Monday, November 28, 2011

Serving up a Cup-a-Joe at the MERC Coffee Shop

Why is the Midland Empire Reading Council hawking bags of ground coffee?  We are raising money for two literacy projects: 1)  Local - Young Writer's Conference  2) International - Hands for Haiti .

Membership has been down for the last few years. Our finances have been iffy. Previous Boards worked very hard to get us back into the black. Unfortunately we did not have a large cushion in our savings account, when I became President in April.

Fundraising has always been a part of our culture; t-shirts; vests, etc.  Did I mention T-shirts?  When I became MERC-President we still had a couple of boxes of T-shirts from past years.  We now have sold them.

Our treasurer came to a board meeting with a possible fundraiser - coffee.  Not just any coffee.  Coffee with our own private label "The Readers' Blend". We entered into a partnership with City Brew and bought 1/2 pallet of ground coffee - 320 bags.  Choice of Bold or Medium blend.  We had 30 days to pay for the coffee.  City Brew is a great company to work with, and is expanding their partnership venture to other non-profits and schools.

The way it works is that for a specific donation you get a bag of coffee.  It sounded like a winner.  We had the Montana State Reading Conference coming up.  I felt confident that we would sell at least 150 bags and would be in good shape.  Reality, we sold 50 bags at the conference.  Since then we have sold more.  We still have plenty left.

A portion of the money we raise will go towards Hands for Haiti our International Literacy Project.  The rest of it will go towards our Young Writer's Conference.

You guessed it, neither my board nor I, have ever planned and put on a Young Writers Conference before.  It has been at least 10 plus years since MERC sponsored a conference.  We have a tentative date of May 2012 for the conference.  Very little capital and only good intentions.

If you are interested in the "Readers Blend" coffee you can order it online by following this link  I love the aroma of coffee.  Here's to pouring a cup-a-joe from the MERC Coffee Shop.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Looking for Story-Magic

I am feeling hungry for new ideas, new adventures, new stories.  I need - I want - some story carbs.  I want to get lost in another world. Something magical, something mysterious.  I want to fill my soul with story-magic.  I want inspiration for myself and my students.

So where to start.  I want the process to be fun.  I want to find some cool ways to create a story.  Along the way I had an interesting insight into my own reading choices.  Most of my free lance writing has been nonfiction.  Yet my free choice reading is heavy on the fiction side.  An interesting conundrum. So back to the question at hand, "How do you write great fiction?"

For the last month I have been asking myself what ideas would make a fun and exciting writing prompt.  I wanted a non-threatening activity that produced quality writing.  I know, you're asking, how does she spell "clueless"?

I was in Barnes and Noble  and found the book the "The Chronicles of Harris Burdick".  (I admit I may have been living under a rock and missed it when it first came out.)   There are 14 well known authors who each wrote a story about one of the pictures from the book "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick".  What a great connection - what a fabulous mentor text!  I think my intermediate students who like stories a little on the dark side will be thrilled with this book.

So then I started googling Harris Burdick.  I found  treasure.  Lots of people have been inspired by Chris Van Allsburg's illustrations and writing.  I found video's on YouTube.  I found music.  And I found animated pictures on the publisher's website.  I did an internet search and found some great lesson ideas.

I look over the collection, and ponder how I will put these puzzle pieces together.  I am reminded of the line from the Once Upon a Time Storytelling Cards (Atlas Games) "Not all fairy tales have a happy ending".  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jan Brett on Tour - Billings, MT

Are you looking for books for the Christmas season?  Maybe stories to start a new tradition or to enhance an existing family tradition.  Check out two of Jan Brett's Christmas stories.
Her newest book is "Home for Christmas" about Rollo the troll.  "The Night Before Christmas" illustrated by Jan Brett is my favorite rendition of Samuel Clement's famous poem.  This book was first released in 1998.  This year it was re-released with a DVD featuring her fantastic artwork and music by the Boston Pops.  Jan is donating her profits to the Boston Pops as a fundraiser for them.
Jan Brett is a fabulous illustrator.  Her books for children are beautiful.  Thursday November 17, 2011 she did a presentation in Billings, Montana.  I loved her presentation as she showed us how to draw a moose.  She took the time to visit with each person who attended her book signing.  A very gracious lady.
She is also hosting a contest.  People are encouraged to take pictures of her tour bus when they see it.  If they down load a picture they are eligible to win 10 books for their school.  Please check out her facebook page and vote for your favorite picture.  The one I submitted is "Reading Takes You Places"

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Celebrating Editing & Revision

I accepted a writing assignment from the Montana Historical Society last spring.  It was to develop lesson plans using Digital Newspapers in the classroom.  Montana has digitized some of their historic newspapers for Chronicling America.  Chronicling America is sponsored jointly by the National Endowment of the Humanities and the Library of Congress.

