifted a card that my sweet Maggie made  that was covering the few apples that were left on a tiered display on my kitchen counter and said, "Oh, are these apples from you trip to VA?"  

I was so embarrassed at still having the aging harvest sitting around for her perusal but said, "Yeah (I've gotten downright disrespectful with that "yeah" in my old age--or is it just laziness?  Then again that may be disrespect in disguise?  That should have been "Yes, ma'am" for all you non-southerners out there.) but I think they're too far gone now."

"No, they're perfect for making apple butter."

"Really?"

As we looked them over though there were a couple that really were too far gone and had to be chucked, and Mama lamented that there wouldn't be enough to make it work.  Then I remembered the pears I had put in the fridge, when they looked like they might go around the bend any minute.  I hopefully opened the bag of pears and found a couple very past peak, but the rest were pretty good.  

Then there was much peeling and coring and cutting of fruit.  Mama seasoned and I sugared--a very generous helping, indeed--all in a lovely stainless steel pot.  With one cup of water added the heat was applied and applied and applied.  

It bubbled and simmered and filled the house with the most incredible cinnamony, nutmeggy, clovey delightfulness.  It was completely intoxicating!  Who knew this could happen at my house?  In my kitchen?  This sort of miracle happens in my mother's kitchen all the time.  But in mine?  Yes, oh yes!  It did!  And can again.  It really was quite easy.  It just had to simmer 'til all the water boiled away.

The result:  Apple-Pear Butter Extraordinaire--Sugar Coma Heaven!  

So far I've had it on a spoon, mmmmmm!  and on toast, mmmmm!  It's calling for hot biscuits though.  I suppose I'll have to make some soon.  I can almost taste it.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Veterans fudging the truth

Yesterday got me thinking about some of the members of my family who served in our armed forces.  In my dad's family there were 6 boys and 2 girls.  The 4 oldest boys served as soldiers and the older sister served as a nurse in WWII.  My dad was too young to go as was his younger brother and sister.  I didn't ever really know much about their service--just that one brother died in the war and that one died not long after the war.  I only heard about my aunt's service a few years ago after she died.

No one ever would talk about those who were gone.  There was no talk about any military service either.  Now, my daddy's family was a tight lipped crew, so when my Uncle Steve started talking about how he was injured during The War and showed us the scar in his side where he'd been shot, us kids sat there enthralled with the story.  He told a long and involved story about coming in on the boats to the beaches of Normandy and being shot and left on the beach.  I was amazed at the time--as a kid, but when I saw "Saving Private Ryan," the horror of what he went through had me in a daze for quite a while.  It personalized the whole event for me.

Well, in recent years Daddy has decided that it is time to share at least some of the details of what happened with his brothers and sister during the war and other details of his life, since he is the last surviving child from his family.  He'd rather tell the stories than have them be lost.  Last year my parents and I were talking about the events of WWII and how my uncles died and I started talking about how I vividly remembered Uncle Steve telling us about how he was injured on the beaches at Normandy.  Mama and Daddy just looked at me like I was nuts and started laughing.  Daddy said that Steve wasn't even there when the boats were coming in on the beach.  He said that he parachuted in a couple of days after the beach was already secured.  He had indeed been shot later, but not then.  He'd also been injured so severely another time that he had to have a metal plate put in his head and spent about 6 months in England recovering before returning to the war. 

I was completely floored.  All my life I had believed in a big fat lie about how my uncle was injured.  I think though that it was a bit of self preservation on his part.  I'm sure we had been begging him to tell us a story about when he had been in the war and he just made something up to shut us up.  He didn't want to tell us the stories that were so close to his heart.  The truth was too hard to relive.  To me that makes his ordeal even more harrowing than if he'd been able to tell us the truth. 


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

Here's to all those men and women who served us all so bravely in the past and those who serve us now to preserve our liberties!   I personally would like to honor those in my family who have served and are serving, especially those who gave their lives.  

There would be quite a long list if I were to put everyone down so I won't I'll just say a huge:

THANK YOU!


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Homeschooling Continued.

Wow!  That post yesterday go very long and a bit rambly.  I can get really worked up when I talk about homeschooling my kids and why it has turned out this way.

I'm actually a reluctant homeschooler.  I have some friends who are very gung ho for it and wouldn't have their children go to school for anything.  I'm not one of those people.  I think homeschooling is great for a lot of people, and I respect those who devote all of their time to it.  I really wanted my children to go to school and thrive there.  I wanted to have my days to myself to write, etc.  Selfish me!  I finally got the youngest in all day school and then homeschool took over.

