Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Pretend first day

This morning I was up again at 7am (hurrah! but boo!), and then I spent an hour sorting through my pile of crap I brought home from school in June. I packed it in my car, drove to school (I drove to school! In my own car!! And it took a mere fifteen minutes!!!), lugged the crates up to the second floor, and got most of my stuff moved out of my old room, with the help of my good friend N.

Then it was noon.

And I was sweaty. Like, a lot. And the hair? Whew, it was crazy. All frizzy and curly and all over the place.

It was a huge relief, though, to get to school, see my new classroom, and begin to get used to the idea of teaching in it. My new room is pretty sweet. It's built exactly like my old room, including the A/C unit in the window (yes!). PLUS, I have a PROJECTOR SCREEN. Do you have any idea how cool that is? I no longer have to project half an overhead screen on an empty bit of wall, like the ghetto teacher I used to be! AND I'm going to get a large bookcase. Squee!

Nothing got set up or decorated or anything. Both bulletin boards are already prepped though, which is excellent. I just need to make some posters for the first couple days. Maybe I'll put up some maps until I have more "artifacts" up and about. (Stupid artifacts.)

I'm going back in tomorrow afternoon to move things around and make my new room livable. Wish me luck.

Help Now.

Please donate to the American Red Cross. They are the first line of offense after a disaster, and they use donations to provide shelter, services and vouchers to those affected by all kinds of disasters. You can donate specifically to the 2005 Hurricane Response Fund. Please donate now.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

And now for something completely different.

I just realized that I spent (no, literally! the whole, entire day!) working on school stuff. I don't want to think about that anymore. Especially since I'm going into the building tomorrow morning, for the first time in this, my second year as a teacher.

So instead, seeing as how I brought back all my photos and albums, and I spent half of Sunday scanning them, let's take a look at how freaking adorable I used to be:

I mean, seriously. Is this not the cutest little baby you've ever seen? By the way, this is approximately at six months old--look at all that hair! (And it wasn't new, either, it had been there from the beginning.)

And then I got bigger.

Evidence: my fifth-grade school picture:

This is who MY sixth-grade teacher met. Can you imagine? Look how innocent and blissfully unaware of everything this little one was!

Calling all English Teachers!

There are so freaking many places to get ideas online, that, quite frankly, it's overwhelming. I have links upon links, but there's too much to get to know and actually use.

So here are some fantastic resources that I have found this afternoon, printed, and put into my beginning-of-the-year binder. They're all from the "vocabulary" section of WebEnglishTeacher. I'm sure that there are tons more great ones, but here is a handful to get you started.

Here is an interactive site that gives lessons and activities for the dictionary, thesaurus, and word parts. (Since my room doesn't have computers, I copied and pasted/retyped to make a worksheet/lesson plan.)

This site has a whole crapload of root words--and a special section just from Harry Potter. (I've been wondering who else was 'reading' the Latin spells and professor names!) Definitions and activities.

Obfuscations to help your students learn big, 'five-dollar' words. (Ex: neophyte's serendipity=beginner's luck)

More than one hundred "sponges" or quick activities. Perfect for Do-Nows! This one is good for all teachers of all grades (past primary, though).

Too good not to pass on

Another awesome post from NYC Educator. So funny and so true!

Monday, August 29, 2005

First Days

These are my plans at the moment. I'd love your feedback!

THURSDAY: First Day of School
*Enter like professionals
*Practice entering like professionals
*Review expectations/procedure for entering:
1. Boys on the wall
2. Girls on the line
3. Stand in a straight, single-file line
4. Wait until silent and facing front
5. Enter quickly and quietly
6. Immediately take your assigned seat
7. Copy down the homework assignment in your student planner
8. Immediately begin the Do Now
*To each student, hand a pen, #2 pencil, index card, contract/parent letter
*Do Now on board:
--Contact Card
*When done:
--Fall/Intro Survey
NO TALKING during individual work time
*Go over Bathroom Procedure (on chart):
--No requests first, third, fifth or eighth periods.
--Two requests MAX per period (second, sixth, seventh).
--Request ONLY during group work/individual work time.
--If you request during the lesson, or during independent reading, THE CLASS WILL HAVE A TEST THE NEXT DAY.

*ON LAMINATED CHART: What rules can we come up with to make sure our class runs smoothly and is a safe place for all of us?
*We will brainstorm our class rules and expectations.
(When we have a list up)
*In your table groups, choose a role (a recorder, a materials manager, a referee, and a presenter).
*Write on a chart paper about why each rule is important. (WHAT DO WE EXPECT?) Then come up with a consequence for breaking that rule.
*Share out from each table.

