I started this year by reading the Book of Mormon in 40 days, using this schedule. I really enjoyed it this way, because that schedule breaks the text into big but natural narrative chunks–all the Abinadi chapters in one day, all the Ammonihah chapters in one day, etc. The stories made a lot of sense, and the connections from day to day were clear.
The biggest take away from this reading is just how eventful the Book of Mormon is. I’ve read it many times, but I still found myself saying, almost every day, “Oh, yeah, that’s right! I forgot all about this awesome part!” Those moments just kept piling up. Hardly a day passed without some major, deep, impressive section making me pause and think. The mere fact of the book’s density of originality and quality would be enough alone to make me love it!
I was really overwhelmed with how strongly I was drawn to Helaman 7, until that reaction rang a bell and I checked this blog, to find that I’d had the exact same reaction just last year. To that entry’s love for Helaman 7 and 3 Nephi 5, I now need to add Ether 4: I never realized until now just how special and powerful that obscure little chapter is–the Savior starts speaking in verse 6, but verse 13 begins a direct plea from Him to the latter-day readers of the book, that lasts for the rest of the chapter. That’s a pretty big deal!
The sun sits low off to the side,
Sliding in sideways:
A perfect light for reading.
Only when I focus do I notice the birds,
Invisible infinities in the distance,
Their overlapping music a hum
So loud it becomes a dull roar we don’t notice:
A drumroll at the horizon.
Three little girls squat at the edge of the pond
Throwing old grapes to the ducks.
The girls stare at the patterns of rippled water
Spreading out behind the ducks,
And squeal in surprise when long wings suddenly appear
And flutter at the sides of geese.
At the end of major reading units, I often have students do a series of small creative tasks to demonstrate understanding by extending or reinterpreting material in various ways. This pivotal scene from The Scarlet Letter has been combined with a classic TV reference. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in a while. Several months ago, the same student who did this drew the courthouse scene in The Crucible with Sesame Street‘s Big Bird sitting in the rafters. Very clever.
Dang. Denied, apparently. Happy Valentine’s to me.
I listen to music a lot while working. One of my Spotify accounts is called “Grading Papers” because that’s when I listen to it. Lately, I’ve been listening to some long, mellow tracks as I slog away:
But then again, I’ve also really liked having this one on in the background, too!
I came across that one while listening to this on a loop:
Yesterday marked the end of the third month of being 40–that puts me 25% of the way through the year. Ideally, for the things I want to do 40 times, I should have ten by now. Here’s where I stand on my goals:
- The big item first: I only finished one more item in the last month–40 straight days of sit ups–bringing my grand total of completed goals up to big fat whopping…four. My abs are pretty strong now–I can do 40 (coincidence) crunches in a set with no resistance on my feet.
- I wanted to check off the “40 push ups in one set” goal this month, but I tested myself twice in the last couple of weeks, and I can only do 30.
- Today was day 34 of reading the Book of Mormon in 40 days. It’s a pretty amazing experience. More on that next week, after I finish.
- I’ve done 15 days of temple or family history work.
- I also wanted to be able to check off the 40 positive contacts with students’ parents, but reaching people is harder than it sounds–I’m only up to 16.
- This is day 12 of tracking what I eat–I need to do better with recording calories and protein, though, but I’ve never stuck with this kind of resolution this long. It’s sobering.
- This is day 8 of no soda. Man, I love Dr. Pepper.
- I’m starting to wonder when I’ll even try 40 days of no social media or no Netflix. Not sure if I even can. How sad.
- I’ve changed the “run ten miles 40 times” goal–which was far too ambitious to be realistic–to the much more sensible “run a 10k 40 times.” I’ve only done 4 of those since my last birthday, though, so I’m still way behind. I’ll try to add a 5th later today.
- I’ve only relaxed in the bathtub eight times. Two behind schedule! I’ll add a 9th to that later today, after my 10k run :)
- Twenty bike rides so far…but only 4 if I don’t count the ones at UNLV…
- If I want to learn 40 Portuguese words a month, I’m already over that goal! According to Duolingo, I know over 600 words. Still, I’m not checking off this goal–I need consistent practice over time–the real goal is to become fluent. I’m averaging every other day for practice since December, but I need to step that up.
