Jane Austen and Me

Even though I was an English major as an undergrad, I didn’t read one Jane Austen novel until after I received my degree! I have a picture from my senior year Literary London class trip of myself in front of Austen’s house in England, smiling like I knew what I was standing in front of. Ha. I remember fellow classmates at college talking about her books (and movies), and I knew I was missing out on something. Truly, I almost felt like I had committed an English major sin of omission . . . wait . . . nope, that was when I didn’t finish The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn . . . which would be a sin of commission. Anyway, I felt a tinge of English major guilt because of my lack of expertise on Austen novels; yet, I assert that I haven’t always been as strong a reader as I am now. Yes, truly, I struggle (at times) through each of Austen’s books. I’m not afraid to admit that. If I can’t understand how to struggle with reading, how will I be able to help my struggling readers in class?

Anyway, my first Austen reading experience was during my second year as a teacher when I checked out the old blue dusty hardback from our high school’s library. I was determined to comprehend it without resorting to watching the famous “faithful” 1995 film adaptation I’d heard so much about. I had seen portions of director Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice in college, so that was an aid to understanding, but soon it didn’t really matter because Austen carried me away with the suspense of when Elizabeth would see Darcy again and what she would say to him. It became my favorite book, even if I didn’t understand it completely. I loved the caricature of Mrs. Bennet, the sense of Elizabeth, and the mystery of Mr. Darcy. I loved the exquisite English grammar. I loved the opening line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Oh, the irony! After reading this novel, I decided I would eventually read all of Austen’s novels.

Not too much later, I became an “expert” on Pride and Prejudice. I read The Annotated Pride and Prejudice (the novel on the left page, footnotes on the right page!) for my 19th Century British Women’s Lit. and Film and Lit. classes, and now I have taught the book three times so far. Austen’s wit is the best part of her literature, but to understand some of her best jabs at the English gentry, you almost have to have annotations telling you facts like this: blue was the fashionable color of mens’ coats in 1813. Or this: a ragout (pronounced ragu, like the spaghetti sauce) would have been out of fashion to have for the evening meal among high society. Studying the book more deeply helped me appreciate it even more, and each Austen novel has been easier for me to enjoy because of my knowledge about England in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

This January, I made a New Year’s resolution to read the rest of Austen by the end of the year. I finished (finally; it took me a few restarts) Sense and Sensibility while in Sierra Leone (which was quite a stark contrast), and I’m happy to report that I didn’t have any assistance in understanding the story. My copy of Emma Thompson’s film adaptation stayed in its plastic wrap until I was finished with the novel!

I just finished Persuasion this past week, and I have a lot to say about it. I bought it at a bookstore in 2009 but didn’t read it until this summer, which happens to be the very best time in my life for me to read that book. Don’t you love it when that happens? Look for a book review soon!

So, here’s my progress:

Pride and Prejudice (Fall 2007)

Emma (Spring 2008)

Sense and Sensibility (June 2014)

Persuasion (June 2014)

Mansfield Park (next!)

Northanger Abbey (need to purchase)

Sandition (need to purchase)

To finish my musings on Austen and Me, I want to encourage those of you who haven’t read an Austen novel to give it a shot, especially if you have seen any of the film adaptations. You will find that the characters in these novels are the characters in your very own lives, male or female, rich or poor, old or young. Austen’s insight into human nature and the way society works (fairly or unfairly) is applicable to today’s world, no matter how different it may seem.

 

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Book Review: Wide Open by Larry Bjornson

book cover

What drew me to this book the most was the story behind the author’s family. Bjornson’s bio mentions that his great grandparents emigrated from Iceland after volcanic ash destroyed their farm. That would be an amazing story to write someday! Bjornson’s book, however, covers a geography and history a little closer to home–Abilene, Kansas.

Before reading this book, I knew little about Abilene’s history other than the fact that it was a cowtown. (Somehow, in all my twelve years of field trips back home, my class missed the trips to Abilene, so I’m going to have to visit on my own sometime.) After reading the novel, I now know many interesting facts about late 19th century Abilene: Bill Hickok was the sheriff for a brief time, Hickok killed his own deputy accidentally, and there were big conflicts among the three main groups of people in the Abilene area: the cowboys, the townspeople, and the settlers.

The book centers around Will Merritt, a fifteen year old boy who is coming of age at a unique crossroads for the town of Abilene. Tensions are always high during cattle season, when Texas cowboys bring up cattle to put on the rails at Abilene. But this season, because of an interesting business decision made by Will’s father (one of the most prominent businessmen in the town), Will faces more challenges and tests of loyalty than he ever dreamed he would face. Add to this a little bit of a love story, scenes with Wild Bill Hickok conveniently saving Will from his troubles, and many interesting elements that show the challenges of pioneer life, and you have a book many will love.

