Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Little Heathens (copy)

Yesterday was an exercise in fun as participants buzzed over our latest read, Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm during the Great Depression by Mildred “Millie” Armstrong Kalish for February’s Reading Round Table.

The majority of the group enjoyed the book, but one was deterred by the language. She read the whole book and the offending words appeared in only one chapter, but it was enough to turn her off. That was until we began to talk about the book.

As one can guess by the title, Little Heathens is a memoir written around Millie’s childhood during the Great Depression. She was five-years-old when the trouble started. Her dad had done some bad things. The whispers included, “bankruptcy, bootlegging, and jail time,” and there was an abrupt divorce.

Does she lament over lost quality time with her daddy? Does Millie write about her troubled youth without male guidance? No! This is pre-Oprah and her story is far from depressing. If his name is mentioned, she says he is dead and moves on; matter of fact, the whole family “moves on” and into the grandparents Urmy’s house.

The Urmys are a somber retired couple. They live in the town of Garrison, but through frugal living have bought and paid for four different farms complete with houses and barns that the offspring live and work on. Unfortunately, during the harshest winter months, Millie along with mother, John, Jack, and Avis, live in Garrison to attend school.

The terms of the Urmy household includes rising from sleep at a designated time every day, coming down to breakfast fully clothed and ready for work, eating what Grandpa decides will be the meal, only eating at meal times where the table will be set before anyone can take a seat, and retiring to bed at the same time.

June through Christmas, the family lives on the farm and life is a little more relaxed. That is, if you can call milking the cows, cleaning the separator, cooking three meals, working in the garden, and doing homework daily a relaxing pastime.

This book was a pure joy to read; although, every chapter was filled with four-letter words that offend me such as dust, chop, cook, wash, and iron. Oh, and yes the W-word was thrown a lot. You know W O R K!

Check out Nan's Book Report for Little Heathens at Letters from a Hill Farm!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to Tell when You're Tired (copy)

In these sad economic times emphasis is being placed on work or more importantly the lack of work in our society. Looking for a history of work, I found Reg Theriault’s How to Tell When You’re Tired: A Brief Examination of Work. It is less of a history and more of Theriault own experiences having entered the work force during the depression as a crate maker for fruit. The book chronicles his life among fruit tramps then eventually becoming a longshoreman.

Theriault has a work ethic I admire and found my head nodding in agreement to most of his statements such as, “Poverty and hard work are twin plagues; education is the vaccination against them,” or “I work with an acceptance that it is easier to do the job than to fight it.”

Growing up my Dad had a mantra, “If you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself.” As one can guess, I probably made a lot of mistakes but I was always eager to please. My father also had an aversion to child labor laws; thus, I worked. From the time I was tall enough to stand behind a lawnmower, I earned my own income. The funny thing, I liked work and although I grumbled stacking wood or vacuuming offices I found it satisfying.

Now, I have one of those cushy white-collar jobs where cushy describes my physique. Theriault might have a problem with me. He writes of many disputes between blue-collar and white-collar workers where he favors the laborers, but oddly disagrees with unions. He cites many examples but my favorite has to be the worker’s study.

College students decided to study a group of workers and separated them into two groups. Production was monitored as the different groups were subjected to a variety of music and variations in lighting. One group was given a 5-minute break every hour and the other a 15 minute break after three hours. This study continued for three years and during that time production remained within normal parameters. After a year into the study, one student stayed late to gather his numbers when he noticed the factory empty. He could hear voices and followed the noise down the corridor to a back break room. Upon opening the door he saw all the workers either playing cards, knitting or socializing.

The college students were left in charge of the factory and they clocked out at 3:15 p.m. leaving the factory unmonitored. At 3:30 the workers relaxed until the five o’clock shift ended. One could argue the blue-collar workers out smarted the thought-to-be smarter college students.

Written in 1995, this book offers wisdom for many who still do back-breaking work and for those who manage them.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thank Yew, Thank Yew All!

