Saturday, April 19, 2008

3 Basic Rules for Attending School Performances

My husband and I went to see our daughter in her elementary school's talent show this evening - and believe me, I'm using the term talent very loosely - and once again I was amazed that people act like such jerks in public. Therefore, to the aforementioned jerks, I present three basic rules for attending school performances:


1. When the lights go down, shut up and sit still.

Also, make your children shut up and sit still or remove them from the theater, even if that means missing the show yourself. When the house lights go down and the stage lights come up, you're supposed to give your quiet attention to the performers. Extended noisy or restless behavior during a performance is a big "screw you" to the performers and everyone around you. It also screams, "This is about ME!" almost as much your jumping up on stage to join the kids in their joyful, impromptu performance of the Macarena after the curtain call.


2. Clap politely for everybody and refrain from screaming for anybody.

Sitting and talking while other people's kids are on stage and then pounding the ground and screaming when your kid takes the stage is a big "screw you" to those other kids and their families. It also screams, "I have no class!" almost as much as your third grader ripping off her hoodie and writhing suggestively to music about gangs, prostitutes and God knows what else.


Side note here - my experience has been that the ruder people are to other performers and the louder people scream for their own kids (and this includes air horns and other "hey this is all about me" noise makers), the less their kids actually deserve such grand gestures of appreciation.


3. Refrain from criticizing performers both during the show and immediately after the house lights come up.


First, these children, the ones who look or sound like they don't really know what they're doing, are the ones who made up their own acts. Appreciate that. It's genuine. They're not professional performers. They're goofy public school kids who are excited to be on stage at all.

A second grader hacking out Alouette on the piano is genuine and adorable. A fourth grader alternately rocking and then massacring our national anthem is genuine and (mostly) amusing. Sixteen girls in professional costumes and full stage makeup performing a series of moves choreographed by a dance teacher? Well, that's cute, too.

But if they dance with precision, it's not because they're more talented or deserve an audience more than the second and fourth graders. It's because an adult created the dance, taught them how to do it, and made them practice. In fact, I think the second and fourth graders who get out there on their own and perform without a net have more guts than the kids in safe, choreographed groups. And in a talent show that's short on talent, moxy is important.

Second, others can hear you when you criticize the performers. Who knows if you're sitting next to someone's dad or grandmother or friend? Who are you to publicly criticize someone else's kid? Turning to your spouse and saying, "That sucked big time. Lisa was so much better," is a big "screw you" to the friends and families of that performer. It also screams, "I am a self-important jerk!" almost as much as the bedazzled T-shirt you are wearing, the one with your kid's picture and the words "Star of the (name omitted) Variety Show" emblazoned on the front.

Remember that your kid's performance tortures the rest of us just as our kids' performances torture you. I suggest trying to be positive, but if you've really got to complain, wait until you're somewhere private.

-----------------------------------------------------

All of the above rules boil down to the same thing: be aware and respectful of others. Understand that this show isn't about you and your kid. It's about us and our kids.

I understand that these shows can be torturous, I truly do, but they're fun for the kids and a rite of passage for the parents, so deal with it with a little class, will you?

We're all in this together. Act that way.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vocabulary

(Original post date: Saturday, April 12, 2008)

Technology has had a profound influence on the way we talk. Pretty much everyone I know has accepted "google" as both a noun and a verb. In fact, there's actually a term for looking yourself up on google – it's called an ego search. I admit I've googled myself (oh get over it – it's very natural and normal). I did not, however, actually find anything about myself. An actress shares my name, so most google hits are about her, not me.

Another way technology is affecting language is through the increasing popularity of acronyms, thanks largely to text messaging. It's not uncommon to hear people actually say TMI, and if a kid leaves my classroom and says I had a total BF, you can be sure he'd been pushing my buttons, big time. BFF is another acronym that people actually use. I've yet to hear someone say LOL – largely because it means a sound, so chances are if it's appropriate to say, you've probably already done it.

Meanwhile, we've been trying in earnest to incorporate technology into our teaching methods at school. Lately, though, it's starting to sound like we're all speaking another language. If you walk into the faculty room you'll very likely hear a conversation like this:

Hi! I'm so excited - my moodle's up and running, my kids just finished their web quests, and tomorrow they're commenting about each other's podcasts on the forum.

I'd love to see that. Do you know how I can incorporate my wiki into my moodle?

Select wiki from the "add a resource" pull-down menu… wait, that builds a new one. Hmm..

I'll twitter it. When I had issues integrating sketchcast and my smartboard I twittered it and got a response in, like, minutes. It turned out to be a bandwidth issue.

Oh, so IT has to update the server before you can use them together. Gotcha. You should ITDirect it so there's a record of that problem. Have your kids' blogs been better since that video conference?

Not really, but they're loving blabberize.

Who doesn't? It's sure more fun than criterion. Say, did you find the google.docs tutorial on teacher tube?

Yeah – it's on my del.icio.us. I'll send you the url.

If it's on your del.icio.us I should have it on my RSS feed, then. Hey, did you hear about the kid who downloaded Ganja Farmer to all the PCs in the lab?

I heard his teacher caught him with net.op, and they gave him ISS for an acceptable use policy violation.

I love how it took some kid a class period to download unauthorized software and it took IT months to get photo story up and running.

I know. Oh, before I go… any idea why I can't upload my exam.view files to a moodle quiz? I keep getting a terminal error message.

No, but if you want to cross-reference your moodle glossaries, I'm your girl. You know…

I know, I know... I'll twitter it
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

ok - g2g. l8r g8r. ttys.

A Prayer On The Eve of My Son’s First LAX Game

(Original post date: Tuesday, April 01, 2008)

Oh God - if you’re out there, help me to be a good sports mom tomorrow.

Let me have faith in my son’s helmet and assorted pads. I didn’t know LAX was a contact sport when I said my son could play, though the cumbersome and expensive array of protective gear should’ve been my first clue.

Let me not stand up, point and yell, "Hitting!" I know they’re not in kindergarten, but it’s just not nice, so help me keep that opinion to myself.

Let me not have to cover my eyes or gasp and speak in Yiddish, causing those around me to gawk. I can’t help it if I channel my grandmother when I watch people get hurt or hit each other with sticks. It seems that the hitting with sticks is inevitable, and people getting hurt can’t be far behind, so I’ll need some help with that.

Let me think only generous thoughts about the other players and assorted adults. It would be good to get through this without thinking "@$$&#!*" even once... though I can’t even drive from here to the grocery store without thinking at least one of those, so perhaps that’s asking too much.

Let me not end up sprawled on the ground, my brand new fold-up chair on top of me as I say, "I told you those legs weren’t locked."

Let me not complain bitterly about the cold and the fact that it was over 70 degrees the day BEFORE I had to go sit in a field for an hour.

Most of all, God, help me be calm and supportive, and let my son see how proud I am of how hard he’s been working. Despite my qualms about him playing a contact sport, I am proud that he’s busted his butt - and I don’t think it’ll hurt him to know how to get knocked down, get up, and keep on playing.

Oh, please disregard this prayer if you don’t get done feeding the world’s hungry, smiting all total schmucks and creating world peace by 5 pm tomorrow.

Either way, I’ll try my best.

Amen.

Leave the Cat

My husband and I happened upon the movie Alien the other night, and since we couldn’t agree on anything else on the 300 and some channels, we settled in.

