Saturday, December 27, 2014

Random vs Structured

Many years ago I learned these terms, random and structured, as they apply to ways people may be classified.  The older I get, the more profound I find these terms--I live them, people around me live them, and they can damage.

First, a structured person starts at the beginning and goes straight through to the end. Everything is organized: a place for everything, everything in its place. Order is the living creed. Everything is done now, not tomorrow. These people don't know the word procrastinate. Because of their nature, random people annoy the heck out of them.

Random people are just that: they lack structure, don't seem to have an idea of time management. Finishing projects is usually difficult, but when done, they are creative, inspirational, flamboyant, or subtle. While the day may begin organized, organization is not a catch-word for Randoms. Structured folks cannot abide the disorganization and lack of time management in randoms. On the other hand, Randoms scratch their heads and look askance at the Structureds and say, what the heck. What's bothering them?

Thus, the eternal conflict between the two groups. My sister lives near her daughter and son-in-law, both highly structured. There she is--a Random with no one else like her in the area. I live near my mother and brother and sister-in-law, all Structureds. I drive them crazy. Yet, I try to live with their constant criticisms of me. I think Paul McCartney and Wings best expressed it: "Live and let live!" Anyway, that's my motto.

Note: Structureds have another name but I could not remember it or find it on the internet.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Souvenirs from world travels

I was looking through my photos and saw a potential post. I've traveled all over the world and bought souvenirs from every stop. They're everywhere around my house. I thought I would add a new one every week, thus sharing a bit of my travels. This first one is a photo of my two girls from Ireland. Why did I buy two? Look at their hair--I could not decide between the wee lassie (is that Scottish?) with straight, red hair or the one with the wild, curly hair? So, I bought both!!
Correction: Now I see I cannot see clearly. The so-called straight hair is tiny twists of hair to form tight ringlets. My bad.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


I was a shy thing in high school, especially with guys I was attracted to. Others, no prob. Talk, talk, talk. I'm sure that's true of many. In high school I crushed on one particular boy from 8th grade through senior year when I did finally land a good catch. I was not shy with him.

Anyway, the subject is Johnny. It is 50 years later and I'm in the gym before school, doing duty, when the football coach walks by. I stop him and let him know something wild is about to come out of my mouth. Couldn't help myself. I told him: "You are one good-looking dude." He laughed, hugged me, and said he needed that. Then I told him I went to high school with a guy with the same last name. Oh, ha, ha, he said, he's my dad!

So, see the irony? High school attraction, now attraction--no, I'm not attracted, just have good eyes which see really well. But, isn't it funny?

Wanna know how shy that guy is? He sent off for a mail-order bride from the Philippines. The son told me they had been married for 25 years. Just goes to show that love is not a requirement, although I'm sure they fell in love. I hope so.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

My 50th class reunion

A couple of weeks ago my senior class, Woodlawn 1964, held its 50th reunion. I didn't go. I simply could not get up the energy to even want to go. At one point I did fill out the form of intent but could not mail it.

So why? I know a couple of reasons, or at least what I think are reasons, but I was never sure. That's why I'm writing this blog--to see if I can discover why I could not go.

Here's what I think:
1. I would have to go alone. In nearly every picture taken during the event each person had a "date" with him/her. I would have felt out of place.
2. This one comes on the heels of the one above. Sometimes I have panic attacks when in large crowds where I don't have a home base. As a loner, would a group of pairs have tolerated my joining them? At the first sign of rejection, I would have fled, as I have done many a time.
3. So many of my classmates have one spouse and claim happiness. I've had two disastrous marriages. I have no children or grandchildren on whom I dote. I totally feel the burden of my aloneness. I am happy not being married --actually, I'm happily divorced.
4. I have not enjoyed seeing what has happened to us. We are nearly all overweight. We're boomers! We should have kept up physically. What happened? Why did we let that dream die (of staying fit and trim).
5. I was not friends with most of the people on the planning committee. In fact, nothing was ever mentioned by or about my friends in high school. It would be those folks whom I would want to see. Otherwise, panic over the aloneness.

So, I think that's it. In these reasons is probably the truth or something imitating it.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Flawed people running for office

Our Founding Fathers (maybe with women behind the scenes) wanted an educated citizenry (at least men with land) to hold office, to serve the public good, to be citizen leaders. We've gone so far beyond that to become a country of office holders who serve their own private good. I'm suspicious of most who run for office. Too often they go in intending to serve and come out rich beyond their fellow citizens. It's too bad for them and more so for the rest of us.

