The Midnight Society: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" Discussion

Thursday, October 29, 2020

I don't know about where you are, but the past couple of days here in Georgia have been rainy and stormy, creating the perfect conditions for reading "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." I also get up a lot earlier than the rest of my family to work, so it's always dark out, and this week I've had to look over my shoulder for the Headless Horseman more than once! 

Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society: our discussion on Washington Irving's chilling tale, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

1. What does Washington Irving do to create fear in his audience?

2. How is Brom Bones's horse, Daredevil, like him? How is Gunpowder like Ichabod? 

3. How does Ichabod Crane's vivid imagination lead to his downfall? 

4. Do you believe that the Headless Horseman was real? Or was he a creation of Brom Bones? 

5. How would the story be different if told from Brom's point of view? Katrina's? 

Bonus question: does the description of Brom remind you of another character you know of? If you're like many of my students past, you picture him exactly like a certain gentleman in a story about a beauty and a beast. 

I have to admit that one of my favorite parts of the story is at the end when we find out that basically because Ichabod was single and didn't owe anybody any money, no one in the village really cared what happened to him. That's cold. (And hilarious.) 

I look forward to hearing what you think! 

Our Trip to the Orchard

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

For the past two falls, Joe and I have taken Bert to a family-owned apple orchard to pick apples and enjoy the season. The orchard we go to is about an hour north of here, and the drive to get there is beautiful. It was a beautiful day -- not too hot and not too cold -- and we enjoyed our time picking apples, looking at pumpkins, and buying some donuts, cider, and cherry apple jam, too! 

Afterwards, Joe took me to a nearby winery that is special to us. Joe took me to this same winery during my first trip to Georgia in November 2016 after he and I had just started dating. We took a photo that year, then last year we took another with baby Bert standing in the same spot, and this year we took another. The photos are a beautiful reminder of how unexpected life can be. 

We enjoy our annual trip to the orchard for some easy and festive family fun. We hope to make it a family tradition. 

We found an adorable Bert-sized apple for him to snack on!

Can you believe how much this little guy has changed in a year?

Top: this year, Bottom Left: when Joe and I were dating in 2016, Bottom Right: fall 2018 with baby Bert.

The Midnight Society: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" Introduction

Monday, October 26, 2020

Welcome to the fifth -- and final! (can you believe it?) -- week of The Midnight Society. This week, for our grand finale, we will be reading and discussing Washington Irving's classic short story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." 

I have loved Washington Irving's stories since I first read them in middle school. "Rip van Winkle" caused a lifetime obsession with visiting the Catskill Mountains (yet to do!), and one day I also hope to visit Tarrytown, New York, the real-life setting of the fictional Sleepy Hollow. 

Here's what you need to join in the fun this week:

- At this link, you'll find a great background video on Washington Irving, America's first author. 

- Here is the text of the story. 

- If you prefer a read aloud, try this one. 

If you have Disney+, when you're finished check out the Disney animated version of the story (called "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad"). It's a classic!

I hope you love this story, and I look forward to seeing you back here on Thursday for discussion! And don't forget your campfire

Fascinating Finds

Friday, October 23, 2020

It's been a pretty quiet week around here, and we don't have much going on this weekend either. I hope that, wherever you are, you have lovely weather and a relaxing weekend!

Here are some great reads of the week:

- Is it stress, or is it burnout? There's a difference. 

- Here's a list of 31 cheap and fun things to do this Halloween season! 

- Speaking of Halloween, here are some printable coloring pages! 

- Let's be real: the last thing any of us needs is another tote bag, but these library-themed totes are adorable! 

- NASA is announcing exciting news about the moon on Monday! 

- Joe told me this isn't the first time this has happened recently. So weird. 

- Some practical ideas to get your home ready for the colder months. 

- I have been trying make this apple crisp all week, but I'm resolving to get it done this weekend! 

And some recent posts you may have missed:

- Spooky stories you can read and then watch a movie or television show based on the story. 

- Cozy mysteries are a great choice if you want a suspenseful read without the scare. 

- Here are my favorite inexpensive products. 

Have a great weekend! And I'll see you back here on Monday for our last week (can you believe it?!) of The Midnight Society. 

The Midnight Society: "The Most Dangerous Game" Discussion

Thursday, October 22, 2020

"He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided."

Did a satisfied, slightly creeped-out smile spread over your face as you read this last line? I've read this story numerous times, but I still love the refined yet inhuman General Zaroff and his underestimation of his quarry, Sanger Rainsford.

Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society: this week's discussion on Richard Connell's tale of terror, "The Most Dangerous Game." 

1. General Zaroff says, "There is no greater bore than perfection." Explain what he means. Is there an example from your life that proves this to be true?

2. What is the double meaning in the use of the word "game" in the title?

3. What is borscht? What's symbolically significant about this being Zaroff’s meal when we first meet him?

4. What literary element is used when Zaroff says, "We try to be civilized here"? 

5. Do you agree with Zaroff that "instinct is no match for reason"?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these questions or just if you enjoyed the story and what you liked or disliked about it!

