May 29, 2009

Summer Reading Lists

The Wall Street Journal has a great list of promising summer reads - for adults. Check it out here.

May 28, 2009

Life in the Words

I have been bored by my books lately. Bored. Tired. Turned-off. I haven't found anything to peak my interest or excite my mind in a few months. Friends have suggested books. Blogs have suggested choices. Nothing.

Until this weekend.

Whoever you are out there in the "blogosphere" that recommended my Memorial Day reads ... thank you, thank you, thank you. First, allow me to apologize for my bad habit. I write down the books that people recommend, but I don't write down who recommended them. Often I click straight from one website directly to my library page and put the book on hold. I can't thank the person who suggested these books and I am sorry.

I loved them.

I was entranced.

I was inspired.

I was happy reading again.

These books each deserve their own post, but I read them back to back and they are intertwined in my mind so I will write about them both here. They are about the same thing, but so very different. Each book is about one person's life in books and life with words.

The first book I read was Lynne Sharon Schwartz's Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books. She starts with the same questions that have been plaguing me for months,
What is it all about? What am I doing it for? And the classic addict's question, What is it doing for me?

Her answers challenged me to face my reading demons. What is it about reading that I love and need? I am past trying to prove something to other people. I don't really care what they read. I don't care if they know what I read or that I read.
It started -- my reading, that is-- innocently enough, and then it infiltrated. It didn't replace living; it infused it, till the two became inextricable, like molecules of hydrogen and oxygen in a bead of water.

Exactly. Reading is as much a part of my life as eating or sleeping. I realized that I have been searching much too hard. There is no reason for reading in my life. It is just a part of my life and always has been. Reading is not my life, but it is necessary to it.
How are we to spend our lives, anyway? That is the real question. We read to seek the answer, and the search itself -- the task of a lifetime -- becomes the answer.

Like the bodies of dancers or athletes, the minds of readers are genuinely happy and self-possessed only when cavorting around, doing their stretches and leaps and jumps to the tune of words.

And really, why do I care so much about books? Why do I care that, above all else in school, my children learn to read.
For in the end, even if all my books were to vanish, I would still have them somewhere, if I had read them attentively enough. Maybe the words on the page are not even the true book, in the end, only a gateway to the book that recreates itself in the mind and lasts as long as we do.

I am glad I read Schwatrz's book first this weekend. It freed me from the need to know why I was reading a book and allowed me to throughly enjoy the next slim volume I picked up, Donald Hall's Unpacking the Boxes.

I put down my note taking pencil and put away my mini-sticky notes. I read. I immersed myself in Hall's life and lived along with this former Poet Laureate of the United States as he found and followed his passion. I laughed and I cried and I vowed to read every single book he has ever written. I wish I could pick out passages for you from his memoir. I wish I could share the words here, but I can't. I think this book should be taken as a whole. His father's dreams for him can not be separated from his life at Harvard or his friends and family. They are who he is. And, WOW, what a life.

I have included these book in the same post, but many will say they are nothing alike. That may be true; but the first allowed me to enjoy the second, and the second allowed me to appreciate the first.

Read these books.

May 27, 2009

Word of the Week

widg⋅et  [wij-it]


1. a small mechanical device, as a knob or switch, esp. one whose name is not known or cannot be recalled; gadget: a row of widgets on the instrument panel.
2. something considered typical or representative, as of a manufacturer's products: the widgets coming off the assembly line.

1925–30; perh. alter. of gadget

May 26, 2009

More from Rick Riordan

Mr. Riordan is posting all week at Letter Blocks, Barnes & Noble's blog for bookish parents. He is kicking off their summer reading program ... check it out.

May 21, 2009

Hard Work and Imagination Were Partners

A few weeks ago, I finished listening to Walter Issacson's biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe and throughly enjoyed it. Here is the story of a genius who combined hard work and imagination to achieve great things. His story is compelling and the book is very well-written. I enjoyed learning about Einstein's life, but the biggest lessons I pulled from the book relate to the state of education today. Einstein and I have the same opinions ... you know what they say, "Great minds ..."

