Friday, March 29, 2013

THE Handcrafted WEDDING

When you scan the glossy magazines purporting to tell brides
everything they need to know to make the big day a success, does it
ever seem like the cost of the nuptials can rival the budget of a
third world country? Do you ever find yourself wondering if a highly
commercial ceremony is the best way a couple, maybe with at least one
set of student loans, can invest their money in this uncertain
economy? Does it seem a bit obscene that our society drools over
prohibatively pricey weddings of the rich and famous, setting them up
as examples for couples of much more modest means?
Why do we set so much stock in the lavish expenditure, the
outdoing of the Jonses when the emphasis, in my mind, at least, should
be on the pledging of love, the two becoming as one, the setting out
on an amazing journey?
Recently I was looking at the album of a couple who would have
flunked Wedding 101 by today's standards. Their reception was in a $5
an hour town hall. Catering was by friends. Bridesmaids wore dresses
from their own wardrobes. But the bride and groom were so happy and
in love that her $5 yard sale gown could not dim her radiance and his
donning his suit instead of renting a tux could not detract from the
tenderness in his eyes. More on them later.
I was thrilled to discover my library has a copy of Emma
Erandoski's THE Handcrafted WEDDING. I can see a lot of you rolling
your eyes. Saying, "Yeah, right! That's for those talented folks.
Nothing to do with me." You couldn't be more wrong. This is not
another arena for Martha Stewart Live competition. It is all about
putting the emphasis on moments and memories instead of endless
details, about making your special day as unique as you are. It
centers on a question posed in the introduction: how will your love
story be remembered?
The author, who introduces herself as Emma, was greatly
disappointed when she, herself, became engaged and went shopping. The
merchandise she saw was impersonal and uninspiring. On line she had
better luck. Her discovery of handcrafted weddings resulted in a blog
and this lovely book.
I think the best way to approach this book is to let yourself
look at the pictures. They are amazing, but not in the Better Homes
and Gardens sense of the word. They are beautiful, tender, colorful,
funny, full of joy and life. A couple holding fishing rods kisses in
the middle of a stream. A flower girl, surrounded by bride and
bridesmaids, beams proudly. Groomsmen pose with croquet mallets. (In
my mind that's a lot better than eyeing a stripper popping out of a
cake.) Boquets of wildflowers serve as centerpieces. Hopefully the
down-to-Earthiness of the gallery will leave you inspired, thinking,
"I can do this."
The tone is wonderfully conversational. Chapter 1 You're
Engaged begins with, "He popped the question and you said yes--now
what's next?" From the outset a couple is urged to think on what makes
them and their love special. Hobbies and interests are suggested for
themes. There are really cool, nontraditiinal invitations. In
subsequent chapters every aspect of the big day is covered. There are
instructions for crafts and hints for coming up with your own. Emma
conveys the attitude that it's all good. Whether you're about to
embark on this amazing adventure or, like your humble reviewer,
pondering on renewing your precious vows, THE Handcrafted WEDDING is a
treasure trove of information and inspiration.
Back to the young couple. I was that starry eyed girl. I am the
woman she grew into. I am still in love. I hope to talk him into
walking down the aisle with me again when we celebrate our quarter
century in 2014.
A great big shout out goes out to new couples who are starting out on
the journey called married life and veterans like the hubby and me who
have weathered its for better and for worses.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Mighty Mars Rovers