Part One:
Sign contract/parent letter.
Part Two:
One of your composition books will be your writer’s notebook. (We will discuss what that means tomorrow.) The writer’s notebook should reflect the writer--things that are important to him or her, things that represent him or her.
--Choose pictures, photographs, or drawings that you like.
--Feel free to use markers, crayons, pencils, or pens to decorate it.

FRIDAY: Second Day of School
*Enter like professionals
*Practice entering like professionals
*Do Now:
--Share your writer’s notebook designs at your table.
Why did you choose what you did? Why is it important to you?
--Share out to class: five students
--Set up Writer’s Notebook:
Title page, table of contents, numbers, seed ideas
--Set up Reader’s Notebook:
Lessons, Response, Word Log
*Go over Workshop Format
*Go over HW assignment
*Review HW Rubric (on chart)

Write an essay about yourself:
--What do you want me to know about you?
--There should be at least five paragraphs.
--Organize your thoughts.
--Do your best with spelling and grammar.

Homework Rubric
To earn an EXCELLENT/LEVEL 4, your homework must:
--Show that all directions were followed
--Show your best effort with conventions (spelling, grammar)
--Have a full, complete heading
--Be written on looseleaf paper
--Be legible

To earn a GOOD/LEVEL 3, your homework would:
--Show that most directions were followed
--Show a good effort with conventions
--Not have a full, complete heading.
--Not be written on looseleaf paper
--Be legible

To earn a FAIR/LEVEL 2, your homework would:
--Show that some directions were followed
--Show some effort with mechanics
--Have an incomplete heading
--Not be written on looseleaf paper
--Be mostly legible

To earn a POOR/LEVEL 1, your homework would:
--Show that few or none of the directions were followed
--Show no effort with mechanics
--Have an incomplete heading
--Not be written on looseleaf paper
--Be illegible

Excellent back-to-school reading

...if you haven't read them already, go check out these most excellent posts by most excellent teacher-bloggers.

wockerjabby: "school sucks". Oh, does it now?

mz. smlph: pointers to teachers

ms. frizzle, just in general. hurray for science!

nancy: the preparation....

fred's world: yes, there ARE good things about teaching.

a series of inconsequential events, also just in general.

NYC Educator: Education politics/Salary/the Mayor

There are many more quality teacher blogs out there, and I hope to find even more this year.

Best of luck to those already teaching, and best of luck planning for the rest of us!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Road Trip: Days Seven to Thirteen

Days Eight and Nine, I was in Iowa, the very Eastern bit, between Davenport and Dubuque. Right on the Mississippi, which I'd never seen before. It was excellent to catch up with Geo the Squirrel Hunter, and her mom was very welcoming. Plus she prepared very yummy food for us to snack on! And oh, such great kitties!

We toured the quaint main street, and watched a boat go through the locks on the river. Then we took a look at the state park, with a butterfly garden and scenic outlook (left). Iowa really impressed me with all of its leafy trees and gentle hills.

Let's see, Ten and Eleven were spent fairly quietly, with my grandma in Illinois. We ate out a couple times, visited the Salvation Army (I got a beautiful black evening dress for FOUR DOLLARS. Of course there was no dressing room, so I wasn't sure it would fit. But hey, four bucks, take a chance!), and took a nap or two. Excellent.

Day Twelve, I left the Chicago outskirts and headed further east. It proved to be a boring drive, as Illinois, Indiana and Ohio are very flat states. No hills, a few trees, and not much else.

Around five-fifteen, I saw a turn-off for Edison's Birthplace. So I detoured to Milan, Ohio, where there's a whole mini-village, all old-fashioned and stuff. Sadly, all was closed.

As I returned to the freeway, I noticed an ominous dichotomy in the skies before me. Look--it's still very light out, but that upper half is just black as night. And I drove right into the storm.

Thunder crashed and and lightning crackled, seemingly right above my head. The rain lashed down in torrents, so fast that even the turbo-speed wipers couldn't clear it. I could almost not see the road right in front of me. I switched on my flashers like the other drivers. I slowed down to what felt like a crawl, even though the speedometer read 40mph. My hands were tightly clenched at the 9 and 2 positions on the steering wheel; my knuckles turned and stayed white while my biceps began to burn.

