Today in 7th Grade…

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My students on a day spent outside by a river. 

My seventh grade students are reading a book called The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig. It’s the story of a Russian Jewish girl whose family is relocated to the Siberian wilderness during World War II. So, we had a lot of discussion about communism and fascism and broken treaties and helplessness and war.

In chapter 3 of the novel, Esther compares her displaced family standing in an empty market square  to those human beings gathered for market in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. My students had never heard of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, so I paused in our reading and told them about the novel. About Harriet Beecher Stowe, a school teacher and abolitionist who wrote a book that fueled a war.

And then I went to youtube and showed them a video of a group of high school students performing the ballet of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in a production of The King and I.  And I explained how, in the play, a British school teacher uses the story of American slavery to open the eyes of the proud King of Siam to his tyrannical ways.

So, a group of American pre-teens read the story of a Russian child who references the story of an African-American slave that is shared by a British school teacher to a Siamese king.

And then we talked about Syria. And refugees. And protesters and lawyers.  And airports and Congress and the Oval Office and Religion and Oppression.

How art imitates life and life inspires art.

And how God is sovereign, immutable, and just. And that just is not always fair. Not always equal. Not always satisfying.

And how love and hope conquer fear. — And then, the bell rang.

Reading Resolution: Check

books booksLast year, in lieu of the horror of the New Year Resolution, I happened upon a reading challenge not for a particular number of books, but for books from particular categories. I gave a mid-way report in July, and now I’m screeching through on the last day of the year to finish up.

For a book that can be read in a day: I spent half of a Saturday afternoon reading Frindle by Andrew Clements. Frindle is a story that traces how words come to have meaning, telling the story of a boy who decides one day to call a pen a “frindle.” And then the idea takes off. It’s a great story, and kept me completely engaged even though my spontaneous decision to read it (as it was due back at the library after sitting around for 2 weeks) came in the middle of house cleaning.

For a book recommended by a librarian, I read We are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen. This was a lovely story of an awkwardly blended family and a bullied boy–and I think what struck me the most was the fact that, though it was written for a YA audience, the themes are just so heavy: sexting, bullying, a parent’s newly discovered homosexuality, parental loss, cancer. The writing is warm and witty, and the familial love that conquers is admirable, but I find it bittersweet that authors have to fill such needs in their audiences. There’s a loss of innocence in our society that has found a home in our kids’ literature. Breaks my heart a little.

For a book that I own, but have never read…My goodness. Just look around my house, and the choice is endless. For that, I went with one that had been languishing on my Kindle from a .99 Book Bub spree: Must Love Otters by Eliza Gordon. A light romance, (just a little on the naughty side) with a hapless heroine I didn’t hate. A fun surprise!

For a book recommended to me by my best friend…I went with a book given to me by my BFF mom and read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Of all the books I read, this one continues to resonate. This is the book where I had to force myself not to look ahead, because I couldn’t stand not knowing. This is the book that made me predict and cringe and mourn. This is the book that I will read again when my heart can take it.

For a book that I’ve already read at least once… I had to go with my perennial favorite Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger. It is perfection.

 

Sweet Victory

This post is from last year, but I cannot think about our Veterans without thinking about my Grandfather. The man fought in a war, but lived in peace.

Allison Pittman

“We were there in the fall, and you’d walk around all those fig trees. We’d eat those fresh, ripe figs. We had our guns hid in the grape vineyards, and if we got caught taking any of those grapes, we’d be court-martialed. But would you pass up a nice, ripe grape? I wouldn’t.” ~~My grandfather, Alfred “Shorty” Hapgood~~

I only knew mGrandpa Hapgoody grandfather as an old, old man. The image of him young, naive, gun over his shoulder and fresh, ill-gotten figs in his hand just makes me remember that our country, our FREEDOM, rests in the hands and hearts of such young people. Kids, some of them. Kids like mine–

I have one son serving in the U.S. Army reserves, wpid-20140801_114617.jpghis twin brother going to college and doing seasonal holiday work at a shoe store in the outlet mall. I couldn’t be prouder of both of them. They both…

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Baseball. History. Romance.

