All posts by DNA

Christmast Concert SJ HS Choir 2016

This is our Christmas Concert as part of the South Jersey Homeschool Choir.  We aren’t homeschooled but we started in this choir when we didn’t have a school choir. We have a solo in the first video (Daniela starts then I come in). In the last video Daniela is playing a piano solo of a song she had recently learned. (She plays it better now!)
Let us know what you think!


Daniela’s Piano Solo

Humanities: Roman Emperors (DV)

Imagine having so much power that your word is law. Such was the power of emperors in the Roman Empire. Roman emperors had command of 26 legions, as well as the authority to veto the actions of the magistrates and control the imperial patronage. They even influenced the religion of the empire. The emperor could rebuild decaying temples and resurrect old religious ceremonies. In short, he could do just about anything. This resulted in both good and bad changes in Rome. While some great rulers benefited the Roman people, others did nothing but harm. Specifically, Commodus left the empire worse for wear, while Hadrian and Trajan had positive impacts on Rome.

Regrettably, the years Commodus spent in power were not good ones for the empire. Although his accession to the throne was initially greeted with general approval, it was met eventually with hostility as Commodus began to engage in self-indulgent and ego-maniacal behaviors. He was especially fond of gladiator fights. He enjoyed them so much, in fact, that he participated in them himself. However, Commodus was known to cheat by blunting his opponents’ swords. In addition, Commodus devalued Rome’s currency significantly by reducing the weight of the denarius and the purity of silver. It was the biggest reduction since Nero’s, and a huge blow to the empire. Not only that, but he lacked concern for political matters altogether. That, combined with a thirst for leisure, brought about what some consider a reign of terror. In fact, Commodus’ rule is regarded as the start of the fall of the Roman Empire. In the famous words of noted historian Dio Cassius, his lack of interest in political affairs was the starting point for the decline of the empire, leaving Commodus responsible for initiating Rome’s plunge “from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust.”

On the other hand, Trajan was one of the best emperors Rome ever saw. He was a good soldier and a man of talent, tolerance, and courtesy. During his nineteen years of rule, Trajan improved the empire’s roads and harbors as well as provided support for the children of Rome’s poor. Furthermore, he conquered the area of Mesopotamia and started a healthcare-like system for the Plebeians. Although the Senate had little power, Trajan treated them with respect, consulted them, and maintained the Senate’s good will. Some historians say that by doing this, he brought back the “old spirit” of Rome. So, with all of these good deeds under his belt, it’s no wonder that Trajan was the second of Rome’s 5 Good Emperors.

Similarly, Hadrian was considered one of Rome’s Good Emperors as well. Like Trajan, he was a soldier and a strong man. His goal was to give Rome a good start for the future. Hadrian oversaw many building projects and built Hadrian’s Wall, which strengthened the Roman frontier and still exists today. Another one of his building projects was repairing the Pantheon, which had been destroyed in a fire. It, too, still stands. Hadrian also traveled across the empire and stabilized local governments, as well as added to the beautification of Rome. He established cities in Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece, too. Even better, Hadrian penalized those who mistreated their slaves. Finally, he kept the army in peak condition through constant training and surprise inspections. However, though Hadrian was a brilliant emperor, some may point out that he ordered a public burning of the Torah, and was therefore closed-minded. However, while other emperors persecuted Christians, Hadrian respected their beliefs. So, in that way, he was one of the more open-minded emperors. In the end, Hadrian was a remarkable emperor who made a lasting good impact on Rome as a whole.

Ultimately, while Commodus’s rule led to the decline of Rome, Trajan and Hadrian changed the empire for the better. During his reign, Commodus was brutal and lazy. Eventually, he led a reign of terror that initiated the fall of Rome. Meanwhile, Trajan brought back some of the old ways of Rome through his treatment of the Senate. He contributed to the beautification of the empire and to the welfare of the commoners. Hadrian was much the same. He led numerous successful building projects, and strengthened the empire through his training of the army and cities he established. But while emperors like Hadrian and Trajan had positive influences, the overall system of the empire was not a good one, as it eventually collapsed. Hopefully, though, we can learn from the mistakes of the Romans and use them to make better choices for our future.

All Summer in a Day from the perspective of Margot

In class we read the story All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury.  Our assignment was to continue the story from the perspective of one the characters.  I chose Margot.  Here’s the my story.

In the closet, it was utterly black. Trying to see through the gloom was as hopeless as trying to peer through a brick wall. Not even the tiniest ray of light slipped under the door. By the second, the walls seemed to close in around me, and my throat constricted. I needed to escape the grip of the darkness, and quickly.

No matter how vigorously I pounded, though, the door stoutly refused to open. I kicked. I pummeled. I pleaded with it, crying and howling as as vehemently as I could. The stubborn door refused to budge.

I was going to miss the sun.

There was no getting around it. Already, the constant pitter-patter of rain on the rooftop was lessening. The sun would show its face soon enough, and I wouldn’t be there to greet it.

I felt a hatred for my classmates swelling in my chest. They would prance about in the glorious bloom of the sun, not even giving me a second thought. But I would still be here, caged in the stifling darkness, even as the sun drew on a robe of clouds and the sky began to weep.

Finally, after what felt like several small eternities, I was liberated. I squinted into the blinding, light, barely able to make out the ashamed faces of my peers. They twisted their toes into the concrete floor, unable to meet my eyes. No one apologized.

That night when I got home, I made a beeline for my bedroom. I flopped onto my stiff mattress, letting myself get tangled in the mountain of woolen blankets on top. Meanwhile, the rain continued to play its incessant ra ta tat on the roof above. The fat raindrops outside the window seemed to mock me.

So, I turned to where I always turned when things got gray: poetry.

