A Frosted Raspberry Forest

As is my vice, I've titled this post something vague that gelled in my head after staring around the room, something which will probably have nothing to do with whatever I actually write, whatever that may be.

(I hear that some bloggers plan their posts? Central themes and transitional sentences that don't start with "So anyway, and then..."?) I tell myself that Future Shari will have fun trying to remember whatever I was thinking about.

(Hint to Future Shari: imported Pop-Tarts. I know that Future Shari is an unexpected vegan hardbody and wants to forget the time she got her husband addicted to Pop-Tarts after leaving the one place where it was easy to buy them and where she herself really never ate them, but Future Shari is a bit of a rich elitist at times and deserves to be confronted with the memory of seven boxes of Pop-Tarts in unapologetic formation across her kitchen counter.)

I don't know where Future Shari got the money to semi-retire to a succession of cruise ships while maintaining her general knowledge trivia consultancy (tonight specializing in Charles Whitman before the Wikipedia injection fades). Present Shari suspects Future Shari of being rich in imagination and, perhaps, button quail.

(Today marks 12 days without succumbing to an irresponsible pet purchase!)

Speaking of... Mike won't let me get Sea Monkeys. (Or "Aqua Dragons," as a competitor now brands them.) I'm not used to Mike saying no to anything that I've decided will make me happy. (That sounds prattish. Let me remind the jury that Mike is also very lucky in that I rarely want to buy anything, including groceries, which is a topic for another day.)

I thought Sea Monkeys were just a comic book rip-off, but the Internet assures me that they actually are kind of fun to watch, even without crowns and bubble cities. They can spend weeks mating!

"No. It's too gross."

We'll see. Mike ate his first persimmon today from a pile of sample slices at the Freo Markets this afternoon.

"Too scary." "Go on." "Nah." "It's fruit!" "Only if you will." "Why wouldn't I?"

With surprise he pronounced them good, and when I thought about it, persimmon is one of those things I'm not sure I've ever eaten on its own. So, we'll make this my persimmon anniversary, too. 

Pop-Tarts should do a few limited foodie editions for hipsters to eat ironically. Persimmon with honey frosting. Havarti with sweetened dill and vinegar glaze. I don't know. Free ideas.

Anyway, the bold risk-taking was all used up on half of a persimmon wedge.

Today while up in Perth we had lunch at Guzman y Gomez in trendy Northbridge, a little walk-in place that's kind of like the brown adopted child of Chipotle and Baja Fresh. Their "enchilada" is more of a sauced-up land-not-hand burrito, but it was good enough to look forward to trying again, except maybe a quesadilla and taco next time.

Over this lunch, I tried to explain mtDNA to Mike, whose Full Maternal Sequence results just came in last night. I tried to explain twice. Apparently I don't talk out loud enough about DNA testing for genealogy because the phrase "midichlorian DNA" actually pushed past my lips at one point. Oh Lordy, don't let me cousins with Anakin "Yipee!" Skywalker.

I also signed up for a State Library card today. (As usual, all mentions to "today" are to the day that ended a few hours ago.) The woman at the "welcome" desk hesitated, since I live 90+ minutes away. What was the point, her pauses and shoulders suggested.

Later I discovered that if I "upgrade" my card by showing my driver's license, I will have access to all kinds of databases from home. But... I had to show my driver's license to get the card? 

The clusterbuggery of bureaucracy aside, I just checked my remote access, and it's already in place, which means the card does have value, after all, librarian-lady. Some days I understand Charlie Sheen, I truly do.

I may have to get lost in the "AustLit" database so I can stop being the evil person who says "Who?" whenever some Aussie author is chosen as a text to study by Mike's department instead of, say, Shakespeare.

There's one author in particular who seems to be read by each grade, to the point where I've become skeptical that Western Australia has ever produced more than one writer... and perhaps no writers who aren't also the siblings of a high-up mucky-muck in the state education department. (Luckily the person in question has talent and recognition that supercedes my hyperbolic digs - nepotism alone doesn't put your face on a stamp - but the situation still amuses me.)

I've read a couple of great adolescent-ish novels by Aussies that I don't think I would've been exposed to under the pile of to-be-reads back in the USA, so I'm only teasing about contemporary Australian fiction, I swear. 

One book is the middle selection in the Underdog series by Marcus Zusak. I was wary because - prepare to close this browser tab in horror and disgust - I thought The Book Thief was precious as fuck. I have to lace my impressions with vulgarity because all kinds of respectable smartypants friend just lurrrrv'd it, but I couldn't finish the thing, so I'll use abrasive words to make it easier to dismiss my clearly wrong, but true, opinion.

