Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Weeks in Quotes

Last week was light, what with school vacation and all. Here's the current collection:

“What are we looking for, anyway?” (Anne, after 10 minutes of digging under the seat pad of a recliner to recover one of Wifeness’ knitting needles [in addition to which, a toy baby bottle, half of a plastic tomato, a wrench and one dime were also recovered].)

[Snickering] (The sound that followed every single mention of the word “Uranus” during a recent episode of Jeopardy at our house. From the grown-ups.)

“Bravery doesn’t work with a broken neck.” (Random pearl of wisdom from NiNi.)

“I WANNA GO SO BAD!” (Rebeccah, after seeing the television ads for the new Harry Potter theme park.)

“I knew it was going to be hard to get up...” (Mahk, about getting up early to run 14 miles after having gone to bed late the night before.)

“I got carded for the first time! WOOT!” (Karla, in Montreal.)

“I’m so human, so...John Steinbeck!” (One of the few students I know who has actually read The Grapes of Wrath.)

“Chuck Norris CAN believe it's not butter.” (on Facebook.)

“The more I thought about what it was that did it, the less I felt the need to jump in and go for a swim...” (Abby Sunderland, sailing in the middle of the Pacific, on what ate the lure off her fishing line.)

“I climbed in the window.” (Edmund, explaining how he came indoors to answer the telephone. This was necessary because of the more than 40” of snow they’ve received at the Red House since Wednesday.)

“He took a dive.” (Commentary on Francois-Louis Tremblay’s crash during the 500-meter short track speed skating final in which Apolo Ohno was disqualified.) [JUDGE FOR YOURSELF HERE]

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

It looks like a lot when it's in list form...

Not much of interest today.

Shovelled snow for 30 minutes. SiSi helped. She did the front walk and the sidewalk. I love that she likes to come out and do stuff with me! It’s nice bonding time.

Took the kids to music class. Sometimes there are negotiations for playdates afterward, but not today. They came home with me and cleaned their room 3 times.

The trip to VT was a bust. The Red House is without power, and the snow is up to the top of the windows. We rescheduled for late March when, hopefully, they’ll be able to use the door.

Started the laundry. Two loads are through at press time. There will be more. Many more.

Napped. You could have guessed that would come into play at some point.

Spent some time looking for contacts to help with my Domincan Republic service learning project. I want this to happen, and the fact that I’ve never done one before should not be an impediment. Neither will my fear of treading on such unfamiliar ground.

Solved two Killer Sudoku puzzles. The medium ones are about where I’m at. I can solve the hard ones, but they take a while. I like that I’ve figured out the tricks to them. It was annoying that they were so challenging at first!

Looked over the 3 videos I got from the library to help me with my core workouts. I have enough in my arsenal to do 45 minutes, but I’d like to have more variety.

Wifeness had to work today. She was tired. I bet her day had more going on.

Made leftovers (thanks, Janie and Chris, for the Chinese food!)

Cleaned the kitchen. I say thank you every day to the universe for the blessing of a dishwasher to our lives.

Still to go: 30 minutes on the bike while watching GI Joe on DVD.

That’s it.

What’d you do today?

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Visit to the Red House

I’m going to meet Edmund this weekend at the Red House in Vermont. Edmund is my teacher, my mentor and a well from which I draw a great deal of inspiration. He was my professor at college when I was studying languages (he and his wife, Veronica, were an important reason I chose to attend Marlboro), but he is so much more than that. It would take a very long time to put into words all that he is and just how he has inspired me as a teacher, a father and a husband. I have been blessed to remain close to his family for more than 20 years now.

I haven’t seen him in a while, though. The last time was during the summer, while he was still recovering from hip replacement surgery. Why he needed the bionic hip is a story worth hearing him tell. Not only does he tell a good story, but this one in particular illustrates very well the kind of man Edmund is. The expurgated version is that, during a Halloween party half a dozen years ago, Edmund was dressed as the incarnation of death and was carrying a nubile coed up three flights of stairs (did I mention that he’s nearly 80 years old?). He missed the top stair and put out his hip. The reason he had it replaced was because it was interfering with his ability to race mountain bikes. Seriously. The man is epic.

Our visits do not come often enough. There is simply never enough time to catch each other up on the happenings in our respective worlds, investigate the great problems of the universe and stroll properly across the vast landscape that is our longstanding relationship. Yet, even though our chats pass far too quickly, I leave him recharged and centered in a way that is difficult to describe. I’m reinforced in my belief that, even though we are all alike in our humanness, there are still such things as heroes, sages and masters, and that the two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

In my relationships with my own students, I work hard to try to communicate this. Teachers, especially in high school, often miss opportunities to build deep, personal relationships with their students. They strive to remain detached, aloof, disinterested because they think their job is to pass judgment impartially on their students’ efforts. Students, who know no better, see only this professional side of their teachers and often never get to learn from them how to form and nurture lasting relationships with the adults who inspire them. I see this as a great part of what teachers can do to contribute to the lives of children, far more important than teaching French or math or science.

I’m very proud of the fact that many of my students still orbit my world. They are out on their own, of course, having adventures, living life, but they come back to visit regularly. They bring their siblings, their dates, their husbands and children and they are never here long enough. The landscape of our relationship is vast, too. It’s not something I can really talk about directly with them, but I would consider myself honored if just one of them gets out of their time at Wayfarer House what I get from Edmund at the Red House.

Do you have someone in your life who is your mentor, and more?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In Short, In Verse

It's late to post anything of substance, but I'm feeling creative...

