Saturday, April 6, 2013

Quick Hit: The Power of the Nap

Thanks go to Karl for posting this on Facebook.  It seemed worthy of a blog mention. 

Read more at http://mashable.com/2012/08/17/office-nap-rooms/

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Day 26: Favorite Foods

NOTE: I'm sorry for the abrupt disappearance. Several things have conspired to take my focus away from my online world this last week or more. I'll talk about some of them in a bit, but for now, I'd like to complete the challenge I started.

Gour•mand [gʊərˈmɑnd, ˈgʊərmənd] noun A person who is fond of good eating.

I would categorize myself as a person who likes good food--food that is made well, that tastes good and that fosters a love of life and people. It doesn't have to be complicated food, although surely gourmet cuisine has a place in my world. No, any dish, however simple or humble, that evokes a long, contented sigh is what I think a gourmand values most.

I honesstly couldn't write a post long enough to list every food that fits the definition of good that I hold true when I sit down at table, but here are a few examples to give you a sense of what I mean.

By category:

Breakfast: Corn Beef Hash, Biscuits and Gravy, Buttermilk Pancakes

Beverage: Coffee, Selzer, Good Merlot

Dessert: Pie (not citrus or with meringue), Crème Brûlée, Wifeness' Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Soup: Seafood Chowder, Squash Bisque, Homemade Chicken Noodle

Sandwich: A Thick Burger with Lettuce, Tomato, Pickle (and just a touch of ketchup and spicy mustard), A Bean Patty (done like the burger), turkey and swiss on toasted white

Pasta Sauce: Carbonara, Alle Vongole (white clam sauce), Garlic and Olive Oil

Pizza: Hawaiian; Sausage, Mushroom & Olive; Siciliano

Grillage: Salmon, Sausage, Perfectly Medium Rare Steak

Take-out: Boneless spare ribs, Kung Pao Chicken, Fried Rice

Context-Specific:

Spaghetti alla carbonara from the basement restaurant in the city of Civitavecchia (I've long since forgotten the name of the restaurant).  This was my first experience with proper Italian cuisine, ordered in Italian and enjoyed with a tableful of globetrekkers, including Mutti and Vati.

Rotisserie chicken and strawberries on the steps of Sacré Coeur at sunset with my French students on their first evening in France. I'll always remember the guy who came up to chat with us and the hilarious moment when the gendarmerie took to chasing the street vendors all around the churchyard.

Rice, beans, bread, eggs, tomato and ketchup--all mixed together. This rather unique concoction was the first food of any kind I'd eaten in 5 full days after having been completely incapacitated by the flu immediately after arriving in Brazil. I'd been holed up in a hotel for four of those days, but was running out of money and so I forced myself to get up, even though I was feverish and weak, and find an apartment. Fortunately, the guy who ran the desk at the hotel had a brother who managed an apartment building nearby and I was able to work the details out with a minimum of fuss and a little bit of black market exchange of American dollars. I secured my apartment, got the keys and moved my few things over from the hotel. Then I crashed and slept. When I woke up, the fever had broken, but I had only enough money and energy to go to the local grocers and buy those six things I listed. I was amazed to feel my mouth practically exploding with saliva as I put the rice on the stove. By the time I sat to eat I was shaking so badly that I actually had trouble getting the fork to my face. It ranks to this day as the best meal I've ever eaten.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Day 25: Where I Am, In the Moment

Take a moment to observe where you are. What's it like? What comes to mind when you look around you? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? Even familiar places take on a whole new dimension when you actively take them in. Here's what my space is like.

I'm sitting in "my chair". It's a red reclining chair. Not a big, cushy Lay-Z-Boy monstrosity, but something smaller, more subtle. Currently, it sits in the dining room of the Yellow House, but soon it will be near the sunny windows of the Great Room at the Red House. It will be near Theo (our ficus tree) and he will shelter and shade me as I nap. It will be glorious.

In front of me is the dining room table. There are six chairs around it and on the table is an eclectic assortment of things: The girls' lava lamp, which needs a new bulb (the old one burnt out and then broke off when Wifeness tried to remove it), two sets of Magic® decks--one is SiSi's, one is mine, the tax folder from our accountant (we're getting money back) and the myriad candle holders, trivets and accents that normally decorate the space. The chandelier above the table has a bulb out. Sigh.

NiNi's sewing machine is on the small table to my right. Wifeness used it to put together a blanket for Baby Max, who was born just 4 weeks ago. We got to see him this past weekend, along with his parents. We brought food to make and to leave because when you have a newborn, having premade food is good. It was nice to spend the day with them! I think we all wished they lived closer.

There are other tables and sideboards around the room. Almost all of them have plants on them. Some have photos. There's one of Wifeness and me when she worked for Warner Brothers as Sylvester the Cat. There's one of Mutti and Vati and me. Our wedding photos are next to it. Some of the tables have candles on them. None are lit at the moment, but they often add just a touch of light and warmth to go with their various scents--vanilla, evergreen, lavender.

Our small Chinese lion puppet (we use it to celebrate Chinese New Year) sits on top of my hourglass, which is on the bookshelf that sits to my left. This bookshelf holds lots of cookbooks, but also all the Harry Potter novels, both in print and on CD. On the small dresser across the room is my wife's special teapot. I bought it for her as an anniversary gift several years ago. It encourages us to take time to sit, share and just spend time together. We don't use it nearly often enough.

There's a crock pot waiting to be put away and cat food waiting to be eaten. There are small piles of things on their way from one place to another. Our house is in constant motion, constant transition, and there is always something in the middle of some sort of change.

She's not in the room with me, but I can see Wifeness in the living room, working on her computer. I've sent her a text through Facebook, but I don't think she's seen it yet. It says something mushy. The girls are in bed; the house is quiet. Even the radiators are hushed. It's very tranquil.

This won't last, though.  The USA v MEX World Cup Qualifier is on at 10:30.  Boisterous is an understatement of what that game will be like.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Day 24: An Embarrassing Moment

Today's prompt asks to recount my most embarrassing moment.  Described below is one that certainly qualifies.  I preface this short story with the reminder that I'm colorblind and, as such, I don't pay a lot of attention to color. This is not an excuse; just an explanation.

When I was in college, I was dating a girl who lived several hours away. We used to send letters back and forth to each other (this was well before the days of email for the masses) and it was something I looked enjoyed immensely. I loved reading what she sent (her world was very different from mine) and I tried to write every day in return. I'd collect a couple of days' worth of writing and then send it off (postage wasn't cheap then, either). Most of what I wrote recounted the mundane details of college life, but I tried to be creative with it, to make it more interesting and entertaining to read.

In one of these letters, I waxed romantic and wrote her some verse. I'm not much of a poet, even today, but I remember being quite proud of it. In my best imitation of a Shakespearian sonnet, I likened her beauty to the radiance of the sun, her blue eyes to shimmering pools of water--you get the idea. A regular Don Juan was I to be so clever and original. Casanova himself would have been impressed. I sent it off, impatiently awaiting her next letter.

It came after several days, and I pulled it from the mailbox with anticipation. It was thinner than usual, but I didn't think much of it. I opened the envelope and inside the letter was an index card. On it, in her distinctive script, were two words:



They're green.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day 23: Hobbies

One of the glorious things about having a job that is truly right for me is that I'm not compelled all that often to do things that take me away from it. When stress gets to be too much, I'll disconnect with some of the stuff in the last post, but that's not engaging in a hobby so much as engaging in decompression.

There are a few activities, however, that I like to do that don't having anything (direct) to do with school and that I very much enjoy when I have time to devote to them. Here are some of them.

Woodworking. I can make bookshelves, picnic tables, television cabinets, armoirs, doors. I've even made a small altar for my wife's side of the bed. I'm not a high level craftsman by any stretch of the imagination--that requires more time at a stretch that I can manage--but if I'm a guy who likes to work with tools, this is the way that happens.

Muppetry. Rita came to Wayfarer House by way of San Francisco many years ago, and I fell in love with puppetry from the first moment we met (for those of you who don't know, Rita is my precocious perennially 8 year-old red headed muppet--I don't have a pic of her handy, but I'm sure I'll find one to post soon). I love the performance piece of the art and am often sorry that she and the few others I have spend more time on the shelf than out with people. I really want to learn to make them someday! It requires knowledge I don't possess right now, though, and don't yet have time to acquire well.

