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NW by Zadie Smith

February 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Lackey in My Reading Life - (0 Comments)

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I just finished reading NW by Zadie Smith and I’m not sure how to describe it.  It is a big book, an important book by one of the freshest voices of a new generation of writers.  I asked for the book for Christmas because reviewers compare its literary style to James Joyce – a comparison that has merit.   But her style is also analogous to video game structure, or rap music, or maybe jazz.  The title refers to the London’s north west corner, where central characters Natalie (aka Keisha), Leah, Nathan and Felix grow up together in public housing (British terminology = council estate).  I was drawn into the complicated lives of these characters and found the basic thread pretty easy to follow although the narrative voice changes frequently – as does the pace, the setting, the tone and even the font.  The book is gritty, dismal and urban, and although it is distinctly British, it is filled with universal truth that will allow it to stand the test of time.  I honestly believe it may be Zadie Smith’s masterpiece novel.  Coincidently, the line that made me pause near the very end – “This is one of the things you learn in a courtroom: people generally get what they deserve.” – is a variation of “We accept the love we think we deserve” from The Perks of Being a Wallflower from my previous review.  Again, great literature rings with human truth.

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A nice review of our candle venture is in the Strongsville Sun Star today.

Best Books

This slim book is THE most popular book I ever put in the hands of a high school student in my 30 years of teaching.  After finally getting around to watching the movie adaptation last night with my adult son, who is home on a visit from out of state, and two of his best friends from high school, I realized my thoughts on the importance of this book are long overdue.

I had to dig back to my old analog (notebook) reading journal to find the date when I first connected with this book.  I knew I had discovered it at the University of Pittsburgh bookstore during the summer of 1999 when I was there for a week-long AP teachers workshop.  Stephen Chobsky is from Pittsburgh and the book was on a small shelf labeled Local Authors.  I think the cover caught my eye.  I brought it home, read it in July and wrote in my reading journal that I thought it was ” . . . going to be the Go Ask Alice of a new generation of readers . . .”

When I returned to school that fall, I was finally teaching AP English.  I clearly remember waving the book and singing its praises to my students.  No one had heard of it.  I had to do a lot of cheer leading to get my one copy circulating.  But then a funny phenomena struck!  A dELiA’s store opened in the fairly new shopping mall in our town.  And on a few of the circular clothing racks throughout the store were piles of BOOKS!  Books – in the most popular local shopping magnet  for young girls!  Suddenly, girls were buying copies along with the latest trendy t-shirts and bringing them to school to pass around.  And they were sharing them with BOYS.   The Perks spark was ignited.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel, narrated by Charlie who is a freshman at a Pittsburgh high school in the 1990s.  His mental health is fragile, as he is fixated on the untimely death of his aunt with whom he was very close.  As he begins high school, he is friendless and on the fringe – a wall flower – until he is welcomed into a band of senior misfits which include Sam and her step-brother, Patrick.  The peaks and valleys of their senior year – homecoming, SATs, college acceptance letters, prom and graduation – educate Charlie almost as much as the stabilizing influence of his beloved English teacher, Mr. Anderson, who recognizes Charlie as a kid who can find solace in books.

Perhaps that is the single most potent charm of The Perks of Being a Wallflower for an English teacher.  It is a book that you can hand to almost any student.  I label them lovingly, because  every high school classroom has at least one of every type – honors kid, goth kid, stud athlete, closet gay, band nerd, cheerleader, loner.  Each type would hand it back to you with a comment about how much he could “personally relate” to it. It became a gateway book.  If it is possible that a small but potent reading experience can turn a reader on to the stronger stuff, this book made kids whisper at my desk, “Do you have anything else like this I could read?”

Over the last decade, I listened to countless oral book reports, collected numerous mix-tapes, evaluated PowerPoint presentations and book journals written about this novel, but there is no rubric for the truth.  This book smacks of the reality of high school.  Like Catcher in the Rye, it is a book you want a student to find on his own, and read without a grade attached.  But high school kids don’t grow up surrounded by books anymore.

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I am normally incensed when original book covers are replaced by glossy movie star images,  (The Great Gatsby with Leonardo will give me the shakes) but this time, I don’t mind.  Probably because Stephen Chobsy, a respected filmmaker, adapted his novel for the screen and directed the film.  The characters are flawlessly brought to life by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, whose faces grace the new book cover.

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The soundtrack of pop songs matches the spirit of the 90s and the Come on Eileen dance number, where Charlie looks on from his wallflower perch is pitch perfect.  The Rocky Horror Picture Show scenes were filmed at The Hollywood Theater in Dorman, Pennsylvania where Chobsky, himself,  saw the movie as a teenager.