But we're all flawed. In our current mayor's race  I'm left with almost no one to vote for. There are two viable candidates, both black, one male and one female. I received in the mail a flyer just days before the election, leaving almost no response time. It's about the woman, on the edge of calling her corrupt and incompetent. Supporters of the male candidate are the PAC behind this smear. Shameful.  

Last Saturday, another candidate hit the campaign trail at the local Farmer's Market. In his chat with me, he pointed out how another of the candidates had a melt-down at one campaign and has a history of mental breakdowns. In the middle of his pitch, he inserted this embarrassing information. I say embarrassing information because I mean it for him. I did not appreciate this campaign smear.

The most interesting piece of information is that many of the several candidates running for mayor chose no party affiliation. What are they saying? That they want nothing to do with either party? That they are afraid to declare a party because of the dirty deeds attributed to both or current officeholders?

What makes a person think she or he is capable of holding office? That takes a certain swagger, a lot of ego and self-confidence. Imagine holding yourself up to light and really seeing a person who can hold power, who can control events, who can handle a lot of taxpayer money?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What's up, Doc?

You know the old cartoons with Bugs Bunny rolling up to another character and asking--characteristically--"What's up, Doc?" He reminds me of my new principal, Ricky Carson, who hosted, emceed, --what word fits here?--our professional development day on Friday. Students were out, enjoying their first day of fall vacation. The staff was in, enjoying (more or less) their day of development.

I say "development" and mean it. I was inspired (not every minute because some minutes were devoted to less interesting topics). I was particularly inspired by the assistant principal's (the one in charge of discipline) promotion of the High Five. Now here is something new and I perked up. With High Five the teacher picks five students who are not particularly fond of school or its staff. It's a positive promotion thing: the teacher is kind and thoughtful and generous in spirit toward five generally "difficult" students with the idea of positive enhancement.

I knew immediately who my Number One would be (whose name I will hold secret here). Then I continued through my memory banks until I finished my list of five. The moment I turned it in to the assistant principal, I was committed. There's no turning back now. Besides, every child needs at least one adult to care, to actually show tenderness, respect, and loving kindness. I will be those things to five students until the end of next spring. Will it make a difference? We shall see.....

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Teaching the gifted...

"Teaching the gifted..." appears to be the beginning of this blog. It is and it isn't. What do I mean? Let's see...whoa, I'm using a stall tactic. I teach all three grades, 6th, 7th, 8th, of middle school. That's six preparations each night!!-- two for each grade: one hour of English (grammar, spelling, vocabulary, punctuation, and the like) and one hour of reading: all things related to reading and writing. If I did a worthy job in preparing for each hour, I would spend six hours per night. I take up two or three papers per grade, so that's another two hours grading. The total: eight hours per night. I've done that a few times, but mostly, I spend about four hours each night and go to school feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared. The students can tell it, too (they're gifted that way).

Just recently, we had a heart-to-heart. I shared my doubts and stress; they shared their complaints about me. I'm a free person--I work on the edge of the box, just inside it, and even outside the box. Nearly all the students in this class wanted routine, organization, structure. Well, I've before taught a class of structured students. Usually, it's half and half. The next day I came to class prepared to be structured. I was, and it worked. Students were  lot more cooperative. I think their blood flowed better, knowing that they had an agenda. They knew exactly what we were going to do that class period. I'm thinking, yuk, I like surprises better. But they outnumber me, so I'm going with the flow--their flow. Everyone was more settled and calm. Amazing.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A lot to do about....

Once long ago, I was full of myself and had something to say about many things. Now I just come up empty. Getting old saddens me. Worse is whining and complaining about it. I heard an inspirational tape a few years back about the accomplishments of all these people in their 50's or mostly beyond. I need to hear it again.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


"Detachment" is the new film starring Adrian Brody, who is becoming large in my eyes for his keen acting ability. His own eyes reflect the detachment of the title and the great sorrow detachment brings. He is not part of us; he belongs elsewhere, but while he's here, let's cling fiercely to him for all he's worth or let's ignore him totally.This is the view of his students, the substitute who has come to these modern existentialists, those who are also detached. Those not are ignored in this film.

Brody plays a permanent substitute teacher who moves from school to school, filling in for first one teacher then the next. His job mirrors his commitment-less life. One point he makes is that we all have secrets. His is seeing his pitiful mother naked and dead as a young boy. It's a story etched in his face and blast through his eyes. It helps him present depressing literature to a class full of pained and hurting teenagers. They sense his depths of pain and want to commit to him, drain his life, pulse it into their own veins of emptiness and loneliness and despair.

