Friday, March 28, 2008

Poetry Friday

This was read at my grandmother's funeral. My family comes from a northern shipbuilding town on the North Sea. Every weekend, every vacation was spent at the beach. I'm not talking lounging around in bikinis. Our beaches, though sometimes balmy, are usually windswept, lonely, and breathtaking. The water is freezing cold and the color of precious jewels. The sand is a million shades of gold and the air cleans your lungs and blows away petty human worries. The last time I spoke to my grandmother was at the beach. She died unexpectedly at seventy, having survived depression, an abusive husband, a controlling mother, and World War II. I still cannot read this without weeping.

I Must Go Down to the Sea by John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

Round up is at

Friday, March 21, 2008

Falling from Grace by Gail Godwin

I got in to the bath with this book and emerged one and a half hours later wrinkled and cold. So, definitely a page turner. Two sisters, Annie and Grace, are spending the winter at the beach and their favorite game is a more complex version of hide and seek called tracking. The sisters get separated from their father and the weather and the tide turns on them. Annie makes it up the cliff to safety but Grace slips and disappears. Meanwhile, fourteen-year-old Kip gets caught in the storm too and finds the girls' backpack floating in the bay. He answers the girls' cell phone and becomes caught up in the frantic search, becoming a suspect himself as the days go by and no body is found. The same night a young boy disappears in to the churning seas and a drunk has-been rock star haunts the beach. Godwin spins a suspenseful tale that asks questions about what kind of people we trust. Godwin hails from Australia and is an editor of children's books. This is her first teen novel.

Poetry Friday

Roundup is at Wild Rose Reader this week.

It's been a week of poetry chez moi. I forced my sixth graders to memorize Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (we originally read it as an exercise in parts of speech). They moaned and groaned and tried to find "brillig" in the dictionary. "What is a mome rath?" In the end they loved it and could be found reciting it to each other at recess. They want to memorize another one- with the stipulation that it make sense.
It is snowing again in Minnesota, and I feel like peonies will never flower this year. I love the juxtaposition of the images in this poem. I didn't expect the broken cake at the end.

Pink and White

Peonies are the only flower I care for
and when I saw them from the bus window
yesterday, tumbled and heavy along
a fence, fully exploded, nodding
at the ground, hanging their heads but not
yet spoiled, I remembered
a summer (maybe seven years
ago, or was it ten?) I wasn't sure
our love would come again
and here I am, almost

kissing the grass like that,
bursting and rich, cracked
all over like broken cake-
makes you cry but still sweet

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Living Life on the Edge (of my sofa)

I have been living dangerously this past week and experiencing some events I hope never happen. I know its so cliche, but I am once again reminded of why we read. Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville took me up a mountainside with a millennialist sect, hoping to be saved by God from the fire that would end the Earth. Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It raced me around a supermarket frantic and scared as the moon, knocked out of orbit, unleashed tsunamis and played havoc with power supplies. All that and conferences, too!

Armageddon Summer is supposed to be a love story among other things. Two teenagers, Marina and Jed, come together as they watch the world around them fall apart but not because of God's wrath. Rather, it is human nature - fear, doubt, selfishness, and self-righteousness- that sparks the tragedy on the mountainside and leaves twenty dead. For me, the romance seemed superfluous to what was really a fascinating journey in to the hearts and minds of a group of people desperate to believe in something that would wipe away the mess of their worldly existence so far. Marina's mother's marriage is falling apart and Jed's mother recently walked out on both him and his father. These disillusioned adults find something to trust and believe in in the form of Reverend Beeson and his Believers. "I stood by you all these years and believe me it hasn't been easy," Marina's mother writes to her husband. "But there's a hole inside me. I want to believe in something. Something bigger than me. Once it was you I believed in. That's a long time gone." Ironically, by giving themselves up to Beeson's Flock they abandon the people who need them and believe in them the most - their children. The end of the novel was quite a shock for me. The believers barricade themselves in to their mountain retreat using electric fences and guards with guns. As the appointed day approaches, panic stricken "outsiders" demand to enter the compound and the day of judgement ends with death and disillusionment for the Believers. I would have liked to see where the authors would have taken the story if simply nothing had happened on that day. No fire and brimstone; no saving or cleansing. What then?

