2011 Reading List

I’d been feeling like my life had developed a large void where fictional books ought to be. I read a fair amount, but mostly I gravitate towards memoirs, humor, books about writing, and Christian non-fiction. And then suddenly, I needed to read fiction. What probably happened was that my brain knew it was turning to mush because I’d spent several days watching several seasons of Friends, and my brain decided it needed to tell me to read something as a last ditch effort to save itself before it turned to goo and oozed out of my ears.

I wanted a good story I could just lose myself in – a page turner – nothing that required a degree in philosophy to fully enjoy, but nothing so vacuous and formulaic as Nicholas Sparks either. So I turned to my facebook friends for advice, and here’s what I’ll be reading this year:

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • Rescue by Anita Shreve
  • Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream both by Francine Rivers
  • Into the Woods and The Likeness by Tana French
  • Silent in the Grave by Deanna Rayborn
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • The Magicians by Les Grossman
  • Monster by A Lee Martinez
  • His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
  • My Old True Love by Sheila Kay Adams
  • The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  • The Confession by John Grisham
  • Lush Life by Richard Price
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I don’t know if I’ll actually get to them all, but I’ll try to give y’all a book report after each one. Starting now…

At the advice of another friend who did not chime in on the facebook discussion, I just read Phantoms by Dean Koontz. Now. I asked him specifically if it was a book girls would like, and he said he didn’t see why not. What I should have asked was, “Will girls who are reading it alone late at night in a quiet house like it?” But he probably wouldn’t have seen a problem with that either.

Y’all. That mess freaked. Me. Out. It’s not even that the writing is all that good. It’s long-winded, he repeats details unnecessarily, homeboy’s editor seriously should have removed half the profanity (he actually probably did, and what was left was quite minimal in comparison to the original manuscript, which is frankly scarier than the plot itself), the characters’ names stole the spotlight from the action, he used the word “said” almost every time someone said something (answered, replied, stated, exclaimed, queried, asked, wondered aloud, whispered, breathed, shouted – just a random sample of alternatives), and don’t get me started on his flagrant overuse of adverbs.

However, when you’re reading a plot like that in a dark, silent house alone, it doesn’t matter that the writing isn’t perfect. All that matters is that you don’t want “it” to get you like it got everyone in Snowfield.

I got into it. So help me I got really, really into it. Then Whitney got into it too.

I was telling her about it as I was getting ready to go to bed on Saturday night, and she agreed that it was not a good suggestion for me to read. But then on Sunday afternoon, somehow we started reading it aloud to each other, and before we knew it, we’d read nearly 200 pages. I won’t lie. It was better than TV. You might feel silly at first, but seriously, try it. If you have a spouse or friend or roommate who’s willing to read with you, go for it.

In our case, reading aloud made the monster less scary, I think because we weren’t left alone with our imaginations. But it was really fun to get into the story together. Also, there were several parts where, alone, we might have just glossed over the wording, but when we read it out loud, we could hear just how ridiculous it sounded. This provided us with some levity as well as a great deal of entertainment.

All in all, on a scale of one to five, I’d give Phantoms by Dean Koontz two stars for holding my attention from start to finish, keeping me guessing until the end, and freaking me the cuss out. **

This Is My Life

The students in the classroom next to mine are always learning American idioms. This makes my students jealous, I think, because I rarely teach them idioms. I used to teach them all the time. I have lots of units on idioms, some of which we use today, but many of which left the corpus of American speech a full generation ago. That’s one reason I don’t teach them any more. I don’t want to be responsible for dozens of immigrants saying things like, “Today is a red-letter day,” or, “Good bulgogi is as scarce as hen’s teeth in the U.S.”

The other main reason I hate teaching idioms and slang is because a lot of times, they are so generational and/or subcultural. It just doesn’t sound right when a 60 year old says that something is “dope,” or when a 19 year old guy exclaims, “heavens to Betsy!” My job is to help them assimilate, not get them beat up.

