Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Spirit of Christmas Past

Christmas has always been a favorite time of year for me, not least because of the Christmas break that teachers get. The holiday season has always meant great music, beautiful winter weather, and time with friends and family.
Since Christmastime is such a favorite, it is hard for me to understand how Scrooge-ified I have become over the last few years. Maybe it is because I am married to JC and Christmas is not the big she-bang in Spain that it is here. Perhaps it is because that during four of the last five years, we have traveled for Christmas and didn't feel like putting up decorations. Maybe it is because the opportunities for singing at Christmastime are virtually non-existent here, and I am just not getting into the spirit. Or it could be any combination of graduate work, thesis and dissertation-writing, or the fact that we don't have small children around to inspire us. Anyway, We haven't put up a Christmas tree in 5 years, at least. So this year we decided we were going to haul out the tree (fake on top of everything else) and all our old decorations and see what we could do to help ourselves get back on track. I can think of a lot of things that I could have done with the time that it took to move furniture around, put up the tree, find the decorations and get them onto the tree, but we did enjoy talking about the things that we did during Christmases past.

Juan Carlos and I made these the first Christmas we were married. We were living with my parents for a couple of months before they left for Guatemala and we were going to be staying in the house while they were gone. I actually have a picture of us putting the potpourri into the glass balls, but no scanner, so no luck! In my scrapbook I have the picture and pieces of wrapping paper from that first Christmas together, when we wrote each other love notes all over our gifts to each other.

I made these our first Christmas in North Carolina. I am not sure whether we went to Utah to visit that year, but I remember that we were trying to save money so we didn't go too all out for this one. We sat at the kitchen table and JC told me what to put with which flower, (JC is much more artistic than I am and if we disagree on aesthetics, we always go with his decision, since if I decorate it without question always ends up uglier.) and helped me tie them all together.

This year, instead of making ornaments (which, let's face it, we have not a lot of time or talent for), we decided to add to our Christmas village. One thing we have learned living here is that we will probably always need to live near the ocean. So we added a lighthouse this year and a pet store (for obvious reasons but also because it is cute).

Anyway, our tree is a big mess of ornaments but as we said to each other today, at least we have one this year. And we had a great time remembering.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My New Favorite Books

I confess to being an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy. I love it. I am enthralled by it. I am envious of people who can even conceive of alternate worlds, languages or realities, let alone being able to write an understandable and entertaining novel about them. Don't get me wrong, I love the other stuff too, but I have had a passionate relationship with fantasy since I was small. I think the first example I remember was The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm, edited by Lore Segal and illustrated by the wonderful Maurice Sendak. My mother bought me this book when I was 8 or 9 after realizing that if she wanted me out from underfoot, books were the way to go. Anyone who has read the real version of Grimm's fairy tales knows that in addition to being wildly entertaining, they can be very dark, as well. I remember being completely fascinated with Godfather Death, which is perhaps a bit morbid for a 9 year old.

A few other favorites from elementary school and junior high are The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley. McKinley had such an impact on me that to this day I instantly buy anything she writes. She is a wonderful writer for girls of all ages, and she even worked her magic on a boy I once dated and whom I harrassed into reading one of her books.

I remember well two novels by William Sleator that I read while on forced house arrest while living very much against my will in Guatemala. Since it was dangerous for young, American girls to be out on the streets by themselves and since my parents could not afford private school, we were home-schooled for six months and loathed every minute of it. Books became my number one escape. Anyway, I was fifteen at the time and the Sleator books were actually for my little brother, who was 9. I enjoyed them very much anyway, and I still have copies on my own bookshelves. Interstellar Pig is about a boy who gets drawn into an exciting board game with some local tourists involving interstellar wars and conquest (think Risk in space with lots of creatures) and how he reacts when the interstellar wars turn out to be real and Earth is the next planet to be conquered. Singularity is about a teen-aged boy who is resentful of his twin brother who is both popular and condescending. He finds a space warp where time in the warp is faster than in the regular world. He gets the idea to spend a night in the time warp (one year in warp time) so that he will be older than and therefore less a victim of his self-centered brother. Very appropriate literature for an angry 15-year old who hated being stuck with her family 24/7.

In high school a boyfriend of mine introduced me to the Robotech books and also David Eddings. Again, fantasy and sci-fi with very little reality involved and perfect for escaping teenaged angst. I first read Ender's Game in high school, as well, which opened the door to many more Orson Scott Card novels. Though I love Card's books and look forward to when they come out, the bonus has been his weekly column, Uncle Orson Reviews Everything. He really does review everything, and almost all of it is very entertaining reading, but what I love is that he reviews all sorts of books. I really don't know where he finds the time to read as much as he does, and I don't always agree with his reviews, but his fantasy and scifi recommendations are always excellent. Which leads me to my favorite of the moment, the Inda series by Sherwood Smith. Smith writes mostly literature for young adults but this series is intended for adult readers. The series follows Inda, the second son of a military regional leader who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and as a result is exiled from his home and academy training and ends up at sea on a trading ship. If you are looking for light reading this is not the series for you, and Smith's Inda world is built entirely on a military society, so if you don't like to read about war and intrigue, then you should pass this one by. However, Smith's characters have great depth and even within a story built around war the focus is on human nature and human relationships and all the complexity involved. I keep thinking about that world even though I finished the latest installment, King's Shield, weeks ago. That is the sign of great writing.
So, until I find new favorites, these are the books that I must now find space for on my bookshelves, so that I can pull them off and dive in whenever I want.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wasting Time

There is a lot that I avoid doing on a periodic basis. I avoid doing dishes, grading papers, going shopping, folding laundry....need I go on? Well, lately I have found a way to avoid doing all of these things at the same time.

This is a livecam that I check in on at LEAST five times a day and through which I am endlessly entertained.
If it does not work in Internet Explorer, try Firefox. Yes, it's worth it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Day At The Museum

Today my AP class went to the RISD museum which is about a half a mile from the Wheeler School in Providence, RI. One of my friends does tours in Spanish for the museum so the class was able to have a tour and discuss Spanish and Latinamerican art in Spanish!

It was a wonderful visit. The students really enjoyed going through all the different periods and learning the history behind some of the art works. The favorite of the day, however, is an exhibit that is on right now by Dale Chihuly, a glass artist who actually attended RISD in the 1960's and began their famous glass program.

For those of you who think you have never seen or heard of Chihuly, I bet you have! He did several glass structures for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Remember?

Anyway, here is a picture of my students in front of their favorite piece. It made them feel very dramatic. I am afraid the lighting is not very good, but you can get the idea.

This weekend we are off on another adventure as we visit La Arepa, a Venezuelan restaurant that specializes in arepas, which are a kind of corn cake that you split open and stuff with meat, cheese, vegetables, or whatever else you want.

Don't you wish you were in my class?