As you can guess the private school where the kids ended up going didn't provide the magic bullet that I was hoping for.  The youngest in Kindergarten was blissfully happy.  I was thrilled with her class and teachers, but she was not the one I was worried about with school.  

For the other 2 in school, homework became an even bigger issue than before.  One of the things I had never considered was that at a private school there is a lot of prestige in giving homework.  For the 4th grade it wasn't too bad, but for 6th grade, Yikes! and we kept getting reports that the "serious" homework didn't really start until 7th grade.  In the core classes homework counted from 30 to 50% of their overall grade.  I thought this was excessive.  

I taught high school and so I understand giving homework to a certain degree, but I never counted homework as more than 10% of an overall grade.  Plus I always allowed time in class for students to work on their homework so if they needed help I was right there for them.

For Elizabeth the homework always brought her grade down.  Always.  She would make A's on the tests, i.e. she knew the material, but she would definitely not make A's on the report card. In a parent teacher conference one of her teachers said that it was such a shame that she wouldn't turn in the homework he knew that she knew the material and would do so well on the tests.  His bottom line was that the homework completion was more important than the knowledge.  I felt she didn't need the homework to learn the material.  She learned it in class or through reading.  

Here's an example of my biggest frustration that year.  In her French class she had an A on every test (her French was actually pretty good--since I have a master's in French I felt pretty confidant in knowing that her language skills were fine).  She had even done most of her daily homework (which was pretty good for her), but she had not turned in an art project about light and shadow.  It was sort of related to French since they had talked about art and gone to seen a Monet exhibit. I didn't know about it until two weeks after it was due, and at that point the highest possible grade she could get was a 50--due to mark downs for being late.  That one homework assignment was 50% of her grade for the nine weeks.  I was floored.  How could one assignment that really had very little to do with the subject matter count for so much of her grade?  I'm not sure exactly why this project got overlooked.  Maybe Elizabeth can tell us in a comment.  

In the end she did the assignment and got a 50%.  Woohoo!  So the highest she could possibly make that nine weeks was a 75% with an A on every test.  I just couldn't take the madness anymore with things like that happening.

She finished out the year at that school.  The next year we started homeschool.  (That was last year.)  The younger two went to the public school that we are zoned for.  It was mostly positive for them with a few exceptions, but it was doable for us.  


Friday, November 7, 2008

I'm drinking the last of my cider!  Nooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!  It's hot and spicy and yummy and tangy and I want moooooorrrrrrree!  It's a bit more chilly today--62--when I was outside a little while ago.  Whew!  It being 76 yesterday, it didn't seem right to be drinking hot cider, but I couldn't resist the temptation any longer and, well, 62 has to be cold enough.

Enough of my weaknesses!  I'm supposed to blog about homeschool this week, and since it's Friday, I guess today's the day.  Oh, but I guess that brings up another of my weaknesses though: Procrastination.  My daughter claims that it is not a weakness.  It is a strength, she says, because she is always in denial.  What a silly child!  She's amazing, but silly!  I would know because I spend a lot of time with her, since she is doing school at home with me.  How's that for a segue?  Now we are officially talking about homeschool.

Mine has doubled to 2 whole students--up from only 1 last year.  Sandy, beware, you have to keep Johnny away from this post.  He can't know that David is being homeschooled!  (That would be my nephew who has been begging for homeschool for a long time.)

I have been so frustrated with the school system for so long.  I keep holding out hope that it will work for us, but in the end, I'm finding teaching these two children at home makes them and me much happier and helps them like their work better.  I'll grant you that teaching Elizabeth math at home has not made her love it.  She still hates it, actually, but she is back to loving the things that she was starting to hate because of school:  history, literature, writing, and science.   She enjoys them again. When I asked her what the best parts of having homeschool were she said:  more time to read and sleep (the middle school here has the tardy bell at 7:25AM) and write. 

Let me quote for a moment my brilliant daughter.  "Homeschool is not right for everyone.  Side effects include:  extra sleeping, musical addictions, and an increased amount of time and flexibility in your schedule, but there is a lack of social involvement and your mom gets to nag at you all day long!"  (Thanks Elizabeth!  Very well stated!)

