Monthly Archives: August 2008

McCain’s VP Choice. . .

Want to know my opinion?  My friend, Monda, put it best.  

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German Rituals: Schultuete

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It’s that time of year again, folks.  Signs are showing up all over the house, backpacks, lunch bags, number two pencils.

Yes, it’s time to go back to school.  This year, I thought I’d share a new ritual I’ve started to ease the transition, one I found in Family Fun magazine but decided to start with my kids particularly because I have German roots and this tradition apparently started in Germany. 

Yes, I’m half Austro/German (the other 50% Irish). We got out 40 years before Hitler though, so don’t lay that on me.  Others–my 10th grade English teacher, you know who you are–have tried.  Anyway, I wanted to share some of that with my kids and I’m not a big fan of German food, so this seemed like a better option.

On the first day of school, German kids receive large paper cones filled with school supplies and treats.  Kind of like back to school stockings, only cones.  They’d be easy enough to make but I was feeling lazy so I ordered some to start with (I’ll make them next year) from
http://www.germanplaza.com

After decorating them,  I filled them with:
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 My kids seemed to like them.  Leave it to the Germans to come up with a ritual that involves school supplies.  That’s my kind of ritual!

Bye y’all,

SV
PS I’m off to a family wedding next week, which means I may or may not be able to post. But I’ll take plenty of pictures!

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Mama’s Got a New Laptop!

Introducing:  Mama’s teeny, tiny laptop!

 

laptop aspire

This  blog entry is being written on the tiniest laptop in the world.

Well,  let’s put it this way, if there are tinier ones out there, I don’t know about them.

For years I have been complaining about the heft of my work laptop/computer.  Honestly, it’s like lugging a VCR—it’s well over 6 lbs—and even squarer than your typical VCR.

I have also been complaining for quite some time now, about having to share my home computer with my kids, who besides constantly wanting to be on it, have a tendency to download memory hogging images that I then have to nag them to erase.  To wit, Saturday I sat down to do a little work, tried to open  a file on my thumb drive and the computer  refused because it didn’t have enough RAM.  Talk about frustration—anyway. . .

Then, this morning I’m looking at the Sunday ads and what do I see but a tiny Acer Aspire computer, weighing in at 2lbs! for a correspondingly tiny price.  I ran over to Best Buy right after church  (good thing because I got the first one but they’d sold out by 3pm)and whipped out my Best Buy credit card.  I’m getting it interest free for 6 months, during which I plan to have it paid off.

My prayers had been answered!  So, here I sit, composing this blog post in my living room, in my favorite chaise, with the laptop on my lap and taking up about half the space of a regular laptop. 

I’m in heaven, folks. 

Now, it doesn’t do much more than word processing and web surfing, but that’s all I want it to do.  The memory’s not bad, but I also picked up an external hard drive (on the advice of my colleague, Laura Bowles) so that’s where all my pictures for this blog and ebay are going to go anyhow.

Another plus—this thing is MINE, baby, all MINE! 

The keyboard is pretty small, I must say, but God gave me small hands for a reason and I’ve just discovered what that reason is because this keyboard fits me just fine.  Thanks, God.

Bye y’all,

SV

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The Creative Family: A Book Review

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The Creative Family:  A Review

I’ve been a fan of Amanda Blake Soule’s blog, SouleMama, for some time now.  On it she “writes about and photographs her thrifting, crafting and parenting adventures” from her coastal Maine home (got that from the jacket copy).  Last summer she wrote about debuting her book:  The Creative Family:  How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections.  I’d been planning to look into it, so I was thrilled to see it on the shelf of new books in the library this weekend. 

By the way, isn’t serendipity funny—I wasn’t even supposed to be in the library yesterday, but my kids had to go to an event there and at the last minute my husband couldn’t take them.  So the book and I found each other.