For  me, words seemed to have personalities of their own. They were my companions. So, when things went wrong, I turned to poetry.  

I had piles and piles of crumpled verses stashed beneath my bed, and even more tucked in my closet. Most of them were about the sun. The sun that had shone while I was trapped in  suffocating darkness.

Brimming with anguish, I snatched a gnawed pencil from my bedstand and a sheet of lined paper from under my bed.

I wrote.

Before I knew it, my pencil had scribbled out 7 poems, and the thrumming of the rain had faded into the background. I was just beginning to sag into sleep when my mother crept into my room. “Margot?” she whispered.

I jolted awake. “I’m here,” I groaned.

Mother heaved a sigh and settled onto the end of my bed.

“What’s this?” she asked with concern, holding one of my poems aloft.

“A poem.”

Mother arched her neatly plucked eyebrows and squinted down at the paper, reading my piece, Sun Rays, aloud.

“‘I remember how you were

                                     reaching out,

grasping me in your rays

for I was desperate for a searching light

to glisten in my darkness*’”

She was silent for a moment. Then: “Are all of these about the sun?” she asked incredulously, noticing the poems that littered my bed.

I nodded, nibbling nervously on my lip. “I really miss Earth,” I admitted, tears welling in my eyes. A lump the size of a grape swelled painfully in my throat. “I miss the sun.”

A small puff of air escaped her. “Margot,” she breathed. “I didn’t realize how important the sun is to you. How important it is to us. I didn’t recognize it until I read your poem, but…  I miss the sun as much as you do.”


“Of course. Your happiness, our happiness, is more important than any job. Even if it means a handsome salary.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Was mother really saying what I thought she was saying?

“If you really miss the sun that much…” she took a deep, shaky breath. “We should go back home.”

I could hardly believe it. After all of these years of writing and sobbing and dreaming, my fondest wish was finally coming true!

“So?” my mother prompted.

“Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes!” I crowed, lit up like a Christmas tree.

As I wrapped my pale arms around my mother’s waist, I realized that all I’d had to do was ask. I’d been so upset about the sun, I never thought to tell my parents about my feelings. The second I did, though, my problem had been solved. Maybe it would help to open up  once in awhile.

The next days seemed to blur together and become a mass of packing and folding and planning. As the the hours dragged on, I became more and more impatient, but I also became more excited. The prospect of seeing the sun left me energized and hopeful- a contrast to my usual moodiness. Even my poems were beginning to take on a brighter tone. Hopefully, it was a permanent change.

Finally, four days post-sun, we hopped on the rocket back to Earth, my true home, and the place where I belonged.

As we sped away from the drenched prison that was Venus, I peered through the window and watched as it shrunk to the size of a soccer ball, then a golf ball… and then it was gone.

Alternative Ending to The Fault in Our Stars

Every marking period in Language Arts, we are required to do an Independent Reading Mini-Project. One of the options was to do an alternate ending for a book you read, so I chose The Fault in Our Stars. Before you read this please know that I’m not trying to correct what I thought was an amazing book. All I changed was the perspective of the novel from Hazel’s to Gus’s. I thought it would be interesting.

Just as one more note before you read. The ending is intentional, but you may not get it if you didn’t read the book.



“Beautiful, huh?”

I motioned down at the shadows of a tree’s curling branches playing across the concrete ground.

“Yeah,” Hazel Grace said.

She and I were on a trip to Amsterdam, standing in front of a cafe. .I looked up at her, noticing the way the sunlight filtered through her hair and made it glow golden. Beautiful.

Hazel Grace was the love of my life, and I was hers. Not trying to sound full of it- but I know it’s true. Everything about her was perfect to me: her face, her laugh, and especially her mind. I love love loved her. I don’t know exactly what she sees in me but… there’s something! What she didn’t know was that our love was a bit star-crossed…

The universe seems to have it out for Hazel and I. It pushed us together, then pulled us apart. Together, apart. Together, apart. Just like those branches I was looking at, in fact. The wind pushed them up against each other, but then yanked them right back again…

“What a good metaphor…”

I didn’t even realize I’d spoken aloud until Hazel Grace responded, “Is it now?”

“The negative image of things blown together and then apart,” I explained. I strategically left out the relation to us, though.

You see, Hazel doesn’t exactly know that our relationship was about to be in the “apart” stage. The universe had, in fact, given us another hurdle to jump over to complete the obstacle course of our relationship. The universe had given me a recurrence.

I know, I’m terrible. I fooled Hazel Grace into thinking that the man she was falling in love with was healthy. In reality, she got a cancer-ridden boy with a single leg. But as soon as she finds out that my disease is back, it’s over. She’d see that our relationship can never be normal. She’d see me as the mess I am and realize that I will unavoidably break her heart. And then she’d want to leave. So no, I hadn’t told her. Like I said, I’m terrible.

But I still couldn’t bring myself to tell her. She deserved to know, but i just couldn’t do it. To distract myself from the guilt, I looked back at the tree branches. They were puppets, and the wind was their puppeteer. And what a master he was! The branches spun and twirled to the unheard beat of nature’s music. I stared, mesmerised. But the longer I looked, the more my metaphor began to catch up to me. In front of my eyes, the branches turned from wood to flesh. They were Hazel Grace and me, and the wind was the universe, pushing and pulling and controlling us. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“I could look at this all day, but we should go to the hotel.”

“Do we have time?” Hazel asked.

I struggled to smile. “If only.”

“What wrong?” she asked me, and the panic was tangible in her voice.

I couldn’t speak. All I did was motion towards the hotel.

I walked quickly and ahead of Hazel Grace, not wanting to meet her eyes. Even without looking at her, I could feel her anxiety. I knew if she saw my face, I would break down. I could only hope that I didn’t loose it while I confessed.