We had missed the best scene. You know, the one where the alien bursts out of the guy’s stomach. It was at the part when the crew knows there’s some sort of alien on their spaceship (well, duh – they’d seen it burst out of the guy’s stomach), but they have no idea what, exactly. They’re tracking it armed with flashlights, a couple of guns, and... a net.

It’s not a big industrial “let’s go catch us some potentially dangerous alien life form” net, either. It looks about as substantial as a butterfly net you might give to your nephew. Yes, they set out looking for what we later learn is an enormous, vaguely insect-like creature whose blood is metal-burning acid armed with a butterfly net.

Of course, the first thing they track down isn’t the alien, but the captain’s cat. The scene is very tense. Their guns are aimed, the net is poised to catch the dreaded alien, and ROWR! It’s a kitty. So what do they do? They send Harry Dean Stanton after the cat.

Why? There is no explanation other than to move the plot along. There are a lot of crew members to kill off, so they may as well have one of them walking around going, "Here, kitty kitty kitty," before he’s slaughtered by the really creepy, much-too-large-for-a-butterfly-net alien.

Later, when most of the crew has been decimated, the remaining crew members have realized that a butterfly net is not going to be at all helpful, and their only mission is to get the hell off of the ship, the captain hears the cat, stops getting the shuttle ready, and wanders off to find the cat.

What is THAT?

I understand that many people are deeply, deeply attached to their pets. I lovingly fed my daughter’s hamster medicine through a tiny syringe and bawled when he died, and I am aware that this is only the tip of the iceberg. However, I firmly believe that when you’re in deep space, a horrifying alien has annihilated your crew, and you have one chance to get out of there, you need to focus on your goal – living, and leave the cat.

It struck me that we do the same sorts of stupid things in our daily lives. We concentrate on the wrong things, the minutiae, and lose sight of the important stuff. Parents do it when we get on our kids’ backs about cleaning their rooms when they’re trying to tell us about something truly momentous like the bus driver farting audibly. Teachers do it when we focus on sticking it to the smirking, eye-rolling punk who manages to tip over his desk every day, when we should be focusing our energy on minimizing opportunities for punk-like behavior. Students do it when they waste time bitching about mean teachers (and let’s be fair, sometimes teachers are mean), when they could be doing their homework so the teacher won’t have anything to be mean about. We all do it – we get stuck on something that seems important and in doing so lose sight of the main goal.

Later in the movie, as I watched the captain go back, yet again, for the cat, I decided that "leave the cat" was going to be my new motto. So from now on, whenever I realize I’ve been doing something nit-picky that actually distracts me from my larger goal, I’m going to think about Alien and remind myself: leave the cat.

Clearing Up Misconceptions

(Original post date: Monday, March 24, 2008)

Until recently I don’t think my kids knew who Jaime Lynn Spears was... unfortunately, now they do. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, JLS is Brittney’s little sister, she’s 16, and she’s knocked up.

Now, as a rule, I try to stay as far away from the Disney Channel as possible, but the other day I was straightening up the family room when my daughter came in to watch a show. I looked up just in time to see JLS looking all pure and virginal.

"Ugh," I said. "Is that Jamie Lynn Spears?"

"Yeah," my daughter replied. "Isn’t she pretty???"

"Yeah," I muttered. "And foolish."

"Why? ’Cause she’s pregnant? I heard she’s giving the baby away."

Oh boy was this not the conversation I’d had in mind when I went in to straighten up.

"Imagine having to do that, though," I answered, heading up the stairs, attempting to escape from any in-depth discussion about JLS’s decision making.

Alas, my son had heard her name and was waiting in the hall.

"You know," he said casually, "I just think she’s unlucky, that’s all."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you usually don’t get pregnant the first time you do it," my 11 year old son replied breezily.

Oh, jeez. Where should I start? "Who said that?" I demanded.

"Everyone on the bus." Of course.

For those of you without school-aged kids, let me warn you: the bus is the root of all evil. It starts in kindergarten when they learn what the middle finger means on the bus. Then you’ve got to get into what the f-word means.. that’s a whole other issue. I recommend tellling them it’s like a really strong "darn it!" until you’re ready to have "the talk."

I take it back. Don’t listen to my advice. It’s so easy to tell others what to do when what comes out of my own mouth is so often NOT what I ought to be saying.

Case in point…

Best answer: "Son, let me calmly address two problems with that opinion."

What I actually said: "Oh, ya think it was her first time, do ya?"

Not the best lead in, I realize. I did manage to get it together. I explained that yes, you most certainly CAN get pregnant the first time, and that you should ALWAYS use a condom to avoid pregnancy and diseases.

"Oh. Okay." he said. I thought we were done. Whew.

Nope.

"So what exactly is a condom?" he asked.

That’s no big deal to explain, right? Yeah sure. Go ahead explain exactly what it is to an 11 year old boy. Try it... I’ll wait. But I forged ahead and explained. He looked at me like I was making it up, then laughed his head off.

"Oh," he said again, "Okay."

I could tell from the look on his face that there was another question coming. What now, I wondered. I braced myself.

"So, um, Mom."

"Yes…"

"Can I ask you a question?

"Yes..."

"Can I have some ice cream?"

"YES!!"

Whew. So here’s what I want to know: what’s the world coming to when this type of conversation is sparked by a Disney show??? What’s next? The Wonderful World of STDs?

Bye.

12 Step Program for Puffin Corn Addicts?

(Original post date: Tuesday, March 04, 2008)

I have a new addiction: Puffin Corn. My daughter asked if we could by this "different kind of popcorn" with no hulls since the orthodontist says she can't eat regular popcorn. I said sure, wondering how they get all those hulls off...

Well, it's not freaking popcorn. It's more like cheese curl stuff shaped like and flavored like popcorn. Except it's got a softer texture than cheese curls. It sort of melts in your mouth.

My first reaction was, "Oh gross." A couple of handfuls later I started liking them. And as my greasy fingers grazed the bottom of the bag, I realized I had a problem.

This stuff is tasty, but a whole bag is something like 3,000 calories, all of it crap. Ugh, and the grease... indigestion city! It didn't matter. All I wanted was more, more, more Puffin Corn!

I tried to fight it. I didn't open the second bag. Someone else did, I swear! It's not fair to ask me to avoid it once it's open. Plus, it'll get stale really quickly, so it's wasteful not to eat it all. I'm nothing if not frugal.

Yet fate is cruel. I paid for this transgression. My stomach complained. My intestines punished me severely. My kids asked, "Are you coming out soon?"

I swore it'd be my last time. I walked right by it when I did my weekly grocery shopping. I thought I had it beat. And then, I'm sorry to say (sob!), I fell off the wagon.

When I head home from work at about 4:30, I am HUNGRY. It is stupid to go to the grocery store at that time of day for any reason. Processed food seems so appealing at that time of day. It's salty or sweet or creamy or crunchy… and I don't have to cook it. On a good day I'll find myself trying to rationalize serving Hostess cupcakes as the vegetable with dinner. On bad days? On bad days it's best just to go home. Make do with what's in the house. Scrambled eggs or French toast. Leftovers or bowls of cereal. Anything will do – just don't let me go to the supermarket at 4:30 after a crappy day.

If only we heeded our own advice. Alas.

My intentions were pure. Bread, milk, Diet Snapple. That was it. Bread, milk, Diet Snapple. The bread and milk were no problem… I zoomed by, plopped them into my basket, and headed off for the Diet Snapple.

