Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Loving the Language of the LETTER

American Literature On-line Discussion

For some readers, one obstacle to enjoying The Scarlet Letter fully is the language, which is literary, dense, sometimes archaic, and unfamiliar to modern audiences. Most readers, however, quickly become accustomed to it and soon come to enjoy Hawthorne's language: the interesting way he describes a person, a setting, a thought, an emotion, etc. "Cracking the code" of the language opens up the possibility of "getting into" the language. That's the focus of this discussion prompt:

Locate a sentence or brief passage from The Scarlet Letter that you feel is an example of beautiful or interesting or well crafted language. Type out the sentence or passage in quotation marks, provide its page number, and then explain why it appeals to you--what's so great about the way Hawthorne writes that particular section? What makes it beautiful or interesting or well crafted?

One rule: do not use the same sentence/passage as a previous post-er, although you may refer to previous posts to say how your selected passage is like or unlike theirs.

P.S. Want to comment on previous on-line discussion topics? Click here if you have thoughts about Puritans and/or The Crucible. Click here if you have thoughts about the joys or difficulties of early American literature.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Poker Night

My friend Jay has invited me and several of our friends to his house for a poker night sometime soon. There will be food and beverages and, unfortunately, cards. Not that I'm opposed to cards, mind you. I'm just opposed to card games that I don't know how to play. I've offered to cover the eating and drinking duties while the others take care of the poker playing, but none of them is much of a poker player, either. It will be the blind leading the blind. Here's the kind of card "shark" that I am:

(Sherman's Lagoon, September 23, 2005)

Fall TV

The new season of television programs has begun. Every magazine and newspaper for weeks has featured its own take on what's hot to watch and what's not. Well, I myself am a student of popular culture and have enjoyed a television program or two in my day. Perhaps it's time I weighed in on the issue of what's worth watching among all the new programs vying for our attention on television. After all, we're all busy enough not to devote too much time to the boob tube, aren't we? Everything in moderation.

(Except reading. Read voraciously!)

Invasion -- I recorded the first episode but haven't watched it yet. It followed Lost and kept most of Lost's viewers on its season premiere; that's a good sign.
Night Stalker -- I have heard very good things about how scary this one is. It premieres next week, so I may have to try it out.

Kitchen Confidential -- My judgment: "Meh." (Hey, that's better than its outright negative alternative: "Feh!") It was okay with some likeable actors, but it wasn't outstanding, and my time is too valuable to commit to a series that only might be good.
Prison Break -- Ditto Kitchen Confidential's "meh." It has the potential to be engaging in a way similar to 24, but it's not as intense as 24 and, again, I must parcel out my weekly TV commitments.

My Name Is Earl -- I recorded the first episode but haven't watched it yet. It has gotten good buzz and got excellent ratings, so I may be happy with what I see.
The Apprentice: Martha Stewart -- I watched the first episode just to sample. I don't watch Donad Trump's Apprentice, so I couldn't really compare the two. Also, I don't plan to add this one to my viewing schedule; I just wanted to see how Martha handled it and what her catchphrase is (instead of Trump's "You're fired," it's, "You just don't fit in"). Martha seemed friendly but firm in the first episode, but still, it's likely to be the only episode I ever see.
Three Wishes -- I tried to record the first episode, but I failed as a VCR programmer and got only the first few minutes. Eh bien. I still want to see at least one episode. I'm sure it will be a tear fest, and that's sure to be cathartic if nothing else. Note to self: watch while alone in own house so as not to humiliate self around friends.

Everybody Hates Chris -- Recorded; haven't seen it; heard great things about it; got good ratings; more to tell in the future.

Supernatural -- Like Night Stalker, this show was reputed to be v-e-r-y scary. Well, at the most, it was "v-e-r-y" without the hyphens. It has an okay premise, but unless they reduce the amount of exposition and increase the amount of unanswered questions about the characters themselves, there will be no reason to tune in from week to week. One could just catch an episode here and there and never feel like one has missed out on much in between.

Now, mind you, this doesn't account for the television shows I'm already committed to. And, as you can see, although I've sampled some new TV, I'm not adding much to my roster. Time is too precious. I'm definitely not an anti-TV snob, but I am a pro-quality TV snob, I guess. Your opinion of what "quality TV" is might be different from mine, of course, but you have the right to be wrong.

(Disagree with me on anything above? Share a comment!)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Those Wacky Puritans!

