Saturday, April 25, 2009

Somewhere in the world...

...the weather is tumultuous, turbulent, maybe even cataclysmic. Not so here at Wayfarer House. As I sit on the porch enjoying the evening, there is some heat radiating from the abnormally warm day, but the breeze is cool and tender and it makes pipe smoke twist and swirl lazily as it moves away into the darkness. The tranquil weather seems to have caught the mosquitos off their guard; I have seen but one all evening. It seems to have caught people as well. No one has opened their windows and the heavy whine of air conditioning is notably absent from the otherwise harmonious song of a late spring evening in the Pioneer Valley. I endure the seemingly unending dark time of winter for evenings just such as this. My body and soul are quietly rejoicing in their coming.

Friday, April 24, 2009

No records were attempted, and none were broken

My road bike finally had its inaugural ride today.

20 miles (10 of hills, 10 of flat)--1:05:40.


Last year’s best was 57:14. Last year’s ride nearest to this date was ±1:10.

So starts the outdoor riding season.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Quick Note

Early start. Beautiful Day. Karla’s up. Lots of driving. Playing disc golf. Dinner out with wifeness. Garbage ready for tomorrow. Do I have pants?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bits of Stuff (not that kind!)

I’m a burglar. Apparently, that’s what the softball team I now play for is called. Now to get my arm into shape!

Lizzie did a 6-mile run in 49 mins. I told her I was chasing that time. The fastest I ran that distance last year was 53 mins. I have a ways to go.

The kids are off to hang with the Matriarch for a couple of days. I’m driving them up today, and planning to pick them up Saturday. I’m not staying. I have stuff to do!

That stuff includes taking Karla down to see her family tomorrow (her cousin Ellie does kinesiology, and has been working with her for the last couple of months) and going to play disc golf. The weather needs to be enjoyed while it lasts!

Our town will have a new mayor come June. Let us hope whichever of the two candidates gets the office does a better job than the incumbent who’s leaving it.

My car is going under the wrench. Hopefully, she’ll be up and running by week’s end, and without all the fluids leaking every which where.

JRH: Thank you for telling me what was going on, and I’m sorry. I totally get how that just takes the wind right out of your sails. I’m here (and available) whenever.

Chili: Thanks for the info about Angela Maiers! She’s new to me and, although I’m still just getting into her stuff, I’m liking what I’m seeing and hearing.

Bessie: Hang in there! You and the kiddo will do fine. Help each other stay focused. Reach out it you need to.

Children of mine: Go get in the shower!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Every Single Year

I went to try out for a local co-ed softball team today. Three hours of practice today, and more on Tuesday. It was fun! No, really. I very much enjoyed myself, but I am continually amazed that I have to relive the same pain every season during the first couple of practices until my arm gets up to speed. It’s worthy of a 10 Things Tuesday post, but I'm posting it early because it's late and this is what's in my brain. Here they are: Ten things that hurt the first time in any given year that I do them.

1. Putting on cleats. Actually, this hurts twice a year--once for softball and once for soccer. It’s not the putting them on so much that hurts, though. It’s the blisters I get after the first practice.

2. Playing soccer. It used to be the running that killed me. That’s gotten better some since I’ve started training for triathlons. Now it’s the overuse of my left leg (the one that does all the long kicks). I feel it in my hip now in a way I never used to, and I get it no matter how long I warm up. It goes away after the second or third practice, but I have learned not to kick too much or too hard in the early part of the soccer season. Of course, I don’t have to worry about that for the foreseeable future…

3. Riding my bike. That first ride, no matter how far, no matter how much padding I wear, always leaves my ass sore. It’s like the calluses just melt, and quickly! A month off the saddle, and it’s like I haven’t sat in it for 10 years. What the crap?!

4. Throwing a softball. As mentioned above, it never fails that the first couple of days of intense practice will cause my triceps and shoulder to throb. It’s not incapacitating if I’m good about warming up beforehand, but I have had that uncomfortable twinge remind me some years that I am not giving adequate love to my arm during “spring training”.

5. Doing yard work. Why does turning the compost pile or raking leaves kick my ass like it does? Am I getting old? Don’t answer that.