In my regular supermarket, the Diet Snapple is in an aisle with juice and water and soda. No problem. That afternoon, however, I'd stopped at the store closest to my house. In this store, we'll call it The Devil, the Diet Snapple is in the snack food aisle.

It wasn't my fault! I ignored them as I sailed past to grab the Diet Snapple, but they called to me. They sang. They cajoled. They said I could eat just a handful and save the rest for another day. It wasn't a fair fight. Filled with joy, I grabbed that beautiful blue bag of heavenly, overly-processed, grease-filled, artificially flavored, crunchy goodness.

I held off until I got home. I may be an addict, but I do have my pride. I waited until I was in my own kitchen, my children out of sight, and then I ripped open the bag and began to stuff myself with Puffin Corn. Oh, sweet abandon.

Half an hour later my daughter came upstairs to find me sitting at the kitchen table moaning and turning green, the empty blue bag pushed away and little fake-corn crumbs littering the table. "Again?" she said. "Didn't you even save any for me?" It was a shameful moment.

I'm trying to kick this thing. Every day I tell myself, "Just for today, I will not touch Puffin Corn."

But it's a difficult battle.

Just thinking about it is making my mouth water.

I'm sorry.

I'm so weak.

I'm going to score some Puffin Corn. I'll try again tomorrow.

John’ Irving’s Owen Meany: A Review

(Original post date: Friday, February 15, 2008)

Heeding the advice of an esteemed colleague and an esteemed sister-in-law, I forced myself to keep reading John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. It was tough going. Irving just doesn't resonate with me... it was the same way with The Cider House Rules. In the end it was an interesting story, but it wasn't a story that compelled me to keep reading... it was something I pushed through. It was this way with Owen Meany, too, with one huge difference... while I finished reading Cider House as I had begun, indifferent, I bawled at the end of Owen Meany.

It isn't that I like the character of Owen Meany. He is, through most of the book, too sure, too unafraid. The cover of the paperback says that Owen Meany thinks he's an instrument of God and that this assumption is correct, as if this explains Owen's uncanny certainty. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, even instruments of God struggle with doubt. In the Old Testament, Moses struggles with doubt when God calls upon him to help free the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt even though God puts His money where His mouth is with all manner of disgusting and fearsome plagues. In the New Testament, Jesus is plagued with doubt even though he knows he is the son of God and is in full awareness that his sacrifice will offer salvation to mankind. But Owen Meany, for the majority of the novel, does not appear to struggle with doubt. How can this be? Can this pint-sized, oddly-voiced character be more sure of himself than Moses? Than Jesus? Is he human? More? Certainly Irving expects his reader to empathize and even sympathize with Owen when he is ignored by his parents, manipulated by his peers, and bullied by adults who obviously have problems of their own. And yet he draws direct comparisons between Jesus, who has doubts, and Owen, who does not, and who observes that Jesus was "used," just as he will be used. It's a bit much for me.

For this reason, it is difficult for me to feel any attachment to this character. It is only when Owen is finally seized by self-doubt that I am able to really care what happens to him. Only then am I able to relinquish my doubt that Owen is as human as the rest of us... and that, of course, is when Irving yanks the rug out beneath the reader's feet by yanking Owen away from his best friend, away from the woman who loves him, away from the world who never understands him, and away from the reader. It's a sucker punch that delivers the message, "and THAT is what you get for doubting in the first place." Ouch. It's not that I like Owen Meany, but I do come to believe in Owen Meany, which is obviously what Irving intended... misguided messiah-complex or no.

The novel reminds me strongly of M. Night Shyamalan's film Signs, and not just because of their shared themes of faith and predestination, though these similarities are strong. They also share emotionally loaded baseball imagery and language, specifically the phrase "swing away" as advice that carries life-changing ramifications for those who utter it and those who take it. They share the unforseen death of someone young, beautiful, and loved, and the scar this person's death leaves on everyone she leaves behind. They share clergy struggling with crises of faith and potentially career-changing doubt. And perhaps most importantly, they both address the question of predestination versus free-will by having main characters overcome a life-challenging threat using an aforementioned but seemingly unrelated skill... a technique that leaves their audiences little room for doubt that "things happen for a reason."

Usually, if I finish a book in tears, it's a sign that I liked the book. I wish I could say that about Owen Meany. I've come to believe in Owen Meany, but as with Signs, I am walking away from the experience feeling a bit manipulated. I like to come to my own conclusions about things, and neither of these stories leaves much room for that. In the end, I'm glad I stuck with it... thank you to both Marcella and Apryll for urging me to finish it... but I think I'm going to need some time to process this one.

Any thoughts from those of you who've read it?

Lies I’ve Been Told Lately

(Original post date: Thursday, February 14, 2008)

I wrote the essay but my dog ate my jump drive.

We'll be there between 9 and 12.

I already cleaned my room.

You said I could.

Our classes are heterogeneously grouped.

It was smoky when I came in.

My teacher didn't give us any homework.

You promised.

I looked in the library - it's not there.

He started it.

I told you about that.

There are no hidden fees.

That's not my job.

Everyone else has one.

It's not burned, it's crunchy.

You look exactly the same!

I’ve got the flu blues.

(Original post date: Friday, February 08, 2008)

It started with my daughter earlier this week, then my husband started running a fever yesterday, then the middle school called 'cause my son was running a fever, and I walked around all day trying to convince myself that the sore throat, painful cough, chills and wooziness were allergies. I admit it - I'm a goober. But it's research season and there's stuff to do. Now, however, I feel like total crap. I need REAL chicken soup... with matzo balls and little noodles - but I don't have the energy to make it. Out of desperation I bought a can of chicken soup with matzo balls - I swear I must've been delirious! Canned matzo balls? What kind of sicko would think that up? And what desperate moron would BUY it? Oh, yeah, me. Just one more piece of evidence that I'm not playing with a full deck.

Here's what I want right now: I want my mommy! I want her to make me her chicken soup, drive it out here, heat it up, and then tidy my house. She used to tidy up my room when I was sick. Cool, fresh sheets, no clutter... it always made me feel better. I'd do it myself but I'm all worn out from having the flu, taking care of a husband and son with the flu, and making sure my recently-over-the-flu daughter is eating actual meals occasionally and not watching rated-R movies or something while I'm in bed, curled up in a ball. I have no doubt that if I called my mom and shared these wishes with her, she'd be on her way out here with enough chicken soup to cure an army before lunch time tomorrow. But that would be selfish and childish considering I'm a grown-up and she lives 2 hours away with, you know, a life of her own. So, instead, I'm just going to sit here and sulk.

FYI, until I'm well enough to remain standing long enough to make my own soup, we're sticking to Campbell's. It ain't homemade chicken soup with matzo balls, but it's easy and it tastes like soup... not like sewage like the aforementioned abomination.

Enough with the pity party. I'm going to pass out now.

Mother

“Wife” does capture part of who I am, but anyone who’s known me for more than an hour knows that most conversations with me eventually circle around to my children. With that in mind, here’s possible identity #2: Mother.

My husband and I learned we were going to become parents shortly after our honeymoon. We hadn’t planned it, but the line turned pink and there we were. We walked around in shock for a little while, but as my waistline grew, we got used to the idea.

