30 November 2010

Topical Tuesday: Educational Issues

Public education. Important to all those individuals who cannot afford to go or send their children to private schools. The climate of education in New York City has become quite controversial lately with the nomination of the new chancellor who will head 1.1 million children (the largest school system in the United States), 380,000 employees and 1600 public schools. 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has nominated Cathie P. Black not because of her extensive background in education but because she is an excellent manager of several magazines. She managed to rise in the ranks of the Hearst media empire and broke several glass ceilings for women in achieving her goals.  In addition, she saved magazines from folding such as Holiday, New York Magazine, Ms., iVillage and USA Today.  Ms. Black was the president of Hearst Magazine.  She has acquired board member status with companies such as Coca Cola and I.B.M. (she holds this position until January 1, 2011 when she takes on the position of NYC school chancellor).  Ms. Black has achieved a great deal and opened many doors for women who were excluded from obtaining top positions in the high-powered industry of media magazines.

However, what puzzles me as an educator is that Ms. Black has never held a position in an educational facility or academic setting.  She does not have a degree in education nor have her children ever attended public schools.  How could Mayor Bloomberg have overlooked this (or did he)?  As a teacher in an urban city public school, it disturbs me that I am held to such a high standard (Bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences, Master's degree in Science Education, teaching certification via 5 teaching exams, mentoring for 1 year by an experienced teacher, 3 years probation before awarded tenure, plus annual evaluations from my principal), yet the highest position in the school system is given to someone with a Bachelor's in English and no experience in the classroom.  What stake would she have in an urban city public school? 

As you can imagine, New York City parents, students, teachers and the United Federation of Teachers oppose her nomination.  Mayor Bloomberg appealed to all his supporters to no avail.  The solution: the state stepped in and offered a compromise.  Ms. Black will be appointed the position, if and only if, she accepts as her Deputy Chancellor someone who has moved through the ranks of the school system (from classroom to board room).  Today the state will give a waiver for Ms. Black's lack of educational experience and the city will wait and see what happens.  There will still be one big pitfall to this compromise.  How much power or say will the Deputy Chancellor have when Ms. Black implements all the "necessary" changes to save money. 

So what?  What is important about all this?  What does it mean for our public schools and students?  Well, Ms. Black will surely run the Department of Education using the business model that has proven her so successful in the past with failing magazines.  There will be budget cuts (even though we have suffered already from cuts these last three years).  I foresee a lack of classroom supplies, overcrowded classrooms, layoffs, teachers giving up more time for an insufficient 3% wage increase (that does not contend with the 4% annual inflation rate), and our students suffering from the extraction of the human factor.  I predict that this model, if proven successful in saving money, will be applied to city schools all over the nation, causing more destruction to our already fragile learners.  But, what does it matter.  To "Big Business" supporters, in the end we're only just numbers.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

29 November 2010

If they liked...

It's happened to all of us. We finish a book - maybe even a whole series - and we are SO not ready to have it end, but it did, and now we're bereft. "What do I read NOW?" we cry, vainly seeking the next literary fix. Worry no more, my friends - I've got suggestions for kids through - erm - well, I don't tend to put upper age limits on things, so just consider that open-ended. Or what if your son/daughter/whoever is ready to move up a level but still wants the same topic? Some suggestions for that too. But why am I doing this post now? Well, last time I checked, it is prime shopping season for holiday gifts, so if you're stumped for the readers in your life (okay, okay, including yourself) then take a peek at the following:

If they liked... A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Try: The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch
Aside from the author having possibly the best pen name in the business, this series shares a similarly snarky sense of humour, authorial asides and mysterious identity, and appealing pre-teen main characters (one female, one male, with another male for some of them). Currently four books, projected to end at five (one for each of the five senses).

Or: Circles of Heck series by Dale E. Basye
More fun snark, and wordplay par excellence (my favourite - pitchsporks!), though kids may not get all the references (like the names of the main characters, Milton and Marlo Fauster, or the kid they meet upon arrival in Heck - yep, you guessed it, he's called Virgil). Currently three books available, with the fourth, Fibble, projected for a May release.

If they liked... Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

Try: The Cronus Chronicles by Anne Ursu
Once again the Greek myths are alive and well in the present-day, though our main characters don't have any blood relation to them this time. Charlotte (an American) and her English cousin Zee (short for Zachary, but he doesn't like it), both 13 years old, and aided by their English teacher Mr. Metos, are pitted against all manner of nasties in this trilogy (oh, but there's quite a sweet kitty as well).

Pandora series by Carolyn Hennesy
Yeah, that Pandora. These are set in actual good-old-Greece, though dialogue and social mores are updated to more or less modern standards. After the infamous release of the bad stuff in the box, Pandy and her BFFs Alcie and Iole are dispatched to recapture them. Currently four available; I'm assuming there will be seven.

Or: oh. my. gods. by Tera Lynn Childs
For the girls who read Percy and are teenagers now, this series (currently two) takes hotshot runner Phoebe to a strange Greek boarding school when her mother marries - yeah, actually,I'm not going to give stuff away here, other than to remind you that Nike wasn't always just a brand of athletic gear.

Or: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
This one is for grownups who either read Percy with their kids and got into the Greek-myths thing, or for those like me who just read kidstuff for the pure pleasure of it but still enjoy more adult fare sometimes. In fact, I bought this one for the Tart when we were in Scotland. Anyway, Greek-gods-alive-and-well-in-modern-times, check - errm, actually, make that not-so-well. They're crammed into a moldering old house in London and doing strange things to make ends meet, like walking dogs and running phone-sex lines. Then they hire a housekeeper, and - I'm just going to make an Orpheus reference here and leave it, because I'm supposed to be teasing you all into buying this stuff (hey, I do work at a bookstore).

If they liked... Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (duh)
Try: Erec Rex by Kaza Kingsley
I've mentioned this series before (see my Here, There Be Dragons post), but I really am very fond of it and think it needs a wider audience, so help me out here folks, get your kids hooked on it, okay? ;-)

Or: Septimus Heap by Angie Sage
Mistaken identity, magic and royalty, time travel and necromancy and oh yeah, DRAGON! In other words, this series is absolutely full of pretty much everything I like. There are currently five books, and I haven't found any hint of more, though the series doesn't seem to have come to any definitive end, so hey, Angie Sage, if you read this, more please!