6. Running more than 5k. [knock on wood] I’ve been doing well in the early part of the tri season on this. My last run was 3.5 miles (5.5k), and I ran it in decent time with no soreness or blistering. I’m certain that my 5.5 mile run later this week will not go so well.

7. Shoveling snow. Snow is not supposed to be heavy. It’s supposed to be light and fluffy. It should, therefore, not put my in traction to shovel it. I’ve taken this up with Mother Nature. She says life’s a bitch, and to suck it up.

8. Lifting weights. I’m sure that if I did this regularly all year long, this wouldn’t be a problem, but I don’t. I do well for a couple of months at a stretch, then move on to something else until I realize I’ve neglected it, then I go back and start my regimen from scratch, at step one (that’s where I’m at now).

9. Spend time in the sun. I never used to burn. Then I moved to Las Vegas. Now I burn, and that shit hurts! How am I supposed to get an even tan if I have to wear sunscreen all the time? All I ever get anymore on my legs is a weird looking pattern that is a combination of cycling shorts, soccer socks and sandals, all at the same time. I’m a freak! Well, ok. I am anyway, but I shouldn’t have to advertise it through my tan lines!

10. Cleaning out the mudroom. This is more of a psychic hurt than a physical one. Also included in this category are cleaning out of the basement, the front entryway and the Tupperware drawer.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Vacation Mode

I made it to vacation, but it wasn’t pretty. Rather, it felt more like crawling across the finish line gasping for breath. At least it did on the inside. Still, to finish is to win. It’s not figure skating. I don’t have to look good doing it.

Friday actually passed on a high note. I had serious concerns about the readiness of my students for the exam they were supposed to take so I left it open for them to put it off if they felt they weren’t prepared, but many of them decided to take it on schedule, and they did very well. I’m sure it looked curious to people to see them on the phone all around the school talking in Spanish! The rest of them were told that they could call me over vacation if they wanted to get it out of the way (It was a true SNL moment when they all flipped out their cells to punch in the number). To have so many of them step up and take the plunge was a testament to how confident they felt about what they knew, and it made me happy to see that, especially after spending most of the week worrying about how I’m going to get my “students on the fringe” across the line.

As I move into “vacation mode” I have several irons in the proverbial fire. The yard work is weighing on me, so I’m going to start on that first (weather permitting). I have also thrown the gauntlet at the mudroom, for it is flaunting its disorganization at me and I will tolerate it no longer. The basement, while not boastful in its disarray like the mudroom, must be attended to so I can begin the several home repairs that must be completed this year. My woodshop is in the basement, and currently buried under layers of detritus that could easily be used to correctly date periods of history. There is grading that must be dealt with so I can focus on the 70 or so 6-page papers that will be coming as soon as classes start again. The list is longer, but if these are not on it by week’s end, I will consider that I have done well with my time.

“Vacation mode” is not all about work, of course. I’m going to a softball practice tomorrow to see about playing on a co-ed team. I happened across the notice that this team was looking for a player and, after talking with the guy who organized it, I thought it would be a fun way to fulfill my competitive spirit (the team flavor of it, anyway) now that soccer is off the radar. My bike is down from the attic, as well. It needs some love to get it ready for the road, but I’m looking forward to finally putting some miles under my fat ass in the out-of-doors. Disc golf is looking good, when I drop the girls off at the matriarch’s at the mid-week. In the evenings, I’m looking forward to reading The Unredeemed Captive (Demos, 1995) and to continuing the roleplaying story our house has been building for the last 5 years.

I’ve decided I am not going to use this vacation to work on Community School stuff. While I recognize that it is important to keep it moving forward (and that it is not doing so at the moment), I have recognized that I just cannot focus on it well right now. It requires so much of my concentration, and my brain is tired. Part of the reason I have planned what I do for the next week is to give it some time to relax and get some of its power back.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Wrong Parents

Why is it that the parents you need to see are not the parents who show up for Parent/Teacher Conference Day?

