Sunday, August 30, 2009

Presenting: All That Glitters...

Watch in blue and metallic
Emerald crystal and Czech glass bead watch
Golden amber bracelet and earring set
Abalone pendant with earth colors necklace and earring set

I have been making jewelry for years, but I've finally decided to allow my creations their public debut. These are some of my most recent works. I love the process of jewelry-making, and I hope a bit of self-publicity will allow me to make and sell my jewelry if anyone is interested.

Friday, August 28, 2009

At the End of the "Rainbow"

I grew up watching Reading Rainbow, and of all the PBS shows I remember it holds one of the fondest places. I wanted to be one of the kids LeVar Burton presented at the end of each episode and review my favorite books. I wanted to go on the field trips: the publishing house, the farm, Hawaii, wherever the story was taking place, and most of all, I wanted the books -- all the books. Most of the time, I couldn't find the Reading Rainbow books I most loved in the local library or bookstore, and so I would wait for the repeats so LeVar could read them to me again.

Today, Reading Rainbow ends its 26-year run, and with it goes the end of an era. According to this article on NPR, funding has been pulled from this influential programs to make way for shows that promote phonetics and spelling, which under the Bush Administration have become the bywords for teaching elementary school students the skills they need to pass the national exams. Schools no longer seem to be the place where students find and pursue their interests; rather, they are test factories where students are prepared for the national skills assessments and teachers and schools receive the pass or fail. How can this encourage students? What investment do they have in their own education if they never face the fact that they must study or else they will fail, thereby losing privileges or perhaps not even passing to the next grade?

Education has lost its thrill and adventure in today's mediocre, anti-competitive school systems. I wasn't a perfect student, and I had my moments where I absolutely abhorred school, but I saw each new lesson as a new adventure. As the second verse of Reading Rainbow's theme song begins, "I can go anywhere," and learning has always given me that thrill. Unfortunately, it seems that education in the United States no longer wishes to encourage the adventure and exploration of books, knowledge, and personal growth through active participation in a great and powerful culture that lurks inside the covers of dusty tomes. NPR presents the following view from the network:

Linda Simensky, vice president for children's programming at PBS, says that when Reading Rainbow was developed in the early 1980s, it was an era when the question was: "How do we get kids to read books?"
Since then, she explains, research has shown that teaching the mechanics of reading should be the network's priority.
"We've been able to identify the earliest steps that we need to take," Simensky says. "Now we know what we need to do first. Even just from five years ago, I think we all know so much more about how to use television to teach."
Research has directed programming toward phonics and reading fundamentals as the front line of the literacy fight. Reading Rainbow occupied a more luxurious space — the show operated on the assumption that kids already had basic reading skills and instead focused on fostering a love of books.

What a shame that the program that so captured my childhood imagination has been relegated to the rubbish pile of "luxury." Has our population changed so greatly in 20 years that we can no longer focus on encouraging the inner bibliophile in each of us and now we have to regress to the most simple levels of education? I remember my grandmother reviewing a few simple phonetic rules with me and instructing me on the sounds that letters make, but for the most part we focused on whole word reading. We read for content, and we read for enjoyment. When I got to kindergarten, I was frustrated that we were still studying phonetics. After our class had "learned" our vowels and the letter "C," I tired to the slow pace. I raised my hand and informed the teacher that we needed to hurry up and get to "W" so we could spell "cow." I also corrected adults' pronunciation and lectured my teachers on the historical significance of Laura Ingles Wilder and Little House on the Prairie. I cannot give Reading Rainbow the entire credit for my precociousness, for I came from a family who highly valued a well-rounded education at home as well as in the classroom, but I know that the correlation between reading at home and what I watched on TV made a pronounced impact on my childhood.

According to Simensky, we no longer can allow children access to that land of luxurious imagination and getting kids to want to read is apparently not an obtainable goal. We must simplify our approach and teach them how to put a word together; every word will be sounded out, every letter will be a point of conscious effort, and reading, while achieved in the ultimate solution, will be a task for most rather than an escape. I don't think that is what Reading Rainbow aspired toward. I believe the initial object of this beloved relic was to show every child how great an adventure reading can be. I used to want to teach, but I'm beginning to think that my efforts would be lost in the politically correct teaching of The Test. I guess we no longer want people to read with enthusiasm and enjoyment; we'll cover the mechanics and pass the test and anything else is superfluous.
But don't take my word for it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dressed to the Nines, or We Wear Short Shorts?
(Dana Felthauser/AP )

Guess what Michelle Obama did this time! Wearing shorts? On vacation? In Arizona? The gall! I just ran across this "news" in Newsweek's blog "The Human Condition" by Kate Dailey. Frankly, I don't care what the Obamas wear while hiking. I don't care that Michelle O. has the world's most magnificent arms and wears sleeveless dresses. I really don't care how much her tennis shoes cost (although since they're probably all paid for by taxpayer money, it does irk me that she doesn't buy from the outlet mall).

