Thursday, September 23, 2010

The difference between 6th, 7th, and 8th graders

The difference between 6th, 7th, and 8th graders was illustrated today during my College Week discussions with my students. The topic du jour was "discuss what clubs, sports, or organizations you participated in at college." I briefly explained to my students that I was in marching band, basketball band, concert band, and Tau Beta Sigma.

To this, the sixth graders asked if I could show them what marching looks like.

The seventh graders asked about other clubs or organizations, and whether or not they existed in college. One asked, is there a robotics club? My answer? Yes, it's called being an engineering major.

Finally, the eighth graders asked if I got hazed and what clubs had hazing. Did I know of anyone made to bathe in barf or drink disgusting things?

That, my readers, illustrates the differences between kids at the middle grades.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Books I put down

I read for plot. Seriously, if I get within about 100 pages of the end of a novel, I generally can't sleep until I know what happens to the characters. So, if I can't get through an entire book, there must be something terribly wrong with it!

To save you all some time, here are a few books that I put down and a few words on why:

Band of Angels by Julia Gregson
This historical fiction novel follows Catherine from her carefree childhood in Wales to her time as a nurse during the Crimean War. I put it down for several reasons:
(1) There wasn't enough romance. I understand that she couldn't stick with her childhood sweetheart, Deio, for the whole novel, but there needed to be some sort of letter writing or pining.
(2) It became clear to me that Catherine was going to get raped. I just didn't have the heart for this one.
(3) It was awfully graphic, but not terribly interesting. I don't mind some interesting nasty-ness, but just plain, boring nasty-ness is unacceptable.

Cocktails for Three by Madeline Wickham
According to Ventress Memorial Library, this book is about the following:
"At the first of every month, when the office has reached its pinnacle of hysteria, Maggie, Roxanne, and Candice meet at London's swankiest bar for an evening of cocktails and gossip. Here, they chat about what's new at The Londoner, the glossy fashion magazine where they all work, and everything else that's going on in their lives. Or almost everything. Beneath the girl talk and the laughter, each of the three has a secret. And when a chance encounter at the cocktail bar sets in motion an extraordinary chain of events, each one will find their biggest secret revealed."
I think I put this book down because I got through two chapters and just did not care. That's it. It just wasn't at all interesting.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire
My one of my favorite musicals, Wicked, was based off of this popular novel by Gregory Maguire. I generally like fantasy novels, so I thought I'd give this best seller a try. I wish I hadn't. I have a hard time pinning down why I didn't like it, but here are a few reasons:
(1) The fluency was awfully choppy. Awkward sentences are really awkward.
(2) It was dark. I understand that it is meant to be the darker sister to the Wizard of Oz series, but it was mostly depressing.
(3) The details were confusing. As I taught my sixth graders today, exposition is very important in the fantasy genre. This is because you need to provide plenty of details so that your readers can construct your alternative reality in their mind. I spent about 150 pages wondering when I would figure out what was going on.
I ended up putting it down for good after trying to read this novel for three months. It was by far my most disappointing put-down to date.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Awesome Austin Action

My bestie from high school lives far, far away in snowy New England. When she visits NTX, she has to split her time between family, work, and friendship obligations. So, she bought a plane ticket to ATX and invited her girlfriends for a labor day vacation.

Despite my Sooner-sized reservations about Austin in general, I accepted her invitation because I love to spend time with her. Her tour of Austin definitely changed my opinion of the city. I had an amazing time, and I plan to take my husband back next spring when we have some time.

Would you like to visit Austin? I recommend the following hotels / restaurants / activities:

Radisson Hotel and Suites-Austin Town Lake: Newly remodeled, the Radisson has the best view of the Congress Street Bats from their "Batio." The room rates are reasonable if negotiated online ($250 for a double occupancy for three nights over Labor Day weekend). Parking costs $15 a day, but if you have multiple cars you can use your room key over and over if you pay through the front desk (shh... don't tell!).

Friday Night

-McCormick and Schmick's: After getting in late because you worked a full-day, I suggest dinner at McCormick and Schmick's. If you sit at the bar, you can partake in their unique "Happy Hour." Instead of drink discounts, you can buy $1.95 bar food with the purchase of a cocktail. I recommend the fish tacos for quantity of food for the price. Really, at under two dollars an entree, you can't get too wound up with the taste!

