Monday, January 31, 2011

Argumentative Writing & Blogging Syllabus

By Holly Van Houten

As promised, here is a more detailed look at the Argumentative Writing & Blogging course for kids 12+ that will begin next Monday at Huck!

Argumentative Blogging

2/7 -     Introduction to Blogging – Why Blog?  How to Set up Blog on Blogger.  Homework:  Set up your Blog and Write “About Me” section for Blog Sidebar.  (Create Email List)

2/14 -  Review Blog Designs!  We’ll discuss the different types of elements to include on our Blogs.  Blog address list distributed.  Homework:  Write Introductory Post:  Topic – “Writing” -- Why is it important?  How has blogging changed the way we write/read?”   

SPECIAL NOTE:  Each week, blogs posts need to be submitted by Friday of that week, unless otherwise noted.  All blog posts must be a minimum of 750 words.  Each week, students are responsible for writing their own blog post and reading the posts of all other students.  You must leave one constructive comment (each week) on each of your fellow students’ blog posts.  Post comments before class each week.  Bring your computer to class each day, as we will be reviewing blog posts in class as well.

2/21 -   Presidents’ Day (no class)

2/28 -   Thesis Statement (Syllogisms & Enthymemes).  Explaining WHY and creating detailed support.  Blog Post Topic:  Book Review. 

3/7 -     Rhetorical Appeals (Logos, Pathos & Ethos) – Blog Post Topic:  Advertising/Propaganda Analysis (Students will write blog post explaining why the appeals in a specific ad are effective).

3/14-    Propaganda & Logical Fallacies (Part 1) Students will write a (spoof) blog post using propaganda techniques discussed in class.

3/21-    Letters to the Editor – Students responded to a newspaper article involving child labor laws.

Because I was snowed in last week, I've updated the syllabus to show the revised assignment schedule. 

3/28-    Propaganda & Logical Fallacies (Part 2) Begin with short story “Love is a Fallacy” and distribute “12 Propaganda/Persuasive Techniques.”  Evaluate last week’s Propaganda Blog posts and identify techniques employed.  Begin Outlines for Persuasive Post on “Value of Teaching Propaganda Techniques.” àHomework – Complete Outlines (Due in class next week) and Begin Persuasive Post on “Value of Teaching Propaganda Techniques” – Post Rough Draft (min. 750 words) by class time next week.

4/4-      Outline and Rough Draft of Persuasive Post on Propaganda Due.  Post draft and bring Outline to class.  In-class we will review posts and revise.  Further discussion of Logical Fallacies (False Dichotomy, Ad Hominem, Red Herring, Strawman, Dicto Dimpliciter, etc.). àHomework - Publish Revised Persuasive Post on Propaganda by Friday, 4/8.  Comments due by Sunday, 4/10.

4/11-    Focus on Strong Intros & Thesis Statements, Topic Sentences – In class, we’ll revise a previous post (students will work on revising their weakest post). àHomework – Complete Revisions and write 250 word Postscript explaining changes.

4/18-    Spring Break

4/25-    Researched/Persuasive Blog Post - Focus:  Finding Sources & Support (Topic:  Student Choice).  In class we’ll choose topics and discuss taking a stance.  We’ll look for appropriate sources and begin outlines for posts. Homework- Complete Draft and post by Class Time next week (5/2).

5/2-      Draft of Researched/Persuasive Blog Post Due – We’ll evaluate drafts in class today with special focus on Incorporating Sources into your own writing. àHomework – Publish Final Draft of Blog post by Friday, 5/6.  Comments due by Sunday, 5/8.

5/9 -     Persuasive Story Post – Using narrative to make an argument.  Students will choose a position on a topic of their choice and write a “narrative” designed to persuade their readers to agree with their position.   We’ll discuss examples and techniques in class. àHomework – Publish Final Draft of Persuasive Story by Friday, 5/13.  Comments due by Sunday 5/15.

5/16 -   Persuasive Essay Post - Using the topic from last week’s persuasive story, write a formal essay supporting the position you took in last week’s narrative post.  Provide detailed support and examples for your position. (and link back to your post from last week). àHomework – Publish Final Draft of Persuasive Essay by class time next week.