First Ladies have always been style icons of our country; from Eleanor Roosevelt to Jackie Kennedy, they reflect and magnify America's attitudes about women and by women. What I wonder about the supposed "outrage" over Michelle O.'s outfit is who is upset and why? Why does it matter if she wears shorts or woollen pants while sightseeing in the desert in August? Granted, if she had shown up for a luncheon with the heads of state in her shorts and running shoes, we would have a right as a nation to be upset over the appropriateness of our First Lady's wardrobe. The world would find yet another strike against us for not taking our country's business seriously and our most renowned figurehead not presenting a professional front. But if she were hiking, as the article leads us to believe, then she is wearing appropriate gear. If it were me, and I had funds to jet set across the country on vacations, ignoring the pressing problems that face our country, I would have selected a more flattering ensemble. Her shorts seem a bit short, possibly even tight, and the outfit as a whole, doesn't project that she is one of the most influential women in the world.

Perhaps we should be grateful for this picture. At least it says that Michelle O. doesn't have a professional wardrobe assistant following her to the desert. With the national debt exploding, the country floundering in recession, and thousands out of work or working longer hours for less than substantial pay, maybe our First Family has decided to live as normal (re. real) humans instead of glammed up rockstars. I doubt that this is a permanent change in politics, but maybe it will send a message that we are a national of real people who wear shorts, pull our hair back, and spend the day with our families.

Of course, I haven't commented on the fact that most real families don't have the luxury to travel as much as the Obamas, but I'll save the frivolous spending ideas for another day.

It's Forever Raining Fungi

Summer in Tennessee is know for being hot and muggy, but this summer has seemed much damper than normal. Mr. Bookworm blames that fact on El Nino, which The Weather Channel insists has returned this year. I nod distractedly and return to watching the rain. When I venture outside, as infrequently as that may be due to the nasty weather and my skin deciding to suddenly become allergic to nature, I have noted a strange change in our vegetation that looks like this:

And this:

And this:

Our back yard and the woods surrounding our house has been infested by mushrooms of all types. I started chronicling our fungi explosion because there were so many in one place at one time, and some of them were kind of cute in that puffy golf ball growing out of the ground way.
Now that the rain has ceased a bit, our mushrooms have taken a more malevolent appearance:

I firmly believe that this fungus would like to eat small animals if provoked. Perhaps it might lead a take over of the planet. Fortunately we have Super Mario Brothers' mushroom to protect us (and its friend the cute toadstool that ran away from Fairyland):
And by the way, if anyone knows what any of these things are, I would love to know what oddities I have growing in my yard!

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Gave In

I gave in and submitted Christbelle's famous vegetarian picture to "Lolcats":

Go there, sign in, and vote for my little vegetarian princess! Meanwhile enjoy some veggies with Chrissy.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bread and Tea and Disorganization

I must admit that I'm not the most organized person in the world. I wish I had more systems and cubbies and that everything fit nicely into cabinets and closets. Unfortunately, my shoes are always strewed on the closet shelves (or in the floor) and my kitchen pots and pans never quite fit in the cabinets with any order or aesthetic appeal. The same problems goes for my recipes. While I love to cook and try new things, my recipes are usually stacked on some high shelf or lost in whatever cookbook I had out at the time I clipped a new recipe from some magazine.

I may be addicted to clipping recipes from Better Homes and Gardens and Southern Living magazines. I have piles upon piles of flimsy pages, and at the moment I fear that some may even be trapped under the bed. Transcribing them onto recipe cards is the ultimate boring activity, and although I'm sure it's more productive than watching T.V. or surfing the Internet, I rarely feel inspired to write recipes until my hand cramps. During a house cleaning frenzy, I recently mislaid a stack of pages that I wanted to try, and more than a month after their disappearance, they emerged on the top shelf of my cookbook cabinet. I had probably looked at them at least a dozen times, never completely sure what they were and too short to see the titles. My prodigal recipes have been cheerfully welcomed back, however; and I've successfully prepared several dishes that had been under consideration for four or more years -- yes, I am a recipe addict, but I have to have people to cook for before I enjoy myself in the kitchen.

Without further ado, I present my take on Better Homes and Gardens' "Lemon-Walnut Tea Bread":

Lemon-Pecan Tea Bread
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup chopped pecans
2 Tbls. grated lemon rind
2 Tbls. fresh lemon juice
1) Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 9x5 loaf pan; set aside.
2) Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition.
3) Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to butter mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in pecans, lemon rind, and lemon juice. Pour batter into loaf pan.
4) Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes.
5) Cool in pan on wire rack 10-15 minutes; remove from pan, and cool completely on wire rack.

Lemon Glaze (optional)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
lemon juice

1) Combine powdered sugar with juice until mixture reaches desired glaze consistency.
2) Pour gently over the top of cooled cake
3) If mixture puddles at bottom of cake plate, carefully scrape up excess and drizzle back over cake and sides.

The original recipe calls for walnuts, as the title suggests, but I usually have pecans on hand in my pantry, and I prefer their flavor. You may use walnuts if you desire.