I could hardly put it down; it’s a really delightful read if you like crafting and encouraging creativity in your kids.  My only regret is that this book wasn’t available when my kids were a LOT younger—they’ve outgrown some of the stages when I could have taught them say, to finger knit or use sewing cards, which is what Soule advocates, as the preview to actual knitting and sewing. 

Some of what she says makes me feel good about my choices—we have a dedicated art area well stocked with most supplies, we frame and hang our kids artwork around the house, we keep sketchpads in the car and visit museums whenever we can.  And it’s not too late for me to hang a wire “inspiration line,” in the art area where they can clip their own pictures and objects to inspire them. 

Here’s a sampling from the Table of Contents:  Preparing Your Creative Mind, Gathering Materials, Being Resourceful, Encouraging Imagination, Supporting the Young Artist, Sharing the Tradition of Handmade, Exploring Through Nature, Family Celebration and Rituals. . .and that’s just a sampling.  There’s also a wonderful list of additional books and resources in the back.

Soule has her kids do all kind of journaling and scrapbooking  and, as an advocate of fewer but higher quality art materials, actually gives her kids moleskine journals to do it in.   I’ve found that my kids really like Barebooks for their scrapbooking and journaling—I’ll save the moleskines for when they feel the Barebooks are too babyish for them.

If you have kids, I cannot recommend this book enough—the philosophy is simple, the ideas are easy to follow and it’s a lovely read.  This is definitely going to be a staple on the shower, Christmas and birthday gift list for some time to come.

Go buy it, folks.  You won’t regret it.

Bye y’all.

SV

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Let the Boys Write!

 
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So, I’m deeping involved in reading a wonderful book called Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices,  by Ralph Fletcher, which in moving toward closing the gender gap that exists between boys and girls in literacy and writing, examines ways in which we can “create writing classrooms that are friendlier to boys.”  And, I just spent all day Saturday at a Yugioh Card Sneak peek where about forty or fifty tween and teenage boys (this time, not a single girl ) competed in duels and tournaments and trades.  Finally, I am pretty well steeped in the world of boy’s literacy.  And what I’ve come to believe that there isn’t really a boys literacy crisis as opposed to a girls literacy success (there may be a literacy crisis in general, but that is another topic for another day, or year, or lifetime)–if one is willing to change one’s definition of what constitutes literate behavior.  Literacy for (many) boys =

Text heavy Video Games and Card Games:

  Just look at a Yugioh Card. 
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Pretty text heavy for a playing card.  Check out the volumes of text heavy gaming guides which my kids literally memorize, like this one:
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Finally, consider the games themselves, with words and dialogue constantly flashing across the screen.
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Manga  (or, Comics for the 21st Century)
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According to Fletcher, to boys, drawing and writing go hand in hand.  Statistically, they are much more likely to want to illustrate something they’ve written and spend a lot of time on those illustrations (creating detail, etc.) than girls.  Hence their love of manga, graphic novels and comics.  So, I say, let them read comics.  Let them love reading comics.  I read unevenly at that age: Betty and Veronica, Valerie Sherwood (!), and so on.  Just let them love reading.  If they want to write comics, let them write comics.

FanFiction
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Boys, just like girls, have their obsessions.  Fanfictions, fan written stories that continue the lives of their favorite characters, feed those obsessions, in relatively healthy ways.  My son literally consumes fanfiction.  He even follows day to day installments from particular writers.  There are some he likes better than others.  He’s learning what makes engaging writing and what doesn’t.  It’s only a matter of time before he starts wanting to write some of his own. 

These Yugioh sneak peek events are quite a sight.  You’d think they’d be total geek fests (and I use that term lovingly, as only a mother could), but they aren’t.  There’s quite a range of kids here, and while I don’t see a lot of athletes (who are probably out playing a game somewhere) I see all kinds of others–from the geeks that do hold down the fort, to preps, hipsters.  It’s actually pretty encouraging, because let me tell you–I may not know much about the finer points of Yugioh, but I know it really exercises the gray matter.  Nothing like a room full of people strategizing, doing mental math at lightning speed, to prove that learning doesn’t always happen in a classroom.