5/23 -   We’ll evaluate posts from last week and discuss ideas for the future of our Blogs (Focusing on a Specialty; Publicizing Your Blog!)

Only a Few Spaces Left!

By Holly Van Houten
The spring semester at Huckleberry begins next week and many of my classes are full and have waiting lists.  As of today, 1 space has opened up in Creative Writing:  Outline Your Way to a Terrific Novel, and there are a few spaces left in Argumentative Writing/Blogging and Fables, Myths & Fairy Tales (IEW).  I'll post a detailed syllabus for Argumentative Writing/Blogging in the next day or so, but for those interested in a great writing class for an 8-11 year old child, look over the Syllabus below and feel free to email me with any questions you may have (  This should be a wonderful, lively class.  I will model the writing with students each week in class by utilizing our "group" setting to work together on these projects in a fun and engaging way.  We'll have a great time writing together in class and students will be well prepared to then do similar work on their own for homework each week.   It's a great way to instill a "love" of writing in even the most reluctant writers.  
(IEW) Fables, Myths & Fairy Tales
2/7 -     Today’s Objectives:  Writing Key Word Outlines, re-telling the fable from those outlines and learning our  1st “Dress-Ups” (“Banned Words” – using Strong Verbs and Quality Adjectives in place of over-used words).  In class examples will be The Grasshopper and the Ants and The Eagle and the Jackdaw.  We will also begin our “Banned words” contest for homework (winning team will have longest list of banned words – each must have 5 substitutes). 

             àHomework:  The Lion and the Mouse – Just as we modeled in class today, students will write key word outlines and then retell the story next week in class – they should practice their presentations at home once they’ve finished their outlines.  Work on “Banned Words” lists.  (Parents:  “Banned Words” are over-used words… for example, “nice.”  Students will be competing to find “banned” or over-used words and come up with a list of at least 5 synonyms that could be used in their place (i.e. Quality Adjectives or Strong Verbs)

2/14 -    Review Homework/”Banned Words” contest entries.  Today’s Objectives:  Writing Key Word Outlines, Re-Writing fables from those outlines and learning more “Dress-ups” (Adverbs – or “ly” words).  In class example will be The Milkmaid and Her Pail.  Together we will write a Key Word Outline, Re-Write the fable from that outline (1 Paragraph) and brainstorm for all 3 “Dress-ups.” 

            àHomework:  The Four Oxen and the Lioness.  Just as we modeled in class today, students will write key word outlines and re-WRITE story (1 Paragraph) from their notes using 3 Dress-Ups (Quality Adjectives, Strong Verbs and “LY” words/adverbs).

2/21 -   Presidents’ Day

2/28 -   Review Homework, noting “Dress-ups.”  Today’s Objectives:  Writing Key-Word Outlines, Re-Writing fables from those Outlines, and learning more “Dress-Ups,” (“Who/Which” Adjectival Clauses).  In class example will be The Fox and the Crow.  Together, we will write a Key Word Outline and Re-Write the story (1 Paragraph) from our notes (using all 4 “Dress-Ups”).

            àHomework:  The Fox and the Stork.  Just as we modeled in class today, students will write Key Word Outlines and Re-Write the story (1 Paragraph) from their Outline, using all 4 Dress-Ups. (Quality Adjectives, Strong Verbs, “LY” words/adverbs, and who/which Adjectival Clauses).

3/7-      Review Homework, noting Dress-Ups.  Today’s Objectives:  Writing Story Sequence Outlines and Re-Telling the story from our outlines.  In class example will be Jason and the Argonauts.  Together, we will write a Story Sequence Outline and “re-tell” the story from our outline. 

            àHomework:  The Gift of Fire –Just as we modeled in class today, students will write Story Sequence Outlines and be prepared to “re-tell” the story from their outlines (they should practice “re-telling” the story at home).

3/14 -   Review Homework.  Today’s Objectives:  Writing Story Sequence Outlines, Summarizing from Outlines, writing “Final Clinchers” and brainstorming for “Dress-ups.”  In class example will be The Dreadful Punishment.  Together we will write a Story Sequence Outline and then write a summary of the myth based on that outline, using “Final Clinchers” and “Dress-Ups.”

