Learn Something New Every Day!

Posts tagged ‘reading’


“Be awesome!  Be a book nut!”  Dr. Seuss

“Think and wonder, wonder and think.”  Dr. Seuss

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”  Dr. Seuss

Theodore Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904.  His early work includes being a teacher, advertiser and political cartoonist, but he is best known as a children’s author.  Geisel started using the pen name “Dr. Seuss” while attending Dartmouth College. It’s a fun story.  He was caught drinking on campus during prohibition and was ordered to stop working on the campus humor publication called Dartmouth Jack-o-Lantern.  Instead, he published under a different name!  (No wonder I like this guy!)

hortonHe published his first book To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street in 1937.  Over his lifetime, he published over 60 books, including classics such as Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957), Green Eggs and Ham (1960) and one of my favorites Horton Hears a Who! (1955). He and his work are loved by millions around the world!  He died from cancer in 1991.  If he were alive today. Dr. Seuss would be celebrating his 113th birthday.

In 1998, the National Education Association named Dr. Seuss’ birthday as Read Across America Day as a way to celebrate this great man and the love of reading his work often inspires.  A great way to celebrate would be to read one of his books—or really anything at all!  By yourself is fine, but reading with kids is even better.  Giving children the love of reading is one of the best gifts anyone can offer.


placesI am celebrating today by reading Oh, the Places You’ll Go! written by Dr. Seuss in 1990.  This was the last book Seuss published.  Its main message is to be brave, to get out there doing things, to not let fear and obstacles make you wait, wait, wait.  As Seuss concludes, “Today is your day!  Your mountain is waiting.  So. . . get on your way!”  When initially published, it reached the top of the New York Times Best Selling Fiction Hardcover List.  Every spring, its sales surge a bit as the book is given as a gift for many high school and college graduates.  All his works offer life lessons that are worth sharing at any age!



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“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”

“I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells.”

 “Step with care and great tact, and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.”

 “You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.  You’re on your own, and you know what you know.  And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”


“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”

 “Think left and think right and think low and think high.  Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

 “Being crazy isn’t enough.”

 “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

 “Today was good.  Today was fun.  Tomorrow is another one.”

 “Only you can control your future.”

 “You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.”

 “To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.”

 “There’s no limit to how much you’ll know, depending how far beyond zebra you go.”

 “It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.”


This is one of Dr. Seuss’ political cartoons from over fifty years ago.  Sad that it still seems relevant today.  I wonder what he would make of the world today.


For the Wonder of Books: National Book Lover’s Day

Me ReadingI have always loved reading, even when I was a kid. 

But if you need an excuse to read a book, this is it:  Today is National Book Lover’s Day! 

Still—it seems to me—every day should be considered National Book Lover’s Day.  Books are the best gifts and the best friends in the world.  They open doors to adventure, people and ideas.  They build bridges and create communities.  Books inspire awe and wonder, outrage and determination, insight and understanding.  They teach lessons, build awareness, spark imagination, and present possibilities.  They can awaken readers to love and prejudice, commitment and injustice, degradation and renewal—and the courage to make a difference.

One of the best things about being retired is I can spend so many hours reading, without the worry of having to attend an early meeting after a sleepless night, just because I could not stop turning pages!  I always have books going, usually one at a time, but sometimes with several open wherever I sit and relax.  One of the best things about owning a kindle is that I can bring a decent library with me wherever I go.  Getting stuck in traffic as lanes are cleared of an accident’s aftermath or waiting much too long for the doctor to get back from an emergency is not so bad, if I can read.

ladies 16My fall back for fun reading is a good murder mystery.  If a dog or animal is part of the plot, even better.  I do have favorite authors who I wish would publish new books more often:  Tony Hillerman and now his daughter Anne Hillerman, Barbara Kingsolver, and Alexander McCall Smith come to mind.  A favorite I have only recently discovered is Stan Jones, who brings life in small town Alaska to life.

Robert bookJust recently I finished a novel by a cousinit is so cool to know actual authors! His novel turns the fear and hatred from current headlines into a war novel about a terrorist invasion in America in 2016.  I posted my review of his book—Robert Owens’ America’s Trojan War—on Amazon, if you want to take a look.  Yesterday, I reread The Little Prince to be filled again with the love and hope that silencecomes from being tamed as well as the appreciation of flowers and foxes and little travelers that only someone who never truly grows up can understand.  Several books ae coming up next on my to-read list:  Joyce Carol Oates’ In Rough Country: Essays and Reviews; Louise Erdrich’s The Game of Silence; Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, and Carl Safina’s Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. 

terribleWhenever someone asks me for reading suggestions, I mention my favorites.  But, of course, no one can go wrong with the classics from Shakespeare animaliato Angelou, Faulker to Morrison.  And there is not much better than Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find.  More recent authors you might like are J.K. Rowlings for her Harry Potter series, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, or any title by Sherman Alexie.   For kids, anything by Dr. Seuss is always fun as are Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth and Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Even Graeme Base’s picture book Animalia is a great place to start.  The title does not really matter.  If it captures your fancy, it is worth the effort.

The point is to read!

Personally, I would love to hear what you have been reading, so I can add more titles to my neverending list of books-to-read-next.  There’s another fun book, The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.


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Dr. Seuss always offers good advice:


“To be allowed, no, invited into the private lives of strangers, and to share their joys and fears, was a chance to exchange the Southern bitter wormwood for a cup of mead with Beowulf or a hot cup of tea and milk with Oliver Twist.”  Maya Angelou

“Oh, how scary and wonderful it is that words can change our lives simply by being next to each other.”   Kamand Kojouri

“Free time is a terrible thing to waste.  Read a book.”  E. A. Bucchianeri

“With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates.  It is the most democratic of institutions because no one—but no one at all—can tell you what to read and when and how.”  Doris Lessing

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road.  They are the destination, and the journey.  They are home.”  Anna Quindlen

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.”  Ernest Hemingway

“She reads books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”  Annie Dillard

“The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it.”  Dylan Thomas

“Some women have a weakness for shoes.  I can go barefoot if necessary.  I have a weakness for books.”  Oprah Winfrey

“You can find magic wherever you look.  Sit back and relax, all you need is a book.”  Dr. Seuss

“If you want your child to be intelligent, read them fairytales.  If you want your child to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales.”  Albert Einstein

“You will be transformed by what you read.”  Deepak Chopra

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.”  Marcel Proust

“We shouldn’t teach great books.  We should teach a love of reading.”  B. F. Skinner

“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  C. S. Lewis

“This is part of the beauty of literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone.  You belong.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”  Lemony Snicket

“From your parents you learn love and laughter and how to put one foot in front of the other.  But when books are opened, you discover you have wings.”  Helen Hayes

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”   Confucious

“There are many ways to enlarge your child’s world.  Love of books is the best of all.”  Jacqueline Kennedy

“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books.  But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”  J. K. Rowling

“Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier.”  Kathleen Norris

“To learn to read is to light a fire.”  Victor Hugo

“The book to read is not one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think.”  Harper Lee

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.”  Garrison Keillor

“All I have learned, I learned from books.”  Abraham Lincoln

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”  Cicero

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”  Mark Twain

Some last words from Dr. Seuss:


2015: Taking Action!