Exams are off, they're just not ready.
The snow day made a mess of things.
Now they're doing research Friday,
I hope that 5 days next week brings.

The DR project sits up-ended.
Neither of us has a clue.
collaboration time has been suspended,
because we have too much to do.

Training this past week, successful.
Three pounds lost and fitness gained.
With muscles worked my sleep is restful,
And daily habits are well maintained.

At last we got our share of snow
but it can't last; we're nearing spring.
I truly have no tears or sorrow,
For warmth and green will make me sing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In 3 Mintues…

I got up earlier than the automated phone call telling us that school was cancelled, but it still pissed me off when the phone rang.

I took a bit more than 3 hours to clear out the snow, except it wasn’t actually snow at the end, it was soup. My body did not appreciate it, and neither did the laundry. I soaked through two sweatshirts and my wool hoodie in the process.

After a shower and a nap (for there must always be a nap on a snow day), I sat down for 20 minutes to actually read some of The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. I’m liking both the descriptive narrative and the realistic, but mystical, nature of the universe he’s created. It’s the kind of sci fi I like to read--and write.

The girls went outside to make a snowman. Actually, they said it was a stormtrooper. Apparently, they need to take a vacation from Star Wars.

I’m going to drink this coffee and, after the girls are in bed, I’m going upstairs to train on my bike while I watch G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Just the kind of movie to bike indoors to. Lots of action to distract you from the fact that you’re not actually going anywhere!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

10 Things Tuesday—Rules for Domestic Sanity

Wifeness and I will be convening a house meeting to review the basic rules that promote the domestic flow necessary for the mama and papa to function as caretakers. Here are 10 we'll be discussing:

1. If you take it out, put it away when you’ve finished with it. If you pull the quilt off the back of the couch, put it back there--folded. If you pull out the milk for cereal, return it to the fridge. If it comes out of the dress-up drawer, it goes back there. Books get shelved. Art supplies get boxed. Shoes get stowed.

2. When you come in the door, bags, packs and other such articles should make their way as soon as practical out of the kitchen. That part of the house often causes a bottleneck because luggage gets left there.

3. The kitchen island is a food preparation and informal dining space. As such, it should be kept clear of detritus. It may not be used as a repository for clothing, books, mail, keys, phones, bags or papers. Packaged food, such as cereal, bagels, bread, juice or seltzer should be put away. Dishes, except for dinner dishes, go in the sink (do not put napkins, wrappers, packaging or food waste in the sink; these things need to be in the garbage or recycling, as applicable).

4. Laundry starts on Saturday and runs until it’s done. As stuff is folded, it needs to get stowed. It cannot be left to take up space in the living room.

5. There’s an in box for incoming mail and documents in the living room. There are numerous laundry baskets. There’s a key basket. There’s a coat rack in the kitchen and another in the front hall. We all need to use them.

6. If you finish a commodity (cereal, torilla chips, toilet paper), dispose of the packaging (boxes, bags, cores) properly.

7. Used dishes shall, except at dinner, be placed in the sink. Dishes shall not be left in the living room, bedrooms, or on the floor, couch, or end tables. Also, see # , above.

8. If you make a mess, clean it up. If you are one of several contributors to a mess, clean it up and encourage the other parties to help.

9. Dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom and other such work will require everyone’s participation. It’s good practice, and it results in a house that is regularly and reasonably clean.

10. Use the dry erase board to communicate with the house. If you notice that the house is low on something (soap, fruit, tea you like), write it on the list or tell someone who can. If you play the messages on the machine, write the info down. If you’re going out for a non-routine reason, give a sense of where you’ll be and when you’ll be back.

Your attention to these rules is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Meditations

Sarah, one of my students, ran away from home last week. She left with a boy, and has completely dropped off the map. I found out last Tuesday when I logged into Facebook (a lot of people posted about it) and I’ve been sending out feelers since to see if she’s surfaced. I just recently checked with some of her friends at school. No one has heard anything.

I’m saddened by this and, like many others, concerned for her safety, but on one level I respect this as Sarah’s choice. I believe in the concept of free will and the idea that people have an effect over the universe through their choices. It follows from this that, while we bear a responsibility to consider how our actions resonate, we are all accountable first to ourselves for our choices. I’m learning that it does little good for anyone else to impose a judgment of right and wrong on someone else’s choice. Especially in this situation, to give an opinion (positive or negative) of Sarah’s choice to run away doesn’t accomplish anything. All it does is alienate me from her and get in the way of my ability to help and understand.

In my quiet time today, I spent some time thinking of Sarah. I focused on the fact that she is special to me and I tried to concentrate on the thought that, if we should connect, I need only offer to help and to understand her situation and her decision. I’m hoping that some of that made it out into the world to where Sarah is.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Year of the Tiger, Day 7

As a nod to the culture and customs of Shaolin which Wifeness and I honor, Wayfarer House celebrates the lunar New Year every year. This year the start of the new year came on February 14, a Sunday, which in any other year would have been perfect. This particular year, however, Wifeness and I were in the middle of a vacation of sorts and decided that, although it is important to us to share this tradition with our chosen family, it was just going to have to take second place to some much needed grown-up time.

I wrote last year about what the holiday means to us and how we celebrate it. This year, I thought I’d take a little bit of space to explain why we give tribute to the day, and to Shaolin.

