Les Mis Fail and June Photo-a-Day

Welp, I'm still gonna be reading the Les Miserables behemoth, but apparently the rest of yous is scared.  Or perhaps (just perhaps) I didn't give you enough lead time to plan appropriately for something like this.  Come to think of it, deciding to do a July readalong of Les Mis on June 25th is akin to deciding on June 25th to leave for a month in Albania on July 1st.  Most folks just don't undertake such travel without planning.  So, my apologies.  I'll let you know how the weather is in Albania, and if you get a wild hair and want to join in at the last second, feel free.

I am about to leave for a few days out of town, and ridiculously enough, I feel compelled to finish not one but TWO books before I leave.  In an hour.

The kids and I have one more chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to finish before we can hit the road (we have The Magician's Nephew on CD for our trip).  Also, I have only a few pages left of Lizard Music, and I'd like to leave it here finished.  If this were twitter, I'd probably have to do this: #unrealisticexpectations.

But what I will do before I leave is give you my June Photo-a-Day.  I was much more relaxed about this one, so there is not a shot for everyday.  But there are some I'm proud of.  Enjoy.

The prompts I used:

I completed the following: Close-Up, Sign, Hat, Door, From a Low Angle, Art, Time, Yellow, Out and About, In Your Bag (Summer's Bounty from my Parents' Farm), Something We Don't Know About You (Running Shoes = Training for Another Half), Where You Slept, From a High Angle, and Movement (2 Shots of Chess). What do you think?
I'm not too proud of this slide show (the full screen option blows the resolution), but it's what I had time for today.  I'll keep tinkering with it.


Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference

Just last year, the University where I am (gratefully) employed started a First Year Reading Experience (FYRE).  This year has already shown improvement, including giving each incoming student a copy of the book rather than expecting them to buy an optional text (something I felt VERY strongly about).  They've also chosen a book that might have broader appeal: Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference.  Written by NYT journalist Warren St. John, the book follows coach Luma Mufleh as she somewhat stumbles into founding a powerful youth soccer program for refugees in Clarkston, GA just outside of Atlanta.

The book taught me a lot that I probably should have already known: that the UN and the US Office of Refugee Resettlement funds and coordinates refugee relocation to places like Clarkston at startling numbers (the population of Clarkston went from a mostly homogeneous middle-class white community to one-third of the town now being foreign-born); that communities like Clarkston are chosen because of their proximity to large, urban centers with good public transportation and lots of low-wage jobs; that most refugees move on to another location after a stint in their original resettlement home.

It also reminded me of a few things I either knew or had suspected (see corresponding quotes):  that forced diversity is not always a cure-all (1); that soccer is a uniquely team-oriented and unifying sport (2); and that merely getting to know people can change the world or at least some small corner of it (3).
1.  "Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life," the authors [of a 2007 study] wrote, "to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television." (40)
2. Unlike basketball, baseball, or football, games that reset after each play, soccer unfolds fluidly and continuously.  To understand how a goal was scored, you have to work back through the action - the sequences of passes and decisions, the movement of the players away from the action who reappear unexpectedly in empty space to create or wast opportunities - all the way back to the first touch. (8)
3.  Luma decided that the kids really needed a free soccer program of their own.  She didn't have the foggiest idea of how to start or run such a program.  She certainly couldn't fund it, and with a restaurant to run and a team of her own to coach, she hardly had time to spare.  But the more she played soccer in the parking lots around Clarkston and the more she learned about the kids there, the more she felt a nagging urge to engage, and to do something. (51)
The book is not without flaw, and I suspect many of my students will be turned off by the attention to minute detail, the slow-moving passages without much action, and (like me) the repetition of material that seems to indicate a lack of editing.  It should spark some good conversations though, not the least of which will be how my students (decidedly lower-middle to middle class themselves, if not actually working class) will relate to the struggles of the refugees or how they might use the Fugees' experience as a mirror on their own sense of entitlement and privilege.  On that note, The New Yorker has an excellent article on spoiled American children.  Even if you haven't read Outcasts United, check out the article.  It is definitely food for thought, especially with passages like this:
“Most parents today were brought up in a culture that put a strong emphasis on being special,” [Levine] observes. “Being special takes hard work and can’t be trusted to children. Hence the exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their work and performance, which in turn makes children feel less competent and confident, so that they need even more oversight.”