On Monday we'll begin our fifth and final story, the classic "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving. 

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Books about Books

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

There are few things better this chilly time of year than curling up in a comfy chair with a blanket and a hot cup of coffee or tea or a nice glass of wine. If you're a book lover like I am, then one thing you probably love a little extra is reading books about books! 

This week's What I'm Reading Wednesday features a list of novels that feature books, bookshops, or authors. I hope you find one or two to enjoy! Every novel on this list will show that stories inspire us, connect us, and make us human. They're each a love letter to books. 

For a more complete list, visit my shop, Happily Ever Krafter

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Nina Hill is an introverted, anxious planner who works in a bookstore. Her life is suddenly upended when the father she never knew dies, leaving her a brand new, large family. 

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A.J. Fikry lives alone and owns a bookstore. One day an unexpected package arrives at his bookstore, and his life is completed changed. 

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

Upon her father's death, Samantha Whipple presumably inherits a treasure trove of old documents, paintings, and diaries -- and drafts of works by the Bronte sisters that are coveted by scholars. Samantha works to unravel a literary mystery that is closely tied to her own family history. 

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers and Their Muses by Terri-Lynne DeFino

This particular retirement home is only for literary legends who are living out the golden years of their lives. As you might suspect from a home comprised solely of writers, new stories are written every day. 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald 

Sara travels from Sweden to Broken Wheel, Iowa, to meet her book-lover pen pal Amy. When Sara arrives, she finds the townspeople just leaving Amy's funeral. When Sara decides to stay in the run-down town, the citizens of Broken Wheel adopt her as one of her own, and Sara opens a quirky little bookstore. 

The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay

Madeline finds out she inherits a bookshop and a house in a small town from her recently deceased -- and estranged -- aunt. At the same time, Madeline's career implodes, so she decides to move into her aunt's old house and prepare the bookshop for sale. However, the shop's current employees, Janet and Claire, have other ideas. 

One Leaf

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Last week I took Bert on a walk through the neighborhood. We needed to get some fresh air, get out of his bedroom, and reset after yet another stressful hour of occupational therapy. We were headed down our neighborhood's main street when I spotted this beautiful maple tree in our neighbor's yard that has these stunning red leaves, many of which have fallen to the ground. Bert loves leaves. He loves to sit in the grass and play with leaves. I picked up one of the vibrant red ones, and I held it out to him to have. I wish you could have seen the smile on his face. He was so happy to get that leaf. He clutched that thing in his chubby little hand for the next 45 minutes. We passed a couple little children on our walk, too, and I'd always stop and say hello, and then I'd bend down to Bert and say, "Bert, can you wave hello?" The thing is, Bert does have the ability to wave, but often he won't, but what he will do is give every single person the biggest smile because Bert doesn't know a stranger and just loves people. 

Once Joe and I watched another child grab a toy out of Bert's hand as he was sitting and playing. Bert just looked at her, picked up another toy, and kept playing. I share all this because this might be my favorite thing about Bert. He is easily contented. That's not to say he doesn't cry or have a bad attitude -- or want to eat the food you have -- sometimes. But he's spent his short lifetime hearing about all the things he's behind in, all the "important" skills like sitting and standing and walking. But how happy he gets when you hand him a simple leaf or you just smile at him, it's a beautiful thing. And I think I would like to try to be that way. 

The Midnight Society: "The Most Dangerous Game" Introduction

Monday, October 19, 2020

Welcome to week 4 of The Midnight Society! This week we'll be reading "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell. 

The moment I closed the book on the last page of "The Most Dangerous Game" in high school, I knew I had just discovered my new favorite short story. It's been many (MANY) years now since I was in high school, but my favorite short story hasn't changed. 

Here's what you need to join in the fun this week:

- Here is a link to the text of the story. 

- If you prefer a read aloud, try this one. 

- You can watch a film adaptation of the story here

I hope you will love this heart-pounding tale as much I do! As always, don't forget your crackling campfire to read by. 

I look forward to seeing you back here on Thursday for discussion! Until then, watch your back ... 

Fascinating Finds

Friday, October 16, 2020

We started this week with temperatures in the low 80s, and we will finish it with temperatures in the 60s. After several false starts, it seems that fall may really be here (maybe? yes?), and I, for one, am ready. We don't have much going on this weekend, but sometimes that's just fine. It shouldn't be rainy, so perhaps we'll get to have a little campfire in the backyard. I hope that you also have a great weekend! 

Here are some cool things I've found this week:

- Have you felt more tired, worn out, or just at the end of your rope since the pandemic started? Chances are, if you're a person, you have. Here's an article that explains why you might be feeling awful. 