- I’ve finished 12 books since my birthday, just slightly ahead of the goal.
- Not sure why I specified “symphonies” in the list of goals, but any classical music will do. Actually, I’ve decided to do nothing but Haydn this year, and it’s been great. I recently heard his Piano Concerto in D major, and it was fantastic!
- 12 albums from my youth listened to again, but only 4 new jazz and blues albums. Hmm.
- I’ve eaten at nine new places so far. Mostly really great!
- Last week I sent out 12 cards for Sunshine Snail Mail. I’ll do 5-10 more this month.
- I’ve decided that my Simpsons goal will be achieved by re-watching all of seasons 4 and 5. Glorious!
- This is day 15 of reading Calvin and Hobbes again. It seriously does get better as I get older!
- Ten great movies with the kids so far, including a few Marvel movies, a nature documentary, a history documentary, and two black and white classics.
- I’m finding it hard not say anything negative for long at all. Sarcasm comes much too naturally to me. I’ve had to start that one over three times already :(
- I’m over halfway through 40 journal entries, but barely started any poetry. Not sure my heart’s really in that last one. Maybe it’ll end up being mostly limericks and haiku. We’ll see.
- Last month, there were 17 goals that I hadn’t started yet at all. Now there are only nine!
- This project would have been much easier when I was ten.
I did up this presentation to start off our current unit in American Lit. I started with this Powerpoint I found online, and gussied it up a bit. Students filled in these notes while we discussed the slides:
As always, my pop culture and arts references are meant to spur further connections in the minds of students–I try to draw these out from them while we talk. Each piece we read and analyze in this unit includes a discussion of which elements of Romanticism are present in the text and where: this leads to some very natural compare/contrast exercises.
I’m a big fan of the website Turnitin.com, which assists in grading written work and in checking for plagiarism. If you’re a teacher and your school doesn’t subscribe, bug your admin until they get it for you.
It streamlines the writing process, collects all documents and communication electronically, simplifies feedback, and even reveals nearly any kind of cheating a student writer may have done (it was even once used to demonstrate that a professor at UNLV was a serial plagiarist and got him fired!).
It’s thanks to things like this that I don’t carry around boxes of papers to grade any more–all I need is a computer–and it even goes faster, since I don’t have to laboriously scribble my sorry handwriting on each paper. And everything is automatically documented! (More than once, I’ve had a parent insist that their perfect angel turned in an assignment that I’ve marked missing, and where I used to only have my word to go on, I can now take a screen shot of the empty submission page and send it to the parent.)
Last year I put together this quick illustrated user guide for teachers. In case it might be useful for any of you out there in Internet Land, here it is. I also hope you enjoy looking for the little jokes I worked in.
Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries, died today at the age of 46. This is a sad day for those who love Ireland and 90s music.
Just last month, I was thinking about their song “Dreams” again. At first blush it can come off as too light, too fluffy–it was featured in the movie You’ve Got Mail, after all–but the song’s pop catchiness is deceptive. It’s not a simple, formulaic pop song–far from it. The story presents a new infatuation as a chance for self discovery and reinvention, optimistically claiming that such growth is inevitable. The iconic guitar riff complemented that perfectly, and perfectly represented the early 90s with its bubbly electricity, part gritty grunge, part power pop.
But back to the words–not only did O’Riordan’s lyrics delve deeper than they seemed to, in ways that strayed outside the norm, but so did her vocal work itself. If the guitar in “Dreams” was prototypical early 90s, her voice was the exact opposite. It was the style for women at the time to try to sound as tormented and angry as their male counterparts, but she was happy to chirp out pretty melodies which were no less affecting for it. To be earnestly positive while still communicating a solid connection to elemental reality–that’s a tough balance to strike. Few try. Dolores did it. Witness “Linger” and “Ode To My Family.”
And yet, this is the woman who also wrote and sang “Zombie,” a passionate lament about actual political violence! This was a deep well of lyric and vocal artistry, friends.
46 is far too young. Her work will be missed.
Last semester, I had a student in English 101 who I’d also had for her sophomore and junior years in high school. She wrote the following on the back of her final exam last month. This note made me feel good for days after. Really, if you can say something nice to a teacher, rest assured that will have done something meaningfully kind for another human being.
