Saturday, December 7, 2013

Diary of an old new teacher

I started this running commentary on my Face book page and decided today (Dec. 7) to include it here in my blog. I am an older white woman, twice out of retirement. This diary concerns students at an inner city type school, 98% African American with a handful of whites.
August 30
I finally have a job!!!! I am teaching French at Fair Park High School. I am so thankful! What one hears about FP is simply not true. It is a clean, well-run school. The administrative staff is fantastic--from principal on down to office staff. I started Wednesday and, at the end of the day, I felt I was in the belly of Jonah's whale, but Thursday was actually a good day. Students left my class on their first day knowing a little conversation and how to write simple sentences. I was very pleased. There are some really good teens in my classes and some who need work. The same is true at any school.

Labor Day
Labor Day--an odd name for a holiday celebrating the good activity known as labor, something which gives us pride, a sense of accomplishment, a means of supporting ourselves and family, a way of giving to the world, and a meaningful use of time. However, we don't labor on Labor Day (ha ha, I know many of us do!) I will spend time with family but take my school work with me. I have a stack of French sentences and drawings to check, grades to record, seating charts to make, and, what else?--oh yeah, lesson plans. I have a mental map of what I'm doing tomorrow, but forces that be require that they are written/typed on paper and in educationese language.
Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys his/her Labor Day!

Sept 14
Well, let me declare hallejah! I had an absolutely great day Friday. I had 3 block classes that could not have been better. I really like half of my students who really want to learn. They are kind, polite, attentive, and most importantly, don't yell across the room. I have actually stopped that--with help from "higher ups." I had a melt-down after school on Wednesday after I had three horrible classes. I "melted" all night and still was upset Thursday morning. My principal, bless him, got me a sub. I spent the day regrouping. My mother prayed over me Friday morning and voila! I had a great Friday. You cannot believe how happy I was at the end of the day when I could say "What a great day I had!"

Sept 20
I took brie cheese, French bread, butter, grapes and French cookies yesterday for my classes to sample. They were so polite about everything. We would have had cafe au lait but someone forgot to bring the coffee! (moi)

Oct 6
Update: Twice now I have had such bad days that I fully intend going in the next day to resign. Each time my mother has prayed that I have good days and each time I do have good days. We talked this last time about specific things to remember about good days that make me actually laugh and feel really great about what I'm doing. Friday I acted out some of Lady Macbeth's lines in Macbeth. They wer...e laughing and laughing at me, well, not me, but my wild, dramatic acting. That's one thing. Then I start telling my family about specific ones that I really think the world of. Some of the young men are so kind and polite and thoughtful. Truly. There's one young lady with whom I have bonded. On those good days, I really enjoy my work. Perhaps the telling act is when I get home and try to put the work key into my home lock. I take it that I maybe look forward to my job. Is it a Freudian slip? 

Oct 20
On Friday I was evaluated by two "master" teachers. Let's see: what could go wrong? I'm gonna make a list: 1) full moon--that in itself is enough for a disaster (2) Students kept piling in after the bell rang, (3) then stood around yakking as if they were at a party (4) Noisy, loud, and obnoxious--besides this is my most difficult class (5) it was report card day and many had made F's, so I had to... deal with that issue, and (6) I was standing like a deer transfixed by headlights (7) I seriously entertained running right out of that room and leaving their teeming masses abandonned. But I did not. I stuck it through, humiliating as the experience was.

The good part is that during each part of my three-prong lesson, students cooperated and did surprisingly well. So perhaps I am making a difference?

After I got home Friday, I called my wise mother and whined about my experience. Then she told me about things going on with my niece and her children. That totally changed my perspective. My life is easy by comparison. So let me get on with this French speaking teaching. Everyone tells me I must be making a difference, but I'm not seeing it. However, when I was absent two days last week, students... came by demanding to know where I was. "Did you miss me," I asked them. "Yes," they all told me. One girl even told me she didn't want to have to come to my house and snatch up my red hair to this school to teach French. I must say I laughed until I hurt!! I told one boy that I missed him when he was absent because he is the best responder. He said, "a'ight," he would be there. So we're coming to an understanding, those kids and I.

Nov 16
Friday was enjoyable--every class, every hour. There were many absences with students going to New Orleans for our playoff game (we did not win--so disappointing), so I devised a number of games emphasizing French and gave bonus points to everyone who participated. It was nearly 100%. I took one French II class to the library to work on their tourist brochures. They are designing promotional broch...ures for some tourist attraction in France or Montreal (French speaking areas). Every single student worked the entire hour and 15 minutes and with gusto! I was shocked. No one complained and most even enjoyed working on them. We'll go back next week to finish. I am very pleased with all efforts! BTW, the topics of these brochures are the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, Montreal's Ice Festival, Disney Land in France, the lavender fields of southern France (so beautiful!), the destruction of the Bastille Prison during the French Revolution, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and famous meat dishes found in France (ex, coq au vin).

Nov 24
I should write down some of the hilarious things my students have said to me. One thing I have discovered and was delighted to discover it--I can be myself with these students, say outrageous things, make them laugh, and so on. During the showing of Phantom (of the Opera), I would sing some of the songs. They would tell me to stop singing or they would talk. I tried not to sing, but I know this musical so well I... was compelled. Once they threatened to lock me out or call security to come get me. Of course, they were laughing about it. Several girls told me they went home and rented Phantom because they could not wait to see the end.

I like to keep my room on the cool side to keep nasal passages moist (I hate hot rooms). They complained about the cold, so I went to Joanns's during a fleece sale and bought about 10 pieces, each a yard and half, so they could wrap up in one to keep warm. They were very pleased about this. Four cheerleaders even checked out a fleece to take on the bus to our first finals game (sorry, we lost). So yeah I've scored points.

What pleases me most is the fondness they are showing toward me. One day I called security on this one boy who has been a pain since day one. A girl was laughing with him until S. arrived, so I sent her too. The next day she would not speak to me (both had to stay after school for two days), but then the day after that, she came by during the day to give me a hug and say she got over it, that she was wrong, blah blah. I congratulated her on her maturity, and we both went on our merry ways.