Before we settled in western Massachusetts, Wifeness and I lived in Las Vegas. The reasons for this are a story in itself, but suffice it to say that it was there that we were introduced to Sifu Steven Baugh and Shaolin martial arts. Actually, Uncle Bubba gets credit for this. He was the one who, almost on a whim, decided he wanted to take a t’ai chi class. He brought me along a couple of weeks later, and I was hooked. How it was that I had gone my whole life to that point not knowing anything about t’ai chi I don’t know, but once it came into my consciousness, it honestly felt like I had come home.

The teacher of the class (in Chinese, they’re often called Sifu, or “father”) also held kung fu classes informally in his garage, and it wasn’t long before I branched out into that world as well. Wifeness joined me after a while (I think she was wondering where I was spending all my time) and, together, we became actively involved in learning as much as we could about what Sifu had to teach us. We also realized that we, as older members of this small and close-knit group, had a lot to offer. We taught classes, helped organize trips and, as the number of students grew beyond what he was able to accommodate in his small house, we talked with Sifu about what he wanted to do next.

It wasn’t a secret that he wanted to start a true martial arts school. In fact, it had been tried once before during our time but, for a variety of reasons, it had problems getting off the ground. We sat down with him one evening after class and asked him what he truly wanted. The exact wording is buried deep in my memory now but, in essence, it came down to this: He wanted a school that was dedicated to the preservation and revival of Shaolin practices. He wanted to show that the study of Shaolin arts had meaning in today’s world. He wanted to do more than just teach martial arts. He wanted to educate people about a life without artificial stimulations, drugs or medications. He wanted to show people how to be fit, and to help them learn to be in touch with themselves. He wanted to show people the possibility of a life filled with a continual sense of discovery. He wanted to create an outreach program to work with at-risk youth. He wanted people to know Shaolin was about community.

His vision of a school that was so much more than school truly touched us. As we talked together that night about how it might come about, it became clear that Wifeness and I had the skills to get his dream started. We knew first-hand of the value of our Sifu’s teachings, so the decision to make the offer to set things in motion was an easy one. Together with a core group of supporters, we helped establish a non-profit organization, the Lohan School of Shaolin, to make the school official. Sifu continued to attract students, and we worked with him to broaden the school’s presence in the community. As a school, we held classes and demonstrations in Chinatown, casinos and community centers. We established business contacts all over the city and in California. Sifu added lion dance to the school’s repertoire. In the three years before we left Las Vegas, the Lohan School grew incredibly fast, and it’s still growing today.

Wifeness and I will always be incredibly grateful for all that Sifu has given to us. He gave me, personally, a sense of what spirituality should be. He taught me that life deserves to be lived with purpose, and that there is no more greater purpose than to be dedicated to a life of service to others. It is to honor Sifu, Shaolin and the principles of the Lohan School that we celebrate as we do.

Gung hay fat choy!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Walkers with the Dawn

I’m working to build a habit of getting up early to train, which means slogging out of bed at 5:15 to gather together my gear and get to the gym. It’s only the first week, but so far it hasn’t felt like torture. Actually, I’ve noticed I’m sleeping much better. I’m not lasting until 1am, but since that wasn’t terribly healthy anyway, I’m not truly sorry.

For as much as I like being up late, I enjoy seeing the sun rise even better. I know. I can hear the sounds of your groaning and eye rolling all the way over here, but there’s something special about that time of day that has always simultaneously put me at peace and charged my spirit. It’s quiet and peaceful then. The world is, for the most part, still at rest, and there is a tangible sense of the coziness and comfort of people still asleep. There’s a special smell, too, if that’s what you can call it. It’s not a smell, exactly, but you notice it when you take a slow, deep breath if you stand outside. It’s fresh, and full of potential!

I woke up this morning and grabbed my backpack, put my shoes on, shrugged into a jacket. I got to the gym right at 5:45--plenty of time to get a workout in, except for one thing. Today is Saturday, and the gym doesn’t open until 7am. Given that I was already up, dressed and in the mindset to do something, I went for a long walk. I could have made it a power walk or really tried to break a sweat but, honestly, that didn’t feel right. Instead, I just walked. I breathed in that special early morning air and watched as the night gave way to dawn. By the time I got back home, I’d been walking for 45 minutes and felt like I’d accomplished something, even if it wasn’t a gym workout.

Being walkers with the dawn and morning,
Walkers with the sun and morning,
We are not afraid of night,
Nor days of gloom,
Nor darkness--
Being walkers with the sun and morning.

-- Langston Hughes

How's your day? I hope well!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Some Goals for 2010

I realized, thanks to Kizz, that I didn’t publish any of this year’s goals. This is by no means the exhaustive list. It simply represents some of the highlights that, by virtue of putting out for public review, I will be held publicly accountable for completing.

Clean out and organize the basement, including the woodshop. This is no small task. A lot of what’s down there simply needs to be pulled out, examined (do we keep it vs. do we let it go), but there are some bigger organizational questions that need to be addressed. Where do the canned goods and supplies go? Do bikes stay downstairs in the summer? What about all the extra bikes (oh, yes, there are extras)? Does the potting and gardening stuff stay where it is? Do we keep the old electrical stove from the rental? The gas dryer from Las Vegas? It is my hope that all these questions will be answered during April, but I seriously doubt that it’ll happen in a single day. I’m going to be quite content if it’s dealt with in a week.