Globetrekking. The adventure of deciding to go somewhere, planning how to get there, making the trip and exploring your destination is one of my all-time favorite activities. This one is especially great because my wife likes to do it, too--and it is so much more fun when she's with me. We travel very well together, and it's one of the great ways we bond as a pair. The move to the Red House is going to be our big adventure of this type for the next little while, but we've both thought it was about time to get back to Europe. We also need to get back out to Las Vegas to see chosen family and check on the Lohan School.

Writing. I spend an awful lot of time writing in professional ways and, while that's all well and good, it's not the same as sitting down and composing a good letter, a good story or the great American novel. My father wrote a lot after he retired. I'm thinking I won't wait that long, but given that I still struggle to keep a daily blog post active, it may not be this year that I begin such an undertaking. Laney and I talked some time ago about collaborating on a project involving her music and my writing. I think that would be the most amazing thing, and it's in my mind to keep nurturing that with her to see where it goes.

Sport. Soccer, volleyball, softball, disc golf, cycling... There's not enough of this in my world at present, and I'm hoping the world will be more conducive to it soon. I'm not talking about competitive sport--at least, not the cutthroat version of it. I'm very much a recreational sport kind of guy. I don't care who wins, as long as we're all running around and having fun with each other.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Day 22: When I'm Home Alone...

NOTE:  This was supposed to get posted yesterday, but I was at the Red House and there's no Internet up there yet.  There is, however, a great deal of spackle dust everywhere.  And snow.

[In pictures]

Every chance I get:
[credit]

Work calls, even on the weekends:

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There's always some of this to do:
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Every once in a while, this goes on:

[credit]
I know I should be doing this, though:
[credit]
Or this:

[credit]

Or this:
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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Day 21: Collections

The prompt for today ask about what I collect. This is the thing that comes to mind:

This is what our dining room table often looks like. 
Image Credit


I've been playing Magic the Gathering® since about 1994, when Uncle Bubba and I encountered it in a gaming store in Las Vegas. We each bought a pack of cards and played it right there at the counter of the store (fortunately, the place was pretty empty and the guy who ran the place didn't mind). We bought some more cards, went home and proceeded to become addicted to it.

As a game, it's very well designed. It has an incredible amount of variability to it. Despite twenty years of playing it, I've never seen it get formulaic. It's simple to learn, but complex to play and you never feel like you've mastered it because you never encounter the same situation in any two games. It's also very individualistic. There are so many different styles of play and everybody plays their own!

Because it's a "collectible" card game, the cards themselves need to have some sort of lasting value and these do, but their true value to me is not in their investment potential. I don't keep them for their monetary value. I keep them to play with. My collection of them numbers some 10,000 now, and every single one of them is as playable now as they were when I bought them. Some of them are worth a few dollars, but I'm not interested in getting rid of them--especially if I have people to play against.

There has been a solid bunch of kids at school for the last several years who play Magic®. They meet in my room at lunch to play, trade and talk the game. I have to shoo them out at the end of lunch, so I can actually teach class. They asked me several years ago if we could have a tournament at school, so I organized one for them. It was a hit (seriously, there were 20 contestants)! Now, it's kind of an annual tradition. We do a different format every year, but they're all designed to allow anyone to play. I compete in them (that is the point, after all; to play). I've finished respectably every year, but I hardly dominate. That's the thing about this game. Even little kids can put together a deck that will kick you in the crotch.

I introduced SiSi to the game a couple of years ago. She started playing with a deck I made for her, then borrowed some of my cards to tweak what I built, then borrowed more cards to build her own deck. Now, she's buying her own stuff, building her own decks and trading with me and others to get cards she wants. She and I have taken to going to weekly tourney events at the local game store. She went at first with a friend of hers, but this was one of those things that she really wanted to share with her Papa so I've been joining in the last couple of weeks. I t's become an evening ritual to play a "Championship of the Universe" (the winner of a best-of-3 set) before bedtime.

As with many things in my life, my commitment to Magic ebbs and flows. Until very recently, the only time I played was at school during the tournament. Now that SiSi is active with it, I'm involved more than I probably should be with it. It can consume rather large chunks of time to design a deck and playtest it, and it's not something that really fits in well with all that I have going on at the moment. The thing is, though, that SiSi won't be able to go to tourneys as often after we're living at the Red House full time, so I want to support her as well as I can until then. I suspect that it won't be as important to her once we're there, after a while.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Day 20: Online Reading Material

When Google announced that it was letting go of Google Reader, there were several people in my world (Chili, Kizz, Wifeness) who bemoaned the loss. Personally, it didn't affect me a great deal, but I don't spend a great deal of time reading blogs.

It's not that I don't like to. I just do so much other reading that by the time I get to a place where I can sit down and consume something blog-like, I'm really only mentally able to attend to short bits like Facebook posts.

That said, there are a few online things that I check in on regularly. Some of these are blogs, but others are not of that format.

Chili's blog. She and I have been close for a great many years, but we're not in each other's geographic proximity all that often. Her blog helps me to feel like we're a little more closely connected. She posts every day, too, so there's always stuff to read.

Potash Hill. As an alum of Marlboro College, I used to get this magazine in my mailbox, but then it went online and I like it better there. I can peruse it in small moments more easily in digital form, and it cuts down on paper use which is good for my soul.

Fat Cyclist. Elden started his blog as part of a project to lose weight and improve his fitness. It's moved waaay beyond that now. He's an inspiration to riders everywhere!

Shambhala Sun Space. I look in on this space regularly to connect to my religious practice. It helps me to keep my outside-the-box thinking fresh.

ESPN (in all its various incarnations). I follow at a general level a whole lot of sport, and some of the best sports writing is found here.

LII at Cornell University Law School. I follow Supreme Court decisions with a large amount of fascination (I flirted for a long time about whether to pursue a career in law--I'm not sorry I didn't, but my interest in it hasn't diminished over the years). This site makes the law accessible to those of us who don't practice law, but like to keep our fingers in the jurisprudential pie.

What does your blogroll look like?  I wonder particularly if younger people spend time on spaces that aren't Facebook, Pinterest or the like.  Do you (if you're a member of that age group) read stuff online?  Do you keep a blog?  By all means, please share it! 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Day 19: 10 Things Tuesday: Self-Aggrandizement Edition

The prompt is to list 10 things that make me awesome. Here's what I think, but I'd be curious to hear what you think:

1. I know stuff. I'm not an expert on very much, but I have a pretty vast field of knowledge and I'm always looking for more to add to it. How many Leos have been pope? 23. How do you solve a determinant with a toilet paper roll? I can show you (it's actually kind of cool). What's the Immaculate Reception? Well, Franco Harris can tell you more, but he was there.

2. I have skills. Again, not expert on a lot, but I can do some pretty diverse things. I can assist in the birth of livestock. I can change the oil in my car or a toilet in the bathroom. I can make a sign and act on stage. I even know how to create an Excel spreadsheet to solve that determinant (in case I can't find a toilet paper roll).

3. I've been around. There are lots of places I still haven't had the pleasure of experiencing yet, but the world I've seen so far is pretty cool. I've been to castles in Europe and shanty towns in Mexico. I've frozen my butt off on the Presidentials and swatted mosquitos in a grass hut in the Amazon. I've ridden my bike in the Mojave desert and bought fresh fish in Sicily. I've even seen the World Cup (thanks to my wife)!

4. I've done things. In my professional life alone, I've worked in food service (which I highly recommend; it gives you a proper respect for the work), I've been a political activist, A customer service rep, an accountant, a graphic artist, a computer systems analyst, a camp counselor--and, when the occasion permits, I teach a little. 

5. I've got stories. The Raven in the Tree. The Goat That Conquered Electricity. The Day We Died. There are just so many! My students are still cracking up over The Treehouse Club (and using it to conjugate verbs, which proves that stories can have practical lessons, too).

6. I have charm. It runs in my side of the family. Ask my wife; she'll tell you all of the men on my side of the family have this not-quite-definable sense of charisma. It's fun to have, but ever must one be on guard not to turn to the dark side with it.

7. I can see the forest and the trees. I'm a big picture thinker, but I know enough about the details of getting things done that I can usually balance the two. I can draft bylaws for a non-profit, but remember to get them to Fedex by 5pm. I can plan a lesson on determinants, but adapt it to the learning styles of my students if they can't process math by toilet paper roll.

8. I am not afraid to go outside the box. Although I value what "the box" does, I very often find that it limits my choices. Why should I be only Democrat or Republican? Who says that religion and science are incompatible? Since when is there only one way to solve a determinant?

9. I've got a great support team. Seriously, no one is an island and I would not be anywhere near as amazing as I am without all the people in my world to help me. Wifeness stands at the front of this team, but there are a great many individuals who make things possible for me in ways I could not.