I met with parents all afternoon and, while it was certainly wonderful to sit with committed parents about the wonderful work their kids are doing in my class, it was not how I might have best spent those four hours. Of the 75 students in my classes, 6 of them are either beyond hope or very close to it. I would have liked to talk to these parents to help figure out how to support these kids next year. I have another 10 who, while not at the door of No Credit, have some serious work to do if they want to get through the class in good form. I would like to talk to these parents to help put supports and routines in place to make the work these kids have to do a little less painful.

I love dishing to the 59 other sets of parents, extolling the virtues and successes of their offspring. It makes everyone feel good, and heaven knows there is not enough of that in public education. They’re just the kinds of conversations I needed to be having today.

Having said that, it really is difficult to take full responsibility for initiating the dialog. These parents have known for a while that their students have been struggling. They’ve gotten the reports from school. In many cases, I’ve tried to call or email home. It is truly unfortunate that these parents are only rarely able to unilaterally give quality help to their children when they need it but, instead of working with me to collaborate on ways to get their kids the help they need, they avoid or ignore the situation. This is often exactly the behavior that led to the problems the students, themselves, are having.

I get better results when I work with the student directly (these are high schoolers, mind you, so I can do that). I believe strongly in teaching young adults to make decisions for themselves, and they appreciate the opportunity to work their problems out on their own and, far more often than not, they full take responsibility for the results of their efforts. If they earn credit, they are proud of the fact that they did it on their own; if they don’t, there’s no blame thrown around. They may be angry or sad or disappointed, but they own the result. This is as good a thing to teach as Spanish or French, I think,

I wish the adults could learn the same thing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Grill is On

It’s not quite warm enough to eat outside, but we were having turkeyburgers for dinner, and they really needed to be grilled. OK, *I* needed them to be grilled. The smell of natural hardwood smoking in the grill (we do it old school at Wayfarer House), combined with the heavenly aroma of meat over flame makes my mouth water every time!

It was unfortunate that the year’s first effort did not come out as well as I would have liked. It wasn’t the fault of the grill, though. It was the meat. Turkeyburger is low in fat. This is a good thing dietarily, but it is a decided negative in terms of its grillability (and, yes, I’m saying that’s a word). Meat that is low in fat comes off the grill looking like a rock and, much like meat that’s left in the crockpot too long, ends up feeling dry and tough in the mouth. It has bad mouth feel.

There are two things needed to keep meat moist when it’s cooked: Low heat and high moisture (usually, fat). Pan-frying turkey burgers is easiest because you can control both elements, but on a charcoal grill this is more difficult to manage. I have lots of tricks figured out for chicken, fish and red meat, but I’ll admit that pork and turkey have proven more challenging to master. I’m going to do some research, though. This year, I will conquer both!

A true grillmaster never accepts that meat cannot be properly done over flame.

Monday, April 13, 2009

¿Bueno? ¿Quién habla, por favor?

There is one week to go before vacation.

I may not make it.

The saving grace is that my students are doing a fair amount of independent work (reviewing numbers, verbs, how to spell, and basic conversation) so they can be ready for their exam, which starts this Friday. They have to call me on the phone and have a conversation.

This is harder than it appears.

If you think about it, we do an awful lot of non-verbal communicating when we talk face-to-face. We use our hands and our faces, even our body position, to say a lot of things. When you’re not fully fluent in a language, you rely on those things to understand what someone else is saying because you won’t necessarily get the words. On the phone, there is none of that. It is unnerving for first-year students because they don’t feel like they have enough language to do it (although I, as their teacher, know they do). They just need to be reminded of where it’s at, and they need time to practice using it.

Thankfully, there’s not a lot of teacher prep involved here because they’ve seen all the stuff already. I just have to put activities together that help them use it. I’m glad for that. I’ve got no patience for doing material prep this week.

Frankly, I’ve got no patience for even going to school this week. There’s a nice, long list of things I’d like to spend my week doing: Disc golf, cycling, writing, reading and home improvement are among the top 20. Kasey Kasem won’t even see school on his countdown.

He would, however, see an imaginary long distance dedication from me to my brother, who finished his EMT training this week. WOOT! I’m proud of you, Dan!