Here's the thing though with the nagging.  I did so much more nagging when the kids were in school than now that they are home with me.  It was all about homework.  (See my blog about homework for my take on that if you haven't already.) The nice thing for me is that they know the things they have to do, and they are free to do them on their own schedule.  Plus, they are doing them when they are fresh and not tired from a long day of school.
 
When I asked Elizabeth what she had to do today.  She volunteered Math first up.  (Which she hates worse than torture remember.)  I didn't even have to nag.  If it had been homework from school, I not only would have had to nag, but threaten, stand over her, and continually refocus her to do it.  

With homeschool she is the master of her own destiny, and that works for her.  I think one of the things she hated most at school was the lack of control over what she did.  She always wanted to know the purpose for an assignment.  Was it to help her learn the words?  She would argue that the assignment was a waste of her time because she already knew the words.   She would much rather spend her time reading a book that she hadn't already read 5 times or learning words she already knew.  I had to agree.  There was the problem with so much of it.  I agreed with her arguments.  Her points were compelling.  It was so hard to make her do the assignments when I saw how inane they were.  "Because the teacher said to do it" was not an adequate reason.

The places where I felt the school system failed her was in the areas where she is strongest--where she could really excel.  In fifth grade they had mandated vocabulary lists that were required on a state level (maybe national level--I'm not sure exactly where the edicts were coming from). By Christmas I had grown so frustrated with her unwillingness to do the vocab homework that I went and talked to her teacher about someway to deal with this issue.  Her lack of homework was bringing her grade down even though she knew all the words.  As we were talking, he said that there was a whole group of kids in the same situation as Elizabeth--they already knew most of the words in the lists too.  He felt it was important for her to learn the responsibility of doing the work.  I told him that I wasn't trying to get her out of work.  What I was looking for was a list of words that would actually increase her vocabulary--words she didn't already know.  It was like a revelation to him and he thought it was a great idea.  He decided that students who got an A on the Monday pretest could have a different, more advanced vocabulary list for the week.  

Elizabeth was so excited when she came home with a list of words she actually had to study.  Her eyes sparkled and she was enthusiastic about learning them.  She sat right down and started working on them.  No argument. (Shock! Shock!)  I was so happy that she was doing her work without having to be prodded to death.  Other parents liked the new vocab lists and the other students felt good about it too.  There was real learning going on for all the students.  Those who didn't already know the original list learned it and those who already did know the words got a more challenging list.

Guess how long the advanced vocab lists lasted.  Three weeks!  That's it!  So much for creativity and innovation.  So much for students being challenged to really learn!  The teacher was given grief from the district and, as I understand it, was reprimanded for not following the standard protocol--the vocabulary lists were mandated, and he wasn't allowed to deviate from the program.  It was back to drones doing work they already knew how to do.  All the joy and enthusiasm for vocabulary got sucked out as well. 

So often our schools don't teach our children to think and know things.  They teach them how to obey and be compliant.  They are teaching the brightest students that drudgery is the key to success.  That is just not the lesson I want my children learning from school.

At that moment, I lost most of my faith in the school system.  I'm not trying to say that it's all about public school failing our kids.  In fact, that public school that the kids went to at that time is a really good one with awards and teachers of the years and all.  There were a lot of great things going on there.  Things that I loved.  I just felt that the teachers and administration had their hands tied by federal mandates, etc.  What's a mom to do?  

So the next year when we moved (with my husbands job) I decided to put all the kids in a private school thinking this would solve those problems.  Some solved--others created.  

      to be continued...

 






Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Apples and cider and pears! Oh my!

I'd been so excited for our expedition to the hills of Virginia that I was worried something would surely go wrong and quash the outing.  Oh, me of little faith!  It was a glorious day, and everything ended up being no less than perfection!

The air was crisp but not cold.  The sky was bright.  The colors were vibrant.  

...and we were off!  Our first big sight was Pilot Mountain dressed for Autumn.
The drive was, in a word, beautiful.

...and at times breathtaking.

We were on a quest though.  Apples!  and  Cider!   So upon arrival in Clark, VA (just north of Floyd), we headed right to the trees that were loaded down and ready for us!
Completely organic, juicy, and delicious--just the right mix of tangy and sweet.
(About half of those apples came tumbling down on me, when my niece's husband shook that branch as I stood there underneath being amazed at how beautiful the red and green looked against the blue sky.  He was totally focused on the fruit and didn't even notice me there until I was shouting, "Hey!  Wait!" as I stumbled out from under the barrage of apples.)