When we reached the room, I sat down in an dusty paisley chair. How old was it? 60 years? 70? All I knew was that it was older than I’d ever be. Oh, wow… that was depressing. But I had to keep it together. For Hazel Grace’s sake.

As she entered the room behind me, I drew out a cigarette and popped it between my lips. Just as sure as I wasn’t going to light it, I decided, I wasn’t going to let this cancer control me. Still, I could only hope that Hazel Grace wouldn’t react badly. Sighing, I leaned back and began to speak.

“Just before you went into the ICU, I started to feel this ache in my hip,” I started.

“No,” Hazel said.

I nodded. “So I went for a PET scan,” I explained, then paused. I was really about to do this. I couldn’t believe I could be about to lose Hazel Grace. But I had to do this. I clenched my jaw, trying not to cry. I would not become a sadness in Hazel’s life.

I tried for smile. “I lit up like a Christmas tree, Hazel Grace. The lining of my chest, my left hip, my liver, everywhere.”

Everywhere. Everywhere meant bad things. Everywhere meant death. But still, Hazel Grace got up, dragging herself across the carpet and resting her head on my knee.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, and I realized that no matter what, she would stay with me, because that’s what love is.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” I apologized. “Your mom must know. The way she looked at me. My mom must have told her or something. I should’ve told you. It was stupid. Selfish.”

But she didn’t seem angry. Only sad, and of course that made upset too.

“It’s not fair,” she said. “It’s just so freaking unfair.”

I knew that. But… “The world is not a wish granting factory.”

And in that moment, even if for just a second, I lost control. A sob, sharp and full of pain, escaped from my mouth. I was going to die, And when that happened, so much else wouldn’t. I would never again drink champagne. I would never not smoke. I wouldn’t get to enjoy any of the numerous little things that life had to give me. But most important, I would lose the love of my life. And I would not, could not, let that happen, I pulled her close,

“I’ll fight it. I’ll fight it for you. Don’t you worry about me, Hazel Grace. I’ll find a way to hang around and annoy you for a long time.”

She was crying. Her body trembled against mine as I held her tight, tight, tight.

“I’m sorry. You’ll be okay. It’ll be okay. I promise.” I told her, and smiled, hoping it was true.

I kissed her on the forehead, then held her still closer. Then, all at once, I remembered a conversation I’d had long ago, back when I’d first met Hazel. She’d told me about hamartias, or fatal flaws. Back then, she had thought mine was smoking, until I informed her that my cigarettes were only metaphors. But now, I realized, I had a real fatal flaw: my cancer.

“I guess I had a hamartia after all.”

A few days later, we were home from Amsterdam. For a while, things were okay. I mean, I didn’t feel perfect, but I could still hang out with friends (mainly Hazel), and be at home. But my condition started to deteriorate. I knew the end was near- I was on constant meds, in a wheelchair, and so tired. I could do so little on my own, and it was frustrating as heck. But before I went, I needed to, I could do one last thing. I needed to give Hazel Grace a eulogy.

First, a bit of background. You see, the reason we were in Amsterdam was for a continuation of Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. It had ended abruptly- in the middle of a sentence, in fact. But Hazel and I, we wanted answers. So emails were sent and arrangements were made, and we were set to go visit Peter Van Houten, the author of the novel, in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, things hadn’t gone exactly as planned. Van Houten had turned out to be quite the alcoholic jerk. But he was still an amazing writer, and I needed his help.

After what felt like forever, I was able to draft a letter to Peter Van Houten. I prayed he would help me, despite his personality, because this was important. It was vital that Hazel Grace knew just how vital she was to me. So, here’s what I wrote him:

Van Houten,

I’m a good person but a crappy writer. You’re a crappy person but a good writer. We’d make a good team. I don’t want to ask you any favors, but if you have time – and from what I saw, you have plenty – I was wondering if you could write a eulogy for Hazel. I’ve got notes and everything, but if you could just make it into a coherent whole or whatever? Or even just tell me what I should say differently.

Here’s the thing about Hazel: Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting death. We all want to be remembered. I do, too. That’s what bothers me most, is being another unremembered casualty in the ancient and inglorious war against disease.

I want to leave a mark.

But Van Houten: The marks humans leave are too often scars. You build a hideous minimall or start a coup or try to become a rock star and you think, “They’ll remember me now,” but (a) they don’t remember you, and (b) all you leave behind are more scars. Your coup becomes a dictatorship. Your minimall becomes a lesion.

(Okay, maybe I’m not such a crappy writer. But I can’t pull my ideas together, Van Houten. My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.)

We are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants. We poison the groundwater with our toxic pee, marking everything MINE in a ridiculous attempt to survive our deaths. I can’t stop peeing on fire hydrants. I know it’s silly and useless – epically useless in my current state – but I am an animal like any other.

Hazel is different. She walks lightly, old man. She walks lightly upon the earth. Hazel knows the truth: We’re as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we’re not likely to do either.

People will say it’s sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But it’s not sad, Van Houten. It’s triumphant. It’s heroic. Isn’t that the real heroism? Like the doctors say: First, do no harm.

The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invented anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get smallpox.

After my PET scan lit up, I snuck into the ICU and saw her while she was unconscious. I just walked in behind a nurse with a badge and I got to sit next to her for like ten minutes before I got caught. I really thought she was going to die, too. It was brutal: the incessant mechanized haranguing of intensive care. She had this dark cancer water dripping out of her chest. Eyes closed. Intubated. But her hand was still her hand, still warm and the nails painted this almost black dark blue and I just held her hand and tried to imagine the world without us and for about one second I was a good enough person to hope she died so she would never know that I was going, too. But then I wanted more time so we could fall in love. I got my wish, I suppose. I left my scar.