Or: The Tapestry series by Henry Neff
This one starts out like an American version of Hogwarts, but quickly deepens into its own story. Max's mother disappears mysteriously, then he gets swept off to Rowan Academy, and - I'm going to do exactly what I did above and cut off in the middle of the explanation (besides, the third one just came out and I haven't read it yet - gonna buy it today though). It does get quite dark though, so keep that in mind if your kids are little.

absolutely anything written by Diana Wynne Jones
She's awesome. I adore everything of hers I've ever read, and have for over twenty years. She writes everything from sweeping high fantasy to total silliness, and covers an age range of about 7 to whenever (her adult titles have been particularly tricky to find, though). Most of her titles were reprinted here in the US in that long gap between Goblet and Phoenix, though some have disappeared again now. That's dumb. She rocks. Go get some.

If they liked... The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Try: The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld
I'm playing off the post-apocalyptic dystopian aspects in this list; all the entries are also approximately one age-group level higher (teen vs. young readers). In Westerfeld's vision, civilization's collapse was brought about by an oil-devouring microbe - no gas, no power, everything went haywire. In the rebuilt society, in order to level the playing field for people, everyone is given plastic surgery at the age of 16 - so that everyone is "pretty" and can therefore succeed. Except, of course, things don't work out like that...

Or: The Declaration by Gemma Malley
You thought China's one-child policy was bad? What if the only way to be permitted to have a child was to agree to die yourself? Humanity is now effectively immortal thanks to a drug called, appropriately enough, Longevity. With no death, there can be no new life or the world will become hopelessly overpopulated; any children born illegally are captured and placed in "surplus" homes, where they're constantly told that they shouldn't exist and they must work extra-hard to make up for it. Of course, rebellion ensues... (sequel is The Resistance).

Or: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Do I really have to talk too much about this one? It's huge. It's brilliant. It's Survivor meets Lord of the Flies, and yet so much more. It's also a very chilling view into what very well could happen to the US should things continue at their present pace...

If they liked... Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Try: H.I.V.E. by Mark Walden
Talk about your anti-heroes - H.I.V.E. stands for "Higher Institute of Villainous Education", and it's where tomorrow's supervillains are being trained up. You've got hackers and cat burglars, martial arts experts and plants from hell, all mixed up and ready to wreak havoc. It has taken forever for this one to make it across the Pond (it's a British series and they're something like 3 or 4 volumes ahead), but it looks like the third one finally has a US pub date.

Or: The Genius trilogy by Catherine Jinks
Actually, the third one in this series took forever to make it to the US as well, but it's here now, at least in hardcover. Australian teenager Cadel is - well, he's another superhacker, but with some seriously messed up family stuff and a pretty warped worldview (at least at first). I confess, I haven't read the third one yet on this one either, but I flew through the first two.

If they liked... The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Try: The Theodosia series by R. L. LaFevers
Theodosia likes nothing better than messing around with the Egyptian antiquities her parents bring back from archaeological expeditions. There are a couple of problems, however: number one is her exceedingly proper grandmother. The second is that she can sense the curses the objects carry...

Or: The Bartimaeus series by Jonathan Stroud
While not necessarily Egyptian, everybody's favourite wise-cracking djinn does have a wealth of knowledge of ancient civilizations that he's more than happy to share. After a hiatus of about 4 years, Bartimaeus recently returned to print in a fourth volume set loooong before the original trilogy (no spoilers...).

Getting a little more general for the adults, moving more into the range of authors rather than specific titles. Once again, I'm leading with something pretty popular and recommending lesser-known works that I feel should be better-known. 'Cause they're like, y'know, good 'n' stuff, ne?

If they liked... Alice Hoffman
Try: Keith Donohue
Magical realism is the tie-in here - Donohue's two books are both wonderful tales, beautifully told.

If they liked... Diana Gabaldon
Try: Robertson Davies
Okay, no Scotsmen here; however, this late great Canadian writer penned (or typed, I won't pretend I know which one) several fabulous trilogies (loosely connected - blink and you'll miss the link) with similar scope and breadth (not to mention some utterly fabulous character names - Liselotte Vitzliputzli comes to mind...).
Or: Kate Mosse
Erm, no, not the model. Think southern France, reincarnation (maybe), historical calamities - oh, and a nice high page count.

If they liked... Philippa Gregory
Try: Susan Carroll
For those who just can't get enough of that old-time English royalty.

If they liked: Elizabeth George
Try: Ian Rankin
Gritty detecting on the streets of Edinburgh with Inspector John Rebus.
Or: Denise Mina
Less than an hour west by train (I know, I've done it), Glasgow comes to life in these mysteries.

I could honestly continue this post indefinitely, if it weren't for two things:
1) who would read it all?
2) my internet was out all evening and I'm scrambling to finish it before I fall asleep.
So, if you've got any "but hey, what about (fill in the blank)?" for me, just say so and I'll answer in the comments and edit in the good ones. Happy reading to all, and to all a good night! (or something like that)

28 November 2010

Drabble Dare # 11 : Results

If you remember, and I would not blame you if you have forgotten, we had posted four images on November 7, 2010 and had asked you to drabble to them. We were overwhelmed by the quality of the drabbles we received - either you have been secretly drabbling for months, or you are just brilliant - and the task of judging the entries was anything but easy. But, strangely, the results were unanimous (I think we were all looking for a fresh interpretation, and all these drabbles had them) -

Image # 1 - Pole Star
Winner - Sue Travers

Image # 2 - ice sculptures

Image # 3 - Poinsettias
Winner - Sue Travers

Image # 4 - Colourful beads

Congratulations Sue (x 2), James and Marian.

We do normally post the winning drabbles here, but this time we are using them in the December Feature that we will be mounting at the Burrow. Do check back on December 1, for more details.

We only hold the creative licence for two of the four photographs. Attributions for the other two photographs here.

26 November 2010

Some (un)conventional advice

Shop for groceries when you are hungry

Granted, everyone responds to hunger and grocery stores differently. But if you are a young person living on your own for the first time, the conventional wisdom -- "Don't go shopping when you are hungry" -- doesn't work.

When I did it this way, I ended out purchasing the ingredients to cook smart, healthy meals. The vegetables rotted within a few weeks and the pasta gradually morphed into part of the cupboard. By separating the act of shopping from the anticipation of eating, I was making purchases based on an idealized (and therefore unreal) version of my culinary self. But in reality, I did not have the patience or interest in cooking.

After changing habits, I did purchase some junk food, but not that much, and at least I ate it. But by shopping hungry, most of what I purchased was marginally healthy stuff that I would actually take the time to eat-- bagels, deli turkey slices, microwavable breaded chicken, etc.