I recommend this book to any teacher, particularly middle school teachers who like to read aloud to their classes. The chapters are anecdotal, almost always ending with a cliffhanger. The themes are very applicable to middle schoolers, and the history told is fascinating. I would also recommend this book to all Kansans and anyone who has an interest in frontier history.

http://www.wideopennovel.com/

My favorite element of the book was the way in which Bjornson brought a family’s story to life. I imagined my own great-grandfather, Jestarus Noble Timothy Fuller, riding in a covered wagon out to north central KS from Iowa to begin farming on his 160 acres and timber claim. He arrived a good twenty years later than Will’s family, but I am sure many of the troubles he faced were similar. Another reason I enjoyed this book was that I would like to write one similar to it myself. 1850s-1890s American life, particularly in Kansas, has always fascinated me.

Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier

Numerous friends and a few students have recommended this book to me over the years. I finally found a few days to sit down and be lured in by duMaurier’s mysterious tone, macabre mood, and suspenseful plot. The first three-fourths of the book made me frustrated with the narrator, whose name is never divulged, as she fails to assert herself in her new role as the wife of Maximillian de Winter–an older, rich, landed, recently widowed man (who holds much mystery himself)–and her new role as mistress of Manderley. She lets Mrs. Danvers, the mysterious, severe head housekeeper, run everything just the way the former mistress, Rebecca, ran the house.

The narrator cannot escape Rebecca, and the reader can’t help her to escape Rebecca, which is perhaps why duMaurier didn’t give the narrator a name. A name would have given her the power to overcome Rebecca’s almost ghostly hold on her, Manderley, Mrs. Danvers, and Maxim.

Despite the continuing monotony of the narrator failing at everything she does (which makes for somewhat boring reading), I found myself continuing to turn the pages because it was all a mystery and I had to figure out what was going to happen!

Finally, in the last fourth of the novel, the plot really gets to rolling, and we learn the whole story. duMaurier’s writing lends itself to quick reading and I was impressed with the psychological depth to the main character as her first-person narrations helped us understand her hesitancy and lack of confidence as a new wife. The narrator often talked herself out of action by considering what “would” happen and how people “would” view her and “would” talk about her. Some of these scenes would go on for more than a page, and I wanted to scream at the narrator to take action! Then, as she learns more of the story behind Rebecca’s death, she immediately grows up, comes into her own, and stops worrying about the future. She is able to help Maxim deal with the rest of the conflict that occurs.

The book’s descriptions of the county of Cornwall in England (where duMaurier lived) made me add another spot to my list of places to visit next time I go there. And, I enjoyed reading about how the very rich lived their lives in the 20th century as opposed to the 19th century (which so many of my Austen and Bronte books have shown). This novel is a must-read for anyone who appreciates mystery, gloom, suspense, and good writing! I know just the students to recommend it to!

 

 

 

Of Hope Chests, English Class, and Socrates

So, my brother’s getting married in August. Therefore, the rest of the family has to clear out their “Hey Mom, I won’t have room for this at my house, can I leave it here?” stuff so he can transform the house from bachelor pad to a home of matrimonial bliss. (I won’t comment on how daunting a task that is, but, Jon, I’m totally here for you! I love to paint and, as you know, clean your house.)

So, I picked up my random assortment of sleeping bags, boxes of old toys, and a large trunk that contains all the things I stuffed in there when I moved away from home for my first job. That trunk contained one precious item I’d nearly forgotten about. The set of tea towels Grandma Fuller embroidered for me and gave to me on my 10th birthday. I still have the handwritten note that says, “Put these in your hope chest and they will keep.” I promptly washed them and stuck them in my kitchen drawer. Can’t wait for Ironing Day!

Also in the “Hope Chest” was a collection of notebooks I used as Journals from 5th grade to my senior year. As I read through parts of them, I ran along a gamut of emotions. I found myself laughing hysterically at something I’d completely forgotten about. I awwww’ed about a cute little passage I’d written about Emily’s latest developments (We would ask her, “Where’s the baby?” and then she would break into an adorable little smile when we pointed to her 6 month picture and say, “There she is!”). I even cried over passages I’m very glad I recorded, though I’d be mortified if anybody else found them. They’re the kinds of moments you say you’ll never want to forget and when you look back at them, you wish you’d forgotten!

All of this led me to wonder, why do we keep journals? Why keep a record of all the horrible things that happened to us in middle school? Why write down all the details of our friends’ high school lives? Hindsight makes it seem so pointless. Isn’t it better to forget those details and live in our current clouded remembrances of the way things were? Because sometimes they were much worse than we remember!