10. All this, and I'm not done yet. I still have lots to see and learn and do and experience! Can you imagine the stories in another 20 years?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Day 18: Fears

I do not like being afraid. Actually, I don't like being scared, either. What's the difference? Well, when I've been scared, some outside force has acted on me and has triggered my fight-or-flight response (it's usually "fight") and caused my adrenaline level to go sky high. I do not like how this makes me feel physically or emotionally and so I avoid situations where it might happen. When I was younger, most people knew not to lie in wait around dark corners for me. In one instance, someone learned not to do that at the expense of a black eye. I felt sorry about that. It took practice (see below), but I'm actually much better able to control that instinct now.

Being afraid is something completely different from being scared. Being afraid (anxious is a better word) is deeper, more personal. It is still the result of some outside stimulus, but in a much more subtle way. If being scared involves something I can sense, being afraid involves something I can't sense clearly.

Buddhist scholars say that fear (either version above, but especially being anxious) is essentially a consequence of our ignorance of the nature of reality, our holding on to something illusory. That sounds strange at first, but consider the kinds of things that cause that kind of fear--death, failure, the crumbling of our reality, being alone, ending up being nothing or nobody, just to name a very few. Although they may represent very real concepts, simply thinking about them does not mean they're real in that moment. Really, they're just distractions. I want things to be a certain kind of way, and all these possibilities I can't control are getting in the way of that.

When I allow fear to distract me, it can make things very uncomfortable. Have you ever experienced that underlying sense of not being settled, of not being secure? It's an almost existential feeling of uncertainty and instability, and it makes me, at least, more than a little anxious. I still find it ironic, but I've learned that I can't remove the distractions by creating distractions. Doing that does not actually relieve the feeling. In fact, it does the opposite and I've learned why.

See, when I do things to try to make myself unafraid, what I'm really doing is establishing my own sense of identity. I'm separating myself from what makes me afraid and, in doing that, I actually make it harder for me to examine it. Yet, if I'm going to move beyond it, I have to examine it—and me.

I learned some time ago that there is a process by which I could examine things that made me afraid. It involves a 3-step process:

Step 1: Develop a habit of self-observation. Examine my fear and dissect it into its components. Where does it start? What is the sensation when I feel afraid? What kind of thoughts race through my mind when I'm afraid or anxious? Is there a particular pattern to my actions? The point is to try to understand the experience, try to break it down into pieces.

Step 2: Practice recognizing triggers. When I can connect what it is that makes me feel a certain way, I can begin to deal with it. For example, when something keeps coming up in my world, it's a sign (and sometimes a not-so-subtle one) that I need to deal with it. I need to process it thoroughly and directly, to feel it and experience it, so I can let it go and go back to normal life.

Step 3: Practice seeing things before they come to pass. It's a lot harder to overcome being afraid when a situation is full-blown and I'm caught up in it. In my imagination, though, I can slow things down, and this allows me to practice reacting at my own pace. I can interrupt the match before it gets tossed into the proverbial pile of leaves. I can say, “I don't need to go there. I can see what’s coming.”

When I'm good at practicing this process, I can come to the point where I and my fear are not two independent things. It becomes "I and my fear" together. That way of looking at it gives me a feeling of empowerment, of real choice. It gives me a lot of room to move around in.

I practiced this a lot around the matter of being surprised and it helped a lot to quash the tendency to lash out reflexively. I'm actually rarely surprised any longer. It's taken longer to get to the place where roaches don't skeeve me out--and I'm not yet comfortable letting one rest on me. If I lived in a place where they were common, I'd spend more time on that one.

What's fear like for you?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Day 17: Where I Am Happiest...

I was at the Red House today. I'd been there since about noon, and had worked for the better part of the afternoon sanding, spackling and otherwise moving slowly, yet inexorably, forward with the prep work to get the rooms painted. Wifeness and the girls (accompanied by friends) came up separately, but left after a visit just long enough to apply paint samples. I'm feeling some pressure to get the house prepped by April break (it is my hope that lots of extra hands are available then, and we can get most of the interior of the house painted then), so I committed to working a little longer.

When I looked at my watch next, it said it was 4pm--about time to head downcountry. I would have liked to have more time to work, but as I put the lid on the spackle and unplugged the sander I realized that I probably wouldn't have been good for much more today. Although I am definitely on the upswing from having flirted with the plague that infected SiSi last week, I am not at 100% energy. Or maybe it was that I didn't take a nap. I have short-lived batteries, after all.

Anyway, I descended the stairs and turned into the living room to check on the wood stove. Through the glass on the door, I can see that flames were burning happily inside. Above, on the mantel, is a statue of Kuan Yin. She came to the house just after we closed on it, and her presence in the space has a tangible calming effect on me. I don't know about anyone else, but it feels somehow right that she is there.

I decide I've got a few minutes, so I drag one of the two chairs in the house into the warm, sunlit room and I place it in front of the stove. I go get my cup of water and I sit myself (somewhat heavily) in the chair. I'm sure a sigh escaped my lips because, in that moment, even though the house is empty of people and trappings, it felt a lot like I've always wanted home to feel. It felt the same way when Wifeness and I spent the night up there just before New Year's. It's felt the same way every time I've ever been there. That feeling of tranquil, of "you're supposed to be here". Like you don't really want to leave once you're there.

Where am I happiest?  I think any place that makes me feel like that certainly qualifies.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Day 16: The When and Why of Blogging

I started this blog back in 2006 (I cannot believe it's been 7 years) as an experiment at the behest of several people who said, "Dude, you should totally put that in a blog!" This was when blogs were more en vogue than they are now, and before Facebook became THE way to connect with people.

I admitted in the first post that I wasn't sure how well I'd do. I wasn't then--and still am not--especially good at taking the time to sit and do it. I seem to let the immediate things of the day take precedence over a lot that I should do more regularly, and blogging often falls victim to this tendency. It's been good for me to sit down and write, though, and I'm glad that I've kept up with it even as poorly as I have. It has a real value to me now as a format for telling stories, sharing a little of the life of Wayfarer House and crafting my writing in ways I wouldn't do otherwise.

I hoped that people would find this space an interesting read, and the feedback I get says that's the case. I'm glad! My dad used to write only for himself; he never cared if someone thought what he crafted had value or not. I'm not quite that way. I appreciate it when people get something out of what I create, whether it be via the written word or some other medium. Such things need to have value to somebody, I think.

In the time this blog has been running, I've posted a little over 450 times. A paltry amount, to say it true. I hope to double that in much less time. I also hope you'll keep reading and commenting about it.

Note:  After some intense vitamin consumption over the last few days, I think I've stopped the downward spiral toward full-on sick.  I still sound like Darth Vader, but I'm not feeling all that bad.  Whew!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Day 15: What is my biggest accomplishment?

*Note: I've shifted around my prompts a bit to accommodate for being really busy and kind of sick (some children who will remain nameless have given me their virus.)

ac•com•plish•ment/əˈkɒmplɪʃmənt/ noun

1. An act or instance of carrying into effect; fulfillment.

To date, I think this is my practice as an educator, but I don't see that as the finished product. The ultimate work, the masterpiece (I hope) will be the Community School.

2. Something done admirably or creditably.

My parents have told me that they were very proud of how I've grown up. I'll take credit of this on their behalf, but I recognize that they paved the way for me to become who I am. Despite not really having any idea what they were doing, they managed to raise children with a solid foundation of morals, a good sense of self and a drive to do well and right in all things. I had to make the choices, but they set me on the path.

3. Anything accomplished; deed; achievement.

I have two degrees, both of which are of my own design and have significance to my life on a daily basis. I earned them (and kicked ass in the process) because I was motivated to learn and grow, and because I knew they would have value to me for many, many years. I do not have my diplomas hanging on the wall, but they are representative of some very important, meaningful effort and I am proud of what they symbolize.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Day 14: What's on my iPod?

My mp3 player (which is not an iPod) has on it two things in quantity that, together, make up 98% of all that is stored on it:

Audio books and music from 1975-1995.

I used to keep a copy of A Few Good Men on it for when I was travelling, but I took it off because it's just so rare that I'm the one not driving.  Plus, I bring my laptop with me everywhere and that's got a bigger screen.

For those who are judging right now (oh, yes you are), let me make clear that the music stops at 1995 not because I don't like more recent music.  It's really that I'm too damn lazy to go find it, get it and download it. 