Steve Squyres was thirteen in 1969 when the first human set foot
on thr Moon. He found it exciting but thought it irrelevant to his
life. On the second point he couldn't have been more wrong.
In college Steve thought he could be a geologist. It wasn't
long, however, before space captured his imagination. Working on a
term paper for a class taught by a member of the Mars exploring Viking
team, he had an epiphany. Viking's problem was that it was
stationary. "Imagine you're a geologist and you get sent out to some
cool place where you've never been. They helicopter you in and say,
'We'll pick you up in a day.' And then they nail your boots down so
you can't walk around. The story is there to be read in the rocks but
you can't reach it."
That insight gave Steve a vision of what he wanted to do with
his life--a vision that culminated in the creation of land rovers
Spirit and Opportunity and their exploration of Mars. The story is
beautifully told in Elizabeth Rusch's The Mighty Mars Rovers. The
scientific facts are enlivened by the many seemingly insurmountable
challenges Steve and his colleagues had to overcome. The photographs
are amazing.
My favorite page concerns the naming of the rovers. A little
girl who was adopted from a "dark and cold and lonely" orphanage by a
loving Arizona family won this honor. This is part of her essay. "At
night, I looked up at the sparkly sky and felt better. I dreamed I
could fly there. In America, I can make all my dreams come true.
Thank you for the 'Spirit' and the 'Opportunity'."
On a personal note, my church had a fund raising supper: chicken
casseroles, beans, coleslaw, rolls, and a variety of the most amazing
pies. Our choir director makes a strawberry pie so divine you look
around for angels since you think you've arrived at Heaven. Made over
A great big shout out goes out to all who worked on this worthy
endeavor for good stewardship and cheerful camaraderie, especially the
pie serving ladies who let me take a second slice of strawberry pie
since I was volunteering.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Citizen Scientists

Are you concerned that kids today are spending too much time
inside watching TV and playing video games? Does it sadden you to
think they may be disconnected from the world of nature? Then you'll
love Loree Griffin Burns' Citizen Scientists. It encourages kids to
become keen observers of the critters around them and, in doing so,
help us all gain deeper understanding.
In 1952 people started tagging monarch butterflies. Decades of
this careful reporting led to mapping of migratory routes,
understanding of life cycles, and the discovery of amazing forests of
butterfly-covered trees. The Christmas bird count was started in 1900
by a man who wanted people to record the birds they found that day
rather than competing to kill the most. Among other things, data has
chronicled changing ranges of bird species. Frog count can be quite
tricky. Often it involves doing an auditory inventory without ever
seeing the critters. The Lost Ladybug Project has discovered that
three species that were thought to be extinct, including New York's
official state insect, were not in fact gone forever.
Being involved in projects like those does not require advanced
degrees or fancy equipment. Year after year tens of thousands of
citizens gather data in places that can include urban vacant lots with
devices no more complicated than nets, paper, and pencil. The book
provides detailed instructions and book and on line resources. Their
cumulative results reap huge dividends in our understanding of
individual species and the environments they inhabit.
Loree relates a story where she and her young daughter were
seeking a monarch butterfly chrysalis. After she said how hard
finding it would be, she turned around to see her daughter examining
one. She freely admits that the youngest citizen scientists may be
some of the best ones, being shorter, having keener senses, and not
being distracted by details from other aspects of their lives--i.e.,
the perpetual what should I make for supper.
The subtitle is "Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own
Backyard. What a wonderful invitation! I hope you and your kids take
her up on it!
On a personal note, I am in the middle of a snow day. A beautiful,
wonderful, enchanting snow day. I've just finished my snow day cake:
red velvet with cream cheese frosting and red sugar. As soon as
enough snow has piled up I'm going sledding.
A great big shout out, on behalf of my son and the other students in
her school district, goes out to Bangor's Superintendent of Schools,
Dr. Betsy Webb. Way to call it!
Also I commend the great lady, Mother Nature, who set the lovely stage
for such festivities.
Sincere apologies to the winter weary among my readers. Your day will
come soon.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Building UP