Les Miserables Readalong - Sign Up Now!

Usually each July, I amass a small stack of French-ified books and such.  This year, I am focusing my Paris in July on one major goal:

The Les Miserables Readalong. With the buzz surrounding the recently released trailer for this winter's Les Miserables movie, I've heard several folks say they would be interested in a Readalong.  Not wanting to start this journey alone, I decided I would host!  Here's what I'm thinking:

Week of July 1st - Fantine (Books 1-8 or pages 1-300 in my edition)
Week of July 8th - Cosette (Books 1-8 or pages 301-573)
Week of July 15th - Marius (Books 1-8 or pages 575-819)
Week of July 22nd - Saint-Denis (Books 1-15 or pages 821-1167)
Week of July 29th - Jean Valjean (Books 1-9 or pages 1169-1463)

I'll do wrap-up posts on Saturdays, and there will be a Grande Finale post on August 6th.  This book is a major chunk, so there will be rewards along the way to encourage and motivate you.  Whether you are a re-reader or a first-timer, you'll get something out of this beautiful and important book.

Fellow Paris in July-ers, consider this passage from the introduction of my edition:
One of the book's particular joys is Hugo's contagious love of Paris, the center and symbol of France, first described in terms of its people, who are seen as wrong-headed at times, but always resourceful and witty.  Obvious affection is also lavished on the physical city, the landmarks and streets where much of the action unfolds.  Hugo follows the characters through their winding itineraries, mentioning each street by name.
I'm going to go to Paris this July with Victor Hugo. Do join me!

Sign-up here with Mr. Linky!  And leave a comment after you do, please!


Paris in July 2012

Did you realize that July came directly after June?  I feel like June just rolled over, and here we are looking July square in the face.  I'm going to be out of town the whole first week of July, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to participate in my favorite summer blog activity: Paris in July.

Tamara at Thyme for Tea and Karen at BookBath host this fun event every summer, and I have participated the last 2 years.  See here and here for a few of my favorite past posts and feel free to sign up with Tamara or Karen.  You've still got time to prep, and it is so much fun!  Think of all the French stuff you can enjoy in July:  Le Tour de France, Bastille Day, the Esprit Bleu at the opening ceremony of The Olympics, pastries, movies, and of course, BOOKS.

Though the movie won't be out until winter, the Les Miserables trailer is enough to get anyone ready for Paris in July.  I'm thinking a reread might make Paris in July quite something special.  Watch for a Readalong post soon.  And start dreaming.  July will be here in tout de suite.


Little Things

Ok, so there's this:

Several years ago, Sheryl Crow apparently (satirically) advocated for 1-square of toilet paper per trip per person.  This little tidbit of information came up in a debriefing meeting for work last week (why?  WHY?), and the ones spreading the news were sharing it as though it were a serious assertion on Crow's part.  But it got me thinking:  one square?  That's serious economy.  And it implies a certain type of toilet paper has been purchased, which just underscores the class divide in environmental issues.  I don't care how "green" you are, there are some toilet papers that would not hold up in a one-square wipe.  I'm just sayin'.

Also this:

Ernest Hemingway, of the big gun fame, apparently had a a big heart as well.  In this month's Harper's, there is a letter (made available by the JFK Presidential Library's Hemingway Collection) written soon after Hemingway had to put his cat down after a bad injury.  The cat, Uncle Willie, had been hit by a car or some other heavy object and had walked home on two broken legs.  In the letter, Hemingway conveys that amazing feeling of animal loyalty: "But he purred and seemed sure that I could fix it."  Hemingway knew he could not, so he made the cat comfortable and shot him.
Monstruo wished to shoot him for me, but I could not delegate the responsibility or leave a chance of Will knowing anybody was killing him.
And then, at the end, he writes
Have had to shoot people but never anyone I knew and have loved for eleven years.  Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs.
Aaagh.  Beautiful.

And finally this:

This week's Time cover article is on The American Dream.  I teach this issue in a class on American Values, and though I'm not teaching that class this fall, I'm entirely interested in what Jon Meacham has to say on the issue.   What do you think?  Is the American Dream still alive?  Was it ever really?

That is all. 


What I'm Reading These Days

I am working on the book for our First Year Reading Experience (FYRE), which is pretty decent and definitely up my alley: Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference.  I'm a little concerned students will be turned off by the attention to detail, but the story is a good one.