We loaded the apples into the bucket of the tractor and rode the tractor wagon back over to where the apple press was set up ready to extract that mouthwatering nectar I had been craving.
We even pasteurized it for safety's sake and drank our fill!  It was lovely--all hot and tangy, sweet.  It even tasted spiced, but there was nothing in it but the juice of the apples.  I know, because I was there the whole time helping and watching.  Heaven!

I pulled out some apples and pears (that was a surprise that I didn't know about ahead of time), made sure I had some cider to take home, and gathered them up with my camera bag, Elizabeth's sketch book, and Maggie's poncho.  I didn't want to forget anything.  (Like I'd forget the cider.  Ha!  Not a chance.)  The sun was getting low and we were about to start the roasting over an open fire.  

Elizabeth hates hotdogs, but she decided to try one in honor of our perfect day.  She ended loving them cooked over the fire and ate 3!  Holy Cow!  That's a first!  Here she is with 2 of my nieces moving on to the marshmallows and loving that too. (I had no question about any of the kids loving that part.  Maggie wasn't too sure about the black ones that she roasted, but with a little help she finally got some perfectly roasted and yummed them down.)

Maggie was dying to drive the tractor and got very serious about it while it was sitting still.

David was more interested in riding around on the go-cart with his cousin.  I'm not even sure he got any marshmallows--hotdogs, chips, and apples, yes, but he was back to riding the go-cart when the marshmallows came out for roasting. 

The sun was bringing our day to a close and fire to the trees.
So we collected ourselves and said goodbye to the rustic surroundings...
...loaded into our van as the sun set and the moon came out.  The day bid us farewell as we did the same.
The ride home, with the sun burning up the sky and the kids drained to a peaceful quiet, was sweet.

So there you have it!  Our trip to Virginia was all that and a bag of marshmellows slow roasted to perfection over an open fire!  I'm just counting all my blessings!  Hurray!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Be back to posting next week

My in-laws are in town and my time has been focused away from the computer this week.  Next week I'll be back to posting.  I'd like to do a post or two on homeschooling and one on my apple cider making trip, so those will be for next week.  

Monday, October 20, 2008

Y'all tell me: homework around the world

I'm "borrowing" this You Tell Me...  idea from Nathan Bransford who has my favorite blog.  I wanted to get some feedback so... Y'all tell me...

Since my most read post is about homework, I thought I would revisit the issue.  I've been asking around to get some personal stats from people that I know in different countries to see what school is like where they are--how much homework there is.  So far I've gotten a little bit of feedback.  A friend's little sister is on an exchange in Spain for the year (11th grade) and she said that she generally has 15 minutes of homework a night there compared to 4 hours of homework a night here.  I figured the difference would be significant, but I was completely floored at how big it actually was.  The classes that she mainly has homework in?  foreign language.

A friend from Norway told me that they just lowered the age for school to start there 4 years ago from 7 to 6.  He doesn't have any kids but he said that he knows they don't have any homework that first year.   The reason they lowered the starting age?  Pressure to have as many years of schooling as the rest of Europe.  Most European countries have 10-12 years of school and Norway only had 9.  Will it make for more educated kids?  Will they be more well rounded?

I'm still waiting to hear from a friend in Switzerland, but I think they have a fair amount of homework there.  I'm anxious to hear what she says.  I'll let you know when I hear.

How about the rest of you who live in foreign countries or have lived there?  Becky, what was it like in France?  When I was there, I wasn't really aware of that kind of things, since I didn't have any kids then.  


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Feeling Frisky with Fall

With the cooler temperatures I've been breaking out the long sleeves and jackets.  Ahhhh!  I love this time of year.  It's my favorite season.   I didn't used to think so.  I always felt like I had to love summer, because we didn't have school.  I was glad for that, let me tell you, but I always felt like I was fibbing when I would say that summer was my favorite season.  It was so blasted hot in South Carolina in the summer without AC that I would long for fall--for a time when I could where a sweater or a jacket.  I'll grant you that 50-75 doesn't sound that cold to some people, but, hey, after 100 degrees with 100% humidity (okay maybe not all summer, but there were plenty of days like that), 50 feels pretty nippy around here and a jacket is in order.  (That's for you Alyssa and Hannah.  If anyone makes fun of y'all again for wearing a sweater, tell them to come to SC in August and see how they fare. Ha ha!)  