Thank Yew California Girl at a Women of a Certain Age! It was nice to be thought of on Valentine's Day!

These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbon of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight more and include this cleverly written text in the body of your awards.

Thank Yew Violette at The Mystery Bookshelf! I'm happy all the time so I just had to think of things that stood out!

The rules are to link to the person who has tagged you. Then write down six things that make you happy. Post the rules, tag six others and let them know you did it. Then tell the person when your entry is complete. Here are my answers: 1.) Hubby 2.) Cows 3.) Walking 4.) Interacting w/ Patrons 5.) Reading 6.) Coffee!

Thank Yew Mo at Inside Mo's Mind. I'm in a writing funk where articles are rather dull and drinking a little lemonade sounds good!

To play there are two requirements: 1.) You should link back to the person who is giving you the award, done, and 2.) You must pass the award along to ten deserving bloggers. Here is where I stumble. Everyone deserves an award! If it will make you happy steal it from me! :D

I'll add more later...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reluctant Readers (copy)

This week I am reading the plays of Tennessee Williams as part of a group of educators who travel to Jackson, MS once a month to discuss Mississippi authors. The program is titled “four Ws” which relates to the authors we are studying: Richard Wright, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, and Margaret Walker Alexander. Sponsored by the Mississippi Humanities Council, we sit for eight hours listening and discussing works with the respective author’s scholars.

As one can guess, this is heaven for me. I have an affinity for Southern literature (as do most Southerners) and relish the chance to learn more through intellectual bantering. Who knew Eudora Welty had an erotic side?!? Next time I read Moon Lake I will be sure to blush. Do today’s kids realize the right to check out library books would be denied if they were a certain color?!? Richard Wright knew all too well.

The play I am reading currently, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is so well known I hesitate mentioning it; instead, I wish to discuss luring reluctant readers through the use of plays.

Reluctant readers are reluctant for a reason. The major reason being they lack confidence in the classroom. They are afraid of getting the wrong answer, being forced to vocalize weak skills while reading aloud, or lack basic comprehension skills. By introducing plays in the classroom, teachers give the reluctant reader a relaxed activity in which to make mistakes.

Wrong answers become less worrisome because the teacher asks the questions while the group reads together. The students will blurt out answers and the reluctant reader will find his answers being vocalized by others. Teachers may find him joining in for the first time.

Reading aloud becomes less stressful because all students make mistakes. It is the stumbling through pronunciation we all do when we are unfamiliar with a word that makes a reluctant reader cringe. Another trick for readers who do not recognize a word, is to place another word there that has the same meaning or contains the same prefix. This assuming can lead to rather funny sentences. It is a bright day when the reluctant reader realizes better readers than him do the same vocal dance.

Have any hams in class? By acting out the scenes, students connect the story with the words. Comprehension happens naturally. The small act of assigning the boys girl parts and vice-versa will have the whole class paying attention. Add a little emotion, and one may find memories being made.

Teachers, demonstrate you’re a class act by introducing plays, and win those reluctant readers over.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Outstanding Books for the College Bound

Three years pass in a blink of an eye when one is having fun. It was three years ago that I accepted an appointment to serve on the Outstanding Books for the College Bound and Lifelong Learners committee. A 15 member committee assigned the daunting task of finding engaging books for students wanting to attend college or those wanting to keep abreast of readings in a particular field of study.

Within our group the fields of study were divided into five with three members assigned to a particular area. I served on the Science and Technology. The other areas include Social Sciences, History and Cultures, Arts and Humanities, and Literature and Language Arts.

As a member of this committee, we promised to attend all meetings with the possibility of one missed session. Meetings were scheduled twice during annual and midwinter conferences of the American Library Association on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. In the early stages we canceled the Sunday meetings for lack of work.

This is the story of how we rolled. At the first meeting, we did introductions and divided into groups. At the second meeting, we read the previous mission statement for the Science and Technology sub-committee and developed our own. At the third meeting, we discussed all the past books on the S&T list and decided on those that needed to be reconsidered. At the fourth meeting, we began the process of nominating books and reading nominees. At the fifth meeting we talked about the books nominated and possible books in the same category that might be better. During our sixth and last meeting, we decided on the books for the list and wrote annotations for those books.