Once you've established that routine, you can then evolve superior habits by deliberately indulging cravings for more complicated meals. A good intermediate step here would be pre-formed hamburger patties that you can slap into a pan and eat within minutes. From there, you can move on to pasta dishes, omelettes, or whatever moderately simple stuff suits your taste.

It's OCO, not OCD

Yes, some people really do have an obsessive-compulsive disorder. But like most behavioral disorders, it's a misapplication of an evolutionarily advantageous behavior. More to the point, people who are often referred to as 'OCD' (even by themselves) are really just orderly people. It's a personality trait that serves a purpose-- just like being creative, stubborn, or social. People establish routines for a reason, and although any one instance of action might seem pointless, every instance contributes to the maintenance of a near-perfect habit.

Once upon a time, I was wearing some sideways-pocketed slacks when I sat down in a bank while waiting for a friend. My keys slipped out, all unnoticed. Ninety seconds after leaving the bank, I went back for my keys.

How did I know they were gone? Obsessive-compulsive pocket-checking. It's one of several OC behaviors that I engage in, and it saves me a hell of a lot of trouble. And even if you don't much care about your keys, isn't that obsessive routine mainenance the sort of thing you'd like from the guy running a power plant? Or the pilot of your airplane? Or your physician?

Of course it is.

Don't use gadgets to teach children language skills.

This may surprise you, but anyone with a factory and a marketing team can slap together a bunch of crap and call it "educational". Not all of it is necessarily crap, and if you buy some software and/or videos to teach, say, history & science, it might even be useful.

But language skills are not information. The are part of the very process of thinking. And the mechanisms for learning language skills are both incredibly sophisticated and complex beyond our current understanding.

So-called "educational" videos that purport to teach kids new words have actually been shown to make things worse than just leaving the television off and letting the kids listen to adults. Sitting a kid in front of a computer, or some electronic reading assistant, to teach him how to read is the equivalent of strapping robotic servos onto your baby's legs and then putting him on a 30-degree incline while he's learning to crawl. He'll learn to do one thing using specific tools, but his ability to apply that learning to the next level (walking, running) will be utterly devastated.

Children who learn to read out of books (or off a computer screen, if necessary, but without any software assistance) can apply their language skills elsewhere. They can read signs, they can read notes, they can learn to write, type, and text, and-- of course-- they can learn to interact with a computer. But it doesn't work the other way around.

Honesty Is Power

Humans are naturally good liars. Unfortunately. I have occasionally pondered why we evolved such a destructive skill. Partly, I think it's a necessary consequence of the theory of mind. After all, without a concept of untruth, we wouldn't wouldn't be able to imagine hypothetical situations, plan for various possibilities, or even tell stories. In addition, it seems to be a necessary skill for everyone to have if even one person has it, lest we be too easily deceived.

But in practice, it's not a good practice. Let's say I don't want to go to your birthday party because I'd rather hang out at the bar; but I tell you that I'm helping a friend move. Because of the lie, I am forced to spin off an entire alternate reality, one that I-- not you-- have to work to maintain. When the subjects of parties, bars, and my fictional friend come up, I am forced to steer the conversation away, cut things short, or invent new lies to cover the first.

Lying is a response to weakness and fear. In some bizarre hypothetical jungle scenario, that might be useful, but in the modern social world it is not. In the real world of adult interaction, lying causes the weakness and fear, not the other way around.

If you admit your own shortcomings ("sorry, I like to drink too much") you destroy the grounds others have for judging and attacking you based on those shortcomings. At the same time, you make it more difficult for them to deny their own shortcomings. If you are frank about your reaction to a situation ("that party sounds like it's going to be boring"), you make your word more trusted and therefore more valuable. In the party vs moving vs bar scenario, the next time your friend plans a party, he will be especially eager to hear your opinion, and doubly pleased if you think the party is interesting.

I pride myself on being honest, but if there is one person I can identify who exceeds me, it is my mother. She is a frail-seeming woman of 61 years with a mild speech defect. But because of her reputation for truthfulness, she can be downright intimidating. People with more apparent skills, stature, or youth, and even her own workplace managers are wary of crossing her. She is immune to counterattack and deflection because she has no deceptions or embarrassments to defend. If she offers complaint or criticism, it cannot be dismissed as random griping or vindictive falsehood, because she never engages in either. And when she gives suggestions, praise, or offers, she draws a much more attentive response because her words are known to be genuine.

Naturally, the ability to "intimidate" through honesty is not something that can be wielded haphazardly. It's a trait you can only abuse one time. Thankfully.

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25 November 2010

Delusional Thursday - Doomed

Before I go any further, I should probably warn you that this post is filled with doom. Not just any old doom, but the doomiest doom in the history of doominess.

OK, maybe it's not as bad as all that, but I can be a Drama Queen when I want to be. And I have a habit of exaggerating, not to mention taking things just ever so slightly out of context.*shifty*

Anywho, 'doom' is the word of the day (actually, it's the word of the month for me apparently). *nods* I could tell you that I've already failed NaNoWriMo (I know, there's still a few days left in November, but honestly, I really don't see me writing 30k words in the next five days), so that's pretty doomy. Though to be truthful, quite how I was supposed to write a 50k word novel while my hubby decided to get knocked from his motorcycle, my son got himself kicked off his course for threatening someone with a hammer, my daughter decided to turn into Regan from The Exorcist (seriously, I swear I saw her head rotate last week), my two cats almost died from toxic poisoning from the stupid 'flea repellent' that I used on them, the house was suddenly flea infested, AND my health decided to take a holiday for the past four weeks... well, it just wasn't happening.

See, this is my life. If something bad happens, you can bet that several more bad things will swiftly follow. And sometimes these things are so bizarre that they honestly couldn't happen to anyone else. Or at least, that's how it seems to me. Obviously I am doomed.

I'm a bit odd when it comes to doom. Well, a wee bit evil to be perfectly honest. I enjoy spreading doom, it brightens my day. Oh, not serious doom - I'm not (nor ever have been) naturally inclined towards cruelty - but when it comes to writing stories, I like a good dose of doom to be included. And if I can make a few people cry, all the better. I'm just evil that way. There's something about doomy books that calls to me; some people call these books 'dark', but that doesn't sound nearly as fun as 'doomy', and frankly, 'dark' suggests seriousness, while 'doom' (and my personal variations of the word) can be interpreted in a number of ways.


Doom - Bad. Very bad.

Doomy - Bad. Very bad, but with the possibility of comic tones.