Bing Images

Bing Images

I turned 60 years old the other day.  I do not feel old.  Older?  I vacillate between being appreciative and upset when I am automatically given a senior discount.  I resent the myriad of life insurance coverage and funeral payment plan offers I have been receiving.  Other than those minor irritations, I really do not think about age.  I am just me, doing what I do.  But I am officially retired this year, so that fact is part of the filter with which I will reflect on 2014 and plan for 2015.

Last year was hard.  Dad died in early February.  He was old, ready to go and did not suffer at the end.  He went quickly and even enjoyed his daily piece of chocolate that morning.  The grief was a constant companion throughout the year, but—over time—the memories shifted more and more to just treasuring the good times.  The hard part was the stress and hassle over settling his accounts and all the paperwork involved.  When that finally ended after too many months, I felt a real sense of release, finally.

My goal for last year had been to live in balance throughout the year.  The plan had been to achieve some level of balance in work and play, action and contemplation evenly throughout the year.  But with Dad’s death that did not happen.  However, by the end of the year, I did have some balance—on average.  I traveled some, worked part time some, wrote some, read some, connected with friends and family some.  Overall, even though challenging in many ways, it was a good year.

For 2105, what are my goals and plans?  Rather than specific resolutions, I will once again choose a word as the focus for the year.  I follow Holly Gerth’s Coffee for Your Heart blog.  Her focus this year is faithfulness.  A friend is looking at intentionality.  For me, finding an effective balance in my life (read/write, work/play, solitude/community, nature/society) is still important, but my focus will be on action.  Not the keep busy, do something extreme every day, go for it sort of action of a Nike commercial. What I want is thoughtful, deliberate purposeful action that will enrich my life, lift my spirits.

I begin this year focusing on these five actions.  They cover the basics and will keep me active all year.  But I am sure other activities will surface as well.  Spontaneity and serendipity cannot be planned for, but they can be embraced at every opportunity!

listening womanHillerman landscape1.  Continue reading a lot but make choices to broaden the types of works I read and to also reread some favorites and classics. My sister suggested the 2015 book challenge posted on the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s blog. I’m going to work on that!  I have already picked out Don Quixote as a book to read in translation, even though it is over 900 pages! I am also re-reading Tony Hillerman’s mysteries that follow the efforts of Leaphorn and Chee of the Navajo Police.  His books are a great way to visit New Mexico from a comfy chair in Bakersfield, California.

Lone pIne monterey2.  Get out in Nature on a regular basis, at least about once a month. I took several trips last year and settled into a plan for monthly retreats and want to keep that up all year long. I need the time in Nature to stay calm, reflective, sane, spiritually aware.

3.  Complete projects rather than just plan for them and maybe get started. The first up is sorting through old family photos as I planned to do last year but got sidetracked with all the paperwork and negative fussing surrounding Dad’s death. I’m sure other projects will surface throughout the year as well, but getting the photos reviewed, sorted and scanned is a big undertaking.

4.  Post blogs more consistently. I took too many breaks this past year and then got out of the habit of writing, posting, reading and responding. I value the blogging community and do not want to lose those connections.

journalglimpses of grace5.  Focus on appreciation and gratitude every day. I keep a gratitude list off and on and am quick to say thank you to others, but not on a regular enough basis. This year, I am building the habit of spending time each day reading a devotional as a way to jump start a daily journal entry.  The daily devotional I will be reading is Madeleine L’Engle’s Glimpses of Grace. 

These five actions are enough to get me fully engaged in 2015. They are not resolutions really.  I see resolutions as one-time accomplishments.  These actions will become my daily routines.  I am sure I will do some financial planning as well—I am 60 now after all.    I am looking forward to a great year.

What are your plans to make 2015 a great year?

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“Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen.  Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen. . . yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.”   Bradley Whitford

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”  Confucius

“In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision.”  Dalai Lama

“Action is the foundational key to all success.”  Pablo Picasso

“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.”  Goethe

“Never mistake motion for action.”  Hemingway

“There are risks and costs to action.  But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.”  John F. Kennedy

“It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through.”  Zig Ziglar

“Just remember, you can do anything you set your mind to, but it takes action, perseverance, and facing your fears.”  Gillian Anderson

“Trust only movement.  Life happens at the level of events, not of words.  Trust movement.” Alfred Adler

“We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing.  Action always generates inspiration.  Inspiration seldom generates action.”  Frank Tibolt

“A promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain.”  Arabian Proverb

“An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied.”  Arnold Glasow

“Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.”  Peter Marshall

“Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.”  Walter Anderson

“Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold—but so does a hard-boiled egg.”  Anonymous

 “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”  Mark Twain

 “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  James Baldwin

 “Note to self:  Finding a cool quote and writing it in your journal is not a substitute for Getting. It. Done.”  Betsy Canas Garmon

TOPIC R: The Power & Magic of READING

Topic R:  The Power & Magic of Reading in 3 Parts

 Part 1:  Reading Is a Way of Life

“We read to know we are not alone.”   C. S. Lewis

“When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life.”  Christopher Morley

“When I get a little money, I buy books.  And if there is any left over, I buy food.”  Erasmus

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read.”  Mark Twain

“A man is known by the books he reads.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Let us read and let us dance—two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.”  Voltaire

Flight Behavior book coverI love reading.  Most days, I am working on reading several books.  Right now, my bed stand holds Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.  She is one of my favorite authors.  The next book up is The Book Thief by Zusak.  I have recently purchased a Kindle and have downloaded several free or cheap murder mysteries, just in case.  I would never want to be anywhere without a book to read! Right now, on Kindle, I am reading Higashida’s The Reason I Jump to learn about autism from an inside perspective.

I also follow hundreds of WordPress blogs, reading some every day.  One—The Classroom as Microcosm—has recently been discussing the role of reading fiction in the development of creative and critical thinking.  Most comments are praising reading—fact or fiction—because it expands what is possible and explores different perspectives; these skills carryover to all over facets of life.  Two other blogs—Autism Speaks: Blog and Daily Good: News That Inspires—often lead me to entertaining and educational articles about many aspects of life.  I just always have to be reading something!  Heck, doesn’t everyone read the back of cereal boxes if nothing else is at hand to read?

