Putting on the FEED bag

Particularly if you grew up around horses, you may have heard the expression “putting on the feed bag.” It’s a colloquialism that is normally used to describe the self indulgence associated with overeating. I have learned of entirely different use for a feed bag…
My friend Jen doesn’t know it yet, but I’ve already bought her a birthday present that I know she’ll love. Jen is one of those moms who always tries to feed her children the very best foods. Every time I see Jen she is “feeding” her children, she literally has snacks up her sleeves! I know she will love to know that her new bag will help feed children nutritious school meals through the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
My two children (three and five years old) absolutely love going to the grocery store with me and picking out what they want to eat. To have food on hand any time, any where is a luxury that we easily take for granted.
I don’t think of twenty-seven year old Lauren Bush Lauren as a celebrity, but a beautiful angel from Texas who like Jen, cares about feeding children.
Lauren Bush Lauren (granddaughter of former President George H. W. Bush) is the Co-Founder of FEED Projects. Born in Denver, Colorado and raised in Houston, Texas. Lauren is a former model and graduate of Princeton with a B.A. in Anthropology and certificate in photography.
She was part of a group of college students that the U.N. sent to ten countries: Guatemala, Cambodia, Lesotho, Sri Lanka, Chad, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and Honduras to learn about poverty and hunger firsthand. After returning to the states, she was inspired to design the “FEED 1 bag” which feeds one child in school for one year through WFP. It’s a brilliant idea because it tells the shopper exactly how they are helping by calculating the number of meals that are being purchased for children in need.
FEED has donated over $6 million dollars to the WFP’s school feeding program, which equates to over 60 million meals to school children.
FEED is a small team of five. They make great products that help people who really need help. The FEED bags are chic and fashionable and go a long way to advance a well deserving cause. The bags are made of burlap- which is (as you would expect) used to transport food. All the FEED bags (even one designed by Judith Leiber) have that rustic FEED quality. Buying a FEED bag, the consumer knows exactly what impact their purchase will have.

Lauren’s recent wedding to Ralph Lauren’s son, David Lauren, was similar to the style of the FEED bag...rustic! Their wedding was a retro-ranch style wedding. They were married at his family’s 17,000-acre Double RL ranch in Ridgeway, Colorado. The pictures look like an old western film. Vogue magazine cleverly called their marriage a “Western Union!”Her hand embroidered ivory gown (designed by Ralph Lauren) had a Little House on the Prairie feel to it with puffy shoulders and a high neck. It took 3,000 hours to hand sew.
I have read that Lauren doesn’t plan to slow down on her good work any time soon. I just imagine she will only do more good once she has children of her own. Being a mother just makes your heart grow.
We all want to help like Lauren; sometimes we just need a little guidance.
It’s the same with children. They are just as anxious and willing when given the chance to help. When given a little guidance they too can get involved in helping end world hunger. I love to take my second grade classroom to the computer lab to get on the site www.Freerice.com which is a non-profit website run (like FEED Project) by the United Nations WFP. The site provides education in an interesting and attention holding way and it helps to end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.
The FreeRice motto is “improving your education can improve your life.” My children know that somewhere in the world, a person is eating the very rice that they helped provide, and that makes them feel so good. It’s a win win! I can take my class to the computer lab to feed their minds and they simultaneously gain global perspective and the pride and satisfaction that comes with knowing that they have helped to feed a lot of people- one grain of rice at a time. I hope some of you will find an interest in “putting on the feed bag.”

The Passion for literature and the romance of letters

My friend Pamela gave me a great gift…a very special book that came all the way from Paris’ famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop. A little water damage makes this book even more of a treasure because it’s a paperback that has been loved. The book, 84, Charing Cross Road is easily on my top books ever read list! It’s real people writing letters to each other and developing a beautiful friendship all the way across the big blue ocean…it’s so romantic! 

I’ve always believed in the power of correspondence and I very much enjoy reading books that are a series of letters. Recently I’ve read three books that are a series of beautiful letters: 84, Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and As Always, Julia. Each book begins the same way…the characters all receive a letter from a stranger and their correspondence leads to a lasting and true friendship. It is possible to form lasting and deep relationships with people that we have never physically met.

