Archive | November, 2015

Happy Birthday, Bill Nye!

27 Nov

Before Doctor Who made bow ties cool,


there was  Bill Nye!


  Today is Bill Nye’s 60th birthday!

A whole generation of kids  grew up on his TV shows. In addition, he has written a number of science books. His two most recent books have not been targeted at students, but more towards adults, for whom he can break down complicated topics into comprehensibility.

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If you are looking for a good laugh from Bill, you should look for video clips of him reading mean tweets. I won’t post the link her, because I know of at least 1 of my students who reads my blog (HI, Audrey!) and there is some foul language involved in some of the tweets. Apparently, Mr. Nye has a large number of detractors.



Arlo and Annie…Thanksgiving stories

26 Nov

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant. While not strictly a Thanksgiving story, it begins with a Thanksgiving meal. You can read the Rolling Stone article about the song.

Here he is performing it at Farm Aid in 2005.

There are basset hound Thanksgiving stories and I am sharing with you THE classic that basset lovers all over the US ( the world?) share each Thanksgiving.

We invited several guests for Thanksgiving last year. I was putting the final touches on the table and had just pulled the turkey out of the oven. It was a gorgeous bird-in fact, the best job I’ve ever done, if I do say so myself! I placed the turkey on the table and was finishing last-minute preparations when the doorbell rang. My hubby (football addict) was glued to the TV. I got his attention, after repeated fake emergencies (house is on fire, etc.), leaving strict instructions to guard the bird with his life while I answered the door, just in case our little Annie got curious. Annie was behaving so well. She lay on the floor, sleeping amid all the commotion and wonderful smells.

I answered the door and greeted the guests, and as we were approaching the dining room, we heard the strangest noises. “THUD, MARF! THUMP, MARF, BANG!” We entered the dining room to find my husband jumping up and down because his team scored a touchdown and Annie running up and down the hallway with the turkey on her head, wings a flappin’ and stuffing a flyin’. The more she ran, the faster the turkey wings flapped. Her bark from beneath the turkey was a muffled “MARF! MARF!” She was running into the walls and doors trying to escape this big monster on her poor head. I doubled over with laughter, slid down the wall holding my sides, and my hubby actually joined me, tearing himself away from his game. I wrestled Annie to the ground, removed that mean old turkey, and all we could see were her beautiful brown eyes staring at us from beneath the stuffing, which was caked on her face and coming out of her ears and onto the floor. I cleaned her up, still crying from laughter while Annie was trying to attack the turkey on the counter for trying to eat her. The guests were not amused. We dined at a local restaurant, and Annie got to eat some healthy slices of turkey before I tossed it in the trash. I cleaned stuffing from her ears for weeks and still have turkey grease spots on the walls and doors. I hope this Thanksgiving is a little less traumatic for our little girl. Maybe we’ll just go to a restaurant this year. Happy Turkey Day everyone!

Although the story is posted annually to the Daily Drool Listserv, you can read it in You Had Me at Ahroo, a collection of posts from the listserv, compiled by Susan Randolph.


Advent Calendars: A Slice of Life Story

24 Nov


Growing up, we didn’t really “do” Advent. The first I heard of it was in Grade 5, after we’d moved to  New Hamburg, Ontario,  population 3,500 and home to about 10 churches, including two Lutheran (which we referred to as the red Lutheran or the white Lutheran) and three Mennonite churches. Everybody went somewhere. We went to Zion United Church and that is where I first heard about the concept of Advent.


My sister and I joined the Junior Choir and soon learned that when we heard the tones of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”  and “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”,  Advent was upon us. Aside from special hymns at church, though,  we did nothing else to mark the season.

It wasn’t until I spent my first Christmas away from home as an exchange student in Denmark that I became acquainted with the Advent calendar. My Danish host parents gave me a home-made fabric calendar that had a little present tied to each of the 24 rings on it, one for each of the 24 days leading up to Christmas. I remember that most of the presents were useful gifts: a thimble, folding scissors, that sort of thing. Every morning my host mother would ask what I got that day as we talked over coffee when I got home from school.

It seemed that after I returned home, I suddenly noticed the appearance of the boxed advent calendars with a little piece of chocolate behind each day’s door.


This year, my sister has outdone herself. She sent me a DAVIDsTEA 24 Days of Tea 2015 advent calendar!It looks like a simple box, but it opens to reveal the beauty and joy within.

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Yes, one festive holiday tea for each of the 24 days before Christmas.  I snuck a peek at day 1’s tea,


 a caffeine free blend called sleigh ride that contains the following ingredients: Apple, Beet Root, Candied Papaya, Cinnamon Sticks, Coconut Chips, Hibiscus Blossoms, Natural Flavours, Pineapple, Popped Rice, Raisins, Roasted Almonds. It looks good enough to eat!


For now, I’m just thinking about it. I can wait the week until December 1st. Really, I can. But, I won’t tell you if I don’t.