"Our culture is very solution-oriented, which is a good way of thinking for many things. ... It's partly responsible for getting a man on the moon and a rover on Mars and all the things we've done in this country that are wonderful. But it's a very destructive way of thinking when you're faced with a problem that has no solution, at least for a while." 

- We went to an orchard about an hour away from home last weekend and picked a bunch of apples. A bunch is not really a specific term, so let me tell you that what we got specifically was a half bushel. That is a LOT of apples. We gave some away and have been eating them daily, and we still have two huge bowls overflowing. I have been looking up ways to turn our apples into delicious treats, and I plan to make a variation of these! (Except I will use store-bought dough. Let's be real.) Hopefully they will turn out pretty well. I'm looking forward to pairing them with this delicious (and easy!) fall mimosa that we tried last weekend. (YUM!) 

- My friend Maggie sent me a link to these boots, and I just love them! Wouldn't they be perfect for fall? 

- If you are looking for a dark-type show for October and are into true crime, may I suggest Murder Maps on Netflix? I forget where I heard about this, but Joe and I watched and loved it! 

- Do you paint your pumpkins, or do you carve them? I've always been a carver myself, but here are some good tips to paint pumpkins like a pro!

- It's been 54 years, but this rocket is finally coming home. 

- My hometown library, the Cabell County Public Library in Huntington, West Virginia, is hosting a story walk, and I LOVE it. Wish I could be there!  

Some posts you may have missed:

- A few of our favorite fall recipes are in this post. 

- You are never ready to have a baby. 

Have a wonderful weekend! 

The Midnight Society: "The Monkey's Paw" Discussion

Thursday, October 15, 2020

I hope you enjoyed this week's reading of "The Monkey's Paw." And I hope you still have a few chills running down your spine from reading that last line, "The streetlight opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road." {shudder}

Certainly the theme of "be careful what you wish for" is a universal one, and perhaps you have some examples from your own life that prove this to be true. I'm sure we can all also think of a few other stories we've read or seen that show what a disaster wishing can sometimes be. 

Here are some discussion questions I'd love for you to consider! And, of course, if you'd just like to let me know how you liked the story, how it made you feel, and what your favorite parts were, I'd love to hear that also! 

Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society: our discussion on W. W. Jacobs's chiller "The Monkey's Paw." 

1. What are a couple of hints early in the story that the monkey's paw might be dangerous?

2. When the "well dressed" stranger wearing a "silk hat of shiny newness" appears at their home, what foreshadowing clues are provided that hint that the message that he brings will not be a positive one?

3. Why might Mr. White say that to bring back their son would be “foolish and wicked”?

4. What did Mr. White wish for for his third and final wish?

5. Do you think Mr. White did the right thing with his final wish?

I look forward to hearing what you think! I will see you back on Monday for our fourth story, and my favorite short story of all time, "The Most Dangerous Game." 

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Happy and Uplifting

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

For this week's What I'm Reading Wednesday, I thought I'd do a complete 180 degree turn from what I've been talking about. If you've been reading this blog lately, you know we've been reading spooky short stories for The Midnight Society, and the past couple of weeks of What I'm Reading Wednesday have covered tales of suspense and spooky stories you can pair with television shows or movies. But what if you are the kind of person who just doesn't like stories of horror, suspense, or thrill? There are probably not a lot of good lists for you this time of year! So if that is you, here is a list of books that I've read recently that are happy and uplifting (or at the very least, not scary!) that will do the trick!

The Key to Happily Ever After by Tif Marcelo  (Bookshop ❘ Amazon)

Three sisters inherit their parents' wedding planning business after their mother and father decide to retire. Marisol, the eldest, is exacting and severe; Jane, the middle child, plays the role of peacekeeper; and Pearl, the youngest, is headstrong and frequently butts heads with Marisol. The three sisters have to navigate their new relationship as equal part co-owners of the family business. 

Hurricane Season by Lauren K. Denton  (Bookshop ❘ Amazon)

Another book about sister relationships, Hurricane Season tells the story of Betsy and her younger sister Jenna. The two sisters are very different and haven't been close in years. This all changes when Jenna -- the wilder of the pair -- asks Betsy to watch her two young daughters for two weeks. Those two weeks turn into six as Betsy and Jenna learn more about themselves and each other. 

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty  (Bookshop ❘ Amazon)

Imagine not remembering the births of your children or that your mother is married. It's hard to believe, but that's exactly what happens to Alice. She wakes up after hitting her head thinking she is 29, happily married, and expecting her first child. However, she finds out she is actually 39, has three children, and is going through a divorce. The premise of this story may sound sad, but it's actually an uplifting tale of second chances. 

I hope these books will take you to a happy place where you can tune out all the ghosts, curses, and murders surrounding you this season! 

For Both of Us

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

I wish it weren't so, and I really hate to admit it, but sometimes I get really frustrated at Bert and snap at him. You read that right. I get frustrated with a 14-month-old who can't speak a word of English, and I snap at him. It makes me feel really terrible, and I always feel so guilty. 