Fall makes me want to run and jump and kick my heels up and then I remember that I am not very graceful and am prone to injuring myself like last year when I came off of Roo, the horse, 
 
and slammed into a wall.  Very Ouch!  That was one of my more graceful falls.  I still think he's beautiful though and very sweet.  No hard feelings there, Roo.   I'm the klutzy one.  I can slam into a wall just walking down the hall at my house and injure myself or destroy a toe running up stairs.  So this year I will gently kick my heels up as the leaves fall.  

I feel friskier than usual (I want to set off doing cartwheels across the lawn), the dogs feel friskier (Buzz runs around like a crazy man), Roo feels friskier, and he has to be ridden down more or lunged to get out some of that excess energy.  Here's Elizabeth lunging Roo.  Now she's the only one riding him.  

I'll just get frisky kicking up the leaves and feeling the cold air against my cheeks--swirling with the leaves in the air to fly free. 

Enjoy the cooler temps y'all!  Be sure and bundle up, you girls in the snow.  I'll try not to fall down and twist a knee when I go out and twirl with the leaves.

Happy Frisky Fall!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Having it all!

My question is:  "Can we have it all?"  I wrote on a friends blog today that I just don't think having it all is possible.   I had been told so much of my life by teachers and friends and the media that I could have it all.  I believed it.  I thought it was all possible.  Career, happy children, spotless home, fulfilling relationships with friends and husband, side interests, hobbies, develop talents.  Whatever I wanted.  I could have it.

The sentiment makes for a great sound bite.  "Anything is possible for you!"  "Women can do anything these days!"  "You can have it all!"  

The reality of it is that we can't have it ALL!  Sure anything is possible and women can do anything these days, but not all at once.  

I was trying to come up with a good analogy. I was kind of thinking of life as an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Sure you could go in and gorge yourself on everything in the place, but is that the best approach and are you happy afterwards?  Isn't life ultimately about being happy and contributing to the world around you?  

Wouldn't it be better to choose a few things that are good for one meal and be happy with that at that time.  If you're dying for cheesecake tonight great, have it.  Just don't have cheesecake and banana pudding and key lime pie and ice cream.  You can save those for future visits--or in my comparison for later in life.

The meal should be balanced.  Not all broccoli or all mashed potatoes.  Life should be balanced as well.  Not all work or all about the kids. (that may rankle with a few of you)  Life should be sometimes about your children, sometimes about your spouse, sometimes about the things you love to do.  (Lasagna, salad, and apple pie)

I think this is why there has been such a huge shift in the last decade of women choosing to stay at home.  The stress of trying to "have it all" was unhealthy.  It was killing them and their families.  Just like gorging on everything on the buffet or only one thing.  Were they happy?  I don't think so--at least not completely.  

A little bit of cleaning (okay so I admit at my house there could be a bit--okay, a lot--more of this), a bit of playing with the kids, a bit of going out with my husband, a bit of writing, a bit of music.  I'm not saying I have it all figured out by a long shot, but I hope I'm getting there. Giving up on the whole idea of having it all has sure helped make my life happier.  I don't have to do everything.  I just have to do somethings--the things that are the most important to me.  (well that and the laundry and cleaning before they take over the house--haha!)

What do y'all think?  Can we have it all?  Any other good analogies?

 

Monday, October 6, 2008

Patterns

I decided to get off my soapbox today and just think in ordered patterns.  Here are some pictures to reflect my mood.  First from the gardens at Versailles:

A different view of a chandelier inside the Palais de Versailles:


One of my all time favorites--the ceiling of the Galleries Lafayettes in Paris (And to think--it's not a great cathedral or palace or museum.  It's just a mall.): 

We surround ourselves with patterns.  They help make life beautiful.  Happy Monday, everyone!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Can't reading just be fun?

In yesterday's homework rant I got distracted for a minute about the topic of all the assigned reading out there these days.  I thought today I'd give it its full measure.

I think there should be free time for choosing to read books that you picked out for yourself--books that are completely escapist.  If you love the stock market, read a book about it. Dragons? Spaceships? Magicians? Music? Foreign Countries?  Go for it!  Reading can be fun!  

Don't get me wrong.  I don't think kids shouldn't have any assigned reading.  For some kids that is the only reading they will do, but...