84, Charing Cross Road is a charming book about an outspoken New York writer (Helene Hanff) whose touching correspondence with antiquarian booksellers in London (especially with Frank Doel) develops such a mutually fostering friendship that they become an extended family. Exchanges between Helene Hanff and the Marks & Co. booksellers at 84 Charing Cross Road are all letters and books.
I found the book to be romantic in the sense that their fondness for each other expanded over time, the romance of the cities New York and London are vividly described, the yarn of letters and books flying or sailing across the sea, and there is also a mystery associated with them not officially meeting that I find romantic.
There could have been a potential for romance between Frank Doel and Helene Hanff but I found them to truly care for each other as friends first. There is an unspoken love for each other without ever seeing each other. It’s a real-life love story.
When reading the private letters of Helene and Frank, the reader gets a taste of cultural and social differences that were commonplace in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s in London and New York.
Their correspondence went on from 1949 to 1969. Throughout twenty years they exchanged Christmas gifts, news of families and careers. There was always an intention for them to meet but something came in the way every time it almost happened.
A lesson to this is that if there’s something you really want to do, do it when you have the chance or you might miss a grand opportunity.
Through Hanff’s book, the reader is reintroduced to all sorts of old classics with her passion for literature and made to feel inspired not only to write a letter to a friend, but to read a book with either a cup of tea (like Frank did in London) or a cigarette and martini (like Helene did in New York).
There was a lovely movie starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins that followed the book beautifully. Anne Bancroft is saucy and spirited just like I imagined Helene Hanff to be.
Hanff’s personality is humorous, demanding, witty and sarcastic whereas, Doel is the classic English gentleman. Hanff playfully begins one letter in all caps, “SLOTH: I could ROT over here before you’d send me anything to read.” Toward the end of their correspondence Hanff writes, “Frankie, you’re the only soul alive who understands me.”
If you’re lucky enough to find an edition of 84, Charing Cross Road that comes with the companion book The Duchess of Bloomsbury, you will love reading them back to back.
Another book I recently enjoyed that is also a series of letters and similar and many ways to 84, Charing Cross Road was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set in post WWII England, it is based around Juliet Ashton, a writer with sharp wit, and a love of books. When Juliet receives a letter from a stranger in Guernsey, a correspondence begins with not just one, but many Guernsey islanders.
One of my favorite quotes from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society that I completely resonate with is, “That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”
One last book recommendation that is a series of letters and friendship is As Always, Julia. Julia Child and Avis DeVoto based their friendship on the art of letter writing before they ever met.  I previously wrote about it here
All three books are written with warmth and humor. They have in common that they each find inspiration in the letters to each other, not just for their work, but inspiration for their life.
Through the three books the reader will get a sense of how the power of books and letters sustain readers in good times and in bad. The books celebrate letters in the best possible way. I always look forward to seeing what the closing will be. My favorite closing came from Julia Child’s best friend Avis: Lashings of love. Who doesn’t enjoy reading about collecting books and the pleasures of reading?
I wish for you that you have time to read these books but also find time to write to your friends…do it now, don’t wait! 
As for Pamela’s book, it’s meant to be shared with someone else now. I think I’ll send it by mail…with a letter.

The Pen is Mightier than the Whiteboard

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the TCEA conference (Texas Computer Education Association) in Austin. TCEA is the leading state organization committed to the use of technology in education.
Many of my fellow teachers who had attended previously gave me a forewarning, suggesting that I would be so overwhelmed with the amount of information that my brain will hit overload.

