Author Archives: lindsayjohnna

SHORTS: “Plot” Edition

You know what’s great?? Short stories. I love to incorporate short stories into my English classroom because they are endlessly versatile and ready in a pinch. Need to teach plot structure and Freytag’s Pyramid? Short stories have your back. Tone and Mood? No problemo. Point-of-view? Can do, buck-a-roo.

In fact, what seems like centuries ago, I posted about how I wanted to spend my summer reading short stories so I could add more of them to my teaching repertoire this coming year. I came up with a long list of well-known short stories and split that list into two lists: ones I had already read and ones I needed to read. Click the link above to see those original lists.

I’ve been missing on here for a while, I know. Teaching, unsurprisingly, is all-consuming. However, I’ve still been making a considerable amount of progress on my goals. In fact, as is usually the case, my type-A brain decided to process and organize the excess of information via a Google spreadsheet. It is extremely “extra,” but within the first few weeks, we were <ctrl> + <f> all up in that thing.

However, in my eagerness to explore short stories TO THE MAX, I somehow found myself exploring animated shorts, as well. (Don’t worry, they have a separate tab on my spreadsheet; I’m not an animal.) So, because this is my blog and I do what I want, I’m going to share some of the “shorts,” as I’m calling them, that help me teach different subjects. Many of those short stories from the list will make appearances in these posts. This go-around, the focus is on PLOT.

Freytag’s Pyramid/Plot Mountain

BACKGROUND: For the first couple of weeks, students don’t have their PLDs (we’re a one-to-one school, so all students have school-issued “Personal Learning Devices”), so we have to do everything on paper until we get those. We start the year with a unit on Narrative, so we broke that into segments and used short stories and animated shorts throughout the unit. Historically, they love this unit.

A young sandpiper is afraid of the water after a few scary attempts at getting food. He makes a friend who shows him how to burrow into the sand and uses this skill to get over his fear of the water.

“Piper” is the first one we watch together. Students have a handout with definitions of each of the steps of Freytag’s Pyramid (or Plot Mountain, as we usually call it) and are asked to map out the steps of three animated shorts. “Piper” is an easy one to go over together, since it follows the steps exactly and each step is clearly defined.

A young boy plays violent video games until his mother brings home a present. He is excited until he sees that it is a puppy missing a leg. He goes back to his games, but watches as the puppy learns to play despite his disability. The boy then stands to go out to play, and we see he has a disability of his own.

“The Present” has to be my favorite animated short of all time. I’m biased, since I have a tripod pup of my own, but this one is also great to use for Plot, since some of the steps shift and seem less defined. I usually allow them to pair up with a neighbor and talk through which moments in the short fulfill each step of the Pyramid. I go over it with them at the end; for my students, it helps them to be more confident in their ability to do this one their own if we don’t dive into solo work right away.

Each stork has a designated cloud who makes the babies they deliver to the world, and our main stork’s cloud makes babies for dangerous animals. Our stork gets beat up and eventually seems to leave his cloud, but returns with armor to help him survive the babies.

“Partly Cloudy” is another one that shifts the steps a bit. Overall, it is easy for students to work through this one without risking getting anything WAY wrong, so again, it instills confidence. This one, I ask them to do solo and we review it at the end. All this review and practice with animated shorts is leading up to them trying to complete the Pyramid with the short story, “Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes. We’ll talk about that later.

Bildungsroman, or “coming-of-age”

Now, once they’re clear on the steps of Freytag’s Pyramid, we shake it up a little bit by introducing the idea of a Bildungsroman, or a coming-of-age story. They have youthful protagonists who go through trials and grow and mature as a result of the experiences, so the main difference from Freytag’s is the Moral Growth step . We make sure to give kids handouts that clearly differentiate the changes in steps from Freytag’s to Bildungs, and then, as before, we review animated shorts together. The start by re-watching “The Present;” this is helpful because they don’t have to work to understand the plot, since they already know it. Now, they just have to adjust their prior understanding of it to incorporate moral growth.

A young, indigenous boy watches the men of his tribe hunt jungle animals and the most powerful man is determined by the biggest kill. A chameleon appears and takes the boy on an adventure, catching bigger animals, but the boy finally has to decide if his new friend is the ultimate kill.
A young boy is joining his father and grandfather in the family trade of sweeping stars to create the phases of the moon. They both want him to adopt their methods, but when a star too big for them crashes down, the boy has to come up with his own method to fix it.