As we move to the end of the school year, I will write here what I would like to send to the teachers my boys will have next year. The words are Einstein's:

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Remember this when Boy-oneder wants to tell you about a book he read and how he would have changed the ending to make it better. Remember this when Sonshine writes about his imaginary friend in his journal.
Critical comments by students should be taken in a friendly spirit.

No offense is meant, but he does know more about Greek mythology and animals than you do. Those are his passions. You are a generalist and he is a specialist.
Accumulation of material should not stifle the student's independence. A society's competitive advantage will come not from how well the schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity.

No one will care in 15 or 20 years that these kids passed the TAKS test. They will care that they can write a coherent sentence and use their imaginations to solve real-world problems. My kids can read a textbook on their own ... bring creativity into their classrooms. We would not be fixing the Hubble telescope if someone hadn't dreamed we could get to the moon.
An appreciation for the methods of science is a useful asset for a responsible citizenry.

I take my kids to church so that they can develop a deeper understanding of the Bible and God's amazing creation. If you tell my 4th grade student that Darwin was wrong, he will ask you to prove your theory. He understands the scientific process. So do I. Leave matters of Faith to me.

May 20, 2009

Word of the Week

in⋅quire  [in-kwahyuhr]

–verb (used without object)

1. to seek information by questioning; ask: to inquire about a person.
2. to make investigation (usually fol. by into): to inquire into the incident.

–verb (used with object)

3. to seek to learn by asking: to inquire a person's name.
4. Obsolete. to seek.
5. Obsolete. to question (a person).

—Verb phrase

6. inquire after, to ask about the state of health or condition of: Friends have been calling all morning to inquire after you.

1250–1300; ME < L inquīrere to seek for (see in- 2 , query ); r. ME enqueren < OF enquerre < L, as above

Related forms:
in⋅quir⋅a⋅ble, adjective
in⋅quir⋅er, noun

1–3. investigate, examine, query. Inquire, ask, question imply that a person addresses another to obtain information. Ask is the general word: to ask what time it is. Inquire is more formal and implies asking about something specific: to inquire about a rumor. To question implies repetition and persistence in asking; it often applies to legal examination or investigation: to question the survivor of an accident. Sometimes it implies doubt: to question a figure, an account.


One who inquires or examines; questioner; investigator. --Locke.

inquire. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc.

May 19, 2009

Read to Your Kids

and have them read aloud to you.

This New York Times piece extolls the virtue of using everyting - your very breath - to read. It is a whole new experience.
You can easily make the argument that reading silently is an economic artifact, a sign of a new prosperity beginning in the early 19th century and a new cheapness in books. The same argument applies to listening to books on your iPhone. But what I would suggest is that our idea of reading is incomplete, impoverished, unless we are also taking the time to read aloud.
I agree.

May 18, 2009

Ten Hymns

I am participating in Semicolon's Hymn Project. The rules said any song suitable for singing in church, but I kept my list to the old standbys because they are the ones that touch me most deeply. There is something to be said for standing the test of time. Each of these has.

Here are my choices.

1. How Great Thou Art Carl Boberg

This hymn, most famously linked to George Shea and the Billy Graham Crusades, brings to me visions of God’s abundance. My family has been lucky enough to travel the world. I have trekked through the jungles of northern Thailand, traveled the coast of southern Chile, and stood on the Normandy coast of France. Yet, when I think of this song, I remember standing on the Oregon coast with the waves of the Pacific crashing below me and the giant redwood trees protecting my back. At that moment this song had meaning for me. “When I in awesome wonder, consider all the works thy hands have made. How Great Thou Art.” Alleluia. Amen.

Here is Carrie Underwood singing this hymn at the Grand Ole Opry.