We did all the classes: parenting, breast-feeding, Lamaze - you name it. If they had a class, we took it. Other than the fun we had getting kicked out of Lamaze for enjoying ourselves too much, they were all a waste of time. And the Lamaze thing didn't work out either. In my second pregnancy, I requested an epidural as I entered my 8th month.

None of it really prepared us. Near the end of my pregnancy, as I waddled around, huge and grousing, my husband chatted with our neighbor about dog ownership. "We're not responsible enough to take care of a dog," my husband told her without the slightest hint of irony.

But the big day came, and 16 or so hours later I was holding this brand new little human. A squinty-eyed, cone-headed little human, but a new human, nonetheless. It was astonishing. When my son and I were both given the green light, my mom and my husband helped pack us up into the car to go home. My mom got us settled, hung out for a little bit, and then left to give us "some time to settle in together."

My husband and I stood beside the crib, silently gazing down at our sleeping son. After a moment, I turned to my husband and asked, "What kind of fucking moron would give us a human?" More than a decade later, I'm still wondering.

This motherhood thing is the most emotionally loaded role I've ever played. It never ends. The day-in-day-out part of it is much bigger than I ever expected. And even though there's no one set of rules and instructions for any given situation, the risks of goofing up are huge.

If I let my kid watch too much television, I'm messing with his potential. If I drag him to play-groups and Mommy & Me classes and preschool, I'm creating yet another over-scheduled, stressed out kid. If I don't discipline him, I'm creating a brat. If I discipline him too harshly, I'm creating a monster.

I never realized how full of gray areas life is until I became a mom. If I had to narrow motherhood down to one thing, I'd skip right over love and move right onto decision-making. The love thing is big, yes, of course, give me a break, but you can love your kid more than anything in the universe, and you still have to decide when he's old enough to play outside without you hovering. You still have to decide what to feed him multiple times a day. You still have to decide whether the kid asking where babies come from is looking for, "No, not the stork. From their mommies and daddies," or, "Well, you've noticed that boys bodies are different than girls bodies...." You still have to decide what to tell him when his first crush breaks his heart by refusing his Valentine or the school bully keeps tripping him on the playground in front of said crush. Motherhood is endless decision making, and it's both bewildering and exhausting.

When my son was three and my daughter was one and I had just told the two of them, for the second time, to stop licking the wall, it suddenly dawned on me that my parents had been winging it. The whole freaking time they were raising us they’d had no idea what they were doing. They were making it up as they went along! And they'd always looked so sure, so confident, so in charge. What a farce!

I called their house and greeted my mother’s polite hello with, "You were winging it!" Instead of getting defensive, my mother just laughed and called to my dad, "Hey, Artie. Beth just figured out we were winging it!"

Partly, this made me feel better. They hadn't had a clue what they were doing and we all turned out fine. Surely, then, it wasn't entirely horrible that I didn't have a clue what I was doing, either.

I'd like to think that I have been a decent mom, overall. I love my kids, I laugh with my kids, and I try to do right by my kids. The gray areas seem to be growing as my kids reach adolescence, and the endlessness of it all wears me down, sometimes. I’ll admit that I've called my mother more than once and sobbed, "I'm a terrible mother," in the hopes that she could talk me down off the ledge. But my kids seem to be doing well out in the world, so maybe I haven't screwed it up too badly yet. I'd like to think that, anyway.

Wife

Since my past has found me, I seem to be defining my life by my many roles: wife, mom, writer, teacher, ex-rebel, ex-Jersey girl (though you're never really an EX-Jersey girl). None solely describes me, but each one gets me a little closer to answering the question: if I’m not who I was back then, and I’m not exactly who my current friends and colleagues think I am, who am I? Here’s possible identity 1: wife.


One of my primary roles is "wife." It’s a good thing. I love my husband. I like my husband - I suppose that bears saying since that’s not always true. What does it mean when people say they "love" their spouses, they just don’t "like" their spouses? What’s the point of spending the majority of your time with someone you don’t like?


Then again, the people I know who say things like this don’t spend the majority of their time with their spouses. Is that a symptom or a cause? Maybe this isn’t an issue for us because my husband and I are both on academic schedules. Perhaps we have more spare time than other people. It’s great, though I do get jealous when the kids and I start back to school public school on January 2nd and my husband’s semester doesn’t start for another few weeks. It doesn’t help that he’s always saying things like, "Oh man! Ya know what I have to do today? (pause) Nothing!" It’s a good thing he’s cute.

Whatever the reason, we’ve managed to get this far and still be best friends. After almost 20 years, we still crack each other up on a regular basis. I’m talking full on belly laughs, too - the kind that make you spit out the Diet Snapple you’d been drinking. The kind that grip your whole body, leaving you gasping for breath while tears roll down your face. The kind that get you kicked out of Lamaze class (twice). In my defense, some Lamaze instructors take themselves way too seriously. In any case, maybe I just got extremely lucky, but being a wife is a good gig. It’s a role I’m totally comfortable with.

There are times when I play the "faculty wife" role, however, and that hasn’t always been a comfortable role for me. It’s taken me a long time to get over the fact that I’ll never be a put-together, reserved, string-of-pearls-wearing faculty wife.

It’s strange that this is my perception. I’ve always considered myself a feminist, and I’ve never looked at any profession as only for one gender. In fact, one of my closest friends, a woman, is also a college professor. Perhaps I’ve seen too many movies in which universities are staffed largely by older white men whose wives can pull off the Jackie Kennedy look without seeming like they’re trying too hard. I suppose it doesn’t matter why I’m stuck on that unattainable image. I am. But it’s just not happening. No matter where I go, I’m still clumsy, outspoken me, and after over a decade, I’m getting to where I’m okay with that.

For instance, my husband was the commencement speaker at graduation a couple of years ago, and I ended up sitting next to a dean at a luncheon with campus higher-ups and members of the board of trustees. During the luncheon, while gesturing during a conversation with the dean, I managed to throw a piece of bread  at myself (buttered, of course). The hunk of bread bounced off my chest and landed beneath the dean’s chair. After saying, "Boy, you can’t take me anywhere," I dove under the dean’s chair and retrieved the bread.

It occurred to me later that I probably should’ve just left the bread there, but it was right next to his foot, and he was going to have to either step on it or kick it under the table. Plus, I threw it, so I picked it up. It seemed fair. This did involve diving under his chair, which I’m sure looked interesting from his wife’s perspective. I’d have been embarrassed if it wasn’t the sort of thing I do all the time.

At the end of the luncheon, as I stood up, my purse bumped the back of my chair, which flew backwards across the polished wood floor and toppled over. Loudly. Everyone in the room turned and looked. The dean, the college president, the members of the board of trustees...everyone. My husband laughed, said, "There she goes, knocking down furniture," casually righted the chair, and we moved on (and no, there was no alcohol involved).

Well, at that point I did get embarrassed. Throwing bread at yourself is one thing, and knocking down furniture is another. I blushed and squirmed and reminded myself that I was a crappy faculty wife... until I conjured up a memory from the summer before.

I’d been sitting in the shade while my kids swam when something glinting in the sun caught my eye. It was the dean, bald head shining in the sun, swim trunks akimbo, going down the water slide with his kid at the local pool club. I’m not sure why, but this memory made me feel less like the schmuck and more like one of many schmucks. Not that a bald head or a graceless trip down a water slide with a kid makes someone a schmuck, neither does. It’s just that we’re all only human. I throw bread and knock over furniture, and other people splash around like otters looking very un-dean-like. None of it’s all that important. So, I got over the whole chair thing before we’d retrieved our coats.