American Literature On-line Discussion

We've read some Pilgrim (William Bradford) and Puritan (Jonathan Edwards) literature and some background information on Puritan beliefs and traits. We watched a program (the History Channel's Witch Hunt) and read an historical court document ("The Examination of Sarah Good") about the Puritans' Salem witch trials. And we've just begun to read a modern American play (Arthur Miller's The Crucible) about that very topic. So here's your next question(s):

What are your thoughts on, reactions to, or questions about (1) Puritans? (2) the Salem witch trials? (3) the plot, characters, themes, symbols, etc., of The Crucible? [Take your pick!]

P.S. Want to post to the previous question? Find it here.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Oh . . . my . . . goodness, but I am having fun! I'm in the midst of directing East Grand Forks Senior High School's annual children's theatre production, which this year is Karen Boettcher-Tate's version of Rapunzel. Good scripts for children's theatre don't seem to be that easy to find, but I lucked out this summer when I found this one. It's a funny retelling of the familiar tale of Rapunzel with plenty of interesting characters and opportunities for zaniness on stage. It's been a good script to work on, and it's one that will appeal to our audiences of elementary students as well as their parents.

Best of all so far have been the students themselves! We sometimes refer to the children's theatre production as the freshman play because freshmen get first priority in casting; it's our effort to get ninth-graders involved in theatre at the high school without the pressure of competing with upperclassmen for parts. Sophomores through seniors, though, serve on all the crews and help to train the backstage freshmen. They're great helpers, and the two senior assistant directors/stage managers--Katie D. and Kaitlin W.--have been invaluable at organizing, errand-running, and working with small groups of actors when I'm working with others onstage.

And the cast is marvellous. They all suit their roles remarkably well, either because of brilliant casting (ahem) or because they took their assigned roles and made them their own. They all take direction very well and clearly "get" both the humor of the script and my own special humor that I'm imposing on the production! They even have, and share (respectfully), their own good ideas for adding to the comedy without going overboard. They listen extremely well and stay focused throughout rehearsals. They're good-humored and pleasant to be around. I can't believe what a good group this is.

Auditions were September 1 and 2. We had a read-through September 6 and blocked the show the 7th and 8th with a first run-through the 9th. They were off book September 12, and we've been working scenes and running the show this week (September 13-16). That leaves us next week to continue rehearsing before the public performance Monday, September 26. Our matinee performances for the elementary schools (three shows for about 300 kids at each) are September 29-30. Then we'll be done! From auditions to final strike, it will have been exactly one month. That's quick.

I highly recommend you see this show on the 26th at 7:00 P.M. in the Performing Arts Center (1420 4th Ave. NW, East Grand Forks, MN). Tickets are $2 apiece, available at the door--but EGF Public Schools K-12 students with an activity pass are admitted free! It's a funny show with a great cast and humor for audience members of all ages.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Interesting or Difficult? Or Some of Each? Discuss!

Attention young scholars!!

(This pertains to you if you are currently enrolled in college-credit American Literature at East Grand Forks Senior High School.)

The first day of school, you practiced posting comments to this blog in order to prepare for one requirement of the course, which is that you participate in an on-line discussion at least six times per quarter. You do that by reading the questions I post to the blog, reading one another's comments, and then responding by sharing your own comments.

Your comment should be about a paragraph long (NOT only a few words or only a sentence or two!). Whenever possible, you should refer to one another's comments in your own--for example, "I agree with Shelly's idea that . . ." or "Unlike Fred, I enjoyed the . . ." That way, I'll know that you're interacting with one another's ideas and not just posting your own while ignoring everybody else's!

Remember to click the "Other" button beneath the text box and type in your first and last names when you've finished your comment. Then, type in the random letters beneath that (to show my blog that you're not a computerized spammer), and then click the blue "Login and Publish" button to publish your comment. Got it?

So alright, American Literature smarty-pantses, here's your first real on-line discussion question:

What makes the early American literature that we've read either interesting or difficult to read?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

I'm Pooped

The fall semester at East Grand Forks Senior High School began this past Thursday, September 1. Yes, we had a two-day first week of school before taking a three-day Labor Day weekend, and I for one needed this break! Oof, but I was plumb tuckered out at the end of each school day this week. I always forget over the summer just how relentless a typical school day is. For example, here were my first two days (stuff specific to Thursday is in blue and to Friday in green):

7:45-8:20 -- morning duty: patrol the hallways, greet the students, make the rounds

8:30-9:20 -- American Literature: take them to the computer lab to read and respond via e-mail to the syllabus and course standards on-line, to post comments to our on-line discussion board (on my blog), and to start their two-paragraph writing assignment due tomorrow; collect their homework and lead them on a half-mile walk to the Red River to observe nature and write descriptively from an assigned perspective (either early Native American or European explorer circa 16th century) that will become relevant Tuesday when we talk about the origins of American literature