Doominess - Still bad, very bad, but most likely will contain elements of a slightly moronic nature.

DOOMED - This one shouldn't be confused with 'doomed', as, like 'doom', 'doomed' is still 'bad, very bad', but by capitalizing the word. we have 'DOOMED' instead, which is the Elrond of Lord of the Rings kind of doomed. You don't know what that is? Well, you are obviously doomed. DOOMED I say!!

So anyway, as I was saying, I like to include doom in my writings. I also like to include humor as and when I can, and sometimes include both if at all possible. But doominess is my very favourite thing to write. Probably because my life often feels full of doom. Or even DOOM sometimes (which is slightly more doomier than 'doom').

Anywho... howzat for delusional? Youknowzitmakezsense! See you next week, when I am scheduled for the 'Who Am I' post? That should be fun. I think I'll need to research a bit for that one...

Image courtesy of publicdomainimagesdotnet

24 November 2010

Writing Wednesday: The Audience

Waiting for Inspiration
For the last several minutes, I have been staring at a blank screen and a blinking cursor hoping inspiration will strike and I would be able to compose something that could pass for a blog post. But the only thing that has come on (repeatedly) is the power saver mode of the computer. Inspiration is not going to strike. I am not on Mount Sinai, and the Ten Commandments of Writing are not going to miraculously reveal themselves to me in a form that can be readily shared. If I have to get this post on Writing and Motivation posted, I would have to do it all by myself.

But when the last thing you wrote was five months back, how on earth can you justify writing a post on Writing? And even if you did write that post, why would anyone want to read it? Maybe that is the reason why I have not been able to write - because I am trying to write for an audience which I think I know, and can't come up with something even remotely interesting.

Now that I know the problem - not knowing what the audience wants, and therefore not being able to give it - what should I do? Luckily, that problem has only two solutions, one of which is totally unacceptable to me. I could either quit and allow Hart's fantastic post to enjoy 48 hours in the spotlight, or I could wing it. Much as I would love to have Hart's post stay at the top of the blog page for a whole day more, I cannot bring myself to quit. Which means, I have to just wing it.

The Audience
And the best way to do that is by talking about the problem itself - knowing your audience. As many of you know (and the rest might have guessed), I work for a non-profit. And the unfortunate reality of non-profits is that what matters almost as much as the work you do is how you communicate your work so as to be able to raise funds that help you continue doing what you do.

One of the organisations I raise funds for provides vocational training for physically challenged girls from disadvantaged (but not totally impoverished) backgrounds. The most popular vocational training course (after tailoring) is the course that trains you to be a beautician. It is popular not only because there is great demand for the services of beauticians, but also because girls from conservative families are not encouraged to work in an environment where there are men - the beauty business is one business where you are unlikely to ever encounter anyone but other women. I would have imagined that it would be easy to raise money to subsidise the training of girls as beauticians, but even after two months, I found that nobody was even remotely interested in the donation option.

Had I been able to afford it, I would have sponsored as many girls as I could. Why then was nobody else interested in doing so? There had to be a reason, and a very compelling reason too, because it had not met with limited success, it had met with zero success.

After inwardly blaming the marketing team for not pushing the donation option, I took a look at the text. Nowhere was it mentioned that the girls were physically challenged. The organisation was mentioned, but unless you are familiar with the organisation itself, why would you assume the girls had disabilities? What's worse, thought statistics were given on the size of the beauty business in the country, the fact that the beauty business was one of the few fields which girls from "good" families were allowed to enter was not mentioned at all.

The effective approach
I would love to tell you that the moment the text was changed, donations started flooding in, but that is not the case. The change was made only yesterday, and it is far too early to tell. But I suspect people will look at the donation option with greater interest now.

There is a lesson it in for all of us who call ourselves writers. We are often guilty on two counts - we know what we intend to write but are often guilty of not expressly writing it, and we write for ourselves rather than for an audience. The first is sloppy writing and should be caught in the editing phase; the second will make the process of marketing the work impossibly difficult.

How do we avoid these traps? I wish I had enough experience to give you an answer, but the best I can manage is that we avoid these traps by being acutely aware of them. If Joanne Kathleen could abbreviate her name to her initials to appeal to what she thought would be her audience, why should lesser mortals shy away from trying to please their audience?

23 November 2010

Two Topics: Calls for Action

One Bookish, one not. I will start with the Bookish one, as politics periodically offend, but they are BOTH important, so I hope you'll hear me out.

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day

I have a friend Jenny who is a writer, but is also a passionate promoter of independent bookstores. There has been a lot of talk of late about the unavoidable extinction of the bookstore, and for those of us who LOVE BOOKS, this is a terrifying thought. As the landscape changes and bookstores try to find their footing, the smaller places are the ones who have smaller margins and a trickier job adapting. But the smaller ones have also been friendlier to the occasional author who has had trouble on a larger scale—perhaps their book is too edgy for a larger place—maybe they are local and the run is small, so there is trouble getting into the big chains. Perhaps the most important piece, is that the independents are run by our neighbors and friends... they are us. I don't have any desire to have the big ones go under, and confess to ADORING being in a huge building full of books, but the quirky, nooky, friendly, homey independents are something special.

So Jenny had this great idea... and idea to bring a little traffic into bookstores... to inspire a little love of bookstores in our kids... maybe to urge us to pick up a few of our Christmas gifts in a bookstore. December 4 will be the First Annual 'Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day'. And you can help!

Do you have a bookstore you frequent? TELL THEM! Of COURSE they have a vested interest in getting customers to come in. Maybe they will offer a special promotion, or have a kids or YA author come in to do a reading... Maybe they will put up a poster, send out a newsletter, spread the word. All of us want bookstores to succeed, so this is a great chance to advance this possibility!

If you want more information, check out Jenny's blog, and contact her. She is great at this stuff and may have some ideas on how you can advance this project in your own town.

(now for my political hat)
High Stakes Letter Campaign

This one is potentially more divisive. My opinions are not necessarily those of my fellow Burrowers, and certainly don't reflect on us as a collective. In the US there are some important laws that have some decisions coming up in this lame duck congressional session. My intention here is to share a blog about a very personal journey through the dysfunctional US economy at the moment, present my opinion, but then just to urge you to let your congress people know what you think is right. What do you want your representatives to do?

My friend Lisa was laid off quite a while back when the organization she worked for seriously downsized. But I recommend you read her version of it, rather than my cliff notes.

I encourage you to look through Lisa's blog a little—she is extremely articulate on the difficulties of making it in this economy...

So what are the deals? Two things.