Both of these animated shorts (“Ride of Passage” and “La Luna”) are watched and reviewed together after students are given time to work individually or in pairs to map the steps of the Bildungsroman Pyramid. Emphasis is clearly placed on the moral growth that occurs in each short, since that is the main difference from Freytag’s. Also, La Luna has some amazing ASMR moments and beautiful music.

“Thank You M’am” by Langston Hughes

In this short story, we see a young man named Roger who tries to snatch the purse of Ms. Louella Bates Washington. They get entangled and Roger falls, meaning that Ms. Louella is able to catch him and chastise him for his actions. During her reprimands, she notices that his face is dirty and he is hungry, which reveals that his home life might not be stable. She insists that he accompany her to her nearby home, where she offers to feed him after she insists that he wash his face. When given the opportunity to run and get away, Roger stays and does as he is told. As she feeds him, she finds out that Roger wanted to use her money to buy a pair of blue suede shoes, and she suggests that he could have just asked for the money. In the end, she sends him off with a full belly and ten dollars to buy those shoes.

After practicing Freytag’s and Bildungs with the animated shorts, we read this short story together and ask the students to use their notes to map both Pyramids according to the story. Most students are able to at least come close to identifying the appropriate steps, but sometimes, saying which point is “the moment of most suspense” or the “turning point” or the “moment of moral growth” can actually be subjective. Because of this, I tell my students that they have to be able to explain their thinking, and whether we agree step by step isn’t the point. For your reference, here is a version of the story and below is a link to a movie version. We don’t usually watch it; the story is enough.

Like I said before, kids really enjoy these lessons. Since we do this as our first unit, it also helps to break the ice and ease students into the rigor. Videos are almost always a hit, so it’s wonderful that they’re enjoying the learning that takes place. Once we finish talking about plot, we move to characterization and unreliable narrator, so I hope to find time to do posts for those, as well. We also made some big changes I’m proud of to old units, this year, and other big changes are on the way, so I’m hoping that I can stay up on grading so I can find time to continue posting.

As always, feedback is welcome, especially if you have suggestions for other animated shorts or short stories I should add to my spreadsheet!

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Ultimate Un-Boxing: Donors Choose Edition

THEY’RE HERE!! They’re beautiful. And just like that, they’re gone (in the hands of students). I mentioned in my last post that I took an optimistic but realistic gamble on Donors Choose to try to build my classroom library with more diverse texts. The project was funded by a group of gorgeous souls within 24 hours, which restored my faith in the kindness of mankind and caused me to spontaneously weep for a number of days. The amazing thing is that many of my strongest supporters, who would have jumped at the opportunity to help me (had I just told them I needed said help), didn’t even get the chance to contribute to the project because of how quickly it was funded!

I’m befuddled by this experience, but the best part is that the books are already disappearing into kids’ hands. These last three weeks of school are dedicated to end-of-course tests and finals, which means that students are in displaced classrooms, working on projects or study guides and finishing at different rates. Plus, their school-issued computers have already been taken with a week or so left to go, so there’s inevitably a lot of time spent doing nothing. I reminded my classes that reading these books would be an excellent way to pass the time, and they bought it!! I’m actually researching the best personal/classroom library apps or websites, because my simple little hand-written notes about who is taking which book aren’t cutting it.

Now, on to the good stuff!

It’s hard to categorize books I haven’t read and I’m sure someone somewhere will consider it offensive for me to generalize the books, but generalizing these books was the whole point behind getting them; I don’t have enough books that appeal to certain audiences (athletes, romantics, dramatics, LGBTQIA, racial minority group members, quirky kids, rule-breakers, etc.) who are present in my room but are under-represented in my classroom library. I’m hoping that many of the books in this grouping will appeal to male readers, since on the surface (again, I haven’t read them yet) they relate to sports and/or the many trials and tribs of male adolescence.

These are the ones I assume are the “feelings” books. I’m not a fan of romance and emotional drama; I’m eternally confused by my choice to work with teens, since 99% of my day is spent deftly dodging the complicated dramatics of teen life. Nonetheless, I do not seek out feelings, drama, emotions, or romance in my pleasure reading, so my classroom library was sorely lacking in options that would fulfill those interests for students. I understand that John Green and Rainbow Rowell are known for evoking “all the feels,” so while I avoid their books like the plague, I want them for my students who love the feels.

These are the SciFi/fantasy, satire, quirky texts. These should appeal to many types of kids.