But by golly, they just love learning those idioms. It’s fascinating – dare I say, seductive even. Learning an idiom in another language opens up a whole new window through which to view and understand the culture, and there are SO MANY of them, it’s ridiculous. I mean, idioms ARE English. If you don’t know them, you don’t know squat. Unfortunately, they’re like the secret English that only native speakers and a few lucky learners are privy to. Others might learn them intellectually, but they may never be able to use them in a way that sounds natural. Not all of them anyway.

Here is exactly what happens when you teach an ESL class a list of idioms and new vocabulary, and then have them make up skits to practice using them.

Busy Is Good (Mostly)

Whew, y’all. This week has just been non-stop so far. On Monday, I taught until 1:00, and then I went immediately over to the main ESL site to prepare for and lead a training that afternoon. All of Wake Tech’s ESL sites have blogs, see, and each site has a blogger who publishes two posts a week about lessons or community events. They’re doing a great job of it, but a lot of them are fairly new to blogging in general, and the whole system just switched from Blogger to WordPress, and they had a lot of questions about how to use it. I am apparently an expert, so I gave them the answers. Well, a lot of them.

Anyhoe, I left there around 6:00 and then had Community Group at 7, so I went home for a few minutes before heading out again.

Then yesterday, I taught until 3:15, came home, planned my lesson for today, picked a chapter to read at my writing group, ran to Kinkos to make copies, and then went to the group at 7.

And today, I taught until 1:00, had a meeting at 1:30 that lasted until about 3, ate freshly baked apple pie over at my sister’s house, and now I’ve just gotten home. I have about 2.5 hours to prepare for tomorrow’s classes before I have to go to work again tonight. Like I said, whew.

I don’t think I have any plans or obligations after class tomorrow, so that’s nice, and honestly, it’s been a really good week. Being busy helps to keep me on top of things. I just haven’t had time to spend with you guys or go running, which is a shame. I’m definitely going to have to start over on Week 4. I’m ok with that, though. I’m not in a hurry, and I know I’ll get there eventually.

I know this is not a very exciting post, so allow me to share with you this video that was brought to my attention last night by G.Lover (and KimSko). It pleases me greatly. I hope it does the same for you.

Why, Hello Friday

Dang, y’all. I’m sorry. I do not know where the week has gone, but I sure do feel like it’s been a full one. Here’s what I remember:

  • I went running on Tuesday, and I’m now finished with week 3 of the Couch to 5k program. When I go tomorrow, I’ll step it up to week 4. Wish me luck on that.
  • I’ve somehow gotten sucked into Oprah every day this week, which has been interesting because I’ve never been an Oprah watcher. I’ve probably watched it more this week than in the whole rest of my life combined, and because this is the first week of her last season, every day is CRAZY. On Monday, she announced that she was taking thw WHOLE audience to Australia for a week. John Travolta will be their pilot. I’m pretty sure some of them had to be resuscitated. And just now, she gave two full rows of brides-to-be a $250 Kohl’s gift card, a Vera Wang wedding gown, a $4,000 Marriott Hotels & Resorts gift card, and a United Airlines travel voucher to go anywhere in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands or Canada. It really has been almost exactly like this (and seriously, enjoy the moment at 1:58 when Tina Fey pees her pants).
  • I played Neil Diamond for my students. They didn’t like him as much as they liked Johnny Cash. They did, however, enjoy Stranger Than Fiction, which we watched today.
  • I had dinner with the dean last night. Well, me and 200 other people. It was…free.
  • I finished listening to that Nicholas Sparks book and hated myself for getting as into it as I did.
  • I went to the mall.

I don’t have any plans for tonight, and I’m just fine with that. I’ma sit here on the couch, watching the TV and resting my feet. If you want to come over and watch a movie with me, you are welcome to do so.

I got nothin’

My brain is empty. There’s no activity whatsoever except for “Candle on the Water” playing as a sort of screen saver. My days are going something like this:

  • Wake up.
  • Sit on the couch.
  • Apply aloe to crispy legs.
  • Watch an episode of Pushing Daisies while I eat breakfast.
  • Catch up on email/facebook/twitter.
  • Shower.
  • Be convinced to do something that is not writing (hang out, run errands, watch a movie, etc.)
  • Watch Pushing Daisies while I eat lunch.
  • Apply aloe to legs again.
  • Write an article. Or not.
  • Pack.
  • Teach.
  • Come home.
  • Apply aloe.
  • Go to bed.