A female colleague tells Brody's character that she is afraid of going home. Her soul is also devoid of emotion--it's just hollowness. She's Eliot's hollow man. She is all right in the classroom where she is engaged and engaging, yet all those hours alone at home are just too frightening to consider.

Lucy Liu plays the counselor who abhors counseling because of the horror she encounters in these teens' abysmal lives. Finally, she tells one girl who has a dwarfish soul to get "the f.... out of her office." It's a powerful scene of one educator completely coming unglued and letting the knives out of the drawer.

One iota of joy concludes this celluloidic adventure: the prostitute teen whom Brody's character befriends, well, the film is worth this last scene, this little iota of joy or something like joy.

The film is presented much like a documentary on the  barren life of a teacher and the teens in his/her arena. There is much about the film that rings so true (spoken by a teacher of 40 years), and perhaps much that is exaggerated. The director pushes a heavy hand to draw attention to the utter despair that is our modern times in far too many lives.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Jack Reacher: A Tribute

Why is Stephen King so popular? Because he can put words on paper that mesmerize  readers into scooping up those words as fast as they can to follow the story. "It's the story," one might say, like "it's the economy."

Lee Child writes like that, although the style is totally different. Just how fast can I read a Reacher novel? First who's Reacher? Jack Reacher is Child's main character through his series of novels about the military police officer (even his mother calls him Reacher). Like King, Child writes mesmerizing stories. Once I start a Reacher novel, reading it is all I want to do and must be intentional in order to do other things. My mother is my reading partner and says she reads so fast just "to see what happens" and often returns to read the book a second time to pick up those details she missed during the first reading. Therefore that whole series of novels is good for two rounds.

King writes with flair, with talent and skill. He could have written one of the Great American Novels (and perhaps he did). However, Lee Child has no such skill--and that's not a bad thing. He writes short, choppy sentences (like Hemingway), but they match  his main character, Jack Reacher, a military cop, who retires at one point to become basically a drifter/hero on a quest, who rights wrongs. He doesn't need to tilt at windmills because he is too big and strong, but he certainly does not fear any opponent who comes up against him. At six feet five inches and 240 pounds, he is a brute that others (with any sense) come to fear.

I'm nearing the end of my journey with the Reacher novel I found in a republished format. It's "The Enemy" (a multi-purpose title that encompasses so many different enemies, both physical and psychological.) There's not much I can say in reviewing the novel without giving away really important pieces of plot, so I'll just focus on the female character. Nearly always, Reacher has a companion in the novel who works with him in solving the crime. This time it is another military police officer who wants to work in the division Reacher is in. They are opposites except in brain power and the ability to think globally. He is white and big; she is black and petite. (She is my favorite female character in the Reacher series.) They make a formidable partnership.

This Reacher novel made me shed tears at the end. I'll leave it at that. An excellent entry in the series.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Cat in Paris

A Cat in Paris

(The following is taken from Amazon. Click on the link above for more information.)

"The Academy Award-nominated A CAT IN PARIS is a beautifully hand-drawn caper set in the shadow-drenched alleyways of Paris. Dino is a cat that leads a double life. By day he lives with Zoe, a little girl whose mother is a detective in the Parisian police force. But at night Dino sneaks out the window to work with Nico a slinky cat burglar with a big heart, whose fluid movements are poetry in motion as he evades captors and slips and swishes from rooftop to rooftop across the Paris skyline. A CAT IN PARIS is a delightful animated adventure perfect for both adults and children a witty and stylish "animated noir" with a jazzy soundtrack featuring Billie Holiday and a thrilling climax on top of Notre Dame cathedral.
Featuring the voices of Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River), Academy Award winner Anjelica Huston (The Royal Tenenbaums) and Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket)."

My note: I showed this movie to my French classes, eons removed from the lives and location of the characters in the animated film. They loved it and actually wanted me to show it twice (no time). I also loved it. My point? "A Cat in Paris" is a universal film, to be enjoyed by a multitude of viewers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A love story

This is my love story, a really unusual love story. It's not about a man and a woman, or any usual relationship. It's about a teacher, an aging teacher, retired for 10 years, who went to teach at an "inner city" school. To teach French there.