Part 2:  Reading Is an Essential Skill

“You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.”  Charlie Jones

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”  Frederick Douglass

“A book is the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance.”  Lyndon Baines Johnson

“Literacy is not a luxury, it is a right and a responsibility. If our world is to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century we must harness the energy and creativity of our citizens.”  President Clinton on International Literacy Day, September 8, 1994

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture.  Just get people to stop reading them.”  Ray Bradbury

“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.”  Malcolm X

Given my love of reading, it is difficult for me to imagine that others not only do not read vociferously but that many cannot read well enough to see reading as a friend, an escape, a path to new learning, simply a fun activity.  I know reading is taking place since millions seem to be scouring social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to read and often loudly respond to so many silly messages. But real reading—reading for learning and understanding, for expanding perspectives and seeking new ideas, even for fun and escape—might not be that prevalent.  I do not have any real statistics to support my worry.

Heck, general reports indicate that CIA’s World Factbook gives the literacy rate in the United States of America as close to 99%.  But I am not really convinced.  Back in 1985, Jonathon Kozol wrote Illiterate America, calling into question some of the methodology used by the Census Bureau when it determines literacy rates.  Back then, the U.S. literacy rate was reportedly 86%.  Some of the methodology used to generate that number were simply asking people if they were literate and assuming if someone had been in school through the fifth grade that they must be literate.  Well, at least functionally literate. But functional literacy means meeting the bare basics of reading; it says a person can read basic instructions, know what a stop sign says, stuff like that.  Maybe the methodology has improved, but I am doubtful.

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Education conducted a study called NAAL (National Assessment of Adult Literacy).  Since then, some follow-up studies have completed research on smaller groups, noting minor shifts in the initial numbers reported.  The NAAL study looked at prose, document, and quantitative literacy, and it used various measures to test literacy levels.  Some of the factors this study used to assess literacy included being able to locate information in text, making low-level inferences using printed materials, and integrating easily identifiable pieces of information into communication.

These factors seem to basically assess if a person can complete such activities as deciphering a train or bus schedule, determining a politician’s stance from reading a speech or editorial, or pulling information from sources to use in support of his/her own arguments.  I am not certain that these low-level factors would even assess if a person can judge whether an internet source is credible or not—that is a higher level skill.  Using these factors, NAAL concluded that 21% to 23% of adult Americans were not literate.  On the flip side, only about 25% of American adults reach the highest levels of literacy.  I am not certain which statistic is sadder.

Earlier this year, Cinthia Coletti published Blueprint for a Literate Nation:  How You Can Help.  Her work sounds intriguing, and I am definitely adding her book to my list of must-reads. One news article about her publication shares this detail:  Apparently, 67% of American children are struggling with attaining literacy.  That statistic does not surprise me.  As a teacher, I have always been aware that if students do not master reading by about third grade, then school becomes a greater challenge.  It is that year that more text than pictures fill the pages and that students are expected to read on their own for directions and basics of the assignment.  If they are not reading well, then everything else starts getting harder too.

Donald J. Hernandez, sociology professor at Hunter College, shared this conclusion in his 2011 research:  “Third grade is a kind of pivot point.  We teach reading for the first three grades and then after that children are not so much learning to read but using their reading skills to learn other topics. In that sense if you haven’t succeeded by 3rd grade it’s more difficult to [remediate] than it would have been if you started before then.” His study predicts that students who are not reading on grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to not graduate high school by age 19.

But what does reading well for a young student mean?  Well, for one thing, it means much more than the ability to sound out words touted by teaching phonetics.  Yes, students need to be able to sight read or sound out words.  Those are important skills.  But mastering them does not make little Janey or Johnny a reader.  Doug Adams, Institute of Reading Development, offers this analogy to explain the connection between reading speed and comprehension:  “A film is made up of still images flashed in rapid succession to simulate movement.  Slow down the film, and the movement and meaning slows and the film’s impact is diminished.  Viewers won’t learn as much about the film as if it were shown at normal speed. With reading the same thing can happen. When a person reads word by word, like frame by frame, they are not reading at the level of ideas. You need to read on some level that’s more conversational and allows things to coalesce into ideas themselves.”

To be a reader, then, students must have a certain proficiency with knowing the words, so they can move on to comprehension and reflection.  Reading well means liking to read, reading fast enough to capture meaning, and reading frequently to improve skills.  Think of when you first learned to drive a stick shift.  In the beginning, you had to focus intently on releasing the clutch, just so, to move forward without grinding gears—that was not driving.  When you could finally stop focusing on those details and just do them, then you could really say you were driving and eventually enjoying the ride.  But to be a good driver, you need to keep driving.  It is the same process for young readers as they develop their reading skills.

Part 3:  Reading Is the Best Gift Ever

 “The more you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Dr. Seuss

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”  Emillie Buchwald

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”  Jacqueline Kennedy

“Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.”  Marilyn Japer Adams

“There is no substitute for books in the life of a child.”  May Ellen Chase

“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall.”  Roald Dahl, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years.  To read is to voyage through time.”  Carl Sagan

The question then becomes, “How can we help?”  How can caring adults help the special children in their lives develop reading skills, master a love of reading that will help them throughout life?  Fortunately, helping kids learn to love reading is not that hard. Coletti’s book promises to share ideas that will help foster literacy in local neighborhoods, but I’ve not read her work yet.  It just makes common sense to me that the adults simply need to share their love of reading with the special children in their lives.

Me about 5 Reading in My Favorite Chair--Still A Great Place for Reading

Me about 5 Reading in My Favorite Chair–Still A Great Place for Reading

Here are some basics that typically help encourage a love of reading:

animaliaStart reading to your kids when they are very young, infants even.  There are the classics like Good Night Moon and any book from Dr. Seuss.  It is the storytelling and the time together that are the draw.  One of my favorite books to give as a gift is Animalia.  It is as much for the parents as for the kids—they need to explore its pages together. And browsing the pages encourages observational skills and creativity.  As the book jacket explains, “Animalia is much more than A is for Apple.  The letters of the alphabet explode into images that delight the eye and words that thrill the ear: A is for An Armoured Armadillo Avoiding An Angry Alligator. [This book provides] an incredible imaginary world. . . . “

Establish a set time to read with your kids on a regular basis.  Every day is best such as at bedtime.  But any schedule works:  after dinner, every Sunday after church, Friday nights to start the weekend, after school.  Set and keep a schedule.  I am not meaning tell the kid to go read by herself.  The time together is part of the process!  My favorite class in sixth grade was Reading.  Every day after lunch the teacher read us a chapter of the class book, and then we moved into the class assignments.  My favorite book that year was Flowers for Algernon.  My adult nephews have fond memories of reading the Wizard of Oz series together as kids with their mom.  And now, even as adults, there are some Christmas stories they like to re-read together—it’s tradition!  A friend’s older grandkids are going to start reading the Harry Potter series with younger siblings, now that the younger kids are old enough.