Many books are not pictured, since they are already in the hands of kids. I have already begun to see the benefits of having these texts in my room. When I received them, a student who had otherwise been quiet and relatively standoffish offered to walk with me to the office and help me carry the books back to my room. He then told me about his growing interest in books and offhandedly asked, “got any gay books?” This led to a long conversation in which I learned about his personal orientation, and was able to pair him with one of the new books that very day. I’ve paired books with my own students, as well as other teachers’ kids, who heard about my new collection and came to search the stacks. I’ve seen kids light up and geek out at the sight of a beloved or coveted text; I’ve seen non-readers pick up texts because they see themselves and/or their interests depicted on the covers; I’ve listened in on student-to-student recommendations; I’ve become the hallway book supplier. This gift has already offered invaluable rewards within this short time, and I expect countless more in the years to come. My gratitude to the donors, not only for the books, but also for these new experiences and strengthened bonds, is immeasurable.

For a full list of the books I got, go here. Have you read any of these? Any pairings in mind? Any other recommendations?

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Hash. Tag. BLESSED!

There are BIG, exciting things coming to my classroom and I am so frackin’ JAZZED!

So, a few weeks ago, my principal forwarded an email from a representative from Donors Choose who encouraged teachers from our school to create a Donors Choose project. Most projects, from what I know, ask for basic supplies, like Kleenex, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, pencils and such, or larger luxuries, like a class set of iPads or something. I’m eternally lucky in that my school offers me some supplies annually; I have generous family members and student parents who help with tissues and hand sani; my school is one-to-one, so all kids have their own Chromebooks. Thus, I don’t need much.

However, I never stop wanting to be able to offer my students books that appeal to their interests. I’m fortunate in that I have a lot of books, mostly ones that I bought because I wanted to read them, so kids have access to some books, but there isn’t much in terms of diverse topics. I’ve always wanted to be able to offer them easier access to diverse characters with diverse experiences and interests. I’m thrilled when a student shares my interests (I geeked out with a kid recently over the Scythe books!), but I want to be able to booktalk for athletes, hopeless romantics, drama queens, minority group members, the lost and the lonesome, gang affiliates, eccentrics, academics, and everyone else.

On a whim, I created a Donors Choose project, intending to ask for an array of diverse books. They suggested, get this, that projects around $600 (!!!!) get funded most easily. Since I was already on a whim, I just shrugged and went with it. I picked out $597-worth of books from Amazon. My expectations were low but my hopes were high. I posted the project and, again, as suggested, posted it on Facebook, and hoped for the best. Within 24 hours, the project was fully funded. I am eternally thankful to some friends who have loved me since before I was born, some friends who love me in spite of who I was in high school, some friends who love me in spite of who I am now, some new friends from teaching, and some complete strangers. I’m truly beside myself with excitement and I CANNOT WAIT for the kids to be able to get their hands on these books.

John Green Box Set (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars)
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls – Anissa Gray
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams
Obsidio (The Illuminae Files) – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo
Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter – Erika L. Sánchez
Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha) – Tomi Adeyemi
The Sun Is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon
Speak: The Graphic Novel – Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll
Dear Martin – Nic Stone
Dry – Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman
Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds
Turtles All the Way Down – John Green
Oksana, Behave! – Maria Kuznetsova
On The Come Up – Angie Thomas
Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America – Assorted Authors
Damsel – Elana K. Arnold
Winger – Andrew Smith
Soft Science – Franny Choi
Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
SHOUT – Laurie Halse Anderson
Beauty Queens – Libba Bray
The Alex Crow – Andrew Smith
The Boy in the Black Suit – Jason Reynolds
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Stand-Off – Andrew Smith
Carry On (Simon Snow Series) – Rainbow Rowell
Dune – Frank Herbert
Fangirl: A Novel – Rainbow Rowell
American Born Chinese – Gene Luen Yang
You Asked for Perfect – Laura Silverman
Every Day – David Levithan
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali – Sabina Khan
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future – A.S. King
Boy21 – Matthew Quick
Going Bovine – Libba Bray
100 Sideways Miles – Andrew Smith

Look forward to the most epic unboxing post and pics! Have you read any of these?

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(Kinda) Back to Books – Short Stories Save the Day + a Goal

I have a terrible memory, so I don’t remember most of the things I was made to read in high school, but I do remember many of the ones from undergrad. That was my real introduction to the power of short stories, especially in my Science Fiction in Lit class, and I’ve been hooked on short stories ever since. Sidebar research question: What short stories do you remember reading in high school/college and loving? Which ones did you hate?