            àHomework:  Arachne – Just as we modeled in class today, students will write a Story Sequence Outline for Arachne and then write a one paragraph summary from that Story Sequence Outline using “Final Clinchers” and “Dress-Ups.”

3/21 -   Review Homework.  Today’s Objectives:  Writing Story Sequence Outlines, Summarizing from Outlines and Learning more “Dress-Ups” (writing Adverbial Clauses [] or when, why, where, as, since, if, although).  In class example will be Theseus and the Minotaur.  Together, we’ll write a Story Sequence Outline and then write a one-paragraph summary from that outline, using Adverbial Clauses and other “Dress-Ups.” 

            àHomework:  Daedalus and Icarus – Just as we modeled in class today, students will write a Story Sequence Outline and a one paragraph summary from that outline, using Adverbial Clauses and other “Dress-Ups.”

Fairy Tales
3/28 -   Review Homework.  Today’s Objectives:   Taking Notes from Facts, Summarizing References and learning to write Topic Sentences & Clinchers.  In class examples will be – Aesop the Author and The Brothers Grimm.  Together, we’ll take notes and summarize, while focusing on Topic Sentence and Clinchers. 

            àHomework:  Influencing Hans Christian Andersen – Just as we modeled in class today, students will Take Notes from Facts and write a 1 paragraph summary, with special attention to Topic Sentences and Clinchers.

4/4 -     Review Homework.  Today’s Objectives:  Writing from Pictures and learning to use the Past Perfect Tense.  In class example will be:  Cinderella.  Together, we’ll write our own version of Cinderella based only on 3 story sequence pictures.

            à  Homework:  Beauty and the Beast.  Just as we modeled in class today, students will write their own version of Beauty and the Beast based on pictures.

Working with Sources
4/11 -   Review Homework.  Today’s Objectives:  Working with 2 sources, writing “Fused Outlines,” summarizing from a “Fused Outline” and using the “ly” sentence opener.  In class example will be:  Daedalus & Icarus and Night Crossing.  Together, we will outline 2 sources, write a “fused” outline of those two sources and then write a 1 paragraph summary, using an “ly” opener and other “Dress-Ups.”

            àHomework:  The Knights of the Round Table and Lessons from the Round Table Knights.  Just as we modeled in class today, students will outline each source, write a “Fused” outline of both and then write a 1 paragraph summary, using an “ly” opener and other “Dress-Ups.”

4/18 -   Spring Break

4/25 – Review Homework.  Today’s Obejctives:  Working with 3 sources, writing “Fused Outlines,” summarizing from a “Fused Outline” and brainstorming all “Dress-Ups.”  In class example will be the “King Arthur” sources.  Together we will write an outline for each of our 3 sources and then write a “Fused Outline” combining all 3 sources.

            à Homework – Using the “Fused Outline” we completed in class today, students will write a 1 paragraph summary of the “King Arthur” sources we outlined together in class, using all “Dress-Ups.”

Creative Writing
Over the next 3 weeks, students will flex their creative muscles even further as we write variations on traditional fables, myths and fairy tales.  Each class session will be a workshop focusing on each different type of story.  We will be compiling these into a Project Book for the class, so please bring a polished copy of each story to class on the day they are due (as they will be Xeroxed for inclusion in our Project Book).

5/2 –    Write Your Own Fable (Due for Homework Next Week).

5/9 -     Write Your Own Myth (Due for Homework Next Week).

5/16 -   Write Your Own Fairy Tale (Due for Homework Next Week).

5/23 -   Fable Festival.  We’ll pick (from the original renditions in our Project Book) the best Fables, Myths and Fairy Tales to be read at the End of Semester Show.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Student Author Exhibition & Book Signing

The student authors from my creative writing class had a chance to show off their completed novels at the Huckleberry End of Semester show and Exhibition last night.  We had a huge crowd of parents and fellow students come by our Authors' Table and take a look at all the fabulous new works of fiction these kids produced in a semester.  The students had made "advertising posters" with purchase information on them and they autographed these for potential readers.