Once again, I was unable to pull off the put-together, reserved, string-of-pearls-wearing faculty wife thing, but for the first time, I was really okay with that. I guess I’m settling into this role, after all.

Old friends & introspection

(Original post date: Wednesday, February 06, 2008)

It's been a busy couple of weeks... old friends keep popping up, and I've found and reconnected with a couple of others. It's a mixed bag - reconnecting with old friends. While it is so much fun to meander down memory lane, it's also a lot like being naked. We're talking about people who knew me when I was naive and trying like hell to fit in... trying like hell not to miss anything. Talking with old friends has been about fond memories, but it's also been about mending bridges and coming to terms with things that I thought I'd left behind years ago.... things it turns out I didn't handle as well as I could have. So, to anyone to whom I was bitchy or disloyal, to anyone to whom I was dismissive or otherwise unkind - I apologize, truly, from the bottom of my heart. Unless you deserved it! Simmer down, I'm just kidding.

Anyway, all of this has made me spend some time answering the following question: who am I? I've found that there's more than one answer to that question (pointing in a crooked line). I'm a wife, a mom, a sister, a friend, a teacher, an ex-rebel, an ex-Jersey girl (though you're never really an EX-Jersey girl)... So I haven't come to any conclusions, but I'm working on it, and I'll keep you posted.

I know, you're pinned to your seat.

Ciao.

Couches

We have a ridiculous amount of mismatched furniture. The problem is, no matter how we arrange it, it still looks like mismatched furniture. Occasionally, I'll find myself sitting on the stairs or standing in a doorway trying to envision a room that is calming rather than chaotic.    
    
Much our furniture is pre-owned, which is to say they’re hand-me-downs. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, we had kids before we had any money, so over the years, whenever anyone said, "We're getting a new couch," and asked us if we wanted the old one, we said yes. Second, my parents are perpetually saying, "We're getting a new couch.”  

On New Year's Eve, we ended up hosting an impromptu party. Instead of grabbing food and sitting on the sectional by the television on the other side of our family room, people clustered near the food on the mostly unfurnished side, squeezing into a love seat and a chair and sitting on the floor. I’m an intensely casual hostess, but it seemed wrong that people didn’t even have comfortable seating. I realized that we had a full-sized couch in the adjacent, unheated sun room, so I ran out there and started shoving the couch into the family room. 

My husband called, "Hon? What are you doing out there?" (which is code for, "Why is that fucking door open? It's cold!"). I yelled that I was moving a couch so people didn't have to sit on the floor (which is code for, "I'm moving a couch so people don't have to sit on the floor, so don't give me grief about the fucking door!"). Peer pressure being what it is, all the men simultaneously hopped up, shooed me away, and moved the couch into the family room. It looked stupid jutting out in the middle of the room, but people no longer had to sit on the floor, so my mission was accomplished. 

After everyone left, my husband and I tidied up, but it was late and we were tired, so we left the couch where it was. Two days later, it began to bug me, but instead of just returning the couch to the sun room, I decided that there had to be a better configuration.

I am not good at visualizing things, so I no longer waste time trying to figure it out on paper. I just start shoving things around. This is no easy task. When you're 5'2” you really have to put your whole body weight into moving couches and other large pieces of furniture.

I don't measure conventionally, either. I use the "put one foot directly in front of the other and count how many 'feet' something is" method. Usually this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I do a lot of shoving.

My first combination was terrible. I tried switching the couch with the love seat, but the proportions were wrong. I thought that the bookcase, which is 2' high, 9 "feet" long, and enormously heavy, should go on a different wall, but my first shove resulted in a cracking sound. Since I was too lazy to remove and then replace all the books, it stayed right where it was. 

My second and third combinations didn't work either, so I involved the television end of the family room in the swap, too. 

In the middle of all this, my daughter came downstairs to listen to her iPod and dance around and was delighted to find that not a single piece of furniture (except the bookcase, of course) was where it had begun. Her overjoyed, "Whoa! What're you doing?" attracted the attention of my husband who, although not overjoyed, was at least interested in participating in the shuffle. 

First we had to discuss the arrangements I'd already tried.

"What about…?"

"Nope. Looked terrible."

"Oh. Well, what about…?"

"That, too.

Then, we had to kick out my daughter and her originally entertaining but eventually annoying combination of questions and narration:

"Why is the couch over there? That looks weird. Mom, doesn't that look weird? Daddy, Mommy thinks that looks weird. Can we do my room next? Uh oh, that didn't fit. Don't hurt yourself, Mom. Ooooh. That looked like it hurt. Hey, the chair is by the fireplace again. It looked better before. Is dinner going to be ready soon? Did you even start cooking, yet? What? No! No! I'll stop talking! Really! No, really! Pleeeeeease? You guys are so unfair!" 

We finally settled on an arrangement that was embarrassingly close to the original. The television and big chair traded places on one side.  On the other side, the love seat was demoted to the sun room in favor of the long couch. That's it. We moved furniture and delayed dinner for over an hour to switch two minor things.

It was a fitting end for a saga that began on New Year’s Eve, a time when people examine their lives, try to make sense of the chaos, and then make plans to change themselves. Gyms and closet organizing companies make a fortune during the first week of the year, when people shell out big bucks for memberships and organizational systems that they believe will help them rearrange their lives. In the end, though, when the next New Year’s Eve rolls around, most people’s lives are still embarrassingly close to what they had been before. We are who we are, and no amount of pushing and shoving, whether we’re talking weights, the contents of our closets, or even couches, can fundamentally change that.

Techno-dorkdom

(Original post date: Wednesday, December 26, 2007)

I've already dealt with the following examples of my inherent dorkdom:

- I love online Scrabble. I'm familiar with a wide range of Scrabble specific terminology and text lingo, have memorized two different sets of eligible 2 letter words (for the American and British official Scrabble dictionaries), and have gotten into the occasional chat spat with other Scrabble players. There are actually people who will say nasty things to you about how you're playing or just in general... in a Scrabble site! Are these people afraid to get out there into a real chat room and call people names? Doesn't their choice of forums make them even more wimpy? Ooooh, you're so tough, picking on the Scrabble weenies. Puh-lease.

- I look things up in the dictionary all the time. I read constantly, and when I get to a word I don't know and can't figure out from context, I look it up and then am all happy that I know what it means. Honestly, we have dictionaries all over the house because you never know when some stupid radio show host will pronounce something in a way you've never heard before, prompting you to verify whether or not the host is even more of a clod than you'd previously believed. These missions generally lead to entire discussions about how weird it is that negotiate, negotiated, and most other conjugations of the word are pronounced w/a "sh" sound (ne-go-she-ate), while negotiation can be pronounced w/an "s" sound (ne-go-see-ay-shun). That is weird though, right? Do you think Sean Hannity or whichever moron it was actually looked it up and decided to use the alternate pronunciation just to be cool? My husband and I have friends who do the same thing... look things up, I mean, not pronounce things oddly. In fact, we've had whole conversations about words that one person uses and the other one looks up, only to find that while it is there, its usage is arcane or archaic. And then, if one of us finds the word in use in current print, we'll call or save clippings for later ball-busting. True dorkdom, I know.