I needed the money and could not find a job teaching English or working as a librarian, two of my areas of certification. School started and I still did not have a job. I had been looking at this French position at this "inner city" school, but was really hesitant to interview. One, I am not that fluent in French. I can read and write it and speak hesitantly, so I was not eager to do something I did not excel in. Two, I did not know how I would do in a school that was 99.8% another race. How would they accept me? That was my biggest worry. As it turned out, that worry was quite grounded.

Students were absolutely horrible to me--disrespectful, rude, they minimized me every way they could. The disciplinarian tried to work with me. He told me I had to earn their trust. So that's what I did. I worked more on relationships. French came along--it, after all, was the structure of our relationship.

Perhaps it was the hard work, but eventually, I came to absolutely love those students. Nearly every one of them. I learned so much from them. Most of them came to love me, too. But not all. That's to be expected.

There's so much left to say, but I'm leaving it unsaid. The bottom line is what a remarkable year I had, what a great experience it was, and how much I would like to do it again.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Reading material

I's time to examine my reading material. It leaves me undernourished, brain-depleted, contemptuous of my own reading habits. All I read is the various thrillers--the more exciting, the better. But what food for thought, for provocation comes from those? Oh, yes, the Alex Cross novel about Alex going to Africa in pursuit of a criminal really wasn't that believable, yet Patterson could --and did--include meaty information about African teens,  orphaned and brainwashed boys, their access to power and what it might mean to them. Oh, the horror, the horror. This particular assassin, their controller, used them in his kills. So, I learned about killers and a horrible type of killing. Not believable? Wrong, it's true--hmmmm.

In another thriller, I learned about the horrors in current Russia--and what nightmares they bring! Again, killing and more killing.

Ask me about a a provocative book, one that instigates, invigorates, and is worthy of time spent in its envelopment. Quick, name one! "Disgrace" by J.M. Coetzee. I've read that one twice and seen the movie twice. What instigation, what provocation! A professor seduces one of his students and continues to trick her into sex until she cracks. He is released from his job and seeks out his distant daughter who lives out in the veldt, where she grows flowers to sell and makes a quiet life. During his stay she is raped under questionable circumstances and the professor is brutalized. Both survive but are equally affected and changed by their experiences. She quietly compromises herself to accept her pregnancy and what it means in her surroundings (intentionally left vague here by me), whereas the professor wants to fight. Finally, he returns to the city to find his former student, only to be rejected and humiliated by the family. He returns to his own daughter and accepts the inevitability of her decision. He has no choice because he has nowhere else he can go. Now he is compromised.

What's the disgrace? Obviously, his fall from grace as a respectable professor, his tainted seduction of the girl lead to his disgrace. But more is going on. The daughter is disgraced by her rape. The professor is disgraced by his inability to protect her or himself. It goes on, more disgrace, leading to final decisions and acceptance of what is rather than what could be, although that concept is also part of the story. This novel is not entertaining or thrilling (like my crime or spy books), but it shows human nature in tumult, in despair, in disgrace, and then choices. I will read this book again for its beauty of language and for a story of human dignity.

The following is the last paragraph in William Faulkner's acceptance speech for the Noble Prize in Literature. I don't think anyone has ever said it better about the role of the writer.
"I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

In "Disgrace," the professor returns to his daughter, I think, because of her "courage and honor and hope..."--all of which compensate for the disgrace of the rape and his own fall from grace. They both will "endure and prevail." "Disgrace" is one of those great novels that a well-read person should know.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


WTF? What's it mean? You and I know because we're hip, we're on the scene, been there, done that. I found a birthday card for my aging brother. This critter on the front had a "oh, woe" look on his face, then you open the card and there are three letters with a comment about getting old. I let my mother (age 93) read it. She said, Wtf as a word. I had to tell her what it means. She was startled then laughed. My mother is always game for something new (although she is NOT going to say WTF under any circumstances). Currently, I am teaching her to say, aih-ite. She's getting closer but still hasn't nuanced the phrase.

So phrasing in another language. If we say aih-ite, can we really expect a person from another culture to understand it? Aih-ite then. I just spent one year teaching French to high school students. That's the problem with taking a foreign language at that age--learning to speak that language is not going to happen in a year (unless the student speaks many hours outside class with a learning source and REALLY works at learning the language.)

My main point is that listening to a huge variety of other language speakers is the best way to learn a language. No, actually not. Living in the culture of the language is the way to learn nuances. How many students have that opportunity?

So we struggle, teacher and students alike.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Gorgeous, talented men

Oh, say, what a silly topic for a dizzy old woman. Yet! I'm not dizzy nor is the topic silly. It is what it is--and it is about gorgeous, talented men.