Have books and magazines around the house, okay kindles and nooks too.  Maybe even a collection of books that is special for those who are good readers or old enough to understand—a goal to reach for!  Something forbidden always attracts attention.

Read on your own time to demonstrate reading is a skill you practice and value—and encourage kids to read on their own with you!  Telling each other what you are reading or reading a book together is great time for adult and child.  If you encourage reading, at some point you will share the delight of your young child demanding to be read a story, as presented by a great blog Slouching towards Thatcham.

Photo from Clip Art Photos

Photo from Clip Art Photos

Take trips together to the library and check out books together.  This gives you a great opportunity to explore areas of interest with your kids:  dinosaurs, princesses, trucks, space exploration, elephants or other favorite animals, whatever—there are books with great pictures and words to entice the child into reading.  Comic books are often a great place to start as well.

Give gifts that encourage reading or at least of love of words.  Of course, this includes books.  There is something about owning your own book!  But also consider games such as Scrabble or Boggle, even download Words with Friends—then actually play with the kids.  Even a set of magnetic alphabet letters for the refrigerator is good. New words can magically appear on the refrigerator every morning!  Or get one of those magnetic poetry sets for more extensive sharing of words and ideas.  Cookbooks might be a fun read that produces good eats as well and builds living skills and confidence in kids, when they are allowed to do the cooking.


The holidays are just around the corner.  Get creative and figure out a way to share a love of reading with those you love.  WHAT DO YOU THINK?  What are your ideas for helping kids develop their reading skills?  What are some books you would recommend as gifts for kids or adults?  What books are you reading right now?

Some Final Quotes on the Power & Magic of Reading

“Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.”   Vera Nazarian

“Learning to read is probably the most difficult and revolutionary things that happens to the human brain and if you don’t believe that, watch an illiterate adult try to do it.”  John Steinbeck

“When writing the constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, John Adams wrote:  “I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading.”

 “Just a thought.  What sets us above all other life on this planet is our ability to read.  What we read can determine our relationship with all other life on this planet.”  M. J. Croan

“All that mankind has done, thought, gained, or been; it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of books.”   Thomas Carlyle

Topic H: Harry Potter

Opening Note:  In past posts, I wrote about some other “H” topics you might enjoy:  Hummingbirds and Haiku



I have to admit, I love Harry Potter.  No, I do not have kids or grand kids who enticed me into reading the books.  What caught my eye were the kids of the world who just loved the books and then the movies.  It was interesting to see news coverage of kids standing in line to see the opening of one of the Harry Potter movies.  But the impressive part was that most of the kids were carrying the books.  Occasionally one would be asked by a reporter to make a comment.  Invariably, a kid about 10 years old would say something like, “Well, the books are better, but I am excited to see the movie.”  It became obvious that kids—lots and lots of kids—were reading these books that were each 400 pages or more.  I decided I better take a look.

Harry Potter First BookStill, I did not rush out to get a copy and start reading.  I did start hearing that some people want to ban the books because they are anti-Christian and offer enticements into witchcraft.  It seemed unlikely to me that this children’s fantasy series would have such a dire intent, but the concerns were being raised.  An incident in New Mexico even had a minister literally burning copies of Harry Potter books along with other items such as Ouija boards. It was reported, however, that that minister admitted he had not read any of the books. I so hate hearing things like that! I heard the characters are witches, so the books must be a manifesto for Wicca?  Maybe these complainers never watched Bewitched either.

Of course, J. K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, denies that the intent of her stories is to lure young readers into witchcraft.  In an interview in 1999 with CNN, Rowling offered this comment:  “I absolutely did not start writing these books to encourage any child into witchcraft. I’m laughing slightly because to me, the idea is absurd. I have met thousands of children and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, ‘Ms Rowling, I’m so glad I’ve read these books because now I want to be a witch.’”  Of course, I suppose, if she were trying to recruit young readers to witchcraft, she might not admit it.

In response to the complaints about Harry Potter and the move to ban the books at various schools, a website sprang up where young students could have a voice about their first amendment rights. How cool is that? That site has since grown into Kidspeak.org,  “Where kids speak up for free speech.”  One article reported that a fifth grader came up with a good idea when her school was contemplating banning the books for all students.  Her idea was to have children seven or under have written permission from their parents to read the books.  If the parents of children eight or older had complaints, “the principal should just talk to them and tell them that it’s just fantasy.” If kids were actually weighing in on the conversation, I more than ever wanted to read these books.

8 movie setI first just read one book to see how it was—and it was great:  Well drawn characters, fun plot twists as the witches and non-witches (known as Muggles) interacted, and an engaging plot about a young boy growing up.   I also caught one of the movies and enjoyed the adaptation. So finally I read all of the novels in order.  Then I watched the films in order as well.

Photo from Huffington Post Article

Photo from Huffington Post Article

The Books/Movies:

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone, 1998   (movie: 2001)

Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets, 1999   (movie: 2002)

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban, 1999   (movie: 2004)

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, 2000,   (movie: 2005)

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix 2003,   (movie: 2007)

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince, 2005   (movie: 2009)

Harry Potter & the Deathly Gallows, 2007   (movies: Part I, 2010 & Part II, 2011)

It’s an impressive series.  And the kids are right: the books are better than the movies, offering much more complexity, character development, and extended storylines.  But neither avenue made me want to become a witch—and no one I know has kids who are exploring witchcraft after reading the books or seeing the movies. Maybe I just do not know the right people.

At this point, I am not an expert by any means, but I know the Harry Potter series.  I could give detailed summaries of each novel and talk about Gryfindors vs. Slytherins, Dumbledore vs. Voldemort, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Quidditch, and hundreds of other details.  But I am not going to.  If you’ve read the series, you know all that stuff.  If you haven’t yet, part of the fun is being surprised by it all.  Instead, I will simply share what I like about Harry Potter.


1. I really like the author J. K. Rowling.

Rowling was a single mom living on England’s equivalent of welfare, but she kept writing a little at a time.  This story about Harry Potter was in her, yearning to get out!  This seven-book series made her a multi-million dollar author many times over.  She refuses, however, to move herself or her money off shore where she could find a better tax deal.  Her reasons? The system helped her and she wants to pay back, and she wants her kids to have a sense of past and community.  She also explains why she contributes extensively to charities: “I think you have a moral responsibility when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently.”