2. Jesus Loves Me Anna B. Warner

I love that this simple statement of faith is the first song many children learn. So simple, yet so true and powerful. In most moments of our lives, we should need no more than the words of this song. “Jesus love me, this I know.” Why? “For the Bible tells me so.”

How beautiful to hear children sing this song.

3. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing Charles Wesley

Call it doctrinal, call it whatever you want. I would not like to attend a church that does not include this hymn in its Christmas services. I love how this hymn relates directly to one of my favorite Bible verses, Luke 2:10. “Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”

It pains me how often this message is forgotten … that the joy of a baby is for “All people.”

There is nothing better than this song in a great cathedral.

4. Christ the Lord Is Risen Today Charles Wesley

Again, for me, it wouldn’t be Easter without this song. It isn’t a secret, I can’t sing well. I have a pretty bad singing voice. I used to pray for God to change that. I just wanted to sing for him. I know my song sounds beautiful to him, but I have always wanted to serve him in song. On Easter Sunday, I am never shy about doing just that. I sing with my heart to my God. “Where, O death is now thy sting? Where thy victory, O grave?”

And now the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

5. It is Well With My Soul Horatio Spafford

“Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, It is well with my soul.” On the days that I miss him, I sing this song. I remember a man who lost his five children yet he did not lose his faith. Oh, God! Grant me his faith.

The great David Phelps sings only to the Lord.

6. Just As I Am Charlotte Elliot

I had a hard time deciding between this one and Amazing Grace for my list. They both speak to the grace that saves us; yet, while Amazing Grace may be one of the best known hymns in the world, this one touches me more personally. The third verse speaks to me so plainly, “Just as I am, though tossed about With many a conflict many a doubt, Fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” And he takes me like I am, faults and failures. Because he doesn’t see them. He sees my redeemed self.

Here is a beautiful a cappella version.

7. There is Power in the Blood Lewis E. Jones

How did he redeem us? Why does Christ see my redeemed self? This song pretty much sums it up. “There is power in the blood of the lamb.”

This is how this song should be sung!

8. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name Edward Perronet

As I get to the end of the list I struggle with my choices. There are so many beautiful hymns to choose from. The first five were easily chosen. The next two required a little more thought. These last three choices were difficult. I have hymns of grace and forgiveness. I have hymns of love. I had to add a hymn of power. For he is powerful. If faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, what can the faith of a church or a nation accomplish.

I’ll admit it, I am no fan of our current President. (I wasn’t a huge fan of our last President either, but I liked him better.) I see our country rushing headlong away from the Christian values our ancestors brought with them. I have stood in the Dutch church they left to avoid the persecution of an oppressive society. I imagine them singing this song to bolster their faith on their journey. I wonder, if all people of Faith would sing this daily and call upon the power of the Lord, what great things we could accomplish.

I love this version.

(My other choices here were Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty, Crown Him with Many Crowns, and A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.)

9. The Star-Spangled Banner Francis Scott Key

Yes, this is a hymn. “Phillipians 3:20 - For our Citizenship is in Heaven.” Did you know the besides being an attorney, Francis Scott Key was an evangelical Christian who taught Bible studies and witnessed constantly. Of course, “By the Dawn’s Early Light,” seeing the flag still flying he would praise his Lord. The last stanza, which we never sing, follows:

Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must when our cause is just.
And this be our motto : “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

There is no video to this, but the music is amazing. Sandi Patty is superb.

10. Nearer, My God, to Thee Sarah Adams

This is the hymn I would like them to sing at my funeral. It is a simple statement of where I will be … “Nearer my God to Thee.”

And this is how I would like it sung.

11. I Can Only Imagine Mercy Me

I know the rules said ten; but I had to add an extra. It is one of the few modern praise songs that I enjoy. I have come to love the words..

Surrounded by your glory, What will my heart feel.
Will I dance for you Jesus, Or in awe of you be still.
Will I stand in your presence, To my knees will I fall.
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all.
I can only imagine.