The only thing that comforts me is knowing that he's so young he won't remember it, and that gives me hope that I have a little more time to develop better coping strategies so I won't be a snapping, yelling mom. 

I was thinking about that the other day, about how Bert won't remember me snapping at him because he's too young. And while, as I said, that does bring me a little comfort, the fact is that the opposite is also true: he won't remember the good times either. 

Think about it: when is your earliest memory? Mine is from the time I was three or four years old, but I lived a small lifetime before that, and I mostly lived it with my mom. She has told me things about our first few years together, but the truth is, I remember none of it. Not one single thing. And Bert won't either. I won't lie -- thinking about that, writing about it right now, makes me cry. Bert won't remember the hours and hours we spent reading, the trips to the library, spitting plastic shapes out of my mouth to make him laugh, the songs we sang, or the dancing we did. He won't remember a single minute of it. I can only pray that his body will retain the feelings of it all, the love and the peace and the comfort behind it. But the specifics I know he won't remember. 

So I have to remember for both of us. 

This part of my life, this huge part of my life, having my first child, becoming a mother, the time I spent that was split 50/50 with another person all day every day -- it will be remembered by only one of us. 

So often -- SO OFTEN -- I just let the time pass, not really giving it much thought, sometimes even wishing the day would speed up. But time has already moved so quickly, and there is so much I've already forgotten. When I think back to this time last year and what Bert and my days looked like, I am overcome with how quickly that all went away, although at the time it felt like it went on forever. But I realize now my responsibility is even greater than I thought. Because although this time is completely shared between Bert and me, it is only my memory that will hold the pieces. All of the readings of Robert the Rose Horse, rolling the basketball back and forth, building towers for him to knock over, the songs that his red plastic car sings ... they are already floating away from Bert's memory to a place he won't be able to find them again because these first few years are such a small part of his life. So I have to grab all the pieces I can and store them away in a place where I can bring them out in the future and remind him about our life together. 

I have to remember for both of us. 

The Midnight Society: "The Monkey's Paw" Introduction

Monday, October 12, 2020

Hi everyone! Welcome to week 3 of The Midnight Society. This week we will be reading W. W. Jacobs's chilling classic "The Monkey's Paw." 

Ironically, although W. W. Jacobs wrote mostly comedy stories, he is best remembered for "The Monkey's Paw." This story takes place in London in the early 1900s and tells the story of the White family, a family that happens upon a talisman that is promised to grant them any three wishes of their choosing. The story of wishes not ending up quite as the wisher expected is a universal one, and W. W. Jacobs masterfully re-imagines that theme in this story. 

To join the fun this week, here's what you'll need:

- Text of the story can be found here

- If you prefer a read aloud, try this version. 

- To watch a retelling of the story done by the master Alfred Hitchcock on his show The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, click here

As you read this week, think about what other stories, movies, and television shows you've seen that deal with this same theme. And don't forget your crackling 
campfire to read by! 

I'll see you on Thursday for "The Monkey's Paw" discussion. Until then, be careful what you wish for ... 

Fascinating Finds

Friday, October 9, 2020

The weather around here has been bouncing from the 60s to the 80s, and, as much as I am a summer girl, I am reminded every October just how much I also love fall. Putting away my shorts and t-shirts and pulling out my leggings and sweaters, lighting my pumpkin spice candles, and opening the windows just makes me feel great. Needless to say, I'm ready for the 80s to leave permanently and excited for the possibility of the 50s and 60s coming to stay. Tomorrow we planned to go apple picking, but we've been watching the weather to see what havoc Delta will cause in terms of rain. I think we might try and go today instead! I hope that you will have a relaxing and fun weekend!

Here are some interesting stories this week:

- It's no secret that my favorite Jane Austen novel is Persuasion. In fact, I love it so much that both my engagement and wedding pictures featured the book. Unfortunately, unlike other Austen novels, there's never been a really good film adaptation of it. (This one I like fine, but not only is it seriously abridged, but that kiss at the end could quite possibly be THE. WORST. KISS. in the history of film.) I recently learned that a new film adaptation of Persuasion is coming, and I am hoping and praying it will be great! 

- Has your reading life changed since the pandemic began? This article shares insights from a few real readers on what their reading lives have looked like since March. 

- Any time I watch a movie starring Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, or Rosalind Russell; or watch anything set in the 1940s or 1950s; or watch the film The Women, I want to throw everything out of my closet and start again. Here is a list of 40 of the most iconic fashion films of all time. 

- I haven't seen the show, but Sherlock Holmes is making headlines again. 

- It's getting darker earlier, the temperatures are dropping, and it's the perfect time to enjoy a fall-themed cocktail (or two!). 

- "Most people don’t realize that their beliefs about winter are subjective." Some good advice and food for thought if you, like I, dread winter and those cold, long winter months. (Especially January through March.)