Omar Sy
The Intouchables
My new Number One is Omar Sy, a French-born. gorgeous, really black-skinned, awesome actor. I just showed "The Intouchables" to my French classes. It's a story about a quadriplegic, white-skinned Frenchman who seeks a new personal assistant. His counterpart, played by the charismatic Sy, is hired despite his attempts not to be. He brings absolute joy into a somber house, home to a resigned invalid, set on a course of music, letters, and quietitude. Driss invades it all, strewing his joie-de-vivre every where. He lights up everything. He zings everyone. He's a force to be reckoned with. I cannot emphasize enough what a delight this film is. The viewer will promptly forget she is reading subtitles (if you don't understand French) and become part of the story. Francois Cluzet is also excellent in his role as quad. Acting must take place in his face, for that's all he can move. There's one scene that is brilliantly played by Cluzet. You will not remain tearless! An emotionally moving story filled with laughter and joy and poignancy!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What is life?

Edited on July 8, 2014:
The following blog was written during a time of mental, emotional, and physical fatigue. I'm allowing it to stay because it reflects how I felt on a given date (as if that matters in the least). I was unfair in my assessment of my school. My principal, whom I genuinely liked and respected, lost his job because the school was deemed failing. His fault? He must accept some of the blame, but more goes to the status quo. I insinuate  in the blog that students are lacking. Actually, I found many smart students, but--and there's that but. It's that attitude, that absence of accountability for students, or rather for those who just attend. Too many just attend. So much time was spent teaching teachers how to use this technique and that one to reach these students, as if they couldn't be reached in any traditional ways. No, that's not what I want to say.
I could write and revise and eliminate and keep writing and not be able to speak adequately of my experience at this school with these students. So, the following with some revisions to eliminate things that don't need to be said.)

What is life? Coming from what direction? Heading where? And, most of all, why?

I'm reflective tonight because I don't know the answers. I thought I was Christian, but, truly, I don't know any more. When my neighbor at school says that every day is a good day because he walks with the Lord, I am temporarily stunned. I don't feel that way. I think, oh, yes, I'm supposed to feel that way, too. But it comes as a momentary illumination. Am I?

I've spent a hard year teaching in a school that really struggles to be a school. It's more an incubator, incubating what, I don't know. Where I spent the majority of my years teaching, I demanded excellence and got it. Here, I could demand all I wanted and it wouldn't happen. I require written work every single day, yet some students still walk in with nothing and think I am insane expecting them to produce a pencil, much less a pen. Brain work is not practiced on any kind of scale for too many students. I am horrified.

So, I come to May, weary and unfulfilled. I tried so hard this year to make a difference. People tell me I do, but I don't see it or feel it. I am leaving them with not much more than I started. DID I make a difference?

The school was placed on the Failing Schools (my capitalization for emphasis) list, every person had to re-interview for a position in the "new" school. I initially chose not to interview, then did. It was one of the worst interviews I ever went through. This new principal did most of the talking.  Also,  I watched too many really good teachers interview and not be accepted. Oh my gosh, why wouldn't this new principal want them? They're young, know all the new techniques, and work so hard! Yet, on they go, to new grounds. Yet, they loved where they were, they loved the students, and wanted so much for them to achieve. Who replaced them?

So, I will move on and hope to have my dreams restored, my intellect stirred. But what about those hapless students? They still won't know that they don't know.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New beginnings....

January 1, 2014

Do you know Janus, the god of two faces? Each face looks the opposite direction: one to the future and the other to the past. That old saying: How can you improve the future if you don't know where you've been? provides this information:

"Janus is an ancient Roman, composite, obscure god who is associated with doorways, beginnings, and transitions. A usually two-faced god he looks to the future and the past. The concepts of January and janitor are both based on aspects of Janus."

So, the janitor cleans out the old before tackling the new. What do I need to clean out? JUNK! Everywhere I have junk! During this two-week break between semesters, I have been cleaning out, a process that will require much more time than two weeks. At least, I've begun!

What will I expect as I enter into the new year? That's always a mystery, isn't it? I have French classes to teach. I have sewing to do. I have cats that depend on me. I have financial obligations (the reason I came out of retirement to teach). Too much to think about. Last night I heard resolutions: most were concerned about not stressing or worrying about health (and diet). The best way not to stress is to be prepared in areas which allow you to do something.

So much for new thoughts and a possible hint of resolutions from me... I wish for you a prosperous New Year. Make something of those beginnings. Pick your doorway. Consider your options and which transitions will work for you. It's all good.

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.