Overall, Rowling just seems like a friendly, level-headed person who it would be nice to sit down and chat with.  She seems to like that kids are reading and learning through her books.  She even does not take people to copyright task for parodies and educational uses of her material. In 2008, she was the graduation speaker at Harvard. She talked about the value of failure and the importance of imagination.  Her dominant message: “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”  Here is a video of her Harvard Graduation Speech:

2.  The Harry Potter books are immensely popular, especially with kids.

Overall, Rowling’s seven books have sold over 400 million copies and have been translated into 67 languages.  One blog notes that in the United States, “over half of all children between the ages of 6 and 17 have read at least one Harry Potter book.” A study in the United Kingdom credits Harry Potter with positive improvements in children’s literacy.  Students, parents and teachers applaud the book because it engages the students, creates a sense of community among the readers, and can be used as a teaching tool and resource in the classroom.

Of course, the concern some parents have about inappropriate themes and messages within the series is still there.  But most seem to agree that for children roughly 10 years old or older, the books are a great reading incentive.  A site called Reading Rocket explores the controversy surrounding and the positive impact of the Harry Potter series, but it also gives parents some tips on checking if the reading level and themes are appropriate for their children.

3.  The Harry Potter series offers good moral lessons for its readers.

The basic plot line through all seven Harry Potter novels is the maturing of Harry Potter and his two side-kicks Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. They age appropriately through the novels, allowing the readers to grow with the characters. These youngsters experience typical childhood problems like bullying and dating and finding one’s own voice and place in the world. The back drop to the characters’ lives and growth is a moral struggle unfolding between good and evil. As the teens age, they must accept the consequences of their actions, decide what they believe in, and show a willingness to act on what they believe. They learn to work together for the betterment of the whole. These are great lessons for the readers to watch play out across the pages.

Other characters and storylines surface in the novels, even if they do not always make it to the films.  Luna and Neville are two characters portrayed in both mediums.  Neville is the clumsy kid in class who can never do things right, but he transforms into a courageous young leader. Luna can seem to be the space cadet or hippie of the group; she sees things that others do not see and does not have the typical social skills needed to fit in. Still, Luna is insightful, gives excellent advice, and becomes a valued member of the group of teens who fight to save their world.  One storyline that does not make it into the films in any detail is Hermione’s efforts to help the House Elves who are treated little better than slaves. Dobby is one house elf we meet, and Harry is instrumental in freeing him from his wicked master.

Throughout all the characters and subplots, one dominant lesson surfaces again and again throughout the novels: it is up to each person to make effective choices.  At one point Harry is told not to worry about any potential similarities he may share with evil-doers; what sets each person apart is the choices he makes. Another character—Sirius Black godfather to Harry—says, “We have all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the power we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

Some reviewers even note that much of the symbolism presented in the novels might in fact be a Christian allegory—good and light win over evil and darkness. One critic offers this conclusion: “Christian parents ought not to get hung up on the outward packaging of the Harry Potter novels—on the contrary, I think they should enjoy the magical packaging as interesting and fun. Rather, they should grasp the symbolism of the stories for what it is, and enjoy the familiar yet rich theological message that lives beneath the surface.”

4.  The world Rowling created in the Harry Potter series is fun!

Juxtaposing the wizard world against the non-wizard world is a brilliant device used in the Harry Potter novels. Harry, the main character, is a wizard, but he was raised for his first 11 years in the non-wizard world of Muggles.  He becomes the eyes for the readers/Muggles since he constantly has to ask how to walk through walls to find hidden train platforms and how such mysteries as flue-powder and port keys work.  At the same time, the wizards are flummoxed by subway tokens and telephones.  Ron’s father at one time seriously asks Harry to explain rubber duckies.  That everyone needs to learn something about the world they live in makes it okay not to know everything—an attitude that is rather comforting.

Another fun aspect of the novels is the elements of the wizard world that it would be great to have in the real world.  In the Weasley household, we see knitting needles working themselves to create scarves and dishes being washed and put away on their own ala an episode of Bewitched. Mrs. Weasley has a wall clock that shows not the time but the location of all members of the household.  Hermione has a purse that with the right spell can literally hold everything—books and changes of clothes and tents!  And there are many ways to zip from place to place.  Even with these wonders, however, these characters still need to find the courage to ask someone out, worry about being yelled at by parents, feel lonely over the holidays, have to study for finals, and need to make decisions about their futures.  The gadgets do not help.  The characters (and the readers) must find it within themselves to grow up and do the right thing.

There are other elements of the wizard world that are just fascinating.  One of my favorites is the active nature of pictures, news photos and even trading cards.  We first see this “active” side of these items when Harry opens a packet of candy and finds a trading card.  The picture on the card moves and talks like a little video. When Harry looks at his card a second time, the person pictured on it is gone.  Ron says something like, “You can’t expect him to stand around all the time.”  The same notion has persons in portraits stepping away from their frames and photos in newspapers being animated.  There are disappearing houses, buses that can change shape to get through traffic, and potions that can disguise you as someone else.  Of course, every witch also has a broom and a wand, although their effective use takes learning and practice.  At every turn, there is something new to startle and amaze the reader.

5. There are several Harry Potter gadgets I want!  

The gadgets in the Harry Potter series are numerous.  Of course, it would be a hoot to have a broom and a wand.  But those are not my favorite gadgets.  I have already mentioned Hermione’s purse that can hold everything.  Technically, however, what makes that trait possible is not a gadget—it’s a spell: Undetectable Extension Charm. She uses the spell on her purse, so she can carry everything she needs with her, and Mr. Weasley uses it on the tent when they are camping so there is enough space for everyone.  Being able to use that spell would be terrific.  And some days I really would love dishes that clean themselves.  But those actions again are brought on by a spell.  I am focusing on gadgets, especially the following that I would love to own:

Invisibility Cloak:  Harry receives the Invisibility Cloak as a gift in the first novel, and he makes use of it several times throughout the series to sneak into places he shouldn’t be and to overhear conversations.  He’s a teenager finding ways to get into trouble. Having a cloak that literally makes you invisible to those around you is a great trick.  I do not so much want to go places without being seen to hear things I shouldn’t hear, although knowing what colleagues really think about me and my ideas might be helpful—or crazy making.  Instead, I love the idea of being able to get work done in my office without everyone who wanders by and sees me at my desk stopping in to say hello.  And imagine this:  Sitting at home on the couch for over an hour reading a novel or taking a nap with no one bothering you, even if they are home. Because they do not realize you are home.  Sounds ideal to me!