I'd love it if there were a service that did that!  You know, you just pay 49¢ a year or something (see, even my concept of money stops at 1995) and the computer would just download all the music you like onto your player automatically.  But--and this is the kicker--it would download ONLY the music you like.  No offense, Cyndi Lauper, but if I were to see you come up on shuffle, I'd be right put out. 

Such products exist, I have no doubt, for technology that is more cutting-edge than mine.  That's the proverbial rub.  See, I don't want to pay more than 49¢ a year for this service, and I don't want to pay what's required to get an iPiddity that is hooked to The Collective all the time.  To get a two-year contract just to have music at my beck and call would just be ridiculous (and I don't use a cell phone often enough to make up the difference).  I don't need to play Angry Birds that badly, either (anymore--dammit, but that game was addictive).

So, I'll just enjoy my old people music and wait for the time when it's worth it to make the jump to light speed.  Or I get a minion.  A tech savvy minion.  Who knows how to make decent coffee.  Mochas.  With the little leaf in the foam, like Cato does in Green Hornet. 

Actually, though, the vintage stuff has some real value.  For example, I have learned that it is a great motivator for my soccer team to play well.  If they don't, they have to listen to me belt out Kenny Rogers all the way home in the van.

"Oh, yooooooooouuuuuu, decorated my liiiiiiiiife!"

So good for my soul.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Day 13: No Regrets!

I found it interesting that when I did a search for songs titled similarly to this post, at least 13 popped up by different artists. Methinks perhaps they all protest too much.

In any event, this post is about my regrets--or rather, that I really don't think about the past in that way. I have always tried to live my life like it was a series of choices. I work really hard to be careful and considered in making my choices, and I think the result of this is that once the choice is made, I'm done pondering it. I don't really go back and visit it again (unless there's new information or circumstances change which warrant such action). Having said that, there are times when I wonder where a different choice might have taken me. For example...

I wonder what might have happened if I'd accepted that interpreting job for Cirque du Soleil. They wanted someone who was available around the clock, and I was teaching and building a graphic arts business at the time. I just didn't feel like it was worth my time to put that aside to work for what at the time was a little-known, out-on-the-edge entertainment.

I wonder where I'd be if I'd actually gone to Hawaii. I had applied to grad school at the University of Hawaii to study linguistics. I had been accepted and I only needed to finalize the money (they had a fellowship available that would have made it practically free to study there). Those of you who know me will understand when I say that if I had actually made it to Hawaii, I would never have come back stateside. It's the weather. And the beaches. And sure, Polynesian girls are nice, too. Is my wife reading this?

I wonder how things might have gone if I'd not applied for (and then received) the credit card with the $1,000 limit that was just enough for me to take an Amtrak tour around the country before I left for Hawaii--a trip during which Wifeness and I decided to see what might happen if we took our friendship of several years in a new direction. The deal Amtrak was offering at the time was a 30-day pass: You could go anywhere in the country they had tracks for a month, and you could stop up to 3 times. I chose to go to San Diego to see friends of mine for a couple of days, then head to New Orleans (I'd never been to New Orleans, and wanted to see it at a time when it wasn't in the throes of Mardi Gras). After that, it was up to New England. I hadn't been back East since I'd moved to Las Vegas, and I wanted to connect with people I missed. Wifeness was one such person. She and I had been corresponding regularly since I'd moved, and I was very much looking forward to seeing her again. The story of what led us to the place of moving past friendship is a story in itself, but if I hadn't made the trip it certainly never have come to pass as it did.

I wonder what my world view would be like if I had not chosen to study Buddhism. I didn't become exposed to Buddhism until I was in college and didn't study it with any sort of seriousness until I was in my twenties, but it has had an undeniable effect on me. I remember what my thinking was like when I was seriously investigating Christianity in my teens, and it was very different. Not better or worse; but different.

I wonder how small the world might be if I'd not chosen to travel as much as I did when I was younger, or if I'd chosen not to settle down and start a family. I don't get the chance to globetrek as much now as I did before the children arrived, but I still get itchy feet on a regular basis. Without having gone so far afield, though, I cannot imagine how many stories I would not have, how many special moments I would not have experienced and how many truly wonderful people I would not have met in my lifetime.

What, I wonder, do you wonder about?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Day 12: I miss...

Warm, sunny summer days and the freedom to fully and enthusiastically enjoy them. Sigh.


A long ride and a nap in the grass

Monday, March 11, 2013

Day 11: My Last Read

Well, it depends, I guess. If we're talking about the last book I actually read in print form (that is, I opened a book, read words printed on a page, reading from the beginning of the printed words until the end), you'll have to give me a minute to think.

The reason I'll need that minute is because I so rarely take the time to read by sight anything that is not directly related to my professional life, and most of that is research, journal articles or parts of books. All this is worthy material, but it's not the kind of pleasure reading I used to do. I enjoy reading; truly, I do, but there are not enough hours in the day currently to open books for fun. I have had to make technology work for me if I'm going to do it well.

A year ago, my old car stereo finally died. OK, the cassette player stopped working so I could no longer listen to my 80s mix tapes. Don't judge. When it came time for a replacement, I upgraded to something that would allow me to use my mp3 player because, somewhere along the line, I discovered that I could download audio books from the library and put them on my mp3 player.

I remember when I realized this was possible, and I imagine the feeling I experienced at the moment of this discovery must have been similar to prehistoric man at the moment it became clear that meat could be made to taste better when it was put over fire.

"You mean you can put the meat over the fire? And it tastes better?"

"Dude! Look at those juices! You don't get that from regular meat."

I have a 45 minute commute to school. One way. That's a long time in the car, and it's mostly by myself because it's hard to carpool with my schedule. I'm involved in lots of stuff at my school so I don't get to come and go at regular times. Some years ago I picked up a student who played soccer for me. That was nice! It meant he could do school and soccer, and I got someone to share really good conversation with. Then he graduated and that was that. Now it's just me.

This new radio is HD, but to tell the truth there's not a lot on the airwaves to keep my interest. I listen to NPR sometimes, but it seems like it's pledge week about once a month and I just don’t have the guilt fortitude to listen to them ask for money all the time. I listen to ESPN Radio on occasion, but that doesn't last very long because I don’t need to rehash the Celtics game for my entire drive to school. I've given up listening to pop radio.

With an mp3 jack, though, I can read (or, rather, listen to) all the books I wasn't having time to enjoy before. And not just read, but actually experience ALL of the words in them, not just the ones I chose to read in an effort to get through them more quickly.

Good audio books have readers who do voices, just like I would do if I were reading out loud. The quality of audio books for me is absolutely tied to the ability of the reader to do different voices. Just like when your dad used to read when you were a kid. If he did the voices, it was like the story was alive!

Anyway, now all of my pleasure reading is done via audiobook. I just finished The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck and I'm starting the 3rd Hunger Games book (the one where Dumbledore dies) because I just need to be done with the series so I can be all, "Did you read it?" to all my teenagers. After that, I'm on to At Play in the Fields of the Lord.

By the way, that book I had to take all this time to recall? It was The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (1995, John Putnam Demos). I read it in 2008. I liked it. I read all the words.

Quick Hit: Bring Out Your Dead

SiSi has fallen victim of the latest round of virus.  She's been home and running a fever pretty much constantly since last Thursday.  She wasn't out of the woods as of last night, so she stayed home from school.  Dr. Papa also stayed home, so she could be tended to. 

The carpool dropped NiNi off at the house at the end of the day, and Heather said that, out of the 22 kids in SiSi's 5th grade class, only 10 showed up today.  The rest are down for the count.  Yowza!



Sunday, March 10, 2013

Day 10: Ma Routine Quotidienne

Today's prompt is about my daily routine. Like most people who live in northern climes, I have one that changes with the seasons, but there are several other things that affect what the day looks like. Like many teachers, my routine is subject to the ebb and flow of the school schedule. Add to that the adjustments necessary for things like soccer season, triathlon training, kid transport, conferences (mine and Wifeness') and other projects, and it's safe to say that the concept of a daily routine in my world is really only visible in its most basic, wireframe mode. Here's what that looks like:

The Waking Up Part: This is happening lately much later than it should for this time of year. Were I training (like I should be) I'd be up at 5am; during the last month I haven't been sleeping terribly well and I'm finding even the current 6:45 a struggle.

The Breakfast Part: This includes breakfast, coffee, shower, chivvying of children and a check of things like email, weather and social media. On days when I have to be at school early*, this all gets done by 7:30. If I don't have to be in until later, I'll sometimes linger over the coffee and the computer here at home so I can get quiet work done after everyone else is gone.

