Changes Coming to a Blog Near You

I’ve been hinting at some blog changes recently, and it is finally getting close to time to put them into place. With my move back Stateside for the next year or two (actual length of the DC stay should be determined by early November), the travel part of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk will be a bit quieter. There will still be occasional posts (hopefully one soon about my trip today to the new Smithsonian African-American History and Culture museum and definitely one next week about my first-ever trip to New York City), but it is hard to maintain a SE Asia travel itinerary out of Washington DC. (No Air Asia hub? How can I fly to Singapore for a $23?) So, while travel posts will still come as I am able to indulge, I don’t want this blog to wither away, meaning that much of its focus for the next bit is going to focus on my other love: books and literature. I already have regular book postings, and these will continue. I plan to see out my 2016 Book Challenge (although, I must admit it is getting more challenging as the calendar progresses) and will still repost my regular book review that I submit to The Caldwell Perspective once it is published by the paper each month.

Status quo then, you are thinking? So far, nothing here is new or exciting. (Well, other than then awesome new format!)

But wait!

You see, here is the brain-struggle I’ve been having lately. I read. A lot. And I would like to include more of those book on In Search of the End of the Sidewalk, but the reality is that when I read two to three books a week, I am just not going to write one to two page reviews detailing each one. Laziness? Maybe. But more than that, I am always too excited to get on to the next book in my queue!

Solution: Card Catalog Reviews!

This idea came about after hours of brainstorming and then a few short minutes of inspiration with a fellow blogger and friend. It has taken a bit of time to pull together, as I needed some new low-tech equipment to make it happen, but soon you’ll be privy to several new book reviews each week!

Short. Sweet. To the point.

A card catalog card gives me space for about 125 words. It will be a flash review of what I’m reading and whether I say “run to the library now!” or “eh, maybe wait for the next review.”

I’m excited to get these new reviews up and running on the blog. My adorable new-to-me typewriter is settled on the table and ready to roll, my pile of library-grade cards stacked in a neat pile next to it and now it is time to forge ahead with a new chapter at In Search of the End of the Sidewalk. Look for the first Card Catalog Review to hit the site in the next few days. (They will commence just as soon as I finish with the visual updates on the blog. No need for an introduction there, as if you are reading this, you’ve seen the huge change from a vertical feed to a horizontal one. I’m loving the new “bookshelf” look, but I know it will take us all a bit of time to get used to navigating the new format. Stick with me. I promise you will soon love it as much as I do!)

Until then, thanks for coming along for the ride, and hopefully you will find a great book to read, or maybe one to avoid, but always continue searching sidewalks.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books You Recently Added To Your To-Be-Read List

While this blog is mostly a travel blog, it does have a second life as a book blog, although I must admit to having neglected that section in recent months. It is something I feel guilty about. (I do guilt pretty well.)

But, recently, the owner of the fabulous Erratic Project Junkie blog and friend from high school (also my amazing dentist) recommended that I participate in a book-driven top ten list run by The Broke and the Bookish. What a great idea! This will give me a focus for my book blogs that is more than just the reviews I was doing before and hopefully keep the literary part of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk from dying entirely. I can’t promise I will post a new top ten list every Tuesday, but at least this will resuscitate my floundering “Book Musings” tag.

This week’s theme is “Ten Books You Recently Added To Your To-Be-Read List” which is absolutely perfect as my new term at school starts a week from today and I spent this last weekend Skyping with my thesis adviser and creating a reading list for one of my courses. I placed a huge start-of-the-semester order with Amazon yesterday, so now I eagerly await the boxes to come rolling in through our embassy mail room. (It is times like this that two-week mail kills me!)

So, without further ado, here is my inaugural Top Ten Tuesday list.

(In no particular order, but can you sense a theme here?! I may or may not be working towards a thesis about travel literature, so these books are going to be my life for the next year or so.)