Dec 2
I've been thinking--instead of this thing that God sent me to these kids as a blessing--I think it is the other way around. I (bold emphasis!) have been blessed. I have come to know some very fine young people--and, of course, not all can be described that way. I listen to four sermons every Sunday: Bishop Millicent Hunter out of Philadelphia, John Hagee in San Antonio, Joel Osteen in Houston, and Jeff Schreve in Texarkana. Each had something to say to me Sunday. Joel encouraged people to look at your successes and forget your failures. I was a failure at the beginning of my time at Fair Park. Nothing I did was right or successful. Their behavior and actions made me seek success, to find ways to reach those kids, not just in speaking French, but in positive human interactions. However, the meaningful sermon point--and I don't remember which one used it--is that thorn in Paul's being. God made me feel the thorn as a blessing, not a hindrance, to fight the fight with renewed vigor and determination. Of course, our quests are different, but the intention is similar: to seek the best for our audience. 
The newest: it's kind of to keep me humble, I do believe. Here I've been bragging/telling about the positive (thanks, Joel) and Friday comes. It's the weather change, I am sure. Natural phenomenon directly affects student (and teacher) behavior. By the end of the day my hip and leg were rubbing sticks together and dragging barbed wire over that, so I was in deep deep pain. There are four boys in this class that I have to stand watch over because of their loose lips and tongues (being VERY talkative). Oh my, they were at their best/worst Friday and would NOT stop talking. Finally, I called security to get those yakkers out of there. Oh my gosh, it was so quiet then. Just sayin'.....

Sunday, October 27, 2013

But on the other hand...

French, French, French and teaching French and the students I teach--talk about these topics fills my head and shoots out of my mouth. Just below this post is info about some serious looming problems. Just to level out the talk, I have positive things to say.

1. On the same day that I became a "hag, bag, nag," I was working with French II students in translating, especially showing an easy way to translate long sentences. They were simply spewing out the correct words. I said, "Oh my gosh, do you realize you are reading AND understanding French?!" One girl responded, " That's because we have a good teacher." So there, Nag-man.

2. One of the hostile jeune hommes (young men) broke down and let me help him work through some French issues. He went from hostile (putting his head down and not even attempting the work) to compliant and doing all his work for the day (this was Friday). He scored full points on both activities. And I am proud of him!

There, now I feel better---

Now the ugliness comes...

The latest: after I told a hostile student that he could no longer sit at a computer, he rapped with these ending words--hag, bag, nag. He intended me to hear. Also, he and/or his friends left seven chip bags all around his seating area, plus paper and 2 broken pencils. What is he telling me? Yes, yes, I know--utter disdain and disrespect.

A hostile female student whipped out a blue and white bandana and tied it around her head after arriving in class. I asked if it was permissible to wear (I am so ignorant, or I was until Friday). She said no, and a student behind her, said no, because it was gang colors. So, OK, I'm getting gang messages now? I've sent this girl out of class three times--and NOTHING happens to her.

On Thursday and Friday my car was vandalized, the first time someone jammed a knife into the windshield, sending a foot-long crack diagonally across the driver's side viewing area. On the next day my driver's side rear-view mirror was jerked all the way out of whack, with the intent, I figure, of breaking it off.

So, what plan of action should I take? I'm working on that today....

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reflections on test scores

The faculty at my school is required to attend weekly TAP meetings designed to teach us better, deeper, more thoughtful lessons to reach every single student. The Master Teachers and the coursework are funded by federal or state grants.

The last lesson was about reflection of each daily lesson plan. Now that I have given and scored my first test, I am putting together some data about the success or lack thereof of the examination. How valid is the test? Too easy? Too difficult? Please be reminded that I allowed the use of notes and study cards, even the textbook during the exam process.

So let's see:
First class: highest grade is a C, 2 D's, and 15 F's. Several were absent. Since this is the noisiest, least responsive, most lethargic, most resistant class, I'm not surprised at all at the grades, especially the F's. These are the talkers, sleepers, cell phone users. Now I know:  I must put on my boot camp sergeant role and force more attentiveness, or pretense if necessary. Call a few parents. What I now know is that the noise makers are preventing the education of others. No A's or B's and only one C.

Second class: One A, 4 B's, 3 C's, 1 D, and 7 F's. Again, the low scores are made by students who refuse to participate. I let them go the first time. Now that I have more control, I feel brave enough to tackle this problem. The first thing I am going to do is re-do seating to break up the pools of cronyism.

Third class: One A, 7 B's, 3 C's, 2 D's, and 7 F's.

Fourth class: 2 A's, 2 B's, 2 C's, 1 D, and 1 F. This is my best class. The F was made by a student who is frequently absent and does not make up work.

Fifth class: 2 A's, 1 B, 2 C's, 2 D's, and 4 F's.

Sixth class: 2 A's, 4 B's, 4 C's, 3 D's, and 12 F's. This class, like the first one, has a seriously large proportion of students who do anything but pay attention.

I think my test is valid since there are A's and B's in every class except that first one.

Should one forget: I allowed the use of notes, assignments, and the text. I figured I would aid those students who took notes and did the work.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Test time in French class!

I declare, but it was an experience giving a test the last two days in my inner-city classes. Just as teens, in general, tend to be communal, to feel a sense of belonging, to feel a part of something, even more so with black teens, that is, most black teens. And they want to do it loud. I think I have finally learned that important lesson. They are not being noisy to spite me (silly girl!)--they're just loud. All? No. There are black loners, too. So any time I think that blacks act a certain way, I have to remember that white teens have their oddities, too.

But I digress, as I usually do. Test taking. Here are some things I discovered.
1. Teens are severely attached to those cell phones. In every class I had to confiscate two cell phones used to find google translator, even though I was clear that cells were not to be used.