I think it should be varied.  Sure, study Faulkner.  (I loved Faulkner in High School.  I may have been one of the only ones, but hey! that class was for me too.)  Study James Joyce or the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen.  Flannery O'Connor.  Why not?  In an educated society we should be able to enjoy literary novels.  Just sprinkle in a little Sarah Dessen (still pretty literary but fun) or Scott Westerfeld.  Why not a little Ray Bradbury? or Orson Scott Card? or Ann Brashares? or Robin McKinley? or James Patterson (Sacrilege, I know)? or Louis L'Amour?  How about a few more books for the boys in the class!  I know most of the teachers are female, but still...

And then... Give the kids free time to choose to read or not if they don't love it.  Maybe they will love it when they get older.  Or not.  It's not for everyone.  I think, though, that more people will learn to love to read if they are exposed to things that they enjoy reading.

As much as I adore reading (and that is a lot for those of you who don't know me personally), there are certain things that I just can't make myself read (not many mind you but some).  I hate reading manuals.  After a few words, my mind starts to shut down.  My dad loves them though.  I just don't get it, but we are very different people.  He's a "doing" kind of person, and he loves to know how things work so he can fix them if they go wrong.  I'm more of a "talking" kind of person, a "describe what he's doing" person, a "call the repairman when something goes wrong" person.

I wonder how much I'd like reading today, if all I'd ever been assigned to read in school were manuals.  Heaven forbid.  I'd have flunked out of English.

Beware!  Personal experiences coming on.  In 10th grade we were assigned Moby Dick to read and study.  I think our edition had about 400 pages or so.  Well, I hated it.  I tried to force myself to read it.  I wouldn't let myself read other things because I felt guilty for not reading MD, and reading something else would have been a reward, and I couldn't reward myself for not doing my assignment, so...I read nothing.  I did everything I could think of to get out of reading MD (which wasn't hard because I had plenty to do.)  I think we studied it for about 3-4 weeks maybe longer.  I don't remember for sure.  It seemed like forever at the time.   I didn't read anything else and I only read 100 pages of MD (Sorry Mrs. 'Nab') which is way less than I would have read for the same time period normally.  I still have not gone back and read it, and I have absolutely no desire to either.  I swear I almost learned to hate reading, but the difference for me was that I already knew that I loved to read.  

At that time in my life so much emphasis was put on "the classics" that I thought that's what I had to read even in my free time. I'm so glad my mother forced me out of that mindset.  She recommended other books for me to read, and eventually, I followed her advice.  If not I'd have never discovered the engulfing story in Exodus by Leon Uris that was so amazing and opened my eyes to a whole nother world and started me on a reading jag of his novels, and then I moved on to Chaim Potok and on and on. 

In the summers of my sophomore and Junior years in HS I had reading lists for AP English and as a result all I read was what was on my reading lists.  I didn't read any books for pleasure those 2 summers.  I ended up reading less.  I definitely got less enjoyment out of reading.  It's a shame.

So many kids don't know how great reading can be that, when they start reading what's assigned in their classes and hate it, they come to think that they hate reading and won't do it at all.  Their mantra becomes, "I hate to read!"  And they read less and less.  I was seeing this more and more with David.  Right now he's finally reading something he enjoys, and he's discovering that sitting down with a book is not a punishment.   Cornelia Funke is his favorite author now.  He's never had one of those before.

One of my parents' favorite authors is Louis L'Amour.  I never read any of his books until I was in my late 30's.  (Silly of me really.  It was that being-educated-have-to-read-the-classics mindset rearing its evil head again.) His books are so engrossing and vivid.  I loved them.  They taught my dad in his retirement years that reading is not so bad at that, in fact, it can be quite enjoyable.  He'd thought his whole life that he didn't like to read.  Come to find out he had just been reading all the wrong stuff for him. (well except for those manuals)


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Do I Still Have to do Homework?

I'm 43, for crying out loud!  I have completed a master's degree!  I'm not taking any classes of my own! Why the heck am I stuck here at the table every afternoon doing homework?!? Walking the homework beat as one of my friends calls it.  Why do I have to be the heavy, the nagging mom every day my children walk through the door from 7 hours of school by making him or her sit down and do another round of school work when I personally think they should have a break? When I think they should be out running around hitting a ball or riding their bikes or playing a game or helping me make dinner (which they like) or doing karate or gymnastics or riding a horse or watching tv and relaxing.  (I know that is pure sacrilege.  What could I possibly be thinking?  I should probably be burned at the stake!) 

