December 2009: In Brief

Subbing– Subbing for a full week reminds me why I stopped teaching full-time. By day three the constant interacting goes from fun to exhausting and I suddenly remember I’m an introvert. 

I also remember how hard an American elementary school teacher works.  There’s 6- 7 daily hours teaching  25 students, plus, preparing all the materials and supplies for each lesson, solving a dozen small emergencies, planning new interesting lessons, correcting papers, managing administrative tasks, doing the extra duties the principal asks, listening to students, communicating with their parents, and interacting with other staff members.  Soon I forget to do things like eat food, drink fluids, or remember that I’m a live person and not a robot.

I do enjoy subbing 1-2 days a week.  It’s one of those jobs that’s rewarding and never dull.  If I needed to work full-time though, I’d have to find a job with a more reasonable workload. Kudos to all those teachers in the US who do this on a full-time basis!  It’s an unbelievably hard job.

White Christmas– A fluke December snow storm sent 23 inches of winter decorations. 

Winter Break– I love having teenagers.  When the kids were little winter break was fun, but lots of work.  Now it’s relaxing.  We’re all happy to do our own thing and enjoy hanging out together.  What’s amazing is how quickly we revert back to our vacation habit of staying up until 3 AM and waking up at noon.

Fiction Books Finished:
Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, by Suzanne Collins (*** 1/2) – I enjoyed book three as much as the first two.

First Term at Malory Towers, by Enid Blyton (*** 1/2) – I read this series as a teen in the late 70’s and loved it.  My sister and I couldn’t get enough of Malory Towers on our 3-week family camping trip driving around the United Kingdom in a VW van.  I had low expectations for my rereading though.  Sometimes stuff I loved as a kid doesn’t have the same appeal for me as an adult  *cough* Escape To Witch Mountain movie *cough.*  The first book was written in 1946 and the quality of children’s books has improved a lot since then.  So I was pleasantly surprised how much I still liked it!.

It’s the story of eleven-year old Darrell Rivers going off to boarding school for her first time.  The story is basically about making friends and all the power struggles and politics in friendships.  Yeah, it’s a little dated, but much less than I thought.  There’s no mention of girls learning to be homemakers and wives.  Instead the emphasis is on getting an excellent education and preparing to go out into the world to be anything they wanted. 

While most modern kid fiction narration is either in first person or limited third person, First Term at Malory Towers is written in third person omniscient.  So the narration jumps from character to character. The narration and the moral lessons each girl learned about friendship were the main dated aspects.  I thought they’d be annoying but found them charming.  No wonder the daughterling read this whole series recently and loved it. [For ages 9 – 14]

Non-Fiction Books:
On My Swedish Island, by Julie Catterson Lindahl (***) – is a guide to simpler living with a Swedish slant, written by an American who married a Swede and is now raising her children on a Swedish island.  There’s information on outdoor recreation, plant-based cleaning supplies, saunas, gardening, and Swedish cooking.  My favorite part was the Swedish motto: "There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing." 

Society without God, by Phil Zuckerman (*** 1/2) – is a fascinating book that describes how, and looks into why, people in Denmark and Sweden are more secular than the US.  Zuckerman describes a society that defies the claims many religious leaders make about secular societies.  Secular Denmark and Sweden have less government corruption and lower violent crime rates than the US.  After interviewing dozens of Scandinavians, Zuckerman describes secular individuals that are as contented and good-hearted as anyone else. He theorizes that a major reason for the more secular Scandinavian attitude is the small income gap between rich and poor and the large welfare safety net that helps their citizens feel secure. 

He also notes the difference in the history of how Christianity first came to each region.  In Scandinavia, Christianity was instituted in  "top-down dynamic" from the Kings.  In the US, Christianity came in grass roots form with groups of settlers. Zuckerman thinks the fact that Denmark and Sweden are more homogeneous compared to the US means that many in the US get their identity through religion instead of citizenship.  Also, the state-run churches allow Swedes and Danes a cultural religion with little pressure to buy into the religious aspects.  In the US, religion is part of the free-market and therefore churches compete heavily to recruit members.  

Dangerous Minds (*** 1/2) – Michelle Pfeiffer plays LouAnne Johnson, a former marine who decides to go into teaching after divorcing her abusive husband. Johnson is given a difficult class of low-income kids that everyone has given up on.  The classic nice-teacher-helps-troubled-students plot is based on a true story.  It’s enjoyable and inspiring to watch if you like that type of movie, which I do.

Away We Go (***) – A young couple expecting their first baby travel around the country looking for the place they want to raise their child.  They visit an assortment of super intense people who are the most extreme version of whatever stereotype they represent.  While their hosts are annoying, there are sweet moments between the couple.  John Krasinski basically plays another version of his likable Office character, Jim Halpert,  and Maya Rudolph plays her character with insightful delicacy. [For older teens and above]

Clueless (*** 1/2) – RIP Brittany Murphy

Sunshine Cleaning (*** 1/2) – A touching slice-of-life drama about two sisters who start a business cleaning up traumatic crime scenes while dealing with their own buried childhood wounds. [For older teens and above]

Adventureland (***) – In 1987, recent Oberlin graduate James (played by Micheal Cera clone Jesse Eisenberg) gets an amusement park job to pay for his graduate school tuition.  There he meets an attractive and troubled girl. The strength of this movie is it’s slice-of-life portrayal of banal summer jobs and the awkward journey from parent-dependent college student to financially-independent adult.

The weakness of the film is that it is told solely from James’ point of view. The personality of each of the two female roles gets reduced to cool-but-troubled and pretty-but-shallow. Though there is a plot that involves Em– his main crush– writer/director Greg Mottola seems unaware that he has written and filmed Em’s scenes from James’ perspective– even when Em is alone.  So instead of getting an insightful plot about Em grieving her mother, we get silly scenes of Em looking seductively angry while she hates on her evil stepmother or scenes where Em makes dubious, but seductive, dating decisions. We don’t even know Em’s major because when she tells James she’s studying at NYU, instead of asking what’s she’s studying– like she does with him– he only talks about how this fits into his plans of going to grad school at Columbia. Still, it’s a pleasant enough diversion if seen as a very boy-centric portrayal. 
[For older teens and above. Parent Note: There is a lot of pot smoking in this movie, as well as quite a bit of drinking.]

Up (****) – Fun, inspiring movie about an old man taking an adventure.  It lived up to all the positive hype. [For all ages]

TV- Top 5 Favorite of the Month (In A,B,C Order)
Dollhouse, current season 2 – Once the network canceled the show, the writers seemed to free to ditch the boring doll of the week story and instead explore the twisted complex world of servitude, consent, and just exactly how much control people should be allowed to get or give up in the name of money.

Glee, current season 1-  I have a love-hate relationship with this show.  I like the musical numbers and the clever dialog, but could do without the stereotyping and horrible pregnancy plots. 

Life on Mars, series 1 on DVD – It’s 2006 and Manchester police detective Sam Tyler is hit by a car while investigating a serial killer.  He wakes up in 1973 Manchester and finds himself investigating an eerily similar case.  Throughout his investigation there are clues that lead us to believe that Sam is really in a coma and his 1973 life is his way of struggling to bring himself back to consciousness.  The show manages to pull off this concept with gritty sincere writing and acting. 

Early Years Education : Sweden Versus The UK–  Want to see my idea of excellent preschool education?  Check out this this series of three 10-minute videos on You Tube. I’m totally jealous of Swedish preschool teachers.

Sub Jobs:
5 days- Ms. D’s 2nd grade

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