It was a really fun night and I was so happy that these kids got to see the astonishment of all the adults in the room as they looked through the completed novels.  These students worked very hard on these projects and they deserve to have a fuss made over them!  There were many proud parents there last night and many other impressed adults buzzing about their accomplishments.

The exhibition of student work from the homeschoolers that attend Huckleberry was amazing all around.  We had so many projects displayed, it would've taken me several more hours than we had to really look them all over with the attention they deserved.  There were several hundred homeschoolers who contributed projects and the Exhibition was very impressive.  The Egypt room in particular was astounding -- complete with mummy, canopic jars, student drawn replicas of famous ancient art -- with the marvelous lighting, incense and fabrics, the ambiance was fantastic.  It really felt like you were entering an Egyptian tomb.  Kudos to Elizabeth Johnson and Cathy Riso for their amazing job with these kids!

My main focus last night was with my own students and I'm still bursting with pride for all their hard work.  5 of the 12 novelists from my class are enrolled in Sky Mountain Charter and below is a photo of just those 5 with our wonderful ES, Brenda Ramirez.  She is equally proud of these students' accomplishments and hopes to get this photo on the Sky Mountain website as well.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Teaching Percy Jackson

By Holly Van Houten

Yesterday was the last day of the "Percy Jackson" class I taught this fall for the Huckleberry Center for Creative Learning.  We had such a good time in this class that I thought I'd detail for you here a few of the things we did. 

This was a homeschool class of 12 eager devotees of Rick Riordan's series.  This is a series of 5 books in which Riordan melds Greek mythology with the modern world.  He creates a world in which the main character, Percy, discovers that his real father is Poseidon -- making Percy a "half-blood" or demigod.  

The idea underlying the series is that Mount Olympus moves with the heart of Western Civilization/democracy and so because the United States is currently the "seat" of democracy in the world, Mt. Olympus is accessed through the Empire State Building (special elevator key required), the entrance to Hades is in Los Angeles (of course) and the labyrinth of King Minos/Daedelus continues to expand and move just underneath the earth's surface.   

The series provides a captivating and entertaining way for kids to understand the complex system that is ancient Greek mythology.  Because it's set up as "Camp Half-Blood," which like J.K. Rowling's "Hogwarts" provides a space just for kids to learn, it allowed me to create a “classroom” version of the camp.  And like Harry Potter, students were able to choose a mythological parent from the "big 12" Olympians instead of a Hogwarts' "house."  (If you'd like more info on how I taught Harry Potter, see my earlier posts on "How to Teach Harry Potter," and Teaching and Project ideas for the "Deathly Hallows."  or "A Typical Teaching Day," which includes info on both HP & PJ).

The Percy Jackson & The Olympians series advocates a strong value system based on courage and a clear sense of choosing between right/wrong. Each demigod has a fatal flaw (as we all do J) -- Annabeth Chase's is pride - she's the main female character (very smart.... daughter of Athena); Percy Jackson's flaw is immoderate loyalty/protectiveness towards his friends without always looking at the bigger picture/goal -- he's not an "ends justify the means" kind of guy.  The various demigod kids grapple with a bit of pre-teen/teen angst (Percy is 12 in Book 1 and 16 in Book 5)--feeling abandoned at times by their immortal parents who rarely interact with them.  It also has cute modern touches like, "you may be a demigod if you suffer from ADHD or dyslexia"  -- the dyslexia comes from being more at home reading ancient Greek and the ADHD is just a reflection of your quick reflexes (necessary for fighting mythological monsters).  The story actually began as the author's attempt to help his son reconcile himself to these issues.

In class, each of the 12 students chose a Greek god or goddess to be their mythological parent and we set up cabins reflecting the various attributes of the gods they chose.  We had 14 weeks for the semester, so I set up a schedule whereby, after the 1st class -- where we chose cabins -- we'd spend 2 weeks on each book and reserve 3 days for outdoor "Camp Half-Blood" activities -- Archery, foot races, Capture the Flag, etc. (all integral activities from the books).  Then I chose some of the less well-known myths/characters from each book in the series and created a series of "Quests."  In most of the books, the half-bloods go on a Quest involving 1 leader and "usually" 2 assistants.  So, each of my Quests involved the same (one student acting as leader + two assisting students).  Each Quest focused on 2 mythological characters.  The Quest "leader" would assign one of the mythological characters to each of his or her assistants and they would create a presentation for the class detailing all the information they were able to find on that character.  These "assistants" created beautiful story boards and gave quite impressive presentations (practicing a bit of public speaking in the process).  The leader then would write (& read aloud for the class) a short story (minimum 500 words) in which all 3 quest participants encountered the mythological creatures and battled them -- so now at the end of the semester we have a beautiful book of short stories (our own little version of PJ). 