These newspapers are a rich goldmine for all kinds of research.  Now that many historic newspapers are digitized people everywhere can access these primary resources.  This in itself  is so exciting!

My deadline for the original work was July 1st, a deadline I met.  I had revised my work so many times before I turned it in.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to work with a fabulous editor, Martha Kohl.  With her help I have revised my work a score more times.  Today I submitted my final revision!!!!!!  It now goes to the Graphic Artist and will be on their website by January 1, 2012.

This is my first really large free lance project.  And I am thrilled.  Once it is published on their website postcards will be sent out to every 4th grade teacher in the state.  This lesson is actually easily used with older students.

When it is up I will share the link.  I hope you will take a look at it and see how you could use it  in your classrooms.  I would love to hear your thoughts about the lessons.

I feel really good about this project.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Have You Ever Heard of the Payphone Project?

While checking information about post offices, I noticed the web address said "Payphone Project".  Being of a curious nature I googled it.  I found several web pages with pictures of payphones and their stories.  My favorite is the one by Mark Thomas .

After reading the web pages I was glad that I had taken a few pictures of payphones along the way.  I took them because you don't see that many phone booths anymore.  This picture was taken at Brockway, Montana.

Brockway, Montana is in McCone County.   The closest town is Circle, MT about 12 miles away.  Brockway is located near the Redwater River.

In 1910 three Brockway brothers filed adjoining homesteads near the Redwater River. By 1913 the settlement opened its first post office.   This is a current picture of the Brockway Post Office.   It is on the left side of the building.   It is one of the 85 Montana Post Offices under consideration for closing.   July 21, 2012 Brockway will host the 82nd Annual Dairy Day Rodeo.  In 2010 Brockway celebrated its 100th birthday.

The 2010 Montana census says 140 people live in Brockway.  I'm guessing that's the number of people in the surrounding area with Brockway as their address.   Coleboy22 in his song about Brockway says the population is 19.  I think that is probably optimistic about the town proper.

As I was taking pictures one of the four footed citizens stood guard duty.  He mistook us for paparazzi, and chose to escort us out of town.  He had such a satisfied look of a job well done.  I could almost hear him say, "They looked like shifty characters to me.  They didn't even put up a ruckus when I ran them out of town."

A one of a kind doggy.  Notice how the wind is blowing his fur.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Honoring Those Who Served

Throughout history, many soldiers have died never to be identified.  After World War I, a movement started in several countries to recognize these soldiers by constructing a tomb for an unknown soldier.

In 1921 these tombs were unveiled in Italy, Portugal, and the United States.  Chief Plenty Coups, a Crow Chief, (Montana) was chosen to represent all Native Americans at the dedication of "the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" at Arlington, Virginia.

During the dedication ceremony Chief Plenty Coup paid tribute to this fallen warrior by laying his coup stick and warbonnet at the tomb.  The New York Tribune Nov 7, 2011 reported that Chief Plenty Coos [Coups] would pay tribute to the Unknown Soldier on at a ceremony on November 21, 1921.

NY Tribune Nov 7, 1921

After World War I there were over 1200 soldiers that were never identified.  I remember watching the news after 9/11. They had asked family members to bring in brushes and personal items so they could use the DNA to identify the victims.

 I remember turning to Dan and saying, "You will never have to go through that for me.  The military has my DNA on record.  There will never be another American Unknown Soldier."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bloomfield Montana 59315

Bloomfield, Montana is a small agriculture community.  There are a couple of houses, a school and the Post Office.  Notice that a home is attached to the right side of this Post Office.