Creating and reviewing each month a clear and definable list of goals for the Community School project, a timeline for accomplishing every item on the list, and documenting each month the measurable progress on each item. The list currently includes the following:

– Learn about how to build a viable infrastructure for our school and the community it will serve.
– Create vision documents for the project as a whole (focused on the Community part first).
– Create the legal entities to support further work, including a property search.
– Establish guidelines for choosing co-founders and new members, including the principles of financial involvement in the project.
– Take training in the consensus decision-making model.

I intend to post this list on the Community School site, and updates to it will appear there. I’ll own that this is an ambitious list, but hell, it’s an ambitious project!

Get down to 170 lbs. I have 24 lbs. to go. I broke into the 170s by the end of August last year, but packed it right back on once school started. I have a plan working for keeping more active during the fall and winter that will, hopefully, lessen the effects of the next dark time. I’ll talk about it more in another post.

Make memory boxes for Soren and Nieve. When I was in preschool, my teachers helped me to make a scrapbook. I still have it. It’s green, and has plastic bindings that are designed to allow for more pages when the book gets full. It started as a simple craft project, as someplace to put samples of stuff I’d done and learned as a little kid. As I got older, I added pictures and other mementos from the places I’d visited and lived (my dad was in the navy, so we moved around a lot). Eventually, my scrapbook became the place where special artifacts went, especially if they chronicled something important, like an achievement, accomplishment or a journey completed. My diplomas are in it, as well as the first bib I wore for a competitive distance event (a century ride back in 1992). I think it’s important to be able to look back and remember what amazing things we’ve done, what journeys we’ve taken, what lessons we’ve learned. It’s an important part of the work of self-realization. My hope is that these boxes will continually remind my girls of their power and potential as well as give them a sacred place to preserve those special things that define their unique path through life.

Spend more time engaged in Buddhist practice. The thing is, I’m finding a lot of value in writing about it, so devoting time to doing it makes sense. I’m not going to get all religious here (I’ll proselytize about all manner of moral issues, but I keep my religion to myself). In fact, I rather appreciate looking at the tenets of my practice through a secular lens. I figure if it makes sense from a “real world” point of view, then it’s worth following. Writing for public consumption also helps me express my thoughts better (I hope--feel free to tell me that’s not the case)

Finalize my first- and second-year language curriculum--with units, new stories and more student-generated practices and projects. Much of the material I use now was developed during my time in graduate school, so it’s 3 years old. In that time, I’ve seen how it all works and, overall, I’m pleased with the results. There are a few things that need revising, however, and there are several units that need to be properly finished (I’ve been teaching from the outline, not from an actual finished product). I’d like to get all that stuff done. A couple of students have offered to help me with this project, and I’m excited to include them. They have a good sense for what works, what reads well and what, frankly, should be shredded and never heard from again. By involving them in the work, I’ll end up with an effective, but more student friendly product. I won’t get started until the late summer and it will likely carry over into 2011. I’m intending to ask for a sabbatical from our intercession to work on it.

I like to check in on my goals every couple of months. Last year I sucked at that. I hope that, by showing at least this part of the list to the world, I’ll do a better job of keeping them fresh in my mind. They’re what I want to do, after all.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Zero-dark-thirty, redux…

I’m going to say it right here: I have done nothing of worth in the way of training since last fall. Nothing. I'm also going to own that I can see quite clearly the consequences of this when I look in the mirror. Add to this the standard issues I have with weight gain and inactivity during the dark time, and it is inevitable that I should step on the scale and say, “Well, that didn’t take long.”

And so, for the second time since January, I am back on the horse (or bike, as the case may be) and working to reestablish the habit of daily exercise I need to shed some pounds and get back to some semblance of competitive fitness for the events I want to do this year. Today (as most days) will start at 5:15, so I have time to get up and get to the Y or get outside for a run. This gives me the time I need to get a workout in and still have adequate time to get stuff ready for school. During the afternoon or evening, I will add another workout such as a bike ride or weights (the bike training has to be done in the evening this time of year because the sound of the trainer carries down to the apartment, and we don’t want to disturb our wonderful tenant). Not every day will be double session, but most will be because I have ground to make up. I’ve eaten and slacked my way nearly out of my jeans! Sigh.

I’m seeing light at 6:30 now, which leaves me feeling like the dark time is nearly past. It’s not as cold in the mornings of late, either. Although there is now a coating of snow on the ground, it shouldn’t last but a couple of days. I’m looking for anything at this point to help raise my enthusiasm. I need as much inspiration and positive stimulation as I can manage. 5:15 is a little earlier in the morning than I’m used to.

Do you have to get back on the proverbial horse about something?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Just got back from the coast...

...and boy are my arms tired!

Actually, I did, in fact just get back from the coast. I went to the Matriarch's to collect the children. They'd been enjoying several days with Nana and Grampa. Wifeness and I also enjoyed their several days away, but we're glad to everyone back home now--for as long as it lasts; Karla leaves for Montreal tomorrow with Wheeler, and won't be back until Monday.

I left NH with the girls (the youngest ones) after a busy morning shoveling out the car and loading it with loot from the Chili household (thanks, Chili House!) and we pushed to get back to Wayfarer House before noon so I could run in, grab pre-arranged kid swimming stuff and birthday presents (thanks, Wifeness!) and head to a pool party for one of the girls' friends. Can I say that such events wear me out? I'm not sure why, but I can tell you that, by the time we truly walked in the door at 3pm, I was wiped.

I've been sluggish since (despite the hour-long nap I took), so I'm going to bed. I've got the kids all day, and I'm going to need some sleep if I'm going to be able to keep up with them!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Random Monday Meme

My brain is not functioning on all cylinders today, so I offer some randomness in the way of a meme. Enjoy!