Life as we Knew It is a slow burn. It begins with the catastrophic alteration of the moon's orbit and life never gets back to normal. Miranda and her family are spared the tsunamis of the coastal states and the earthquakes of the mid west, but they must struggle daily to survive as food, gas, oil, and water become increasingly sparse. Family and its survival become the number one priority. This is not a story of a community coming together in times of crisis. It is Darwin's theory of survival made real. Would this be the reality? I didn't love this book but I appreciated its honesty and simplicity.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Poetry Friday

Sorry, no Dylan. I'm going to put my neck out and give you an original poem. It's not quite Dylan, but there is a little protest in there. However, I can give you a list of my Dylan connections: I live in Minnesota; I have seen both Bob Dylan and his son play live (separately); my daughter is named Cate after Cate Blanchett, who played Bob Dylan; wind is my favorite element.
Roundup is at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup

I went to war and all I got was this lousy license plate

Driving home I see
The car before me has a license plate
And I wonder what could possibly
Make up for all that
No waiting on aisle five
Served first at the bar
The first snowdrop and the last leaf to turn
The comfortable chair and the unrestricted view
Tuscan summers
Peeled grapes
Meteor showers and lunar eclipses
Bread straight from the oven
Upgrades and special offers
The parking space closest to the door
Belgian chocolate
Uninterrupted sleep
Wireless Internet and a big ol’ flat screen TV
Unconditional love
Heck, I don’t know
How do you prove it at the DMV
Show them your emotional scars
I can’t even imagine

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A New Generation of Writers

My district long ago adopted writing and reading workshops championed by Lucy Caulkins and Katie Wood Ray. The cornerstone of the writing workshop is that it is grounded in personal experience. For the most part I am in total agreement with this philosophy. However, I cannot wholly commit to an idiology that would have quashed the following story arc as related to me by my 8 year old daughter:

Daughter: So, Jade is writing this story about a cat that is missing one leg.
Me: Really. How did the cat lose its leg?
Daughter: Well, it had this thing hung around its neck. You know, those things on the top of cans.
Me: Pause Ring pulls?
Daughter: No, you know, you use that thing and you take off the top of the can. What is that?
Me: Kinda' getting it but still thinking rationally You mean the cat has a can top hanging around its neck?
Daughter: Yeah, and it has jagged edges.
Me: Still trying to remain in the land of logic So who put it there? Its owner?
Daughter: No. The cat is a stray. It just liked the can top so wears it.
Me :Trying to imagine how a cat would punch a whole in the can lid, put it on a string and then tie a knot in it And...
Daughter: Well, the cat was walking and a car came by in the road and knocked the cat to the ground. The tin can top rolled over her body and chopped her leg off.
Me: Wow, really? That is a really interesting plot line.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Poetry Friday

Roundup today is at the simple and the ordinary.

Macneice was an Irish poet and contemporary of W.H. Auden.
"Poetry in my opinion must be honest before anything else and I refuse to be 'objective' or clear-cut at the cost of honesty."

Prayer Before Birth by Louis Macneice

I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me, with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me, on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.

I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light in the back of my mind to guide me.

I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me, my treason engendered by traitors beyond me, my life when they murder by means of my hands, my death when they live me.

I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white waves call me to folly and the desert calls me to doom and the beggar refuses my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God come near me.

I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton, would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with one face, a thing, and against all those who would dissipate my entirety, would blow me like thistledown hither and thither or hither and thither like water held in the hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch+

Maybe Pseudonymous Bosch was just shocked by my age, but it took a long time for me to be trusted by the UK website for The Name of This Book is Secret. I actually sat there and thought of all the reasons I might not be trusted as the little, blue, pulsating oblong at the bottom of the screen inched toward completion. I mean, I can be trusted, right? I didn't lie about my age. Has modern technology come so far that it can tell just by the way I type that I am actually totally useless at keeping a secret?
So it seems is the narrator of The Name of This Book is Secret. At first I thought it was all a bit gimmicky. The first chapter is Xed out completely and then you get a pep talk on how dangerous the book is and do you really want to venture forth blah, blah, blah. However, once there was actual plot, I was hooked. This reads a little like a Lemony Snicket book. Personally I find Snicket annoying, interrupting too much and trying overly hard to be clever. Bosch is less intrusive.
The plot is fast moving and not all that predictable. Cassandra, a survivalist and doomsayer (thus the name), often hangs out with her adopted (gay?) grandfathers in their antique shop. A real estate agent who specializes in clearing out and selling the houses of the recently deceased brings in a pile of junk from a magician's house. Needless to say the magician died in mysterious circumstances, and Cassandra soon finds herself mixed up in a dastardly plot to uncover a terrible secret that will, should Pseudonymous Bosh not be pulling our legs, change the reader's life forever.
I could relate to Cass. Her favorite weather condition is wind on a sunny day, as is mine. She is growing up without her father, who was struck by lightning. Mine wasn't struck by anything but probably could have benefited from an electrical charge or two. Max Ernst's (Cass' diminutive and verbose sidekick) parents are so divided that their house is split in two, with Max's bedroom straddling both sides. I found this a rather apt image for the way that many divorced parents insist on dividing their child equally between them, thereby making their child in need of therapy for most of their adult life. Bosch does a nice job of fleshing out his characters with these details and saves his book and its heroes from becoming Snicketesque.

