Friday, August 23, 2013

Foreign Language E-books

You may not know this about me, but I grew up overseas.  I moved to Mexico City when I was 10, and then to Caracas, Venezuela when I was 12.  I graduated from high school in Caracas and then returned to the US for college.  In college I majored in Spanish and I still miss taking half of my classes in Spanish.

Within the last year I have stopped by the Kindle book page at Amazon trying to find an easy way to find books in Spanish.  And not just the latest Dan Brown thriller translated to Spanish.  I wanted literature, contemporary stuff written by Latin American authors.  The selection was small and tricky to find.  There was no easy way to search all books in Spanish.

That has changed!  Amazon now has a page for foreign language e-books!  I was ecstatic to see all of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's books, the newest Isabel Allende among others.  I went ahead and bought a title that was on sale for $1.99.

You can select your language and see all of the titles available, most of which are texts written and published in that language.

The next question is, does the Nashville Public Library have e-books available to borrow in Spanish?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back to school...and ebooks!

We have had a full 5 days of classes now, so I feel like we're back!  The year is off to a whiz-bang start leading to an overall good feeling.

So, what's new?  I have more students using e-books for their class texts.  I have two students as sophomores that I taught last year as freshmen and they knew of my love of e-books, and since they own Kindles they decided to give it a shot.

To start, they came to my room during break today and I made sure to install the Kindle for PC app.  I've said it before, but I find the Kindle for PC app the most useful for class discussions.  It's easy to navigate between pages, make highlights, and add comments.

(I've written a bunch of posts on using the Kindle reading apps.)

That makes three Kindle readers in one of my sophomore section.  It's going to be a new adventure and I'm looking forward to everything I will learn from it.  I will try to get them to guest blog here so you can hear how it's going from them.

In case you were wondering what we're working on right now, the Freshmen read Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet for summer reading and are doing some creative writing and a group essay.  The sophomores read a book of their choosing from a list in addition to all reading Sonia Nazario's Enrique's Journey.  We're discussing the essential questions that all who take a journey must grapple with.  This will lead us to a large creative non-fiction piece in the style of Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Building a chicken coop

What I did during summer vacation...

Step 1: Get a bunch of free wood from a Craig's List ad.  5 2x6s, 3 2x4s and some other scraps scavenged from the alley by your house.

I also got a pallet from a guy whose cabinets were delivered on pallets.

Step 2: Rip all the boards in half (2x6s and 2x4s become 2x3s and 2x2s).  Watch a bunch of YouTube videos and don't be scared.  Use the guiding attachment on the circular saw.  It isn't as hard as it looks.

Be safe!  Wear goggles, a mask and ear buds if you don't have ear plugs like me.  That saw is loud.

Note: Make sure you know the correct direction to put the blade on (we had it on backwards at first.)  Also, get a good blade that matches the wood you have.  The school had a hardwood blade that was very good.

Step 3: Build the base.  2 8 foot pieces and 2 4 foot pieces made from cutting an 8 foot piece in half.  See?  Simple.  Use 3.5 inch exterior screws and use two at each joint for stability.   Drill pilot holes and then use a drill to drive the screws in.  (Don't be me and use a screw driver.  Use your drill's clutch or speed settings.)

Step 4: After many a false start, get your frame together.  I recommend attaching the uprights to the base and then screw in the top frame.  It's a little tricky, but not impossible.  The center verticals are 5 feet from the front.  The front uprights are 5 ft tall and the back ones are 4 feet. This creates a slope so that rain runs off the hen house.

Step 5: Between the back and middle verticals, attach a cross beam with screws.  The two boards along the sides happened to already have 2x4 notches cut out.

Step 6: Take the old Ikea Billy bookshelf out of the basement and dismantle it ungracefully and cut it into piece to use as the floor of the henhouse.

Nail down the Billy parts with galvanized nails.  

