Archive for September, 2010


Commuting (e.g. long slow slogs across Chicago)

September 30, 2010

As you can see, I haven’t quite managed to get my other “6 favorite….” posts up and currently they are sitting neglected in my draft folder.  I still hope to get those together soon*, but don’t hold your breathe considering right now a victorious day involves tasks like getting out of bed, not having car accidents, book talking to middle school students and trying to not be a total hermit during my “free time” (with mixed results).

But what I really wanted to talk about is commuting.  If I haven’t talked about this enough, my student teaching placement is a good distance from my house, so my alarm goes off at 5:30am and I spend 45-55 minutes driving there and usually a little over an hour driving home every day.  And then on the days I have class in the evening I spend another hour driving there for a total of around 11 hours a week.  So here are a few things I have learned:

  • Round-a-bouts are a foreign concept in the US and therefore they are scary as all get out as cars inch/speed/change their minds around the circle on their way to their chosen lane.  Therefore the best tactic for surviving them is similar to crossing streets in China, be direct and travel in pairs!
  • Bring coffee with you in the morning, it makes sitting at traffic lights way more bearable.
  • Listening to NPR for both commutes is often too much, so I do NPR in the morning and random music stations in the afternoon.
  • Other drivers will always impress you with both their capability for pettiness (hello driver blocking the intersection who wouldn’t let me get past even after I made eye contact and honked my horn!) and kindness (thank you driver who let me in when I got surprised by a lane merge and did the obnoxious drive in the open lane past all the waiting cars thing).
  • Sunrises are gorgeous, even if you watch them through your rear-view mirror.

*Actually maybe I will save those idea for if I do another blog every day in November thing….oh good idea Abby!


6 favorite books read so far this year

September 23, 2010

While I haven’t talked a lot about the many books I have been reading this year, I have been keeping track of them on my Goodreads account, which if you are interested can be viewed by clicking on that little ole link on the right sidebar.  But if you don’t really want to click through and look at all the (many, many) books I have read this year (the combo of Literature for Children and pre-observation hours in middle schools means I have read a lot of children’s/young adult books), here are my top 6 (so far!) of the year (in no particular order):

Trouble by Gary Schmidt

This book ended up being much richer than I had originally imagined. Instead of just being a story about a boy dealing with grief and revenge, in ended up being about prejudice, cross-cultural encounters, forgiveness, tragedy and the restorative power of nature. While that sounds very heavy handed, Schmidt touches on all these themes in a very approachable middle school level and to top it off, creates one of the most memorable dog characters I have encountered in a long time. I would highly recommend this for both youth and adults, especially younger boys who may crave more identifiable male characters.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

If you haven’t read anything by Connie Willis before, you really need to get on this.  The first book I read by her was To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is a much more light-hearted romp than Doomsday Book.  However both are written in Willis’ trademark witty style and are set in a future where time travel has been discovered.  Unfortunately due to the constraints that make changes to history and the transfer of objects impossible, time travel has been left to “historians” who use the process to gain first hand knowledge of historical era.  In Doomsday Book, a rushed process ends up sending a young woman, not back to the aimed for early 1300s, but to the year that the Black Plague arrived in Oxford, England.  Her journey into this terrifying year when people with no knowledge of modern medicine encountered one of the deadliest diseases ever to strike Europe is both fast-paced and a fascinating look into the way people deal with apocalyptic events.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

While Graceling, with its strong female character facing incredible challenges, might seem similar to Hunger Games, the unique world created by Cashore and fascinating plot completely draw you in.  Set in a kingdom where some people are born with special gifts called “Graces”, Graceling follows the story of Katsa.  While some Graces are simple abilities such as cooking, singing, swimming, etc, Katsa has the ability to fight, defend and even kill with ease.  People with Graces are immediately sworn in allegiance to their king, so Katsa grows up as a trained assassin, but it is only have a complex plot to overthrow the separate kingdoms and unite them under one ruler that Katsa decides to take control of her own life and overcome the bloody nature of her Grace.  I found this to be a totally engrossing book both due to the fast-paced plot, but the wonderful characters that surround Katsa on her journey.
This is a great book for young fantasy readers (Upper Middle School and into High School), but I think adults would also enjoy it.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