On a positive note, I’m seriously almost completely packed. On a more daunting note, my things still have not multiplied, and I’m beginning to be concerned. I have a theory that it only multiplies under stress, and since I started packing so early, I’m not stressed about it, and therefore it shan’t multiply. But we’ll see. If my theory turns out to be correct, that means I’ll have to re-write the stages of moving (and also a handy guide to moving), but I’ll let you know how the rest of the week goes. For now, I’m going to watch one more episode of Pushing Daisies and go to bed (I’ve already applied my aloe).

Jesus Is Totally Radical

This is not necessarily a story I want to write with my life, but seeing as I do not have that post finished yet, and this just came up the other day, I figured I’d tell y’all about it.

I was talking to Emily Furr Hogan about that summer (I think it was ’98) when we did the BeeGees puppet show for the kids at Vacation Bible School, and Patty Astronaut TP’d the sound booth (naughty Patty). I’m not sure why we were so insistent upon making the theme of VBS that year disco when it was clearly space. I guess we just wanted to have it all. And we did. As the kids were arriving in the morning, we had “Disco Inferno” playing, and when we were put in charge of telling the Bible lesson that day, we worked up a very elaborate puppet show that involved both of us working at least two puppets AND a boom box, which is quite a feat when you’ve only got two hands, and one of them is constantly stuck up in the air. But we did it, complete with “Stayin’ Alive” intro music when each new character arrived on the scene and a duet of “How Deep Is Your Love” with Jesus and Peter center stage and two other disciples singing back-up.

I don’t know if those kids still remember that, but we sure do, so it got us to thinking…we should write Vacation Bible School curriculum! I’m pretty sure all you need is a theme, songs with hand motions to go along with the theme, cheesy videos to go with the theme, Bible stories that can be vaguely related to the theme, and lots of themed…stuff – name tags and cardboard cut-outs and workbooks and stuff.

I think we can do it, and here are my ideas for themes:

  • Roaring 20s – The VBS kids would learn to do the Charleston and steer clear of alcohol (like good little Baptists and prohibitionists). They’d also learn about freedom in Christ through the new-found freedom of women in the 20’s to vote, cut their hair short, wear shorter skirts and go to work. Then they’ll learn about how pride comes before a fall when we talk about the stock market crash of ’29. And that brings us to…
  • The Great Depression – The kids would learn about the danger of worshiping idols and the certainty of God’s provision. The songs might be a little depressing, but I think the message would be powerful. All lesson materials would be printed on the backs of scraps of last year’s materials.
  • Woodstock – Message of the week: Peace and love, kids. That’s what Jesus is all about. Every large group gathering would be held outside in the grass. There would be no videos or mandatory hand motions, just music and free dance time. In craft time, they’d just be encouraged to let the paintbrush do whatever it wants to do (which reminds me of another story I have to tell you later…don’t let me forget).
  • DISCO!! – Clearly Emily and I already think this is a great idea. I mean BeeGees songs are already written in an ideal octave for little kid voices to sing them, and we’ve already demonstrated that “How Deep Is Your Love” is the perfect song to teach the reinstatement of Peter. We can talk about eternal life in heaven with “Stayin’ Alive” though we might need to Christianize most of the lyrics (not a problem, I’ve done it before). And we can learn to resist the devil with “I Will Survive.” The church is going to need a complete overhaul for this VBS week, though, with mirror balls, strobe lights and paneled floors that light up when you step on them. But oh my gosh how much fun would recreation time be? We’ll all do the Hustle and other groovy disco moves.
  • Awesome 80s – Every day, the kids will make a different piece of their totally tubular 80s attire in craft time. One day it’s a slap bracelet, the next they’re bedazzling a denim jacket, then they’re making some crazy asymmetrical sunglasses (to wear at night), and the next thing you know, they’re all decked out and ready to go to the lake or the high school football game! The theme song for the week is called “Jesus Is Totally Radical.” It’s upbeat and peppy and gets stuck in your head whether you like it or not.