Step 7: Build a door half the size of the front.  As you can see from the picture above, I put a beam down the middle of the front for the door to latch to.  I used corner braces on the back of the door to keep it stable.  I would recommend not screwing in the upright next to the door until you have hung the door and gotten everything in place.  Things tend to shift slightly, as I learned. I screwed the middle upright into the top beam and put a mending brace on the back of the bottom for support.  

Attach the door with two hinges and secure it with a barrel bolt.  

Calvin had come home from day care at this point and was "helping,"  hence the abandoned sippy cup.
Step 8: Take an 8x4 panel of siding for the walls of the hen house.  Lowe's sells this one for under $20 and is made to look like a "knotty barn."  The henhouse is only 3 feet deep so I shaved a foot or so off of the side pieces and nailed those on.  On the front piece I cut out a 12 inch square door.  On the back, I sawed it in half and hinged the bottom part.  We will open this and collect eggs from the nesting boxes once they are laying.  I added 2 hook and eye latches and a barrel bolt for safety.

Step 9: Build nesting boxes and roosting bar.

Nesting boxes: I used a 2x2 in front and two of the Billy bookshelf pieces for uprights.  You only need 1 nesting box for every 3 laying hens, and we won't have more than six, but I had the space and the materials, so I made three.  I saw a recommendation to put a slanted roof over the nesting boxes to keep the birds from roosting on it.  I cut a slant out of the upright pieces and used pieces of pallet (which happened to be the perfect size) as the roof panels.  The nesting boxes are about 13 x13 x13

This is how we will access the nesting boxes.  I think we made need to put some hardware cloth on the back to keep the bedding from falling out when we open the back door.

Roosting bar: The wild ancestor of chickens (Wild Red Junglefowl) used to perch up in trees for safety at night.  Domesticated chickens still like to get up high and go to sleep.  I put a 2x2 on 2 risers about 8-10 inches high in the hen house.  (This was my roosting bar 2.0.  At first I just put a 2x2 on the bedding.  Some people online said that would work fine.  Well, on the first night, the hens roosted up on top of the nesting boxes.  Because the roof wasn't smooth, they could grab onto the pieces.  Since they aren't laying yet, I just took the nesting box out and raised up the roosting bar and voila!  They roosted on the roosting bar.  When they start laying, I will put the nesting boxes back in.)  

Step 10: Put hardware cloth on the bottom half of the coop and run.  Hardware cloth is actually metal mesh.  I used 1/2 inch openings.  The hardware cloth was 36 inches wide and I used 25 feet of it to go all around the bottom. 

We attached it with galvanized poultry staples, which are really just a U shaped two pointed nail.  It takes a hammer and was sort of a pain, but much more secure than our light duty staple gun.

Step 11: Attach hex chicken wire to the top of the coop.  I went up and over with three strips, rather than around.

I attached the chicken wire with a staple gun.  More safety on the bottom to protect from snakes, raccoons and other dangerous predators.  The top is less vulnerable, so you can be slightly lazier.  Once it was all attached, I "sewed" the chicken wire strips to each other and the hardware cloth below.  I used 19 gauge wire and I stood inside David and I threaded the wire through every few holes and wound it tight on the ends.  

Step 12: Take a 8 ft by 26 in panel of corrugated PVC roofing and cut it in half.

Then attach it to the top of the hen house, on top of the chicken wire.  They recommend drilling a bigger pilot hole than your screw in the roof material.  This allows the material to expand and contract without cracking.  I made mine about 50% bigger than the screw shaft.  Make sure the roofing extends past the house so that rain doesn't drain into the hen house.  I sprayed the hose on the roof and watched the water slide off before I screwed it in.  

We may put translucent roofing panels over the rest of the coop come winter, but we'll see.  

Step 13: Build a ladder to the henhouse.  I took a piece of the pallet (uncut) and then cut another piece of the pallet into 1 inch wide strips.  I glued the strips on every 3-4 inches.  