Each week in class we'd hear the Quest reports and then we'd look at a "god or goddess of the day" (whoever I'd chosen that week to go along with the book we were focusing on) and then usually we'd do a craft.  We made pipes for Pan, non-alcoholic wine for Dionysus, snake hair for Medusa, recycled metal creatures for Hephaestus, bows and arrows for Artemis, Laurel Wreaths for Apollo, labyrinths for Daedelus, ambrosia, nectar and many, many more.  Yesterday we finished our "Camp Half-Blood Necklaces" -- done as in the series, with a bead (we made our own from clay) designed and inked to represent each book.

We had a such a great time in this class and I'm really sorry to see it end.  It will definitely be one I teach again.  The Percy Jackson series provided a captivating story-line for the kids and had them very excited about a complex subject.  Knowing mythology helps immensely with literature and I wish I'd had a series like this to help me retain these concepts.  The class not only extended their understanding of mythology, but gave the kids another chance to enjoy books as a group.  This class became a huge celebration of the "worlds," literature can provide and I loved that about it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Closely Knit" Charlotte Van Houten

Last night my daughter had a hard time getting to sleep and came downstairs to commiserate with me a bit and grab a drink of water.  On her way back upstairs, she said, "I think I'll just read my book for awhile."  I asked what she was reading and she repeated, "my book."  Rolling my eyes, thinking this was the usual pre-teen "provide no concrete information strategy," I snarkily asked, "yes, yes.... does it have a title?"  Her answer:  "Mom, MY BOOK -- the one I WROTE!  ....Closely Knit."

Duh! If you read this blog yesterday, you know that my Creative Writing class just published 12 books.  Charlotte was in the class too and she wrote a fantastic book called, "Closely Knit," so I don't know what I could have been thinking -- of course... her book!

If you would like to buy a copy, here is the link to her "purchase" page on  Closely Knit, by Charlotte Van Houten.  If you click on the link and hit "preview" you can even read the first few pages and get a sense of the story.  Feel free to advertise this link to everyone you know and every Facebook/Twitter, etc. type account you may have.  Our marketing budget is rather less than a shoestring. J

Here's the summary from the back of the book:

Closely Knit (248 pages)
Sarah Montgomery loves her cousins, but never in her wildest dreams did she imagine they’d become her roommates.  When a fire burns down the Baker house, Sarah finds herself facing a slew of new possibilities.  Life becomes more exciting as she and her cousins use their imaginations to get into more mischief than they ever thought possible.

Me = One Very Proud Mama! J

Friday, January 21, 2011

Home School Student Novels!

By Holly Van Houten

I can't begin to say how proud I am of these amazing kids!!!  These novels were written by the 12 homeschool kids in my Creative Writing class this semester.  These kids range in age from 9-14 and they completed novels as long as 150 pages!

These students worked SO hard this semester, but all that sweat and angst has produced 12 exciting novels, including adventure tales, family sagas, science fiction stories, mystery and suspense, coming of age stories and revenge plots.  We spent our semester focused on developing well-rounded characters and gripping tales.  We focused on setting, mood/tone, details, villains/heroes, conflict, sub-plots and much more.  They incorporated these lessons into the novels they were writing and came up with some spectacular ideas.