That’s all I’ve got so far. I just think the cowboy and space themes are way played out, and EFH and I are just the gals to bring some fresh new ideas to the table. If you’d like to join us, feel free to share your theme ideas in the comments!

Back to the Questions

Well good golly, I had completely forgotten about my formspring page until I was notified earlier today that someone had asked me a question. And let me just tell you, it’s a doozy. We have to get through several more, however, before that one can have its turn. So let’s start where we left off, shall we?

We all know the moon is not made of green cheese, but what if it was made of spare ribs? Would you eat it then? Heck, I know I would – I’d have seconds and then wash it down with a nice, cool Budweiser.

Well, Harry Caray, it appears as though you’ve forgotten at least one thing about me, and that is that I don’t eat spare ribs. I wouldn’t eat green cheese either, and as I’m sure you are well aware, I don’t like beer. If you were not aware of that, now you are. I also don’t like coffee.

Now let me ask you a question. Would you rather be the top scientist in your field or have mad cow disease?

The next “question” isn’t really question at all. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even a complete thought. It just says:

your first

I’ll be honest. I’m not really sure what you’re going for here, and I really don’t remember a lot of my firsts, but I’ll make a list and hope it meets with your approval. Let’s go with alphabetical, yeah?

My first…

  • apartment – Junior year of college in an apartment complex called Pirate’s Cove. Becky, Faith and Nicole were my roommates. Ask me how I damaged the coffee table.
  • boyfriend – Brandon Inscore. We dated for about a year in high school, and we absolutely were NOT making out at the bottom of the stairs after the prom in ’97 when my mom snarled at us.
  • car – A light blue Toyota Corolla named Gloria the Disco Queen. Yes, that was her whole name.
  • date – With Brandon. I’m pretty sure we went to Wendy’s and a high school basketball game. Tres romantique!
  • email address – besufern@aol.com. Don’t try it. It no longer exists.
  • friend – I don’t know. Probably someone at church? There’s a great picture somewhere of me and 3 other kids in our 3-year-old Sunday school class. I went to 2 of their weddings in the past few years, and I go to all of the other one’s concerts when I can.
  • gynecologist visit – Don’t worry, guys, I won’t gross you out. I’ll just say that when she asked me what sort of contraception I was using, I told her abstinence. She asked me how long I thought that would last, and I said, “Until I get married.” She laughed at me and said, “Yeah we’ll see about that.”
  • hair color experience – I started out with the temporary stuff, back when they still made level 1 color that would wash out in a week. I’ve dyed it so many times now, I don’t remember the first one. But it was probably red, and Jeani was probably involved.
  • iPod – I bought it in NYC, in the SoHo Apple Store, just before I ran off to Europe for the first time, in 2004. I just bought my second one last summer.
  • job – If babysitting counts, then that’s what it was. But if we’re talking about work for which I was paid and then later received a W-2, then that would be Caswell.
  • knitting project – My grandmother taught me to knit when I was a kid. I have no idea how to start or finish a knitting project, but I can actually work those needles. In fact, in middle school, I played Beth in a drama class production of Little Women. In one scene, I sat by the fire, knitting. People were amazed by how real it looked. But alas, I don’t think I’ve ever actually finished a knitting project.
  • lemonade stand – I think it was with Rebecca Booi. Her house was in a great spot, right at an intersection.
  • musical – When I was in maybe 4th grade, my sisters and I got the soundtrack of The Phantom of the Opera on double cassette tape. We LOVED it, and the next year, we all went to New York for Thanksgiving and saw it on Broadway. So to all of you who have been (and will be) subjected to my random musical outbursts, you can thank my parents for getting me hooked early.
  • NYC apartment – It was graduate housing, which meant a shared studio with a Taiwanese Canadian named Lily Lu. It was in an unbelievably amazing location that made taxi drivers jealous, but I’m still paying for it.
  • origami – It might not have been my first, but I made literally hundreds of paper cranes in high school. What? I was the president of the Japanese club.
  • pet – I had a fish in high school named Chip. He was more than just decoration to me.
  • quadratic equation mnemonic device – It was to the tune of Frère Jacques and went like this: Minus b, minus b / plus or minus root, plus or minus root / b squared minus 4 ac, b squared minus 4 ac / over 2 a, over 2 a. BAM. Still got it. I have no idea what you use the quadratic equation for any more, but that’s how it goes. Music, check. Math, not so much.
  • rifle – No, I’ve never owned a rifle, but I sho nuff did learn to shoot one at Camp Cheerio when I was 10 years old. That was perhaps the unsung verse of the Cheerio Girl song (get me to sing it for you some time).
  • second language – I have a really vague memory of taking French classes when I was very young. Did I just make that up? Specifically, I remember a “cultural lesson” wherein we were expected to eat escargot, and I almost vomited.
  • trip outside of the U.S. and its territories – Honduras, 2002
  • UFO sighting – I’ve never actually seen one, but one Christmas at my grandparents’ house, we could have sworn Santa was on the roof with aliens, burping.
  • vote – I know several people who will be very upset with me for this, but I had never voted until the most recent presidential election. I plan on voting from now on, though.
  • wedding – Not MY first wedding, of course, but the first one I attended. And I have no idea. Someone in the family? An aunt and uncle, perhaps?
  • xylophone? – It is very late, and these letters are getting harder. I remember having one of those rolling xylophones as a kid with the mallet underneath that see-sawed as you pulled it, striking the same two bars over and over again. I learned to play “Do-Re-Mi” on that thing.
  • YouTube video – Has not yet been made, I told you. Sheesh. Give it a rest already.
  • Zumba class – Also has sadly not yet happened. But it will. Oh…it will.