What will you do at that moment. I don’t know, but I believe I will shout and sing to the Lord in a beautiful voice. Luke 19:40 - “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” How could I not sing in worship to the Lord.

When I was young I did not understand the overwhelming desire of so many of my fellow church members to get to heaven. They yearned for a closeness with their God that I did not understand. I feel at great peace here. I feel close to my God in prayer. We all have struggles on this earth, but it is God’s creation and we should enjoy what he has given us for this time. Knowing that in the next time we will be with Him.

After the death of my someone very close to me and then my mentor/pastor, I began to understand a little better this yearning for heaven. I still want to live fully on earth …

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely
in an attractive and well preserved body,
But rather to skid in sideways,
body thoroughly used up,
totally worn out and screaming
"WOO HOO what a ride!"

However, when I get to Heaven I know that standing next to Jesus will be my son. I believe Jesus will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” My son will say, “I love you mom.” I can’t wait for that day.

The video is a tribute to Team Hoyt. I encourage you to read more about them. They are some of my personal heroes.

One of the greatest resources for information on hymns comes from this book. It was a gift to my husband.

May 14, 2009

Spelling List Wordzzle

Boy-oneder had to write a story using his spelling words.  The assingment reminded me of Views From Raven's Nest weekly wordzzle challenge (which we have participated in exactly once).  Here it is.  The underlined words are his spelling words.

                                      MY TRIP TO THE SHOPPING MALL 

One peaceful night we looked in the pantry and realized we didn’t have any tuna for dinner. We all looked at each other, and then I got a idea. I happily said, “Let’s go to the grocery store.” We hopped in the car and drove off.  Usually we go to a grocery store 19 miles away, but there’s a new one 5 miles away. When we got there we met some homeless people and gave them some quarters. Other people were thoughtless and just passed them by. A beautiful store worker told us exactly where the tuna was. We were a little forceful while we were rummaging through the fish. We found the tuna and went to check it out when I realized my brother was missing. Dad stayed at the door in case he came back. We were clueless about where he was hiding.  We found him by the balloon man. He was lightly picking up a balloon that the balloon man dropped. We thought he was just being careless. We looked at Michael seriously and told him to come home with us. We easily bought the tuna. When we got home, Michael yelled, “Hey, the tuna is in the refrigerator!” We looked at each other, then we burst out laughing. For the next few weeks tuna was plentiful in our house.  That is the true story of how my brother became a balloon man’s assistant. 

May 13, 2009

Word of the Week

o⋅di⋅um  [oh-dee-uhm]


1. intense hatred or dislike, esp. toward a person or thing regarded as contemptible, despicable, or repugnant.
2. the reproach, discredit, or opprobrium attaching to something hated or repugnant: He had to bear the odium of neglecting his family.
3. the state or quality of being hated.

1595–1605; < L: hatred, equiv. to od(isse) to hate + -ium -ium

1. detestation, abhorrence, antipathy. 2. obloquy.

1. love.

odium. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc.

May 11, 2009

Our First Encounter with the Bard of Avon

started out as a disaster.

I guess I should begin with my good intentions. After years of reading in one of my daily go-to blogs (Mental-multivitamin) about the joy of sharing Shakespeare with kids, I decided to take the first step. Houston's wonderful Miller Outdoor Theatre and Houston Grand Opera's Opera To Go program were presenting an adapted version of Charles Gounod's Romeo and Juliet. School in May after TAKS tests are out of the way is a joke ... I knew this would be a better opportunity to learn than being in the classroom. Besides it was a beautiful day. We would sleep in, drive downtown to see the show, eat lunch at the zoo and make our way home.

Except J doesn't sleep in and was very grouchy in the morning. M didn't want to miss PE that day. My lovely husband kept asking (over and over) why I thought this was more important than school. And I was out of all breakfast making material.