The last census said there were 200 people in the extended community.  The town is about 23 miles from Glendive, Montana and about 70 miles from Sydney, Montana.  And that distance is on paved roads!   The 2010-2011 enrollment for the school was 8 students.

This hay bale was sitting on the playground.  The side windows are photographs encased in plastic.  I assume they are of the current students.  The driver is also a photograph - my guess it is their teacher.  I thought this was a clever display.

One room schools are alive and well in Montana.   

Fairview Montana - Sugar Beet Capital

Fairview, Montana 59221

Sunday we left Miles City, MT to take pictures of 15 Post Offices.  We took pictures of 12 of them.  Saturday it snowed.  Not deep, not blizzarding.  But sections of the road we traveled were icy stretches that even made our  all wheel drive - Equinox shudder and slide.

My husband is a very experienced driver. (He used to be a long haul truck driver.)  There were sections that were not plowed and took longer to get across, and now the days have begun to get shorter and our trips a little longer.

Last Sunday we traveled approximately 750 miles.  Did I mention I'm not yet ready for the snow and ice.  Oh well I live in Montana and no one has put me in charge of the weather.  So on with the story.  One of the Post Office pictures we took is in Fairview, Montana.  Right now this community is experiencing an oil boom (Bakken Oil fields).  Every available room is rented and then some.

Fairview has experienced Boom and Bust cycles before and probably will again.  It is known as the sugar beet capital of both Montana and North Dakota.  There is even a monument to the sugar beet in town.

Fairview is Montana's most easternmost town; it is also North Dakota's most western town.  Yep, the town belongs to two states.  There are other communities with similar dual personalities.  But this one belongs to Montana.  Most of the town, including the Post Office sits on the Montana side. (No sales tax).  Interstate Avenue or State Street as it is locally called is the dividing line.

Near Fairview, Montana there are two rare bridges.  The Fairview Lift Bridge is located 3.5 miles east of Fairview in North Dakota and the Snowden Lift Bridge is about 10 miles north of Fairview.  The bridges construction began in 1912.  In 1997 the Fairview Lift Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fort Buford was home to the 10th Cavalry - often known by their nickname - the Buffalo Soldiers. "Many workmen on the construction job were Negroes from old Fort Buford or farther south. They suffered from the cold that first winter of 1912-1913. Stories are told of deaths of workers who fell from the span of the bridge into the open water at the site and drowned in spite of rescue efforts"  Sidney Herald Nov 27, 2009  

The lift bridges were built to accommodate the steamboats. The bridge was connected to the railroad that made the need for the steamboats obsolete.    Fairview Montana is a place of hidden historical caches.  Perhaps it would be better to describe it as a survivor of historical irony.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Was a Little Bit Stressed

Now that the conference is over I can admit that I was a little stressed.  My presentation was scheduled at 3:25 on Thursday and a different one at  2:15 on Friday.  Both were the last sessions of the day.  Well on Thursday I had gone to the luncheon and listened to James Dashner speak.  He is very good. (Check out his trilogy).  Then I went to look at the vendor's exhibits.

I was in the lady's room when I overheard someone say it was 3:25.  PANIC!!!!  I raced out of the room, picked up my computer at our booth.  Then raced to the room I was presenting in.  I got there NO ONE was there.  I was crushed, I was angry with myself, and I felt devastated.

I went and laid out my materials.  Put out the hand outs.  Then called my spouse to whine.  I told him no one had come and how I was late.  Finally he asked me what time my presentation was supposed to have started.  I told him.

"Ruth, it is 2:37 now.  What time does your clock say?"

How do you spell RELIEF?

Well my mood took an immediate upswing.  As it got closer to my session people started coming in.  All in all it went very well.  My Thursday session was "Thinking Like a Historian: Using Digital Newspapers in the Classroom".

When you look at the whole conference my part was small.  I can't imagine what my stress level would have been if I had been responsible for ALL the planning.  Ah well, all is well that ends well.

Did I mention our council bought 1/2 a pallet of coffee that we have to pay for within 30 days?  That is 320 bags of coffee with our own private label - The Readers Blend.   It is available in medium and bold (ground).  We sold 50 bags at the conference. Not as many as I thought we would.  Maybe I still feel some stress.

Anyone want to buy some coffee for holiday gifts? I know where you can get some!