Well, they were right, but I found something I loved on my “brain overload” and couldn’t stop thinking about it. The Livescribe pen amazed me in a jaw dropping kind of way and I thought of a million ways I could use it. The livescribe pen is a tool for securing, manipulating, and broadcasting notes on the go. I thought of ways, not only in my classroom, but for my own children (even for myself). There are endless possibilities…

All week TCEA had drawings to win a class set.  I kept going back to the booth in the exhibition hall asking more questions and watching demos seeing how I would use it. I didn’t win but I filled out several entry slips as I kept thinking of more ways that I could use it: as an ESL learning tool, practicing writing and reading fluency, as a portfolio assessment, giving instructions (cloning myself) so I can be everywhere in the classroom, storytelling, letter writing…

The livescribe pen records what you write, and its microphone records what you’re hearing at the same time. It’s helpful in almost any setting that you want to record something for future reference…lectures, to-do lists, or interviews. The pen is a useful tool for all kinds of professions like lawyers, doctors, journalists, and executives. The field I can see benefiting the most is in education.

I can see older children and college students using the livescribe to record a lecture while taking notes at the same time…I guess you’d call it a pencast! A student can simply select a word by tapping on it and the pen plays back whatever audio it recorded at that point in your writing.

It’s easy to share these pencasts with other people using the Livescribe Web site and desktop software. My class has French pen pals and how amazing will it be to write/translate/and hear students from the other side of the world?

As an elementary teacher the livescribe pen will allow me to teach something once and then my students will be able to learn it anytime and anywhere: the classroom, a review at home, in centers…
Recording yourself with a smartpens is like cloning yourself. Teachers could use sound stickers and audio enhance every book and object in the room. Students not only see the written word but hear them as well.

The pen may well become a genius learning aid for ESL (English as a Second Language) students. For children who are trying to become successful in a new language, it can make a difference in how these students process knowledge. The ESL child can take the pen home and never be out of the loop with homework because they would get the teacher’s exact instructions and proper pronunciation (it’s like taking your teacher home)to help prevent them from falling behind.

When learning about this magical pen at TCEA, I kept thinking of the many benefits of fluency and dictation practice that I’ll be able to provide now. If a child can hear themselves reading, it will improve the student’s manner of speaking and they’ll be more likely to better edit their writing.

The pen has two main features: when you write notes the pen will actually save what you wrote and when you sync it to your computer, all your notes will appear just as they did when you wrote them. You see your handwriting appear on the computer screen in front of you as the audio plays back.  The second important feature is that while you are writing, you can record the audio…its killing two birds with one stone. It’s not a distraction but a learning tool to help you pay better attention.

I can look around my classroom of second graders at certain times and see that there are some students that don’t appear to be getting it. I can clone myself and they can have my lesson again. I have many children who need to hear things more than once. This also gives students more control because they become an active part of the learning process.

All of the notes you create with the pen will sync with your Evernote account so they can really be with you everywhere (like dropbox). Think about: grocery lists, to-do lists, notes, lectures…

We know of many examples in history that have shown us the power of the pen to exceed that of the sword. We may have thought that pens and whiteboards have enjoyed rather equal standing in analysis of educational methods. Now, however in the race of technology to aid education, we may well learn to believe that “the pen is mightier than the whiteboard!”
See these two video examples of livescribe in action here and here.
Ashley at TCEA with the popular robot Moby from Brain Pop giving a thumbs up to technology.

Moulin Rouge: The Ballet

Stepping in to the Eisemann Center in Richardson, Texas on Friday night was an exhilarating feeling. Entering the theatrical atmosphere, the audience saw the signature red windmill lit up and slowly spinning. It made me feel as excited as I was when I saw the Moulin Rouge in Paris. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet set the stage for an evening of pure entertainment…Parisian style.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet theatre’s artistic director Andre Lewis and choreographer Jorden Morris teamed up to celebrate the most famous cabaret in history, the Moulin Rouge. Moulin Rouge: the ballet is Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s highest-grossing production ever.
The seventy-two year old Canadian ballet company’s of twenty-six dancers made this fascinating time period of the Belle Époque (beautiful era)come alive. The romance and excitement of twentieth-century France could be felt both on stage and en pointe. Ballets usually tell love stories, and what better than a romance from the turn of the century.