Other reviews of The Name of this Book is Secret: Book Kid Reviews,, Seeing Indigo

Slice of Life Story Day 4

Please note I skipped day 3. As a woman who has always known her limitations, I hereby resign from the Slice of Life Challenge and admit defeat. I don't see the point of writing "blah" and I don't have the time to write "wow". I don't know how you all do it.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Slice of Life Story Day 2

I decided to make Steak and Kidney Pie today without the kidney. I ate it often growing up in the UK but always skirted around the kidney. Now that I am 38, I am able to make the radical and almost heretical decision to leave the kidney out. No kidneys! I am making steak pie. So, I am a rather haphazard cook. I forgot to buy an onion and so spent a very frustrating twenty minutes trying to individualy peel sixteen button onions that I found ferreted away in my pantry. The green thing in the picture is an ingenious device that peels garlic. Button onions are also small and covered in layers of fine papery skin, so I thought it would work. Mmm hmmm. Feeling a little pressured ( I didn't bother to read the recipe beforehand and so discovered that I had left and hour and a half to make a pie that takes three), I totally forgot the leeks (which aren't in the original recipe, but did I mention that age has made me bold?). I know I should have washed the leeks thoroughly because of dirt and grit, but time was my enemy. After a frenzy of slicing, leeks with grit went in to the pot. Next came herbs. To my delight, I discovered that the thyme I had bought was still attached to the soil it was growing in. Super! I dashed outside and collected my potting materials from the shed. So now I am potting plants and cooking at the same time.
Next came the pastry, which was really the whole reason I decided to make this in the first place. I have fond memories of the delicious crust on my Nana's rabbit pies and, for some strange reason, my mother sent me my weight in shredded suet along with my last shipment of tea bags (but that's another story). The crust went pretty smoothly and before long I had a fairly normal looking steak pie in the oven. Hurrah. Now I just have to persuade the rest of my British-cusine-phobic family to eat it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Ferret Island by Richard W. Jennings

I think that Jennings and I may have the same sense of humor. He sounds like the inside of my head when he writes. However, I don't think that a story about giant ferrets has ever entered my conscious or subconscious mind, and in that sense, Jennings and I differ greatly.
This book is so weird that it is hard to describe. I fear that if I tell you it is about a runaway stranded on a sand island in the Mississippi who discovers a plot to destroy McDonalds by a one-eared famous writer and a hoard of giant ferrets, you will be put off. Unless you are a certain kind of 10-14 year old boy, who, I imagine, would be rivited.
So, yeah, that is what it is about. If you are happy to willingly suspend your disbelief, then you can sit back and enjoy the absurd adventures of a fourteen year old boy called William Alexander Madison Lee Cooper Finn. You can also learn a lot about ferrets. For example, if needed, a ferret can be worn. When ferrets steal Will's clothes (ferrets are mischevious), he has to quickly improvise.
"It's ironic, but "thinking fast" doesn't involve thinking at all...Perhaps this explains why, when Julia walked into the bedroom, she found me dressed in floppy tennis shoes and a weasel. The long furry Jim was draped around my neck like a feather boa, his tail clasped securely between his teeth. "

Slice of Life Story

There's been a bad smell following me around the house for several weeks, and it is always accompanied by the clitter clatter of nails on hardwood floors. My dog, Thisbe, needs a bath and I seem to have lost the battle of wills against my husband, meaning I am going to have to do it. So, I quietly tiptoe up to the bathroom and start the water. Thisbe is in her usual place on the upstairs sofa oblivious to the traumatic experience just around the corner. She starts to shake the minute I lift her. The shaking continues all through bath time. When wet, she resembles a drowned weasel and her eyes become brown pools of endless suffering and sorrow. Her tail, normally so perky, limply curls under her. Her once fluffy beard hangs like torn curtains.

Thisbe is not happy.

I lift her up and shake her a little to get rid of some of the water. She stares in to my eyes with a look of resigned humiliation. Et tu, brute?

Now comes the fun part. Once the bath is over, Thisbe and I perform a sort of modern dance with towels. She is bent on shaking herself to the point that my bathroom walls become covered in a thin layer of wet hair. I am determined that she will not. So begins our duet. Thisbe is a caped assassin, slipping through my legs and making for the door. I am the clumsy pursuer, pirouetting on wet linoleum.

Finally I judge it safe to release her, and Thisbe emerges from her cocoon of towels with a mischievous glint in her now sparkling eyes. All is forgiven. I am loved again. Game on. She hurtles down the stairs almost taking out my daughter who turns and follows, whooping with joy. Thisbe rounds the corner in to the dining room with the grace of a thoroughbred and dashes in to the kitchen, does a 180 degree turn in mid air and exits the kitchen, rocketing past me and leaps from one rug to another in her sprint to the living room. Three times she does this circuit, followed closely by my amused eight year old, who has been part of this running of the bulls since she could toddle.

Finally, Thisbe is ready for one on one combat. I crouch low and appease my sin by being gently nipped by the damp smelling hairball that is my dog. The hand to jaw fight could last for ever, so I signal my surrender by prostrating myself at her paws. Not yet satisfied that I have paid dearly enough for my betrayal, Thisbe turns her back to me. Scratch it and we'll call it quits.

Want to find out more about the Slice of Life Challenge? Head over to Two Writing Teachers.