I just leaned the ladder up to the house, I didn't attach it. 

Calvin watched me make the ladder and about an hour later, with no prompting, he started to pretend to make his own.

Step 14: Feeder, fount and bedding.  We hung the feeder as you can see.  This keeps the chickens from scratching in the food and wasting it and getting poop in it.  The fount is up on two layers of bricks to keep the poop and debris out.  We bought a big bale of pine shavings and put a 2 inch layer in the hen house.  That big thing of pine shavings is from a local company and was only $5. We are going to do the deep litter method (rather than cleaning out the litter completely, you just add more on top and the bottom composts.  More on that to come!)

And voila!  The chickens like it!

I tallied up all the expenses associated with my DIY chicken coop and it came to $142.08.  From my research, a coop with 32 square feet will cost you between $350 and $500 new.  You may be able to get a used coop for less, but the 8x3 used coop I found was $250.  This was lots of fun and totally worth the work!  I worked on this for a half day on Wednesday, all day Thursday and Friday and then a half day on Saturday--a total of 3 days.  David helped on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, so if you are working alone, it would probably take 4 days.  

Is anything left?  Well, this is a tractor coop, meaning it can be moved around the yard.  It is pretty heavy, though, so we need to attach some axles so that we can add wheels on when we want to move it.  For now, we are fine lifting it and carrying it.  We will probably only move it 4 feet to the side anyways.  I am going to paint the hen house with some left over paint from the shed and stain the wood--what I can at least.  I probably should have stained it before the hardware cloth and chicken wire went on, but oh well.  Perhaps one day this week we can let the chickens roam and I will stain the coop.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Letter of Introduction 2013-2014

Every year I write my students a letter and I read it to them on the first day of classes.  For homework that night they write me one back.  It is maybe my favorite thing of the whole year.  This year, I am posting the letter on my blog and adding photos!  Enjoy!

August 14, 2013
Dear Students,
            Are you excited?  Nervous?  Afraid?  Intimidated?  Distracted?  You may think that I have been through enough first days of school that I am cool and collected and I don’t feel any of those things.  In fact I feel them all.  Some come for a few minutes, and some sit down with me for a whole day.  Perhaps that is why I love teaching so much.  In many professions you don’t get a fresh start every year.  Even though it’s scary and I have alternating high hopes and dire fears, I am glad for this new start. 
            My ritual every year is to write my students a letter where I introduce myself.  I like that I have a chance to take inventory of my life and my heart and articulate who I am today.  I didn’t make this up—my 11th grade English teacher did it and I still have her letter.  Even though you probably won’t remember most of the things from this letter (in April someone will say, “You lived in Mexico City?  I didn’t know that!”  It’s okay, it happens every year) but I think it’s a nice way to start the year. 
            Odds are you have already sized me up quite a bit.  Maybe you asked friends or classmates who have had me before.  You looked up on my bulletin board for clues about me; you are scrutinizing my clothes to see what they say.  Those things say a lot about me, but there is a lot that is not visible.  In The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, a fox tells the Prince, “The essential is invisible to the eye.”  I have always found this to be true. 
            For example, you probably can’t tell that I grew up outside of the United States, that I moved from Ohio to Mexico City when I was 10 and then to Caracas, Venezuela when I was 12.  I graduated from an international high school and came back to the States for college.  You can probably guess I speak Spanish, but not that I also speak enough Portuguese to live in Brazil for 3 weeks on my own, which I did after I graduated from college. 
            You may notice I have a loud voice, an energetic personality and a dramatic style, but would you guess that I was a theater major and then got my masters in educational theater?  You probably can’t tell from my accent but before I lived in Nashville I lived in New York City for 6 years.  In that whole time, I never owned a car, I taught students from all over the world in public and charter schools and I dreamed of moving to Nashville. 
            By now you’ve probably put it together that I am relatively young, and hopefully you think I am a little bit cool, and maybe you have even started to wonder if I live in East Nashville.  You’d be right!  I live in a house built in 1935 close to The Pharmacy, Mas Tacos and just down the way from Jeni’s Ice Cream.  To go along with this, I of course have a mutt dog that I adopted from a shelter with a cool name.  His name is Django, after the famous jazz guitarist with only 3 fingers.  And yes, we grow our own vegetables and we have chickens.  I don’t have any ironic tattoos, and I don’t own a lot of vintage clothes.  I missed a few requirements for hipster membership, but I’m close. 
            The chickens are a recent addition to our family, and let me answer all your questions at once.  No, we don’t have a rooster, and yes they still lay eggs even without one.  We have three Black Copper Marans and three Buff Orpingtons.  The coolest part is that I built their coop by myself with free wood from Craig’s List.  I only had to pay for the hardware (hinges, latches, screws, etc.)  It took me three full days and a lot of blisters.  I had never used a circular saw before, but in YouTube I trust.  I learned as I went and still have all my fingers!  Win!