A long-term project like this takes grit and determination and these kids stuck with it all semester, meeting their word count deadlines and acting as another set of eyes for each other's writing.  We worked together to encourage each other and I worked right along with them, writing my own novel during the course of the semester as well.  Modeling what I taught really helped my students.  They knew I was right there in the trenches with them and we were facing our various writing challenges as a group.
What these homeschoolers have accomplished is so impressive -- many adults "hope" to someday write a novel, but these kids buckled down and actually did it!  I'm bursting with pride for my students and can't wait to see what they will be writing next! J

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review: Franklin and Eleanor - An Extraordinary Marriage

I seem to be on a bit of WWII binge lately (1st Unbroken, then Hotel and now this).  Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage, like Hillenbrand's book, is a biography, but unlike most biographies which center on a single person, this one takes as its main focus:  a marriage.  What a marriage it was, too!  Hazel Rowley takes the reader along on a realistic and startling look at how these two powerful figures negotiated their lives together.

Yes, Rowley covers all the old gossip topics -- the well known affairs, etc., but because she keeps her focus on the marriage, she never throws blame at one or the other.  Instead she helps us understand how this powerful couple moved beyond jealousy to support and cement their relationship.  They accomplished so much together and its difficult to imagine that either would have been nearly as successful without the other. Still, they had such different personalities and temperaments that its quite easy to understand why they also had to find a way to maintain their own independent identities.  By the end of the book, you certainly have an impression of a strong bond that was beneficial to so many.

Their marriage certainly makes you wonder about how society usually handles betrayal and divorce.  Dissolving a union is sometimes inevitable, but there are cases where its easy to see that there might be advantages to maintaining the partnership.  Two people who support and admire each other as these two did, might manage to carve a different sort of marriage that still benefits them and those around them.

The author does a good job of humanizing both figures too.  Using letters and first hand accounts we hear the insecurities of each and can't help but admire how they overcome the various hardships in their lives, emotional and physical.  You get a very clear sense of two people who grow stronger as they overcome their set backs.

As a political history, this book does a great job of documenting the various causes these two championed.  They were ahead of their time (especially Eleanor) in their views on human rights, civil rights, women's rights and labor rights.  They served their country very well and sincerely tried to better the world.  I came away from this book strongly admiring both Eleanor and Franklin.  I've always shared their political views, but the book gave me a greater sense of how far out on a limb they each were, fighting for things we take for granted today.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet

I wanted to like Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  I really did.  I recently finished reading Laura Hillenbrand's unbelievable, but true account of Japanese POW survivor Louis Zamperini:  Unbroken. That book really gave me a whole new perspective on the U.S. "evacuations" of the Japanese in WWII to places like Manzanar, CA.  I had heard first hand accounts from survivors of Manzanar and had never understood how the U.S. (in the throes of fighting Germany and its horrific concentration camps) could ever possibly do such a thing to its own citizens.  Reading Unbroken certainly didn't convince me it was the right thing to do, but it did give me a clearer picture of the fear and rage people felt towards the Japanese at that time.

This book promised a look into the other side of the story.  The book details a young Chinese-American boy from Seattle who befriends and loves a young Japanese-American girl who is then shuttled off with her family and the other residents of Seattle's Japan Town to an internment camp.  The book focuses on the prejudice that surrounds the boy from all sides -- his father and his white schoolmates hate the Japanese and his schoolmates hate him for being an Asian of any stripe.  The other Chinese-American kids on his block tease him for going to an all white school and his best friend, a black jazz musician, is also subject to racism.

I liked the voice of the young boy and the jazz angle, but the plot was ridiculously predictable and too often it slipped into an almost sickly sweet, "romance novel" style.  I felt like the author was trying to drag an emotional reaction out of me.  There were also odd anachronisms that were irritating.  The book goes from the early 1940s to 1986, but apparently in Jamie Ford's 1986, the internet exists allowing the main character's now grown son to participate in "on-line counseling" sessions after his mother's death and find his father's long lost friend with a few minutes of internet searching.  The 1986 internet????  Ok.

I finished the book, which surprised me.  I usually can't force myself to follow these through to the end when they're so predictable.   I think I just kept hoping the author would prove me wrong and do something unusual with it all -- never happened.  Skip it -- reread Farewell to Manzanar instead :)

Sock Love-Monkey See/Monkey Do!

If loving these socks is wrong, well.....

The first thing I love about these socks is the colorway, which is "Stonechat."  I love all Malabrigo sock yarn, but this is far and away my favorite.  Malabrigo sock yarn is so soft and easy to work with.  Feels marvelous through the fingers!