I heard other groups did a little less looking back at the old lists and began nominating books and reading new stuff from the point after writing the individual mission statements at the second meeting. I see how this would be essential for those whose lists of books were enormous like Literature and Language Arts and History and Cultures.

I found it amazing how we all seemed to be done at the same time that last Sunday afternoon meeting. Our group wrote the annotations over night at our separate hotels then edited them at that last meeting. We were packing up to leave when our fierce leader, Sarajo Wentling, suggested we all read our different lists to expose dupes.

As a nicety to my readers here is the Science and Technology list.

1.) God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment by Scott Adams
2.) Feed by M.T. Anderson
3.) Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres
4.) Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists by Joel Best
5.) A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
6.) The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival among America’s Great White Sharks by Susan Casey
7.) The Taste of Sweet: Our Complicated Love Affair with Our Favorite Treats by Joanne Chen
8.) Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
9.) Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside by Katrina Firlik
10.) Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth by Tim Flannery
11.) The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters by Rose George
12.) The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip M. Hoose
13.) Out of Orbit: The Incredible True Story of Three Astronauts Who Were Hundreds of Miles Above Earth When They Lost Their Ride Home by Chris Jones
14.) A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
15.) Mosque by David Macaulay
16.) Way We Work: Getting to Know the Amazing Human Body by David Macaulay
17.) American Earth: Environmental Writing since Thoreau edited by Bill McKibben
18.) Greasy Rider: Two Dudes, One Fry-Oil-Powered Car, and a Cross-Country Search for a Greener Future by Greg Melville
19.) The Botany of Desire: a Plant’s Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
20.) The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston
21.) Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
22.) Hidden Face of God: How Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth by Gerald Schroeder
23.) The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear Reactor by Ken Silverstein
24.) The Genomics Age: How DNA Technology is Transforming the Way We Live and Who We Are by Gina Smith
25.) Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science--From the Babylonians to the Maya by Dick Teresi

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Same Kind of Different as Me (copy)

Denver Moore had many experiences in his life. He worked in the cotton fields as a child. His payment being a token he could spend only at “da man’s” store. He watched his grandparents’ shack burn to the ground with his beloved Big Mama inside after attempts to wake her failed. He was pulled behind a galloping horse with a noose around his neck until the skin peeled off, “like a rabbit ready for the skillet.” Amazingly, in his 44 years of life, Miss Debbie was his first real conversation with a white woman.

Ron Hall grew up a sharecropper’s son in the mean sun of Texas. He worked the cotton fields, studied, went to college, and met the girl of his dreams, Deborah—then the draft letter arrived in the mail.

After returning from Vietnam, Ron took a salesman job with Campbell’s Soup. Arranging cans and dusting off green-pea soup tops at area grocery stores, he soon became bored. He quit and moved into the banking business. To earn extra money, for his new wife Debbie, he began to sell art work. He quit the bank the day he sold a Charles Russell for a commission larger than his salary.

As Ron’s material wealth bloomed, Denver sank deeper into poverty. Ron opened a gallery and Denver slept two blocks away in an alley. The two were destined to meet as Denver committed a smash and grab on Ron’s gallery.

Same Kind of Different as Me: a Modern-day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman who Bound them Together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore is the perfect read for Black History Month and Valentine’s Day. Denver felt he was different as his loved ones died or moved away and his opportunities dwindled. Even amongst the homeless, he could not shake his feeling of being apart. Ron felt he was different, too.

It was an earth shattering day when the two realized everyone is different. We all bump around thinking we are, but this true story points out there is common ground. It was Debbie who made the connection in this book. She was the one who held a budding friendship together even after she died, as Ron leaned heavily on the unschooled Denver’s poignant words and belief in God.

Be inspired by this story of commonality through God’s love.