Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It seems as if there is no holiday that happens this time of the year that doesn’t come with it’s share of controversy, especially Thanksgiving. The myth of early English/Native American relations at the Plymouth settlement may have wrapped itself around the Thankgiving holiday in the United States, but it isn’t origin of the holiday. If we look deeper we can find more than the cultural conflicts that work to separate us and find those things which draw us together.

Thanksgiving is essentially a harvest festival and those have existed as long as man has been actively cultivating the earth. The Canaanites and Phoenicians celebrated their harvest. The Egyptians celebrated in Spring with sorrowful displays as they wept and moaned while cutting down their corn, believing it necessary to show remorse for taking the “spirits” they believed lived in the corn. The Greeks honored Demeter with their multi-day celebrations. Much of the celebrations within the temples of Demeter were kept secret. Many scholars believe they involved “fertility rights” that may have been shocking even by Greek standards. The Romans thanked Ceres, Demeter’s alter-ego, in the festival of Cerelia in early October.

Native American tribes generally had multiple celebrations throughout the year depending on where they lived. Many Eastern tribes celebrated the Green Corn Festival when the first of the corn was ready to be harvested. The Harvest Moon festival in October rejoiced in the last of the harvest of the Three Sisters (beans, squash and corn)—the spirits of the earth whose gifts kept The People fed. Plains tribes celebrated the harvests, but also the movements of the herd animals.

In Africa, Asia, Europe and the New World we have celebrated the glories of the Earth’s abundance no matter who we thank for that bounty. With the economy the way it is, it is easy for us to lose ourselves in what we do not have and forget to be happy with what we do have. And in these times it is perhaps even more important that we take this time to be grateful for what we have.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Have You Ever Seen Anything So Cute?

Isn't it precious?

On a totally unrelated note:

Jewels of Ursus is finally available through! Yeah!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sorry little dude. I don't have any hotdogs and after today I don't have any money either...sheesh!

My car failed the emissions test that is required before I can renew my car tag. I ended up having to have over $1,000 in repairs to replace my catalytic converter and both O2 sensors.

I'm not complaining about my mechanics. These guys are actually quite awesome. We can trust them and they take good care of our cars. These are the same guys who, when our car broke down the day Z was due, their owner offered to loan us his personal car to use because he didn't want me to not have a car when the baby was that close. They tell us what has to be done and what can wait. One of the things they had said could wait a bit was this particular repair.

What I'm complaining about is the law that requires the emissions check. I'm not sure how helpful this is to clean air when you are forcing people who don't have a lot of money and need their cars to work to pay their bills and feed their kids, to pay for repairs they don't really need yet so they can keep their cars legal. Especially in these economic times. I can tell you it cleared out our savings just so I could keep my car legal.

Monday, November 16, 2009


For the longest time I wrote only poetry. It was just the last five or six years that I've seriously turned my hand to prose. My poetry, like my short prose, always came out of a dark place inside me. If I was happy, I wasn't writing. This poem was previously published in an anthology titled, American Poets: An Anthology. There was a volume number, but I don't remember what it was.

On Becoming Invisible
by Jacqueline Roth

The smiling faces
Gazing back
Eyes look through
Glazed and unseeing
Because no one is here

A silent scream
Begging to be recognized
Becomes a murmur
A part of the drone
A whisper unheard
Unimportant, unheeded, unneeded

Laughter surrounds
Oblivious to the torment
Concealed so well
Because no one is seen
No one is noticed
Grey space filled but vacant

A shadow
A movement
From the corner of the eye
Gone in an instant
Unregistered by synapses
Forgotten before known

Filler for the background
A shape without form
A blur of grey
Indistinguishable from the crowd
The tree lost in the forest

Breathing stops
Heartbeat stills
Humanity slips away
Fading away in the silence
Lesson taught, lesson learned
On Becoming Invisible

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

End of the Line for Newspapers?

Today I had an interesting experience that brought center stage how much our world is changing from what it was when we were kids, to what it is for kids today. We can no longer take for granted that our kids know and understand things that we consider basic literacy and I’m not so sure that it is necessarily that much of a tragedy.

For those who don’t know, I teach reading/literature to middle schoolers as my day job. Right now we are working on a unit on expository reading. During this unit I teach my students, 7th and 8th graders, how to get the most out of reading expository and informational texts. Now this can range from better understanding their text books to how to wade through research sources for the right information to just being able to read the daily news and understand what is going on.

It was this last one that caught my attention today. For the first time I’m teaching “gifted” or advanced readers along side my average and struggling readers. It has been interesting. So today when I gave a mini-lesson activity involving reading a newspaper article that I expected to take no more than 10 minutes and wound up spending 30 minutes plus on it, I was dumbfounded.

My average and struggling readers who have been taking “reading” classes all along plunged right in. They took the stack of newspaper I had purchased that morning (and can we talk about the cost of newspapers? Wow…) found an article that interested them, cut it out, answered the basic questions on the worksheet, stapled it together, turned it in and were ready to go on. Average time, 10 minutes. So far so good.

My “gifted” kids floundered. This is the first time that our district has required “reading” be taken by those students who showed a proficient level. Prior to this, they had skipped reading and taken a foreign language. They didn’t know how a newspaper was divided, they couldn’t identify the parts of a newspaper article, couldn’t tell an article from a column from a letter to the editor from an ad. I was floored and frustrated. They’re eighth graders who can’t read a newspaper?

Then, on my long drive home I got to thinking. So what? Other than the fact that our lovely standardized tests will ask them to do such tasks, was it such a big deal that they couldn’t read a newspaper? As one of them said, “Who reads newspapers?” I spent my day teaching these kids a manufactured skill that they will not need except to pass some test. Boy was my day productive.

Our kids are living in a world that will most likely see the demise of the local newspaper and probably the demise of the printed daily newspaper. Magazines continue because they provide background and depth, but the daily newspaper is a dinosaur that is fast becoming extinct.

This makes me sad, on one hand. I know a lot of newspaper folks, people who work for or around newspapers. I myself spent a few months working as a copy editor/paginator. It was an interesting experience. Many of them are the last fish flapping in the drying up pond, trying to convince themselves that the rains will come again. But to be perfectly honest with ourselves, newspapers are out of date. The whole newspaper industry is the Amish cart and horse trotting along the road being whizzed past by the rest of the world-- romantic and nostalgic but not practical.