9:23-10:13 -- preparation period: get ready for the rest of the day

10:16-11:06 -- Study Hall: take them to the library to check out a book for those days when they have no homework to do; try in vain to help them with their math homework

11:09-11:36 -- brunch period: skip eating altogether in order to use the restroom and finish errands for later class periods; eat in the faculty room with other teachers and wonder how my feet are going to hold up through all the afternoon hikes to the river

11:39-12:29 -- American Literature: same as above

12:32-1:22 -- Advanced Writing: the same trip to the computer lab as above, but with a different writing assignment for homework; collect their homework and lead them in a discussion of it followed by an in-class written self-assessment of writing strengths and weaknesses and then a trip to the school's outdoor courtyard to enjoy the weather and start filling in a self-identity quiz that will be the springboard for their first writing project next week

1:25-2:15 -- English 11: same as American Literature (the two courses will begin to differ next week, because American Literature is a college-credit course that requires more and more challenging work) [my third mile-long roundtrip walk to the river]

2:18-3:08 -- English 11: same as above [my fourth trip--I can feel the blisters forming on my heels]; upon returning to the high school, discover my 2nd-grade daughter crying outside the building, worried because she couldn't remember if she was supposed to ride the bus home or come to my school (two blocks from her school) and a little panicked because she could neither reach my wife on the phone at home nor find me once she arrived at my classroom

3:30-5:00 -- conduct auditions for the annual children's theatre production

5:00-5:55 -- prepare for tomorrow's classes, then go home for supper and an extremely early bedtime

3:10 -- bring my daughter to the Performing Arts Center to spend time with the children's theatre student directors while I attend a meeting

3:15-3:45 -- attend a meeting about a student (scheduled without concern for my pre-existing commitment to conduct children's theatre auditions at 3:30)

3:45-4:15 -- get hijacked by a prospective play director who has questions for me concerning budgets and personnel

4:15-5:30 -- arrive at auditions extremely late and join the student directors who have been conducting them in my absence; wrap them up, cast the show, and assign technical crews; bring my daughter home

Notice the ten-hour days without breaks for restroom use or simple rests to collect thoughts and recharge energy (unless I sacrifice precious minutes from my morning preparation period to do so). And normally my evening hours are spent reading homework and preparing for the following day; I was just too wiped out this week to begin that yet.

A definite plus is that I have pretty likeable students. Once my body gets back into school mode, my school day schedule should (sadly) seem less shocking. In the meantime, I'm using the long weekend to catch up on my reading of Thursday night's homework and to prepare for the weeks ahead.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Post-Operative Abigail

Abigail's tonsils and adenoids are no longer in her body. Wednesday, August 31, Abigail had them removed at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, North Dakota by Dr. Greg Lapp. We dropped off Suzanna and Hillary at our friend Jennifer's home for the morning, and when Susan was inside with the girls, Abigail told me in the van, "My tummy feels joyous" (she was in a good mood for her surgery). Susan, Abigail, and I were at the hospital before 7:45 A.M. Abigail brought Pink Blanky (yes, her name for her pink blanket) and Bobo (a stuffed monkey), too, for moral support.

Abigail had been very excited about her tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy ever since it was initially scheduled, so she was an excellent patient that day. We checked her into Same-Day Surgery where she responded very politely and enthusiastically to all their questions. They put an I.D. bracelet around her ankle and then sent her to wait in the kids' play room until the doctor was ready for her (Susan and I had to sit next door in the boring adult waiting room).

Finally we were called back to a room where Abigail changed into a hospital gown and a surgical bonnet ("Cool!") and hopped onto a bed on a trolley. Some nurses showed her the mask she would breathe from in order to fall asleep before the surgery, and they let her choose a flavor of chapstick (her choice: raspberry) to smear inside the mask so that that would be what she smelled as she drifted away. The anesthesiologist introduced himself, told Abigail what would happen, and asked if she had questions. Unfortunately, he was from India and spoke with a heavy accent that Abigail apparently couldn't crack; the dumbfounded look on her face as he spoke and her simple nod at everything he said (even at "Do you have any questions?") were priceless.

She was asked multiple times throughout the morning by numerous people, "Do you have any questions?" and she always answered "no." The final time, though, she did ask the surgical nurse if it would hurt to have her tonsils removed. Susan and I were suddenly heartbroken. Then they wheeled her away from us, and we both felt like crying. What were we doing to our little girl?! I told Susan, "Just think what torture it must be for parents whose children are having really serious surgeries."