The Bush Tax Cuts in the US are set to expire at the end of 2010. And of course everyone is worried about their own pocketbooks. Obama says we can't afford to keep this in place for people making more than $200,000. Warren Buffett, multi-billionaire who would be hit hardest, agrees. We are running a huge deficit and lose our ability to provide services if there is no money. Now I know that is every good Libertarian's wet dream... no government. But the reality is, people are falling through the cracks... real people with real faces who are trying very hard to keep their heads above water.

There is some argument that these people with these higher incomes are the job creators in this country, but I argue it's a separate issue. The cut-off is for PERSONAL INCOME. You create jobs with that money, it REDUCES your recorded income and you are off the list... and the fact of the matter is, people in this income bracket SAVE more (so the money leaves the fiscal engine altogether) and invest more of their money abroad (vacations, luxuries, investments)--for each dollar 'not taxed' here, only about forty cents becomes part of our economy. This is contrasted to the middle and lower income groups for whom upward of 80% of any maintained dollars are then 'spent'. Oh, I get it. With the rich you get to call it reinvestment, and with the poor they are just spending the damn things, but it is the SAME THING.

Contrasted to this is the Unemployment benefits for people who are trying like hell to find work (anyone who has stopped looking doesn't get these, FYI—my hubby, who is currently a student in hopes of a better future, does not qualify)... But that doesn't change the fact that he was laid off two years ago, or the fact that he tried to get a job with no luck (that was when the school idea finally kicked in).

But some people already HAVE their education. They just work in sectors that saw big downturns. This weekend there was an article in the Detroit Free Press that Michigan's economy is finally going to turn around... do you know what the numbers are? Michigan's unemployment rates, past and anticipated are as follows:

2009: 13.6%
2010: 13.4%
2011: 12.6%
2012: 11.4%

See that whopping turn around? And these are just the people who have NOT YET GIVEN UP.

I think most of you know in the US it really takes two incomes to survive unless you are in a dinky, cheap place, or have a serious wage-earner—an engineer or a doctor... So how are these families getting by? The answer is BARELY.

So while congress debates extending tax breaks for the wealthy, shouldn't they REALLY be debating extending unemployment benefits for the people who are already suffering? Who HAVE been suffering and will most likely continue to suffer? I happen to think using that money for food and heat is a better investment than using it for boats and vacation homes...

At least that is my opinion on the matter. You don't have to share it. What you SHOULD do, is tell your congressional delegates what you want. If there is a flood of public feedback, it can't be ignored.

And if you need some help FINDING THEM, this should help:

Take Your Child to Work Image borrowed from site with permission
Unemployment Permission

22 November 2010

Reading Mondays:

Hola! Welcome to my section of the Burrow virtual space, Chary's Charming Chamber. There is a cappuccino/espresso machine and tea set over to your left. In the center of the chamber, there are chaise lounges, enormous floor pillows, reading chairs with overhead lamps, a window seat with a view of the city and lovely little chocolate treats on the coffee table. Browse through my selection of wonderfully enchanting literature on the back wall library and have a seat. Stay awhile. Perhaps you would prefer one of these works of literature:

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb: This is the book that I am currently reading. I have to say that Robin Hobb continues to amaze me. She creates an entire world with complex storylines, diverse characters and rich imagery which transport you to the treacherous forests of the Rain Wilds. This book is fantasy and is part of a series. However, it is the first in its trilogy and not necessary to read the trilogies that come before. For those who love dragons, magic, psychic abiliites, and the capacity to communicate with animals; then this is your book. This is an adult book with adult themes, sexual situations and violence.

"They had come so far, yet now that she was here, the years of journeying were already fading in her mind, giving way to the desperate needs of the present. Sisarqua opened her jaws and bent her neck. The air was too cold and her gills were drying out too quickly. There was nothing she could do about that except to work more swiftly. She scooped her jaws into the immense trough and came up with her mouth full of a slurry of silver-streaked clay and water. She threw her great head back and gulped it down. It was gritty and cold and strangely delicious. Another mouthful, another swallow. And again."
Excerpt, p. 1, The Serpent's End.

The Heroes of Olympus Book One: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan: In his newest adventure, we are back where it all started, Camp Half-Blood. We revisit old characters like Percy Jackson and Annabeth. However, there is a new generation of demigods with their own prophecy to fulfill in an attempt to save the world.

"Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,
To storm or fire the world must fall.
An oath to keep with a final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death."

This is a children's book for ages 9- 12 (approximately 4th to 7th grade). It is infused in Greek mythology and educational as well as entertaining. It is part of a 5 book series.

Iliad by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles: I find this one to be the best translation. This is an epic poem, which was actually sung to an audience, written in such captivating language, one cannot put the book down. Most know the plot - Love Goddess offended that supermodel status girl is the most beautiful in the world. Goddess places curse on girl. Greek King loses supermodel status girl to Trojan prince. Greek King brings army to Troy to get her back. Most feared warrior fights Kings battle. Warrior is really angry all the time. Greeks and Trojans fight epic battles. Small respite to bury dead. I won't spoil the ending, but will leave you with my favorite quote:

"Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.,"
-Excerpt, Book 1, lines 1-8.

This is a classic book suitable for adolescents to adults. There is much violence, love, sex, lies and betrayal. Unfortunately, the Greeks and Trojans did not have digital video, shortening the war to a mere two years instead of ten.

Well, that is just a small sample of the books in my library. Feel free to stay in this gorgeous reading room for as long as you want. Adios!

The first image, The Moroccan Style Reading Room, can be found here.

19 November 2010

I live in my own world, but it's okay, they know me here

Errrm. Hi. *waves feebly* I'm not let-it-all-hang out like our resident Tart, nor do I have evocative atmospheric childhood scenes like Chary. In fact, I'm pretty much a great big oddball. Sometimes I joke that I would've made a great 19th-century noblewoman - I can speak multiple languages, play multiple instruments, knit well and sew decently, write a neat hand (well, hands, actually...), and if you come over for dinner I'll send you away stuffed and happy.