Safety First!

The basic frame

Sawhorses and saw
The finished product!

            Because my husband also teaches here at Harpeth Hall, that cat is probably out of the bag.  Mr. Griswold teaches middle school science and many of you may have had him as a teacher.  We have one son, Calvin, who is 19 months old.  Many of you may even remember me pregnant two years ago!  Calvin spends his days at a day care near 12 South.  He likes to play in his sand box, chase the chickens and build with Legos.  He is starting to talk a lot and he babbles all kinds of nonsense, too. 
            The small stuff you will probably learn as we go along.  I wrote a novel last November and I am in the process of editing it.  Everyone thinks writing the novel is the hardest part, but actually, editing is much harder.  My goal is to finish editing it, send it out to be read by some trusted friends, edit some more, and then try to get a literary agent.  The agent will then try to get it published on my behalf.  No, you can’t read my novel yet, but that day may come soon.  It isn’t written for teens, and there may be some content that your parents might object to, so let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.  I may share excerpts of it to help me teach about grammar and writing. 
            I love reading fantasy.  I’m not even going to pretend like I always read highfalutin books.  I like those too, but you will often see me reading something that involves demons, warlocks, space travel, parallel universes and epic journeys.  On a side note, despite loving to read those genres, that is not the genre of the novel I wrote.  My novel is literary fiction, which means it is realistic and I tried to write it with some beauty and style.  I’m a sucker for love plots, and in some ways, my novel is a love story (with a lot of heartbreak and strife in the middle.) 
           I ran a triathlon in May.  I chose theater over sports in high school, so this was no easy task.  I had thyroid cancer in late 2012 and my thyroid was removed last December.  After that, any excuses I had about not going to the gym just seemed really trivial.  Training for 5 months and completing a triathlon was possible because I had a brush with my own mortality.  After cancer, who cares if your legs hurt or you’re tired?  The triathlon was in the Cedars of Lebanon Park and I swam 200 meters, biked 10 miles and then ran 2 miles.  I did it in 1 hour and 13 minutes.  I didn’t win anything, but I finished and I ran the entire 2 miles without walking, even though the last mile was uphill and I was really tired.  I hope to be able to do another triathlon in the future. 

            I haven’t really talked about myself as a teacher and what I value in students.  I guess it is a lot like who I am as a person: I love taking risks and trying new things.  I like figuring things out as I go.  I like diving into challenges.  I like authenticity and realness.  I believe all good writing is related to TMIs, because only when too much is shared do we realize that we are not alone.  I am a passionate person and when I am not passionate I try to find the hidden joy in the task.  I strive for originality, but I take as much advice as I can.  I hope that you are willing to meet me with some passion and fearlessness of your own.  I have never regretted taking on a single challenge, even the ones that made me fall on my face.  It is only when we test ourselves that we see what we are truly made of. 


Meg Griswold