We were very relieved when the doctor came to us in the waiting room about 45 minutes later to say that everything had gone just as planned. Not too long after that, we were allowed to join her in the recovery room. She was coherent but groggy and told the nurses that it hurt "just a little bit." She had an I.V. in her left hand wrapped under a bandage, her voice was incredibly high, and she winced with every swallow of ice water. She ate a few bites of flavored gelatin (not Jell-O) and, later, an entire popsicle. Mostly she was uncomfortable and didn't know whether she wanted us to hug her or leave her alone.

After they gave her Tylenol with codeine, she was able to take a brief nap. When she woke up, she was wide awake, energized, and ready to leave the hospital. We had to wait until her I.V. had mostly run out, and she got impatient. Suddenly she wasn't feeling pain, she wasn't talking particularly strangely, and she was her normal bubbly self. When she hopped off the bed to use the bathroom, she first did a little dance, looked down at her legs, and told us, "Yep, they still work." On the way back from the bathroom, the nurse held the I.V. bag, but Susan wasn't allowed to hold Abigail's hand; instead, Abigail had Susan hold shut the hospital gown so that people wouldn't see Abigail's panties. Back at her bed, Abigail noticed my impatience, too, and told me, "Read your book. That'll keep you amused." I questioned her use of the word "amused," and she responded to my prompts with, "Well, I'm not amused at all" and "I wish I had something along to amuse me."

She was so polite to all the nurses during check-in, pre-op, and post-op (both when she was feeling awful and when she was feeling better) that they decided they wanted all their patients to be like her. She got a wheelchair ride to the parking lot, and Daddy carried her the rest of the way to the vehicle. That marked her fourth stay at Altru: for her birth (emergency C-section), for an infant surgery to open a tear duct, for a respiratory virus (a few nights' stay) when she was a year-and-a-half, and now for tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy at age six.

She went into the pharmacy with Susan to pick up the pain relief prescriptions, and she was so energetic that the woman behind the counter assumed she was the well sister helping out her Mommy for the sister who had just had surgery! Throughout the next few days, the pain worsened, though. She stopped opening her jaws to speak and even stopped speaking if she could figure out a way to pantomime what she wanted. She would grasp our hands and squeeze every time she had to swallow. She would let her saliva pool in her mouth and swallow it all at once infrequently rather than have to swallow at a more often, regular pace. She wanted cuddling a lot more, but she couldn't always decide from whom or for how long. It's been hard to get food into her--and to keep it in. However, this morning began with her gulping down an entire glass of water and making plans for the day, so maybe she's on an upswing now. Let's hope so. It's so hard to see her feeling so awful.

Her grandpa, aunts, and uncles on Susan's side have all called and e-mailed to see how she's doing and cheer her up, and many of our friends and my coworkers have sent her e-mails or well wishes via me, too. The doctor told us to expect her to feel back to normal within a week, and for the scabs in the back of her throat (pretty image, huh?) to be gone by the week after that. Then she can return to normal play, food, and exercise at school. We hope that she won't suffer any longer from the incessant sore throats that plagued her throughout past winters.

Friday, September 02, 2005

R.I.P., Raoul

Raoul Sparky Bubbles has gone to that big aquarium in the sky.

You may recall that Raoul became the official fish of room 101 in February (a Valentine's gift from my family). He amused my students for four months, and they paid him attention and spoke kind words through the plastic of his tank. Then summer came, so Raoul moved home with me and lived on an end table in the living room, amusing my children and their friends who came over to play all summer long.

My wife took over feeding him in the summer (and had always cleaned his tank), so I spent less and less time with Raoul, and eventually we "drifted" [ahem] apart. I hadn't spoken to Raoul in perhaps weeks when my wife changed his water Tuesday night. Tuesday, August 30, 2005. A night that shall go down in infamy.

"Mommy, Raoul's asleep," Abigail said, coming into the living room and lying on her side on the floor, her arms floating in the air to demonstrate Raoul's position and the stillness of his fins in the water. Indeed, Raoul had fallen asleep--the sleep from which no fish ever again awakes. We let him rest overnight, hoping we would awake in the morning to find him refreshed and swimming around like normal. Alas, it was not to be. Come Wednesday morning, Raoul was definitely dearly departed.

Suzanna and I brought Raoul out to the alley, thinking we would put him on the gravel road as an offering to the birds and cats of the neighborhood. Raoul would have wanted it that way, we thought--the whole "circle of life" thing. So his death was not in vain (at least from some creature's perspective, be it vermin or animal); and his memory shall live on, especially in the minds of my children who paid him so much attention and so loved to refer to him every time by all three of his names. Thus shall I memorialize him, in their honor and in his:

Raoul Sparky Bubbles
Beloved Betta Buddy
February 2005 - September 2005