2. During reviews when I actually gave an approximation of a test that they worked on, we went over, I discovered how much they had forgotten. As long as I used flash cards in reviewing almost daily, they remembered that particular vocabulary. I stopped and their brains drained out those words. As the assistant principal, former psychology teacher, told me: There's a study that says teens "prune" their brains (not consciously) and get rid of everything but brain growth. If asked why they did something "stupid," they claim they don't know why. My AP says they really don't know. So my French students simply lost a lot of information. Pruned right out. I have drilled conjugations and verb cards over and over and over. "What's conjugation?" they wanted to know. I declare! What's the word for "a?" I could not believe my ears!

3. Some students called me over and over to help them on the test. I did. Those who never asked for help, I asked them if they wanted help. "No, I got this," one boy told me. Some called me over and said, "Ms P, I don't know any of this." I'm sorry, but, folks, I had to remind them that sleeping during class and turning in no work probably played a large role in their lack of knowledge. Besides, I worked so hard during the review process and this same girl talked the entire time. Pity? Got none.

4. One boy who is in trouble with his grade--he tries some, talks a lot, sleeps some-- he called me over and asked if he could do some catch-up work. Absolutely, I told him. If this macho black dude can humble himself to ask for catch-up work, I can certainly grant his request.

5.  On occasion I allow use of various tools to aid and abet during testing. I assign verb cards with their conjugations and flash cards with vocabulary for quick references. Not all students will do them or do them correctly. So for this first test I allowed the use of anything except cell phones and neighbors. A professor once told me that a student should learn something taking a test. I declare, but these students used initiative in using the textbook. Those who had little or no notes had to figure out how to use the text--a challenge, I might add, but they did and found enough answers to carry them through. I was excited they could! I should have taken pictures of all my classes working diligently to find answers and do at least well enough.

 6.Now the funniest, more revealing part of the testing process. In the last class of the two-day period, the most "communal" of classes, I had the wildest experience, as a teacher, with cheating. It was toward the end of class time, when they started slipping verb cards and class notes to each other. They were asking questions and getting answers. I even found one girl with a boy's test paper tucked under her test. The crazy thing is that SHE is the good student--he is middling. They were panicking and doing whatever--you know, the bottom line--to finish their tests. My point is: They cared!--enough to cheat in their panic! I let it happen and thought I had learned something about them--the communal, connected thing. Was I wrong to let them "cheat," if one can call it that since I allowed so much use of notes and such. Next time, I think I'll have neighbor testing, that is, two working together. Aha, I'll put like with like.

I am looking forward to grading these tests. More later....

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Let's look at the positive side...

I've been blah-blah-blahing about the downside of working in an inner-city school. It's difficult, yes, but it also has its shining moments. Today, let me share some of those.

Friday, during my last class, after a hard day, I was reviewing vocabulary through a translation exercise. I had created 10 sentences in French, using vocabulary I've given them since Day 1. The class and I were working through the sentences--when, voila!, I realized I did not have to tell them a single word. They translated all ten sentences themselves! Let me declare my amazement, my happiness, and their utter delight! This is a class of 30 students. I would say that half were engaged and participating while the other half, no, wait, I'll not go there. Half were engaged and reading French! That's truly what I want to share!

After they translated from French into English, they had to put five English sentences into French. They did that, also. My students are reading and writing in French!

(Note: pronunciation still comes as a problem, although face-to-face, I can get the student with the most twisted tongue to pronounce to my satisfaction. Shoot, my family has exactly the same pronunciation problems--IF I can get them to repeat anything! Speaking a new language after puberty is difficult for anyone. It's too embarrassing, but I'm saying that ALL my students at least try even if they forget it ten seconds later. It is difficult to pronounce sounds and words in a, dare
I say?--"foreign" language!)

On another note, the faculty at my school is so multicultural. One librarian is Chinese, there are about a dozen men and women from the Philippines who teach various subjects. I would say that a third of the faculty is Caucasian, the rest being African-American. I'm guessing that the faculty is about half and half in gender, that being a real deviation from a majority of teachers as female. All ages are represented from the brand shiny new teachers to two of us who came out of retirement to teach this year. And, of course, all our teachers are American.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


I'm posting here rather than Facebook about the demands of my new job. That way I can write about what's real rather than covering up. After all, who reads this?I teach French to 9th through 12th grade students in a long-time "failing" school. If you picture those inner city schools in movies with forceful kids dominating hallways and classrooms, you would see only a snippet of what is actually true. My school is clean, polished, and looks successful. The principal, who has directed the school for one year now, is gradually turning it around. He looks for success in any way he can find it. He demands adherence to the rules for students. After all, establishing procedure, following successful practices--these are the groundwork for success. You would think creativity, high energy, working outside the box--that these would produce a successful school. But first, but first, there must be order drilled and instilled into students. A creative, innovative teacher cannot work in chaos when only a handful of students are interested and the others intent on making sure that success does NOT happen. Why would that be? Why would they want failure? Just listening to other teachers talk about their experiences makes me brace up, buck up, anything to rage, rage, (not literally) against the chaos of the lives of these students. Truthfully, there are only a few that I have problems liking and only because they are belligerent. Belligerence does not beget a happy teacher.

So Friday, here's what happened: Last class of the day, filled to the brim with students. Oh, sure, here comes a transfer into a class of 30. Now we have 31. This is the class with four girls, three of whom have bellowing voices. They talk in those voices to each other and across the room. "Boy, don't you touch me again. You touch me, I'm gonna come over there and punch you," bellows the ringleader to some boy who did not touch her. She's just showing whose boss of the classroom. I tell her to do her work. "What do you think I'm doing?" she bellows. But there's that cell phone, the presence of which is against all rules. "Hey, girl!" she shouts across the room. "Blah blah blah," hollers to her friend over there. "Sudie (not real name), you need to put that phone away, get your paper out, and pay attention." "You not taking my phone," she lets me know. You might think this girl dresses like a hoodie, but, no, she always is dressed to the nines, even in school uniform. Her hair is immaculately styled. She looks like a "good" student in all sense of the word. But no, she is a problem. Finally, after an hour of their bellowing, I buzz for security. The students who are trying cannot hear me nor can I hear them over the loud talking of these girls. Why did I wait so long? Because I am supposed to follow a precise procedure, in order, including calling parents, before I send students out of class. However, I'm having them removed because they are seriously disturbing the learning process. The students and I cannot avoid hearing their conversation because it is SO loud AND learning is difficult in this situation. Know what these girls said to me and security: (1) You better not be sending us out of this class (2) I don't want to be here any way (3) We better not be the only ones being sent out. Everyone else is talking, too. I sent four out, the loudest ones with the most prolonged talking/bellowing. As they stormed past me, I wanted to throw up, not out of nervousness, but out of disgust at such behavior. Me, me, me, me--there must be a reason why.