Well that was fun! And exhausting. I’m going to bed. Join me again tomorrow for more blogging fun!

Sharing the Love

My virtual friend Elaine just nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award. Thanks, Elaine!! We’ve never met, but I’m totally joining her writing group when I get back to Raleigh as I’m 99.8% sure that my schedule will allow it. I’m not sure why she only nominated me for the award instead of just giving it to me. I mean, it’s not like there’s a committee somewhere voting on the matter. So what am I going to do? I’m going to AWARD Versatile Blogger Awards to some people. Yeah that’s right. I’m just handing them out. And I’m claiming mine while I’m at it, and yours too, Elaine. Because I think we’re all winners.

The way this thing works, see, is I have to tell you 7 things about myself that you don’t already know, and then I can give the award to up to 15 other bloggers (Technically I’m supposed to nominate them, but whatever. I AM the committee). Then I’ll notify them that they’ve won, and they can join the committee and give the award to 15 of their own peeps. Word. So here we go with yet another list of things about me…

  1. I have never eaten steak.
  2. I still know all the words to “Ice Ice Baby.”
  3. I wash my pillow cases more often than my sheets because (a) clean pillow cases keep my face from breaking out as much, and (b) I’m lazy.
  4. I have 3 shirts featuring pictures of my former/future boss, Dan. I’m wearing one right now.
  5. I always wear undies. A bra is optional with some outfits.
  6. To my knowledge, I do not appear in any YouTube videos.
  7. All my cars have been Toyotas.

And now for the awarding. You know, guys, we used to just call this an activity, and we tagged other people to play along. Do we really have to “win” something now to have a little fun on the Worldwide Interweb Net? Ok fine, but if you accept this award, you have to link back to me and act REALLY excited about it all. Ok? Ok.

And the Versatile Blogger Award goes to…

I chose these blogs because they are the best of the ones I’ve discovered the most recently. And also, even if they don’t participate in the game…uh, I mean very serious award giving…I think that they will at least not find it completely lame. And I can notify them all via twitter. Hooray!

Congratulations, y’all! I look forward to reading your random information!

What Would You Do (oo-ooo) With a Time Machine?

I realized this morning that I’ve been neglecting my questions lately. I’m trying to find a balance between answering those and just telling you fun stories about what’s happening. For the most part, there aren’t a lot of fun stories about what’s happening because my days are spent sitting on my couch, writing articles, and then driving half an hour to teach. And sometimes after I drive the 30 minutes to teach, there are no students. So…yeah. The questions are really more interesting than my life. All of that is about to change, but I’m not ready to make a formal announcement just yet, so hang in there, internet, and let’s talk about time travel.