блокада Ленинграда, or The Siege of Leningrad

23 Nov

From September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944, 872 days,  the city of Leningrad was under siege by Nazi German forces whose mandate from Hitler was to wipe Leningrad off the face of the Earth. It is estimated that over a million people died, mostly from starvation, stress and exposure. The perseverance and defiance of the people of Leningrad was remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that Dmitri Shostakovich decided to dedicate his 7th symphony to the city of Leningrad, his hometown.   The work remains one of Shostakovich’s best-known compositions.

In Symphony for the City of the Dead, long listed for the National Book Award, M. T. Anderson weaves together Shostakovich’s life, work, hometown, and the siege.


The book is told in three parts. Part one tells Shostakovich’s story. Born in 1906, he was really a child of the Revolution. A prodigy who embraced the art and music of Russian futurism and the avant-garde. Eventually, though, he fell foul of Stalin and feared that he would be swallowed up in the purges of the 1930’s banished to exile or to the Gulags. Eventually, he regained his footing and, by the time of the outbreak of what the Russian;s call the Great Patriotic War, he was more or less safe.

Part Two covers the period of the war and the composition of the 7th symphony. Anderson provides excellent background information to the war and, although I consider myself fairly well read on the subject of WWII and the Soviet Union, having read a lot of Solzhenitsyn in my youth, I learned facts about Stalin I’d never heard before. We see Shostakovich composing as the situation in Leningrad deteriorates, composing the first three movements in besieged Leningrad. Eventually he, along with his wife and children and other  important residents of Leningrad, are evacuated and we see him struggle to finish the 7th symphony in exile while he worried about family members who were left behind.

Part three covers the post war period and the rise of the Cold War. Shostakovich found himself once more a victim of Stalin’s criticism and denounced by former friends and colleagues. Stalin’s death in 1953 saw Shostakovich’s rehabilitation as a creative artist.

The book includes extensive photo, notes and a bibliography. It is an excellent piece of research and shines a light on the importance of the arts in a world gone mad.

Publisher’s Summary: In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943–1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—one another to stay alive. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogized, and commemorated his fellow citizens—the Leningrad Symphony, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory.

This is the true story of a city under siege: the triumph of bravery and defiance in the face of terrifying odds. It is also a look at the power—and layered meaning—of music in beleaguered lives.



A tale of romance, double crosses and survival

22 Nov

Instead of reading the books, I’d intended, I decided to read another arc I’d picked up at the ALA annual conference last June.  I found it because of the stairs that led down to the exhibits.


There were usually a lot of people on the stairs, and I was often on a mission to get somewhere. I finally realized that it was advertising for a book, after I’d seen the display at the publisher’s booth. Illuminae, The Illuminae Files 1 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, at 2-1/4″,  was the largest arc I brought home.


On first glance, It was intriguing. It is a no-traditional text, set up as a dossier full of reports, documents, archived information, instant messages, email, transcripts and descriptions of security footage.

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And it is a really great read! It is set in space, so if you are not a sci fi fan, be warned, but don’t be put off: it is more than just a  tale set in space. It is an action packed tale of romance, double crosses and survival involving two star-crossed lovers and a computer named AIDAN, who is reminiscent of HAL from  2001: A Space Odyssey. 

Publisher’s summary:This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again!

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

If you’d like a sample, visit the Illuminae website.


20 Nov

At last, it is Friday. It has felt like it should have been Friday since Tuesday. I can hardly wait to do nothing tomorrow.

By nothing, of course I mean read and knit. I can’t talk about the knitting projects because they are top secret holiday gift items. Let’s just say I discovered a new yarn company, Biscotte Yarns, that I love.

This is the Morris Committees last weekend to discuss nominees and we will make our final pitches for books on Sunday. Next week, we vote to select our five finalists. They will be announced officially on December 1st, I believe. Then, the rereading begins. I need to know those five books inside out so I can articulately debate their merits when we meet in January to choose the winner.

In the meantime, I have a ton of good books on my to read pile, none of which are Morris related. This weekend, I hope to tap into a few of them.

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Have a great weekend. You’ve earned it.


Dealing with grief

19 Nov

I picked up Fiona’s ashes yesterday. They are sitting on a shelf with the ashes of Louie and Clara. They each have a picture there to help me remember. Fiona is on the left, Louie on the right and Clara in the middle. We all deal with grief in our own way.


Given what happened in Paris ( and Lebanon) this past week, I want to bring your attention to this little gem of a novel.


If you’ve not read it, you should. Especially now. It is a book from a few years back, but it is definitely worth picking up in the aftermath of yet another horrible terrorist attack. It is set five years after the  co-ordinated terrorist attacks around London on July 7, 2005, that killed 62 people.The people in this story are all dealing with grief in their own way, but it is not a very healthy way.

Publisher’s Summary: My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece. Well, some of her does. A collarbone, two ribs, a bit of skull, and a little toe.

To ten-year-old Jamie, his family has fallen apart because of the loss of someone he barely remembers: his sister Rose, who died five years ago in a terrorist bombing. To his father, life is impossible to make sense of when he lives in a world that could so cruelly take away a ten-year-old girl. To Rose’s surviving fifteen year old twin, Jas, everyday she lives in Rose’s ever-present shadow, forever feeling the loss like a limb, but unable to be seen for herself alone.