A nurse guy came in and told me I had to leave, that visitors weren’t allowed, and I asked if she was doing okay, and the guy said, “She’s still taking on water.” A desert blessing, an ocean curse.

What else? She is so beautiful. You don’t get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. She is funny without ever being mean. I love her. I am so lucky to love her, Van Houten. You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.

So that’s what I sent him. It had been a week, and he had yet to respond. But what had I expected? He’s Peter Van Houten- if he replied at all, it would not be quickly. If only I had time for that. I was sure that when Van Houten responded with Hazel’s edited eulogy, she’d already be behind a lectern, reading my own. So all I could do was hope that the letter would reach her, one day.

At some point, around the 2 month mark home from Amsterdam, I had a realization. I would never attend my funeral. Every other person I knew, all my friends, my family, Hazel… They would all get to go. But not me. And I realized that I wanted to see what they would say, know what they thought. And so I arranged a prefuneral. Granted, only two people would attend: Hazel Grace and my blind friend, Isaac. But they were all I needed.

So I called Hazel, at around 5 o’clock, and Isaac shortly after. I invited them to met me at the Literal Heart of Jesus at 8 o’clock. Oh, and I asked them each to prepare a eulogy. I’m sure they both thought I was crazy, but I would explain everything once we got to the Literal Heart of Jesus.

By the way, that place isn’t exactly what it sounds: it’s actually the church basement where Hazel and Isaac meet for Support Group. It is, however, located in a cross-shaped church, and the basement just so happens to be in the exact center of that cross, where Jesus’ heart would be. And thus, the nickname. But it was special to me not for religious reasons, but because that is where I first met Hazel Grace. I guess I wanted her to say good-bye in the place where we had first waved hello.

I made my way to the church at around 7:30. When I found the doors locked, I used a few slightly immoral tricks to get in, but they were worth it. After all, how often do you get to attend your own funeral in the Literal Heart of Jesus?

Isaac arrived first. We chatted a bit, waiting for Hazel, but it was pretty empty talk. As soon as I explained that he was here attending my prefuneral, he walked behind a little wooden lectern, preparing to speak. Just then, Hazel arrived. Perfect.

“Hazel Grace,” I said, “you look ravishing.” And she did, even in the pajama pants, flip-flops, and t-shirt she was wearing.

“I know, right?” she said, and I could tell she thought I was being sarcastic. Then she noticed Isaac. “Are you going to sit down?” she asked him.

“No, I’m about to eulogize. You’re late,” Isaac explained,

“You’re… I’m… what?”

I motioned for her to sit. “I want to attend my funeral,” I told her. “By the way, will you speak at my funeral?”

I know that was probably an important question to ask before inviting her to a prefuneral, but I had been pretty certain that she would say yes.

“Um, of course, yeah.”

As I predicted. She knelt down to hug me, but although her intentions were good, that hurt tremendously. I winced, and she let go.

“I’m hopeful I’ll get to attend my funeral as a ghost,” I told them, “but just to be sure, I thought I’d- well, not to put you on the spot, but I just this afternoon thought I could arrange a prefuneral, and I figured since I’m in reasonably good spirits, there’s no time like the present.”

“How’d you even get in here?” Hazel grace questioned.

“Would you believe they leave the doors open all night?” I asked.

“Um, no,” she said. Hazel Grace wasn’t stupid.

“As well as you shouldn’t,” I told her. “Anyway, I know it’s a bit self-aggrandizing.”

“Hey!” Isaac exclaimed. “You’re stealing my eulogy! My first bit is about how you are a self-aggrandizing jerk.”

Hazel laughed.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “At your leisure.”

Isaac cleared his throat. “Augustus Waters is a self-aggrandizing jerk. But we forgive him. We forgive him not because he had a heart as figuratively good as his literal one sucked, or because he knew more about how to hold a cigarette than any nonsmoker in history, or because he got eighteen years when he should’ve gotten more.”

“Seventeen,” I corrected him. I was seventeen, and never would be eighteen.

“I’m assuming you have more time, you interrupting jerk,” Isaac told me, then continued.

“I’m telling you Augustus Waters talked so much about him that he’d interrupt you at his own funeral. And he was pretentious: Oh my goodness,, that kid never took a pee without pondering the abundant metaphorical resonances of human waste production. and he was vain: I do not believe I have ever met a more physically attractive person who was more acutely aware of his own physical attractiveness. But I will say this: When the scientists from the future show up at my house with robot eyes and tell me to try them on, I will tell them to screw off because I do not want to see a world without him. And then, having made my rhetorical point, I will put on my robot eyes on , because I mean, with robot eyes you can probably see some pretty interesting things. Augustus, my friend, Godspeed.”

Hazel was full out crying, and I was welling up. I pursed my lips, trying to keep from crying, then flashed my buddy thumbs up.

“I would cut the bit about seeing interesting things though,” I told him.

“Wow, Augustus, editing your own eulogy.” Isaac said, but through shaking sobs. “Hazel, can i get a hand here?” Hazel helped Isaac away from the podium, and then she began.

My name is Hazel. Augustus Waters was the great star-crossed love of of my life. Ours was an epic love story, and I won’t be able to get more than a sentence into it without disappearing into a puddle of tears. Gus knew. Gus knows. I will not tell you our love story, because like all real love stories, it will die with us. As it should. I’d hoped that he’d be eulogizing me, because there is no one I’d rather have. I can’t talk about our love story, so I will talk about math. I am not a mathematician, but I know this. There is an infinite between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many days of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You have me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

The next day, I went to the hospital. I knew I was about to die, to cease to exist, to end. The panic came first, and then the regrets. I would miss so much, loose so much. I would never make my mark. But I would make my mark on Hazel Grace, and the more I thought about it, that would be enough. Everyone wishes to be extraordinary. Including me. But maybe being extraordinary isn’t what makes life worthwhile. If you are special to even one person, that is enough. Hazel Grace loved me, and we both loved our little


Alternative ending to The Book Thief (DV)

What if the book thief’s story ended differently?