One of my goals for the year I’m 40 is to eat at 40 new places. I’ve done six so far, and the last four have all been Mexican places, because I love me some Mexican food.
1. Taqueria El Buen Pastor
I pass this truck on the commute to work all the time, but never stopped by until recently. I grabbed a couple of cheap tacos–two for under five bucks–and loved them! Service was fast and friendly, place was clean, and the tacos were excellent! They even have a full condiment bar on the side. Highly recommended!
2. Rivas Mexican Grill
I went to the one on Aliante and 215–great place! I tried a fish taco here for the first time, and was surprised at how much I liked it. Plenty more of these in my future. Highly recommended!
3. Frijoles and Frescas
A couple of days ago I finished my 2nd month of being 40. Of the 40 goals I have set for this year, I have successfully completed…three. There would be a fourth–doing sit-ups–but my consistency was spotty, and I decided to start over.
It’s frustrating to see such a big list with so little apparent progress, but in my notes I see that most of my goals have some work done. Last month, I had done something for fewer than half the goals. Now, there are only 17 that I haven’t started.
The biggest problem for me before was the one about Portuguese vocabulary–how exactly to do that and track it? I decided to use Duolingo at least every other day, and if I keep that up, that’ll count. Three weeks into that so far. Parabens!
My biggest worry now is the one about running ten-milers 40 times. Seems a bit ambitious. I ran a solid 10k this week, but while that’s good, that’s still zero to check off for the goal. Can I really get better and do 40 of those in under 10 months now?
Note that #29–about service–has changed. The wording before was too ambiguous; I needed something simple and specific, so I could be sure of achieving it. I plan on doing 40 letters for Sunshine Snail Mail for this now.
I finished 30 books in 2017. It was a good year for reading–nine perfect scores, including three in a row! The biggest development was getting new glasses over the summer–after suffering headaches that slowed me down for far too long, I finally took care of this, and I got much more done after. On the downside, I now see some big holes: no poetry, no science fiction or fantasy, not nearly enough of what I started the year wanting to read. Alas. Still, a great time.
- Eliza, Keith and Ann Terry (1.8, biography)–B
- Where Love Is, There God Is Also, Leo Tolstoy (1.14, literature, Dole trans. / Jordan intro)–A
- Eclogues & Georgics, Virgil (1.21, poetry, Mackail trans.)–C
- The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer (2.11, classics, poetry, Neville Coghill trans.)–A+
- To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (3.11, literature)–B
- A Walk Among the Tombstones, Lawrence Block (3.20, mystery)–B
- The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Rod Dreher (3.27, biography)–A+
- The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher (5.29, religion, politics)–A
- The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank (6.23, history)–A
- Born Fighting, James Webb (6.27, history)–A
- Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekhov (7.1, drama)–C
- Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw (7.27, drama)–A
- Everything That Remains, The Minimalists (7.27, memoir)–A+
- Purgatory, Dante (7.29, poetry, classic, Anthony Esolen trans.)–A
- The Awakening of Miss Prim, Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera (8.22, fiction)–B
- Nightworld, F. Paul Wilson (8.26, horror)–A+
- Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift (9.17, satire)–A
- Paradise, Dante (10.17, poetry, classic, Anthony Esolen trans.)–A+
- How Dante Can Save Your Life, Rod Dreher (10.23, literary criticism, memoir)–A+
- Speak To The Earth, Rachel Peden (10.31, nature, memoir)–A+
- Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard (11.10, philosophy, Lowrie trans.)–A
- Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer (11.20, classic, Windeatt trans.)–D
- Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman (11.22, biography)–A+
- Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche (11.23, philosophy, Kaufmann trans.)–C
- Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual For Reading Plays, David Ball (11.25, literary criticism)–A+
- Candide, Voltaire (12.2, satire, classic)–A
- It’s All Relative, A.J. Jacobs (12.8, genealogy, humor)–B
- The Best American Short Stories 2017, Heidi Pitlor, ed. (12.16, literature)–B
- The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, P.D. James (12.19, mystery)–B
- Rameau’s Nephew, Denis Diderot (12.21, satire, Leonard Tancock trans.)–C