One spring day my mom decided to take down the ceiling to floor
red velvet living room curtains and replace them with something less
Victorian looking. I realized that the desire of my heart was to turn
them into a tent. I spoke up before she could come up with an
alternate use. Back then we wouldn't have thrown them away. The
venture was harder than I had anticipated. The snags made the end
product all the more satisfying.
This lovely memory came to mind when I had the great good
fortune to read Christy Hale's dreaming UP: a celebration of
building. It's a breath-taking picture book built around the premise,
"If they can dream it, they can build it." (Madhu Thangavelu). It is
truly empowering and inspiring. You can tell it will be just from
looking at the cover. A wide eyed child, surrounded by photographs of
state of the art structures, oh so carefully places the top block on a
The book mostly consists of two page spreads. On the left pages
you see kids doing what they do for fun: making mud pies and sand
castles, sharing a book in a pillow fort, creating an igloo. (I was
thrilled when I pointed out to my fellow library volunteer, Laura,
that there were boys snd girls and delighted when she showed me that
kids of several races were included.) On each left page there is a
structure and a poem that takes the shape of that structure. On the
right page the structure is mirrored in a real life building. The
last four pages give information about the buildings and how childhood
experiences of the architects helped lead to their creation.
A girl makes mud pies and lets them bake in the sun. On the
next page there is a picture of New Gourna Village, made of earth, in
India. Inspired by his mother's stories of rural self-sufficiency,
Hassan Fathy grew up to teach people how to construct with local
materials. He had a heart for the poor. "The human spirit is our
most precious resource."
Children build with tubes and cardboard. On the opposite page
Chinese children study in a temporary school actually made of recycled
paper tubes and plywood after an earthquake. Shigeru Ban's interest
in design was inspired by his fashion designer mother's international
travels. "Anything can be building structure materials."
This book would be great for primary school libraries to build
children's interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).
On a personal note, I obviously didn't grow up to be an architect. I
am working toward something more abstract but no less real: a school
system that nurtures the minds, bodies, and psyches of children. I
agree with Fathy in the preciousness of human souls. It grieves me
that so many are crushed by standardized tests and teaching to them.
This feels like an overwhelming test at times. I have to keep
reminding myself that if we can dream it we can build it.
A great big shout out goes out to the folks of Maine School
Superintendents Association who put on Navigating The Budget Process
last Friday. I learned so much and made new friends. The food was
fabulous. I got to hang out with my BFF Christine. Who could ask for
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fire Bubbles

The cover of Steve Spangler's new book shows a man with a lit
match in one hand, a mass of bubbles in the other with a column of
flames rising from the bubbles. The title is Fire Bubbles and
Exploding Toothpaste. Parents and teachers working to make science
fun for kids...drumroll please...
we have a winner.
After a page of safety precautions the introduction begins with
the words DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME...all caps in red ink. Steve knows
kids. Those words will make them motivated to do the exact opposite.
This is exactly what he wants to see and confident
experimentation and learning.
The experiments are grouped into large categories. The one
entitled kitchen chaos enables kids to find the iron in a dollar bill,
power a rocket with Alka Seltzer, discover convection currents, walk
on egg shells, and make a skate board rocket car. Explanations and
extensions are included. At the end there's a section of
demonstration experiments for experienced science teachers.
How cool is that? Way cool which is what we want science to be
for the next generation.
On a personal note, I'm off tomorrow to a big old all day session on
shaping school budgets. Very much not my forte board wise. Just hope
they keep the coffee flowing.
A great big shout out goes out to Leah and Amy for making me smile so
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Fast Food