I have read several of Chabon’s books before this, but this was is by far my favorite.  Set in New York City (and several other locations) this is the epic story of Joe Kavalier, Jewish escapee of Holocaust Hungary, Sam Clay, his cousin and business partner, and the brash, sprawling world of early comic book publishing.  I love it when stories spread themselves out over the years to tell stories of multiple generations and this book does just that, following the characters through ups and downs and into their futures.  Interspersed throughout the story are tales of the character the Escapist (created by Joe and Sam) and Joe’s experiences fighting in World War II, histories of various family members, etc.  While I felt engaged by reading this book, Chabon’s language and writing can get dense at times, but in the end I think it is highly worth it.

Bored-Nothing to Do! by Peter Spiers

What follows is a picture book evaluation I wrote for class, so enjoy my attempt at profesionalism!

This book follows two boys kicked out of their house with the admonition “Go do something”.  Inspired by an old propeller in the garage, they collect items from all over the house and start building an airplane.  After test-flying their creation, they are discovered by their parents, admonished and sent to their room–starting the cycle all over again.
Created by color wash over pen drawings, the illustrations range from small segmented squares to full two page spreads.  The level of detail in each painting carries the story, conveying characterization, setting, and action.  While younger children may find the illustrations too complicated, older children will enjoy re-reading the story to absorb every detail.  The sparse text also contains a strong emphasis on dialogue which helps create strong characters and smooth plot lines. Making good use of parallel structure, the text uses a repeated theme of listing the many items used in the boys’ creation.
Written in 1978, Bored – Nothing To Do! may come across as old fashioned parenting – oblivious parents, punishment by spanking delivered by the father, etc.  However, its portrayal of the moments of utter boredom found in any childhood, is timeless.  Due to the age of the book, I was unable to find any publisher reviews, however Peter Spier is a winner of the both the Caldecott Medal and Horn Book Award.  This book was a favorite of mine and one that I would continue to recommend to children today.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson

Violent, fast-paced, foreign and smart, this is everything you have ever wanted in an airplane book.  Plus the character of Lisbeth Salander, hacker, barely sociable, utterly tough woman, is one of my favorites from the year.  Even when you just want to shake her, you know you probably wouldn’t get away with it.


6 favorite new songs from the past year or so

September 19, 2010

1. Mumford & Sons – Several of you were victim to a mass email I sent out this summer after I discovered this group while driving home to Chicago one evening.  They are a West London group that sing Americana folk/bluegrass and have incredible depth of lyrics and harmonies.  Becca and I are both about fit to burst that we are going to see them live at the end of October when they come through Chicago.  While “Little Lion Man” was the song I originally fell in love with, their whole album “Sigh No More” is highly worth your time, just ask Katie 🙂

2. Rachel Ries – While Rachel’s music has been among my favorites for quite some time, this year I finally got my hands on her most recent full-length album “Without a Bird”.  She is a Chicago singer/writer/musician extraordinaire with Menno connections and while this grainy video does this song little justice, it is one of my favorites.  For a while earlier this year, this album would be what I listened to on repeat as I tried to go to sleep.  The tight harmonies created between Rachel and Ariel Bolles (the woman playing the upright bass) are so tight and haunting, combined with strong story-telling lyrics means that if this is an album you don’t have yet, you should fix that soon.

3. Tanya Davis – I first discovered this Canadian artist after seeing her beautiful spoken word piece “How to be alone”.  I liked the song so much, I dug around, found her record label and bought her most recent CD.  My favorite of her songs is “Thesaurus” which encapsulates much of her style of simple melodies, plaintive voice and a sound that is perfect for listening to while driving solo.