Evaluations start this week. Not only have I not mastered the lesson plan style with all its jargon, most importantly, I have not mastered the classes. I jumped into this job like a pit bull (not that I am one) dropped into a pit of bears. So, the bears are working hard to destroy me, but the pit bull was still alive at the end of the day. Bloodied, sure, limping, yes, but I was still in the game. I went to see the new friend I made the first day I was there--the Spanish teacher. I cried on her shoulder. For a woman of many words, after I told my story, she looked at me, then said, "I got nothing. I don't know what to say." Then another teacher came in, then one of the security guys. They closed the door and we had a real heart-to-heart. They gave me a new perspective. I won't share those thoughts at this time, but I feel I understand things a little better.

Anyway, all weekend, as I drive along, I find myself bellowing comments out loud like those girls. I know I don't have control of this situation, so I am reliving it. What do I do? I know I'm calling parents this afternoon and doing all that documenting the discipline administrator wants. And planning! You bet!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New job...

Guess what I'm doing?! I left the leisure of retirement behind and jumped head first in medias res to teaching French in an inner city school. I was hired one week after school started and could not begin until two and one-half weeks into the school year. Things were established and I was not part of the plan. Most of the students embraced having a certified teacher, some absolutely don't care one way or the other, nor do they care whether their classmates learn. The situation is actually much better than I anticipated, but it still hurts to be treated so badly. Anyway, the discipline principal is working with me and neighbors around me have been helpful and encouraging. We'll get this thing under control, sooner or later (most hopefully sooner!). It's a struggle for some students to get their mouths and tongues around the sounds of the French language, but we're working on it.

Just posting about the job...more later...

Monday, August 26, 2013

The poem

Crossing to Safety

I could give all to Time except--except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There
And what I would not part with I have kept.

Robert Frost

I like poetry. Not enough to read it regularly, or even occasionally. I taught poetry at the high school level and thoroughly enjoyed doing that. But sitting and reading poetry when I could read a novel? Especially when the poem is like the one above? Mr. Frost, you're a good poet, America's poet, but this poem is sliced and diced and oddly arranged and settled disjointedly. It's not my favorite, not like "Swinging Birches" or "Fences" (Something there is that doesn't like a fence), and, of course, "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What does it all mean?

The local branch of the public library has a summer reading club. I discovered this in time to read the next selection: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. He's one of those writers whose names I know, but I haven't read him. Now I have. 

In participating in a reading club, I thought, I would meet like-minded people, hear lively and thoughtful comments, and perhaps argue a point or two. Instead, I was oddly disappointed. Oddly? Yes, oddly. There were about twenty people present--over half had not even opened the book or were only at mid-point. OK, so the group represented that same group of high school students I taught who also did not do their homework. And the but? But they were interested enough to come listen to a discussion.

Crossing to Safety--titles always fascinate me, especially ones that seemingly suggest themes, as this one does. The book is about two couples, oh so different, but oh so sympatico. Their lives intersect at the end of the Depression and crescendo several years later when one of the wives contracts polio during an important hike on their mutual vacation. Stegner steadily builds his story from their initial meeting as young professors and wives on the University of Wisconsin campus.

Larry Morgan, the narrator, is a successful writer and becomes a published novelist during that first year. It's not enough to get him tenure. Meanwhile, Sid has gobs of inherited money, a big house in-progress, and holds parties and takes in house guests. He gets tenure, though he is little published. He is, however, a gifted teacher.

One of the first and most serious conflicts is between Sid and his wife Charity, a severely manipulative and controlling woman. She runs Sid's life, making him follow a path he would not have chosen and by-passing the life of the gentleman farmer who ruminates and writes poetry. Sid does not get to live the life he wants.

When Sally becomes stricken with polio, the story halts, then jumps forward many years to the end. Larry fills in the story through his conversations with one of Charity and Sid's daughters. Even at the end of the story Charity controls how it plays out. Was that safety for Sid? Or was it stagnation? A gradual death by artistic strangulation?

In one tiny moment Larry reveals his own manner of strangulation--his wife's crippledness. He has described her through the novel with great compassion and love, but now, in this one tiny scene in which he describes her jerky movements, he shows, I think, a deeply buried, mild revulsion. There's another method of revealing this revulsion and it is through disguise: At the point of her illness, the novel skips ahead a multitude of years. The reader is given a couple of wonderful scenes, but limited in comparison to the earlier sections. Or perhaps I'm all wrong--I hope so.

Am I glad I read the novel? Yes. What was my overall impression? Writer pulling the strings of his creations, including himself. Mostly, when I read, I think of the story. In this case, I thought of Wallace Stegner, the writer, aware of his presence and his omnipotence, his own struggle to assert control over his own life.

So, who crosses to safety? What is meant by the title? I offer this: Sid Lang, so long repressed by his domineering wife, disappears during the last chapter, gone to the woods while his wife has her last say in all matters. Larry finally sees him, asking, "Sid?" Sid's reply? "Yes." Yes, now to life as he would want it, yes to his wife's final act of control, just yes. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Travels with Kids

My sister Linda lives in north Virginia near Norfolk. Our birth family lives here in north Louisiana. It is 1100 miles from one place to the other. My sister got permission from her daughter Angela to take the two grandchildren on that long drive for a week's stay here.