I have a feeling that I'll have to do a few more of these posts, though, so I'll focus on the one thing that's making me a stressed-out heap of mush this week. 'Cause it's recital time. *cue ominous music*

As I'm sure you can all tell from my username, I'm a violist. Much to my surprise, after six years of top-notch conservatory training, I found myself doing a lot of teaching - and really enjoying it, to boot. So I have a bunch of students... and twice a year, they get up and perform, for me and each other and their parents/siblings/friends/whoever-feels-like-coming. Being one of those adults (in age, if not attitude) who actually remembers what being a kid feels like, I would never make them do anything I'm not willing to, which means I gotta get up there too. Let me tell you, anyone who says they don't get nervous on stage hasn't gotten up there in front of a bunch of staring little kids who think you're the reincarnation of Primrose (that's him on the left there) or something like that (yes, they know Primrose, he's on the wall of my studio, along with Fuchs, Tertis, and Clarke {I'll put up more when my printer stops throwing hissy fits}).

Recital preparation week is HELL. There's the obligatory rehearsal with the pianist, who is not me because 1) my parents wouldn't let me take lessons when I was a kid, 2) I don't have a piano at home to practice on and 3) I was never very good anyway, even after 5 semesters of lessons in college. So we need to work out tempo markings and repeats and cues and introductions and all that fluff. The site, well, I booked that back in June, so that's taken care of, but I do have to make sure everyone knows the time and place and dress code, signs up to bring a little something munchie to share after the performance, and coughs up a few bucks to cover the hall rental, accompanist fee and flowers, and - let's get real, I always lose money on these things. If I actually charged for my time doing all the prep work, they'd all have to fork over about $30, which is just not going to fly.

That's the complaining part. "So why the hell do you do it, then?" I hear you asking (yes, you, in the green shirt - yeah, on the left there). Many, many reasons... like the importance of having and meeting a goal; the fact that music is, after all, a performance art; the chance for them to hear (and sometimes be inspired by) each other; a really good excuse for me to keep my chops up ('cause if I'm playing, I'd better damn well sound better than even my very best student, ne?). Sometimes it's a stepping-stone on the way to something else - maybe there's an audition coming up and a student needs a place to try out the piece before they're getting scored on it. Sometimes the only thing that'll get a kid through a troublesome work is the fear of public humiliation if they don't get it nailed down (not all that proud of that one, but it does work). Sometimes a couple of friends want to play a duet, and where else are they going to show it off? They definitely get a good sense of progress by where they are in the recital order (the little guy in the picture there was 6 years old for that one - he's 10 now) - the further down the line they move, the more advanced they've become. (Oh, and where else do I get to wear any of the 9 formal gowns in my closet, anyway?)

Just to make things extra-nutty this week though, I forgot that the Veterans' Day holiday is not one of the "observed" ones - no automatic long weekend, so it landed on a Thursday this year. Guess when I had the first group class of the year scheduled? *facepalm* Group class is both a ton of fun and a screaming headache, something as necessary as it is nerve-wracking (for me, anyway). See, I hate being the centre of attention, and oh man, standing up in front of a bunch of people (even if most of them are under 4 feet tall) is terrifying. And I have to do it for an hour. Once we're playing, it's fine. The viola can speak for me, he's really good about that (yes, my viola is definitely a "he". No, I don't know how I know that, I just do.). The talking/explaining/corralling that goes on in between, though? Yikes. But the skills they get from playing as a group - the listening, the watching, the adjusting and the trying and the "oh hey I bet I can do that after all" - they're invaluable, and help prepare today's little munchkins for next year's elementary orchestra and middle school's ensembles and high school's chamber groups... Plus, holy cow, they are SO CUTE.

The best thing about my kids, however, is that they're all such interesting people. Kids who choose the viola - overall they're a pretty varied bunch, but there are generally two traits I can count on. They are smart. And they are weird. Most of them are bookworms (we might chat Harry Potter or Scott Westerfeld or Agatha Christie while unpacking), many have at least one unusual hobby ("Ooh, I can't make it Wednesday night, that's fly-fishing club."), and they not only say things that make me think but continually force me to refine and clarify my own thought processes. We have a deal, my students and I - I will never, ever answer a question with "Because I said so" or "Because I'm the teacher". Those aren't answers. They're evasions. Granted, my answer might be "I don't know", but I owe them that honesty if I really don't, and after all, if I can't give them a reason for doing something a certain way, then why the hell am I asking for it?

As I sit here putting the finishing touches on this post, I've survived the rehearsal and the group class, with only the recital left to go. Then I only have to make it till Tuesday and then it's Thanksgiving! My very favourite holiday! Food and friends - two of the best things around. But if I start in on that, this post will triple in length, so I will leave it there and wish everyone a happy weekend - but do please wish me luck tomorrow, just in case. ;-)

18 November 2010

Delusional Thursday: Interviewing God

I had no particular a priori inspiration for today's blog. So I thought I'd do something a little different and actually pay attention to the daily category requirement. "Delusional", eh? Time to interview the Lord of the Universe, I think.

ME: Good morning, sir! Or perhaps I should say 'good afternoon'. What time is it where You are?

GOD: Thou sacreligious cur. How dare you set thyself above they fellow man and claim personal contact with Me?

ME: But I guess You're everywhere. So 'good morning' always works, right?

GOD: Thou shalt not proceed without disclaimer. Say thou that this conversation is a product of thy imagination and nothing more.

ME: You just said it Yourself. I doubt that adding my support will carry any extra weight with what's been proclaimed as divine truth. So: Seen any good movies lately?

GOD: I see all movies through every stage of development, production, and presentation.

ME: Of course You would. But hey, You get to watch them all for free, right? And read every book, and listen to every song--

GOD: It's hardly a treat.

ME: And that means You see all the naughty pictures and videos, too, doesn't it?

GOD: Don't go there, boy. I'm inclined to raise a mighty windstorm and blow thirty shingles off your roof, so you have to write this while a contractor is pounding in nails overhead.

ME: Um, that already happened.

GOD: I'm proactive.

ME: Point taken. Let's get back to movies. What'd You think of Avatar? It seemed pretty popular.

GOD: The narrative device is brilliant. Most films suffer from a lack of narrative, or are stuck with a forced voice-over. But Avatar incorporated the narration into the action through the protagonist's recording sessions.

ME: So it was a good movie?

GOD: The ecology on Pandora made me cringe. A decidedly amateur effort.

ME: Speaking of which, everyone's talking about life and the universe. How did You come up with the idea for Creation?

GOD: You wouldn't understand the answer.

ME: Oh. So You didn't just, You know, blow up a singularity and watch the thing evolve for 16 billion years?

GOD: That's ridiculous. Your universe is thousands of years old, not billions.

ME: Baloney. I'm not one to argue with God--

GOD: Yes, actually, you are.

ME: --but we've got dinosaur bones that are millions of years old, and rocks here on Earth that date back billions of years.

GOD: You do.

ME: So that stuff is fake?