By 8:30 everyone was in a bad mood. Especially me. I tend to get a little testy when the reality doesn't meet my expectation. After 14 years of marriage and 2 boys, one would think I might have gotten over that. I haven't. We were all a little tired from a VERY busy week and we were all hungry. I finally gave up on getting anyone in any of the clothes I would have liked them to wear and decided a nice leisurely breakfast at Starbucks with a steaming chai was out of the question.

M had on his favorite green and orange plaid pants and his best red, white, and blue striped shirt while J sported the jean shorts and moldy T-shirt look. We went through the What-A-Burger drive through. I put the audio version of The Last Olympian on my iPod, hooked it up to the radio, and drove to the theater in peace and quiet.

Thankfully, the reality got a lot closer to my vision as the day went on. I had prepared well for this excursion. J had an abridged version of Romeo and Juliet to read and M had a Romeo and Juliet word search to work on while we waited. The production was fun and lighthearted and only 45-minutes. We all enjoyed the performance and J said he would like to see the whole thing, even if it is three hours long.

I don't think my boys developed a life-long love of Shakespeare from the day, but at least they know who he is.

May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Thank you for giving me a life full of happy memories.

May 7, 2009

The Last Olympian

Rick Riordan's final book in the Percy Jackson series does not disappoint. The Last Olympianis a tour de force of battles, intrigue, love and ???

Don't worry, no spoilers here.

As he has done in his other books in the series, Mr. Riordan combines his knowledge of Greek mythology with a fine understanding of young people to create a book that will draw you in, hold your attention to the last and leave you begging for more.

Percy again battles the forces of the ancient Lord Kronos along with his friends from past adventures. For a time, enemies become allies; and, just like in any "mortal" family, everyone must work together to bring the story to its satisfying conclusion.

J's favorite character is Tyson. M's favorite is Mrs. O'Leary. As always, I am drawn to Annabeth. However, all of the characters are so well drawn as to seem real in the moment. Riordan's writing makes them jump off the page straight into our imaginations. He made me laugh out loud. He made us cheer. And the best part is: There's more to come!

Go buy this book. Buy lots of them and give them to every kid you know. That recommendation that says this is for ages 10 and up ... phooey. Give them to everyone. Read them with your kids. Give them to libraries. Read them with other peoples' kids. ENJOY!

Until you grace us with your writing again, Mr. Riordan. Thank you!

May 6, 2009

An Open Letter to Rick Riordan

Dear Mr. Riordan,

I just wanted to take a moment to say "Thank you." "Thank you," for signing our books. But "Thank you" for so much more.

Thank you for taking the time last year, even though we were 241st in line, to ask my two boys which god they wanted to be, which book they liked the best, and which part of that book they liked best. I care that your signature is in my 1st edition of The Lightening Thief, but they could care less. They cared that you took the time to talk about them. Because of that meeting, my 6 year-old Kindergarten student decided that he wants to be an author when he grows up "just like Rick Riordan." He sometimes has to explain to adults who Rick Riordan is and he often has to explain to his classmates what an author is, but he KNOWS what he wants to be. My 9 year-old, by the way, wants to be a National Park Ranger (at Camp Half-Blood if he could be) or the President of the United States.

Thank you for the conversation I overheard between my 9 year-old and his best friend about which god they would most like to have as a father. Thank you for the ability my kids have to chase the monsters out from under their beds with a ball-point pen. Thank you for the blue cake I served at a birthday party last year. Thank you for making a "real" girl a heroine.

Thank you for making Greek mythology fun. Thank you for helping them learn. Thank you for helping them see that a classroom is so much more than four walls.

But most of all, "Thank you" for the time you have given me with my boys. They grow up so fast, but thank you for the hours and hours we have sat and read your books together. Thank you for the minutes we have taken out of our busy life to sit in the car and listen to Jesse Bernstein read just a few more minutes of your books on tape. I thank you for that from the bottom of my heat.


This is a copy of the letter I wrote in a fit of insomnia last night. I intend to give it to Mr. Riordan when we see him today. If you haven't read his books, they are about much more then a few Greek gods. They are about spending time with your kids.