1. Would you consider selling your soul to the devil if he made you a really, really good offer?

What could the devil offer me in exchange for my soul that I couldn’t obtain on my own, with time, practice and mindful attention? Whatever it is, I’m not sure I want it.

2. How often do you exercise?

Ugh. OK. Right now, not all that much. I’m supposed to be training for a triathlon in late May, but I’m having a hard time getting my jones up to do anything except hibernate. Spring’s coming soon, right? Normally, I do something almost every day for half an hour minimum. During the summer when I’m training, it will be at least twice that.

3. What would you do if someone painted your house lime green by mistake?

I have to be honest; I think my house is that color now.

4. What food will you never eat again for the rest of your life?

Watermelon. Ever since I was 6 and pissed off a wasp nest while eating it, I’ve never been able to tolerate even the smell of watermelon. My wife, bless her, disinfects the kitchen after she brings it into the house.

5. Would you ever drastically change your hair color? What about drastically change the style?

I won’t ever color my hair, and since my hair has done nothing but get shorter over the years, I suspect it won’t change stylistically all that much either. I really like my ultralow-maintenance hair.

6. You had a party and you need to clean up, but it’s late and you want to go to bed. When do you clean up?

This question comes up at our house with some regularity, and the answer is that things get cleaned up as well as they can be the night before. However, if there’s more than a dishwasher load, the rest will sit until the morning, when the dishwasher can be rerun.

7. Would you ever walk in front of an obstructed window (during the daytime) naked?

I don’t go out of my way to show it off, but I’ve got no fear that someone will see my nudidity. I don’t often think about whether the window is open if I’m near it during the day. In the evening, I notice it more.

8. What is your favorite meal of the day?

For variety, dinner can’t be beat. For its feeling of comfort, though, breakfast wins this award.

9. Could you give up the internet for a month?

Sure, I could! It’s a pain in the ass during school, but I don’t mind unplugging. In fact, I relish my time offline.

10. How much do you use your imagination on a regular basis?

I really do lead a rich internal life.

11. What is the craziest thing you heard over the weekend?

That John Mayer was hung out to dry because he used the n-word--not because he said it, but because he’s white. There’s a post in the works on this, as soon as I can figure out how to communicate my feelings about this issue properly.

12. What is the last thing you changed, and what is something you’ll never change?

I got a new cell phone yesterday. My other one was introduced to a snowbank back at Xmas and did not recover. The new one cost $10. I think I will never change my belief that people are inherently intelligent, powerful and capable, however often individuals may demonstrate to my too-judgmental mind the exact opposite.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Week in Quotes

“Find F of Theta from Alpha to Beta…Don’t be a hatah, Use your calculatah…” (Spontaneous rapping in AP Calculus).

“‘My past’?? My past is not pure.” (During a recent game of Apples to Apples®).

“I feel so...endarkened.” (Karla, on her discovery of Goth reference works in the stacks at local library).

“That was the plow going by, preemptively.”

“We are very roudy students.” (A student in my mannerly and soft-spoken independent Latin study group, explaining why they were forced to change classrooms to make room for, of all things, a performance poetry class).

“$20 per session?” (the amount offered to me by a student desperate to see a roleplaying campaign at school during lunch. I declined.)

“What’s the only letter other than a C that has an ‘S’ sound?” “‘E’??” (A student destined to retake her oral exam in Spanish).

“I actually do know this, I’m just forgetting…” (A student ironically trying to remember the verb “oublier” which, in English, means “to forget”).

“Respect my pronunciation!” (The retort when I raised my eyebrows at the response "wzxthpth" to a vocabulary question).

“Does it matter if I don’t pay attention to the directions?” (From someone 20 minutes into this week’s exam).

“Wanna hear about my dream?” (The rhetorical question preceding a full five-minute recount of SiSi’s epic fantasy, told while Mama and Papa were in the bathroom trying to get ready for the day).

“You must believe in yourself when no one else does, like right now, for instance.” (From the movie Balls of Fury, watched on Thursday because I was not in the mindset to do anything productive, but there was seriously nothing else on).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Two Sentences…

The children are gone--for 3 days.

Wifeness will be home at noon.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winning the Lottery

Today is Lottery Day at my school. Every year about this time, we take all the applications we’ve received from students who’ve been to the required meetings and demonstrated at “auditions” and do a random draw to fill the open slots for the upcoming school year. This is a big deal! There is a great deal of anticipation that surrounds the event, and prospective parents have already begun calling the school to find out when they might know if their child made it into the school. There are always more applicants than we have spaces, so there is much hand wringing about where on the waiting list someone falls. If they’re near the top, they might get called late in the summer. If they’re at the bottom (especially if they’re in 8th grade or higher), the odds are long that they’ll ever attend.

I’ve been part of the lottery for the last several years, and it truly is special experience! There are nervous parents, several staff, the two directors and a number of students in the room (we used to hold the draw in the office, but too many people attend it now, so we moved it to the theater), and there is always an air of excitement and eagerness. Students often pick the names out of a box, and after every one there’s applause and cheering.

“Yay! Elliot is coming to our school!”

“Horray, Elliot!”



Seriously, is there any better way to know your at the right school?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Blog Entry of the Century!