So, how to keep them busy and out of childish mischief? Linda and Angela came up with a car game. They thought of all these things that a passenger might see on a lengthy trip and created a sheet of images: hay bales, rivers, bridges, dog panting out a car window, and so on--three pages worth. The above photo shows them circling the last of the images they saw on the last leg of their trip down here. They are just about ready to start the long drive back to their home and wanted a marked sheet to take. Just a few images remain uncircled.

The other game they made is the standard car license look-see. Vivian (the girl) can read letters and was able to identify the correct state by the state abbreviations. Then she colored that state. Viewing their journey through colored states marked because of their car licenses told a story: most states marked were along their interstate routes. Odd, huh? (or not!) There were a few odd states and countries out: Ontario and Quebec. But the oddest thing was no identification for South Carolina. All the southern states were marked except that one.

One activity we did here was visit the Louisiana State Exhibit Building where these old dioramas are displayed. Each tells the story of one of Louisiana's industries of one kind or another. What amazes me is the clarity of the picture taken through the glass protecting the diorama.
                                                 Sugar cane industry

Cotton picking time

We also went swimming at Cypress Lake where the water is marked off. There are picnic tables and a grill at each one. We found one right there almost at the water. Perfect location and small crowd on a weekday. The three siblings: brother, sister, and I took the six kids, four the brother's grandchildren, two of my sister's and none by me. It's a nice lake and a good place to swim or just chill.

Friday, June 21, 2013

My handsome boy!

Meet Martha, my handsome black cat. "Handsome?" Yes, Martha is a male cat. He didn't receive the name cruelly. Nay, I thought he was a female--until! I took him to the vet. She asked why I had chosen a female name for a male. Well, I hadn't.

I took him home and began searching for a new, more appropriate name: Marty, Marthon, Marvel, Marthie, but I did not like any of them. So, Martha he was and Martha he is today. I simply tell him what a handsome boy he is--and I'm pretty sure he's happy with that. Besides, he likes his name. "Martha, you are such a handsome boy!"

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Blackberries at Shuqulak Farm

Can you see all the blackberries on this vine? Every vine is hanging with fruit. You could almost fill one bucket  at one vine--well, maybe, two or three, but my point is how loaded the vines are at Shuqulak Farms near Frierson, LA.

I picked two buckets of blackberries. On this trip I didn't even look at the blueberries. That's for another trip.

Please check google or bing for more information and map quest for your particular directions.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Man's inhumanity to his most loyal creature

 This is not a happy story. In fact, it is downright horrible. I sit here crying every time I think about this dog (who, I am sure, is long gone from this world).

It happened this way. I was on my way to an appointment when I stepped out into the carport. There, sniffing around for food, was this pitiful dog. Good grief, I have never ever seen such a starved, decimated animal before. A local television station did a story on starving horses abandoned on a farm. They looked pretty much like this dog. It is no telling when the last time he ate. He could barely stand up and actually fell several times.

 I got my neighbor to help me. He has dogs and retrieved dog food and water (I had given him cat food--that's all I had on hand). I had already called Animal Control, not thinking ahead. I waited and waited for them to show up. After two hours I called a local television station, hoping they would do a story on the dog and someone would volunteer to rescue him and give him a better life than he had lived. In fact, I felt sick thinking I was giving him up to sure death.

A reporter came by and was as appalled as I was by the looks of the dog. The dog looked part pit bull and you know what happens to pit bulls if they are picked up. I canceled Animal Control because the reporter thought he could get another animal service to pick him up, this one not committed to the destruction of an animal. But, alas, that was not to be. He did, in fact, call Animal Control which did come out at five o'clock.

Meanwhile, I called a local vet to ask for aid. I had to talk to three people before anyone would give me an answer. The office manager wanted to know who would pay for services. That was her bottom line.  I literally don't have the money to pay for such treatment. If I had, I would have plopped it down for that dog. I admit I did not thank her for her time and went on my way.

The Animal Control person, a woman, was so rude to me. "You know we don't have to come back after you cancel a pick-up," she told me in a stern, angry voice. I started sobbing and told her I was just trying to do whatever I could to save the dog. She immediately became kind and finished her job with understanding and did not hurt the dog.

                                                 I read a book, A Dog's Life, by Ann M. Martin , a book
about a stray dog who lives a miserable life and is finally adopted by an older woman who gives that dog wonderful last years. A stray dog at least has a chance at finding food. The dog who showed up at my house lived under the control of a monster who deliberately did not feed the dog, thus starving it and abusing it. Such cruelty is beyond my ability to understand, nor do I want to.

 I wanted the station to run the story so people would see it, then calls and offers of monetary help would happen,  love would pour in and this poor dog would have a happy ending.This story did not end happily. But for one day two people fed you, gave you water, petted you, and talked to you in kind voices. It's not nearly enough and words cannot convey how sorry I am.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Alamo "remembered"

I live in a city in which many of the downtown streets are named after Alamo heroes: Travis, Crockett, Milam, and Texas, our main street. Note: just as in history, Houston is not there or here. I digress only to say I grew up with names of Alamo heroes  frequently spoken, like chants to remember long-ago heroes.

My sister and I visited the Alamo just a year ago and stood in many of the spots where blood was spilled and legends made. So it was only natural that I watch this movie when it recently played on a movie channel. John Lee Hancock's "The Alamo" is not John Wayne's version. The older version was made during the years following World War II, when inspiring myth-making was in full ascent.

This recent version is much grittier and more likely, although several reviewers gorgeously described the film as also modern myth making. I think, though, that Crockett's last filmic words were actually spoken, as I remember hearing them before, probably by one of the Alamo specialists at the time of our tour. "Here's your last chance to surrender. Turn in your arms and I promise no harm will come to you" are words out of Crockett's mouth to the huge crowd of surrounding Mexican soldiers. Note: Crockett was bound and on his knees. Another reviewer attributed Crockett's words to the journal of one of the Mexican leaders, with the knowledge that leaders keep these records of their (hopefully) heroic and historic deeds.