No we're figuring out science or writing or vocabulary or a project (that I still haven't seen the assignment sheet for and it's due tomorrow.  Surprise mom!  And we need a poster board and pictures of Jupiter--good thing I have a color printer/copy machine at my home) or math of all things!  I thought I was finished with word problems when I had that last Calculus class in college.  Oh, I was so wrong!  I was so naive!  Can I work them out and get the right answer.  Yes, I can! (Usually, with a little annoyance) but can I teach my child how to get the right answer and show his work?  Not on your life, because I do it the wrong way--the way I was taught when I was little.  I want to scream at the teacher at the top of my lungs, "If you're going to be picky about the way it's done have the kids do it in your classroom while you are there to supervise and answer any questions they may have!"  

But I take a deep breath and try not to yell at my child that I love because he doesn't understand what I don't understand.  There goes my mood.  Deep breath!  Calm!  Think of nice things!  His dad can help him!  He's fantastic at math and so analytical!  Except there's that pesky little thing about it being done the "right" way.  I would have thought that someone who's been working in Finance for over 25 years would know the "right" way to do math, but I guess I'm just fooling myself.

Okay, so I've got the proverbial bee in my bonnet about homework and have to vent a little more or explode.  I'm sure you'd have never guessed.  I've facebooked about it quite a bit this week, but it's apparently not enough so I thought, "Hey, I have my own personal platform.  I'll blog about it."  Not that I have a huge audience or anything, but I just have to put it out there.  Hey, Karen!  Hey, E!  Hey, Daveman and Nathan!  This is for you! 

This week I've read several articles that have highlighted the pointlessness of homework and the possible detrimental effects that it can have on our students out there.  The Time article found here and the articles of Orson Scott Card found here and here and here are eye opening. It just kills me that in the study that proved that homework does not help elementary aged children at all there is a recommendation for doing 10 minutes of homework per day per year in school. So for 5th grade students it says they should do 50 minutes of completely useless homework every night.  That's just brilliant!  

The article about education in Finland was very intriguing.  Find it here.  Thanks for all the links Nathan.  Only 1/2 hour of homework even for high schoolers.  Okay, I can understand that and I can get behind it.

What college track high schooler do you know who does not have a barrage of homework every night? weekend? over holidays?  Even reading lists for the summer?  How about your middle schoolers?  Now it's even trickling down to elementary school.  

Homework in America has gotten completely out of control.   In my opinion it is a major reason for the decline of  America's ranking scholastically across the world.  People can focus for only so long.  They eventually burn out. 

There's no more reading for fun. It's all assigned.  No wonder people are reading less.  Kids start out thinking reading isn't fun.  It does not have to be drudgery.  Reading can be so exciting and fulfilling and informative. (gasp!)  Sorry this rant is about homework.  Back to my topic...

With obesity such a problem in the US, I wonder how much of a role homework plays in that equation.  Our children sit around all day at school (except for PE that's usually not everyday and recess that is getting shorter and shorter) and then are forced to sit around at home doing homework.  Sometimes that homework can last from the time they get home until the time they go to bed.  One friend was telling me that her high schooler is often doing homework until midnight or later.  When school starts at 8 AM, that's a 16 hour day--an 80 hour work week for a teenager.  That is INSANE.  That's 2 full time jobs.  And yet some people think nothing of our children working like that on homework.   

It's a wonder more don't burn out sooner.

I'd love to hear your feedback and feelings out there.  So my rant is over for the day and the platform is now yours.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Showing off!

"What the heck is that lizard doing?"  It was the first time I'd ever seen a lizard puff out his pouch (that I now know is called a dewlap) and I was shocked.  I didn't know that our friendly little green buddies did that.  So I looked it up.   Obviously, I had not been very observant over the years, or maybe they had never felt safe enough around me to strut and do their push-ups and puff their dewlap while I was around, but this one was bold and brave and, frankly, a bit brazen.   They puff that thing out there as courtship ritual.  He could have just been trying to tell us to get lost.  It's a territorial thing too.

Nature does seem to like to show off a bit.  How about this fuchsia?  It looks all dressed up for a ballet performance.
Dahlias are some of the showiest flowers out there.  Here's one from Giverny.
Have a great day!  Follow nature and show off a little in your unique way.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Oh no! Not another one!