Well, our district changed from four 9 week units to six 6 week units this past year and my team and I had trouble adjusting to that change in pacing. As a result, unit 5 was reduced to only two weeks instead of six. Obviously, we still had to cover the standards specific to that unit, in order to make sure kids were prepared for the EOCs, but we didn’t have enough time to cover the 400-page novel we intended to use to teach those standards. Thus, we turned to short stories, as we always do when we need the biggest bang for our buck. Whenever we need to maintain the focus of the kids but also get across a point, short stories are the perfect solution. In fact, we start the year with short stories, because they’re the best way to segue from the “no-reading-lifestyle” of summer to longer texts during the school year.

However, I’ve found myself recycling the same stories for multiple purposes; I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing now and then, since a second reading can often take students below a surface understanding to deeper meaning. Nonetheless, I want to get more short stories under my belt so I can bring in tons of stories from tons of authors with tons of backgrounds and experiences.

So, I found a few lists of awesome short stories and I split them into two groups: ones I’ve read and ones I haven’t read. I plan to read as many on the “Haven’t Read” list as I can before next year and make a document that lists all the important factors (length, difficulty, literary elements, etc.) so I can just refer to the list when I’m looking for a story with Pacing or Plot elements, interesting POV, Persuasion Techniques, etc.

If all goes well and I can remember this blog on my busiest days, I’ll post a handful of short story reviews now and then. I think short stories get overlooked all too often, but a well-written short story can contain as much value and entertainment as a full-length novel. I’m going to get these stories some well-earned readers, be they you all or my students.

Short Stories I HAVEN’T Read:

  • All Summer in a Day – Ray Bradbury
  • Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
  • To Build a Fire – Jack London
  • The Ransom of Red Chief – O. Henry
  • A Sound of Thunder – Ray Bradbury
  • The Lady, or the Tiger – Frank Stockton
  • Hearts and Hands – O. Henry
  • The Rocking Horse Winner – D. H. Lawrence
  • Miss Awful – Robert Cavanaugh
  • Charles – Shirley Jackson
  • The Moustache – Robert Cormier
  • The Sniper – Liam O’Flaherty
  • The Veldt – Ray Bradbury
  • The House of Stairs – Barbara Vine
  • The Landlady – Roald Dahl
  • The Fun They Had – Isaac Asimov
  • The Interlopers – Saki
  • The Revolt of Mother – Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
  • The Open Boat – Stephen Crane
  • American History – Judith Ortiz Cofer
  • Through the Tunnel – Doris Lessing
  • Geraldo No Name – Sandra Cisneros
  • The Scarlet Ibis – James Hurst
  • The Stolen Party – Liliana Heker
  • The Story of an Hour – Kate Chopin
  • The Necklace – Guy de Maupassant
  • Like a Winding Sheet – Ann Petry
  • Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? – Joyce Carol Oats
  • Everyday Use – Alice Walker
  • You’re Ugly, Too – Lorrie Moore
  • A Temporary Matter – Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas – Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Girl – Jamaica Kincaid

Short Stories I HAVE Read:

  • Harrison Bergeron – Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Tell-Tale Heart – Edgar Allan Poe
  • There Will Be Soft Rains – Ray Bradbury
  • The Lottery – Shirley Jackson
  • Young Goodman Brown – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Most Dangerous Game – Richard Connell
  • The Black Cat – Edgar Allan Poe
  • Masque of the Red Death – Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Pedestrian – Ray Bradbury
  • The Gift of the Magi – O. Henry
  • A Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge – Ambrose Bierce
  • Thank You, M’am – Langston Hughes
  • Miriam – Truman Capote
  • The Cask of Amontillado – Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Yellow Wall-paper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • A Good Man is Hard to Find – Flannery O’Connor

Are you also a lover of short stories? Do you have any to add to the list? Any you think I should avoid?

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Podcasts are not the Enemy; plus my Top 5!

Not in the mood for a rant about our broken society? I feel ya. Skip right on down until you see the pictures.

I remember, back in undergrad and before becoming a teacher, I was a bit of a book snob. Getting an English degree, at least in my experience, focused on reading the classics, the foundational texts that inspired all that came after. None of what I was assigned to read in undergrad was considered “contemporary” literature, so to me, this implied that the classics are worth-while and contemporaries are not; classics are meaningful and contemps are drivel; classics are about important things and contemps are about nonsense. It was only once I got into grad school and was forced to read contemporary works that I found several contemporaries that wholeheartedly debunked this absurd theory.