I also picked up and have read a bit of Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater on the excellent recommendation of Isabella at Magnificant Octopus.  I am loving it, even though it has stalled on the bedside for the time being.  So far, it seems like an excellent book to teach with older kids, maybe middle school.  Pinkwater perhaps overdoes the figurative language at times, but there are some really thoughtful and instructive similes like this one:
The people were passing by like a long freight train, and I felt like a car stopped at a crossing. (28)
What I'm not reading?  The newspaper.  For years now, I have enjoyed free daily delivery of our local paper (long story), but now that we have moved, I have made the difficult decision to not subscribe.  Here's the thing: I love the paper.  I love knowing what's happening in my community, even if some of it is stupid and small.  The problem is not just the expense.  It is a matter of priorities.  I have so much stuff (both mental and physical) to contend with at present, and the paper is a burden.  A great one at times, but it is still a burden.  If I don't get it read each day, I can't just put it in the bin and move on.  I must catch up, and the truth is I don't need another to-do item right now.

I don't really miss it.  How wrong is that?


The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

I write this from my couch with the laptop perched on my lap (that's weird) because I don't have a desk yet, and all the stuff from my former desks (that's right - two of 'em) is still in boxes, and what will be my office/desk needs to be painted before I can start unloading stuff into it.  Are you tired of hearing me complain yet?  I certainly am.  But progress keeps occurring, and the desk will come soon.

Despite all the chaos, I am still reading (about 4.2 minutes each night before falling into deep sleep), and I actually finished The Penelopiad before we moved.  No picture of my copy because I don't know where it is yet (somewhere in the to-be-bathroom/library, I suppose), but I do have some thoughts.

The Penelopiad is Odysseus' loyal wife's perspective on the time and events surrounding The Odyssey.   It is a great concept and one I look forward to teaching this fall.  Penelope's intelligence, her strategy, her domestic politics all come through nicely, and I like the idea of turning Odysseus' journey on its head, especially from a somewhat feminist leaning.

The book is divided into sections, mostly in Penelope's voice, with occasional sections granted to the 12 maids murdered by Odysseus and Telemachus for their complicity in the suitors' crimes.  The maids serve as a traditional Greek chorus and offer an additional perspective on both Odysseus and Penelope. Penelope speaks from Hades as a shade telling her stories to present-day listeners.  This chronological choice distracted me as Penelope would periodically say rather obtuse things like "I can say this now because I'm dead" which weakens her strength in life a bit.

The weakness of the book is that it feels hurried.  It feels like Atwood got the request for her participation in this cool idea but didn't devote as much time to it as she would a novel of her own design.  It feels like a side project.  So, there are really interesting introductions to themes and ideas, but Atwood doesn't really tease them out or complicate them as much I would like in a full-blown novel.  It does, however, seem to be a good conversation piece for class as it will raise questions that it demands students to answer for themselves.

Perhaps more important than the feminist/gender equity themes it addresses is the excellent idea of the importance of storytelling and how different versions of a story don't necessarily make them less true.  That twisting of tale is really what I'm going to be pursuing in the class by chasing down various versions of The Odyssey throughout the semester, so Penelope's acknowledgement of the wiliness of truth or the Maids' comments that "the truth, dear auditors, is seldom certain - / But let us take a peek behind the curtain" (148) will likely be quite useful.


I Ain't Even Gonna Lie....

I'm exhausted.

The kids are home from WV, so I can finally say we have moved even though we have been moving in/moving out for almost a week now.  There are still a few breakables, the fish, and the contents of our storage room to get moved from the old place, and things like this

to contend with in EVERY ROOM of the new place.  So, yeah, I'm tired.  And only gonna get tireder.  And I can't pretend I'm superhuman and can get this all done Mary Poppins-style.  It is going to keep taking work, and we've been working for weeks.

But every day there is more progress.  More cool stuff.  And more of our own home to enjoy.

There's also the room that will be a half bath but is serving for now as book storage:

And since it has that beautiful built-in cabinet there, I'm thinking why not make the half bath double as a library?  It's a good spot for reading, I think.

June photo-a-day has been mostly a fail, but here are the few I have captured:

June 4: Close-Up

I am posting two because I took them, and I like them.  Deal with it.