- A recent survey found that dancing makes people feel happier and less stressed. I could have told you that!

- We took a trip from Georgia to West Virginia riiiiiight before the leaves started changing. Sigh. If you also love looking at fall colors, here's a link to a map that shows you where to find the best fall colors in your area. 

Here are some posts you may have missed:

- Here is a list of suspenseful and spooky stories you can read, paired with a television show or movie to watch afterwards. 

- Are you doing anything special to embrace the holiday season this year? 

- Your value as a person comes from who you are not what you do. 

I hope your weekend is great! I'll see you back here on Monday for our next Midnight Society story, "The Monkey's Paw." 

The Midnight Society: "The Lottery" Discussion

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Most horror stories do not begin with the weather being described as "clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day." The sentence "It was a dark and stormy night" might be a cliche, but it is so for a reason. Picturing the ink-black darkness of night time, coupled with the cold and disconcerting rain, is a surefire way to get a reader into the spooky mood. (In fact, two of the Midnight Society stories we'll read in the next couple of weeks take place, at least partially, in darkness and/or rain.) But perhaps there is something even more uncomfortable and unsettling knowing that you're about to read a tale of suspense and being asked to transport yourself to a "clear and sunny" day. 

I remember first reading this story and getting to that last handful of words " ... then they were upon her" and just being in disbelief. My mouth was likely hanging open at the brutality of it all, my discomfort increased by the fact that the story just ... ended. With one eighth grade class with whom I read this story, I kept a black bag in the front and center of the room the entire week we studied "The Lottery." Of course, on the first day the students had no idea what it was about, but by the end of the story they were all looking at that black bag with dread. Inside the bag, I, of course, had placed a class's worth of folded up blank white papers -- a class's worth minus one. On one piece, I had placed a clear, black dot in the center. When we finished reading, I shook up the bag, and, just like in the story, in alphabetical order I had the students select a piece of paper from the bag. Once every student had one, I had them open up their slips. Even though the students knew it wasn't real, even though they knew nothing bad could happen to them, there was complete silence in the room as each student drew his or her slip of paper. Then a cold sense of dread filled the room as they opened them up. 

I hope that you, too, felt that same sense of foreboding and discomfort as you read and that you enjoyed this week's tale "The Lottery." Here are some discussion questions I'd love for you to consider! And, of course, if you'd just like to let me know how you liked the story, how it made you feel, and what your favorite parts were, I'd love to hear that also! 

Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society: our discussion on Shirley Jackson's tale of horror, "The Lottery."

1. Were you surprised by the ending of the story? If not, at what point did you know what was going to happen? How does the author foreshadow the ending?

2. Is the lottery a collective act of murder? Is it morally justified? Is "tradition" sufficient justification for their actions?

3. What is the most uncomfortable or unsettling part of the story for you? (I will jump in and share that, without a doubt, the most horrible line for me is, "And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles.") 

4. Does this story remind you of anything going on the world today? A book you’ve read before? A movie you’ve seen?

5.  What is the significance of Mrs. Hutchinson's final scream, "It isn't fair, it isn't right"? What aspect of the lottery is she challenging, and what aspect goes unquestioned? (This is my most favorite question!)

I look forward to hearing what you think! And on Monday we'll begin next week's story, "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs.  

Some questions adapted from this source. 

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Read then Watch (Spooky Edition!)

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

I'm not a brave person by nature. I don't love watching really scary movies or shows or reading especially scary books. I do make an exception, however, for suspenseful tales, shows, and movies. (And who doesn't love a good murder?) So, in keeping with the Halloween and fall seasons, I thought that today I'd recommend a series of suspenseful stories (novels, short stories, teleplays, radio plays, and poems) you can read and then enjoy a movie or television show that is based on (or in some cases, related to) the written work. I hope this helps you further get into this spooky time of year! 

Read: Psycho, a novel by Robert Bloch 

Then Watch: Psycho, a film by Alfred Hitchcock

The novel is written in first person, from Norman Bates's point of view. While the characters in the book aren't quite as sympathetic as those in the film, both versions of this chilling story are great. 

Read: "The Hitch-Hiker," a radio play by Lucille Fletcher 

Then Watch: "The Hitch-Hiker," a teleplay by Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone*)

I used to read this play every fall with my sixth grade students, and then we would watch the corresponding episode of The Twilight Zone. The children and I enjoyed both. A major story change from the radio play to the television episode is the main character is switched from a man to a woman. Talking about why Rod Serling might have made that choice always made for great discussion. 

Read: "The Raven," a poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Then Watch: "The Raven" performed by Vincent Price 

Admittedly, this is not a movie or television show, but watching and listening to Vincent Price masterfully perform "The Raven" is a must. 