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The scene in the movie where the perfect song plays on the radio as Charlie’s perfect girl appears to fly above the problems of life standing in the bed of a Ford pick-up truck was filmed in the Fort Pitt Tunnel.  Chobsky calls this scene a symbolic rebirth – the ultimate symbol of transition.

So, watching the movie last night with three grown kids who bonded in high school and have stayed close for six years since made the movie even better for me. They talked about how awkward high school is for everyone.   It is a marathon run through a dense fog of hormones, relationships and power plays.  The kids who seem best at it are sometimes the least prepared for the challenges of the real world, and the wall flowers are often the ones who turn up at 10 and 15 year reunions and shock everyone with their totally together lives.  The best anyone can hope for in high school is a few true friends who will buoy you up when you are down and fly with you when you are soaring.

My son talked about being a freshman in marching band.   Some senior boys took him under their wings and convinced him to play the tuba his sophomore year  (Ben, Jeff, Tim and Tres – wherever you are – I still thank you.) They were smart, funny, older boys from my AP English class who turned drudgery into fun.  They helped him transition into other new friendships.  Sophomore year he started hanging out with the two guys we watched the movie with.  They buoyed each other up when they were down and still fly around together.  They all read the book at various points of high school.  They each still have the book today.

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We decided the movie is The Breakfast Club for a new generation of kids.  I would have watched it again as soon as it ended.  And I admit to having a few tears in my eyes.  The classic quote is as true for adults as it is for teens –

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This is my first year as a retired English teacher.  I have read a few books in the last year I would love to wave in the faces of my students.  I miss sharing books with kids. I probably bought a half dozen copies of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in the years since 1999.  I probably loaned them all out and never got them back.  I can’t find a single one in the house today and I miss seeing that book on the shelf.  I miss the classroom when I recall that as a teacher, I had the power to be a life-changer.  I got to hand a kid a book.

 

As I was frantically getting ready to sew new items for a recent Cleveland craft show, I decided to devote a day to making tote bags. When I was teaching, it seemed like I could never have enough bags – bags to take to school, bags to keep in the trunk for visits to the grocery store, bags to carry magazines and a craft project to work on during long car trips. My favorite bags are big. Like big enough to run away from home with. And they have to have pockets! Lots of pockets!

Oilcloth Tote Bag

Black and White Lined with Hot Pink and White Damask Print Tote Bag

I keep revising the construction of this particular tote until I get it perfect. The six deep pocket all around the outside of the bag make it easy to carry extras – water bottle, snack, or scarf – while the roomy interior can be packed full of essentials. Use it as a –
* gym bag
* beach bag
* market tote
* sleepover bag
* toy tote
* pet supply bag
* diaper bag

Oilcloth is a wonderful material for making tote bags because it is supple enough to sew easily, sturdy enough to hold its shape and totally practical since it can be wiped clean with a damp cloth.

I found this lavender lace oilcloth last fall in Amish country – specifically one of my favorite quilt and fabric stores in the whole state of Ohio. If you are looking for fabrics for any type of sewing project Millers’s Dry Goods in Charm is the place to search. Their website boasts 8,000 bolts of fabric and I’m sure it is no exaggeration. I could spend the day in there. I was happy to pair the lavender lace with this light yellow floral print for a cheery spring tote bag.

Another design feature is the handy interior pocket to hold a cell phone, ID or a few dollars without losing those in the bottom of the bag. And I recently added a key chain loop so keys will always be handy.

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The Brew Kettle – Strongsville, Ohio

February 16th, 2013 | Posted by Lackey in Dining Out - (0 Comments)

This review is so long overdue I am embarrassed! When you have a favorite restaurant in your home town – a place you go every Friday night – a local bar where everybody knows your name (well, almost), you should be shouting its praises to the world. But then again, it would become even more popular and the wait for a table would be even longer. Chris and Pam McKim are friends and owners of The Brew Kettle, a local business that has figured out how to create the perfect neighborhood bar with great beer and even greater food.

I look forward to Lent every year, because I can count on Friday night seafood specials to die for.

Lenten beer specials
Tonight I had the salmon special – marinated in ginger and orange, cooked on an applewood plank served with a tangy Asian slaw, a side of saffron aioli and coconut pilaf. I would have paid twice the price for this perfectly prepared and fully flavorful meal.

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Today offered double pleasure for diner! Lenten seafood specials and Ogrefest specials. Ogrefest is an annual celebration of crazy, hoppy, over-the-top beers.

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The menu of specials is equally aggressive.

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So, of course, David went for the Buffalo ribs, which he said were smoked to perfection and topped with a tasty plum BBQ sauce. Look at that meat!

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Served up with a side of sweet potato fries and Brew Kettle coleslaw, that is crunchy and full of horseradish. We never leave hungry and we always see friends who return as regularly as we do because it is THE best restaurant in town.