                    Ten Books You Recently Added To Your To-Be-Read List
1. Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel by Jeffrey Tayler

2. Methods for Teaching Travel Literature and Writing: Exploring the World and Self (Travel Writing

Across the Disciplines) by Eileen Groom

3. Forgiving the Boundaries: Home as Abroad in American Travel Writing by Terry Caesar

4. The Impossible Country: A Journey Through the Last Days of Yugoslavia by Brian Hall

5. The Long Hitch Home by Jamie Maslin

6. Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World’s Most Dangerous Country by Tim Butcher

7. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

8. Tourists with Typewriters: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Travel Writing by Patrick Holland

9. Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey

10. Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever by John Marshall

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Blogging for Bucks

A zoo without zebras…

Idaho without potatoes…

Waffles without syrup…

An English teacher without students…

All are hopelessly adrift in a sea of slight melancholy. Until, that is, they find their missing piece. Luckily, I’ve found mine! (My “piece “might disagree with the “lucky” part though.)

Last Thursday, when I got the email from our fabulous mail clerk saying, “Today there is a little mail,” I, like many others in the consulate, locked up shop and headed out back to the mailroom in hopes that a bit of that “little mail” would be addressed to me. Surprisingly, the sun was out, forcing me to dig through my purse to find my seldom used sunglasses for the short walk around the building. But, the search of shades and the short walk were worth my effort- mail in the Ross bin! I had two Netflix movies, a bill from my dermatologist (you know, the one I pay a lot of money to hack off my fingernails, reducing my weekly manicure time by 30%) and a hand addressed envelope. Exciting!

After checking to see what movies I had for the weekend and making a mental note to send off a check to the doctor, I sliced open the edge of the mystery envelope. Inside, I found a letter from my niece, who is going into the 7th grade in just a few short weeks. She’s a budding biologist, hoping to be a veterinarian in the future. To that end, she is going to Florida next summer with her science class, on a five-day visit to wildlife parks, swamps and the ocean. But, as with most great experiences, there is the little issue of the almighty dollar. The fieldtrip costs a lot. She is thirteen. Those two things don’t go together so well.

Hence, the plea for help.

I’m not about to send the child cash, just for the heck of it, but, I will gladly put her to work! Not being there to employ her as a backyard pooper scooper or knick-knack duster, and feeling the tug of the classroom as my Facebook feed blows up with my teacher friends bemoaning the end of summer, I came up with a better plan: I would pay her to write!

In the last six months, she has started two blogs, both of which never really got off the ground. This was the perfect chance to support her fundraising efforts and encourage her to spend time writing. The English teacher in me could hardly contain myself!

So, I sent her a proposal. I would pay her a set amount for each blog entry she posted, but they had to follow a few simple guidelines. (For example, they had to be well-organized, not just a single, gigantic paragraph.) Within those basic parameters, she is free to write about whatever she would like- school, dance, family, her summer adventures, etc.

I am super excited for her to start writing and posting on her blog and I am more than happy to throw down a bit of cash as an encouragement. (Now, if only I could get someone to pay me to write!) Her first post went up today at http://zebradancer.wordpress.com/ and is a fun look at the day she spent at Idaho’s first aquarium.

I may not have a classroom full of 8th graders to pester about reading and writing, but with middle school aged nieces/nephews, I’ll work my magic anyhow.

Where Hors d’oeuvres and Harelips Overlap on a Venn Diagram

As an English-teacher, I love words and thinking about where they come from and seeing how they have changed over time or been combined to create new meanings or even morphed into something entirely different from where they started.  (Okay, so I am not an English teacher at this exact moment, but there is a part of me, that no matter where this Foreign Service sidewalk takes me, will still get excited about the correct spelling of “a lot,” will silently thank each and every Facebook poster who knows the difference between “their/there/they’re,” “your/you’re” and “its/it’s,” will still enjoy an evening of editing a paper for a friend or former student and will still feel the need to obsessively recommend books to anyone who will listen.)

I loved nearly everything I got to teach in Marsing: the Edgar Allan Poe, the expository writing, and The Outsiders and A Christmas Carol. But, I especially loved the vocabulary, especially since I transitioned into a vocabulary program based upon Greek/Latin word parts, rather than individual words. I found each word part I could teach the kids opened the door to a whole slew of new words, rather than just the one that was on the list. Plus, each time we talked about these roots, I was blown away by connections the kids made to words I hadn’t thought of, but really did fit the pattern. This method of doing vocabulary was also great for my kids for whom Spanish was their first language, as the cognates were numerous. But enough pedagogy…just know, English teaching is where it is at!