Time Turner:  The Time Turner looks like a necklace, but in reality allows the wearer to go back in time and repeat an hour or two as needed.  Hermione is given this wondrous gadget by a teacher, so Hermione can take two classes at the same time.  This gadget eventually helps her and Harry actually save a couple lives in the second novel.  I am enamored of it for the simple fact that it would let anyone have more than 24 hours in a day!  You could sleep in and get up on time.  You could go out to dinner with friends and study.  Of course, like Hermione, you could attend two meetings that happen to be going on at the same time, but I would caution not to get too extravagant with its ability to help its user get more work done.

Pensieve:  This gadget is impressive and ties in thematically with the well-known adjective pensive. In the movies it looks like a big bowl (well, I suppose I should say cauldron) filled with a silvery blue liquid that eventually presents words and images much like a movie.  But these “movies” are memories of your own or others captured accurately for later review. Or they could be the concerns and details that tend to drive you crazy as they keep running around in your mind not letting you sleep.  You need a wand for this, but you get to extract those annoyances from your mind and place them in the pensieve for later review.  How great is that?

There would certainly be applications involving the pensieve in courtrooms.  But I am thinking of more personal uses.  You know those arguments you have with loved ones, where you incredulously say, “What do you mean you don’t remember X!?”  Now, you could show them!  I have four older sisters, and I swear we each remember the same incident from our past in different ways; with the pensieve they could see that I am right.  I want one of these!

There are some other “things” in the novels that would be fun to have, but they are enchanted with a spell or are a potion that you have to drink.  The Marauder’s Map lets you see who is wandering around the place, so you could be careful about who to avoid.  There is also Liquid Luck, a potion that makes certain things happen in the best way for you throughout the day.  Of course, when Ron just thinks he has taken the potion he does miraculous things on the playing field all on his own, so maybe confidence and positive expectations would work just as well.

There are also sorting hats that tell you what groups to join, wardrobes you can walk through to get to another location, mirrors to look in to see your heart’s desire, and enchanted journals that let you talk to people from the past, among other things.  But these “things” carry some problems and complications that make them a bit tricky to work with.  So I will just settle for the three gadgets I really, really like.  I do not want to be greedy.

So have you read or watched Harry Potter?  What do you think?  Anything from the series you would like to bring into your life?  And I am dying to ask but it would probably be tacky or at least impolite:  Are you a witch, yet?

I’d love to hear from you.

Books with Fascinating Titles: A Baker’s Dozen

Give me an afternoon to wander a bookstore and browse the shelves, and I am perfectly happy.  Time stands still as I wander from shelf to shelf, category to category and peruse whatever catches my eye.  But what books do I really pull off the shelves?  Or better, take home to be read?  For me, it is often a catchy title that helps make that final decision.  But in trying to appropriately describe those titles, I explored several adjectives.  Odd?  Too dismissive.  Curious?  Too strange—or odd.  Quirky?  Too lighthearted.  Silly?  Well, just, too. . . silly.

I settled on fascinating, suggesting an ability to engage one’s interest for a variety of reasons.  I then started looking over my own shelves to see what books I could offer as examples, books where the titles are part of what landed them on my shelves to begin with.  Most were bought; some were gifts.  All have been read.  I will list thirteen titles here, in no special order, with a little commentary on each.  I am hopeful some of my readers will also have books/titles to share!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows present a delightful novel set just after WWII that offers an historical view of that difficult time in the lives of the civilians living in Europe during the conflict.  It offers wit and wisdom as well as tender insights and much humor as the characters interact with each other through letters and telegrams.  Its literary device and subject matter and time frame are reminiscent of 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanf. That novel also looks to life during the war through the correspondence between two of the main characters.  I recently read Guernsey from my list of books-to-read, so I can officially claim to be making some progress on one of the goals I set myself to complete before January 2012.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven. Sherman Alexie writes a compelling novel full of gritty realism and dark humor that delineates life of Native Americans in and around Seattle.  You laugh a lot, at times to keep from crying.  He shows the strength and grim details surrounding life for many on and off the reservation. 

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America. Firoozeh Dumas gives a heartwarming account of her family and life as she grew up in an America that became more and more wary of strangers.  Her honesty and humor make the book a great read.   This book was used in many classes on a community college campus, when the author came to speak, and the students loved it!

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Judith Vorst eloquently captures Alexander’s youthful angst as he fusses and fumes through a terrible day.  We all have these days—and it is fun to laugh along with Alexander’s struggles.  I love kids’ books that meet adult needs as well.  Other children’s lit favorites for me are Animalia and The Phantom Tollbooth, but those titles do not really qualify for this list.  I have not yet read Go the Fuck to Sleep! 

Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism.   Temple Grandin is a remarkable woman who has helped shed some much needed light on living with Autism.  Her scientific understanding is phenomenal, and she shares her insights about life with openness and honesty.  HBO recently made a movie about the author that won some good reviews and awards. 

Bimbos & Zombies.  Sharyn McCrumb stumbled onto science fiction writing as a struggling graduate student who entered a contest with a delightful title and then went on to write a novel worthy of the title.  And it went on to some critical as well as popular acclaim.  This tome is actually an anthology of two shorter works:  Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool.   These offer a fun, witty escape!

Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt. Harvey Mackay does offer a sub-title that helps show this book is full of tips about managing and surviving in the business world:  “Do What You Love, Love What You do, and Deliver More Than You Promise.”  His advice is direct, honest, and often applicable.  The title was reminiscent of Sheldon B. Kopp’s If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!  Friends recommended that book in the past, but I never read it—but I love the title!

The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.  Robert J. Sutton wrote this book almost on a dare to use the title.  When discussing life in the business world, all agreed that assholes were around, but rarely did the articles and books written offering business advice share such direct insights.  His analysis and conclusions seem to truly understand office dynamics and how to maneuver in them without getting beaten or becoming an asshole yourself.

High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never. I first appreciated Barbara Kingsolver from her novels Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven. But this title caught my eye—and indeed proved to be about a crab’s attempt to keep to the high tide schedule as if it existed in the desert, once he was carried home from a vacation to the shore by the author’s little girl.  I like the science, the observations, and the musings the incident generated. 

Mutant Message Down Under. Marlo Morgan offers a story that she claims is based on reality. She tells of an American woman who accepts an invitation to go on a 4-month walk-about with an Aboriginal tribe in Australia.  As she conquers the physical and spiritual challenges, she learns great lessons about life and ancestry and the human connection that might help us all preserve ourselves and our world.

“. . . and then we’ll get him!”  This collection of Gahan Wilson’s macabre cartoons is a real treat.  It shows his frightening but funny world in action.  The title is from one cartoon that shows the childhood toys discarded over the years, waiting in the attic for the owner to come and reminisce and “. . .then we’ll get him!”  His work is wonderfully common place, creepy and unexpected!