-Breakfast at Kerby Lane: This famous Austin eatery has many locations. I suggest one further away from UT in order to avoid waiting in a line. Their breakfast foods are fantastic! If you can stomach the thought of queso in the morning, then get the Cowboy queso. It is white queso with black beans, guacamole, and pico de gallo. Yum!

-Picnic lunch from Whole Foods at Barton Springs: Walk off your massive breakfast by shopping for your picnic lunch! Be sure to bring your reusable grocery sack because you will probably end up with a feast of foods from their salad bar and prepared lunch area. I personally enjoyed mixed veggies dipped in tzatziki sauce, a feta and olive blend, spinach salad, tuna salad, and strawberries. I found the picnic potato salad to be uninspiring. Be sure to avoid stubbing your toe as you leave the Whole Foods parking garage because I can tell you from personal experience that it will put a damper on potential swimming plans.

If you are lacking in reading material for lying in the sun, I highly suggest a quick stop-off at Half-Price Books to pick up something to read. The water at Barton Springs is quite chilly, so you'll want something to entertain yourself as you sit in the sun to get nice and toasty. You'll have to pay cash for parking ($3) and for entry to the pool ($2?). It is a natural spring fed pool that will provide you with plenty of excitement paddling in the cold water and people watching.

-Afternoon Snack: You'll want to cool off with a tasty treat as you head out of Barton Springs. Luckily, there is a good pay-by-the-ounce frozen yogurt place just down the road.

-Late Afternoon Kayaking: By this time, you're well rested, so it is time to get back out on the town! Head to the Texas Rowing Center to rent a kayak or two. I personally suggest kayaking for $10/single kayak for an hour. Kayaking is fun, but you don't want to over-do it on your vacation! It is neat to be kayaking in the middle of the city with the Austin skyline in full view.

-Dinner at Manuels: You've gone back to your hotel and gotten gussied up. You're ready for a night on the town, and I suggest starting with some Mexican food. This trendy restaurant is an easy walk from the Radisson. Their Mexican martinis and enchiladas verdes were worth every penny. Our concierge also gave us a coupon for free nachos (thanks dude!), which were basically the solid version of Kerby Lane's cowboy queso. Muy delicioso!

-Drinks at Cuba Libre: If you're not the 6th Street type, then you might feel like your after dinner options are limited in Austin. Never fear! I suggest stopping at this Cuban club for an authentic mojito or two. You can finish off your evening wandering around the vibrant city center.

-Watching the bats: If you're in Austin in the late summer or fall, you might take a break from taking in the city life to watch the Congress Street bats. It is a pretty crazy ecological wonder.

-Breakfast at Juan in a Million: This eatery of Man Versus Food fame serves up the most amazing breakfast tacos at astonishingly low prices. It is about a five minute drive east on Cesar Chavez from the hotel. I recommend the Don Juan breakfast taco with extra tortillas. With a >20% tip, I still only spent $8.

-Take a morning stroll: Your hotel is along a lovely trail. Take some time to talk to your traveling buddy (whether platonic or romantic) while enjoying a stroll along Town Lake.

-Lunch at County Line: Before you head out of town, you need to take some time to eat some Texas BBQ! Head out to County Line and order your favorite BBQ treat. I honored my husband by ordering his fav--a pulled pork sandwich--and I was not disappointed. We also enjoyed a half-loaf of their homemade bread. The bonus of the meal is that it is located along a river and has a lovely view.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I am a lover and a fighter.

I am a lover and a fighter.
I wonder how anyone can feel that ignorance is bliss.
I hear children’s brains growing when they read a good book.
I see a future of peace in the faces of my students.
I want more time in each day for doing God’s good work.
I am a lover and a fighter.

I pretend to be serious in front of my students (unsuccessfully).
I feel enthusiastic about the future.
I touch the hearts of my students (hopefully).
I worry that they’ll take their lives for granted.
I cry because my brother never made it past seventh grade.
I am a lover and a fighter.

I understand that I can’t save them all.
I say that I am thick skinned.
I dream that I’ll be there for them when they need it the most.
I try to make a difference in the world one student at a time.
I hope to leave my mark on the hearts of my students.
I am a lover and a fighter.