Also, the glaze is purely the idea of Mr. Bookworm and me. It wasn't mentioned in the recipe, but we wanted to make the bread more cake-like. It can be adjusted to taste.
To go with our tea bread, Mr. Bookworm tried his hand at making authentic Iraqi chai (using American-bought tea leaves, as sadly,there isn't a wide market for ethnic teas in the rural south). It made a beautiful presentation in our Middle Eastern chai set, and it was a delicious companion to the bread. I wish I had a better picture of the chai set with our boring teapot and the bread, but alas, Mr. Bookworm borrowed the camera and focused on the individual setting instead. It makes a gorgeous presentation with it's honey brown and gold tones. Next time, however, I'll arrange the photo op, and perhaps after some more practice he will share his chai recipe with me.

Christabelle, the Vegetarian Cat

For the past few days, Christabelle, the princess of the bookworm house, has been begging to go outside. She is an indoor kitty, but she enjoys an occasional stroll on the porch. She lets us know when it's time for her excursion by running out the front door ahead of us and parading up and down the porch, looking for a new plant to nibble. After a few minutes, the front porch becomes boring because all of the plants are down below in the garden, plus there is road noise; and the occasional tractor or log truck sends her racing for the door.

To appease her whim, we take her out on the back porch where it is quiet, the herb garden grows right up against the porch edge, and she can visit our outdoor cat Purr. Christabelle makes a beeline for the herbs. She seems to enjoy sniffing lemon basil, but to satisfy her green plant craving, she goes for shoots of grass that spring up. I was so concerned about getting her outside and making sure she was going to stay for awhile that I forgot my camera until she was almost done in the basil, but I managed to get a few shots, albeit under protest from the Princess.

Here she is contemplating her next snack. My little vegetarian has made it impossible to keep live plants inside. She destroyed a plant I wanted for my apartment several years ago. I had to take it to my grandfather for intensive resuscitation, and when she would go to visit my mom when I would go out of town for extended periods, all plants had to be put away -- far, far away -- out of sight and out of smell because Chrissy can find the most ingenious ways to get to her little green yum yums if she has the slightest inkling that there might be something edible in the room. I am extremely happy that our new house has a fireplace mantel and several tall pieces of furniture that she can't climb, jump upon, or hop from a low table to subsequently higher ones until she reaches her plant. At least here I can keep flowers from my hubby safe and unnibbled on the mantel or high and out of reach without having to build elaborate barricades of books to keep her away. For some reason building fortress walls around a vase of roses takes some of the enjoyment out of getting flowers from a thoughtful man.

Strangely enough, she doesn't want to play in the grass or walk in her favorite green stuff. Christabelle is too prissy for that. She wouldn't lower herself to eating anything she walks on, so she never leaves the porch or walkways. Miss Priss simply cranes her neck to see what she can nibble from the solidity of a clean concrete stoop. Today was a good day for yum yums because we've had too much rain and humidity to weed eat this week, and the grass that escaped into the herbs were just right.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Very Beginning ... a Very Good Place to Start

I have been pushing around the idea of starting a blog for awhile. I've gotten out of the habit of writing, and I'm in a creative rut. Hopefully, writing with the chance of someone reading what I say will motivate me to dust off my creativity and find an outlet for my thoughts and creations. Perhaps I'll even quit driving my husband bonkers with rants and half-finished thoughts.

I hope I will post regularly and that I stay excited about blogging. This is the first time I've written independently for a public outlet. With the exception of graduate school papers, a few conference presentations, and reporting for a small-town newspaper, I normally keep my writing to myself. One shelf in my office contains a few dozen notebooks in various states of completion. Apparently I have a bad habit of starting a new notebook every time I get a new idea or want to write about a new subject, so the notebook with a quarter of a short story that I lost interest in writing can't share space with an essay, poems, or observations made while people watching. No one but me ever gets to look at those notebooks I've condemned to writer's purgatory, and my shelf is a terrible disgrace of spiral bindings and pretty covers.

Okay, I admit that the covers are half the reason I buy some of my notebooks. I can't resist cute kittens, gardens, and intricate patterns. Please direct me to Notebook Buyers Anonymous.

For the moment I have forbidden myself from buying anymore notebooks, no matter how pretty the cover or how pressing the wonderful new idea. I tell myself that it's for economic purposes -- why waste money on notebooks of which I intend to fill less than half? Space is at a premium in the house since Chris (my husband) is getting close to becoming almost as much of a bibliophile as yours truly. Our bookcases, nightstands, DVD rack, and end tables runneth over with books, books, and more books; it's unfair to the books and the notebooks than find themselves partially filled and cast aside to simply take up more space. Instead of wasting time, money, and space, I'm going to blog. I'm going to write and I'm going to let people read it!

I'm also going to give my pictures and crafts an opportunity to be seen. I'm tired of stifling my own creativity because I think no one would be interested. So here I am... and I hope I stay!