Read: The Circle, a novel by Dave Eggers

Then Watch: "Nosedive," story by Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror*

While the other movie and television show suggestions on this list so far are direct adaptations of the written works I'm recommending, this one is not. I know that a movie is being made based on the book, but throughout reading this novel, I couldn't stop thinking about its similarities to Black Mirror. This particular episode would be a great one to watch after reading The Circle

Read: "The Lottery," a short story by Shirley Jackson

Then Watch: "The Lottery," a short film by the Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation

If you're following The Midnight Society this fall then you know "The Lottery" is our story of the week this week. The short film version of Shirley Jackson's creepy tale is worth a watch after you read. 

Read: "Sorry, Right Number," a teleplay by Stephen King

Then Watch: "Sorry, Right Number," an episode of Tales from the Dark Side 

Believe it or not, this one was in the eighth grade literature book I used to teach from. I always used it as the first story for The Midnight Society every year since it is super eerie as well as a play that the kids could perform. Since it is a teleplay, it also had an accompanying episode we could watch and discuss. 

Read: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, a novel by Stuart Turton

Then Watch: "White Bear," a teleplay by Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror*)

Much like The Circle, when I read The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (one of the best books I've read this year), I could not stop thinking about this specific episode of Black Mirror

Read: "The Birds," a short story by Daphne du Maurier

Then Watch: The Birds, a film by Alfred Hitchcock

Although there are a number of differences between du Maurier's short story and Hitchcock's film, the main premise remains the same, and it is both an excellent story as well as a great movie. 

Read: "The Cremation of Sam McGee," a poem by Robert Service

Then Watch: "The Cremation of Sam McGee," a short film by down Low films 

If you haven't read this poem, do something nice for yourself and check it out. I used to teach it to 7th grade students, and we all had a good time with it. If you want a great read-aloud, check out Johnny Cash reading the poem here. Admittedly, he leaves out a few lines and mixes up a couple parts, but his voice is perfectly paired with this poem. 

Let me know if you enjoy some of the pairings on this list! I hope to see you back tomorrow for our Midnight Society discussion on "The Lottery." 

*Episodes of The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror can be viewed on Netflix. 

Embracing the Season

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

One characteristic I have is that I really like to find reasons to make ordinary life a little more special. College football kickoff Saturday? I'm there with the pepperoni rolls, homemade spicy queso, and Lit'l Smokies. Memorial Day Weekend? I'll make sure we have hot dogs, potato salad, and beer for a cookout, even if it's just Joe and me. National Donut Day? Let's get a box or three! 

I'm not sure where this all comes from. I didn't really grow up like that, but I think that it has to do with the fact that regular days can just become so ... regular, and it's so easy to do the wake up/work/chores/make dinner routine day in and day out with little variation if we don't try. And maybe even more than that, I enjoy it a lot. It brings me a lot of happiness and joy to have a little something to celebrate, a little something to look forward to, a little something that draws us to the special things in life. 

These pumpkin spice muffins are a Weight Watchers recipe. Two ingredients!

Prior to having my own husband and son, the primary beneficiaries of my need to celebrate were my students. Now I'm not some Pinterest person (ask anyone), so I haven't mastered the handmade crafts or elaborate meals or treats. But what I would do is make sure the Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby Christmas CDs were playing when the kids would come to homeroom or Language Arts class between Thanksgiving and Christmas or print out a March Madness bracket for every kid in homeroom to fill out and hang them on the wall so we could have a little friendly basketball competition in the spring. I used to love doing special themed literature units for fall and Christmas (The Midnight Society being my favorite, but I also did one for sixth graders on urban legends that I thought was pretty cool too!) and setting the stage for those units with candlelight and a campfire video from YouTube. If I look at those things I see just how small they really are and what little time they take -- a CD turned on, a PDF downloaded and printed from the internet -- but they honestly made my life much more enjoyable, and I'd like to think the kids' days at school were livened up a little as well. Now that I don't have middle school students I see every day, things are a little different. Last year's Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas were especially strange as I had a very small baby at home who not only would not appreciate a good episode of The Twilight Zone but who couldn't even, you know, speak or sit up, so asking his thoughts on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" or "The Gift of the Magi" was particularly boring. 

I have found a kindred spirit in my friend Maggie. Maggie has a sweet 4-year-old boy as well as a baby girl who is about five months younger than Bert. Last year, in that stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Maggie and I were both moms at home with little ones (Maggie was pregnant at the time also), and we would text often to get each other through those loooooooooooooong afternoon hours where it was dark outside, you'd run out of ideas to entertain your kid, and your husband wasn't due home for hours. (HOURS!) Maggie said she thought it would be a good idea to make a ritual for the late afternoon: maybe light a special candle or make a special coffee drink. I immediately realized she was speaking my language, and literally the next day I purchased a particular Christmas candle and Chai latte pods for my Keurig. I'd light that candle and drink the Chai lattes in the afternoons, and it was something I looked forward to daily. I also played the heck out of Nat and Bing for Bert, and we found several great Christmas movies -- like Frosty the Snowman, It's a Wonderful Life, and, my personal favorite, The Bishop's Wife -- on YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. I'd just run those things on a loop all day long, no joke. Joe would come home to the candle, the Christmas Classics playlist on Pandora, and It's a Wonderful Life on TV, being like "Guess we're watching that again!" Yeah, dude, don't touch that remote! 