When I was a child visits to fast food restaurants were few and
far between. Meals were usually eaten at home and cooked from
scratch. Mom's mashed potatoes came from real spuds, not powder and
water. Restaurant trips of any kind were treats to look forward to or
rewards for stuff like good report cards.
Sadly, as Eric Schlosser points out, these are weekly or even
daily occurances in many families' lives. Too tired to cook? Need an
incentive for Junior to stop whining? Just see the familiar golden
arches? This doesn't even take into account the many purchases of
teens and tweens hanging out.
This is not as benign as it might appear. In his classic, Fast
Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal, Schlosser
delineates the many harmful consequences of this nation's burger and
fries obsession. Read it if you haven't.
Schlosser's Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want To Know
About Fast Food is targeted to a YA audience. It opens with a photo
of a McDonalds entrance. Stepping inside by by flipping the page
starts them on an eye opening tour. They learn that:
*Workers their age or not much older are exploited through long hours
and low pay.
*Artificial coloring and flavoring can have strange ingredients. Dead
insects, anyone?
*Nineteen thousand (that was in 2006, probably more do now) public
schools sell branded fast food in their cafeterias instead of more
wholesome alternatives.
*Animals used in burgers and nuggets live and die under horrific
*Slaughterhouse conditions put workers at risk for death and serious
injury and consumers at risk fir microbial pathogens.
Nough said?
The last page before credits and footnotes shows a McDonalds
exit door. Schlosser hopes that after this tour a youngster will at
least think about what lurks behind the colorful facade of the
ubiquitous fast food restaurant. If that isn't a worthy goal, I can't
imagine what is.
On a personal note, I tried out for the latest Orono Community Theater
play and didn't make the cast. Instead I was put in charge of props.
My reaction was paralyzing terror. I bet you're amused. We tend to
think of stage fright in terms of performing. Guess what! Some of us
who love acting, believe it or not, can find the thought of being
responsible for and possibly screwing up a more managerial task highly
stressful. Crew fright? Maybe we're better at working with people
than with objects? Fortunately I found someone willing to help me. I
can at least breathe.
A great big shout out goes out to my friend who is willing to help.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Each Kindness

We tend to think of regret, particularly in connection with
missed opportunities, as an adult emotion. Not so! Jacqueline
Woodson's Each Kindness, beautifully illustrated by E. B. Lewis, shows
that this subtle pain can occur in the lives of young children. When
read with a caring adult, it can help expand a youngster's emotional
A poorly dressed new girl, Maya, enters Chloe's class. She
tries to make friends with Chloe and her chums, approaching them,
trying to share small toys. Because they reject her she eventually
gives up, resigned to playing by herself.
Maya is absent the day the class talks about kindness. The
teacher tells each child to say a kind thing she or he has done.
Chloe can't think of any. She tells herself when Maya comes back she
will return her hopeful smile. This doesn't happen. Maya and her
family have moved.
"That afternoon I walked home alone.
When I reached the pond, my throat felt filled with
All the things I wished I would have said to Maya,
Each kindness I had never shown."
What could Chloe do to make the sadness go away? Could she decide to
reach out to the next new child in her classroom? Come to think of
it, this book provides a great way for kids to think of coping skills
for dealing with the inevitable regrets that enter everyone's life.
On a personal note, my church had an opening for an assistant
religious ed director. I applied. Yesterday I learned that they
found someone else more qualified. It was for the better. I would
have had to give up attending adult Sunday school. My classmates
think I'm really smart and contribute a lot to discussions. They
really like me too. They probably would have felt loss and sadness.
That would have made me feel regret. I hadn't realized this when I
A great big shout out goes out to my adult Sunday school class and
Pastor Steve who teaches it. Also to our school guidance counselors
and all the good work they do.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Periodic Table

When I was young the periodic table was about as much fun as a
tetanus shot. It lurked in the back of chemistry texts. When the
teacher would allude to it, the class would groan in unison. Dull,
dusty, and nothing to do with us. Recently I noticed there are some
books that jazz it up for a young audience.
In Adrian Dingle's Periodic Table: Elements With Style! each
element is drawn like a Pokemon character (some of the critters are
quite cute) and does a short narrative. Mercury's starts with "Quick
and deadly, that's me. I put the "mad" in Mad Hatter, and my ability
to poison the brain is legendary!" Standard information is also
Dan Green's Elements: the building blocks of the universe is a
fun read. It uses colorful photographs and cool random facts to
really bring chemistry to life. Hydrogen contains a narrative of the
Hindenberg explosion illustrated by the great blimp on fire. A two
page spread of fireworks over Washington, DC is accompanied by a
listing of which element creates each color. A tarantula just about
leaps off the page as you learn that copper makes its blood blue.
With books like these today's kids will probably take more
interest in the periodic table and chemistry--a very good thing in
this reviewer's mind.
On a personal note, I made the most delicious pancakes today:
chocolate chip with maple syrup and sliced strawberries on top.
A great big shout out goes out to our college students and professors
on vaca. May they catch up on work, rest up for the last part of the
semester, and have some fun.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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Standardized Testing