Occasionally, one or two wheels felt like they weren't on the concrete; my breath caught in my throat, my hands tightened even more, until I felt control again of all four wheels.

I was aiming for the Pennsylvania state line that night; that way I would have fewer miles and hours to drive the next day. The last big town in Ohio is Youngstown, close to the border. The signs had read 67, 55, 41, 33 miles to Youngstown. I thought I could stick it out and easily make Pennsylvania. Obviously the rain slowed everyone down.

I pressed on, stubbornly, thinking nervously, "almost there, almost there, I can make it."

I had been driving since ten that morning, and had crossed into the Eastern time zone, so by that time--about 6.30--I'd already been driving for eight hours that day. My back ached and my knee felt prematurely arthritic from sitting in the driver's seat for so long. Again, this was Day Twelve of my road trip, and the twentieth day since I'd left New York.

I was tired, dammit. Impatient to just get home as soon as I could.

I pulled off the road at the thankfully-nearby service plaza, where I ate quick dinner and waited out the drenching rain.

By seven, I was cruising again at 60. Fifteen minutes later, I entered the storm zone again, and I slowed back down to thirty mph, back to my death grip on the wheel.

I saw a gorgeous sunset in the clear sky far behind, from the side mirror. I unlocked my hands and snapped a very quick photo before my hands magnetically jumped back to the wheel.

I was in the far left lane, and a semi was in the middle lane, traveling slower than I was. As I came up on the truck's cab, its front left wheel was spitting out a solid eight-foot spray of water, completely blinding me. I sat forward, holding my breath as my pulse jumped into overdrive. I swore under my breath and tried not to panic, holding the wheel straight. I made my foot press down on the accelerator to get me through the spray. A lifetime of a moment later, I did, and took a sigh of relief.

Not sixty seconds later, I came up on another semi, and the whole thing happened again.

I silently vowed, over my racing heart, to get the hell off the road and I sent up a brief prayer when a blue sign appeared out of the rainy mist in the next mile: "Lodging next exit."

I slept that night at the unassuming Budget Lodge in Warren, Ohio. I recommend it to anyone traveling through, as it had a large television, microwave and mini-fridge, plus wireless internet.

The next morning, naturally, dawned clear and blue and bright, as if nothing had happened. I drove straight through Pennsylvania's gentle mountains, valleys and forests, on through New Jersey. When I saw a sign that read, "Land of Make Believe, Exit 12", well, I knew I had to see that. At first I worried that it was Make Believe in that it didn't actually exist; it took a few minutes to find it. Sadly, it turned out to be an ordinary water/amusement park, expensive admission and everything. So I thought, heck, I'll just go to Enchanted Village and Wild Waves when I'm in Seattle next summer, none of this expensive New Jersey business.

At 5.30, I successfully met the end of I-80 where it flows into I-95, into New York City. Ee!

My excitement to see the city very quickly turned to dread, as I approached within a few miles of the George Washington Bridge, where I was met with a solid wall of gridlocked traffic.

Oh, yeah. New York City. It was nearly 7.30 when I finally arrived in my neighborhood. "Simply the Best" came on the radio right as the main drag came into view. I smiled, and felt a thrill as I remembered that I was driving. In my own car. In my own neighborhood. Wow.

Teacher "vacation"

Our last day of school was June 28, 2004. That very same night, my first night of utter freedom from teaching, I had a nightmare about the first day of school for this year.

Since then, I've had an average of two first-day nightmares per week.

Starting in July, I began plotting and planning for September. I came up with specific plans for the first two days, and general plans for the first three weeks. I bought books and materials from the Scholastic website...and now it was so long ago that I have no idea what I got. Opening the boxes at school will be like opening birthday presents--"ooh, look what I got myself! neat!"

I've been skimming and reading teacher resource books, some faster or more intently than others. (A lot of teacher books are borrrringgg.) Actually, I bought several at the beginning of the summer, and I've read most of those by now.

I have made trips to bookstores and bought books to use for read-alouds and general interest.
Not only that, but all summer I've been buying and hoarding school supplies--filler paper, composition notebooks, pens, pencils, etc. Last week I did school shopping for real, at the teacher store and a big trip to Staples (oh, how I love Staples!). I keep adding to my considerable pile every few days. Will it never end?

Not to mention trying to organize the damn pile. AND trying to organize the mountain of paperwork I collected from last year in lessons, worksheets and resources. Plus I've spent time online looking for even more lessons, worksheets, and resources. (And found some excellent ones! and (Teaching That Makes Sense) are fantastic, go check them out.)