Had to break out the Edgar Allan Poe coffee mug!

Since I'm not newly postpartum, I have a better ability this year to really embrace the holiday season. Maggie and I are both back in action, in fact; she told me recently that she is really leaning in to the holidays this year, already baking pumpkin pies and doing tons of crafts with her son. I told her I was right with her: this year I am baking all the treats, listening to all the Halloween music, and watching all the spooky shows and movies. In my last grocery run, I bought the pumpkin cookies, the pumpkin spice bread, the pumpkin spice English muffins, the pumpkin spice cinnamon rolls, and the ghost marshmallows. If you drop by my house (please do, I'd love to see you!) anytime this month, please be prepared to be hit in the face so to speak with three pumpkin-scented candles, The Twilight Zone on TV, and some cookies in the oven. Trust me when tell you NONE of this is fancy, it's just special. (I'm being totally serious -- those cookies in the oven are the pre-made Pillsbury ones that have pumpkins on them that you literally just lay on the cookie sheet and bake for 12 minutes. No one is mixing sugar and eggs over here.) 

We got out our fall decorations on Friday. We were supposed to get them out Thursday, but we (Joe) were dealing with the tree that had fallen in our yard. After dinner Thursday, Joe offered to get the decorations out, and I was APPALLED! I was like -- Joe, you don't just get the decorations out. You GET THE DECORATIONS OUT. You don't just put them out willy nilly as fast as you can at 8:04 p.m. You open the bins, you take your time, you enjoy putting your decorations out. If you know what I mean, you know what I mean. 

A perfect example of embracing this holiday season is my sister-in-law Alex. She is married to my brother (also named Alex), and they are expecting a baby the week before Thanksgiving. They also live in Florida, so they won't be traveling to see family in West Virginia for any holidays this year. The Alexes and Joe, Bert, and I were caravanning (not a word) to West Virginia a couple weeks ago for Alex's baby shower, and we stopped at Chick-Fil-A to eat. We were eating in our cars with the windows rolled down between us, and my sister-in-law Alex mentioned they were listening to Christmas music. My eyes got wide and my mouth dropped open in a huge smile, and I was just looking back and forth between the Alexes and Joe. Alex said that since this trip was essentially their holiday trip this year, she wanted to make it festive and enjoy the music she'd normally listen to if she were making her Thanksgiving or Christmas trips home. YES. (For the record, Joe is not a huge fan of Christmas music. I know, right? He says there are only like 20 good Christmas songs -- I'm like dude, there are 20 good songs sung by Nat King Cole ALONE -- and he only wants to hear them the week of Christmas. What a Scrooge! That is clearly the opposite of me, so we decided to compromise by listening to every single Christmas song ever sung for at least the month before Christmas. :) To be fair about Joe, once, when we were first dating, I remarked how pretty everyone's Christmas lights were, and Joe replied -- and I quote -- "Christmas lights really drive up the power bill." That same Joe just had the idea to buy a bunch of orange lights and string them up outside for Halloween, so there's hope for him yet!) Alex also told me she's had her decorations out since August, and I'm like LEAN IN, Alex. For real. 

I know people have their personal beliefs on how much is too much and how soon is too soon, and it's not the same for everyone. But I think one thing we can all agree on is if any year has ever needed any kind of magic, it's 2020. This year has sucked. We've all spent much too much time worrying about the health of our grandparents, small children, relatives with preexisting condition, and unborn babies; too much time not seeing each other; and too much time stuck at home. If ever there was a reason to find a reason to make something special, it's this year. 

So guys, seriously, light all the candles. Watch all the episodes of The Twilight Zone. (Then watch them again.) Bake all the treats. There's no such thing as "too much." 

May your days be merry and bright. 

The Midnight Society: The Lottery Introduction

Monday, October 5, 2020

Welcome to week 2 of The Midnight Society! This week we'll be reading the creepy, unsettling tale "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. 

If you've never read this story before, do yourself a favor and don't look up anything about it before you read; just dive right in! If you have read it before, I hope you love revisiting it and that it scares you as much as it did the first time you read it. It's interesting to note that this story was first published in The New Yorker, and it still holds the record of generating the most mail in the history of the magazine. It's reported that hundreds of readers cancelled their subscriptions following the publication of "The Lottery," and The New Yorker editors received letters that called the story "outrageous," "gruesome," and "utterly pointless." If that's not enough to draw you in, I don't know what is! 

What you need to join in the fun this week:

- Here is where you can find the text of the story. 

- If you prefer a read aloud, you can hear it here

- When you are finished reading, check out this short film adaptation of the story. 