The point of this reflection is not to fall down the rabbit hole of classics vs. contemps, but rather to ask another question: why is it that forming a passion for one thing also usually means forming an enemy with another, validated or not? It doesn’t have to be one or the other, or else! I was talking to a bookish teacher friend recently who was recounting an argument he had with friends about the pros and cons of e-readers vs. hard copies. We discussed it at length, both being hard copy advocates, and ultimately realized that our preference was largely based purely on that, preference. Nostalgia. Stubbornness. Not logic. That’s okay with me, since being a teacher SHOULD necessitate going with the flow and using the changing of the times to your advantage. We decided that each option, hard copy and e-reader, has its own benefits and drawbacks, so each has its own time and place for being the rational, logical preference.

However, I’ve heard the same arguments being had about books vs. podcasts, as though the two are mutually exclusive. I’ve asked numerous peers about podcasts and regularly get the following responses: 1) That’s really not my thing; 2) I’m way too busy and don’t have time for that; and most commonly, 3) I’d honestly just rather read a book. As snobby stubbornness was once my own language (and sometimes still is, i.e. classic rock is the best music, tea is better than coffee, cake is not that good, etc.), I understand these arguments, but also offer logical responses: it’s essentially the same thing as radio or t.v., except in your phone, and with a lot more options; podcasts are perfect for a busy lifestyle; books are ideal when you have time to sit down and focus, and podcasts are ideal when you can’t. I think it’s silly to make an enemy of podcasts just because you already know you like books. Again, the two are not mutually exclusive. Let’s not be so stubborn! Rant over. For now.

NOW, who’s ready for my top 5??

My Favorite Murder

  • Lifespan: This one has been around 3 years.
  • Hosts: It’s hosted by comedians Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.
  • Frequency: They post a “minisode” every Monday, in which they read listener stories. Those are usually short, half-hour episodes. Every Thursday, they post a regular episode, usually over an hour long, in which they each tell the other a true crime story.
  • Topics: You figured it out, right? Murder.
  • Pros:
    • Their conversations sound just like me talking with a friend about the craziest stories we’ve ever heard.
    • It makes me laugh.
    • They talk frankly about their backgrounds, and experiences with mental health and substance abuse issues. They’re real people.
    • They are very thankful for their listeners and are not just distant, unappreciative celebrities.
  • Cons:
    • Some people want their true crime undiluted, or at least not diluted by humor.
    • I know lots of people who find the ladies and their conversations irritating. Sometimes, they get things wrong or just say dumb stuff. Um okay, so do you! Again, they’re real people. I don’t think anyone can just start listening now, without going back to the beginning, without being irritated by their sidebar discussions. Once you “get to know them,” they’re not irritating.
    • Vulgarity. Who cares, though? Not me.
  • Lindsay’s Blurb: When I first got into this podcast, I went all the way back to episode one. It took a few episodes of thinking the ladies were irritating to turn that irritation to endearment. They’re still dumb sometimes, but after listening for 3 years, they feel like friends. When I want pure true crime, I listen to another podcast (later on the list), but somehow, addressing these horrible stories with interjected humor makes death, and all its many methods, less scary. We all worry about it; why not talk about it?

Threedom

  • Lifespan: This one has only been around for 6 months.
  • Hosts: It’s hosted by comedians Scott Aukerman, Lauren Lapkus, and Paul F. Tompkins.
  • Frequency: They post episodes, usually over an hour long, every Thursday.
  • Topics: Literally anything they want. There is no false pretense about it being educational with a hint of humor. It’s just them talking.
  • Pros:
    • They genuinely enjoy each other, so it’s fun to listen in on their conversations. Sadly, that’s kinda it. It’s just an hour of purely enjoyable and funny voyeurism.
  • Cons:
    • Technically, it’s pointless. Again, who cares?
    • Since there are three of them, there’s a chance you won’t like at least one of the hosts. I personally don’t like Scott, but the overall conversation is worth tolerating him.
    • It can be raunchy/vulgar. Again, if you care. I decidedly do not.
  • Lindsay’s Blurb: I used to listen to a podcast called Professor Blastoff that featured three comedian friends talking and it was genuinely one of my favorite entertainment sources. It’s been over for a while and I’ve never found anything that gave me that same feeling of friends talking both about things that matter and things that don’t. Threedom is the closest replacement I’ve found to fill that void. It’s a silly depiction of friendship.