For those of you who will be mourning the loss of baseball after this historic World Series Game 7, or for those of you who don’t quite understand why anybody cares this much about this World Series, let me invite you to the romance of baseball… Three books that give you a peek into the heart of the game and the kind of men who embody the same spirit, strength, and…well, um, hotness that we enjoy today. One book about the Cubs, One book about Cleveland, and One book about the miracle of the men who play the game.

Stealing Home  It’s 1905 and the Chicago Cubs are banking on superstar Donald “Duke” Dennison’s golden arm to help them win the pennant. Only one thing stands between Duke and an unprecedented ten thousand dollar contract: alcohol.

That’s when sportswriter David Voyant whisks Duke to the one-horse town of Picksville, Missouri, so he can sober up in anonymity. He bides his time flirting with Ellie Jane Voyant, his unofficial chaperone, who would rather hide herself in the railway station ticket booth than face the echoes of childhood taunts.

Ned Clovis, the feed store clerk, has secretly loved Ellie Jane since childhood, but he loves baseball and the Duke almost as much–until he notices Ellie Jane may be succumbing to the star’s charm.

Then there’s Morris, a twelve-year-old Negro boy, whose only dream is to break away from Picksville. When Duke discovers his innate talent for throwing a baseball, Morris might just have found his way out.

Four individuals, each living in haunted isolation, each harboring a secret passion. Providence brings them together. Tragedy threatens to tear them apart. Will love be enough to bring them home?

 

The Bridegrooms Will take you to 1895 with the Cleveland Spiders. 
         Tragedy hits the Allenhouse family on a hot summer night in Ohio when a mother of four vanished. Eight-year-old Vada virtually grew up overnight and raised her three younger sisters while her father lost himself in his medical practice in the basement of their home.
Now, Vada is a grown woman, still making her home with her father and sisters. Her days are spent serving as an errand girl for Cleveland’s fledgling amateur orchestra; her evenings with Garrison Walker, her devoted, if passionless, beau.

Dizzying change occurs the day the Brooklyn Bridegrooms come to town to play the Cleveland Spiders and a line drive wallops the head of a spectator. The fan is whisked to the Allenhouse parlor, and questions swirl about the anonymous, unconscious man.
Suddenly, the subdued house is filled with visitors, from a flirtatious, would-be sports writer to the Bridegrooms’ handsome star hitter to the guilt-ridden ballplayer who should have caught the stray shot. The medical case brings Dr. Allenhouse a frustration and helplessness he hasn’t felt since his wife’s disappearance. Vada’s sisters are giddy at the bevy of possible suitors. And Vada’s life is awakened amid the super-charged atmosphere of romantic opportunity.

Lilies in Moonlight Takes you to the 1925 World Series–a stormy, mud-ridden mess of a game, but the destination of two hearts searching for each other.

After a roaring night on the town, fun-loving flapper Lilly Margolis, dazed and disoriented, twists her ankle and falls into the backyard of a wealthy family where the effects of the Great War—over for more than half a decade—are still endured. Inside the walls of the Burnside mansion, Cullen Burnside, a disillusioned and disfigured veteran, and his widowed mother, Betty Ruth, who daily slips a little further into dementia, lead a lonely existence … until Lilly. Whimsical, lighthearted, and beautiful, she rejuvenates their sad, disconnected lives and blossoms in the light of their attention.
But Lilly, like Cullen, is hiding from a painful past. And when Cullen insists on returning her to her faraway home, their budding attraction seems destined to die on the vine. The resulting road trip becomes a journey of self-discovery—but what will Cullen and Lilly find at journey’s end?

