Archive | August, 2019

Back in style

27 Aug

Many people have back to school traditions. Some people take a yearly photo. Some people have breakfast traditions. For the last few years, I’ve knit socks.

This year, I had my 2019 back to school socks ready for the first day of inservice week.

These are knit in a colorway called Patience. It seemed appropriate.

My 2018 socks were knit in No. 2 Pencil.

The 2017 school year started shortly after the eclipse. Naturally, this colorway was called Total Eclipse of the Sun.



In 2016, I used this yarn, Fall for Barrie, for another project, but had enough left over for a pair of shortie socks.


Hand knit socks aren’t cheap, but it makes me happy knowing my feet are sheathed in something made by my own hands.


Firebirds and Night Witches – a fiction/non-fiction pairing

26 Aug

I have a list of fiction/non-fiction pairings and have an idea for a project I would like my students to do someday. When I finally get it together, it will involve some sort of compare and contrast and maybe even a little fiction writing. The devil is, as always, in the details.

I am always on the lookout for good fiction/non-fiction pairings and recently found one in We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett and A Thousand Sisters  by Elizabeth Wein.

Wein’s book is a non-fiction book about Soviet women pilots during WWII. Bartlett’s book is a fantasy novel inspired by the Soviet women pilots of WWII, but her pilots use magic as the Union battles the Elda. Both have strong female characters that find a way to use their talents.


Publisher’s Summary: Seventeen-year-old Revna is a factory worker, manufacturing war machines for the Union of the North. When she’s caught using illegal magic, she fears being branded a traitor and imprisoned. Meanwhile, on the front lines, Linné defied her father, a Union general, and disguised herself as a boy to join the army. They’re both offered a reprieve from punishment if they use their magic in a special women’s military flight unit and undertake terrifying, deadly missions under cover of darkness. Revna and Linné can hardly stand to be in the same cockpit, but if they can’t fly together, and if they can’t find a way to fly well, the enemy’s superior firepower will destroy them–if they don’t destroy each other first.

We Rule the Night is a fiercely compelling story about sacrifice, complicated friendships, and survival against impossible odds.


Publisher’s Summary: In the early years of World War II, Josef Stalin issued an order that made the Soviet Union the first country in the world to allow female pilots to fly in combat. Led by Marina Raskova, these three regiments, including the 588th Night Bomber Regiment—nicknamed the “night witches”—faced intense pressure and obstacles both in the sky and on the ground. Some of these young women perished in flames. Many of them were in their teens when they went to war.

This is the story of Raskova’s three regiments, women who enlisted and were deployed on the front lines of battle as navigators, pilots, and mechanics. It is the story of a thousand young women who wanted to take flight to defend their country, and the woman who brought them together in the sky.

Packed with black-and-white photographs, fascinating sidebars, and thoroughly researched details, A Thousand Sisters is the inspiring true story of a group of women who set out to change the world, and the sisterhood they formed even amid the destruction of war.


A little vacation drama of my own creation

20 Aug

A month before my trip to Ottawa and Montreal, I was informed my outbound flight had been cancelled and I’d need to reschedule. The rescheduling meant I would fly all night, then wait in the airport for my sister and brother-in-law to pick me up. The down side would be that I’d be tired (and potentially cranky) until I woke up the next morning.

Everything went off without a hitch, and after a nap in the Ottawa airport, waiting for my pickup with my feet on my suitcase, I was picked up as planned. We checked in early to the hotel. I took a shower and felt refreshed enough to carry on through the rest of the day, uncranky, as we wandered around Canada’s capital.

The next morning, I noticed the backs of both ankles were sunburned. Ottawa had been hot, but it was a weird place for a sunburn. We took the train to Montreal and walked all over the place. By the next morning the “sunburn” was redder and had grown, almost circling both ankles. I started to worry.

I have bad skin and have had problems with eczema, MRSA, and cellulitis in the past. In case you’ve never heard of it, cellulitis is a common, potentially serious bacterial skin infection.  As an expert self-diagnoser, I was certain I had it. Thinking it over, I blamed resting my feet on my suitcase, a soft-sided case, that surely irritated my skin as I napped, making me susceptible to an infection. I worried that day, and started doing some investigating. Where could I go to see a doctor? After an online search, I found a walk-in clinic near the Musée des Beaux-Arts that we were going to visit the next day, a Monday. I prepared by looking up the antibiotic my doctor usually prescribes and the one I am allergic to. There was a time in my youth when I wanted to be a doctor, so I really get into this stuff.

We dropped my brother-in-law and niece at the museum, and my sister accompanied me to the clinic. Surprise, it was busy! I was given an scheduled appointment for 9 a.m. the next morning and told it would cost $200. I took the appointment card and, as we walked to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, my heart felt a little lighter knowing I was on the way to something.

Of course, my ankles looked better the next day.