The snow storm of the century turned out to be a dud. We got 2 inches. Two. That’s it. Now, I’m not complaining about the amount. In fact, I’m really grateful that I’ve only had to break out my snowblower once all season. No, I’m bitter than my school was cancelled and I’m going to have to give up a day of my precious summer vacation because the news lives to sensationalize and my Executive Director felt pressure to act as he did because of superfluous attention by the local media on a storm that, however newsworthy for the mid-Atlantic, had the effect of needlessly scaring parents.

I’m railing about this because it’s come up repeatedly in the last little while. Scott Brown Win Referendum on Obama and Democrats. Toyota Recalls Lead to Lingering Questions. World Awaits Word on Tiger's Return. These are just three of the countless headlines that have appeared in print and over the airwaves in the last little in an attempt not to simply impart information, but to stun, surprise and shock us into paying attention to their version of it.

These stories, while based on fact, allow the public to make improper and misleading assumptions, which in turn cause people to react, rather than think critically about the kernels of fact and truth upon which the stories are supposedly built. For example, the news proclaims that the loss of Kennedy’s seat to a Republican says that the country is upset with Obama, and all of a sudden the country is stressed about the 2010 midterm elections. The media decries the state of Toyota’s safety record, and now the automaker is facing congressional inquiries. Tiger Woods is hounded, stalked and pressed to such a degree about his infidelity that he is forced into seclusion to gain any sense of peace for himself and his family. This last story is particularly egregious because it created collateral damage. Tiger Woods is a celebrity, but his family is not, and yet they must also bear the weight of the unending scrutiny and judgment that is commonplace now under our histrionic media’s system of story coverage.

I absolutely support the concept of the free press. I accept that, in a capitalist society, news is a commodity that must be made appealing if it is to sell. However, I challenge the stand that any methods to make a story appealing are acceptable, and I reject sensationalism as an appropriate method for making news valuable. I have much the same issue with advertising, too. I know many people were incensed about the ads that ran during the Super Bowl, and so did I, but for different reasons. Some were sexist, some promoted violence, some were political, but my problem with them is not with their content. I’ve got no interest in passing moral judgments, but I very much take exception to the motivation behind running them. National advertising has become a game of sensationalism; the product that can advertise in a way that amazes us, pushes the limits of taste in just the right way or creates drama will sell better. Sex is used in advertisements for precisely this reason. It is considered fair to do this because the rules don’t specifically say they can’t, and because all is fair when trying to make a dollar.

It is my belief that media, that corporations, that all entities carry the same responsibility that individuals do. I believe that all of us bear a duty to think about the effect of our words, and to act in a way that promotes harmony, not discord, encouragement, not distress, empowerment, not depression. Neither the first amendment nor economic survival supplant this obligation in my mind and all of us need to be held accountable for living up to it.

There. I’ve said my piece. I'll just get off my soapbox and brush the car off.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blue and White

Winter caught up to me in a big way this week. I’d been doing fairly well combating the yearly seasonal depression, but I’ve lost some ground to it these last couple of days. It has helped that we’ve had a very low snow year; seeing green outside is uplifting, even when the skies are grey and the wind is stiff and bitter, but the cold has been frustrating. I have found it distressing this year to have to do things in the cold. The thought of going up to my unheated office to lift weights or ride shuts me down. I dread having to take the garbage outside. Even taking the laundry downstairs (which necessitates going out the back door) has required an internal conversation like Trinity has in Matrix.

“Get up, Trinity. Get up!”

Now the air is pregnant with a winter storm. You can feel the closeness and almost muffled nature of things that subtly but unmistakably announces the coming of snow. Perhaps, on some molecular level, I knew this was coming. Perhaps my psyche, which has managed to maintain a fragile equilibrium with the season, now realizes that it cannot maintain balance in the face of nature. Perhaps I’m just really ready for some sun, some warm and some quiet time in both.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Abe Vigoda is ALIVE!

No, really!! He’s been sighted.

There’s a long-running joke running around Wayfarer House about Abe Vigoda. Years ago, someone pointed us toward [THIS SITE], and we were all like, “Really?? He’s alive??” So, every so often we would check it and, sure enough, it says the same thing.

Abe Vigoda is [[ALIVE]]. (reload page for update)

I just love the up-to-the-second nature of that last bit!

Anyway, we at Wayfarer House have taken the site at its word, but we’ve often wondered just where he’s gone. After all, he’s 90 years old this year and he doesn’t get out all that much. Given that, we were simply giddy with excitement to see him during the Super Bowl in [THIS AD]! And as a bonus, we were treated to Betty White telling someone, “That’s not what your girlfriend said!” Easily the best of the Super Bowl commercials!

Good to see you, Abe! Don’t stay away too long.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Wayfarer House, Domestic Edition

It was a quiet day at home for us (except for Karla, who went out to see Avatar in OMG3D). Even a quiet day, however, has its share of things going on. Observe:

Wifeness made scones for breakfast. She really does make the awesomest scones!

I talked to my dad for an hour about an at-risk program for local students he wants to start. It’s very ambitious, and he’s working a little over his head pedagogically so I’m lending as much assistance as I can.

Wifeness did the grocery shopping.

The kids did homemade valentines for the kids in their classes. Wifeness helped them with the stamps and ribbon, and cut the cards. The girls decorated them and addressed them (the school conveniently provides them a list to ensure each child can receive one)

I folded 6--no kidding, SIX--baskets of laundry.

The kids put their portion of the laundry away. I do my best to sort it when I fold it, but I honestly have no idea who gets which underwear, so there’s always so shifting of piles.

I turned the kitchen around--dishes come out of the dishwasher, dishes go away, dishes go in the dishwasher, everything gets washed down and dried, kitchen equipment gets put back, other piles get moved around as necessary.