Billie Bob Thornton, of all actors, plays Crockett and does so with low- and high-keyed perfection. In fact, the most memorable scene occurs during the evening when the Mexican band would play its prelude to battle. Crockett takes his fiddle on the upper level of the fort in view of the Mexican soldiers and, during the playing of the battle prelude, plays a haunting melody, creating a Texian version of meaning (the movie uses "Texian" rather than Texan). It's a moment to savor.

Other notable actors include Patrick Wilson (a long-time favorite of mine after seeing him in "Phantom of the Opera"). As Travis and elected leader of the Texian side, he meets opposition from some of his own men. He is notorious for abandoning his wife and children, visiting prostitutes, and gambling. Toward the end, when a dying Bowie (played by Jason Patric), asks Travis for a dying drink, Travis responds--with tongue in cheek: "I visit prostitutes, gamble, abandon children, but I draw the line at alcohol."

(As an historical side note: There is a museum/gift shop located next door to the Alamo. On display are several versions of Jim Bowie's designs for the Bowie knife. And let me tell you--that design is incredibly horrific!!!)

The film itself is simply awesome, the story vividly retold on cellluloid for posterity. With film a viewer can hold history, a live production becomes an object of memory, with each method touching a different mental capacity. I plan to purchase the film, this version, for my own record-keeping of an event important enough a cause to name our downtown streets. "Remember the Alamo" is a battle cry for all ages and all times, its symbolic significance deeply ingrained in our national subconcious.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Blue bird living quarters

My sister-in-law and mother love watching blue birds nest in their two blue bird boxes, one in the front yard and one in the back yard. Every spring blue bird parents raise two or three sets of baby blue birds.

Recently, my brother attached a box to a beam on the back porch. Promptly, a blue bird couple moved in! They (my family) tell me that it is most unlikely for blue birds to build where humans frequent. My brother was testing the hypothesis. The photo shows the location of the house. Unfortunately, no blue birds posed for the photo, but they're there!

The quote to the right applies to my family, as well. When sparrows tried to occupy the back-yard box last year, the adults brought out the air rifle and fired shots, not at the sparrows, but around them to chase them off. The blue birds got in!

Friday, April 12, 2013

The books of Robert Cormier

I'm a big fan of Robert Cormier books--and, yes, I have favorites.  However, "favorites" might be an odd word to use concerning Cormier books. He does not write typical stories for young adult readers. In fact, his themes are always mature and his stories dark, sometimes quite dark.

Case in point: "After the First Death" is a novel about a multitude of serious themes, all carefully woven into an unforgettable novel. Do you read books and promptly forget them? But there are those you never forget. "After the First Death" is one of these. Although the publication date is 1979, terrorists of some unnamed, occupied country (Palestine?) plot the takeover of a school-bus filled with kindergarten children with ransom as their plan. I'm not sure if total explosion was part of the plan at the end.

The title refers to the death of the first victim because of candy laced with medication to make the children calm and sleep. Once that first death happens, they are in deep. The main assistant is just a young boy, 15 or so, who has been trained, along with his brother, now deceased, since childhood. Artkin takes them and trains them to be terrorists, to serve his will at his pleasure. The point of the takeover, despite ransom threatenings, is to decimate a special forces service buried deep in secrecy. The general's son is used as bait, with the general quite cognizant that his son will be tortured. The substitute bus driver, a girl who is also young, is the last key player.

People die in Cormier books or they are destroyed in some way, but I was hoping for better in this one. Cormier never plays safe or by the heart: he plays by reality and so it is in this book. This is a story that lingers....

The next book is "In the Middle of the Night." Quietly laced in the midst of the terror is a pleasing, unexpected love story. When Denny's father was just 16, he was involved in a theater fire that killed several children and maimed several others. The fire was an accident, the young boy was declared innocent, but tell that to a warped mind intent on revenge. Every year during the week of the anniversary of the fire, he receives a phone call in the middle of the night. Newspapers publish stories about the fire and Denny's father must move again. He never reacts except to forbid his son NEVER EVER answer the phone. During the anniversary week when he is 16, he answers the phone. That's when he learns his father's story. Research in the library answers further questions. However, the main problem is that he is drawn into a telephone romance with this woman, who sounds so delicious to him. Figure the math--he does and discards--no one with a voice like this can be as old as his father. Remember, she is out for revenge. That's as far as I will tell. I liked this book but not as much as the first one reviewed.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


I recently viewed "Sinister" and feel compelled to share my experience with you.

"Sinister" is the most downright, flat-out scary movie I've ever seen. I screamed several times, scaring my cats each time. The next day I watched the film a second time and screamed again in the same places. I'm telling you, the movie is SCARY! OK, why is it so frightening? One preview showed the director saying that Ethan Hawke was the only actor he wanted to play the main character. Personally, I'm not sure why. Although Hawke's acting was superlative in the role, I don't know why another actor couldn't have replaced him. Let's see: Gerard Butler is too hunky, DiCaprio is too introspective, Ryan Phillipe is too self-focused, Ryan Gosling boils with emotion, Jason Statham is too intense, Paul Rudd, maybe, but too bland. Ethan Hawke is perfect. The director is right.

The plot itself involves a writer with one famous book and several weak ones. This time, he thinks, he will move his family (they move with every book) into the very house where a horrific crime took place. Hawke's character believes that living in the very crime scene will invigorate his writing. He is desperately seeking another 15 minutes of fame.

 His family know about the crime, but not about the house. His 7- or 8-year-old daughter, a budding artist, is allowed to draw on her bedroom walls. When she starts drawing scenes of the family who lived there on other walls, her mother is annoyed, but not for the right reason. Hawke knows but cannot share. The daughter has drawn a picture of the previous little girl, sitting in a tire swing. He recognizes the source of the drawing immediately as one taken from an 8-mm movie, one of several he found in a wooden box in the attic. The film shows the murder of the family taking place and the disappearance of the family's little girl. We see his stunned face and his closed-mouth reaction to that drawing. He is not going to jeopardize his chance at writing the next best-selling true crime story.

Really strange things go on in this house, late at night, while the family is sleeping and Hawke is preparing to write. After he finds that box of films in the attic, he spends his time viewing them, each as horrifying as the previous, and thinks he has found a gold mine of information for writing the best ever crime story.