I went to the appointment and was in and out quickly. As I rode the Metro, I knew what the doctor was going to say, and I was not disappointed. It wasn’t cellulitis, just an irritation, probably caused by the rough surface of my soft-sided luggage. As he examined my legs, one comment almost made me laugh out loud: “Your skin is very thin.” Yup.

I was back to our Airbnb before 10, out 200 bucks and feeling a little silly. The sense of relief I felt, having my worry alleviated, made it all worthwhile.





Reading towards home

19 Aug

When I packed to leave Canada and return home to Portland, books were the heaviest thing in my backpack.



I only managed to read a bit of The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez while we were in Montreal. With a three hour layover in Toronto and a five hour flight to Portland, I managed to finish it and loved it. Having a personal connection to the time and place made it very powerful, but I think even people with no knowledge of what happened in Colombia in the 80s and 90s would enjoy the lyrical writing in this book.



In my pre-vacation post, I mentioned having a list of books I wanted to look for in Canada. We popped into a couple of bookstores while travelling, but both times, I didn’t have the list with me. Great planning! I tried to remember titles, but couldn’t so just browsed, looking for a Canadian title I could bring back to my classroom library. I like to bring back something that local libraries and bookstores won’t carry. I found The Magpie’s Library by Kate Blair, who was born in the UK, but now lives in Canada. The setting of the book is British, but it still fits my criteria.


Publisher’s Summary: Silva and her family visit her grandfather, only to find his health has taken a bad turn. As they struggle with this news, Silva seeks escape in books – at the local library.

But she gets more than she bargained for when a magpie guides her to a secret, magical room containing books that she can not only read, but that she can live. Silva finds herself in the worlds of the characters … who all turn out to be real people. People she knows.

There’s a catch, though: she soon discovers that the magpie has lured her to these books for selfish and dark reasons. Going back to the books could mean losing her soul …



Maple syrup

13 Aug

This is the view out the window of my Airbnb in Montreal, where I am wrapping up my summer.

In the lower right corner, under the blue awning, a man is selling maple syrup. I am uncertain why he fascinates me, but he does.

A steady flow of customers comes his way, and he is there from early morning into early evening. Even from this distance, I can tell that he has great rapport with everyone he talks to, even if they don’t buy any maple syrup from him.

Itinerary k there is a lesson here. If you love what you do, you do it well, and people will be drawn to you.

Reading on a jet plane

8 Aug

I’ve been waiting all summer, and tonight, I am finally leaving for  Montreal, by way of Ottawa. I’d originally planned to fly out tomorrow morning and booked a ticket to do so, but Fate and Air Canada decided to cancel my original flight and now I am flying all night.

Because I am impatient, I like to travel in the morning. Since Fate has determined that is not to be this time around, I will need to find ways to pass the time today. I will drop Lucy off a little earlier than I planned and come home to pack. Before that happens, though, I am going to reread my favorite DEAR CANADA book,  Alone in an Untamed Land: The Filles du Roi Diary of Hélène St. Onge by Maxine Trottier.


51dpNw2HvPL._SX353_BO1,204,203,200_Publisher’s Summary: Young Hélène St. Onge and her older sister Catherine are orphans. When King Louis XVI orders all men in New France to marry, Catherine becomes a “fille du roi,” one of the many young women sent to the new world as brides. Hélène will accompany her on the long sea voyage and live with her sister’s new family. But Catherine dies during the gruelling journey, and Hélène finds herself alone in a strange new country. New France is a far harsher place than she imagined, with bitter winters and threat of attack from the Iroquois. Will the few friendships she has made on her long voyage enable her to survive?

Because I am flying at night and hope to sleep (at least a little) I am only bringing one slim book in my carry on: The First Part Last by Angela Johnson.


Publisher’s Summary: Bobby is your classic urban teenaged boy — impulsive, eager, restless. On his sixteenth birthday he gets some news from his girlfriend, Nia, that changes his life forever. She’s pregnant. Bobby’s going to be a father. Suddenly things like school and house parties and hanging with friends no longer seem important as they’re replaced by visits to Nia’s obstetrician and a social worker who says that the only way for Nia and Bobby to lead a normal life is to put their baby up for adoption.
With powerful language and keen insight, Johnson looks at the male side of teen pregnancy as she delves into one young man’s struggle to figure out what “the right thing” is and then to do it. No matter what the cost.

This book won the Printz Award in 2004. The title came up at my book club last week – our first meeting after the ALA Conference where the 2019 Printz Awards were handed out and speeches made.

One of my book club friends was on the 2019 Printz committee and several other book club members were in attendance when Elizabeth Acevedo gave her speech. She referenced The First Part Last and her personal connection to the book. If I recall correctly, Angela Johnson visited Elizabeth Acevedo’s sixth grade class. They – and Elizabeth in particular – gave some suggestions to Angela Johnson, which she accepted and acknowledged in the book. It gave me goose bumps to see this.


I am also packing an adult book, The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez.


