Friday, December 15, 2017

Manilow is coming to town....

...and he’s checking his list to see who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.... and who gets seats closest to the stage....

A Christmas miracle.... after announcing a couple of years ago that he would be retiring from concert tours, Barry Manilow will be in concert in Sugar Land, Texas, this coming February.  What a great way to start the New Year!  My husband has already bought our tickets and I am counting the days till February.

We had gone to see Manilow in Houston two years ago, for what we thought was his last concert in our city... it was a wonderful but bittersweet night, listening to Barry and thinking I wouldn’t be seeing him on stage again. I have lost count of how many times we have gone to his shows... mostly front-row seats... in New York City, on Long Island, at the Hilton in Las Vegas, and so many venues all over the Houston area, and we once missed him by a day in London.

And now Manilow will come back to Texas... yes, Virginia, there is a Santa.

Until then... I sit here with a very bad cold.... I got sick the day after our Christmas party and the coughing and sneezing and what-have-you has been relentless. I hate being sick... such a waste of time... and I am a bad patient because I refuse to give in and it’s hard to just sit still and be sick.

I have been reading Christmas books, one after the other... thinking of Christmases gone by... if you think too much, it gets you sad. So just keep reading.

Think of something else.... such as what to wear for the Manilow concert.....

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Jingle Bells...

It has been a busy week, and as I type, it is four o’clock in the morning and I have the washer going. Somehow, the washing machine sounds louder than it does at four o’clock in the afternoon. I was asleep a little while ago, but Savannah barked because she heard the latest stray cat out on the porch. Maybe she thought it was Santa.  One short trip out to the grass with Savannah has gotten me wide awake.

We had our Christmas party last night.... instead of a Crazy Christmas Sweater theme, we did Crazy Christmas Socks. Among others, we had red and white striped elf socks, penguin socks and Santa socks, silver snowflake tights, white socks filled with coal, and reindeer socks that were attached to a Rudolph “onesie” complete with tail and a red nose. I shall not reveal the wearer of that hilarious outfit, just in case she wants to remain anonymous.

To add to the Christmas spirit of the party, we had snow the other day. More than an inch but less than two... great big pretty flakes that stuck to the grass and bushes and closed the schools till noon that day. The property looked beautiful, but I do miss the 80-degree temperatures of last week. Having a white Christmas in Texas is not what I am dreaming of, with apologies to Bing Crosby. Hopefully, this cold weather will pass and go back up north where it belongs.

Last Thursday was the final Book Club afternoon for my 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. They have exams this coming week, and then the school closes for the winter break. We will resume Book Club Thursdays in mid-January.  The students weren’t happy about missing a few book club days, but we had a little Christmas party this past Thursday.  Their book selections were all Christmas stories, and they had a good time picking out their favorite old ones and discovering new ones. More than once, I heard a fifth-grader say “I love this book... I read it when I was a kid!”   I had candy canes and snacks for them as well as Christmas grab-bag gifts, and the students who did not yet receive their magic wands got to pick theirs last Thursday.

The kids are just so enthusiastic about the book club, and the ones who have decided to keep their books are happy to be starting their own little library. I have stressed the importance of keeping their books in good condition so they will have them for years. When I told the students that I have books that I read in the fourth and fifth grades, they looked at me as if the books had to be falling apart from such a long life. One little boy told me that I must be as old as 25, so that made up for the ‘ancient’ age-appraisals of the other kids.

The Magic Wand Book Club has been going now since the term began this Fall.... it seems like such a long time already that these kids have been in my life. It was all I could do not to ask all the kids what they wanted for Christmas and then go out and shop till I dropped so their wishes would come true on Christmas morning.  These kids have so little, and the grab-bag gifts and books and wands that they get from me are received with such joy.  One of the boys last week asked me if he could pick out a girl’s gift for his grandmother instead of picking a boy’s gift for himself.  I quietly told him to pick one from each pile. These kids... how could you not love them?