4. House of Doc – This is a group that my parents actually told me about, they heard them at a Mennonite worship/arts conference and my Mom actually used one of their songs at the most recent Hess reunion.  They are wonderful examples of what richness a few voices can produce when blended so perfectly.  I couldn’t find a good youtube video for these guys, so if you want to get an idea of their sound, head over to their MySpace page and listen to “Rain Before The Fall”

5. Emily Rodgers – This year is also when I got to hear Emily live for the first time in a non-Electric Brew setting.  It was a really incredible show and wonderful to see how her sound has shifted in the time since I had last heard her.  Another Goshen College/Bethany connection, Emily has an incredible voice that is now backed up by an entire band.  I think this NPR quote (from her website) really sums up her music, “a haunting, unforgettable voice that radiates with a surreal beauty. Though the songs are rooted loosely in traditional folk, Rodgers’ voice and the creaky production give it a creepy, slightly more experimental feel”.  If you click on that NPR link, you can find a free download of Hurricane from her new album “Bright Day”, but my favorite from the album is actually “In Spring Alchemy”.  But you should make up your own mind, by going over to her website and buying it for yourself.  Or better yet, go see her live the next time she is in town.

6. Adele – I am not sure entirely if I first heard of Adele this year, but I have been watching her song “Hometown Glory” on repeat for the past few weeks.  She is British and only 19 when her debut album won all kinds of awards and Grammys and she is a perfect example of the old soul (or at least old voice) in a young body.  I love this song and also consider it a perfect driving/reading or just sitting on the porch swing song.  Have a listen:


6 years of blogging

September 17, 2010

I am not really sure what to think of this fact, but today marks 6 years of typing random little tidbits and sending it out to random sets of eyes.  I am not sure how else to describe the act of blogging and I continue to have a mix of affection and chagrin for this blog.  I don’t tend to blog as much as I used to (or at least as much as I did back in October 2004 when my “21 picture posts celebration” of my 21st birthday pushed my total number of posts to 56). Looking back, I am not entirely sure of my original reasons for starting a blog, I know was hugely influenced by my good friends Steph and Katie.  As for why I keep writing this thing, here are my main 6 reasons:

  • Despite how many of my posts end up being lots of photos and a few words as description, I like how this practice does keep my writing.  Even if most of that writing is never proofread, tends to ramble, and utilize bullet-point lists all too frequently.
  • From Mirabella in Australia, to both the Emilys’ in Colorado (although one of them will very soon be transplanting to California!); from random relatives (some with their own blogs and some without), to my old MYF leader; from friends far and wide to my own lovely parents, to you random reader of this post – having an audience for this quasi-journal does help motivate me to keep posting.  And I love all your comments, nothing makes me feel less like a slightly puffed up me-me-me blogger rambling into the void, than when people say hello (hint hint hint).
  • Blogging inspires me to do things like this (click to see my mad animated gif skills):

  • While, I tend to write on this blog in chatty email fashion and less in private journal mode (I stick pretty strongly to the rule of “never write something I wouldn’t say to someone’s face”), it is a great record of my past.  The other day I started reading through bits and pieces of my archive and I was struck by just how much of myself and my own experience I have managed to record here.  Sure there are lots of holes and much that I hold back, but this blog actually does a decent job of reflecting my own thoughts and personality back at me.
  • Sometimes I just need a place to post random links and poems I find around the internet.
  • And finally my last reason is because once you do something for 6 years, sometimes it seems right to just keep on keeping on 🙂

Over the next few days I hope to bring a few other lists of 6 including new music, books I read this year, photos, posts, etc.  This of course is not intended in the biblical associations of 6, but merely a nod to how long I’ve been bumming around this ole blog.


a post that isn’t about vacations

September 11, 2010

I currently smell strongly of smoked hickory or whatever that particular odor of bonfires is, or at least I assume I do because I really can’t smell much right now thanks to my allergy/cold combo.  My room is re-arranged, recently vacuumed, but still containing a persistent patina of clutter.  Becca and I made applesauce today, or more accurately Becca made applesauce and let me turn the crank on the Victoria Strainer.  It is bright pink and super yummy.  Student teaching started this past week and I have a great placement.  I probably sneezed over 50 times today, thanks in large part to my decision to clean when my sinuses were already going haywire.  Last weekend I learned a new game while spending the weekend with my family, it is called Dominion and was quite fun actually.  This evening I mixed up a double batch of Amazing Overnight Waffles to make in the morning.  They are my favorites.  For some unknown reason my poor spider plant seems to be growing quite sickly and I am not sure how to make it happy again. While October is officially my favorite month, September is giving it a good run for its money.