Picture yourself walking down Himmel Street in the dark. Your hair is getting wet and the air pressure is on the verge of drastic change.

The sky is stained a tomato soup red, boiling and stirring. Burnt crumbs and pepper streak the heavens. Ash rains down onto baked pavement. Himmel Street is burning.

The sirens began to howl.

“Too late now,” I thought, “for that little exercise.” For everyone had been fooled, and fooled again.


The book thief’s world was about to end.

The sky had unfolded its infernal reds and charcoal blacks above Himmel Street, and the radio began to release its cuckoo shrieks.

Hans Hubermann lay, cocooned in rough woolen sheets. Charred cigarettes slouched, disfigured, on his ashtray.  Next to him, Rosa lay snoring, cardboard face creased, arms splayed out across the bed. Hearing the wails, they stirred.

Liesel Meminger wrote.

She was perched on a rusty paint can, The Book Theif  open in one palm, a pencil clutched in the other.


I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.


Satisfied that she had said all she wanted to say, the book thief snapped the little black book closed.

That’s when she heard the sirens.

The deafening noise pounded in her ears, a panicky chorus. Through a flurry of hysteria, Liesel noticed Mama and Papa descending into the basement, worried looks etched onto their faces.

“Liesel.” Hans Hubermann set leathery, paint dyed hands on his daughter’s shoulders. “We missed our chance. The bombs are here.”

The book thief’s breath caught in her throat. The world went quiet, as if someone had stuffed cotton in her ears. Liesel forced herself to nod, and let herself drown in the accepting embrace of her parents.

When I arrived, I found them huddled in the center of the cold basement.

Hans’ soul sat up to meet me, like the best souls always did. This one was sent out by the breath of an accordion, the odd taste of champagne in the summer, and the art of promise-keeping. He lay in my arms and rested.

Rosa let out a final shuddering breath as I scooped up her soul. If she had seen me, I’m sure she would have called me a Saurkerl, though I would not have taken it badly.


I picked up one more soul that night.

As I gathered Liesel’s soul in my arms, she looked up at the others that I had collected.  She looked sadly at Ilsa Hermann, at Rudy, and at her Mama and Papa.

“I love you,” she said softly, and I whisked her away.


It kills me sometimes, how people die.


The First Day of School (6th grade)

The first day of 7th grade is just around the corner, and I’ve been doing some thinking. I didn’t actually post about the first day of middle school, or much about middle school in general, for that matter. So, I decided to take this chance to update you on my middle school experiences.

Let me be the first to say that middle school isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Now, don’t get me wrong , I loved my teachers and I love to learn. When it came down to homework, though, I wasn’t so thrilled. The work load almost doubled from elementary school! There was constant stress at our house, and Ariana and I fought more than ever.  

However, middle school wasn’t all bad. The amazing teachers and clubs at my middle school managed to make my year pretty good.  I really liked all of my classes, but as you know, I love to read and write, so Language Arts was probably my favorite. My Language Arts teacher, who also turned out to be my homeroom teacher,  was fun and supportive. We had a nice Educational Assistant in our class, too. The Assistant was helpful and willing to answer all of my questions. My Humanities teacher was kind, and she gave us a lot of hands-on experience. Unfortunately, she was the main culprit of my homework problem, and this didn’t make my parents too fond of her. Meanwhile, my math teacher was funny and had great lesson plans, but she was rather strict. My science teacher was organized and kind. She doubled as Ariana’s homeroom teacher. Ariana and I had the same gym/health teacher, who was a strict joker, as strange as that sounds.

At our middle school, there were numerous clubs and activities after school, too. The clubs we attended included art, chorus, and track and field. At track and field, Ariana and I did discus, high jump, long jump, and shot put. It came as no surprise that we were not very good at any of them. We also tried out for the school play, Xanadu, and got the roles of “featured singers.” In the end, though, we decided not to do it, as we had too many other things on our schedule.


All of this started on September 1, 2015, the first day of school. I wanted to make every aspect of the day perfect, which obviously wasn’t going to happen. This resulted in a lot of frustration in the morning. By the time we got to school, though, things were starting to look up. We got lost on our way to homeroom, yes, but along the way we met up with some old friends. 

Homeroom was a different story. My teacher was funny and relaxed, but I didn’t know a single person in the room (save a boy from elementary school who I’d said a total of 5 words to previously.) I awkwardly introduced myself to a few girls, per my mother’s advice. However, it looked to me like they were a tightly knit group of old friends from elementary school.

I had better luck through the rest of the day. It was really cool to get a locker (I had been looking forward to it for a while), and it was fun to switch classes. I made a friend in science class, whose name was also Daniela, but spelled with two ls. She went by Izzy, though. At lunch, we sat with a couple of girls from our classes (Ariana and I didn’t have any classes together except art and gym, which alternated spots for second period.)


All in all though, middle school was by no means what I expected. I was really scared I wouldn’t make any friends, and I ended up with more friends than I could’ve dreamed of having (even in homeroom!). I was super excited to have a locker and switch classes, but those things quickly got old. The just lost their novelty within the first week of school. I can’t wait to see what this year brings, though!