"1. threatening or portending evil, harm, or trouble; ominous: a sinister remark.
2. bad, evil, base, or wicked" --from Dictionary Online

The movie includes all these meanings and profoundly. He hears things, the viewer sees them. The director uses every available tool to enhance the building of suspense and fear-- planting little things in the story which impact it later (ex. the drawing on the wall), setting the story in the dark of night in the shadows, the music in which the beat is repetitive of the clicking sound of the 8-mm machine running. 

I'm not telling any more. Each viewer--who is brave enough--should experience the movie personally and individually, not knowing much in advance. I've given you all you need. But, again, be warned: "Sinister" is truly a scary movie.

I must also add that there is a moral to this story. It will be obvious.

Friday, March 22, 2013

 Spring in my front yard!

Daisies and azaleas
Japanese maple


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Neighbor rant...

I've lived at my current address for 10 years, buying the house after my divorce. Several couples haved lived in the house to my left over these years. I've had pleasant relations with each couple. But now! A divorced woman has moved in and is a rabidly annal-retentive creature.  She measured "over and over 84 1/2 inches" and whacked my azalea bush where she claimed the property line is. Please look at photo #2 below and tell me if you think the property line is that far over. No, it is not! It does not make any sense that the line is that far over. Anyway, when I have money, I will hire a surveyor to ascertain the correct line, then I will put up a six-foot fence so that I never have to look at that woman again!  Two days ago, we had words over her actions, my resulting actions, and names were exchanged! Even if she is wrong, which I claim, I hacked off my bush to shut her up, even though blooming season is nigh.

                         (Note: Photos below do not show what I hacked off, just her action. I have since learned that a neighbor may not cut anything on another person's property without express permission which I have not given. Hmmmm....)
My neighbor's whacking product--

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Doggie visit

Beggars Pluto and Tink
My nephew and his family came to visit for a week recently. Not only did we enjoy his baby daughter, but also his big black dog Pluto and Cassie's little dog Tink, both very sweet. That's Tink, dancing on her hind legs for a bite of roast.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My note on the Academy Awards

I have always loved the glit and glamour of the Academy Awards! Just like everyone else I love the Red Carpet walk-throughs. It's kind of like seeing the American version of nobility, although, God knows, some of those people do not behave nobly--but on screen they give us all kinds of chills, laughs, sadness, joy--they represent the human condition at its finest, at its worst.

Jennifer Lawrence is an example: so graceful, so elegant in her fall and rise to victory, so vulgar in her confession of saying the F-bomb and giving the finger. I haven't seen that performance with Bradley Cooper, but I have seen "The Hunger Games" and "Winter's Bone." This young woman has a future (written in under tones). Indeed! She is also my pick as Most Beautiful for the night.

I adore Anne Hathaway, think she is truly one of the most beautiful women in the world and love her acting, but I did not like her dress. I liked the pale pink, but not the style--not flattering at all. But I'm only one--most loved her dress!

Jane Fonda still rouses feelings of hatred among Americans. Let it go, I say. Her hair was perfect, but, ug, that horrid yellow dress. I don't see through the same lenses used by Hollywood critics who loved her dress! On the other hand, I totally agree with the assessment of that gorgeous red dress Jennifer Anniston wore. She looked absolutely amazing!

Why is George Clooney sporting that tacky beard when he is so handsome clean-shaven?  I don't like Ben Affleck's beard either. He must have had some kind of domestic dispute before the show that he felt the need to address how hard marriage is. Yeah, we know, Ben. Frankly, I'm surprised he and Jennifer are still together. Three children, one wife, and how many years, Ben, and you're still with her? Good for her, good for you. "Lincoln" should have won, but the Academy gave the honor to you because you were not nominated for Best Director. Just a little poetic justice, don't you think?

Seth McFarland--that segment with Captain Kirk was sooo embarrassing and clumsy and awkward and NOT funny at all! "We saw your boobs"? Oh, really, you thought that was funny? It was tacky and tasteless. Well, maybe, a bit funny-- (if I'm being honest). John Wilkes Booth in Lincoln's head? That image was so ugly! Someone suggested Tina Fay and Amy Pohler for next year. I totally agree! We would get sharp humor, wit, and maybe hosts who could clip along instead of stalling for 22 minutes! Just saying....

Friday, February 15, 2013

For your reading pleasure

Words and pages, my blog, is supposed to be about books. I've digressed into personal matters the last two or three posts. To make up, I'm going to review several books I've read over the past few weeks. All come highly recommended.

1. The Paris Wife is an absolutely wonderful novel about Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife and mother of one of his children. I used to teach Hemingway, loved him, loved his books. I was a real fan. It was with great excitement when I found Paula McLain's book about the daughter of the Richardson Drug Store chain, who became Hemingway's first wife. I was so enamored of the story that I sought out on my shelves a Hemingway I had not read but which was described in the novel. Garden of Eden is Hemingway's novel about Hadley and one of his lovers during his marriage. His description of Hadley was repulsive and I threw the book aside. I had become attached to her. As a connoisseur of literature, I know that writers can shine light or darkness on a biographical character, depending upon their like or dislike. Ms McLain obviously liked Hadley. Hemingway seemingly had another view. This Eden book with its negative view of Hadley was written after she had accidentally lost his first important manuscript on a train (Psychologically, she must have purposefully left it because it took precedence over her every time he had to choose.) I don't think he ever forgave her. Also, after reading the carefully scripted wording of McLain's novel, Hemingway's prose seemed clumsy and awkward in contrast.

Bottom line: Whether you are a Hemingway fan or not, you will come to love Hadley Richardson, his first wife, and the exquisite writing that puts her on the pages.