Told with warmth and humor, this powerful novel is a sophisticated take on one family’s struggle to make sense of the loss that’s torn them apart… and their discovery of what it means to stay together.

Jamie is a sensitive boy whose new best friend happens to be a Muslim girl. He is trying to navigate a new school, bullies and a father who hates all Muslims. Jamie is left on his own a lot and  wants his family to be whole again but doesn’t know how to make that happen.  It is a tear-jerker, so have a hankie at the ready, but it is also a heart-warmer.
I actually listened to this a few years ago, but it has stuck with me. I must say that it was marvelously narrated by David Tennant. If you like audiobooks, I highly recommend this one.


18 Nov


Today, I am one of several bloggers taking part in Ellie Marney’s North American blog tour, celebrating her latest novel, Every Word.

Every Word

This is the second book in a series, by Australian Ellie Marney,  that riffs on Sherlock Holmes and follows James Mycroft and Rachel Watts as they travel (separately) to London to investigate the theft and readers learn about Mycroft’s tortured background.

Publisher’s Summary:James Mycroft has just left for London to investigate a car accident similar to the one that killed his parents … without saying goodbye to Rachel Watts, his ‘partner in crime’.

The theft of a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the possible murder of a rare books conservator, and the deaths of Mycroft’s parents…. Can Watts help Mycroft make sense of the three events – or will she lose him forever?

Sparks fly when Watts and Mycroft reunite in this second sophisticated thriller about the teen sleuthing duo.

Every Word is intelligent reading and even better than the first book. Mycroft and Watts fit the Holmesian models of complicated and brilliant sleuth with a loyal and logical partner. There is some romance between the two, but the mystery is definitely front and center.

Both books are told from Rachel’s point of view. She is a tough, down to earth character, who begins competing in roller derby in this second book. Just as Watson grounds Holmes, Rachel grounds Mycroft. She knows he is a flawed boyfriend, but is willing to make the effort.

“I’ve nursed sick animals before, and sometimes they just give up. Their eyes fill with this helpless lethargy, and there’s not a lot you can do after that. Now I’m filled with the same awful feeling — that whatever’s broken inside Mycroft might well be beyond my ability to fix. “

The first book, Every Breath,  was enjoyable because of its Australian setting and the publisher’s decision to keep the language authentically so. Every Word, set in London feels equally as authentic and the pace of the story is right on, making it tempting to read the book in a single sitting.

Although I recommend reading Every Breath  before Every Word, you could conceivably read them out of order. This pair of mysteries would be excellent holiday gifts for a young adult reader who loves mysteries.

Every Breath Every Word

Dress for success: A Slice of life story

17 Nov


New school, new duty schedule.

During in-service week, we were sent an e-mail letting us know that the first semester duty sign up was live and we could sign up. By the time my teaching partner and I got here, a lot  of spots were already full. All the sunny months. That left the rainy months for the rest of us. I had no idea what or where I was signing up for, but I filled the required number of spaces and forgot about it until this week.

We are due for torrential rain today and it is day two of my first week of duty. Yesterday, I read over the direction to my area (the covered area near the gym doors). Make sure they don’t run on the stairs? I didn’t even know there were stairs on that side of the building! Yet another area I’d yet to explore.

I arrived at 8:50 to the doors near the gym. Yes. the area was sort of covered, but not by the door where I was supposed to stand and greet students as they arrived. Just the basketball courts. Is there no justice? Fortunately, the kids were good. most greeted me with a smile. Many looked cold or sleepy, just glad to be going in the building. I was glad I brought my hat & gloves because it was cold and damp.  Today’s forecast calls for rain. Tomorrow’s for heavy rain.

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I might need my heavy-duty raincoat.

Next year, I’m signing up earlier.

Love, friendship and Winnie-the-Pooh

16 Nov


I’ve written before about Winnie-the-Pooh’s  Canadian connection.

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear is an interesting twist on the story. It is written by the great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourn, Lindsay Mattick,  the Canadian soldier who adopted the baby bear who later took up residence in the London Zoo and befriended Christopher Robin Milne.

The story is framed as a tale, told by the author to her son, Cole, named for his great-great-grandfather. Like Christopher Robin in the Pooh stories, Cole’s voice is part of this story, asking questions and helping move the story along.  This is a deceptively simple story, which delivers a factual story in a very engaging manner.

Sophie Blackall’s illustrations elevate the is lovely story. She has a lovely series of four blog posts that talk about the process and research  she went through to make historically accurate illustrations.

Here is my favorite page, where Winnipeg the bear captures the heart of Colebourn’s Colonel by standing up in his hind legs as if in salute. The Colonel simply says, “Oh hallo.” And she (yes the real Winnie was a she) became the company’s mascot.


Working together, Mattick and Blackall have really made clear the deep affection Colebourn and Winnie shared.


“Love is taking a few steps backward maybe even more… to give way to the happiness of the person you love.”

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