Panama- The Crossroads of the Americas: Part 2

On August 5, our family set out to Volcan, our next destination in Panama. Volcan was a small town in the mountains, near the dormant volcano Volcan Baru. Although we were to stay in Volcan, we were going to do most of our activities in Boquete, a more developed city that was an hour away from Volcan. It was a 5 hour long car ride to Volcan, during which we stuffed our faces with ice cream, Oreos, Ritz crackers, and a bunch of other junk food.

As we were nearing our rental house, we had to navigate through the town of Volcan. It was quite difficult, as it was foggy and raining. To make matters worse, there seemed to be some horse celebration going on. The streets were crowded with horses and riders of all shapes, colors, and sizes. It was an amazing spectacle, but the horses made it really hard to drive.

When we finally burst out of the town, however, we faced yet another obstacle. By now it was dark out, and the steep mountain roads had many twists and turns. At one point, we got to a particularly sharp hairpin turn which left our mom trembling and scared out of her wits.

After a couple more scares, we reached the house, safe and sound. We rumbled up a long, grassy driveway, and finally came to the front porch. We were greeted by the barking of four dogs, as well as our host.

Once we had heaved all of our bags up the  curving stairs (the entrance to the rental section of the house was upstairs), Ariana and I got a chance to look around. The place was made almost entirely of wood, and it was absolutely beautiful. As soon as you entered the space, there was a bathroom door to your left, and beyond that, a kitchen. To your right was a dining table, some black leather reclining chairs, and a day bed. Just beyond the kitchen was a tight, winding spiral staircase (also wooden), which lead to a downstairs bedroom and bathroom. Next to the staircase was a sliding door, which lead out to a balcony. The entire space shared a grand round ceiling, which was held up by a support beam down the center.

Ariana and I were giddy with excitement. We just knew we were going to have a good time here.


Every day of the week we stayed in Volcan was amazing. On the first day, we visited a carpenter. He was amazing with wood, and demonstrated how he could write with his chisel. The speed and accuracy he could write with on the wood was better that mine on paper!  We were so impressed that we bought an owl he carved, which he signed before out eye. He also turned out to be a poet, so he recited some of his works for us.

On another day, we went on a hike. We walked by several ice-cold streams. At one point, we walked past a little farm, where a hen was crossing the trail with her fluffy little chicks.

One morning, we went horse-back riding. Our mom couldn’t make it, but Ariana and I went with our dad. We went to a farm called Finca Guardia. While there, I saw a giant ox carrying a load of sacks. It had a ring through its nose and everything! We also saw donkeys, cows, and a baby horse. There were even some Shepard dogs running around!

The animals weren’t being treated very well, though. There was some welding going on in the stables, and no one bothered to move the donkeys and horses away from the sparks. In addition, all of the animals appeared to have been branded with the same symbol. I tried not to let it distract me from the amazing ride, though.

Riding on a snowy horse I privately named Nieva (snow), we rode up the mountains. Some of the Shepard dogs trailed behind us. We rose higher and higher, until we were at the top of a large hill. I could see trees for miles around, and the sky was a bright blue. It was one of the best views I had seen so far.

We also went on Jansons’ coffee tour.  It was a really good tour. They explained the rich history of their farm, and the process of making the best coffee, which is grown at the perfect altitude. In fact, Panama is recognized for making the best coffee in the world! We got to look at the nurseries, and got to sample the coffee and tea. I’m not a coffee person, but even I could tell that the coffee was high quality. The tea was also very good.

Since we started planning our Boquete trip, one thing we decided we wanted to do was do zip lining. We hit quite a few bumps in the road, however. First, we couldn’t find a space. Then, when we finally found one, medical issues got in the way, and we had to reschedule. On that date, we got a flat tire. We finally went the next day.

Upon arriving at the tourism center in Boquete, Ariana and I were very excited. By the time the bus left for the mountains, we were practically screaming. Finally, we arrived at the zip lining center. We got strapped in, and were ready to go. Then, out of the blue, one of the guides pulled us aside. He measured us, and determined that we would not be able to zip line alone! We would have to be strapped to a guide.

I’m not going to lie, Ariana and I  were both really upset. But, all of my reservations were forgotten once I started rushing down the cord. It felt like flying! (Even though my guide was singing something in Spanish.) We did several cords, but I kept having to stop, since my guide needed to help other people along. It was fine, though. By the time we reached the zip lining center again, I was as happy as could be.

At the center. we watched a slide show of pictures, which were kind of funny. Luckily, we got to keep them! On our way out, the guides gave us a flash drive with the pictures on it.

(On the bus ride back, a guy decided the bus was going too slow, so he actually got up and jogged the rest of the way to the station!)

We went to some hot springs, too. We had a little trouble finding them, but it was completely worth it. The spring was owned by an older woman, who made us pay $5 to see the springs. I couldn’t help noticing that she had a lot of exotic pets. She had a horse, some ducks, and even a monkey walking around her property. The day we went was a really hot day, so we weren’t really keen to go into the near boiling spring. We tried it out anyway, though. When it got to be too much, we went to a nearby (5 minutes walk) river. It was really cool and refreshing, but we eventually got really cold. So, we moved back to the hot springs were we took a (sort-of) nap.

One of the main things I enjoyed about Boquete was the Spanish lessons we took there. We used a school called Spanish by the River. I have to say, our teacher was really good. She was funny, multilingual (Spanish, French, and English). We watched movies in Spanish, and learned the grammar for the simple future and past. Not only that, but Spanish by the River was outdoors. They had 9 chickens and two billy goats! There was even a relaxation area, where they provided hammocks, tea, coffee, and pastries. (There was a really good brownie/cookie with walnuts and caramel.) One lesson, the French director made us crepes, and put some locally grown oranges on top!

We even had fun when we were at home. Our host had 2 hectares of property, which she let her four dogs roam freely. I spent a lot of time snuggling with Loki, Zeus (who was disabled), Juno, and Tucker. Our host was also really nice. She gave us some of her home made Greek yogurt, which was very good.