Yesterday up on Long Island, the daughter of one of my cousins got married. We didn’t go up for the wedding... my husband is in the midst of giving final exams at the university and traveling at this time of the year is iffy because of the weather up north. They did have snow for that wedding up on Long Island, so I can't wait to hear from my cousin tomorrow if her daughter-the-bride was happy with the snow or not.  My cousin's daughter was here to visit us last May, and I sent her home with pearl and diamond earrings to wear on her wedding day.  I can't wait to see the pictures of the wedding, and she will also send me a video of the church ceremony and reception.  C had her wish... a winter wedding.... but her mother wasn't too thrilled about the snow.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

November is over?

How is that even possible?  Seems like we all were just talking about which pies to order for Thanksgiving, and now even the pies are history... except for a chunk of apple pie which is hiding in the back of the fridge in the pantry.

Book Club at the school was an eye-opening experience for me this afternoon. One of the disruptive boys, who I was on the verge of signing out of the club last week, was the first to arrive in the school library today. He put his back-pack down and asked me if he could help set up the room for the students. Being that he was twenty minutes ahead of his usual time, I asked if his class was let out early or was he supposed to be somewhere else at that time. He told me they were released early and told they could go out into the schoolyard to play ball until the after-school programs began at three o'clock. He told me he knew I would be in the library so he went there instead of going outside with the other boys.

Well.... and then some.  He helped me set up the snack table, and he did it expertly and carefully. (This from the same boy who tried to take extra snacks each week, even before any of the other students had a chance to get to that table.)  Then he helped me set out the attendance slips and the pencils, the stickers and the book labels.  And then, with ten minutes to spare, he sat down and started talking. And talking. Quietly, as if he were just thinking out loud... letting me in on how his life has gone so far, up to his present sixth grade status.  He asked me if I would be doing the 'Book Club Thing' when he leaves the elementary school and goes into the next school building.  I told him that the Book Club Thing was for grades 4, 5, and 6...... and I said that I hoped he would continue reading when he was in the higher grades.

Without going into the details of this particular boy's life story, let me just say that in his young life, he has gone through enough hurdles that would have flattened out a lot of adults. I could have sat there and just cried while I was listening to him. But he kept his chin up and so did I... and he was one of the students who was rewarded with a 'magic' wand this afternoon. This boy was thrilled, just thrilled, and thanked me three times, and told me he would try to get to the library early next week so he could help me 'do the setting up thing' again.

I quickly realized that this young boy was really not one of the disruptive boys... he had been disruptive during past book club meetings when the other boys were there... in order to fit in, to not be bullied, to be 'one of the guys.'  Without those other boys in the library today (all of whom have chosen on their own not to be part of the book club anymore) this boy really enjoyed the afternoon's meeting and his new status as an owner of a special magic wand.

This afternoon's talk with that student made me very humble. To think of what that young boy has been through is enough to make me cry right now.  I wish for him a better life as he gets older. I wish and I hope and I pray that the adults in his life realize that sometimes kids need to just talk and have someone listen to their words. Just listen... without speaking, without judging, without commenting on the way they see their young life playing out.

I had to make an announcement to the book club students today.... next Thursday will be our last meeting until after the Christmas break.  The kids will be taking after-school tutorials in math and science, and then taking their exams, and then school will be closed for the break.  When I told the kids all of that, I heard nothing but moans and groans, and questions such as "Are you sure you're coming back in January?"  "How come they're taking you away again?"  "Why can't we have book club when the school is closed?"  "You can do book club at my house!"

So next Thursday, I will bring Christmas books in for the students... and the grab-bag Christmas gifts... and the snacks.  I also had other holiday surprises planned for the weeks leading up to the holiday break, but I will save those for January.  You've heard of Christmas In July?  Well, the Book Club will have Christmas In January!

I will miss those kids during the Christmas break.  Especially that one little boy...

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Turkey, smurkey....

Just whose idea was it anyway to have turkey as the star of the show on Thanksgiving?  Given a choice, I would have chosen lobster. Or my grandmother's lasagna. However, the Powers That Be have chosen turkey, but at least I don't have to cook it this year. Friends up the road who will be here on Thanksgiving Day have offered to cook the turkey in their Texas-style smoker. Fine with me... all I have to do is defrost that bird and drive it up the hill. There is a turkey-god after all.