Presuming you had a time machine what’s the stupidest and most dangerous thing you would probably do with it, despite having answered this question and having labeled it as both stupid and dangerous?

Well, I think time travel in general is definitely dangerous and probably stupid. I mean, Marty McFly’s hand disappeared when his mom was slow dancing/struggling with Biff, and his dad was too wussy to step in. But that’s what you risk when you meddle in your parents’ high school lives. My parents didn’t go to high school together, so I wouldn’t have to worry about that, but if we’ve learned anything from Back to the Future, it’s that you don’t screw around with the space-time continuum. Doing so is both stupid and dangerous, and you could lose a hand in the middle of your guitar solo.

However, there are a few things I’d like to see happening:

  • my parents’ wedding – There is no video footage available that I know of. I assume it’s because video cameras were only for TV/film studios in the early 70s.
  • me as a baby – There are not a lot of pictures of me as a baby that I know of, and I don’t really remember anything before I started school, and even then, it’s all pretty hazy until about 5th grade. I’m sure my mom could tell us what I was like, but it would be way cuter to see tiny me in action. Unless I was a jerk. Was I a jerk?
  • my ancestors coming to the U.S. – My sister is making a massive family tree for our reunion this year, and I’m sure she’d love an eye-witness account of this. Plus, y’all know how much I love to travel, but to be ON THE BOAT with them, knowing what the country is going to become generations down the line, and seeing what it was like back then…man, that would be awesome.
  • Beethoven playing his own stuff

All of those things, I just want to witness. I don’t necessarily have to be a participant in history for those. But here are some things I would want to do:

  • meet Jane Austen
  • hang out with the Beatles before they were famous, and teach them all the Monkees’ songs before the Monkees even form a band (just to be a mischievous punk, not because I have anything against the Monkees)
  • follow Jesus, like literally, in person, walking in the dirt (and the rocks, and the…)
  • convince Amy Grant that “Baby, Baby” is a bad idea
  • convince John Mayer not to record half of his songs
  • stop Shutter Island from being filmed, and convince Leo to do a movie that requires more shirtlessness
  • convince myself to go vegetarian in college
  • introduce myself to Mediterranean food much sooner (hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, etc.)
  • smuggle slaves to free states
  • smuggle Jews to safety during WWII
  • invent leg warmers before anyone else
  • invent velcro

Like I said, I think time travel in general would be pretty stupid and dangerous, so I don’t know which of these things is the worst. I’ll let y’all be the judge as to exactly which thing is the stupidest/most dangerous and/or which is the likeliest to cause me to lose appendages. What would YOU do with a time machine?

Twitter Experiment

I’m writing an article for YourDictionary entitled “Who Is Jimmy Fallon’s Wife?” I love writing these who’s-married-to-whom articles because there’s always a love story involved, and I just think that’s precious. Unfortunately, not much of J.Fal’s love story is online. And yes, I just nicknamed him J.Fal. What of it?

So I just tweeted, “I need to say 200 more words about @jimmyfallon and his wife. Wish I knew how they met/how he proposed/where they got married. Jimmy?” and I’m going to see if he responds. I doubt he will, but how awesome would that be? If you’re on twitter, do encourage him to email me with this information.

I know who his wife is, and I can make an educated guess as to how they met, but I can’t be sure, and I don’t want to lie on the dictionary website. That would be worse than making poop jokes (which I do in those articles every chance I get). If you get a hold of him, ask him to email me (onwardhoe at gmail dot com) with the answers to the following questions:

  • How/when did you and Nancy meet?
  • Was it love at first sight?
  • How long were you together before you got engaged?
  • How did you (or she?) propose?
  • Where did you get married?
  • Who was in your wedding party?
  • Would you like to be a part of the not-actually-being-written musical “Just Now” when it is completed? I think we could toss you in a man salad. Wait. Does that mean something I don’t want it to mean? Because I mean literally, there will be a big bowl and giant tongs, and men will fly around on wires as though they are bits of lettuce and radicchio.

Thanks, blogosphere. Thanks, twitterverse. Thanks, man salad (with vinaigrette).