Wifeness tried to get some office work done. I have no idea if she was successful.

We undressed Theo (the resident house tree) of his holiday lights and ornaments. Yes, I know it's February.

We watched the Super Bowl. Congratulations, New Orleans! Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

“No, you may not name the new fish ‘Ashface’.”

The title of today’s post, a response from Wifeness to SiSi’s proposal of moniker, easily tops the list of most interesting and entertaining quotes heard during the week in my world. Here are some others:

“It’s called ‘con-thingy!’” (in response to a question about conjugation.)

“I am a ninja, in case you haven't noticed. But of course you haven't noticed because I’m VERY good at being a ninja. YOU CAN'T SEE ME!”

“Can I go take a walk outside and study my vocab?” (by one of my students on Tuesday, when the wind chill was somewhere near 0°F.)

“I WON!” (heard by an upset winner in Friday’s first round of PVPA’s Magic® tournament.)

“Two.” (the answer to an inquiry about the number of brownies NiNi had already eaten before I noticed that she was reaching for one--with chocolate on her face.)

“It comes with handles!” (The expression of excitement from a colleague who discovered recently that Johnny Walker comes in a very large container.)

“Yeah! First, I'll give them the super stink eye until they freeze with fear and quake in their boots!! Then I'll kick them in the stomach so they can't hold their rum!! Then I'll rig up a booby trap so that when I kick the pirates into it they'll overturn more barrels of rum that will fall into their mouths!! Then when they are so drunk they can't think straight I'll make them stare at the ocean until they get seasick (we are on a boat, right?). Then I'll send them to Alcoholics Anonymous and make them repeat ‘just say no’ until they cure their addiction and make them wish they never tried to steal my mac and cheese and fudge!” (A commentary on the possibility that pirates might try to steal Joanna’s food, and how she might prevent such an occurrence.)

“hablabablabablabla.” (a student enjoying the linguistic diversion of the word “hablaba” in Spanish.)

“I have nothing to say.” (The statement of a member of my school’s board of trustees, after one of the 30 people in the audience rebuked him politely but publicly for his heavy-handed treatment of one of the student representatives during last month’s meeting.)

“---” (The response of my class when I asked them to pronounce the verb ending “-ent” during French class. They were correct.)

“Hello. This is [8-year old child]. Please hold for my mom…” (the beginning of a phone conversation about an upcoming sleepover.)

“I’ve figured out that basically it doesn’t matter what question they ask me (on the MCAS test), I can write my response using Harry Potter.”

“I am NOT being eaten by bitterness, thank you very much. But you know what else is sort of bitter? Dark chocolate... just saying.” (From a student who feels that I put Spanish higher on the priority list that French, but whose opinions on the subject can apparently be bought.)

“That's seriously YOUR leg??” (My own expression of disbelief at seeing the following photograph on the Facebook of one of my alumnae.)

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Do you have anything to eat?

This question is probably the one most heard around my school in an average day. Grownups and kids alike hear this request constantly, and everyone knows that food is among the most valuable currencies one can have here. I, personally, am asked this question at least half a dozen times during the day. This is ironic since, although I often have food in my classroom to share, it is rarely something students find adequate to assuage their seemingly ever-present hunger.

Given that teenagers around my school are so constantly looking for food, it may be safely assumed that they’re not getting enough to eat. Is this a problem? I think so. Research shows that teenagers need a diet of between 2,200 and 2,800 calories per day. This is far greater than the 1,600 to 2,000 calories adults need, and the timing of these calories has been shown to be important. Breakfast, for example, is widely recognized to be essential to children’s performance in school. Simply put (and obvious to those of us who teach), teenagers who skip breakfast have more trouble concentrating and do not perform as well. Skipping breakfast in childhood and adolescence may also be a cause for health problems such as obesity and heart disease later.

But what to do? Institutionally, we’re kind of limited, although we have some things we can do. My school doesn’t have a cafeteria; the kids brown bag it, although we do have a free/reduced lunch offering for those who qualify which is sponsored by a neighboring district. We have vending machines that are fairly reasonable in price, but the offerings are not all what one might call healthy. We’ve managed to negotiate for a decent offering of decent foods, including sandwiches, but there is still far more junk in them than is good. We communicate to parents the importance of making sure their children eat breakfast and that they bring enough food to last through their very long day (these guys are in school from 8:30 – 4:15). We have even set aside money to buy extra free snacks so the kids can come and ask for them, if they need them. They just come and ask at the office (politely,and with good grammar), and we feed them.

It’s not enough. The students come into school at 8:30 and you can tell the ones that haven’t eaten. They’re sluggish, groggy and have little to no attention span. You can also tell the ones who’ve tried to make up for a lack of breakfast with caffeine. They’re all kinds of giddy when they come in the door but, by mid-morning break at 10:15, they’re dragging their caffeine crashed asses around like they’ll never be able to think again. The kids go up and down like this all day and, as you might expect, it has a tangible effect on their ability to be the best students they can be.

As I was lamenting yesterday that I didn’t have any granola bars for the last of the students to come entreating for victuals, I wondered if someone else might have more ideas about how to address this problem than I did. So, I went to see the school nurses. I brought up my ponderings to them and, bless them, they bounced this idea back and forth with me for a full 45 minutes. We didn’t come to any better solutions in the short term than what we already have in place, but we did agree to explore a couple of new things--new ways to talk to parents and teenagers about eating good food from breakfast throughout the day, the possibility of doing free/reduced breakfast as well as lunch, more and better food in vending machines, talking to the student organizers of the co-op (isn’t it cool that we have a student-organized co-op?) about quality offerings, even what else we might spend money on in the way of food to just hand out.