But then I found a passage about school that justified all the ridiculousness I’d read up to that point. I believe it was my Junior year, and I was complaining about how Mr. Phillips, my English teacher, was “mad” at me for not getting my draft turned in to him on time (as I read it, of course, I felt a bit bad for so self-righteously reprimanding my own students for such offenses). The next thing I wrote was something to the effect of, “He’s so confusing. He wants me to take all his classes next year.”

My 11th grade self did not understand, could not understand, that the more a teacher hounds you about something, the more they believe in you. I look at how far I have come (especially along the lines of being more punctual) and it makes me so full of hope for my own students. It also helps me understand their perspective a little better. When I’m too snippy, sarcastic, or even demanding, they sometimes interpret that in the wrong way, thinking I don’t care or I don’t like them. It is exactly the opposite. I’ve got to remember to tell them that!

So, thanks, old self, for having the perseverance to write down events the way you saw them so long ago. I am grateful for the perspective.

Journaling has always been a very helpful hobby of mine. Here is a list of reasons why it is beneficial:

1. Perspective.

2. Writing Skills I am sure that I would be a poorer writer had I not practiced as much as I have throughout these various journals.

3. Understanding Human Nature. I recorded some of our worst decisions as high schoolers, but as I look at the names mentioned in that journal now, what flashes into my mind are people who have grown into better human beings because of those experiences. I am now able to give more grace to each of us because, throughout life, one learns that sometimes people make poor choices, and, even if they do cause huge waves in others’ lives, usually everybody comes out stronger in the end. It is just so hard to see that while all the trouble is occurring.

4. Regret and Remembering. To contradict #3 just a little, it is good to regret something all over again. It helps you avoid mistakes in the future and take more precaution when making decisions. After all, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” After reading these journals, I’ve decided that reflection and remembering helps mold you into a better version of who you are.

5. Solace. There is just something comforting and peaceful about looking back through slices of life that appear in my old journal entries. It’s fun to think about when life seemed more carefree. It’s fun to remember those amazing minor characters in my life whom I had forgotten. They each taught me a little lesson along the way that molded me into the person I am today. And, it is remarkably reassuring to me to see God’s hand on my life as I’ve journeyed through the many turbulent times of life.

A Tale of Forensics

This post is from a draft I had started at the beginning of May, shortly after our State Forensics tournament. So, nearly two months later, I’ll finish it.

When I took my first teaching job, this activity called Forensics “came with the job.” I had very little knowledge about the activity, but I knew as an English teacher in a small school, I would probably get roped into some activity outside my major, so I took the job without complaint (even if I would rather have been taking a volleyball coaching position!). Little did I know that six years later, I would still be coaching (and by choice!).

First of all, it’s important to say that Forensics has nothing to do with crime scene investigations or crime labs. Forensics is speaking and acting–drama and speech.

There really are several things about Forensics that I do not enjoy. Nearly every Saturday of my February, March, and April is taken up with Forensics meets, some of which require me to leave my house early (on a Saturday?). It is difficult to motivate students to come in and work on pieces individually–Forensics isn’t like basketball or volleyball, where the entire team gets together to work at mandatory practices. Therefore, a lot of the volition must come from the students (but these are high school students, so it’s really coming from the teacher). And, the other tough thing about Forensics is that unless your program has been built up, it takes a lot of extra effort to build it.

Yet, these negatives don’t come close to outweighing the positives of coaching Forensics. I reap a lot of joy from seeing students improve their performances at each meet, gain confidence in themselves, and learn to interpret and perform their pieces better. I have a network of fellow coaches (all over the state!) who are very helpful and have shown me the ropes of an activity I knew little about. And, though I’ve always been an athlete and I love sports and I encourage students to get involved in athletics, I see that the benefits of being involved in Forensics will enhance students’ lives and careers much more than athletics. Unless you are someone like Kobe Bryant, your boss isn’t going to be asking about your jump shot. Rather, your boss will want to see that you are confident, well spoken, able to communicate, and professional. (Sidenote: As a Forensics coach, I take great satisfaction in teaching young girls that “Barbie shoes,” i.e. “Lady of the night shoes,” are not professional dress.) And, the best thing of all about Forensics is building relationships with the students. Even though I’ve only been teaching for six years, I have already heard back from a few students about how much Forensics has helped them in their life! It’s so great!

So, here’s to my fellow Forensics coaches, enjoy your summer off and sneak in some time to read for Forensics pieces! :)

The Sixth Year

Well, I have officially kicked off my sixth year of teaching and coaching Forensics, along with my second year of coaching volleyball! The first week went well despite some health issues I had. I survived!