How Did This Get Made?

  • Lifespan: Seriously, like 10 years? My app wants me to pay for early episodes (not gonna happen), but the farthest I can go back is to 2010.
  • Hosts: It’s hosted by comedians Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas.
  • Frequency: They post an hour-and-a-half-ish episode focusing on a different movie every other Friday. On the Friday’s in between, they post a prequel episode, but those aren’t very good.
  • Topics: Movies, usually bad ones.
  • Pros:
    • It taps into your inner movie critic, making fun of all the ridiculous aspects of bad movies.
    • It’s super funny. I laugh out loud, repeatedly, every time.
    • They have guest comedians regularly, but even without celebrity guests, they are are great trio of friends.
  • Cons:
    • Vulgarity; I seem to have a “type”…
    • There’s a lot of overlapping talking and Jason can be a bit of an attention hog, so if you don’t like Jason, you won’t like this pod. Luckily, I think he’s hilarious.
  • Lindsay’s Blurb: You don’t need to have seen the movie of the week in order to enjoy this podcast. In fact, I can’t think of a single movie that they’ve reviewed that I’ve seen. The goal is to listen to funny people talk about funny things. Mission accomplished!

Lore

  • Lifespan: 4 years.
  • Hosts: It’s written, researched, edited, produced, performed and seemingly everything else by Aaron Mahnke.
  • Frequency: He posts a half-hour episode every other Monday.
  • Topics: Folklore tales.
  • Pros:
    • Mahnke does really thorough research. None of the episodes are simply one tall-tale. He brings in so many related stories that it’s impossible not to be impressed.
    • The stories are often nice and spooky. Not scary; let me be clear about that. Just spooky, like the stories your family always told you about the local hook-handed hitchhiker.
    • SHOUT OUT to Episode 2: The Bloody Pit. I said “Say what??” so many times that this ep single-handedly got me hooked.
  • Cons:
    • Mahnke. He is gifted at research, producing, writing, etc. However, his voice grates at me. He includes incredibly pregnant pauses (my hubs made the joke that his pauses are at 44 weeks. Lol!) for dramatic effect. He phrases things as though he’s rocking my world with these details and… he’s just not.
    • If you hear one, you’ve heard them all. In fact, I took a hiatus because Mahnke’s voice temporarily irritated me more than the stories entertained me, and upon returning, it was like I’d never left. It’s nice that you can listen out of order, but they all sort of mesh together after listening to a few. EXCEPT FOR EP 2!!!!!
  • Lindsay’s Blurb: Seriously, episode 2 rocked my world and from there, I love that I can turn to “Lore” for good, old-fashioned spooky entertainment. It has also been turned into an animated series on Amazon Prime, which is charming. If you enjoy small-town stories, from near and far, across centuries of oral traditions, you’ll enjoy the heck out of this podcast.

Casefile True Crime

  • Lifespan: These have been going for like 3 years.
  • Hosts: The host is an anonymous Australian. He sounds hot.
  • Frequency: The posting is pretty sporadic, but he usually posts hour-long eps on Saturdays. Sometimes every week, sometimes with weeks in between. I guess that amps up the mystery.
  • Topics: Duh. True Crime.
  • Pros:
    • The show stays completely serious, none of that MFM friendship nonsense. No personal commentary or anecdotes. If you like your true crime undiluted, this is the pod for you.
    • It seems very well-researched and contains no biases. There aren’t opinions. It’s just a play by play of events, with some well-researched background and contextual information.
    • The Australian accent makes everything better.
    • SHOUT OUT to Case 12: Katherine Knight. This is, bar none, the absolute CRAZIEST story I have ever heard in my entire, true-fiction-obsessed life. It is NOT for the faint of heart, but I just re-downloaded it because I remember screaming “WHAT???” at least a billion times.
  • Cons:
    • It’s heavy. It’s just pure horror from start to finish. There are no humorous sidebars to remind you that life isn’t so bad. It’s dark.
    • I think that’s it. Otherwise, it’s dark, dark perfection.
  • Lindsay’s Blurb: These stories are well-researched and very impressively narrated. It can get quite dark, so be forewarned, but it is also purely informational, without humor or biases.