Secondly, the pattern here is the well known "Monkey" pattern by Cookie A., but this is the first time I've made the "no purl" version of this pattern.  It's not only easier, but I like the result even more than the originals.  It's an easy pattern repeat to memorize and I can tell already this will be one I knit often.

Thirdly, I knit on these during my after-Christmas visit with my sister and her family.  We had a wonderful and truly relaxing time and these socks will serve as a sweet reminder.

Fourthly, did I mention the colors?  The picture doesn't do justice to them.  Something about the flash on my camera over-brightens yarn dyes.  The colors are much deeper and darker than they appear here and although there's a little pooling around the cuff and gusset, the majority of the sock is beautifully and subtly striped.

...and yes, that's the nefarious Timmy of kittenish tree climbing fame, astonishingly at rest alongside the socks -- See, the mystical power of these socks can calm even the most savage of beasts.

I have more of this colorway (2 skeins to be exact) and I'm strongly tempted to throw one on the swift and wind for another pair of socks.  I'm going to do my best to restrain myself though because I think it would make a gorgeous lace shawl.   Now to find just the right pattern....   suggestions?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Review: Unbroken

Reading Unbroken was an EXPERIENCE!  Hillenbrand is an amazing writer and I see now why people made such a fuss about Seabiscuit, which I will now be sure to read.  This is the story of an Olympic Athlete, Louis Zamporini -- a runner from Torrance, CA.  He'd been a troublemaker in his youth and focusing on his running turned him around.  He was good and probably would have been great, had he been given the chance to compete in his 2nd Olympics, but the 1940 Olympic games were cancelled for WWII and Zamperini went to war.  When his plane goes down in the Pacific, leading to an extended (seriously extended) stay in a flimsy raft, you think this is about as awful a fate as anyone could imagine.  But wait, things are just getting started.  I found myself thinking, over and over again, that this situation couldn't possibly get any worse.  From sharks to Japanese gunfire attacks, starvation and dehydration, the situation does nothing but worsen and just when you think salvation and rescue are around the corner, the man is beaten down again.  To say this is a page turner is frankly an understatement.

If this were fiction, I would've complained that the author had seriously overdone the hardship plot.  This however, is a true story and Louie Zamperini, as of the writing of this post, is still alive and kicking -- he's the quintessential man with a mission.  "True Grit," as a description, doesn't begin to cover him.   I never want to give away too much in these reviews -- I've never been interested in reviews filled with plot summary that just end up as one big spoiler -- so, suffice it to say, what I've described here is the merest hint of all that this man endures.  That his story ends as it does is truly inspirational and I'm not one who usually goes in for inspirational story-lines.  There's nothing corny here though.

The book does such an exceptional job of making Zamperini's experiences real for the reader, that I found myself with a whole new understanding of WWII and a bit more empathy for an older generation that still displays quite a bit of animosity towards the Japanese.  As a homeschool Mom, when my kids are a bit older -- this is most definitely a book I will use to teach them about WWII.  My own education regarding that war focused primarily on the events in Germany and this book provided great insight into what was happening in the Pacific and what it meant to be a POW in that war.  I hate learning anything about history from textbooks as they usually render events dry and dull.  This book is definitely one that brings history to life in an unforgettable way.

Below is the television special on Zamperini's life mentioned at the end of the novel (Youtube has split it into 4 parts). It was amazing to see the real life incarnations of these people I'd read about with rapt fascination for nearly 500 pages.  Enjoy!

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Book Review: Cutting for Stone

Abraham Verghese is a surgeon and a writer, but most importantly for me, he's a teacher.  He does in fact work as a Professor at Stanford Medical School, but I'm referring to the teaching he does in his book.

On its surface, Cutting for Stone is a coming of age novel about a boy born in a mission hospital in Ethiopia to an Indian nun (who dies giving birth to him and his (briefly) conjoined twin) and a British surgeon (Dr. Stone -- the name providing one layer of meaning for the title which refers to part of the Hippocratic oath -- see addendum below).  The father abandons the brothers the moment their mother dies and they are raised by two married Indian surgeons who also work at the mission hospital and who teach the boys to love the medicine they practice and apprentice them at an early age.