Kasey, will you please play It’s a Long Way There, by the Little River Band? Thanks!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mechanics Should Not Be Comedians

I brought my car in last week to get the oil changed, and to figure out where the antifreeze was leaking from. You can smell it burning if you’re idling. It’s not pouring out of the car, but it’s good to know the details of such a thing.

Our mechanic, the classic definition of a stoic New-Englander, came to me after the work was done to say, “I have good news and bad news.” This is not fair, because no mechanic will give good news that is better than the bad news. OK, that’s not true. I had it happen once, when my 4-Runner blew its head gasket. The mechanic said, “I have good news and bad news.” I expected the worst. He said, “The bad news is that it’ll cost about $1,400 to fix.” Damn! Then he said, “The good news is that it’s free.” THAT is good news that is better than the bad news (it turns out that it was covered under a factory warranty).

That didn’t happen this time. He just said, “The bad news is that it’ll cost about $1,400 to fix.” Damn, again!

Fast forward to today. I bring in Wifeness’ minivan in to get its oil changed. Our mechanic comes up to me and says, “Ummm…”

I don’t even get up out of the chair. “This isn’t good news, is it.”


“How much is it going to cost.”

“Well, it won’t be $1,400.”

Is that a joke? Did you just make a joke?? I’m funding your vacation this summer, and you’re trying out your comedy routine! I couldn’t help laughing, though.

PS: It was $1,100. So much for the tax return.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The wizarding world would have been proud…

My sports class played quidditch today for the first time. I’ve been developing a version of muggle quidditch off-and-on for the last couple of years. I wanted to create a game that was relatively simple to explain, cheap to play and supported a broad range of high school student participation. Several versions of the game have been developed in the last 10 years or so, and each one has good points, but none quite worked right for the classes and students I have in my sports classes. A couple of weeks ago, though, I finally felt like I had just the right combination of rules and equipment, and I asked the class if they wanted to “playtest” the rules. They got really excited! Who knew my sports class was full of Harry Potter geeks?

To give you an idea of what muggle quidditch is like, think of ultimate frisbee (with a ball, not a disc), dodgeball and capture the flag, all happening at the same time. It’s wildly chaotic to think about, but even more so to actually watch happen. I can also say that it was an interesting and entertaining challenge to officiate.

Today we played quidditch for an hour in the cold, raw weather that blanketed the Pioneer Valley (weather should never be an impediment to quidditch, after all). There was a lot of running, chasing, beating, bludging, seeking and, on occasion, points were scored. Everyone said they'd had fun. They even asked if we could play it again on Thursday.

I guess I'm bringing my Gryffindor socks.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday In-Box

So, the one class that had their work done on Friday (thus making them eligible for movie watching fun) chose Princess Bride (in Spanish, with English subtitles). This was the first movie they’ve watched in class that way (our unit on this doesn’t come for a couple of weeks), and they were excited to see how much they were able to understand. They also loved being able to say, “Hola. Mi nombre es Iñigo Montoya. Tú mataste a mi padre. Prepárate a morir.” Now, on to the in-box!

[On walking away from sports…]

Chili: Do you think the kids will organize and fight to keep their (sports) programs alive? THAT would be something worth supporting, for sure; talk about your experiential education!

Indeed it would and, yes, I do think they’ll lobby hard to keep the existing sports running. I have encouraged them to do so. I just needed to make clear that the fight belongs to someone else now. I am curious to see what happens, but I have cut off my investment in the end result. It’s the only way I can function.

[On being “at loose ends”…]

LB: It might be thyroid issues.

It certainly might be, and I’m really glad you brought it up. I’ve been really lax about keeping up my vitamin regimen (which includes healthy doses of B12). Your mention of that has prompted me back into the habit of taking vitamins. I’ll wait on the trip to the doctor until they’ve had time to kick in. Thanks for your insight!

Kizz: I was going to say something about would it be ok to try and learn to live with a "free space" where one of the sodas had been but then I thought again about that hilarious picture of SiSi and realized that she didn't just lick her sense of purpose off the wall.

You understand us both very well, Kizz! We are most assuredly related by some very strong genetics. I’m thinking about seeing if she’d like to go for walks with me in the morning. We may as well get some use out of the time, if we’re both going to be up.

[On having a rough couple of weeks…]

Fran: I'm glad you're back.