June 5: Sign

This sign has been making me laugh for weeks.  I'm so glad photo-a-day prompted me to capture it before we moved away from seeing it every day.

June 6: Hat

Actually taken on moving day night.  One of our amazing friends who helped us move.  And his ever-faithful Cubs hat.

That's all you get.

Oh, and this tease of the master bedroom.  It is going to be so restful and wonderful.


Pin It and Do It - The Final Update

Can you read that post title without instantly hearing It's the Final Countdown!  Da-da-DA-da.  da-da-da-da-da.  da-da-DA-da.  And so on?  I'll admit it: I cannot.

But I can do some stuff that I saw on Pinterest and then post about it here, thus completing a strangely satisfying challenge totally unrelated to bookish things.  It's the Pin It and Do It Challenge, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.  Thanks to Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity for the great idea and inspiration.

1.  Magnetic Flashlight on the Breaker Box:
I don't need to take a picture of my breaker box and flashlight because it looks a lot like the one in the pin.  Suffice it to say, I think this idea is genius.  Our breaker box is in our unfinished crawl space/basement area.  There is a light, but OBVIOUSLY, if there is a problem with the electrical system, the light might not work.  Hence the flashlight.  As these guys say: Brilliant!

2.  Homemade Coconut Milk Shampoo:
So, I read the comments on the original link and found that though I do basically have "virgin" hair (ie, unadulterated by product or color), I still might have a LONG adjustment period as I "detox" my hair and return it to its "natural" state through this shampoo.  Or I might have dreadlocks.  Either way, I decided I wasn't quite ready for that process, but I made a little batch of it anyway and used it as shave gel, and it is quite nice.  I put it in an old foaming hand soap dispenser, and it really does feel great and did leave my legs softer and more moisturized than usual.  So, semi-success, I suppose!

3.  Shooting Stars Craft:
I want to give my kids a bit more structure this summer, so we're going to do some "school" based on more involved questions they have asked me in the last couple of months.  We've been keeping a running list, and though I didn't plan to start until after the move, they wanted to learn about eclipses and shooting stars last week, so we did.  And boy did this craft go over well.  It was super-easy, completely kid-friendly, and lots of fun to play with afterwards.

As my note on the pin mentions, I wasn't convinced of this idea originally, but I kind of liked the stripe.  I just painted a chest of drawers that I got FREE on the side of the road, the free part being what made it easy to decide to paint it.  I'm still struggling with the whole "to paint wood is a travesty" thing, but this project was a fun way to get over it.  Here's the before:

And here it is with the stripe:

I am pleased.

I committed to 4-7 pins, and I have shown 11 completed pins this month.  I don't even think I'll need a challenge to keep this little feature going.  Happy Pinning, y'all!


Photo-a-Day - Conclusion

It is now June 2nd, and almost June 3rd at that, and it has taken me until today to figure out how to photograph one of the prompts in this last set, so forgive the late posting.  It could not be helped.  This challenge has been so fun and only occasionally burdensome.  I feel like I've definitely gotten some unusual shots that I might not have looked for or captured later.  For all the pics from the month of May, see week one, week two, week three, and week four.  And now for the final days of May....

May 28 - The Weather Today

Pretty nice for a Memorial Day Cookout at the new house.

May 29 - A Number

By the end of the month, my kids were really involved in helping me take the perfect shot for each prompt.  They knew instantly that their soccer jerseys should be used for a number.

May 30 - Your Personality

This is the one that I simply could not wrap my head around.  When I asked my son, he said "Work."  Everyone else kept suggesting things that are easily associated with me like books or bare feet.  I, however, felt the picture should try to capture my actual personality, or at least my perception of it.  So, I finally landed on granola: homemade, a little crunchy, a little nutty, and with definite hippie-girl, tree-hugger undertones.  It works for me.

May 31 - Something Beautiful

Though I do think 3 of these 4 women are beautiful (excluding myself of course), I chose this shot for this prompt because it is a representation of one of the most beautiful things I know: friendship.  Thanks to Andrea, Savannah, and Dodd for putting up with me.

I just pulled the list for June.  What do you think?  Should I keep it up?  I likely would not post as frequently.  Maybe only at the end of the month with a montage or something smaller?  I'm a little late to the party, but I'm definitely thinking about it.  Convince me.