- One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday night is to drive up to an hour to go to Wegmans (yes, the supermarket) with a friend of mine, spend an hour or two shopping for stuff we can't get at our local supermarket (Kosher deli, decent bread, organic ginger candy, etc.), bring the stuff to the car (placing perishables in a cooler brought along for that express purpose) and head back inside to find some really yummy take out for dinner. After sitting in the "supposed to look like you're outside" dining area eating and chatting for another hour or so, we're ready to call it a night. It's awesome, we talk about all sorts of things w/o kids interrupting every 10 minutes, and no one's hung over the next morning. I am, however, aware that hanging out in a supermarket, even Wegmans, is NOT cool.

There are many more examples (my lack of coordination, for one, and my love of the movie "Dances With Wolves," for another), but the above examples most clearly illustrate the level of dorkdom I'm talking about. However, as of late I've discovered another dorky tendency: I download the dorkiest podcasts and audiobooks you've ever seen (or, I guess, heard). Here are a couple of examples:

Millie's Yiddish Class. This guy basically follows his 80-ish year old mother around asking her to explain things in Yiddish (there's also another series called "I Can't Open It" where he has her gather things she can't open… bottles, cans, etc., and then films her explaining that she can't open them, and then opens them for her – no, I'm serious… it's on YouTube, check it out). I love this lady, and while she looks nothing like my grandmother or great aunts, the Yiddish reminds me of holidays in their homes… it's amazing how you can be unable to speak a language, but understand when someone tells you to get out of the kitchen before you make them spill the soup ("but come back later, bubelah, and I'll give you a rugelach, now scoot!").

Anything from NPR (or PRI). I think subscribing to "This American Life," or "Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know?" qualifies you for super-dorkdom. Especially when you listen to "A Very Special David Sedaris Christmas" as you cruise up Rt. 78 and laugh your head off while your children doze in the back of the minivan. But you know what, some of this stuff is hilarious, and if someone other people don't like it, they can go download "Ask a Ninja" or "Bikini News" or something. No, I'm not making either of those up. If you're even a little bit tempted to see what I'm talking about, go to iTunes and download "This American Life: Angels Wanna Wear My Red Suit" (it's like a buck 99 or something), fast forward to about 47:45, and listen to David Sedaris read a version of one of his stories. Holy crap - I laugh out loud at that one every time.

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But here's the thing…. I'm totally okay with being a dork. Truly. I'm just not cool. I never have been and I will never be. I can be nice. I can be funny. I can be generous. I can be a total bitch. But I can't be cool. If I get a decent cool streak going, within minutes I will fall down or make some arcane reference or say, "Oh golly, are you okay?" (Never say "golly" if you're trying to be cool). It just never sticks. I'm not even sure what the lure of coolness is, anymore. My mom says that sometimes just being yourself and being okay with who you are is cool in its own way, but let's face it – either that's a different definition of cool (like the after-school-special version of cool) or just a way for uncool people to rationalize their dorkdom. Plus, I might be wrong here, coolness not being my thing, but I've got a hunch that just talking w/your mommy about whether or not you're cool is a marked sign that your instincts are right - you are a dork, which, as I have been trying to point out, is just fine.

Peace out.

Holiday Things I Wish Gentiles Understood

(Original post date: Wednesday, December 19, 2007)

1. Most Jews don't feel bad because we don't celebrate Christmas, and we don't decorate our houses for Christmas because we don't care to, not because we're somehow punishing ourselves.

If one more person asks if I decorate for Christmas and then, when I explain that I don't because it's not my holiday, reply, "You know, you could put up Christmas lights... it's not really religious," I'm going to puke. I KNOW I could put up Christmas lights. It's not that I've been sitting around my whole adult life thinking, "Gosh, it's too bad Jews aren't allowed to hang lights on their houses, because it's really pretty." And I KNOW that it's not religious. I'm not a moron. I just don't get the urge to hang them up at my house because it's not my holiday. I take it back. I 'm not going to puke. I'm going to say, "No way! Are you serious?" and then burst into tears, wailing, "All those wasted years!"

2. The majority of American Jews are neither offended by Jingle Bells nor thrilled that the chorus has made sure to sing one Hanukkah song.

Most of us hate the dreidel song once we're out of preschool, and we'd like people to stop singing it, then pointing out that they've sung it, and then waiting for us to be all appreciative. Please understand this… no matter how many times it's sung, it's still about a spinning top (one that's used to gamble, BTW). The song doesn't hold any special meaning. In fact, if not for the fact that non-Jews keep adding it to their "Holiday" concerts, it'd probably be something you had to learn in Hebrew school, possibly sing to your grandparents once a year until your bar/bat mitzvah, and then forget about until your own kids were in Hebrew school. Now it's become this symbol of misguided inclusion. Oy.

3. Most of us are NOT offended if someone wishes us a Merry Christmas.

We are well aware that MOST people in the US celebrate Christmas, and generally people are only trying to be polite or share their own excitement about their upcoming holiday. I'm at the point that when someone I hardly know (or don't know at all) asks, "Are you ready for Christmas?" I just say, "Yes, and you?" Most often, people are just being polite and would MUCH rather talk about their own Christmas-preparation meshugas, anyway. It only becomes an issue when people you know well insist you MUS T celebrate it somehow, or send religious Christmas cards every year, and it's not an inside joke.

For instance, I had a friend who, in jr. high, sent me a Christmas card. When she realized I was Jewish she was embarrassed and apologized. I let her know that it was no problem, and that I'd thought the card was pretty. The next year she sent me another Christmas card w/a note that read, "To my Jewish friend who likes Christmas cards! Happy Hannukah!" It became a yearly ritual, one that made me smile every year.

In another instance, however, I had an adult friend who sent us a very religious Christmas card one year, and who then called to ask if I'd gotten it, if I'd liked it, and what I was doing for Christmas…. with NO trace of humor. I said, yes, it was beautiful, but did she know that I was Jewish? She said yes, but she thought it captured the true spirit of Christmas. Did I really just IGNORE the whole holiday? I explained the whole idea of being "not Christian," and she seemed to get it. The next year I got another, even more religious (of the "Hark! Our savior is born" variety) card from her. The following September, I sent her a High Holiday card and then called to see if she liked it. When she said it was beautiful but then confessed that she was confused because it really wasn't her holiday, I said I knew, wished her a good yuntif and shana tova and hung up. Guess what? I got a generic "holiday" card that year.

4. We don't care if your neice or brother-in-law or college roommate was Jewish.

Like I said earlier, I generally just answer a Christmas question with another one. Sometimes, however, it's more appropriate to be more forthcoming. Surprisingly often, people are all embarrassed and feel they've said something insulting. In response, they blurt out that they know, or knew, another Jew. "OH!," they exclaim, "My college roomate's boyfriend's half-uncle was Jewish!" I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with that information. Say, "Oh, good, you're not a biggot?" The next time someone says, "Oh, my neighbor is Jewish," I'm going to look all sad and say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." Let's see what they do with that. Or even better: "Really? My neighbor is an schmuck."

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I guess that's all for now. But I'm reserving the right to complain some more. It's my blog and I'll bitch if I want to.

Adios!

Techno-happy

(Original post date: Wednesday, December 12, 2007)

I got a Nano, I got a Nano... lalalalala....

I love this thing. My sweet and loving husband totally surprised me with it and I just LOVE it. I've spent way too much time organizing my music, and I listen to the thing constantly.

Can you believe iTunes doesn't sell The Matrix? Bummer.