 

GOODWIFE PITTMAN:

20160727_163041-1.jpgMy 2nd favorite Stephen King novel is Needful Things. It’s the story of a mysterious stranger who opens up an even more mysterious shop, full of the townspeople’s greatest desires. Want a rare, autographed baseball? Got it. The price? Free, only do some vile thing to your neighbor. One by one, desire by desire, the once friendly town is torn apart, culminating in a vicious, murderous war.

I feel like I’m living in that novel. And, honestly? I think I’d rather be living in Misery. At least then I’d be able to get away to a cool mountain cabin and make a decent living by my writing.

I like Needful Things because, like most of King’s books, it takes this fantastical plot and dives straight to the human condition. We are a fickle, traitorous species. And minute-by-minute, post-by-post, we’re tearing each other apart.needful-things

And I’m torn, too. Like a lot of people, I’m torn between person and platform, believing fiercely with a certain political ideology, but being extremely uncomfortable with the person charged with bringing that ideology to the White House. I don’t (I mean, I really, really, really try never to) post politics on my social media. OK, I did make a joke about wanting to vote for Judge Judy. But I don’t comment much. In fact, I just successfully scrolled past 5 posts on facebook with which I vehemently disagree. I also scrolled past a few that I kinda “liked,” but didn’t bother with the thumbs-up. But in my private life? I am a total political junkie. I love to dissect the debates, to rage against the media machine, to layout campaign advice as if I had the ear of the candidates themselves.

salem-632x362For a truly fascinating read about today’s election, I suggest The Witches, by Stacy Schiff—a beautiful and insightful study of the Salem witch trials of 1692. She writes: We all subscribe to preposterous beliefs; we just don’t know yet which ones they are. We too have been known to prefer plot to truth; to deny the evidence before us in favor of the ideas behind us; to do insane things in the name of reason; to take that satisfying step from the righteous to the self-righteous; to drown our private guilts in a public well; to indulge in a little delusion.

Yeah, guilty. When I’m not playing the part of one of the screaming, hysterical, accusatory girls, I’m the hypocritical Puritan judge embracing suspicion over reason.

I’m not always tactful. A while back at a friend’s house for dinner, I went on a rant, using words to describe a candidate that would have made Billy Bush blush. Later, convicted, I apologized to my friend. I’d spoken against the candidate she supports, I was a guest in her home. I’d been rude and insufferable and obnoxious. The words I used to insult the candidate were ultimately insulting to her. And while it’s true that we all have a right to an opinion, we are under no obligation to share it.

That night, I became a player in the game I’m slowly beginning to hate. I forgot that behind her vote lives a person that I deeply love and respect. I can’t fling mud at her candidate without catching her in the spatter.

And you know what? We’re all supposed to love each other. Whether we agree with them or not. Maybe especially if not.

Does that mean I’ve given up on political discourse? Not at all. But I think I’ve learned to be a little more respectful. And if not respectful, then quiet. And if not quiet, then at least careful to do my plotting and dissecting and ranting and venting with those with whom I’m not likely to offend. It’s a conscientious choice to avoid a political fray. My opinion is simply not—ever—worth offending someone else.

I feel like we’ve elevated voting from a simple civic duty to an all-encompassing judgment of a person’s existence. I’ve seen such vicious attacks between friends, between family members, between utter strangers who have no earthly business arguing with each other. We act as if each campaign—each issue within the campaign—is a two-sided coin. Heads, I’m right; tails, you’re wrong. But no issue is limited to two sides. It’s more like a disco ball, a thousand nuanced surfaces that become something new in spinning light.

Here’s the deal: God willing, we’re all going to be here sharing the country on November 9th. And we’ll be sharing it under the leadership of the person God appointed at creation—long before any words were secretly recorded or deleted. Like my mother used to say when we were about to confront an unpleasant situation: Prepare to get happy. Now, decide what your first step is going to be.

 

 

, but life

“Life got in the way.” It’s what we say when trying to explain those things that have been abandoned  or ignored.

I meant to call you, but life got in the way.20160917_123306-1.jpg

I need to clean out the garage, but life keeps getting in the way.