What I’m trying to say, I suppose, here, in echoing a lot of what Fletcher argues,  is that in order to encourage boys (and all children whose literacy interests diverge from the classroom norm) to stay engaged in the world of words, we need to expand our definition of literacy and the ways that we, as teachers, recognize it.  Let boys read and write out of some of their obsessions, whether that means sports stories or Pokemon escapades, even if they don’t fit our “traditional” ideas of text.  No learner who is deeply engaged in his subject is ever lost.  But a disengaged learner is.

 

Bye y’all,

SV

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A Good Day

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I spent today with Wendy Bishop. More specifically, I spent today poring over her book, Teaching Lives: Essays and Stories, aka her greatest hits, digging for stuff to flesh out an essay I’m working on about her, for a deadline bearing down on me. Wendy died in 2003 at the age of 50, and though I understood she had a life threatening illness, her death still came as a shock; as far as I knew, from email updates to her legions of supporters of which, as you can see, I was one, she showed all signs of “beating it.”

Like countless writers of my generation, I was devastated. I was counting on many years to come of her wisdom appearing at regular intervals in College Composition and the other journals I read for my profession, of many more poems, many more articles to appear in the books she wrote and the book collections she appeared in, for she was a prolific writer. In fact, as one story goes, she often appeared for required departmental reviews of her output with a laundry basket full of her stuff.

 It was some comfort that articles she’d written, in her tradmark open, narrative, informal style, continued to surface long after her death. From time to time I wonder, what the last Wendy Bishop words to be published were or will be. The book for the essay I’m working on,  is going to print, for the first time, an “ideas file” she kept on her hard drive.  

Snapshots of what might have been.

She was so full of ideas and she taught me how to mine them. In 1999 she came to speak at UCA and I was her escort. She mentored me, taught me so much in those two days. I remember whenever we’d discuss something interesting or unique about writing, she’d say, “there’s an article in that.”  Later, she generously offered an essay for a book I was editing and the unspoken truth between us was that her agreeing to appear in the book would help bring other influential writers on board, would eventually help get it published.  I am one of many who can say she was instrumental in my career.

And so it is also some comfort to spend a quiet, rainy afternoon here in my office,  the storms mercifully breaking the grip of days of 100+ heat, devouring her words anew.

As a role model and mentor, she was without parallel in creative writing and composition, and in part, that is what my essay is about. About how her stories of her less-than-stellar experiences in creative writing classes in the seventies and eighties freed so many of us to tell our own, starting a movement to reform creative writing that continues today, even as, far too early, she left the building.

A few women/rolemodels/mentors departed my life too early, before I had time to learn what I needed to from them, my grandmother, Gladys, my friend Judy, leaving me little to go on in terms of parting words–my friend Judy, a handful of letters and precious memories, my grandmother, even less, an eighth grade autograph book from which I learned she had a crush on Morton Downey (the singer) and aspired to go to the business high school.

But this afternoon, Wendy whispers in my ear,  phrases like,

“No one can give us a sense of authority. We must earn it and we must take it.”

What an honor and luxury it is to be writing this essay, to feel her words, her presence so deeply once again.

It’s been a bit of a bumpy time for me lately–difficult physical symptoms surfacing from my “chemically-induced” temporary menopause, run of the mill financial stress, a lot of deadlines bearing down, last but not least today’s frantic morning effort to get everyone out the door in time so that the occasional cleaning lady can practice her art in peace–but in spite of that, today was a very good day.

Thanks to Wendy.

SV

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Creativity for the 21st Century: Got Beijing 2008?

An argument for more arts and creativity education for the 21st Century.Photobucket

Step 1. Review the opening ceremony. Go to http://www.nbcolympics.com, scroll down to video, if you need a refresher or didn’t get to see it the first go round.

Step 2. Watch Did You Know? on youtube.

Any questions?

Bye y’all,
SV

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