It's a good yarn and I enjoyed the story being told, but the best part of the book is Verghese's ability to take you through incident after incident at the hospital and teach you about medicine as you go in a meaningful and captivating way.  He uses medicine as a metaphor for life at times and it usually works, but his greatest accomplishment is combining his skills as surgeon and writer to dissect and separate various aspects of the work at the hospital with a surgeon's precision and write about them with the compassion and poetry they deserve.

This book struck me as a combination of fiction and non-fiction, in the best possible way.  I believe Verghese has mentioned in interviews that some parts of the book are autobiographical and his intimacy with his subject matter shows.  He takes his skills as an author (he holds an MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop) and uses them to make the easily dry and tedious world of medical knowledge captivating.  His characters are very well drawn and the reader's fascination with the material grows along with theirs.

I love the combination of literature with any profession because poetry should infuse everything we do -- it humanizes our actions.  The best authors can make drying paint a fascinating subject.  Medicine is, of course, inherently captivating if handled by a skilled author and Verghese certainly is that.  This is definitely a book that entertains and informs in the best possible way.

There is also a deep spirituality that runs through the book -- almost a variation of magical realism -- that imbues meaning to the actions and events that occur.  It's not magical realism though -- the magic, I think stems from a literary resonance.

I read an interview with Verghese about his dual careers and found him fascinating.  Any medical professor who regularly assigns literature to his students (for example, to teach his students about end of life issues, he assigns Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Illych), is my kind of guy.

ADDENDUM:  Verghese, explaining his title in an interview...

"There is a line in the Hippocratic Oath that says: ‘I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest.’ It stems from the days when bladder stones were epidemic, a cause of great suffering, probably from bad water and who knows what else. […] There were itinerant stonecutters—lithologists—who could cut either into the bladder or the perineum and get the stone out, but because they cleaned the knife by wiping it on their blood-stiffened surgical aprons, patients usually died of infection the next day. Hence the proscription ‘Thou shall not cut for stone.’ […] It isn’t just that the main characters have the surname Stone; I was hoping the phrase would resonate for the reader just as it does for me, and that it would have several levels of meaning in the context of the narrative."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

Stylish Blogger Award is both an honour from a fellow blogger and a way of networking with other bloggers. Thank you so much to Kat from Books, Crafts & Pretty Things for including me in her award recipients.  Be sure to check out her blog -- she has some lovely photographs.   Here is a little explanation of the tasks you need to do should you choose to accept the award. 

There are 4 duties to perform to receive this award:
1.  Thank and link back to the person who awarded you this award
2. Share 7 things about yourself
3. Award 15 recently discovered great bloggers
4. Contact these bloggers and tell them about the award!

7 Things about Me
  1. I'm currently snowed in and flailing about trying to find a sub to take my classes tomorrow in town.  I usually love being snowed in, but today it's a drag.
  2. I love to read and I love to knit -- this makes the Audible/ipod combo, my absolute favorite technological advance.  Sheer genius -- I can now multi-task my favorite things.  May have to do a bit of that while I'm snowed in tomorrow :)
  3. My dissertation was on witches in Renaissance literature -- specifically drama.  When people come into my house and see the titles of some of my books -- they get a little pale until I explain.
  4. I was a high school drop out at 16.  I did in fairly short order go right on to college and graduate school, by way of a year at a CC, but I still like to call myself a high school drop out.
  5. I knit more than I should and my stash is way bigger than it ought to be.  I don't see the problem with this, but others sometimes DO! :)
  6. My daughters both knit -- maybe more than they should -- though unfortunately, they consider my stash to be their yarn store.  Funny how no actual purchases are ever made, just a lot of thievery! :(
  7. I rarely make my bed.  My mother used to always get on me about this, so maybe that's why I'm so resistant.  Whatever the reason -- I justify it all sorts of ways... my bedroom's upstairs, so nobody every goes up there; it's a good thing to air out a bed; my cats prefer it that way..... but, it probably all boils down to general laziness and stubbornness.  
Here are some of my recently discovered great bloggers.
I am delighted to award the following blogs with