I’m way behind on my deadline–life keeps getting in the way!

I’ve been serving soup with a mug because my ladles have disappeared and they’re probably behind the refrigerator and we’ve been meaning to pull it out and look, but life gets in the way.

The nooks and crannies of my shower are probably inhabited by Seuss-like creatures embroiled in a civilized election, and I need to just get in there and scrub and clean, but life gets in the way.

I haven’t had the college boys home for a home-cooked meal in two months, because–for all of us–life gets in the way.

I haven’t blogged since July, though I’ve been living the life that got away.

It happens.

But then, last Saturday, even though I could have had the boys down for dinner, or I could have been digging behind the fridge, or scrubbing out the tub, or writing that next novel with the deadline that seems so far away but isn’t… I threw some snacks in a bag, and Mikey and I took the bus to a jazz festival downtown. We spread out a blanket, sipped our fancy-pants iced tea, and listened to a group of five extremely talented young men playing songs that were written before their parents were born. It was the last gasping heat of summer. Present, but not oppressive. We were surrounded by people that spanned the range of the notes spilling from the tenor sax. I dozed off in the middle of the crowd. Mikey walked around, schmoozing the music scene.

Life happened.

Life is what we need to do, every moment, every day. Don’t apologize, don’t explain.

Life isn’t the excuse. It’s the purpose.

 

 

Because I love food…

…and by that I don’t mean to call myself a foodie–far from it. I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, and I get very little satisfaction from a perfectly executed recipe. Of course, maybe that’s because I rarely enjoy a perfectly executed recipe. So, I envy those people who can assemble ingredients by instinct, and I really envy those who can relegate food to a mere source of fuel. Me? I love to taste, enjoy, savor. So, on the continuing adventure of celebrating my birthday, here are five ways you can join me in a culinary celebration.

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This is NOT the pic from the pub burger last night. I’m not sure what it says about me that I have a plethora of burger pics in my gallery. 

  1. Try Something New! Now, my closest friends will call me a hypocrite for saying this, because I usually always get the exact same thing when I go out to eat. Partly becasue, at home, it’s a fairly rare occasion, and I don’t want to take a chance on being disappointed. But when we travel, I like to get the biggest, most obnoxious thing on the menu, knowing that I may never have this chance again. So, last night, after a long day’s drive, we ended up in a pub, and I ordered this monstrosity of a burger, with bacon and little chunks of fried gouda cheese and this sauce…so yummy. (I took a pic, but can’t find it) Would I ever order it again? No. Do I resent the waitress’ pre-emptive warning that she’d never seen anyone finish it? Kind of.
  2. Nutella. On Ritz crackers. The salty and the sweet… I get a jar every payday. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Because of my school’s pay schedule, I don’t get a check in August. Might have to use some of the birthday money…
  3. Whole-grain frozen waffles are my snack solution almost any time of day. With Nutella (sigh), or with PB&J. But, the most fun thing about waffles? (as if there were so many fun things about waffles…) is to find a new topping. This summer, I added Lemon Curd to my repertoire. Get a box of waffles and try something new!
  4. Indulge in your guiltiest of guilty pleasures. Now, for the record–and, yes, I understand the nutritional nightmare of what I am about to say–I love McDonald’s. There. It is a truth now a part of the universe. But, I also know that this cannot be a regular part of my diet, because I love myself. My solution? I have a Big Mac every New Year’s Day, and a McGriddle every birthday. In-between, as the occasion calls, I get the littlest burger and the biggest, the tiniest fries, and the biggest Diet Coke. But, while I have no actual self-discipline in my life, I can deny my two favorites knowing I’ll get one or the other in about six months.
  5. Treat somebody! I am equally happy when I snatch up a check, or nudge a friend aside at Starbucks as I am when the same happens to me. I know it’s an act of specific generosity to pay for the meal of a stranger, but how lovely it is to pay for the meal of a friend. Or a smoothie. Or…a Big Mac.