Honorable Mentions: “Professor Blastoff” (gone but not forgotten; genuine, effortless humor. I talk about it more here); “Ear Hustle” (featuring, hosted, and produced by inmates at San Quentin prison; “Someone Knows Something” (a filmmaker and writer researches cold cases); “Jensen and Holes: The Murder Squad” (coming soon! These are the guys who helped finish Michelle McNamara’s book about the Golden State Killer. I’m not sure if they’ll discuss other cases, psychology, or what, but I’m ready for April 1st); and that GORGE one-time podcast about which the fans just cannot stop gabbing, “Drinkin’ and Thinkin'” (a friend and I had to make this for grad school and we got really into it. We planned to keep going, but she moved away. Maybe one day we’ll resurrect it, adoring fans).

Any other podcasters out there? What are your favorites? Does anyone else love any of my favorites?

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Tea: My Other Passion.

No. I have not had much time for reading lately. Well, actually, I’m mid-way through Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and it’s making me feel every shade of depressed and stressed. That poor man! What a life!! I’m sorry, but I haven’t the time for my entertainment to be depressing/stressful. Thus, I have set it aside for a new book, Scott Kelly’s Endurance, and since I haven’t yet finish that, I will now post about my other obsession, tea.

Don’t care for tea topics? Bye.

My glorious collection is growing! I have both new pieces and a new display case, about all of which I am thrilled. My cups and saucers used to be displayed on a shelving unit that was installed in the house before we bought it (faintly seen here). I have very little faith in the handyman skills of the former owner, so I worried for so long that I’d hear all my precious heirlooms crash to the floor. Luckily, my dad brought me a mirrored display case of his that he didn’t need anymore, and I now have a beautiful tea cabinet!

The bamboo china is a family heirloom, originally bought by my grandfather for my Geegaw while on a tour of duty in Japan in the 50s. The small dragon set is explained a bit later. The jadeite cup/saucer were a gift (but they’re from the 50s), the hobnail ones are from my Pawpaw’s museum, and the white flower ones from my mom’s wedding china. The white teapot was my Grandma’s.
The silver all came from my Geegaw’s wedding to my mom’s dad in the early 50s. All glass pieces are from the museum. The four cup/saucer sets on the edges are all random family sets. The green kettle & octopus cup/saucer are the only non-heirloom items in the case. I bought the kettle at TJ Maxx and the octopus set was a gift from my mom. It holds so much!
The taller pot in a previous pic is a coffee pot and this small one is for tea. Sadly, the handle broke off, so I’m looking for a silversmith to fix it before I can use it. The sugar and creamer sets were also from my Geegaw’s wedding set.
Ignore the cords, bad lighting, and ugly wall mounting from the old shelving unit. Just look at all my pretty pretty things!

Now, to explain the dragon set. When my parents came to town for our family Christmas, my mom brought me the tea set my grandfather bought for his mom while on a tour of duty in Japan around 1951. Legend (my Uncle Don) says that she never used it or let anyone touch it for fear that a piece would break. I totally get that fear. I’m so protective of the items that connect me to the grandfather I never knew that they get cautiously stowed away from dust, sunlight, and my butterfingered husband. On the upside, they’re safe, but the other side of that coin is that I don’t see them daily and have a daily moment where I remember “I’m related to a monument of a human being.” So whether it happened just that once or many many times, one slow, cold day after Christmas, I sipped my English Breakfast from this tea set. And I thought about him.

It’s a demitasse set, so this photo is a trick. That cup is holding two ounces, MAX, of tea. It makes me feel like a giant and I love it.

In other news, we’ve had our third quarterly ladies’ tea! This time, a friend hosted and said she was thrilled to get the chance to use her family china. Apparently, her parents cried when they heard she was using her grandmother’s china! So worth it! Unfortunately, it was right in the thick of flu season, so we were down a couple of fancy ladies, but it was a beautiful spread and an even more beautiful distraction from the Superbowl.

We’ve also decided to fully embrace the ridiculous American stereotypes about “tea time,” as was the custom when Hannah and I took tea as kids in the treasure featured below. Thus, we will wear increasingly ridiculous accessories to upcoming parties, so hats, gaudy costume jewelry, feather boas, and lace gloves are on the horizon.

Just look how time flies! Each time, our spread gets more elaborate and our “hot gos” gets more juicy! I don’t know where I’d be without my teacher friends! As soon as I get a ridiculous hat, I’ll tip it to them.