*My teaching schedule is a later shift; my classes run from 10-4 most days.

The Morning Part: When school is in session, this is all about planning, meetings and the business parts of my job. When it's not, I will often do domestic things like laundry or home repair and then set up for whatever activities are to take place in the afternoon. If I'm training and I can swim outside, this is the best time for it because there are very few boats out on the water.

The Lunch/Nap Part: During school, this time is replaced with The Do Everything Except Eat Lunch Part. I use this time as office hours, I run errands, I try to get meetings in, I write email... Everything but actually eat my lunch. There is, as you might expect, no nap, either.  Not that I'm bitter.

The Afternoon Part: During soccer season, this is all about soccer. During not-soccer season, I try to train (but not lately) and do stuff that leaves me free of professional obligations when I get home.

The Evening Part: The most scripted part of my day. Dinner, dishes, kid bedtime routine, my bedtime routine. Easy. If I'm able, I'll do creative stuff (like write a blog entry). If I'm devoid of creative energies, I'll just read, listen to music or watch something on a screen. Lately, I'm asleep before any of those three options gets too far.

What's your day like?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Quick Hit: Snow and Sunshine

It was an absolutely gorgeous day today!  So gorgeous, in fact, that I shoveled out the Red House of the 20" of snow that had stacked up in the last two weeks.  It being such an absolutely gorgeous day, the snow was wet and heavy, and it took all day to move. 

And now I'm sore.

Day 9: Yet Undone

The prompt for today asks me to talk about my "bucket list" (a term, I must admit, that makes me roll my eyes for its hokiness). Although I'm proud to say I have lived--and am living--a full life to this point, there are still a few goals I've not yet achieved. Here are some of them:

To get this Community School thing going. I need to write a post or two on this. It continues to tug at me.

To become more proficient at a musical instrument. I whistle decently and I sing on key most of the time, but I've always enjoyed what few moments I've spent with instruments like the guitar, the recorder and the harmonica. I also played around with the xylophone when I was a kid, but the thought of trying to master that instrument (in particular, with 2 or 3 mallets in each hand) makes my head hurt.

To write a book. I've written a lot of material in my life, but nothing that approaches a properly published book or any size. That'd be a fun project! In fact, Laney and I were talking about how to combine writing with music in some sort of collaborative production not long ago. Apart from the idea of working with her on such an endeavor, the idea of not doing "just another book" very much appeals.

To see my children to adulthood. Sure, this means my birth children, but also included are all the others whose growth I'm responsible for. They are all wonderful works in progress and nothing makes me happier than seeing them safely out into the world to do their own thing.

To complete an Ironman event. I'm not training at all right now, but I have a long term goal of getting to a place where I can do a full Ironman triathlon. I have too much going on in my world at this moment to devote the time necessary to achieve such a thing, but I look forward to the not-too-distant-future when such a thing is practically possible. In the meantime, I'm going to put the trash together to run to the dump and get what materials I need to go up to the Red House and work on the upstairs bedroom walls.  After I've shoveled the snow that fell up there yesterday. 

Happy Saturday!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Day 8: Pet Peeves

Today's prompt asks me to talk about the things that drive me nuts.  There aren't all that many, but here are some that come to mind:

Ineptitude, where competence is needed (or claimed): I'm infinitely patient when people are learning, but if the situation needs some level of expertise and you don't have it, that's a real problem if you're not willing to admit you aren't up to the task. Ask for help.

Poorly behaved domestic pets: Cats on the table. Dogs that jump. Anything that craps on the carpet.  If animals are to be inside, there need to be rules.
Toothpaste tubes that look like this:


Really? What is anybody supposed to do with that?

The 's plural (and other such misuses of grammar): Please, everyone. We've all learned this stuff already. Just pay attention when you write.

Technology that is undependable: It's my own fault that I rely on it as much as I do to be productive, but it's just so unnerving when the machines I expect to do things so I can be worrying about other things force me to worry about them, as well.

Inconsistency in rules and policies: In New England, we have a tacit understanding that the speed limit extends several mph beyond what's posted on the sign. On the Big Road, for example, 72mph is often accepted by law enforcement as an appropriate speed. I don't mind this as long as it's held to, but when I see cruisers pulling people over for speeding, my sense of injustice kicks in.

The stains on every single one of my white shirts: It frustrates me to no end that I cannot seem to keep a white shirt white for longer than a single washing. I'll own that sometimes I'm to blame. I know I shouldn't be cooking pasta sauce in my white shirt, but by the time I realize I'm doing it, it's too late. Even so, it'd be nice to have just one I can rely on as being clean and proper for the ever-so-occasional even when I have to wear something other than jeans.

Waste: Wasted time. Wasted food. Wasted potential. Wasted effort. Waste often comes from a lack of mindfulness, and mindfulness is something I work very hard to maintain in myself.

What burns your toast?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Day 7: My Dream Job

I can remember the moment of epiphany when I realized I wanted to be an educator. It was my first day of French class in high school. I was sitting at my desk along with the rest of my class, listening to Ms. Moores speak French at us, and *POP*! It came into my head.

"You know, you should do this."

I'm not going to wax religious or spiritual and say that it was because of some higher power or some past life that brought me to this realization. That's not really important. What is is the fact that, at an age much earlier than many, I knew what it was I could do as a career that would make me happy.

Although I didn't jump right into teaching--at least, not in the way I'm doing it now--I made a conscious effort to look for ways to do the thing I was compelled to do. I spent my summers teaching swimming and water safety and leading wilderness trips, and I was a counselor at a summer camp. I practiced teaching languages under my college professors and did private tutoring in math and languages until I graduated. I was an adjunct professor at a community college, where I ran adult ESL classes.

My wife will confirm that I was initially trepidatious about applying to high schools when we moved back to New England. I was discouraged when it came to being certified; My B.A. in foreign languages doesn't make sense to a lot of people, and they couldn't understand how someone could teach a single language without years of college classes to confirm I knew it. The industry of education, ironically, is not well designed to promote outside-the-box thinking.  Even so, it was experience I needed, if for no other reason than to confirm what the voices in my head had been saying for so long.

"You know, you should do this."


Fortunately, one of the local schools took a chance on my skills, and that started a career of 15 years as a high school French, Spanish and math teacher. In that time, in addition to other smaller, tangential teaching projects, I've worked in a traditional public school and a performing arts focused charter school. Both have been wonderful experiences. Each allowed me to grow as an educator and each helped me to understand that I love my work not for where I work or what subject I teach, but for the broader work of educating. There's so much that people need to know! There's life stuff. How to be responsible. Social skills. How to learn! How to be the best you possible. This is why, I think, I am drawn to education: I have good things to offer about life, and overall I'm pretty effective at helping people to understand it.

I've been working more and more the last couple of years on ways to broaden my audience. I've been speaking at conferences. I've been doing more research into learning styles and how to make them accessible to teachers and students alike. I've not been doing as much work as I know I should be on the Community School idea, but what conversations I've had with people confirms that this is still very much an important project. I have no idea where the next few years will take me professionally, but of one thing I am absolutely certain:

I'll be helping someone learn something.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Day 6: Random Acts of Kindness

I'd like to start this post of with a small complaint about the word "random" in the title phrase. I'm confident that it's there to imply a certain amount of serendipity and whimsy to the idea of practicing kindness, which is important (not everything needs to be serious, and that includes kindness). However, I wonder that it often gets misinterpreted to mean that an act of kindness can be spontaneous, and that such a spur-of-the-moment act is somehow better or more fashionable than one that is carefully thought out. Perhaps I'm nitpicking here, but I'd like to hold at the center of this post the idea that kindness is not simply something that happens spontaneously. It comes as a result of learning and conscious practice.

The practice of kindness is a state of mind. Like other states of mind, it can be developed in a variety of ways. One such way is no more complicated than thinking about it and what it looks like. What do I consider kindness to be? What about other people? What does it look like to them? How does kindness, friendliness, goodwill occur in my world? The more we spend time thinking about these things, the more aware we become of the concept.

One of the things you'll come to notice about the state of mind that is kindness is that it varies according to the context of the object of it. We find it easy, for example, to think about kindness when we put it in the context of people we love. We find it much harder to think about it if the context of our kindness involves that which we despise or fear. This is why kindness has to be cultivated. In order for it to have lasting value to us individually, we have to practice cultivating kindness beyond simply the context of things we find easy.

That's not to say that we don't start there. In fact, it's where the process of thinking about kindness probably should begin. A Buddhist might say to cultivate love first in the most fertile soil. Over time, the scope of this thinking grows. You can start to think about kindness toward strangers (those about whom you are neutral). Over more time, you can start to think about kindness toward everyone.