Ultimately, yes, the issue is one that largely rests outside the realm of the school. As a school, we could simply sit back and say it isn’t our problem. We could wait for someone else to step up and offer some solutions. I’m not saying that the school, or myself individually, can or should take choice or responsibility away from the people it’s supposed to rest with. I’m saying that if we can contribute to the solution, then why shouldn’t we do that? It’s in our best interest, and in the interest of the kids we serve.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I've got 10 minutes...

I don’t have a big post in me today. In fact, I have ten minutes before I need to get up and do stuff. I just want to keep the habit in place. Here’s the latest…

I had two meetings yesterday about culling students from my classes that weren’t thriving. They were supposed to have made some progress over the intercession to close the gap between what they can do and what they need to be able to do. They didn’t, and it’s not worth their time to sit in a class they’ll just fall farther and farther behind in as the semester goes on.

I had two discussions yesterday with students directly about what I and they can do to help them succeed. I’m hoping to avoid culling them.

I had a meeting with one of my administrators about my homework support class, and how some of them are simply taking up space--while at the same time making it hard for me to actually support the others in the group. Why are you at the school, if all you’re going to do is take up space?

I finished reviewing the 19 deck lists for the Magic: The Gathering® tournament at school, which starts tomorrow. I needed to look them over to make sure I knew how to adjudicate all the cards. I was surprised how many there were! Apparently, I haven’t played the game in a while.

I’m doing this week’s exams on the fly. I got them started on Wednesday, but there was no way I was going to finish them last night. It's a pain to do them this way, but it's functional. I'm ok with functional right now.

I need to call the refinance guy tomorrow to find out what’s going on. This has drug on for a month, and I need to get closure so I can focus on other stuff!

When am I going to get to work out next?? Maybe after some sleep…

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Drugs, Angst and Drama

It happens every once in a while at my school that the stars align just so and all manner of craziness comes out of the woodwork. Such a day was yesterday. There’s not a lot of it that I can talk in specifics about--for reasons that the title probably makes clear--but I can say unequivocally that, although none of what I was involved in was truly debilitating, damaging or bizarre, it was more than I could easily handle in a single day, coming as it did one occurrence, one student, one situation at a time.

My heart goes out to each of the students who came seeking counsel and support. I’m there for you, and honored and humbled to be part of your lives.

I’m hoping tomorrow goes better. For all of us!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In the news...

My interest in the news and current events comes and goes according to my ability to manage the rest of my world, but also according to what’s actually being discussed. Right now, I’m getting there happens to be a lot out there that I’m finding intriguing. Here’s a sampling:

1. (From NPR) Why Does Time Fly By As You Get Older? You can read and listen to the story [HERE]. This story fascinated me because it’s something I’ve noticed just recently. The holiday season passed so quickly this year, and the summers seem to get shorter and shorter. Why is that? This story explores the topic.

2. (From Fresh Air) 'The Quants': It Pays To Know Your Wall Street Math. You can play it [HERE] (scroll down a bit). This story appeals to the math geek in me, but also opened up an entirely new discussion on the recent financial meltdown.

3. (From talk radio originally) Obama Reverses Abortion-Funds Policy. You can read generally about the story [HERE]. This story is a rare example of how news can actually cause me stress.

4. (From NPR) Abstinence Message Gets Through To Teens. The story is [HERE]. Together with #3, this story ignited a long-smoldering internal debate about the issue of reproductive rights and responsibilities. I’m not going to go into it here, but perhaps soon. I need to organize my thoughts about it first.

5. (From the web) Abby Sunderland Aims For Round-The-World Record. I picked the story up originally [HERE], and it intrigued me not just because it’s totally the kind of adventure *I* would go on, but because of the controversy it generated due to Abby’s age. I’m following her quest on her blog [HERE].

6. (From The World) Charlotte Gainsbourg. This story would be interesting to you if you’re a Francophile or listen to alternative music. I’m far more the former than the latter, but I enjoyed listening to how the daughter of a French musical legend struggles to deal with her father’s legacy. You can download the interview [HERE].

What from the news touched your heart and/or mind recently?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

February 2nd, in Haiku...

Crisp winter morning
Navigating icy paths
Wishing it were spring.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Spring Semester’s First Discourse

“OK, class. Good morning and welcome back to actual class. You’ve been away for the last three weeks doing fabulous intercession activities like rock climbing, community service and children’s theater. During this time, you were asked to spend 15-30 minutes a day in practice and review of the language you’re studying. By show of hands--and be honest--how many of you actually did this?”

[uncomfortable silence… Then, a half-hearted complaint.]
“Yes, I know I was the only teacher who gave you work over Paideia, but if you’ll remember correctly, I told you that it was a necessary thing. Without the continued habit of daily practice in place, you’re going to have issues keeping up with the faster, more complicated stuff we’re going to see this semester.”


“Look, you guys want to be able to do fun stuff, right? You like it when you can really play with the language, don’t you?”

[grudging agreement…]

“You like it when we play. I like it when we play but, if we’re gonna do that, we gotta have stuff to play with and you need to know what to do with it. Make sense?”

[more grudging agreement…]

“All right, so what are you gonna do this week?”

[collective sigh of resignation…]

That’s what I’m sayin’. Dig out your packets…