Publisher’s Summary:  In the city of Bogotá, Antonio Yammara reads an article about a hippo that had escaped from a derelict zoo once owned by legendary Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The article transports Antonio back to when the war between Escobar’s Medellín cartel and government forces played out violently in Colombia’s streets and in the skies above. Back then, Antonio witnessed a friend’s murder, an event that haunts him still. As he investigates, he discovers the many ways in which his own life and his friend’s family have been shaped by his country’s recent violent past. His journey leads him all the way back to the 1960s and a world on the brink of change: a time before narco-trafficking trapped a whole generation in a living nightmare.

I am also travelling with a list of Canadian books I’d like to get, but more on that if I actually get them.

My secret strategy

6 Aug


The only thing that keeps me going back to my local supermarket is its proximity to the pet store where I buy dog food. Over the last two years, following a buy-out from a national corporation, the local chain has transformed – and not in a way I like. My secret strategy is to park my car in a spot near the park that separates the grocery store from the dog food store, walk to get the dog food, then do my groceries.

Yesterday, my secret strategy played out. As I walked back to my car with the dog food, I saw a silver sedan pull into the shady spot beside my car. Imagine my surprise as I saw who emerged: an 8th grade teacher from my school who will be joining us in 6th grade in September. Apparently, he uses the same secret strategy.

We chatted at the cars for a while, discussing our violation of parking prohibitions. Before too long, he was picking my brain about 6th grade. Instead of getting his cat food then groceries, he decided to get his groceries first so we could carry on our discussion. Eventually we parted, me to the Vitamin section, him to produce, each saying something like “See you in a few weeks”.

As I exited the grocery store wheeling the cart to my car, I saw him again, coming from the direction of the pet food store. We laughed and said “See you in a few weeks” once more.


What is it about beavers?

5 Aug

I grew up in a country that had a beaver on a coin and I now live us a state that has a beaver on its flag. What is it about beavers?

Rachel Poliquin answers my question in her new book: they have SUPERPOWERS!!!

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Beavers: The Superpower Field Guide is the first book in her new middle-grade nonfiction Superhero Field Guide series and it is terrific!

Publisher’s Summary: Meet Elmer, an ordinary beaver. He may not be as mighty as a lion or as dangerous as a shark. He may be squat and brown. But never underestimate a beaver.

I can almost hear you saying, “But aren’t beavers just lumpy rodents with buck teeth and funny flat tails?”

Yes, they are! And believe it or not, those buck teeth and funny flat tails are just a few of the things that make beavers extraordinary.

Written in an engaging, humorous style, this book is a long way from the more serious books about animals on most shelves. It will appeal to young readers who love to read about animals, and to those who don’t, but might have to do so for a project.

Each chapter takes on a new beaver superpower, moving from their giant rodent teeth at the front , to their super stink at the back end. Like the tex, the illustrations – by Nicholas John Frith like the text – are a mix of fact and whimsy.

The second book in the series, Moles: The Superpower Field Guide, came out in June. The next book, Ostriches,  is due out in November. The fourth (and final?) book, Eels, is set for publication in June 2020. They would be a fun addition to any classroom where animals are studied.


Reading poetry with Lucy

1 Aug

At some point every day, Lucy and I take a walk and she lays down on the sidewalk to bask in the sun.


It can get a little annoying, but I have learned to anticipate her need for warmth. Armed with treats, I lure her to my front stoop, pull out a lawn chair and read while Lucy takes her sun bath. I choose my books carefully because, although she loves the warmth, Lucy can only take so much heat. Her sunbath last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, so I like a book I can pick up and put down. Lately, it has been poetry. Each poem is like a short story and I can read one or several, waiting for Lucy to get her fill of the sun.

This week, I’ve been reading Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience. I am already thinking about how I can use it in my classroom. It is that excellent!


Publisher’s Summary: With authenticity, integrity, and insight, this collection of poems addresses the many issues confronting first- and second- generation young adult immigrants and refugees, such as cultural and language differences, homesickness, social exclusion, human rights, racism, stereotyping, and questions of identity. Poems by Elizabeth Acevedo, Erika L. Sánchez, Samira Ahmed, Chen Chen, Ocean Vuong, Fatimah Asghar, Carlos Andrés Gómez, Bao Phi, Kaveh Akbar, Hala Alyan, and Ada Limón, among others, encourage readers to honor their roots as well as explore new paths, offering empathy and hope for those who are struggling to overcome discrimination. Many of the struggles immigrant and refugee teens face head-on are also experienced by young people everywhere as they contend with isolation, self-doubt, confusion, and emotional dislocation.

Ink Knows No Borders is the first book of its kind and features 64 poems and a foreword by poet Javier Zamora, who crossed the border, unaccompanied, at the age of nine, and an afterword by Emtithal Mahmoud, World Poetry Slam Champion and Honorary Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Brief biographies of the poets are included, as well. It’s a hopeful, beautiful, and meaningful book for any reader.

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