The manifestation of kindness can be developed with the same pattern. Start your expressions of kindness with those closest to you. Just remember that kindness can't occur in a vacuum. It's not about you or your definition of what is kind, but that of the object of your intention. I love giving hugs to my children and telling them I love them! NiNi sucks this up with a sponge. SiSi, on the other hand, is at an age and of a personality where this a not straightforward affair. For her (and especially in public) a hug and a big "I love you!" get a decidedly negative reception. The work of kindness is often in the search for what fits the person to whom we wish to show kindness. For SiSi, a high five or a subtle wiggle of the eyebrows accomplishes all the good of a private hug.

This brings me to the real truth about kindness that I'm learning right now: Kindness, and the expression of it, is not really about the kindness, it's about the understanding of people. I've learned how to be kind to my children in some ways. It's taken 11 years, and I don't get it right all the time. I've learned how to show kindness to my wife. It's taken more than 18 years, and I don't get it right all the time. I've learned how to show kindness to my students. I've been teaching high school for 15 years, and I haven't succeeded with all my students, or all the time even with those I understand well enough to come close. I get better every time I try, but not strictly because I try a lot. Sure, you have to try a lot to get better at something, but what's going on in all that trying is that, every time I try, I get closer to understanding.

The prompt of the day asked me to write about what random acts of kindness I've performed. Instead, I'm going to share with you the acts of understanding I'm practicing to make my acts of kindness the most effective they can be.

I'm learning to listen. Most people who know me accept that I talk a lot. It's nice, I suppose, if you're listening and I'm telling a story, but it tends to get in the way when I'm trying to really understand who someone is and how they feel.

I'm learning to take a minute. Genetically, I think I must be predisposed to a career in law or political advocacy. I'm not afraid to express my opinions or defend a cause or idea I feel has value. Yet, when I take the time to sit and get past my initial need to respond, I find I understand on a much deeper level the best intent of people and a wisdom (however different or conflicting it may be to my own) in their point of view.

I'm learning to ask, not state. Asking questions opens doors to sharing that making statements often closes. For some people, it is important to stand up for things. For me, the work is in the opposite direction.

I'm learning to accept that Rome was not built in a day. The practice of cultivating a habit of kindness takes time. You can't do it once and be done with it, and neither does it do much good to work on such a habit too far beyond where you're at developmentally (you don't throw a kid into the middle of the ocean to teach them how to swim). I'm where I am, and I'm working to move forward from there.  Every step forward brings me closer to where I want to be--kind to all.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Day 5: Movies I Never Get Sick of Watching

As I get older, there are fewer and fewer movies that I'll watch more than once or twice. It's not that they weren't good movies. Well, ok. Some of them certainly weren't *cough*Clash of the Titans*cough*, but really it's about whether the movie is compelling to me.


A compelling film should resonate with what I've been through in some way, but do so in a way that is different from my own experience. If it's fiction, it should be set in a universe at that is creative, innovative and interesting to explore. If it's based on reality (or prior fiction), it should be respectful of past events (or canon). Regardless of the format, the characters need not to feel like they exist solely for the sake of the story.

Some people say a compelling film should develop our moral sense. It should make us think. I appreciate that, but I'm less compelled by thinking than by feeling. I can accept a movie less flashy and full of effects if it draws on my emotions in just the right way. By "the right way", I mean not to scare me (I don't like to be scared) or anger me (there's already enough in the world to piss me off). I don't cry or anything, but there's something to be said for a good cathartic sigh.

Based on the above criteria, then, the following qualify:

Last of the Mohicans (1992). Daniel Day Lewis is an amazing actor, and he makes a thoroughly believable Natty Bumppo. This movie is not an exact adaptation of the book, but shows it good respect while exploring the canon and the history from a slightly different angle.

Running Scared (1986). Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as Chicago detectives in a film so full of quotable material I wish I could share it with everyone.

The Hunt for Red October (1990). A great adaptation of the book, and the best of a genre of films that has been sadly neglected since the end of the Cold War. Lots of good quotes in it, too!

It's a Wonderful Life (1946). I watch this movie every year, and it never fails to make me appreciate my world and all the wonderful people in it.

Blade Runner (1982). I am continually fascinated by the world in which detective Rick Deckard plies his trade. The concept of the replicant as interpreted by Ridley Scott really makes me think about what it really means to be human.

Back to the Future (1985). This is just a fun movie for someone who grew up in the 1980s! All the 80s culture is there and it has a flavor that is very familiar to someone of my generation. The characters are wholly quirky and entertaining, and the story is pretty classic.

Let it Ride (1989). It's not for Jennifer Tilly that this movie appeals to me (truly, large tatas are not the thing that draws me to the theater). Rather, it's Richard Dreyfuss' character. He's just a normal guy trying to communicate something he's discovered about the world to people who can't or don't want to understand it. I feel like that's me a lot of the time.

The Matrix (1999). This story is deep, and every time I watch the film it gets deeper. Inception is another example of such a film and I'm sure I will eventually be putting it on this list; I just don't own it yet.

Star Wars (1977). Although I enjoy all the movies in the franchise (except any part of Episode I that involves Jar Jar Binks), it is this one that I watch over and over. The Empire Strikes Back is the one that resonates best with me, but I don't watch it all that often--perhaps because it leaves me feeling ever so slightly melancholy afterward, and not often anymore am I in a place where I can linger in that state.

Stand and Deliver (1988). Jaime Escalante was one of my earliest inspirations as an educator, and this movie reinforces all of the things about him and about my own work that I value most highly.

The Saint (1997). This is one of those movies that Wifeness and I watch together. It means something different to each of us, but we both enjoy this movie in similar ways. It's nice when that happens!

What do you like to watch again and again?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Day 4: A Childhood Memory

The original prompt for today said my "best childhood memory", but that's a difficult thing to narrow down to a single event. There are lots of them that fit in the category and, although I hope someday to write about them all (for there is much in my past that makes for entertaining storytelling), I don't have the time today to do more than one. I'll share one that doesn't get told all that often.


My friends and I were out playing football one Saturday in early fall. This is when I was in the sixth grade. Actually, there weren't enough of us to play actual football that day, so we were playing that game where someone calls points out and then kicks the ball and the others try to catch it. We called it Dead or Alive, but there's a name for that game nowadays that's more politically correct. Anyway, as was often the case, the game was played start-and-stop, with frequent intermissions for wrestling, tag, trips home for food or bathroom use, and myriad other activities. When you're a sixth grade boy, there's not a lot that doesn't require frequent intermissions.

During one such break, the five of us were sitting in the grass talking and the conversation made its way around to girls. I don't remember what specific words we used, but the dialog went along these lines:

"So, what do you guys think of Colleen?"

"She's nice! I'd kiss her all right!" (This is me)

[Raucous laughter and several minutes of cajoling and mocking about who might do what first and how far we'd go.]

"You should ask her out."

"Are you kidding? She's in the eighth grade! That's two whole years of difference!"

[Silence as we collectively ponder this social injustice. No enlightenment takes place, and the conversation starts over at the beginning.]

"You should ask her out."

[I give a shrug of resignation and a look of defeat. This signals the quintessential boy prompt.]

"Dare you."

Now, it must be communicated that, at this time in history worldwide, there was an unspoken but immutable rule about The Dare: You could not back down from one without losing face and being the subject of ridicule. Boys everywhere around the world understood this. It was every bit as much a truth as that of gravity, or that if you were responsible for the ball landing in the poison ivy, you had to go and get it.

[Hesitation and squirming on my part...]

"Fine."

Now I'm on the hook. I have just accepted a dare. I am, from this point forward, marked as "on a dare", which is synonymous to "on a quest ". There is no backing out, no option except to move forward. We went back to playing football.

On Monday, Colleen is at the bus stop along with the regular crowd. I act like it's a normal day, but it's anything but that because, by this time, word has spread and there's a subtle air of anticipation among all the kids who take the bus about when (or if) the dare will be fulfilled. Bets are taken. Vegas odds are set. Grids with days and times are made.

"I've got Wednesday, 3pm - 4pm for 2 dollars! Who wants it?"

I know all this is going on, but I ignore it. I've got my own problems. I have to find a way to ask out an 8th grader without looking like a complete dork, and have her actually say yes. This is the only outcome that brings me through the gauntlet unscathed. It is a ridiculous task, and made even more so by two facts:

1. I am, in fact, a complete dork.

2. Colleen is, by any middle school standard, smoking hot.

Fortunately, my quixotic endeavor is not without some support. My best friend, my Sancho Panza, lends support in a variety of ways. He paves the way to my asking by extolling my virtues to everyone on the bus.