The best part about teaching is the kids. Once they were finally in my room on Thursday, I got an extra burst of energy. I’m so excited to get to know them! At this school, I get a new crop of students every year since I teach Freshmen and Juniors.

The best part about coaching volleyball happened on Friday, our fifth day of practice. My middle schoolers this year are quite inexperienced in volleyball, and some are inexperienced in simply exercising and moving their bodies! So, we have a lot of work to do! But, the first day we did this certain passing drill, they only had 16 or 18 good passes. On Friday, they started the drill off with 5 perfect passes in a row (followed by an outburst of cheering and encouragement from the whole team) and ended up getting 28 good passes! So, it felt like things finally came together a bit, which was a huge encouragement to me. We haven’t even learned about hitting, blocking, or digging yet, since we needed to work so much on serving and passing. But, that is middle school volleyball for you. I LOVE getting to teach them from the start how to play correctly!

Back to Blogging With a Book Review: Tim Tebow’s Through My Eyes

I’m sure the whole world has been just waiting for me to blog again! HA.

My last post was about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m now in that light! :) And, honestly, it’s just as wonderful and just as terrible as I thought it would be. This summer is my first free one since, oh, probably about 10th grade. But particularly, since I have started my teaching career, I’ve been busy with either classes or a job the whole summer. This summer, no classes. And I miss them. Surprisingly, I’ve found it difficult to be without stress. I guess I just operate best under stress. However, I’ve been given a wonderful opportunity to read the books that have been waiting for me. Maybe I’ll write about some of them. Also, I’ve been able to do a bit of planning for next year, which is nice strange. . . I mean, I’m going to have a plan? Well before the year starts? What a novel idea! I already have the first nine weeks of Freshman English laid out, including that dreaded grammar instruction.

Volleyball camp is coming up. Can’t wait to get on the court and teach the little girls to love volleyball!

Since I don’t have Internet access at home, I can’t post all that often, so I think this is going to be a long one. I’m at the library. Can I just say that public libraries rock my world? Free internet, free books, free newspapers, and when I logged on today, they had an ad on their website for free music downloads. LOVE IT!

Okay, a book review. Here it is. I bought Tim Tebow’s Through My Eyes and finished within 24 hours. Loved it! It’s possible you haven’t heard of him, if you don’t pay attention to football, so let me oblige. Tebow won two national championships at the University of Florida, was up for the Heisman Trophy three times (the first of which he won–after his sophomore season), and was a 2010 first round draft pick for for the Denver Broncos. Those are just his football accomplishments. He has done and is so much more. The son of missionaries to the Philippines, he is a miracle baby, the youngest of five children, and has grown into a man with a desire to use his football platform (his word) to spread the message of Jesus. I hadn’t heard of this guy until after his second Heisman nomination, but once I started paying attention to him, I began to be more inspired than ever to be more open about my faith. His book has only inspired me more.

I’ll admit this book might be a tough read for a person who doesn’t know anything about football. He almost takes you through every game of his college and professional career play-by-play. Of course, this is only five years, so it’s okay that he’s so detailed, even telling about each of his injuries. I enjoyed hearing his mindset as a team player and leader. He also gave lengthy descriptions of his workouts, which sounded insane, yet inspiring. He detailed his relationship with his coaches, Head Coach Urban Meyer and Strength & Conditioning Coach Mickey Marotti. I could identify with that as well as with the descriptions of his encouraging, faithful parents and the crazy stories he related of growing up on a farm, getting “Farm Strong.” I felt like I was reading about MY life! :)

Throughout the memoir, Tim weaves snippets of spiritual discussion and inspiration. He doesn’t shy away from the tough questions, like “Why does God let bad things happen?” and “Why doesn’t God always answer my prayers?” and “Which way do I go?” As he discusses God, he truly gives readers the gospel message in a non-preachy kind of way. He simply explains why he believes certain things, usually backing it up with scripture and then helps the reader directly (in second person, even) apply it to their lives. What an encouragement!

I highly recommend this book to you if you fit in any of the following categories:

  1. A Coach
  2. An Athlete (current or former)
  3. A football fan
  4. A Christian
  5. A mother of boys
  6. A teacher of football players
  7. A farm kid
  8. A sports fan (especially of the SEC)
  9. A high school student
  10. A college student

You will find something in the book to relate to the very experiences you are going through or have gone through. Tim Tebow leads a very public life, as most star football players do, and he is one of the good ones, who is trying to do good things. He stands for things in this world that other people scoff at, and those people are eagerly awaiting his public mistakes. Say a prayer for him when you think of it.