Morris’ ballet is the romantic tale of Nathalie (Amanda Green), a laundress, and Matthew (Dmitri Dovgoselets), a painter. It is a love story of two innocent lovers in Paris. Nathalie is discovered by Zidler (Amar Dhaliwal), the owner of Moulin Rouge. Toulouse-Lautrec (Nurzhan Kulybaev) is such a character in the ballet, he was known for his bohemian lifestyle. In the ballet, he was a man who could dance a jolly, jaunty, jig… especially after consuming absinthe.
Toulouse-Lautrec is a bad influence on Matthew and soon he too is drinking absinthe and is visited by three beautiful green fairies who dance with Matthew under a green Moulin Rouge windmill.
Moulin Rouge: the ballet was well composed with beautiful music from famous period artists like Edith Piaf and Claude Debussy. The music flowed perfectly with the period costumes. I also appreciated the authentic nature of the hair being down on some of the gypsy dancers because it was informal and more realistic of that free and optimistic time of the Belle Époque.
Morris’ very witty choreography earns him laughs from the audience with a funny tailoring scene when little gay men bourrée like prissy Barbie dolls on their tiptoes to change Matthew into a man of class. The best part was when the merry men lifted Matthew up and dropped him into his pants. Talk about a quick change!
Morris’ since of humor in his chorography reminded me of the musical The Producers when the doorbell rings in the (very gay) DeBris’ apartment and plays “I Feel Pretty.” It’s that same playful and sexual reference that Morris created to make the audience roar with laughter.
My favorite scene was when Nathalie and Matthew are at a bridge by the Eiffel Tower dancing a romantic pas de deux to Debussy’s Claire de Lune. It is dreamy, lovely, heavenly…and I didn’t want it to end!
The Moulin Rouge’s famous dancers, La Goulue and Jane Avril, were both painted by Toulouse-Lautrec around 1892. Red-headed La Goulue’s audacious behavior can be seen in Morris’ ballet as Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancer, Jo-Ann Sundermeier teased the male dancers. We see her cheeky and edgy movement choreographed in the ballet. Sundermeier is fiery and feisty just as I would imagine La Goulue was in her heyday.
My ballet teacher, Glenda Norcross, often talks about her former ballet teacher, Bill Martin Viscount, who was a Royal Winnipeg Ballet company member. When Glenda is teaching class, she likes to say something she learned from him, “One last time before we repeat the combination.”  A ballet class with Viscount must have been at least three hours long. I imagine the rehearsals for Moulin Rouge: the ballet would have been Viscount-style because it is obvious that the RWB dancers are exceptionally well trained and have heard the Viscount phrase, “One last time before we repeat the combination.”
One of my few complaints Friday night was that the tango scene from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet seemed mild compared to the raw and sensual tangos I’m used to seeing. A tango should be a strong dance of expression and passion. I wanted more emotion from the dancers and more steam from the choreography. But then again…ballet is not usually sensual. The tango was beautiful en pointe but I think Morris could have asked more from his dancers. They certainly had all the components to make it happen…music, costumes, long legs, a backdrop to step back in time to the Belle Époque and an audience that would have been thrilled to see more passion and energy.
Dances like the cancan and the tango are both seductive forms of entertainment that you don’t imagine ballerinas performing. That is why I really couldn’t wait to see this ballet! I love the unexpected...to find the beauty of ballet made less classical and more mysterious is exciting and something that there are few opportunities to enjoy.
The cancan en pointe is something to see. It’s not what you imagine classical ballet to be and certainly not how we might imagine that La Goulue and Jane Avril danced at the Moulin Rouge in the 1890’s.  As much as the ballet dancers disguise themselves as showgirls, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers are ballerinas first.
The Eisemann audience gave Royal Winnipeg Ballet a standing ovation. As I was applauding I was reminded of a quote from Moulin Rouge! (the movie): “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to be loved in return.” I was thinking the greatest thing you could learn would be to appreciate the past and where you are in the present.  Merci RWB!
Watch this video for a taste of Moulin Rouge: the ballet  and this sample of steamy tangos (some from Moulin Rouge! the movie):