Eventually, though we had to leave Boquete behind. After a week there, we left for Penonome, where we would spend the week at our grandma’s house. Her house has no AC, so it was sweltering. Even worse, the WiFi was incredibly slow. During that week, we mostly just worked on math. We did purchase hammocks for the house, though, so we chilled in those a bit. We even slept in them for the majority of the nights, as they were surprisingly comfortable.

Pretty much every night at our grandma’s house, we had a game night. We played Uno, Farkle, and Spanish Scrabble Dash. Our mom won every time, I always lost miserably.

(I also broke my glasses one night, which was a bummer, since those were the only pair I had brought with me. Luckily, we were able to super glue them back together for the remainder of the trip.)

One night (we were sleeping on the hammocks), my eyes were just drooping shut when Ariana shook me awake. She said she had seen a “weird boar rat creature” and was freaked out. She told me it had gone up a tree. Now, we were both very creeped out, but I managed to fall asleep. In the morning, Ariana told me that she had seen it go over to the mango tree and pick at on of the fallen, rotting mangoes. She also told me that she had had the strangest dream, where she had seen an “Armadillo Xing” sign. We also found that a critter had gone through our trash. Ariana looked up the traits of an armadillo, and sure enough, we had a match. The 9-banded Armadillo sometimes goes through trash, can climb, is nocturnal, and eats insects and fruit. Not only that, but it matched exactly what Ariana had seen! It appeared as if Ariana had known what it was all along.

One day, we decided to go to the beach. This wasn’t the first time we had gone, but it was one of the most memorable. For one thing, we got a sweet little tiki hut, which had hammocks and everything. Next to our hut was another family, who happened to have two adorable puppies, which we got to pet.

We also got a bit of a fright when we couldn’t find Ariana. In Panama, the waves are a lot higher and stronger, which means strong riptides. One of our favorite beach activities was getting washed up by the waves. But when Ariana went down to the beach to rinse her bathing suit, it took her an awfully long rime to come back. Our mom was scared that Ariana had been pulled out by a riptide! Luckily, we found her sitting back at the tiki hut, wondering where we were!

One of the most enjoyable days in Penonome was the day we visited El Valle. The road there had a lot of twists, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle. Once we got there, we got a chance to look around the artisan market. People were selling all kinds of exotic fruits, but that isn’t what interested me the most. On the other side of the market, people were selling all kinds of crafts and jewelry. Some of the most common crafts were wooden animal carvings, paintings on bird feathers, and switchblades with carved clay handles. Ariana and I bought matching leather bracelets with our names on them. I wore the the one with Ariana’s name on it, and she wore the one with my name on it. That way, we said, we could always be together.

After the market, we decided to go on a bike ride around the town. We didn’t just ride any old bikes, however. Our family rented a four-person bike. It looked like two tandem bikes side by side, with a steering wheel and a little roof. We rode around for a bit, eating pastries we had purchased at a local panaderia. Finally, our dad decided that he would let Ariana and I drive for a little. It was actually really scary, because we were on a road with actual cars. It was really hard for me to drive in a straight line, especially with a ditch on the right and cars on the left. My parents (especially mom) were not happy. They didn’t think we were doing that bad, but they still got scared, especially when it began to rain.

Our dad quickly took over the wheel. As he drove, water collected in our roof, which we were now very grateful for. Soon enough, though, a bump in the road dumped the water all over us, and we were dripping wet. When we finally got back to our car, we had to wait out the rain before we could move on to our next activity: A hike up La India Dormida, or the Sleeping Indian, which was a nearby mountain. (Before we set off, we bought a bracelet at the market for Ariana’s friend.)

La India Dormida looks like the profile of a sleeping woman, complete with arms, hair, and a nose. You can read the legend behind why here. In order to climb the mountain, though, we needed to hire a guide. We drove with the guide to the mountain, where we began our journey.

It was a rather steep climb uphill, but it was completely worth it to see the beautiful waterfalls. Eventually, we reached the tip of La India’s nose. It was a beautiful view. We could the the entire town of El Valle spread in front of us, and a mountain vista behind. (Our mom scolded us when we leaned off the side of a cliff, however!)


As soon as our week in Penonome was over, we were off to Panama City. I was a little nervous about going there, because we were giving up our rental car (We got a new one for every section of our trip.) Instead, we were going to rely on taxis, uber, and other public transportation methods.

When we arrived at our new rental house, it was still around noon time, so I was awake enough to look around. We were staying in a condo-type space, which was attached to other cookie cutter condos down the street. Our space had no yard space whatsoever, but it had three bedrooms, along with WiFi and AC. We didn’t spend much time there throughout the week, though.

On our first day, we just looked around the city a bit. We found an old theater that was absolutely stunning. It had a high, circular ceiling, which depicted angels and flowers. A large crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. The stage itself was very large. It was framed in “gold” carvings, similarly to the walls, which had balconies hanging off of them. A worker told us that the place was being refurbished, so there weren’t any shows going on. That was okay with me, though, because just seeing the theater was a treat.

Something else we had planned for Panama City was visiting the nature monument Barro Colorado. I learned a lot there. (I talk about my findings in Its a Jungle out There: An Exploration of Panama’s rainforests.) In this post, I just want to talk about the actual experience. The jungle itself was really beautiful, but a couple of things disappointed me. First of all, they had put concrete blocks in the ground to mark the trail. Also, aside from spiders, Ariana and I didn’t see all that much wildlife. Yes, we saw a toucan, some bats, leaf cutter ants, a frog, an agouti, and some tadpoles, but based on all the articles I read, I felt like I would see a little more. Something we really wanted to see were monkeys or sloths, but whenever our guide smelled them (yes, monkeys have a sweaty/fruity odor) she would yell “venga! Venga! Donde estas, chicos?” (Come, come! Where are you boys?) I’m pretty sure that scared any monkeys away.