2. Just finished Storm Prey by John Sanford (I've always thought he could not have invented a better writer's name than he has). This book presents a totally different reading experience from The Paris Wife, although both books center on wives. Lucas Davenport is the beloved and beleaguered detective in a Minnesota setting. This must be at least the 12th book in the series. Lucas's wife's name is Weather. Two people seek to kill her throughout the novel with a snow storm covering the last few chapters, but I prefer to look at Weather's name for the title: Storm Prey. Very clever, Mr. Sanford. If McLain's book is a study in well-crafted phrasing and word choice, then Sanford's book is a study in plot development. As a reader, I was there, in the story, clipping along with the characters, oblivious to words. It was a movie rolling in my head. Basically, the story is one of stupid mistakes. Five men stage a robbery of a hospital pharmacy. One of the men kicks a pharmacist to his ultimate death. From that point on the story becomes a comedy of errors and the police tracking them down.

Bottom line: This book is a great action thriller/ police procedural. Inside that is the story of Weather's surgical participation in the separation of twins joined at their heads with the fascinating inclusion of relevant details and general information.

3. Tenderness, by Robert Cormier, a writer of young adult fiction, is the troubling story of two teenagers, the boy 18, the girl 15. Eric has just been released from juvenile detention after three years for killing his parents. The detective believes he is also a killer of young girls. And he is. He kills them for "tenderness." Lori was 12 when she met Eric and 15 when he was released. When she saw him on television, she developed an obsession for him and became his stalker. Then they met again and all sorts of interesting things begin to happen.

Bottom line: A fascinating study of deeply troubled teenagers who find each other for "right" and "wrong" reasons. Cormier is one of a kind writer of young adult fiction. This is a good introduction to his body of work, although my favorite is We All Fall Down.

4. Room by Emma Donoghue is the story of Ma and Jack who live in this room. Since the story is narrated by five-year-old Jack, the reader accepts the premise of "Room" as their happy little environment. Until the reader settles in with this simple story telling,  it is initially annoying. However, when Old Nick enters, the reader realizes the true premise: Jack and Ma are prisoners to Old Nick's brutal behavior. I don't want to give anything away, so let me say that the story is one of the most unsettling you will ever read, much like The Deep End of the Ocean, in which there is an ambiguous and haunting conclusion.

Bottom line: Be ready for an unusual and disturbing story.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

It's a rant....

I am 66 years old and cannot find a job. I retired from teaching 10 years ago, thinking I was done. After two years and serious spending problems, I had to file bankruptcy and fell into a deep, deep depression. Add to that the post-traumatic stress situation following my divorce. I was a wreck. I was broken. I even asked my therapist if I was broken and she did not reply. OK, could I be healed?

I worked as a children's librarian for seven of those years. During my teaching career I excelled. I was special. I had magic. I could hold students' attention (reasonably so). As this librarian, a broken person, I struggled. Some days I excelled. Most days I fell into shock--you know, little children. I never had any or babysat or had any kind of dealings with them. I repeat, it was a struggle.

Add to that a principal who was not pleased with me. I found it profoundly difficult to discard old books. This was a library in need of extreme make-over. I painted all the walls, added rugs all over the place, created little nooks with floor pillows and the rugs, added posters and pictures and maps--all teaching devices. I worked every weekend for six of those seven years and stayed until seven at night many working days. I worked hard, but never could grasp how to work with middle school children until my last year. The odd thing is how much I looked forward to going to work every day.

So, in January of 2012, I turned in my intent to retire. In anticipation of having all the things I bought and brought to make the library eye-candy friendly all discarded, I totally packed it all up and took it home. It's a good thing because my replacement re-did everything! Worse, she discarded half the books in the library and put the paperbacks on the wood shelves. Made me sick, but I had to let it go. It's not my library any more.

What retirement is about is letting go. You're old, you're tired, and you are no longer needed. True or not, that's how I feel. After two months I knew I had made a mistake--not leaving that library, but retiring in general. I needed the money. I've been putting in applications, interviewing, but not asked to be a part of any team. I'm a has-been. I knew it would happen one day, but, you know, you never think TO YOU!

The worst thing, the very worst thing is how retired teachers are treated. I cannot begin to say how hard I worked for 41 years. Preparing lesson plans to teach literature, creating interesting, informative assignments as extended learning, creating meaningful tests, and grading all those papers, homework, tests, essays, and research projects. I was an English teacher, a humanities teacher, fine arts, creative writing, conversational French, teacher of gifted, philosophy teacher, an inspiration to hundreds of students.  What happened? Why am I no longer valuable to some employer?

In Louisiana retired teachers cannot be rehired after they retire--it's called double dipping, although a law was passed that in certain cases, following certain stipulations, some retired teachers can be rehired, but at sub pay. I was grandfathered in. Sub pay is so insulting! Even so, I recently agreed to accept that pay, then the principal disappeared with her job. I have no idea what happened because she did not return my call.

I look at those old faces of those old white men being interviewed in Washington as Obama's potential new leaders. How does he recognize their value (his opinion) instead of choosing much younger men OR women.? Then I must ask: Is it me? Am I the problem?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

About resolutions--

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

Emily Dickinson wrote this metaphoric poem about hope. Every year news people ask readers/viewers for their resolutions for the New Year. We comply. Why?

To come to a definite or earnest decision about; determine (to do something): I have resolved that I shall live to the full;
To convert or transform by any process (often used reflexively).

So, we resolve to determine to do something (better) or transform ourselves into something better. We have hope, despite the storms of life that "abash" us, despite not knowing which direction to follow (the tune without the words). Hope exists everywhere. Despite those who pooh-pooh resolutions, we make them for a reason: We are human and we have hope. And, yes, of course, we have the ultimate Hope--God! So, we resolve--and pray!

Have a Happy and Prosperous and Safe New Year!

A favorite souvenir

A favorite souvenir
These are my two girls from Ireland!

Judy's shared items

Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)

  • *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
  • How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
  • The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
  • In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  • *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
  • Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
  • The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
  • Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
  • Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
  • Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
  • The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
  • Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
  • *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
  • Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
  • *Ruined by Paula Morris
  • Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
  • Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
  • *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  • Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
  • *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
  • Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
  • *The Giver by Lois Lowery
  • *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski

School Library Journal - NeverEndingSearch


A semester course in one book about the Soviet Union. Click on image for my review.