GOD: Not at all. Everything from the Big Bang, through the evolution of life, to the first steps of mankind is perfectly causal in accordance with what you call the 'laws of physics'.

ME: Now I'm confused. Let's back up: Is there any divine intervention between the Big Bang and the appearance of man?

GOD: You are confused. You're conflating 'who' and 'how'. That period is 100% divine intervention, because every wobble of every subatomic speck is My creation. Nonetheless, I made it elegant. That is to say, the "natural" laws and initial conditions are sufficient to produce the results.

ME: Ha! Now I've got You. You created the Bang and some physical laws, then waited for man to evolve-- which took billions of years.

GOD: 'Waiting' is a fallacy. In that system, time has no meaning for Me. The creation is all one piece. One could say that, to you, the universe is billions of years old. But to Me, it is merely thousands of years old, beginning with the arrival of humans-- when I gave you Free Will-- at which point I allowed the universe to change and develop according to your decisions. Both perspectives are correct.

ME: Fine, have it Your way. Is there anything You can't do?

GOD: Generate a random number.

ME: Fair enough. Now let's get to the big question: Would You be so kind as to tell our readers what the correct religion is?

GOD: Don't be silly. There's so much variance within each religion that My revelation wouldn't improve people's behavior. In fact, it would make it worse-- with at least a small seed of doubt, people occasionally use other tools like reason and their own consciences. Take away that uncertainty, and you take away any grounds for argument with insufferable fools.

ME: Do You have any advice for our readers?

GOD: Yes. Don't believe what you read on blogs.

ME: Cute. But I'm not going to publish that answer.

GOD: We'll see.

17 November 2010

Writing Wednesday: The Five W's

A quick post today, mostly because I've been almost completely consumed by NaNo madness (with what was left over being consumed by my Inner It), but also because I've only just remembered that it was my turn to write this week's Wednesday post , and I now have only 30 minutes or so to get something done). *shifty*

So... the title 'The Five W's' - what exactly is that? It's actually very simple, and it's a tool that I've used many times to come up with the basic framework for a story.

Who? - Who is your main character? You really need to know your main character inside out before you can tell your story. Is it a male or a female? Do they have special abilities? Are they part of a large family, or all alone in the world? Do they have a history that the reader needs to be aware of? Or, if not the reader, is there a back story that YOU need to know? All these questions (and more) need to have answers, or your main character will be a stranger to you, and you can't write about someone you don't know, right?

What? - You need a plot, obviously, but what is that plot? Every author differs in how much they plan before they actually start writing their story, but you need to have a core theme whether you plan ahead or not. The first 'book' that I finished (story wise, not edited or polished as of yet *shifty*) was easy. I loosely based the story on Cinderella, only my main character was a twenty-something typical modern-day Cardiff-born girl. I knew exactly where I was going, and where I needed to end up. My current WIP is different as the tale is completely original. I know where to end, but getting there is harder as I don't have any form of reference. I have my beginning, and I know my end, I just need to muddle through the middle part. However, if you don't have any idea at all what you are aiming for, then you will get lost. Trust me, I know from (plenty of) experience. So you definitely need to have the basic plot formed before you start writing. You don't have to have a detailed chapter by chapter plan, but I find it helpful to list five or six things that I have to get to in my story, and then work my way through them.

When? - This doesn't always need to be addressed - if you are writing a story based in the here and now, for example - but if you are writing something historical, futuristic, fantasy or sci-fi based, then you need to get some preparation in beforehand. The good news is that it's not as hard as you might think. If you are writing a historical story, then there are tons of way to gather research - no problems there. Even easier is when you are writing futuristic, fantasy or sci-fi, because you can basically make up whatever facts you need - it's your creation, after all. (Can you tell why I like the idea of writing fantasy? Me no likey research, uh-uh).

Where? - Are you writing a story based in our world? If so, where? Find out as many details as you can about the area you are basing your story on. If you are basing it on a real place, then include some details that will be familiar to those readers who may live there. If the place is fictional, then you need to perhaps 'borrow' some features from a similar place just to make the story feel more authentic.

Of course, if you are setting the scene on a different planet, of in a different time, then you can resort to my favourite thing in the world, and make it up. But be consistent, and keep notes, or you may end up naming a village three different things (or that might just be me *shifty*).

Why? - Lastly, the biggest 'w' of all (at least, it is for me, at any rate). Why does this story need to be told? Why is it different from all the other books of the same genre that are currently available? And for your main character, why are they on this journey? What is moving them forward? Your main character has to have a reason for their actions throughout the story, and your readers will need to know them too. There has to be something that drives them. An aimless character is a boring character (in my admittedly humble opinion), so you need to figure out why they do what they do.

All this is pretty simple stuff, and you probably know it already, but although it's simple, it's not only something that is essential to your storytelling, but is also something that we sometimes forget to do. Answer the five w's before you do anything else, and you'll be off to a good start with your story.

Image courtesy of publicdomainimagesdotnet.

(Ooh, only twenty minutes late posting.... not bad at all!)

16 November 2010

Topical Tuesday- Girl Effect

Last week, I found myself in Rural India. Not a place where I would normally find myself, but when you work for a non-profit stranger things happen. Calling the place a village may be a bit of an exaggeration - it was a hamlet of 17 homes, most of them little more than rude huts. And the entire population of the village could be captured in one frame -
It was a village forgotten by progress. Where people were no better off than they must have been a century ago. Where livestock and farming were the the only livelihood options; both barely enough to keep people out of poverty.

But what you noticed most about the village was the fact that women outnumbered men almost two to one. It was not that every family in the village produced more girls than boys, it was just that the men had all migrated to the nearby towns and cities in search of work, leaving the women behind.

And a highly articulate bunch of women they were.

There was the 17-year-old girl who had been forced to drop out of school in Grade 8, because she needed to take care of her sick mother. The girl had a better grasp of the problems facing her village than any other person of her age, and she was willing to try out new ideas that might bring increased prosperity.
"What is your deepest desire?" I asked her.
Pat came the answer - "I want to continue my studies, and do something that improves the quality of life in the village."
She clearly knew where her priorities were.
There was the grandmother of indeterminate age who had got her friends together to form an Emergency Fund. All the women contributed Rs. 100 ($ 2.50) a month to the Fund, which they would dig into in case of medical emergency, to fund small community driven projects, and to meet various contingency expenses. The lady didn't need much prodding to stand up and explain why the women had decided to create the Fund. "There is no way we can predict when we will need money," she said. "And when we need money, nobody has any to spare. This way, we each put away a little bit when we can, and we can all benefit." Was she encouraged by stories of the Microfinance Revolution? She'd never even heard of it, and couldn't be too bothered by it either. Her solution was to take care of a specific problem - it if corresponded to a type, she was not particularly bothered about it.
Would she consider entering local politics?
Why should she? What would politics give her that she did not already have?