"You know, Wayfarer scored a goal in his soccer game last weekend, and it was the winner."

"Wayfarer speaks Spanish. Did you know that?"

"If you need help in math, you should ask Wayfarer. He got an A last year."

He even figured out where Colleen stood on the matter. Not that he asked her directly, of course. That would be counterproductive. He asked her friend, Janelle.

"Janelle says that if you ask her, she'll say yes."

No pressure or anything.

By Friday morning, I've stopped eating everything except my fingernails and there hasn't been REM sleep in days. I can't stand it any longer. I arrive at the bus stop earlier than usual. My mom thought it was odd, but parents back then did pay much attention to the goings on of kids so she didn't question it when I told her I wanted to be the first person there. If she had, I'm pretty sure I would have imploded.

Colleen and Janelle are always among the earliest arrivals at the stop and, when Janelle sees that I am there, she very graciously moves off to talk to someone else. Looking back on it, I honestly don't remember approaching Colleen. When I try to recall that moment, the only thing that comes to mind is the fact that I must have looked like a nerd. A scared stupid nerd. A scared stupid nerd trying to sound nonchalant.

"Hey, Colleen."

Best opening line ever.

"So, I was wondering. Would like to go see a movie or something this weekend, 'cause it'd be fun."

Turning on the charm real high.

"Sure!"

It took every ounce of willpower not to sound like Marty McFly when she said that. I almost asked her to repeat it, just to be sure. Instead, I managed a more sedate reply.'

"Cool."

We worked out the details on the bus. Sancho Panza and I would pick her and Janelle up at Colleen's house and we'd walk to the movie theater. Friends had to be involved. There were rules of propriety back then, and this was the only way it would get parental approval. Also, we had to be home by 9pm. All this was ok by me, as long as my mom didn't go. The embarrassment factor would have been too much.

There was only one movie playing (there was no such thing as a Cineplex then). Prisoner of Zenda, starring Peter Sellers. I don't remember any of it. I spent the whole movie focusing on trying to stop grinning like an idiot and figuring out whether I should put my arm around her or not. I decided not.

As we were walking home, Sancho sidles up to me and, in a voice just low enough for me alone to hear, whispers to me.

"You should kiss her."

It was dark, but I'm sure he saw my eyebrows go up.

"I dar..."

"DON'T EVEN!"

But it was out there. Plus, I kinda wanted to, she being smoking hot and all. This was uncharted territory, though. I'd never kissed a girl before. I'd seen it done enough times--in movies, on TV. Hell, even parents smooched in front of us kids. Yet, when it came right down to it, they weren't me. They weren't walking the hottest girl I knew back from the movies, after not even trying to put an arm around her.

Not quite knowing what else to do, I walked up to Colleen and linked her arm to mine. We were the same height, so it happened naturally. Thank the gods. I'm not sure I could have handled the complication of a height difference. We talked about small stuff for a time, and I noticed that we were pretty much alone on the sidewalk.

"I hope you enjoyed the movie."

"I did! Thanks for taking me."

[Nerdy giggle on my part, then a pause.]

"Can I kiss you?"

That's me, a champion of the subtle.

"That would be quite nice."

And so I did. To this day, I can remember that kiss with complete, absolute clarity. I don't know that it lasted very long--maybe ten seconds--but the universe was kind enough to make that time pass so very, very slowly. Exquisitely slowly.

A nice memory, even all these years later. What do you remember fondly from your childhood?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Day 3: What Makes Me Happy...

It's not Tuesday, but this begs a 10 Things format, so...


1.  Coffee. Sure the taste is wonderful and it's a stimulant and all that, but the ritual of sitting down with a cup of "just right" coffee--whether it be with my email, the news, some grading or a good book--just starts the day off in the proper way.

2.  My students, when they are in the zone. In class, on the pitch, on stage, in real life--seeing them being amazing is the best kind of endorphin. I love them an awful lot and I invest probably more of me into them than is right sometimes, but damn. They do make it worth it!

3.  Time. Time to engage in creative pursuits. Time to engage in quality training for the endurance events I enjoy. Time to learn. Time to explore. Time to read. Time to write. Time to nap. I do a good job of fitting a great deal of good stuff into my days, but when there is so much to do, there really is just never enough time.

4.  My wife. It's difficult to state with words the deep contentment I feel when she and I are in each other's space. We don't have to be doing anything special. We don't even have to be doing the same thing. Just knowing that she's nearby makes me smile on the inside.

5.  Quality relationships. There are so many flavors of this. They're the people who work with you to build and grow a connection that brings happiness to you both. Chosen family are the best, closest example of this, but even the woman at the coop who knows my member number and with whom I chat about co-ed softball is representative of the right idea. We as humans are social beings, but we do not naturally learn how to form good social relationships. There is much about this that must be taught. I'm grateful that I had people to teach it to me; I hope that I'm passing it along well.

6.  Warm. Summertime. Wood stoves. Steaming showers. The heat going full blast in my car. Sunday mornings lying next to my wife. All these are examples of things that make my toes wiggle with contentment.

7.  Music. I don't play a musical instrument (I dabbled in percussion and the harmonica, and there was the recorder in the 5th and 6th grade, but that was it). I don't listen to the radio all that much. Instead, I whistle. I scat. I improvise lyrics and notes. I sing a little, but rarely in public (except to embarrass my children). The thing is, these fill up the vast majority of my waking time. I didn't notice it for many years, but I am always whistling or humming or bebopping to something. I just hope I'm on key!

8.  A good game. SiSi has of late become quite the collector of Magic the Gathering® cards. I showed her the game a couple of years ago, and she's been pretty consistent in her interest since day one. Lately, she and I have been playing pretty regularly--a couple of games is about all we can fit in most days. Every once in a while, we'll have one that is a real chess match. She's reached a level where she's able to think a little ahead strategically. She's sometimes able to anticipate my plays and this makes the game so very exciting. I don't care who wins these. In fact, I love it when she pulls a play from out of nowhere to win unexpectedly--and, more importantly, does it in a way that shows appreciation for the beauty of the game.

Ironically, this is not true for soccer games in which I am coaching. I still very much love the tension of a good, tight contest, but it always bugs me when I'm on the losing end of it. As a player, I'm totally ok with it, but not as a coach. I'm sure there's a psychologist somewhere who knows why this is.

9.  A good ending. It doesn't have to be a happy ending, but if I can predict it halfway through the work, it doesn't qualify. It's been many years since I've read it, but the ending of The Grapes of Wrath (the book, not the movie) still ranks as the best immediate example of what I mean. If you don't know it, please take the time to read the book. Even the chapter with the turtle. You won't be sorry.

10.  When the grillage turns out just right.  I use charcoal, and there is an art to getting food to come out how it should over a fire that, unlike gas, can't simply turned up and down. When the steak melts in your mouth after it comes off the flame, it is a very satisfying thing.

What makes YOU happy?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Day 2: Favorite Quotes

I try to publish some of the many quality verbal moments I hear in my world on a regular basis, so I'll just add some of the more recent gems:

"Obama just lost the nerd vote." NPR, in reaction to Obama's comment about not being able to do a "Jedi mind meld" on members of congress.

"Because YOLO." Joe, one of my colleagues, offering an explanation of a math concept during his class.

Me: "Wow! You slept late."
Karla: "No, not at all. I've been up since 9:30."

"I'm trying to cut back, I swear, but it's a gradual process. They don't have patches for these things." Lizzie on breaking her habit of 10 minute showers.

"Where's the back??!" James, about the manga that he borrowed from Kara.

"I have great reflexes." Lexi, right before getting hit with a Tupperware container.

SiSi: "Could you please stop being so picky?"
NiNi: "I can't! It's in my programming!"

"For my birthday, will you buy me a bra?" Maypaz, seeing the apparent wisdom of such a garment as a means of convenient cell phone storage.

"We no longer support that technology." The Smith College tech department staff, about slide projectors.

"I'll just wait." Jenyka, realizing that it would be impossible to interrupt the office staff in the middle of their rendition of "I'll Make a Man Out of You", from Mulan.

"Who just saw that? Did anyone just see that?" Desiree, immediately after slipping on the floor (while in her stocking feet), which resulted in her colliding with the trash can, which in turn fell and emptied on her.

"Because it works, that's why!" Torii, explaining why she has a 4" pile of flash cards containing some 350 words (as a first semester student).