Last week was the Book Fair at the elementary school, so we had to cancel our meeting of The Magic Wand Book Club. I made that announcement to the students the week before, and was met with moans and groans and offers to have the Book Club meet in their backyards last Thursday. I thanked those students for the suggestion, but told them it would  not be possible even if they saved me the best seat on their swing set. When I told them I would miss them last week but would return this week, two of the 'disruptive' boys said "Are you sure you're coming back?"  Indeed. I am sure.  And I will see them this Thursday afternoon.  Maybe those boys who-shall-not-be-named will truly have missed the Book Club and will see to it that their behavior is less disruptive this week. One can hope.

For the past two weeks, I have been gathering up caps and capes... Reading Caps for the boys and Reading Capes for the girls.  Just a few more capes (wraps, shawls, poncho-type capes) and I will have enough for all the girls (28).  I already have enough caps for the boys (17), which were easy to find.  My idea is to give out the Reading Caps and Reading Capes to all the book club students, with the intention of making their reading time more special. "Put on your Reading Cap/Cape, find yourself a quiet corner in your home, and escape to another world between the covers of the book you are reading."  The students who already love books and reading don't really need another incentive for getting lost in the stories, so the caps and capes will just be a reward for them. The few students who haven't yet grasped the importance and significance of reading will possibly 'get it' if given half a chance.

Invitations for our Christmas party have gone out, with a note saying "No sit-down dinner!" written on the cards. Our Halloween party last month, with a smaller group than usual, turned into a church-supper, with friends/neighbors finding seats at the dining room table and not moving out of them until they decided it was time to go home.  Enough is enough. This is not a church community center. I didn't spend two weeks decorating and two days cooking for fourteen people to sit around my dining room table for two hours.  How is it that our Heatherdale parties lasted till midnight?!

From now on, I will arrange our parties here exactly like our parties back on Heatherdale.... no chairs around the dining room table, which will be covered with food and desserts, plates and forks... not place-settings. I should have stuck to my original arrangements when we started having parties in this house. Who goes to a party and sits down in one chair and doesn't move for the entire night? People can sit at their own tables in their own homes... the idea of these parties is to mingle and nibble, talk to everyone and catch up with friends and neighbors, not just the people to the right and left of you.

I think our Halloween parties may be history. Maybe this country life is just not a good match-up for costumes and silly clothes. However, that certainly doesn't apply to our Minion-esque friend who would have given the 'real' Minions a run for their money (or whatever currency those yellow-and-blue-suited Minions use).

For the last two years, Crazy Christmas Sweaters have been the theme for our Christmas party. This year, one of our friends suggested Crazy Christmas Socks... so that's what we're all doing.  I had to get creative on this one because I don't wear socks.  I looked on-line for Christmas stockings and tights... and found a good selection of colorful possibilities. I just have to find something to go with my red high heels. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Friday, November 03, 2017

Beyond belief....

...but I did believe.... in two things:  that The Magic Wand Book Club would be successful, and that the Houston Astros could win the World Series.

As I type this, the Astros are having a massive parade and rally along the streets of downtown Houston. Surely, there must be over a million people there, and the energy of the fans is intoxicating. What a glorious event for the city, after having gone through the life-changing damages and heart-wrenching effects of the summer’s hurricane. Great for the Astros, and great for the people of Houston.

After last week’s book club meeting, I asked the school principal to announce that membership in the club was at, and beyond, capacity. No new members will be accepted now, and the total number of students will stay at 45.  The students who are truly into books and reading continue to choose their books wisely.... about one dozen readers have already received their wands and club buttons.  The students who just joined because their friends did will be eliminated from the club if they don’t make an effort to at least read a book or two.... the few disruptive boys are already on notice that if they don’t shape up, they will be shipped out. I hate to do that, but I don’t want to be wasting Book Club time on discipline, especially with kids who really don’t want to be there anyway.