Word of the Week

in⋅cu⋅nab⋅u⋅la [in-kyoo-nab-yuh-luh, ing-] 

plural noun, singular -lum  [-luhm].

1. extant copies of books produced in the earliest stages (before 1501) of printing from movable type.
2. the earliest stages or first traces of anything.

1815–25; < L: straps holding a baby in a cradle, earliest home, birthplace, prob. equiv. to *incūnā(re) to place in a cradle (in- in- 2 + *-cūnāre, v. deriv. of cūnae cradle) + -bula, pl. of -bulum suffix of instrument; def. 1 as trans. of G Wiegendrucke

Related forms:
in⋅cu⋅nab⋅u⋅lar, adjective

incunabulum. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc.

Another Poem

I know national Poetry month is over. I never get tired of really great works, however, and this poem made me smile.

Ode on Dictionaries
by Barbara Hamby

A-bomb is how it begins with a big bang on page 
     one, a calculator of sorts whose centrifuge 
begets bedouin, bamboozle, breakdance, and berserk
     one of my mother's favorite words, hard knock 
clerk of clichés that she is, at the moment going ape 
     the current rave in the fundamentalist landscape 
disguised as her brain, a rococo lexicon 
     of Deuteronomy, Job, gossip, spritz, and neocon 
ephemera all wrapped up in a pop burrito 
     of movie star shenanigans, like a stray Cheeto 
found in your pocket the day after you finish the bag, 
     tastier than any oyster and champagne fueled fugue 
 you have been pursuing in France 
     for the past four months. This 82-year-old's rants 
have taken their place with the dictionary I bought 
     in the fourth grade, with so many gorgeous words I thought 
I'd never plumb its depths. Right the first time, little girl, 
     yet here I am still at it, trolling for pearls, 
Japanese words vying with Bantu in a goulash 
     I eat daily, sometimes gagging, sometimes with relish, 
kleptomaniac in the candy store of language, 
     slipping words in my pockets like a non-smudge 
lipstick that smears with the first kiss. I'm the demented 
     lady with sixteen cats. Sure, the house stinks, but those damned 
mice have skedaddled, though I kind of miss them, their cute 
     little faces, the whiskers, those adorable gray suits. 
No, all beasts are welcome in my menagerie, ark 
     of inconsolable barks and meows, sharp-toothed shark, 
OED of the deep ocean, sweet compendium 
     of candy bars—Butterfingers, Mounds, and M&Ms— 
packed next to the tripe and gizzards, trim and tackle 
     of butchers and bakers, the painter's brush and spackle, 
quarks and black holes of physicists' theory. I'm building 
     my own book as a mason makes a wall or a gelding 
runs round the track—brick by brick, step by step, word by word, 
     jonquil by gerrymander, syllabub by greensward
swordplay by snapdragon, a never-ending parade 
     with clowns and funambulists in my own mouth, homemade 
treasure chest of tongue and teeth, the brain's roustabout, rough 
     unfurler of tents and trapezes, off-the-cuff 
unruly troublemaker in the high church museum 
     of the world. O mouth—boondoggle, auditorium, 
viper, gulag, gumbo pot on a steamy August 
     afternoon—what have you not given me? How I must 
wear on you, my Samuel Johnson in a frock coat, 
     lexicographer of silly thoughts, billy goat, 
X-rated pornographic smut factory, scarfer 
     of snacks, prissy smirker, late-night barfly, 
you are the megaphone by which I bewitch the world 
     or don't as the case may be. O chittering squirrel, 
ziplock sandwich bag, sound off, shut up, gather your words 
     into bouquets, folios, flocks of black and flaming birds.

May 1, 2009

Percy, Again

Rick Riordan and Percy Jackson were in the Wall Street Journal this morning.

Rick Riordan

Mount Olympus for Kids

Read an except from The Last Olympian.


Visit Rick Riordan's website.

Previous posts:  here and here.