Back atcha! I’m sorry I haven’t shown you much blog love this Lenten season. I know it really helps to see that people are reading. I am, though, and until I get to commenting actually, know that I am sending encouraging thoughts to help spur you along.

JRH: When we've got some mojo back, I'll show you mine if you show me yours. *

I’m excited to do that, and I’m ready when you are! It’s actually been really good for my soul to put stuff down on paper like that. It seems harder to write and talk about by myself of late.

* JRH and I have been sharing thoughts about teaching and foster care and starting a school. If you’d like to be part of a larger discussion, I’d love to start one. Email me for more info.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Do you ever experience a lack of connection and purpose when you’ve been focusing on something for a long time, and then it’s not there anymore? How do you deal with that piece of your attention that is now, well, not attending to anything?

I’ve learned that all the things I do are all interconnected and, when one goes away, the others inevitably suffer. This whole drama with soccer has left that part of my brain without something to work on, and it’s causing all the rest of the stuff I carry around in there to float, flit and fly around, and in general prove impossible to focus on.

I managed to get grades written, but being in the classroom has been a waste of time for everyone. I’ve been able to get out and exercise a little here and there, but I’m struggling to truly devote energy to it like I know I need to. Ditto the reading and writing I should be doing for the Community School. Ditto the yard and house work. Ditto, well, everything.

I’m not depressed, really. I’m tired today, but that’s because SiSi woke up (dressed, backpacked and raring to go to music class) at 7am. Music class is at 9:30. I went to bed at 1am. Depression is not a factor here. Rather, it’s that all the pieces of my world, which until recently fit together snugly and comfortably, are now rattling around loose like a case of soda cans in the back of my car with one can missing.

I need to find some way to put all the soda cans back in the case so they don’t move around.

That’s today’s work.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


What should I show for a movie tomorrow? My students are, in essence, done with work days, but I can’t really start anything tomorrow (plus, after a week of MCAS, they’re really done with academia and there’s no need to push). I thought it would be nice to give them some down time.

I’d take them outside (they’ve been begging me to hold class outdoors), but it’s not supposed to be as nice as it was today. They won’t want to go out if it’s cloudy/rainy and 50ºF. Or, maybe they will, and I’ll tell them *I* don’t want to. In any event, it’ll be an inside play day.

We played softball today in my phys. ed. class. Damn, my arm is sore! As I get older, it takes longer and longer to warm it up, and I pay for it more and more when I shortcut that process. Ow! **editor’s note to Chili, who will say I deserve it: You’re right.**

I set my alarm to get up early for laps in the pool. Pfffft! I had low expectations anyway. My days have been long because of MCAS, and I wasn’t at all sure I’d have it in my to push myself. We’ll try again tomorrow.

Can you tell I’m between things to focus on?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ten Things Tuesday: Why I am grateful for the arrival of Spring

1. I don’t have to put on a jacket, hat, gloves and a scarf just to go outside. I’m down to windbreaker.

2. The mornings are not pitch black when I go to the YMCA to get my pool laps in, and dawn has broken by the time I walk back home. It makes the thought of getting up at 5:30am just a little less painful.

3. I don’t have to:

a) Warm my car up before I leave anywhere.
b) Drive around in an ass-freezing cold car while it warms up.

4. My phys. ed. sports class starts softball!

5. I can run without the risk of frostlung (which leads to lung infections for me) or near hypothermia (which is annoying because, once I start sweating, I can’t avoid being cold).

6. I can drag my bike off the trainer and actually get outside. I should note, in the interest of full disclosure, that I haven’t done this quite yet, but it should happen any day now. Someone has to move the Xmas ornament boxes from the spot in the entryway where my bike usually lives in the warmer months.

7. I can enjoy an occasional pipe on the front porch.

8. I can send the kids OUTSIDE to play! That’s good for everyone.

9. I can go for walks in the evenings without having to psyche myself up to go out in the cold and dark. Now, I just have to psyche myself to go out in the dark.

10. There will be grillage!

Please don’t take this personally, those of you who enjoy the winter months, but that time can seriously and without any equivocation kiss my ass. Bring on the summer!