"#myteacherisusinghashtags". Mickenzie, amused when I used them in a comment to one of her Facebook posts.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Day 1: Self-Portrait and 5 Random Facts

So, Chili posted a thing the other day for writing prompts for her blog and, like her, I'm feeling the need for some prompting to get me to take time to write (or, at least, write something that isn't related to my profession).  Thus, I have totally stolen it from her (who, I think, stole it from Kwizgiver, so thank you to her, as well).


Self-Portrait and Five Random Facts

My camera is in my computer bag, which is all the way across the house. Plus, the battery isn't charged and I have coffee to drink. In short, I'm not getting up to take a picture of myself. Instead, you get my doodle:


This doodle is what I use in place of my signature sometimes, and I've always like how it represents the simpler, open and welcoming aspects of me.
In this blog, there are a fair amount of random facts about me, and I'll admit that it's taking me a minute to come up with some that, perhaps, not everyone already knows. Hmmm... Let's try these:

1. I can sew. I don't do it often and I do it much better by hand than by machine but, when the need calls for it, I can tie a decent stitch.
2. Among the several languages in which I count myself as proficient are Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. I can switch between them all but, curiously, some switches are easier than others. For example, if I'm using Italian and switch to Spanish, I can't go back to Italian without taking a break. If I'm in Spanish and go to Portuguese and back to Spanish, I speak it with a Brazilian accent.

3. I have in my lifetime started a martial arts school, a graphic arts business and an interscholastic athletics league. Two of the three are still in existence.
4. I have a strong visual memory and can read maps well (thanks for the latter go to my orienteering instructor in elementary school). Given this, I don't like to travel--especially by car--to someplace unfamiliar without a map, and because I find them distracting I don't own a computer that gives directions (like a Garmin or a TomTom). I can retain the image of a map in my head well enough to navigate with just that.

5. Although I don't do it nearly as often as I would like, I very much enjoy exploring and reading I Ching. I find it a peaceful and reflective way to connect with that which lies just outside of my routine conscious thought. I received a set of yarrow stalks some years ago and they are my preferred tool for this practice, but using them takes rather a lot of time sometimes and so I have other, less lengthy methods for when I can't spend two hours at once. For me, it's not about seeing the future or anything; it's about making more clear the sometimes disparate pieces of my universe so I can make better sense of them and how they relate to one another.
That's day one.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday Meme: Because I Have a Snow Day

I have several things that will demand my time today, but none of them are truly professional in nature since it's the start of the second semester and there is nothing to grade. Since I don't have to be anywhere until later this morning, I thought I'd take a minute to post a something. This particular meme is stolen blatently from Chili, who stole it from Kwizgiver.

1: Would you swear in front of your parents? My father was a journalist in the Navy, and so colorful language was very much a part of my growing up. It used to be a source of pride among the men of my family to see how much foul language you could string together in a single breath. Given that, swearing in front of my parents on any occasion was never really an issue after I left for college.

I can remember distinctly the day when my mother gave up trying to enforce clean language. I was 11 and my friends were cursing up a storm outside whilst playing some sort of war game with those little green army men. My mom happened to come outside (to hang clothes on the clothesline, probably) and we didn't notice her. We would have shut up if we'd heard her come out. She called my name (all of it, so you knew she was serious), then paused and said, "Oh, whatever. Just don't use it in the house."

2: Which continents have you been on? I have lived the longest in North America (the U.S. and Puerto Rico), but I have also had the blessing to live in Europe (Italy, for several months) and South America (Brazil, twice, also for several months). I would love to visit the Far East and Australia, but I'd like to take a good chunk of time to do it properly. To suffer the 30 hours of plane ride for just a week of wild, frenzied travel is not worth it to me, for reasons explained below.

3: Do you get motion sickness? Any horror stories? I have, for my entire life, had incredible issues with motion sickness. I can't even do swings well anymore! My wife and I have worked out a viable system for travel as a family that allows me the freedom to simply shut down once we get on trains, planes or boats (I'm responsible for getting us all up to that point, but after that I have to be off the clock to focus on not throwing up). I can remember several times when, but for the comfort provided by random strangers, I might not have survived getting from one place to another. There was the stewardess on the flight from NYC to Rio de Janeiro when I travelled there for college (on top of the vertigo, I was suffering from a flu that laid me flat for a full week after I arrived). There were the three Mormon missionaries that sat with my on the ferry ride across the English Channel during a brutal storm that tossed the big boat around like a potato chip. There are others, and in my moments of quiet contemplation I make sure to take time to bless them.

4: Why did you name your blog whatever you named your blog? The name Wayfarer House came to be when Wifeness and I moved from Las Vegas to New England. We're both globetrekkers, and we wanted to capture that, as well as our tradition of having a home that is a nexus for people from all manner of places and cultures. My blog's name comes from that.

5: Would you wear a rainbow jacket? A neon yellow sweater? Checkered pants? For many years, I would only wear four colors: Black, white, blue and grey. As a colorblind guy, these were the only colors I knew I could match. I have since figured out how to broaden my palette, but it'll be a long damn time before I wear something as vibrant as a rainbow jacket or checkered pants. Neon is different. I've worn neon for a variety of reasons as part of safety attire. I would NOT wear it as a fashion statement.

6: What was your favorite cartoon growing up? I remember watching a lot of Superfriends and Loony Tunes on Saturday mornings. I still miss Samurai Jack, even though that didn't come into my world until much later.

7: In a past life I must have been a… woman. No, really. I was told this by both a Chinese healer and by someone who reads tarot. I'm not going to make any statements about the veracity of either system (that's an individual matter), but I found it no end of curious that two separate people, practicing two very different traditions, said the same thing. Even my wife thinks I might have been a decent doula.

8: If you had to look at one city skyline for the rest of your life, which would it be? I'm awfully fond of Paris', especially from the point of view of Montmartre, by the cathedral, at sunset.

9: Longest plane ride you’ve ever been on? I've done 8 hours several times, going to and from Europe. The longest plane trip (including stops and such) was 24 hours to France with my wife. It started in Boston and involved getting bumped, being detoured to London, being stranded there because of mechanical issues, taking a cab all the way out to Eastbourne (out on the coast of England) to the only hotel with rooms anywhere (it was during Wimbledon), a very short stay in a very nice hotel (I mean VERY nice), a cab ride back and, at long last, a short plane ride to Paris. I was SO carsick at the end of that!

10: The longest you’ve ever slept?  On my first trip back from Brazil, I had stayed up for almost 70 hours before the plane left Rio. It was about 12 hours before I saw my folks at Logan Airport in Boston. We drove a short way up to my grandparents house after they picked me up, and we stayed overnight there before making the long drive home. We ended up staying two days because, after a few moments of greetings and telling stories, I crawled into bed and slept 14 hours straight. I don't believe I've slept that long in one stretch since. In fact, rarely do I sleep longer than 6 hours at once now. I blame the cats.

11: Would you buy a sweater covered in kitten pictures? Would you wear it if someone gave it you for free? I cannot imagine an instance where this would happen, but that doesn't mean there isn't one.

12: Do you pluck your eyebrows? Only to tame the verge, so to speak, for I am now at the age where eyebrows start to go all wild and hairs appear in places where they don't belong.

13: Favorite kind of bean? Kidney? Black? Pinto? I have always loved red beans and rice. I'll eat most others without prejudice, although lima beans and I have to stare at each other for a few seconds. Green beans are also one of my longstanding favorites. We used to can them by the ton when I was a teenager!

14: How far can you throw a baseball? When I was in high school, I could hit a five-gallon bucket from mid-center field. I'm not that good any longer, but I can still hit home from second base with a softball fast enough to beat someone trying to score from third. And when I say "hit home" I mean put the ball right down in front of the base where the glove needs to be to tag a sliding runner. I've always been very accurate with my arm.

15: If you had to move to another country, where would you move? There are so many choices here. If I had the chance to move for a period of time (like a year or so) with my family, I'd seriously consider it. It's widely accepted that, if I move to someplace with palm trees, I'm probably not coming back. If it were me alone, I would consider going back to Brazil.

16: Have you ever eaten Ethiopian food? Vietnamese? Korean? Nepalese? How was it? I love food from other cultures! I have sampled some of each of these, and found them delicious, but I think it's important to make clear that the versions of these cuisines I encountered were first-world versions, and that makes them different from what they'd be in their native lands. There is much in the cuisine of other countries that, when consumed locally, makes it very strange to one's intestinal tract. It took a week to get over eating feijoada in Brazil.

Have a super Monday!



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