Titters:  The First Collection of Humor by Women. Deanne Stillman and Annie Beatts edited this collection of raw, gritty humor in 1976.  It offers a fun compendium of humor from a woman’s perspective.  Some of the content was considered racy at the time!  It includes work by women such as Phyllis Diller, Erma Bombeck and Gilda Radner as well as such entries as “Clampax Instruction Booklet” and a “Male Nude Centerfold.”

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi edited my expanded edition dictionary back in 1987.  Its pages help the reader explore many destinations, such as Ursula LeGuin’s Iffish, Borges’ City of the Immortals, Tolkien’s Imaginary Island, and Juster’s Mountains of Ignorance—and these are just from a 2-page spread.  It is always fun to scan these pages and visit these locales, especially on a rainy afternoon.  I expect later editions (such as what is pictured) would help transport someone to Rowling’s Hogwarts too!    

So, what titles fascinate you?  Or what other books can you suggest?


*  * * * * * * * * * * * **

“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”  Mark Twain

 “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.”  Groucho Marx

 “Five years from now you will pretty much be the same as you are today except for two things:  the books you read and the people you get close to.”  Charles Jones


Lately I have been reading a book called One Thousand Gifts.  My sister gave it to me, and again she is right:  it is great, provocative, potentially life changing.  It is not fiction; I guess I would label it a memoir or maybe devotional.  Ann Voskamp, the author, shares her journey from overwhelming grief to a life filled with thanksgiving and appreciation, a life—for her—that leads back to God.  What initiates her journey is her journal where she records 1000 items that capture her attention and her thanks.  It does not have to big things like world peace—just the day-to-day details and moments that often go overlooked. 

For example, Ann’s list includes the following items:

  • First frost’s crunch
  • Kettle whistling for tea on a cold afternoon
  • Mama delivering chicken soup to the back door
  • Toothless smiles

Her gratitude makes sense to me, in part because I already note the items of nature that capture my eye and heart.  But I never thought about keeping a catalog before of those items as well as of the daily occurrences that are easy to overlook. Her book suggests that slowing down to notice and appreciate these items can help set an attitude of gratitude for life.  It’s the mindset that makes the difference.  Ann starts realizing the power of her journal when a friend questions her about the change that is becoming evident:  “Yes . . . you’ve changed.”  Ann goes quiet, pondering how to respond, since she had not realized the change she was feeling was becoming visible. 

Her thoughts capture her quandary:  “I don’t say it, but I am thinking she may be right and I had felt it for months, the maturing, the swelling, the something different that had begun to happen.  But I had thought the re-creation was still embryonic, a bud of hope. I hadn’t thought it had fully bloomed.  I hadn’t thought that anyone could see the light in the eyes.” Her friend suggests the change is a result of the list she’s been writing.  Slowly, Ann offers her answer, “’Yes . . . “ There. A moment. And yes. ‘It’s The List.’”

Since I had been thinking about writing my own list, this week seemed an especially good time to get started. After all, I had a special experience I could add to the list.  No, I am not listing that I was freshly pressed—although that was terrific!  I had already shared in an earlier posting that the sense of audience inherent in keeping a blog is powerful.  Therefore, getting close to 1400 views in one day, almost more than I had received since I had started my blog months ago, was overwhelming.  But my appreciation is being recorded for the sense of community that became real to me through the feedback provided by others. Some “liked” what I wrote, others left comments, and a handful subscribed. 

It was the camaraderie, the shared experience that stays with me.  To extend the connection, I have visited the blogs of those who stopped by—and was rewarded with wondrous entries that made me laugh and cry, took me to new worlds, or suggested new ideas to ponder.  I collected book titles and recipes and travel destinations. It’s nice being a member of this blogging community—and that is what I am thankful for!

The other items I catalog as I start my list I share with my readers as a way of saying “Thanks!” Thanks for your feedback.  Thanks for making me feel part of this blogging community.  Here’s the start of my list—maybe you will find something here that you appreciate as well:

A sister who loves and supports me, and who I could always count on to play (as kids and adults)!

Being part of a blogging community

Roses in all their variety and splendor

Wind rustling through the trees unexpectedly about 3 am, catching my attention and then lulling me to sleep

The laughter of my neighbor’s kids as they run in from the pool

Snuggling under a blanket on a chilly morning

A cat’s ability to hide in plain sight

Seeing a wolf at Yellowstone, even though it was too far off to capture a picture

The satisfaction of finishing a novel that has kept me up all night

Catching glimpses of birds darting across a field, daring anyone to identify them

Dogs—mine from long ago that I still miss at times and any others I am lucky enough to meet along the way

Bringing a bit of spring indoors

So, THANKS, readers for being part of my blogging community.  What are you grateful for?

If you love language, writing and reading. . .

If you love language and if you love writing, reading, and teaching, you will love these videos by Taylor Mali, a teacher, poet, creative artist.  His insights on students and institutions and reading and writing are impressive.  Plus he’s funny, witty, provocative.  So, if you’re weary from grading papers or from proofreading your own or other people’s writing or maybe you are overwhelmed or frustrated by the stupidity that can invade our lives, take a break, watch these videos.  His words will bring you a chuckle or a nod of recognition, maybe a groan. 

The titles are pretty indicative of subject matter.  Enjoy!   


P.S.  A friend from graduate school shared these videos—and I have sent them on already via email to many friends.  But I so enjoyed them, I decided I would even figure out how to insert them into this blog.  Sorry for any duplication this may have caused some readers.  If you have any fun videos to share, please do so!  For those grading papers right this minute, take a break and watch at least one of these right now.

7 by 57

 Maybe it is just me, but it is often easier to keep a personal commitment, once I share it with others.  For example, if I have plans to go for a walk or maybe visit a museum but wake up to a rainy day or just feeling rather blah, if I am heading out on my own, it is pretty easy to postpone the activity.  But if I am meeting a friend for that same activity, I’ll be there!  Even in the rain.

I am writing today’s blog as a way to share some personal commitments with friends (and other readers), figuring this act will help me hold myself more accountable for the results.  Basically, I am cataloging a short-term bucket list. It is not full of the wild and fun things I want to accomplish eventually, like visiting Alaska or staying in a castle in Ireland.  These commitments are shorter in scope and more improvement or task-oriented.