Luckily, we got a chance to see some sloths at an urban park we went to. They were really slow, and barely moved, but they were really adorable. We learned why at Barro Colorado. Apparently, sloths live on a diet of leaves, with provide minimal energy. So, sloths hardly ever have enough energy to move a quickly as some other animals.

We got another glimpse of a sloth at another STRI sanctuary, but that wasn’t the main attraction. We got to look at some 5 year old sea turtles, and some nurse sharks. We also got to examine aquarium with all kinds of exotic fish in it There was even a place to look at frogs. Some of them were really brightly colored, like the neon green and black poison dart frog. Others blended in with the dirt and leaves. One frog I found to be particularly interesting was the crystal frog. The crystal frog is a transparent green. It is so transparent, in fact, that you can see its internal organs!

As I mentioned in a previous post, we visited the Biomuseo, too. It was recommended to us by a young woman who we met at Barro Colorado. The Biomuseo was colorful, and designed to symbolize the creation of Panama. We went on a wonderful journey, were we learned about how Panama rose from the ocean, and what affect the land bridge had on our world. One exhibit that really touched our mom was a virtual reality exhibit, where you were surrounded by screens and speakers that were trying to imitate the sights and sounds of a real rainforest. It was really beautiful and a special experience.

Something else I really enjoyed was watching traditional Panamanian dancing at La Tinajas restaurant. There was live music, which included an accordion, singer, and professional drummer (he treated us to a lengthy drum solo). They explained the different parts of a tradional Panamanian dancing dress. For example, they told us about how the skirt alone could cost up to 8000 dollars! Not only that, but the gold necklaces worn around the dancer’s necks were passed  down through generations, and were a symbol of family wealth. In another dance, two men wore diablico, or devil masks. Originally, these masks were used by the Spanish to scare the Panamanian natives into the Christian belief system, which most of Panama still follows today.

Of course, the dancers themselves were also amazing. They all seemed to enjoy themselves the whole time. The women performed complicated twists of their fan-like dresses, while the men moved their feet in an impressively rapid dance.

One of the last things we did was take a bike ride on the Causeway. Ariana and I wanted to rent a tandem bike, but unfortunately, such a bicycle was not available. Instead, we road regular bikes down the causway. It was a spectaclar view, and we got to see all of the boats drifting around in the water. There was some construction going on, though, and I acciedently got caught up in some netting!

The day after that, our family went to Panama Viejo, or Old Panama. It is the ruins of an old city. It was a short trip, but it was still interesting. We got to climb up an old bell tower and read about the history.

One thing I want to always remember about this trip was the times we talked with our 96-year-old paternal grandfather, Papi Homero. Before the trip, we had only met him once, but we talked with him three separate times during our visit this summer. First, we talked to him briefly at a funeral. While we were in Panama City, we had dinner with him at the mall. Ariana and I had Subway, our parents had sushi, and Papi Homero had a food from a Panamanian fast food chain. ( “He’s 98, he can eat whatever he wants,” said my dad.)

Papi Homero gave us a travel book. We leafed through it, and found it really interesting. On one page, there was a map. Without looking, Ariana and I pointed to destinations on the map, and said we were going to visit them some day in honor of Papi. I landed on several oceans before finally landing on Bolivia. Ariana landed on Lithuania. We also sang  “The Girl I Mean to Be” for him, and he sang a song for us, too.

We met for a second time at his apartment. The building was rather nice, but the elevator had just broken (it had fallen down from the 7th floor!) , so we had to take many flights of stairs up to the apartment. (This wasn’t very good for Papi’s health.)

Papi Homero had just moved in with his wife, so a lot of things were still boxed up. His wife, Lali, had four dogs. They were everywhere, and Papi Homero didn’t seem to like it. Luckily, Lali’s eight cats were kept in a seperate back room.

When we got a chance to see Papi Homero, he showed us pictures from his time as an ambassador, and some others of his time as governor of the providence of Panama. There was even pictures of him playing pool with one president, and standing with another! On every picture, he would point at each person, saying  “He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead. He got assassinated. He’s dead.”

At the end of our visit, we took a picture with Papi Homero, and hugged and kissed him good-bye. As we exited, I whispered “Te quiero mucho, I love you.”

These memories are precious ones that I will cherish forever.




At the end of this school year, Ariana and I tried out homeschooling.

It was something we had been thinking about for a while, and now we were finally doing it. As you can imagine, I had mixed feelings. Homeschooling meant leaving our friends, switching to new curriculum, and  pretty much changing our entire lives. Of course, it would only be for a month, but still, it felt like a big change.

We prepared for homeschooling in every way possible. We bought new school supplies, organized our desks, and created a schedule. We found multiple sites and online books that would help us with our learning.


And then, at long last, we started. We were to do a combination of Language Arts, Math, Music (piano and singing), exercise, and Art each day. We were to switch to Math and Science, and then Science and Humanities, and so on. I found that I quite enjoyed my experience. I could be more productive without the distractions of 20 other students. I could also change my assignments and due dates to better conform with my extra-curricular activities. Best of all, I got to spend more time with my family.

There were downsides, too, though. I missed my friends, and Ariana and I began to distract each other. Plus, while we were at home, we could, say, go off and read for an hour without anyone knowing (our parents worked as we learned). At public school, that would never happen!

I think that overall, I enjoyed my homeschool experience, but I don’t know if I would do well if that was my actual school. Luckily, we might get another chance to try it out at the end of this year!