Belated Vacation Recap: Vancouver

September 3, 2010

“Well, finally.” I assume you are all saying to yourselves, because I am sure you have all been waiting with bated breath to be forced once again to look at a bunch of vacation photos.  Anyways this time I tried really hard to whittle the number down a bit, because despite the fact that I was only there for a weekend, I managed to take a lot of pictures.

So brief recap:

  • Thursday evening: Becca, David and I successfully met up in downtown Seattle and got on the Vancouver or Bust bus.
  • Late Thursday evening: We arrived to our hostel around 9pm after a bus ride in which our stomachs had repeatedly given us some despairing stares due our lack of proper supper planning.  This led into our rather famished trip to a nearby Ethiopian restaurant (just two shops down from the hostel!) in which we had a very European supper.
  • Late late Thursday night: We laid in our hostel issue bunk beds and listened to the soft lullaby of throbbing bass beats and drunken sing-a-longs to Bohemian Rhapsody wafting up from the bar directly beneath our room.  I have had few moments where I felt more like a grumpy old woman than at 1am, where I briefly considered walking down there and telling them to keep it down!
  • Friday morning/afternoon: David, Becca and I set off to explore the city by means of walking places! We went to the library (duh!), across a big bridge, Granville Island, took a water taxi to the Science Museum, and then walked back towards downtown where we got the brilliant idea to go see Toy Story 3.
  • Friday evening: Tired from all that walking, David, Becca and I hung out in our hostel room waiting for Meryl to arrive and because (much to our stomach’s annoyance) we decided to wait to eat till she arrived.
  • Late Friday evening: Meryl arrived! There was much rejoicing and then a quick determined search for food which was rewarded by a great little bar down the street.  We ate, we drank, we laughed a lot and by the time we got back to the hostel, I didn’t mind the bar-sponsored lullaby nearly as much.
  • Saturday morning: We headed out for Chinatown, where we wandered around a gorgeous garden, had delicious dim sum (and horrible service) and then decided upon an afternoon plan.
  • Saturday afternoon: We drove over to Stanley Park (which turned out to be a horrible (the transportation, not the location) idea because everyone else in Vancouver was doing the same thing) We wandered around the Park looking at pretty things, eating ice cream, playing cards, etc.
  • Saturday evening: We continued north out of the city to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge, where I discovered that I am perhaps just a bit more concerned about walking across “very high things that sway back and forth” than I originally thought.  Then after a long search for a good nearby Indian food restaurant we ended up at a so-so Mexican restaurant, selected in large part due its proximity to our hostel.
  • Sunday morning: We got up and drove home.

Photo version:

Of course, I wanted to visit the library and I wasn't disapointed. It opened with this lovely 4 story atrium that even had the ATM I had been searching for. In addition they let anyone sign up for a library card that allows them 1 free year of wireless access. I now have library cards from 3 countries! Also in the atrium they had several really lovely quotes hanging on the walls including this one, "We are each of us angels with only one wing and we can only fly by embracing one another."

To get to Granville Island we walked across this big bridge which offered both lovely views of the city and the river/bay/water that surounds it on the south.

This was quite beautiful, calm, quiet and with lots of floors made out of carefully arranged stones which gave great food massages when you walked across them barefoot. It was also reminded me a lot of the Chinese garden I visited in Portland.

I also love how this garden was so small and stuck in the middle of a bustling city, but could still completely take you away to a very different place.

Such yummy food and so many little plates, this was a great meal except for the fact that they seemed to forget about us part way through and we waited around 45 minutes for our last dish.

Definitely scarier than I anticipated. For some reason I could not get the picture of the bridge twisting completely around and flipping us all out and down into the canyon. Luckily enough, this didn't happen.

And finally, I will leave you with this awesome photo that Becca took. I love my friends!