In any case, my techno-envy has been abated. I am happy and satisfied and trying not to damage my eardrums. I'm also trying not to sing along by accident... particularly when I'm singing pretty much any song by Violent Femmes during my planning period in school. Yeah. That'd be just wrong.

Confession: I have purchased a Justin Timberlake song (Sexy Back) and I am loving listening to it. Again, not something I need to be singing in my classroom.

Meanwhile, I alphabetized all of the songs in my iTunes library, which contains Josh's music, too, and then cracked myself up reading the titles conversationally.

An example:

Ain't it fun.

Ain't love strange.

Ain't no right.

Ain't talking 'bout love.

Ain't that a shame.

All dressed up.

All mixed up.

All my friends.

All my love.

All or nothin'.

All over but the crying.

All the small things.

All the wrong reasons.

Go ahead, look at your own library. Check out "don't," "I" and all its variants, "they," and "you." They're particularly conversational.

Well, I thought it was amusing. So I'm a freak. So what? I amuse myself. But what does that make you if you're taking the time to sit and read this nonsense? Loser. Go away.

Ciao.

Kindle and Keeping It Real

(Original post date: Sunday, December 02, 2007)

Amazon.com is pushing its new electronic-reader, Kindle. Going with my techno-covet theme, I want one. Not at $399 - the current asking price, but for around $99 would be good. Go read the description and watch the little video at Amazon...

Okay, so it seems interesting, right? Here are my concerns (over and above the hefty price tag)... even if they're describing it accurately when they say that you can read in direct sunlight and that the screen doesn't cause eye-strain, does it give you that cozy "settling down with a good book" feeling? I'm not sure it would. Also, although you spend less per book than if you'd bought the actual book, you can't lend it to anyone when you're done without lending someone your Kindle and thus all of the books you bought for it, you can't stack your books on a bookshelf (I don't know about anyone else, but there's almost nothing more appealing to me than a room lined with books), and there's something dangerous about being able to click a couple of buttons and have a brand new book in your hand in seconds, no matter where you are. I could see myself sitting in a doctor's office waiting, wondering why they only have magazines from the1990's, and suddenly remember... I've got a large part of Amazon just sitting in my purse, waiting to be read! It's almost too convenient.

Now, I say all of this knowing that if someone gave me a Kindle, I'd be like, "YES!" and I'd go on and on about how you can look stuff up in the dictionary whenever you get to something you don't know (I do this with actual dictionaries now... so I'm a dork, bug off), and how if you finish one book in a series you can just click! and you've got the next one ready to go... how you can carry your whole library with you and never be bored again. It's true - they've got me, and many other bibliophiles, pegged with this one. It may not be perfect (missing the decorative and shareable aspects of actual books, specifically), but it's way cool.

Other than this peripheral techno-obsession, though, I am trying to "keep it real." That's really one of those phrases that I, middle-aged, suburban, white, and totally uncool, should not use... sort of like, "Oh, no you di'in't." Regardless (or, as my students and half the free world would say, "irregardless," grrrrr!), I recognize that things are really good around here. A list of good things would include all the stuff you're supposed to focus on (family, friends, safety, etc.), and it'd be sincere. Things that remind me of this:

Friends and acquaintances dealing with: houses falling down, losing loved-ones, being ill, watching children be ill and being afraid for them, less-than perfect childcare, financial woes, putting up with blockhead spouses, dealing with blockhead relatives (and or blockhead co-workers), and raising potentially blockhead kids.

Students dealing with: insane stress, hunger, neglect, abuse, depression, peer pressure, blockhead classmates, blockhead teachers (I'm sure there's more than one who'd put me on that list), and substance abuse.

My children dealing with: stress, peer pressure, self-consciousness, the strangeness of puberty (or lack-thereof, depending on which kid we're talking about), blockhead "friends," and the whole big scary world around them, which they're trying to navigate with over-protective parents simultaneously keeping them close and pushing them to be responsible for themselves.

People in the mall dealing with: pea-sized brains, infantile mind-sets, a lack of social-skills or awareness of others, bratty kids, terrible crimes of fashion, and over-priced mobile phone contracts.

SO- now that I've wasted a half-an-hour writing this dumb blog, I have to get back on track and get my grocery list written, my hair dried, and my butt out the door!

On tap today: shopping, grading/planning, and latkes with pals. (Best latkes I've ever made, by the way...)

Peace!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wiki Update and More

(Original post date: Friday, November 30, 2007)

Okay, so the wiki assignments I set up for my students didn't go exactly as I'd envisioned. I don't know why I thought that anything would run smoothly when I added 100+ kids to the equation. In any case, the first "post the cool websites you find about this topic" assignment was a MESS for the first group of kids. Their subjects are things like, "Katelyn's Sites!" All of this would be well and good except that they weren't allowed to duplicate other kids' sites, and keeping track of every posted site was impossible. Susequent classes posted their sites in the subject of their posts, which created a somewhat easier to handle list of sites, but it still left me searching for their responses to classmates' sites. OY.

Part of the problem is that wikispaces is free and full of cool features, but it doesn't give me the control I need... for instance, I need to be able to type in a kid's username and see everything he/she has posted/edited. BlackBoard, I believe, has this function, but since my school doesn't use it, that's not an option for me.

In any case, my plan is to go MUCH simpler for the next wiki assignment... like: respond to this question and to one other student's response. Again, this is me coming up with the assignments w/o actual teenagers mucking it all up. So, we'll see.

Meanwhile, I'm still coveting all things technological. I don't care how many people tell me the iPhone is overrated... it's SO COOL and I want one. I don't want to pay for it or for the necessary accompanying service, of course. And therein lies the problem. So it's a no go for the iPhone. Likewise with the Macbook, which I may also have mentioned before. Oh, and now, thanks to my pal E., I am coveting PhotoShop. I want to put my head on Paris Hilton's body. LOL

I wonder if E. is on MySpace.... I'm going to go check now.

Ciao

Computer Addict

(Original post date: Monday, November 26, 2007)

I think I'm becoming addicted to the computer. No kidding - over Thanksgiving break I've logged so many hours it's not even funny. I've been setting up wikis for my classes, and that's super exciting... I'm hoping that once they're up and running and the kids are involved it won't be as time consuming. Then again, I've included assignments that the kids have to post (and respond to), so that's time spent grading.

In any case, my eyes are red and my ears are ringing and unless I'm coming down with something, I think I'm having cyber-overload. This is something about which I'm always preaching to my children and my students... "Spending hours online is crazy! Get out there and do something!" Yeah, okay - so now I'm just one more hypocritical adult. Excellent.

However, I'd like to blame some of this on Apryll (rule 1 - first assign blame), who brought the most delightful electronic toys to Thanksgiving. I now totally covet her iPhone and Macbook. I don't actually need either of these, mind you, but I covet them nonetheless.

Upon further thought, though, I'm wondering if my getting those would just cause me to be techno-focused even more... that'd be a bad trend, considering my behavior with my plain-ol' computer over the last few days. If I had either of those I'd be on my wikis constantly and that's JUST WRONG. If I say it loudly enough I'll believe it.

I'm going to log off now and I'm NOT going to log onto the computer at all until I get to work tomorrow. See? If I'm able to just walk away right now, that proves I'm not an addict, right? Right. Okay, so I'm logging off now and will be techno-free until tomorrow morning.