I stole the idea from a fellow blogger, who I am sorry to say I cannot name or appropriately credit.  Basically, she reported on her success at completing 26 things she had planned to do by the time she was 26. She had not quite finished everything by her birthday, but she was close and was still working on the last few items.  I was impressed, when I got over thinking she was just a big show-off completing so much on her to-do list at such a young age. If I mimicked her, how was I supposed to complete 57 things by next year?  There was just not enough time—or maybe it was not enough energy on my part. 

Rather than give up and make no list at all, I decided I would truncate the list and give myself a manageable set of tasks to complete by my next birthday. I know that small steps and little successes over time help keep the momentum going. Besides—as I say whenever I contemplate never eating chocolate again—I am not a quitter!  If I am going to commit to these things, I will get them done.  Hence my list of 7 things to complete by the time I am 57. Starting tomorrow, I have 8 months to get the work done! 

Over the next 8 months, I am going to complete the following:

  1. Advertise My Educational Consulting Service:  My website is ready for serving as an Educational Consultant.  My goal is to get the word out, so I can secure some projects. I realize it is not the best time to be launching such a campaign: state budget woes, finals underway, and summer around the corner when many faculty are gone and spending slows to close-out the fiscal year. But I need to get started.  Make that:  I will get started, so when the time is right, I am a known option who can take on available jobs. 
  2. Sort My Old Photos:  This is a task that has been on my list for years and years.  For the longest time, I immediately turned trip or event photos into albums—and enjoyed the process.  But then other things took over and I still took trip or event photos, but they never made it to albums. Most of the time, copies were at least sent out to friends and family, especially the people pictures, but all the rest are in a closet.  It is one of those open-the-door-slowly-and-hope-things-don’t-fall-out kind of closets. You know, my very own Fibber McGee & Molly Closet. My goal is to methodically sort through all those photos and scan or create albums of the keepers and get rid of the rest. Somewhere in that closet, I am leaning off the side of a cliff as part of a trust exercise and several nephews are getting married.    
  3. Sort My Parent’s Photos:  Last summer my parents moved into an Assisted Living Center. That move meant that all their stuff needed to be saved, stored or given to family members. The old photos—back to their childhood as well as all the years since then—were saved.  Most are in my apartment at this point.  My goal is to figure out what all is there, what can be thrown, and what needs to be saved with sisters or others as part of family history.  The main core of albums and family favorites have been saved, so Mom and Dad can reminisce as they choose.  I am talking about all the other stuff, the second shots, the duplicates, the missed shots—they are all here! Just how many photos of my old dog need to be saved? No matter how terrific he was.
  4. Eat Healthier:  This is an ongoing goal.  I am heavy and need to lose weight, but dieting does not really work for me.  Instead, I need to be more mindful of what I eat and better at making healthy decisions. I have started by reducing the number of trips to fast-food places each week.  My goal includes making certain I have healthy, easy options in the house to turn to.  I have been having some success with this goal, but need to keep it paramount in my priorities. Consistency and moderation are the keys.
  5. Exercise More:  This too is an ongoing goal.  I am active everyday, but since my many surgeries over the last several years, my flexibility and stamina have diminished.  My day-to-day routines are not helping in those specific areas.  I plan to take deliberate action to build those specific skills. Years ago, yoga was a daily routine that served me well, as was meditation, so those activities will be my starting points.
  6. Read. More. Deliberately.  I read quite a bit.  For example, I am exploring liminal spaces by reading such works as Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces and Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits. I enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo trilogy on the advice of a friend. Such extemporaneous reads will always happen, thank goodness. But there are many, many books stacked about my apartment on my I-will-get-to-reading-this-later list.  It is these books that I need to be more deliberate about:  read something from the list each month, make decisions about what items need not be on the list, or maybe stop adding to that leaning tower of books without taking some off the top. Something.  
  7. Recreate Nature Publications.  Years ago, I used my nature photography to make nature photo cards and self-published booklets that combined my essays with my photos on all things nature-oriented. They were hand-created and sold at craft fairs.  I had fun creating them back then.  I still have the prototypes, but they are not saved on a computer.  I have more nature photos to share and have written more musings about nature that could be included in these booklets. I keep meaning to create them again, this time on the computer. Then I can decide if publishing a book is worth exploring.  One step at a time. At the very least, they could become part of my nature-oriented blog entries.

 Wish me luck! 

Some of these items have been on my to-do list for years—and I just never get to them.  Now that I have gone public, maybe I will be more driven to meet these commitments to myself.  I will report back periodically—but you can ask me about them at any time.  Rather like a friend who would call, wondering, “Where were you?  We were going to meet for lunch!”  Maybe in January, I’ll be ready to make another list:  8 by 58.  If you have any advice on how I can best meet these goals—or want to share your own goals—just leave a comment. I would love to hear from you

             “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”    Oprah

To Write or Not to Write: Lessons from the Blog

I’ve been writing my blog for about 5 weeks now. It felt very odd at first to be putting my musings out there, as if anyone would care. But I realized, the more I wrote and posted, the more I cared about finding something of value to say. I realize I may not always succeed, but I diligently work every week to meet my own internal commitment to post something worth reading at least every couple of days. I am also realizing that if I make a promise online that I work to keep it—whether others are actually reading and commenting on my blog or not. The promise of readers—friends or strangers, one or 100—keeps me going. As a former English teacher, I have always been aware of the necessity of audience to help an author really find her voice, but this blogging process is making that platitude a tangible reality.

But there is also a flip side to blogging: I find myself reading the blogs of others more and more every week. I had never explored them before I started writing one and never left comments on the news posts that requested them. But now as I listen to these other voices, I am reminded that the true power of communication is making that connection. Putting the message out there starts the dialog, but it is not complete until it is read by someone else. It is in the reading that one can discover new ideas, shared values, varying perspectives, humor or maybe even confusion or anger. I love it when the readings make me laugh, cry, think, wonder—or feel understood. It is the reading that gives the blog a social edge over the personal diary locked away and hidden in a drawer. In some ways, it is the reading that keeps me writing.

I am not sure how long I will keep writing this blog. But—for now—I am having fun and will continue writing as long as a few people keep wandering through the pages. A few have even subscribed or left comments. But regardless, I am committed to sharing ideas, thoughts, experiences with the promise of readers. Like the practice of sitting in Buddhist meditation, I will just keep on writing, every week, trying to stay focused and authentic in the moment. Then, over time, I imagine I will suddenly be aware of more lessons and realizations, rising from the practice. As they come to mind, I will share them here.

Of course, writing this blog gives the added plus of having a way to share some of my nature photography that otherwise sits on the shelf in the back room. Often the photos themselves generate ideas, more from the solitude and wonder of taking the picture than the picture itself, but still—they often help me write. It is the surprises of nature I like the best:

HAPPY READING! If you have questions, ideas, or comments on your own process, please share.

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