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AND you can brew your own beer at The Brew Kettle, which is an experience worthy of another article. See you next Friday night.

Hump Day Giveaway – Enter to Win

February 13th, 2013 | Posted by Lackey in My Creating Life - (0 Comments)

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Today is the day we have been waiting for! Our re-Lit Candles were discover by Stacy at Inkspot Workshop back in January. Stacy grew up in the a Cleveland area, and loved the look and mission behind our candle venture. She sponsors a monthly giveaway on her blog where she pairs two shops and offers a chance to win $50 of free merchandise from each shop.

The contest is open today and runs through midnight on Friday, February 15. Please tell all your friends to enter. I would LOVE to have the winner be someone who is already a friend and supporter of our cause.

Remember, a portion of our proceeds go to support the good work of Ohio City Writers!

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First Time Out at Bazaar Bizarre

February 10th, 2013 | Posted by Lackey in My Creating Life - (0 Comments)

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Bazaar Bizarre was everything we expected it to be – eclectic, engaging and entertaining. We arrived early enough to set up shop at a table near the windows in a well-lit corner. As luck would have it, we were next to the vendor selling Ohio University paintings, magnets and posters and the cool Cleveland T-shirt vendors.

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I can’t really explain the painting behind us, but the space is loaded with lots of very cool art. We were lucky to have two men along to help carry boxes from the car and set up. Our shop was full, full, full of stuff.

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I made chalk cloths rolls out of children’s fabric for the first time and sold all that I took of that item. One mom came back around after I had put away the sample that kids were drawing on all day and bought it as her toddler screamed about putting his coat on. I sold a good number of full sized chalk cloth table runners and mats and ran out of business cards.

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We gained more information than sales with our candle venture. Every single person held a candle to his or her nose, so I guess we need to reconsider the unscented soy wax. If you read this and have a favorite scent to recommend, please leave a comment as we are researching favorite fragrances. The highlight of the day was meeting Frank Lewis Ohio City Writers, our first literacy partner. Frank stopped with a pile of favicards for his workshop, which promotes writing in Cleveland based on the Dave Eggers 826 model. Ohio City Writers is a non-profit creative writing center at 3208 Lorain Ave. in Cleveland. OCW organizes programs and volunteers to help youth, in grades 4 through 12, hone their skills with the written word, which in turn will bolster their imaginations, critical-thinking abilities and self-confidence. Frank was enthusiastic about our partnership.

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Candice’s mustaches drew more conversation than sales but they were definitely adorable on our table.

Too bad she wasn’t able to join us. I would say more of the shoppers were twenty-somethings than fifty-somethings and she would have helped draw in the sales, but Jim proved he has a future at a home and garden show demonstration booth.

What did we learn?

– candy draws in shoppers with kids
– people want their candles to smell like something
– chalk cloth is still a new fabric that appeals to many people
– designs for table runners should be more neutral colored
– next time, perhaps, less is more – we had too many choices
– people are really friendly and enjoy talking to you about your stuff
– it was gratifying to be called an “artist”

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Next time, we know it is okay to bring beer! Luckily, I had brought portable wine cups for Laurie and me to celebrate with at the end of the evening.

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WVIZ Ideastream Workshop

Teaching Primary Sources and NonFiction in the Blended Learning Classroom
This session will focus on learning to access, select, interpret, and manipulate digital media from the U.S. Library of Congress American Memory Collection to teach 21st century digital research and information literacy. You and your students can merge archived text, photography, and printed ephemera to create ditigal scrapbooks and exhibits for presentations and projects. Time will be provided for collaboration and lesson planning. (Grades 6-12)

Link to today’s Library of Congress slides.

In case you were afraid our Bazaar Bizarre booth would be all chalk cloth and candles, I am thrilled to announce that we also be selling items hand sewn by the awesome Candice Calire. Not only does she hold a degree in costume design, but she is also my son’s girlfriend. She is creative, hip, talented and an amazing seamstress. How cool is it to have a son with a girlfriend who sews!

Her contributions to this Valentine’s themed show will be mounted felt mustaches!

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Fabulous, right! Candice also has an Etsy shop! In fact, she had hers before I opened mine. Her shop, Sour Grapes Sewn, is named for her cat, Sour Grapes and specializes in Plush Custom Taxidermy and more.

She has been busy crafting in Charlotte, NC and plans to ship her items so we can display them for purchase at the bazaar on Saturday. Mustaches are such a rage right now, I expect they will draw lots of attention to our table.

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She has also sewn an assortment of non-slip headbands that she says really work!

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I suppose I should add, she is lucky to have a boyfriend who bought her a new sewing machine for Christmas. And I am lucky to have a son who recognizes a sewing machine is a perfect gift. I may be shopping for one with all the cash I make this weekend.

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