October 2018
February 2019

Any other tea lovers out there? Collectors of lovely things? Book slumpers? I want to hear from you!

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Review Via Pros and Cons: Brown’s “Origin”

I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon Series. I don’t usually consider them to be high literature (said with a smarmy expression while adjusting an invisible monocle), but some of them I have considered a downright good time. In fact, I thought Inferno was very entertaining, like a literary scavenger hunt! Some of Brown’s novels, though, are more successful in my esteem than others, and upon finishing his most recent novel, Origin, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. You know what to do!! When in doubt, hash it out (via pros and cons, my favorite review process)!

But first, this obscenely long blurb from Goodreads:

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself… and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery… and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

Now, to weigh out the Pros and Cons to decide if I liked this novel:

PRO: Robert Langdon. I like the character of Robert Langdon, the Harvard professor who keeps finding himself in mess after life-threatening mess. His knowledge is obscure but somehow repeatedly pivotal to saving the world. Maybe more of us should be Symbologists, just so we don’t have to rely on Robert Langdon so hard and so often. Regardless, the small touches, like the claustrophobia and the Micky Mouse watch, make Langdon likable and slightly more believable.

CON: These novels are intended, I believe, to be able to stand alone from the series as a whole, meaning you could easily read Origin as your first Brown novel and not lack any information. In a way, I think this is a good thing, but also, it’s unrealistic af!! Throughout the series, Langdon has been THROUGH IT! This man has been kidnapped, he’s been pursued by police and criminals, he’s been chased through inaccessible historical monuments, and his life has been threatened innumerable times in innumerable ways. So you’re telling me that he wouldn’t learn from these experiences?? He’s just following anonymous instructions and trusting people like he doesn’t know better?? I can’t get on board with that. He would (understandably) have PTSD by now and would be way more cautious.

PRO: Artificial Intelligence plays a big part in this novel. In fact, I’d say the AI is one of the main characters. The way “he” is portrayed feels a bit unrealistic at times, but the point of the novel is that one man has contributed to the advancement of technology in ways we didn’t think were possible, so I was willing to buy into it. The AI is often likable, helpful, suspicious, and all other human-like characteristics.

CON: I figured out the “bad guy” pretty early. There were a few loose ends that eluded me until the end, but overall, I assumed relatively early on who was orchestrating all the evil. I vastly prefer a novel that keeps me in the dark the whole time, or even misdirects my attention. The ending still managed to be something of a surprise, but once I figured out the major instigator, I lost a bit of interest.

CON: Each novel in the series focuses on a different “search” and they’ve all set up organized religion as the ultimate bad guy in one way or another. Origin is no different. However, instead of analyzing historical locations or documents, Origin predicts scientific advancements and the repercussions such revelations would have on the religious community. At this point, I was still on board, but quite often, the text dives into the science of potential origin theories, advanced technology, and more, and it flew right over my head. Brown tried to talk down to me, but I was apparently further “down” than he anticipated.

PRO: New City – New Google Search History! I am now somewhat acquainted with Bilbao, Spain. As always, I can’t read a Dan Brown novel without having WIFI, since it lists a million pieces of art or landmarks that I feel compelled to research. For instance, have you seen the Tree of Life monument outside the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest? I can’t believe this is the first time in my Holocaust-researching-life that I’ve heard about it. I learn a lot from reading these novels. I think that PRO counts for double.

CON: Same as above. I love that I learn from these, but it almost makes it impossible for me to read the novel when I don’t have access to internet. In fact, at one point I had to mark a few pages so I could go back to them in order to Google something when I got home later. It’s an overload of information sometimes.

CON: I lost interest well before the ending. It took me almost a month to read this book. Yes, it’s almost 500 pages, but still. That’s too long to read that much. I just got bored. There was a great deal of science-talk within the last 50 pages and since it was flying right over my head, I lost motivation to keep reading.

PRO: I guess there’s the potential for another Tom Hanks movie?? Have they made all the other ones? I saw “The Da Vinci Code” and maybe “Angels and Demons” once, but did they make the others? I feel like Inferno would make a great addition to the franchise, but Origin might be a little too… thought-heavy. Nobody likes to think!!

I wrote more CONS than PROS, but I really do think they balance out. This wasn’t Brown’s best, but I don’t guess I regret reading it. I imagine I’ll forget all the details in no time at all.

Have you read it? Did you like it? Do you typically like Dan Brown novels?

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