Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Review - More Than You Know

More Than You Know, by Beth Gutcheon, is both a love story and a ghost story. The novel starts with this simple statement: "Somebody said, 'True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen.' I've seen both, and I don't know how to tell you which is worse."

This book has been out for quite a while. I discovered it last week at the library on a "staff favortites" shelf. I had never read anything by Beth Gutcheon, but I will definitely read more by her now! Her book was haunting, sweet and sad, riveting, and profound. It's pretty rare to find a novel you can assign all of those qualities to, but this one definitely qualifies.

The story switches back and forth. Most of the novel is told in the first person by narrarator Hanah, an old woman who is remembering her days as a young girl. She recalls the summer she turned eighteen. This summer has shaped all the rest of her days, because during this time she was both haunted by a ghost, and she fell in love with the town badboy, Conary Crocker. The two events become extremely intertwined, and they eventually lead to shocking and tragic consequences.

Part of the novel is also told in the third person, and it relays a story about Claris, a woman who marries a loner and comes to deeply regret it. Claris' life is extremely unhappy, and through the chapters that focus on her, the reader slowly comes to understand why a ghost is haunting Hannah so many years after Claris has died.

Beth Gutcheon doesn't shy away from describing the horrific, nor does she hesitate to include truly sad events in this novel. Sometimes it can be hard to get through for that reason, but there is also a lot of beauty to this book. It will leave you a lot to think about as well. Most of all, it's very hard to put down! The switching back and forth between subplots creates a lot of suspense, and Hannah is a very likeable character who I couldn't help but root for. Claris isn't so likeable, but I wound up feeling sorry for her nonetheless.

If you're looking for a creepy yet touching love story give this a try. It's perfect for this time of year!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Final Caterpillar Countdown

The story I'm about to relay actually happened last Tuesday, but I'm only getting around to telling it now. It's not the ending to the caterpillar saga that I would have preferred, but it's what happened. And it's very bittersweet.

On Tuesday afternoon Eli went over to check on the caterpillar and said, "Hey Mom, he's turned into a butterfly!"

I went to go see, and was horrified to find the caterpillar/butterfly half-outside of its chrysalis, lying on the bottom of the jar. I told Eli that it looked dead.

Eli instantly burst into tears. "Why?!" he yelled. "What did I do wrong? Why did he have to die?"

I held him and tried to console him, but he was not to be consoled. Soon Rich was home, and we gave Eli a banana, turned on Phineas and Ferb,  and Eli and Rich sat down to watch and cuddle on the couch. I took out the caterpillar to bury him in the backyard.

Except, when I dumped him out he started wiggling around. I immediately scooped him back into the jar and ran back inside.

 "He's still alive!" I yelled.

Eli jumped off the couch and immediately came over to inspect the caterpillar/butterfly, which was still wiggling. His mood instantly changed. "Dad, he's moving. He's alive!!"

Rich checked too, and came to the conclusion that the caterpillar/butterfly was struggling to get out of its chrysalis. "I'm going to take him outside Eli, and give him some fresh air. You go back to your show."

Moments later Rich came back inside and found me in the kitchen. "I tried to get it out of its chrysalis, but I couldn't help it," he said. "And I don't want Eli to watch it die a slow death. So I dumped it where he won't see it."

Then he went back into the living room and spoke to Eli. "I'm hoping the fresh air will help him," Rich told Eli. "I left the jar off the lid so he can get lots of air. He might fly away, but at least we'll know he's okay."

After Phineas and Ferb was over Eli went outside to check. He came running back in, yelling in excitement. "He's gone! He flew away! Isn't that great?"

We agreed with Eli that it really was great. And in a way, it is. Because Rich and I have a wonderful boy with such a generous spirit that he didn't care at all that he didn't ever get the see the butterfly emerge from its cocoon. He just wanted it to be okay.

The next day Eli drew this picture of himself and the butterfly. I think it' s beautiful.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Caterpillar Countdown day 5

Not much happened the last few days. The one caterpillar has been in chrsyalis, and the other was taking his time. Then last night, unfortunately, the other caterpillar just stopped moving around. We had to break it to Eli that he had died. Eli's response was, "Awhh..."

So it wasn't too dramatic. But when Rich opened up the container to get the dead caterpillar out, the other caterpillar started shaking in his chrysalis. We're hoping he's okay. Also, it looks like he (the caterpillar, not Rich) ripped his own head off, because a black, head-like blob is sitting by the chrysalis. Eli said that what's supposed to happen. He's usually right about this stuff.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back to School / At Your Inservice

I'm a teacher, and if you gave me an hour I could totally fill it with complaints about how the public education system is broken. But there's one thing I can't complain about:

Getting the summer off is AWESOME!

 Every middle of June through the end of August I get time with my kids, time to write, and  time to stay up in the evening with my husband because I don't have to worry about going to bed early enough to face a classroom full of surly teenagers the next day... it's so, so, wonderful.