You would think after studying English and literature for four years at Brigham Young University and then teaching middle school English in Marsing, Idaho for eight years, taking graduate level classes about teaching language arts and then volunteering with Peace Corps to teach English to students in China who would soon be teachers themselves, I would have a decent grasp of the English language at its most basic level. And I do. Most of the time. Or at least sometimes.

But, there are moments when I flabbergast myself with simple words and phrases that I thought I knew/understood and then suddenly a light bulb with roughly the wattage of the sun comes on and I realize how clueless I am sometimes!

On occasion, I  can chalk the problem up to the fact that I read a lot and, at times, become familiar with a word on a visual level, which isn’t a word commonly used in our daily spoken language. When this happens, in my head I think I know the pronunciation of the word and I definitely have a definition of it, but somewhere the link between what my brain thinks that word is and what the rest of the English-speaking world knows it is, don’t connect.

For example: hors d’oeuvres- Yes, I know these are tasty little snacks available at fancy parties, often miniature versions of normal foods, speared on toothpicks so that the eater is as jolly as the Green Giant when consuming these bitty bites. The problem is, for some reason that concept and the above word never collided in my head, and with my lack of French training, I just pronounced that word the way it looked-“oars-de-vores.”  (Hey, I have enough world language training to know that the “h” is silent! What more do you people want from me?!)

So maybe I am just not enough of a Fancy Nancy to have such hoity-toity lexicon.

This whole dilemma comes to a forefront because a few nights ago I nearly fell out of bed as a giant glowing-sky-orb-sized realization hit me while I was reading my book and stumbled across a reference to having a “harelip.” Of course, I know what a harelip looks like. I have been sufficiently guilt-plagued by those late-night commercials of the starving children in Africa, who if I gave less than a dollar a day, would be miraculously cured of their distended stomachs, fly-covered orifices and every other inequity heaped upon them. (Or, half that money would go to cover the overhead costs and advertising for the parent agency and the kids would still struggle to subsist on a daily basis. Not that I am cynical about after-midnight calls for humanitarian aid or anything…)

The thing is, I was reading The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna. (This is a fabulous book, by the way! It has yet to make it into my Book Musings, as I am a bit behind on those right now, but suffice it to say, if you have a chance, pick up this 1975 novel-length allegory, translated from Finnish to English. It is well worth your time.)

But back to my curious lack of basic English understanding.

So there I was, sprawled on the bed with my trusty e-reader, just getting in to this story about a journalist and photographer traveling together, when the news-reporting duo accidentally hit a baby rabbit that is in the road. The reporter, getting out to check on the poor animal, makes a comment about his tiny nose twitching above his little hare lip. His what?!? His hair lip?! Of course! Like Thor’s
thunder-bringing hammer, a connotative smack-down rained down upon my brain! Those poor kids in Africa (and elsewhere) born with a split lip- it looks like a bunny’s lip! Why had I never put two and two together?

I can only figure that this case was much like that of the hors d’oeuvres, but in reverse. I know the word “harelip” and exactly what it means, but maybe I have just never registered it when I saw it
written. In my ever-wandering brain, it was spelled “hair-lip” and I could never figure out what follicles of keratin had to do with a facial disfiguration. And now, it all becomes clear. A harelip- as in resembling the split upper lip of the cute, fuzzy, hippity-hop mammal. How had I never seen through Alice’s looking glass, at her giant white rabbit and realized such a simple association existed?

Both reading and writing are slices of my daily life pie here in China, being much better stress relievers than a trip to apartment complex’ not-so-high-tech gym and the 70% humidity that currently ensconces each pilgrimage beyond my front door, would be.  Instead of giving my lungs and legs a run for their money though, I give my rattled brain chance to unwind the various knots created by the language I’ve been speaking for thirty-ish years.

You may be crafty and slightly mysterious, but I’m on to you now, English language!!

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