The book club has gone beyond my wildest imagination, and I am so happy for the students.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Trick or Treat for the Book Club students...

As of this afternoon, 45 students have signed up for The Magic Wand Book Club.  Five new students this week, five new last week, and with those ten new students, I would say that maybe three of them are book-lovers. The rest, in my opinion, have signed up because their friends are members.

Enough is enough, and 45 students is enough.  I spoke to the principal this afternoon after I dismissed the students, and asked her if she would mind making a formal announcement that membership in the Book Club is now closed. Everyone who has signed up until this afternoon has been accepted into the club, and gladly, but no new students will be allowed to join now. I think the majority of the boys have signed up because of the carved wood wands, but I will be holding those wands until they have proven to me that they are really interested in books and reading.

Four students volunteered to tell the rest of the group about the books they have been reading, and I was pleasantly surprised that they were so willing.  One of the girls talked about a novel she has been reading since last week's meeting... she couldn't tell us too much about the story, so I asked her what page she was up to in that book. Very proudly, she said "Page 2."  All of the kids had a good laugh, and I suggested to the student that she read a little more of the book and tell us all about it next Thursday.

I had trick-or-treat bags for each of the students today, filled with small gifts, most of them pertaining to Halloween. I had the bags separated into two groups, boys and girls, and with my "Ladies first!" rule, the girls got to pick their gifts before the boys (who weren't too happy about that rule, by the way).  Most of the boys have no idea about being "gentlemen," and I doubt they even know the meaning of that word yet. (The students are all in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades.)

The students also got to take their pick of brownies in the shapes of bats and pumpkins, and Jack-O-Lantern shaped cookies filled with peach jam. (Baked by 'Little Debbie' -- the kids loved them.) Once again, I let the girls choose before the boys, followed by groans and moans from the boys.

More than a few of the girls gave me hugs today, thanking me for the books and the goodies, and those moments alone were worth all the extra work that went into this week's after-school Halloween Book Club party.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Boo! to the Magic Wand Book Club

This afternoon was the third meeting of The Magic Wand Book Club... and I now have 40 students signed up. Totally amazing... especially when I was initially hoping to get at least a dozen interested in joining the group.

I brought in Halloween books and mystery stories for the kids today... separated on tables for each of the grades (4th, 5th, and 6th).  I will do the same for next Thursday, and ask the students to choose their books just based on the covers alone, without reading the summaries on the fly-leaf or the back covers.

Some of the students who originally signed up were not there today, so I'm wondering if those few kids have already decided to un-join the group, after hearing that they really have to read the books they choose and then tell the rest of the group a little bit about the story.

They all seem excited about the little decorated notebooks that they are using for the Book Journals. I see them diligently writing the titles and authors into those journals, and at the end of the term there will be 'real' Book Journals for those students who really get into the record-keeping part of their book adventures.

I brought in one of my favorite memoirs today ("Life Is So Good" by George Dawson) to share with the students.  I read a few key paragraphs from the book and explained a little bit about Mr. Dawson's life... grandson and great-grandson of slaves, he didn't learn how to read until he was 98, and he was so excited about finally being able to read that he agreed to write his life story, along with the help of Richard Glaubman, an elementary school teacher.  Mr. Dawson's #1 rule was "Make a difference, just make a difference in this world... do whatever you can for someone else."  The students were as quiet as mice when I was telling them about Mr. Dawson, and one little girl asked me if she could borrow that book and take it home to read.  I explained to her that it was my one and only copy from my own library, but I would get another copy of the book and give that one to her to read, and I would make it available for anyone else in the Book Club also.  I have already found and bought a good copy of "Life Is So Good" on eBay, and I will indeed bring it to the school for that student to read.

That little girl asking to read Mr. Dawson's book was certainly the highlight of today's Book Club for me. Although, if you asked the students... four kids got to pick out their hand-carved wood 'magic' wands today, and I'm sure that was the high spot of the afternoon for those students.

What a great day.... I can hardly wait till next week... I have lots of Halloween surprises for those kids!