But then the summer ends and my life returns to normal. Is normal so bad? No, not really. But returning to normal can be. Before school starts most teachers have a week of "inservice." In theory this is a great idea, because teachers receive the chance to prepare for the coming semester and to talk amongst each other and refine their craft. But it doesn't always work out that way...

I had already been to school twice the prior week to get my classroom ready and prepare. So I wasn't too bothered by the idea of being in a workshop all day to learn about Avid teaching techniques, which is the latest attempt by my school district to improve student performance.
The techniques themselves are pretty cool, our instructor was great, and it was fun to catch up with all the friends I hadn't seen since June. All in all, not a bad day. Plus, we had a whole hour for lunch, which never happens during a normal school day.

Another full day of Avid training, only now the adreniline rush of being back was gone, and I was anxious to start working on lesson plans, make copies, and talk with the principal about our new hires for the year. Being stuck in a classroom all day felt frustrating (probably how my students often feel.)

I got to school early so I could make copies. Miracle of miracles, the machine actually worked and there wasn't a line! Making copies at the beginning of the school year is quite the task, especially if you have over 150 students, and several packets or worksheets to copy for each class. Add to that the frustration of a long line or the machine breaking down, which happens more often than not, and making copies can take well over an hour. I was out of the copy room in thirty minutes. Triumph!

After checking in with one of our new teachers and making some phone calls I went down to the district convocation, where we spent two hours hearing about all the wonderful accomplishments our district is achieving. After that was lunch. In the afternoon I had to attend a two hour meeting about tenured teacher evaluations. Don't ask me what was said because I've honestly blocked it all out. Then I met with the principal, because I was desperate to get some answers about staffing and scheduling.

At the end of the day I still hadn't had any time to work in my classroom.

We started the day with a three hour staff meeting, where subjects like the new student handbook, hall pass systems, food in the classroom, state test scores, and parent communication were discussed.
Then we had lunch.
Then - gasp! - we had time to work in our classrooms!
I put together some cardboard shelves (bought with my own money) and I was working on a homework agenda system when my phone range. It was the school secretary, telling me that our second new English teacher's background check had cleared, and she was on her way to start working. So I put aside what I was doing so I could show her around.
After getting her acclimated and introducing her to the other English teachers (all of whom helped get her set up) I returned to my classroom to find that the curriculum for the new ACT Prep class had arrived. This is a class I've never taught, and being faced with mountains of reading felt like a mixed blessing.

We had all day to work in our classrooms! I spent a large part of the morning trying to find information about the logistics of a college level writing class that one of our new teachers is teaching and..blah, blah, blah. Let me just say that everything took longer than it should have.

But by 3:00 my syllabi were typed, printed and ready, my seating charts were done, and my first day power points were reviewed. All that needed to be done was to check my ceiling proxima - which is like a projector - and I'd be all set.
Only my proxima didn't work. That meant that I couldn't show my powerpoints, and if I want to show movies in my film studies class, I'd be out of luck.
I put in a work order, called down to the tech department, but I heard nothing.
So I said something to the vice principal, and he said, "Oh, don't worry. All the proximas will be fixed between September 19th and October 4th."
After a stunned moment of silence I replied, "I teach film studies. I can't wait that long."
He said he'd do something about it, walked out, and I made alternative plans using an overhead projector for the first couple of days.

I checked one more time that everything was ready, grabbed my ACT Prep materials, including a practice test that I'm planning to take over the weekend, and headed home.

So yes, returning to school can be rough. Every year there are obstacles to overcome, and some years there are more than others. The next time your child has a day off from school because of a teachers' inservice day, and you find yourself wondering what the teachers do with that time, just remember - the teachers are probably wondering the same thing!

Epilogue -
School started on the 6th, and my classes went well. Also, my friend/fellow English teacher Jill fixed my proxima. Film Studies lives on!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Caterpillar Countdown day 2

This morning Eli got out of bed without being woken up by Rich or me, which is rare on a school day. Bleary eyed and still half-asleep, his first words were, "Can I see the caterpillars?"

(Usually his first request is to watch television. Arthur is on.)

Anyway, we checked out the caterpillars. One was still up on the roof of the jar. The other was  crawling around the jar. This afternoon when we got home from school we checked them right away, and the one on the roof is now dangling and looking very blob-like. The other is still crawling around. My pictures don't really capture it, but I tried.

That's the blog-like one on the roof.

And this is the one who is crawling around.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Caterpillar Countdown - Day 1

Yesterday Eli and I went to the state fair and of course we stopped at the butterfly house. So we bought one of those containers with two caterpillars that are soon to turn into a chrysalis. They ate all night (and pooped all night too) and now it looks like they're getting ready. I'm going to try and capture their progress.

It's not a great photo, but the little guy has been crawling around, and it seems like he's attempting to join his buddy on the top, where most likely they'll hang out while they're in chrysalis