Something I'd like you to think about as you read: do you see any themes or ideas from this story in any more modern works you've read? 

As always, whether you use candlelight, campfire (real or pretend), or darkness to read, set the stage for yourself! I look forward to seeing you back here on Thursday for our discussion of this creepy story. 

I've been teaching "The Lottery" for a few years, so I can't quite remember all the sources I've used to learn about Shirley Jackson and this story, but two I know for sure are here and here

Fascinating Finds

Friday, October 2, 2020

Since we were gone in West Virginia all last week, this week has been full of chores, errands, and generally playing the type of catch up you have to do when you've been out of town. This weekend we are hoping to relax, but that is all contingent upon whether or not we can finish clearing out half of the giant tree that fell down in our front yard while we were gone! Yes, we returned to half of one of our giant Bradford Pear trees completely fallen down in our front yard, so we (mostly Joe) have spent the past couple of days lopping, chainsawing, and dragging the limbs to the back yard. My ever-positive husband's response to all this was, "Now we don't have to pay for firewood for the winter!" Indeed. 

Here are some interesting stories I've found this week:

- If you're like us, then you want to get into the spirit of Halloween and fall by enjoying some movies and shows perfect for the season. If you have small children around, the Halloween and Friday the 13th movies may be a bit much, so here is a list of 21 not-so-scary movies you can stream for kids on Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+. 

- Have you watched the new Netflix show Ratched? Since it's been number 1 on Netflix for a couple of days, chances are you have. Joe and I checked out the first couple of episodes since we usually like to watch a spooky or weird series during the month of October. (In the past we've watched things like American Horror Story and Twin Peaks.) Now, I'm neither recommending nor not recommending this series, as whether or not you like is completely contingent upon whether you like this type of show. (If you like American Horror Story you'll like this, if not, you'll hate it.) But I'm bring it up because if you have watched it and you felt some of the music was eerily familiar, it's because you have likely heard it before.  

- SpaceX's next astronaut launch is tentatively scheduled for Halloween! We love this sort of thing, so we are pumped!

- Speaking of space, there are several things to look forward to in the night sky this month! Bert and I got Joe a telescope for his last birthday, and we love taking it out on the back patio when we can and looking at cool things in the sky. 

- A great guide to the thriller vs. horror genres. 

- I don't really know much about Helen Reddy or her work, but I do know that she sang not one but two of the songs I'd put on the soundtrack of my childhood. 

- Here is a list of Penguin Random House's most anticipated books for fall. The book on this list I most want to read is The Searcher by Tana French.

- I've decided to really embrace this holiday season (more on that Tuesday!), and this list of fall treat ideas looks delish!

- It's Banned Books Week. The list of books is always so fascinating to me. 

Posts you may have missed:

- Three suspense novels perfect for October. 

- If you like a good mystery but can do without all the gore, violence, or police procedure, cozy mysteries are for you. 

- Know anyone having a baby? Here are my top 9 things new moms need at home. 

I hope you have a great weekend, and I look forward to seeing you back here on Monday for Week 2 of The Midnight Society

P.S. If you haven't had a chance to participate in our "The Tell-Tale Heart" discussion, it's not too late!  

The Midnight Society: The Tell-Tale Heart Discussion

Thursday, October 1, 2020

I hope you enjoyed reading this spooky tale! I've read this story many times, both as a student and as a teacher, and I never get sick of it. I love reading it to myself hearing the narrator's voice in my head, and I love listening to Christopher Lee read (really, perform) it in the version I recommended Monday. Much like pumpkin spice coffee, thick sweaters, and warm socks, I hope "The Tell-Tale Heart" has helped you make the transition from the sunny days of summer to the crisp days of fall. And I hope it sent a chill up your spine as well! 

Before you begin reading the discussion questions below, I dare you to click this link. Keep it going in the background for as long as you can while you participate in the discussion ... if you dare. 

Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society: our discussion on the Edgar Allan Poe classic "The Tell-Tale Heart." 

1. Do you think the narrator is insane? Or do you think he was perfectly aware of what he was doing? What quotations from the story support insanity, and which support the belief he was perfectly sane?

2. The gender of the narrator is not revealed in the story, although many people assume it is a man. If the narrator were a woman, would this change your interpretation of the story?

3. What sound does the narrator hear after the murder? What is it really? Why does it get louder and louder?

4. The narrator tells the story in first person. Can we trust his account of the details? Why or why not?

5. Poe wrote that every word in a story should create a "single, overwhelming impression." What impression do you think was he trying to create in this story?

I'd love hearing your answers to these questions, or just let me know how you liked the story, how it made you feel, and what your favorite parts were. I look forward to today's discussion! 

Come back on Monday for the introduction to next week's spooky tale, "The Lottery." 

I've been teaching this story for several years, so I can't quite remember all the places I've learned information about this story or found good discussion questions, but two places I know for sure are here and here

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