I think I may have totally lost my mind folks.  I have decided that I'm going to homeschool David, too.  Have I completely gone bonkers?  Well, maybe not yet, but I wouldn't answer that for next week.  I just couldn't take the madness any more.  

I gave it a good shot.  Five full weeks.  After K-5 in school and all the ups and downs of it.  I figured it was time to give homeschool a shot.  It has worked out really well  for the E.  If today is any indication, it's going to be great.  He was doing everything I gave him without complaint. When he finished he came almost begging for something else to do.  Heaven!  This has not been my experience with my other beloved student.  Shall we just call her resistant to instruction and direction.  

Time will tell on this.  The excitement may wane, but I think this may really work and be good for all involved.  E was actually looking forward to doing Japanese with the D-meister.  So...

Mama rejoices!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Red honeysuckle


Visiting my sister, I was struck by the red honeysuckle that she had in her yard.  As much honeysuckle as I'd seen through all the years of growing up in the south (and that's a lot of honeysuckle let me tell you), I'd never seen the red variety.  

Before they open...(check out the leaf--so cool!)

I guess it was there all along unless it's a recent invasion.  (Does anyone know if there has been one?  The was even some in my parents yard that I thought I knew inside out.  Obviously not.)  The red and yellow combining into peaches and tangerines.  I found it beautiful, especially glowing in the sunlight. 

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Doubling up

Here's something to consider...
double yolk eggs.  What the heck!  I'd never seen them before that morning at breakfast.  With the first one I was amazed.  I thought it was just a fluke.  With the second, I was floored.  When practically the entire dozen were double yolk eggs I was dumbfounded and, frankly, a little freaked out.  How could that happen on a consistent basis?  I wondered what those farmers were feeding their chickens.  Maybe it's just one particular chicken that lays double yolk eggs, and we just got a batch of her eggs.  Hmmmm?  I don't have any idea?  Anyone? 

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mixing dogwoods

One of my favorite things is the pink dogwood.  I especially love it when there are pink and white dogwoods intertwined.  I think this must be true for a lot of people because in the last few years I've seen this happening more and more and there are quite a few trees I've seen that appear to have white and pink blossoms on the same tree.  It seems to defy logic.  I wonder how they do that.  Plant the two varieties in the same hole?  

Anywho....

It was just something I was thinking about this morning.  Any ideas?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lurking dangers

I was just thinking of some of the dangers lurking in places we don't suspect like the cedar tree at Mama and Daddy's house.  Here I was practically hugging one part to get a nice close-up.  When...

I take a gander at the trunk beside me and for the love of all that good and holy!  I find some of the healthiest poison ivy I've seen, and I've seen a lot of poison ivy.  Needless to say I gave it some space.

Lest anyone suspect I'm the only one making discoveries, here's Chelsea's little buddy that showed up under her chair at the beach and liken' to scared her to death.  Oh! the screaming and jumping and waving of arms!  I about busted a gut laughing!

Contrast it with the sunset just a little while later .

Beauty and danger are so often together.  Haha!

Have a great safe weekend!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

While in the throws of trying to hack up a lung I'm trying to think happy thoughts.


Camellias in the spring

Bees doing their thing.

and Moonrise over the Carolinas with the pine trees swaying in the breeze.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Old and New

I just finished French by Heart by Rebecca Ramsey about a SC family who lived in France.  I laughed and cried through all her ups and downs and was moved to remembrance.  I've been pondering some of the contrasts I saw the last time I was there.     
All the classical architecture.



All the modern elements.




All the time weathered loveliness viewed through modern eyes.  


The contrast of old and new fascinates me.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008



The joy of curling up with a book will never be replaced by technology.  I will resist at all costs!  The happy crinkle of the pages, the creamy texture of the paper, the feel of the smoothness of the cover under my fingers while I hold it, the building anticipation as there are fewer and fewer pages to go, the location of the words on the page, the different fonts, the page numbers, etc, etc.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Just thinking about life and making my kids do things they hate.  Mwa ha ha!  Sometimes it's great to be in charge.  Does it make up for all those time my parents made me do things I hated? I'm not sure yet.  

I don't know if anything can make up for all those summer mornings weeding the garden at dawn. Weren't we supposed to 
be able to sleep in in the summer?  I suppose it could have been beautiful, if I'd been looking up, but those dang weeds were on the ground.

Friday, September 12, 2008