According to the Annual Yearly Progress clause of No Child Left
Behind, by the 2013-2014 school year 100% of the children in our
nation's schools will score academically proficient as measured by
standardized testing. What's up with that? We all know it's an
impossibility. Even if some unlikely messianic or apocalyptic event
boosted scores that much, the standardized test, designed to replicate
a bell curve, would be invalidated by such results. Geez!
Of course that was not my first or only aggravation about the
ascendency of standardized testing in our nation's public schools. As
a parent, I was alarmed by the amount of time my kids spent taking and
being prepped for an alphabet soup of acronymed exams. I was not
happy with them developing jump through the hoop skills and memorizing
facts when they could be developing the higher order thinking they
need in today's world.
Given the high-stakes nature of standardized tests, I was not in
the least bit surprised by shall we say less than ethical practices on
the part of some teachers and admin. Playing fast and loose with
kids' work is only the tip of the iceberg. Making sure students who
would make their schools look bad aren't around on the big day can be
far more insidious. Can you say, for example, school to jail pipeline?
Getting back to the first paragraph, the people who designed
stuff like No Child Left Behind aren't stupid. I wish that it was
that simple. In my mind they are setting all schools up for failure.
Why? Possibly to allow folks who think educational outcomes can be
produced the same as sneakers or cars to take over through
The reason for this longer than usual lead in? It's to show the
depths of anger I was feeling at the legalized hijacking of American
education. That was before I became familiar with Wayne Au's books.
I was a mere babe in the woods in regard to the true insidiousness of
"reform" by standardized testing. I'd just glimpsed the tip of the
iceberg. Au revealed to me the whole sordid, ugly structure. I think
you should see it too.
We are continuously told that No Child Left Behind and Race To
The Top are ways to not only raise students achievement, but to lessen
the gaps between white and black, rich and poor. The discourse is
framed thus way to the extent that if you're critical of their
hallmark standardized tests you're an elitist, uncaring about our most
vulnerable children. As if! In his numerous writings Au shows that
high stakes testing is actually covertly designed to perpetuate the
very inequities it's supposed to alleviate. I have chosen in this
review to discuss two of his books.
Pencils Down: RETHINKING high-stakes testing and accountability
in public schools is a great introduction to the topic. It's a highly
lucid and readable compilation of short pieces by a goodly number of
people in the trenches: teachers, professors, activists. An educator
retired after 34 years answers standardized test FAQs. A father
expresses concern that his 4-year-old prekindergarten daughter is so
enmeshed in academics she has no time to play in school. At the age
of four! A standardized test scorer gives us an up close and personal
look at some of the industry's dirty little secrets. In my favorite
article an activist describes how a community came together to develop
an alternative to CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam that large
numbers of low income students, many for whom English is a second
language, are flunking)... I highly recommend this book to parents,
older students, teachers, admin, and anyone who cares about kids.
If you want to kick it up a notch, if you have a pretty good
background and are comfortable with a more scholarly, jargon filled,
research based discourse you'll go for Unequal By Design: High Stakes
Testing and the Standardization of Inequity. This multidisciolinary
approach starts out with history (Did you know that today's
standardized tests originated in the eugenics movement over 100 years
ago?) and adds perspectives from economics, education, politics, and
other fields. The strands weave together seamlessly to support Au's
conclusion. "Inequality is literally built into our systems of
testing, as the tests operate as a mechanism for the (re) production
of socioeconomic and educational inequality. High-stakes standardized
tests are simply unequal by design. This, I would argue, is the
hidden curriculum of high-stakes testing."
Angry yet?
On a personal note, a couple of days after I wrote this review I read
that the Walton family (of WalMart fame) is giving big bucks to
candidates who push for standardized testing, teacher union busting,
and privatization of schools. Why am I not surprised?
A great big shout out goes out to all who are working to get our
children the rich, multi faceted education that can't be measured by
standardized tests.
Julia Emily Hathaway

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