I just have to check my e-mail, first.

Change to "I'd Like to Meet" List

(Original post date: Sunday, November 25, 2007)

Well, I'm excited to say that I've had to take Frank McCourt out of my "I'd like to meet" list... got to meet him and hear him talk at the NCTE conference in NYC a couple of weeks ago. I was afraid that it'd be a let down... sometimes people who write well are total duds in person. This was SO not the case.

The man talks about teaching English in a way that I've never heard anyone talk about it... even people who've been teaching it for years. If you've read his Teacher Man you'll know what I mean. Or maybe not. But here's the thing that gets me... he honestly addresses the way kids try to get you off task by getting you to tell them stories about your life. He's the first person I've ever met who admits that it's sometimes more fun than the curriculum AND that it's not the worst thing in the world. I love when I can tell kids stories about the crazy things that happen to (or around) me; I think it's a great way to get kids interested in a point I'm trying to make... if it's tied to what I'm teaching. My greatest "trick" is letting my kids think they've dragged me off track, when I'd planned to tell the story all along because it illustrates something I am trying to teach them. Nobody ever addressed this when I took my ed classes. Not only did Frank McCourt discuss it, but he credited it with helping him write Angela's Ashes. He said that he'd told most of those stories to his classes over and over again through the years, so when he sat down to write a book, they were largely written and revised in his head. I just love that! It gives busy English teacher's and "would be" writers hope.

Also, he's terrifically funny. At the end of his talk, I turned to a colleague and asked, "Is it me, or would you buy this guy drinks all night if he'd just keep talking?" She said she would, and I believe many people in the room felt similarly. Even on our teachers' salaries. Oh, everyone except the moron who had her laptop open and checked her e-mail throughout the talk. People are such clods, I swear. Ohhh... we're very impressed at how busy you are and at how well you multi-task. Perhaps you should work in an etiquette course at some point, though, because you're acting like a self-important boob. But I digress (not that that's necessarily a bad thing - see above).

So... Frank McCourt's advice for would-be writers: "Grab a bottle of wine, relax, and just scribble." Well, I thought that was AWESOME, so I got in line again after the talk (I'd already gotten him to sign a copy of Angela's Ashes - one of my favorite books ever, and definitely my pick for "most adeptly ended books, ever," a thought I did share with him, BTW) and asked him to write "Just Scribble" on a notebook I had with me... I'm going to try to write again, and I thought it'd be neat to have his own advice in his own hand to inspire me when I felt like it was pointless. Yes, it's corny on a level even I'd never experienced before, but I don't care. Anyway, he was agreeable to it and did so, and since my two colleagues thought it was an awesome idea, too, they followed suit... and Frank McCourt turned around and said to his assistant (or whomever was standing "guard" behind him) and said, "Just Scribble... that's a good name for a book."

I'll excitedly await its publication.

No more coffee apologies

I'm done being embarrassed by how sweet I like my coffee. Go ahead and stare disapprovingly as I dump in five packets of Splenda. As Pee-wee Herman, that venerable font of wisdom, once said, "Take a picture - it'll last longer." Knock yourself out. But please stop feeling the need to explain that I'm somehow screwing up good coffee or that I don't "really" like coffee if I have to disguise the flavor by making it sweet. It's not that I don't know what I'm doing. I like it this way. And guess what? I'm not alone. Haagen-Dasz doesn't make their coffee ice cream for me alone (though it'd be very thoughtful if they did).

Here's an idea, coffee purists. Instead of saving your coffee snobbery for me, go to the nearest Starbucks and heckle anyone who orders a caramel mocchiato or orange cream frappuccino or mocha anything. Better yet, order a plain espresso made from the most obscure beans you can find, and then sit in the corner glaring haughtily at all the ignorant plebs who think they like coffee but who are wrong about their own tastes and not half as sophisticated as you.

Sweet coffee isn't new. Well before you were around to bug random people in convenience stores, my eastern European ancestors sipped black coffee through sugar cubes held in their teeth (I'd do this if I had one iota of coordination... or if Splenda made non-sugar cubes).

I'm done apologizing for liking it that way and done trying to drink it differently because other people are giving me the evil eye while I'm fixing it the way I like it. Sweet coffee isn't an adulteration of some pure and holy substance. It's a fucking beverage. A yummy one. With caffeine. Now leave me alone.

Flip-flop Conundrum

Many companies and schools have a no flip-flop rule. That's no big deal. After all, we're professionals, right? But has anyone checked out summer footwear, lately? What's a flip-flop and what's not?

Opinions vary:

"Nothing can go between your toes."

"It's got to have a back or a strap around the back of your foot."

"They can't make that 'flip-flop' sound when you walk."

"It has to cover most of your foot."

"Stick with sandals, slides, and wedges."

The problem with all of these answers is that none is definitive. I have shoes that I consider sandals, but they do go between my toes. Can I wear them? And I have a pair of slides that are WAY more casual than the above mentioned sandals. They do, however, make a "thwack thwack" sound when I walk, which brings us to the rule about the 'flip-flop' sound. Does "thwack thwack" count as a 'flip-flop'? I think the person who volunteered that advice is in league with the "something around the back of your foot" person. And what's "most of your foot"? I need details. Is there a percentage written into our contract? Maybe that's the part right after how many sick days we can use for family leave.

Today I wore my "between my toes" sandals, and I asked at least half a dozen people what they'd call them. Most said "sandals." One said "thongs."

But the best answer? "Thongs, honey, but who cares? They've got bigger problems... like the tramp stamps sashaying up and down the halls. My goodness, boys are so distracted they're walking into lockers. Someone's gonna get hurt."

So the "what's a flip-flop" mystery remains unsolved. Looks like more field research is necessary. I think I'll wear my snow boots with a springy dress on Monday and see how that goes over.

Impossible things I'd like:

(Original post date: Friday, May 11, 2007)

* every room in my house to be clean at the same time, for more than 30 seconds

* laundry and dishes that clean themselves and put themselves away

* healthy, delicious meals that cook themselves and that all members of my family like

* children who clean their rooms (not the shove everything in the closet or under the bed variety, either) without being reminded and sans whining, complaining, muttering or eye-rolling

* people to actually stop at the stop sign near my house

* a personal landscaper/gardener who works for free

* papers that grade themselves

* an extra hour or two a day that no one else knows about

* to be graceful (at least occasionally)

On my mind right now...

(Original post date: Saturday, April 21, 2007 )

Cutting down 30 year old, perfectly healthy oak trees because you "don't want them to come crashing through the roof" is insane, and will not endear you to your brand new neighbors.

Pest companies to whom you pay a monthly fee should send someone right out to your house if you have huge black ants all over your kitchen.

In life, as with math, there is an order of operations: first you find out if the fence is yours, then you talk with the neighbor with whom you share the fence, THEN you take down the fence.

Refrigerated cookie dough is one of the best inventions ever.

If you ask 5 different people where your property line is, you will surely get more than one answer. Choosing the one that suits your purpose and ripping down everything you've decided is yours doesn't make it legal and, again, doesn't endear you to your brand new neighbors.

Shoving bills into various drawers and shoe boxes is an inefficient way to "organize" things. The time you save by not bothering to actually file things is completely negated by the hours it takes you to sort through everything when you finally get a desk and hanging file folders. It should not take 36 years to learn this.

Bullies at any age suck -- they bring out my Jersey. Confrontation does not scare me.