I was excited by The Book Thief's unconventionality, but damn. So bored with the protagonist and the stiffy that Death had for her.

Maybe Terry Pratchett's DEATH ruined me for that particular personification. 

And don't get me started on the movie, even though I liked it much better than the book. It was fine. It was pretty. It was beyond predictable.

It's funny because usually you can count on me to get weepy at the right moments in lesser movies even as I call them out for being manipulative or dull, but not a sniffle could be summoned for The Book Thief. I'd still read it 9,999 more times before gagging through another paragraph of The Time Traveler's Wife - my undefeated go-to bestseller when I talk about popular books that I hate, but hopefully I'll never have to finish TBT even once.

All of that unsolicited opinion over a piece of writing that I'd be ecstatic to emulate half as well aside, Zusak is clearly a lively writer, and I won't let whatever DNA mishap prevents me from liking The Book Thief to finish reading the Underdogs and whatever else has his name on the cover. If you teach grades 9-10 and won't get angry calls from parents over a little risque material near the start, and if your kids can handle a bit of Oz slang, and if maybe those students are from scrappier backgrounds, give it a look.

The book I really liked, though, is Two Weeks With The Queen by Morris Gleitzman. Amazon says grade levels 3-5, and I agree, but here it's taught in grades 7-8.

That's a weird thing I keep noticing but really haven't figured out yet. Each grade seems to study novels and stories below the level I'd expect, yet the reading comprehension that's demanded from students is far more sophisticated than anything I saw in the States, and keep in mind that in my old life we were being pressured to foist things like Gogol's "The Nose" on undermotivated 10th graders.

"More complex texts!" was the battle cry of admins, and everyone from staff to principal thought we were really ticking the boxes with our level (whatever) questions. (We can tick, but will it click and stick?)

Yet the book choices seem so much easier here. My husband is about to start a... I can't even call it a novel... with a rather brilliant group of 8th graders who, in all seriousness, could hold their own in 10th grade pre-AP. (They're not the norm.) The book - and I don't want to say its name because I'm minimizing identifying info and all that - is one that I think every 5th grader in the United States already loves. It's a title that my old department was specifically told NOT to teach to our fresh-from-ELL 9th graders because it was "just too simple."

Of course, we all know it's not the book but what you do with it. Still, this is a book that most of this particular class could finish before bedtime with perfect comprehension.

Units go fearlessly slow. Five weeks to read a book? No problem. Certainly not the "read 10 excerpts from 10 different books in a few weeks instead" agenda that was our admin's interpretation of Common Core right before I escaped.

But it's the critical thinking that's expected from the students that is amazing. "Um, I didn't have to do this in college," I've said more than once. True, this is usually in reference to parsing out some bullshit jargon-ese exam prompt meant to make some teacher feel good about her degree while intimidating the student, but even so, I'm impressed with what students are expected to recognize in writing/images/film then convey in an essay or a speech. (Multiple choice assessment is left to Buzzfeed quizzes.)

Add in that the kids have only a few written or speaking assessments per quarter - none of this "all 200 of your students must have fresh grades every week before you leave on Friday" (the obvious difference being that Mike has half that many students) - and my brain tumbles. Where is the middle ground? Is it the ground I'm already standing on?

I don't like everything I see in Aussie schools (the grading system is insane, truly insane, although it also kind of makes sense... but is mostly insane), and I''m not saying the kids here are better writers (they're all over the board) or even readers (well, they are, but my old school makes a stubby yardstick), but the hard-wired system for making them better thinkers (which I've grossly oversimplified above) is something that I'm beginning to wish that I could preach to my old admins.

Anyway, Two Weeks With the Queen is fun and sweet, and if you need a vehicle to discuss character growth and motivation, dramatic irony, inference, and language choices while getting students used to writing various types of responses, this is a nice choice for up to 8th grade. (Anything above that, and I think it's just too lightweight to excuse, but what do I know anymore?)

Even if you aren't a teacher, read it yourself if you like middle school fiction and, again, Australian slang (and if you aren't prone to seeing dangerous homosexual agendas whenever a gay character shows up).

While I wait for Future Shari to get with the program and play lotto or grow surgeon hands or discover that one elusive lucrative thing on the planet that looks interesting but hasn't already been attempted with disasterous results, I still have my house gig of writing units and lesson plans for Mike, helping moderate grades, and sometimes throwing in the creative warm fuzzies that I rarely had time/sleep/money for when I was teaching. I figure I earn my keep.... and maybe some Sea Monkeys? The persimmon was good, wasn't it?

01 June 2014 |