The women brought home the fact of the Girl Effect better than many slickly produced videos. Enable women, and you can change the world. And if it takes a video to get that message across, I am more than happy to give it screen space -

15 November 2010

What did I Read?

I thought maybe this week as we head into the release of the 7th Harry Potter movie, that it might be fun to look at what makes a book REALLY MEMORABLE.

The Harry Potter books obviously succeed on MANY levels... not least because they urge me to read them again and again, and repetition increases recall, but what OTHER books have you read that really stuck with you... you know... FOREVER.... And perhaps more importantly... WHY? So here are some of the truly memorable reads I've had... (chronologically, because that is how my brain is organized).

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott: My mom read this to me my first time, but I think I've read it twice on my own. It's funny, as I age, how my preference for sisters has morphed. As a 9-year old, I liked the petulant Amy, though it was Beth who moved me... sickly and weak, but wise. It's clear as an adult that Jo is the real heroine, but I think my draw to this story is the SISTER tale. I was an only child, and I think I fell in love with this interdependence—being able to lean, but being leaned on in turn.

Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain: This is another I read with my mom first, and then read alone (I've even read this one to both my kids). This tale is fabulous, because you don't NEED to know it is important to enjoy it, but it IS important—perhaps less obviously than Huckleberry Finn, but it gives us a slice of history (a not always pretty history) with truth and humor. Mark Twain will always be a favorite of mine.

The Shining, Stephen King: I loved the paranormal piece of this... a hotel as an entity, causing people (and ghosts) to do things... the evil underneath... This book was really the single work that made me a READER. I mean... I could read, obviously, but the kind of girl who carried her book along with what was needed between classes and rushed in and opened my book while everyone was getting sorted...

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens: I struggled through this—it was required reading when I was a freshman in high school, but this book has the best beginning lines and the best ending lines in literature, and in reality, the story itself is quite elegant. I think Dickens takes a little sophistication, language-wise—but it is simply a matter of how language has changed and it takes a little while to fall into it. I've fallen in love with other Dickens' tales over the years, most notably David Copperfield (a character who, oddly enough, was Daniel Radcliffe's first acting role, but I digress).

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas: OH, this is a good tale! Betrayal, revenge, intrigue... I think this is the best example I can think of of a REALLY elegant PLOT.

I remember Five Smooth Stones and The Fountainhead holding important places for me here, but barely remember the plot for either—they were more philosophical prods than memorable books...

All of the above books I read before I finished high school. There are a lot of great books since then, but I think the power may be definable at this point. The books that stuck with me from childhood—more than 30 years in some cases, were all written by people who have lasted as household names. In fact, only Stephen King is contemporary, but even with King, one can hardly argue people don't know who he is. He is the leading man of a certain genre and probably will not be dethroned in his lifetime, or even after.

I have fallen in love with other classics: War and Peace, Les Miserables, Don Quixote... and other nearer contemporaries... Lolita, The Poisonwood Bible, The Drifters, Jitterbug Perfume... I think, though, it is of note that among my list is no author who was a one-shot wonder... I suspect there is a deep resonance of voice that has caused me to truly love—that unique sound that tells us who is speaking, and begs us to continue... As a writer that is encouraging and discouraging at once... in the positive, it seems that if we are true to ourselves, we are more likely to have that voice that continues to come through, but in the negative... think how many hundreds of books I've read that didn't quite stick...

So who are the voices who ring true to you?

Little Women Permission
Tom Sawyer Permission
Don Quixote Permission

12 November 2010

Who am I? Friday: Double Dutch and Pumps

Bronx Stories: Playing in the Pump

I was ten years old in the summer of 1983. It was an extremely hot and humid summer day. You felt like you just wanted to melt into the street like freshly laid asphalt. I was sitting on the stoop of my building praying for a cloud to offer some shade from the oppressive heat. No such luck. It was, unfortunately, sunny with not a cloud in the sky.

I would usually play double-dutch. For those who don't know, it is when you jump with two ropes swinging towards each other in a rhythmic motion. There are two double-dutch turners on either end of the ropes, as pictured above. There was a double-dutch game I played called "D- I- S- H- Choice" This was chanted over and over while the person is jumping rope. When the person messes up and stops jumping (or trips on the ropes as I often did), you would have to perform whatever you landed on. For example, if you landed on "D" you just jump double-dutch as you would normally do. However, if you land on "I", you must pretend to lick ice cream as you are jumping rope. The letter "I" stands for ice cream.

Regrettably, it was too hot to play double-dutch. It was too hot to play "Tag" or "Catch and Kiss." One of the teenagers on the block borrowed his father's pliers and turned the fire hydrant on. It was a glorious relief to feel that cool water course down my body. We would get plastic bottles and fill them up, in an attempt to wet unsuspecting friends who came out of the building. One person took a metal can (like a soup can) and opened both ends. He then straddled the hydrant so that he could place the can over the water. He directed it into a beautiful arc that reached the steps of my building. It made a rainbow and I thought that I had never seen anything so pure and beautiful in my life.

After approximately an hour, the sun began to set. I was still playing in the pump (our ghetto term for hydrant) and was not paying attention. I went to cross the street and a station wagon had side swiped me leaving me dazed and sprawled on the asphalt in between two parked cars. A family friend, Hector, carried me to my third floor apartment and my mother lay me on the top bunk of my bunkbed. My legs were bruised and purple for days. What had begun as a great day turned into an unfortunate disaster. To this day, I wonder why my mother never took me to the hospital. I didn't break anything but it seemed like getting hit by a car warrants a trip to the hospital.

Tasks for DISH Choice, Criss Cross, All Around the World, Pop-Up
1. D= double dutch jumping
2. I= Ice cream licking while double dutch jumping.
3. S= Sleeping Beauty (close your eyes while jumping)
4. H= Hopping in place on one foot.
5. Choice= You pick the task
6. Criss Cross= cross your legs in and out while jumping rope.
7. All Around the World= hopping on one leg and rotating 180 degress at a time.
8. Pop Up= jumping straight up and down for as long as you can.

First Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DoubleDutchBA.jpg

Second image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Philadelphia_fire_hydrant.jpg