Granted, I haven't actually had to be in a classroom, or be around any actual students--and thank god for that. But as for a scot-free, not quite.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Road Trip: Days Three, Four, Five and Six

When we left off, we had landed in Laramie, Wyoming at midnight.

By 8am the next day (which would have been Thursday the 11th), we were up and went out to breakfast before heading east to Cheyenne.

Cheyenne is a kind of small town that is mostly dedicated to old-time west stuff. Dad and I went to the Old West and Rodeo museum. (The above carriage made horsey noises when you picked up the reins.) They also had the country's first public library, a two-shelf carriage thing pulled by a horse.

The whole town had these variously-designed giant cowboy boots all over the place. Kind of like Seattle has (had?) those pigs around town.

After this exciting stop on our tour, we left and turned south on I-25 to Denver. It only took a few hours (oh, how I love the 75mph speed limit in Montana, Wyoming, Denver and Nebraska!), and before 1pm I had taken Dad to the airport to fly back to Seattle.

Then I was on my own, for the day and for good (on the road trip, and the summer). Ashley (the friend I was visiting in Denver) was at work all afternoon, so she suggested the 16th Street Mall. I spent some time at a local bookstore and strolling around the outdoor mall.

Friday I had the day to kill. First I made sure to sleep in, cause I was freaking exhausted. Around noon, I drove south to Colorado Springs. Ashley had highly recommended The Garden of the Gods.

It's full of these red rocks that have been pushed vertical over the last 30 million years or so. It's quite impressive. I took a "nature walk" and also walked a bit of one the trails. But then I was tired and hungry so I went back to the visitor center. I ate nachos (kind of a tradition of mine in high-altitude visitor centers...I am lame, don't ask) and wrote postcards.

This vertical rock was once a streambed. The big hole used to be a big rock, and the sediment flowed around it. And now that ancient streambed is vertical. Wow.

Saturday, Ashley and I drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Sadly, the weather was not ideal for viewing of mountain vistas, but it was still wonderful to be in the Rockies.
And the views still proved to be interesting.

Left: Two elk near the road.

The area behind me is supposed to be a scenic view of mountains and valleys. But as you can see, it's all fog.
It was pretty odd but beautiful in its own way.

We drove up the highest paved road in the country, to Trail Ridge. It felt like the top of the world.

Up at the top of the trail on that ridge, there are a bunch of rocks you can climb up. On the top of those rocks, there is this plaque, which points to mountains and locations (and the distances) around the country. This close-up reads Crater Lake 870, Mt. Rainier 925, Yellowstone 380.

On Sunday, I left Denver and drove through almost the entire state of Nebraska, to Lincoln. It wasn't as flat and boring as I'd thought. The land undulated with corn and soybeans, which was quite nice to look at. Not terribly exciting either, but pleasant for sure.

On the way, I stopped to stretch at Gothenburg, the original Pony Express station. That existed for less than a year, between 1860-61. They were put out of business by the completion of transcontinental telegraph communication. I didn't really know that it was so recent. I mean, that's less than a hundred and fifty years ago! Not long at all. I read a little fact card about Nebraska while there, and learned that 93% of Nebraska is farmland or ranchland. Hurrah for agriculture in the Midwest!

Later, I stopped ever so briefly at the Archway Monument, something about the experience of the Pioneers and the West. I had no time to go in to the exhibit, but I did see this plaque and found it was pretty thought-provoking.

I arrived at Seth's place in Lincoln about 8.30 that night. We ate some Greek food and caught up on the last three years. (geez Seth. Way to keep in touch with your friends! :)

Monday afternoon, I explored downtown, which was clean and friendly. First I spent some time in an excellent place called A Novel Idea Used Bookstore. I highly recommend it to anyone passing through. I bought eleven kids' books for next year, and spent less than $35. Sweet!

My next stop was the Capitol Building. I took a tour and learned that Nebraska has the only unicameral legislature in the country--that means they don't have a Senate and House, just one legislative body whom they call Senators. And the building was built from 1922-1932, for less than the budgeted $10 million. The tower extends fourteen stories, and Seth informed me that a state law prohibits any Lincoln building to be taller. Hm.

After the Capitol, I strolled up to the Historic Haymarket District, found some Nebraska souvenirs, and then a cute coffee shop. I sat at a table in the outdoor courtyard, sipping a strawberry italian soda in the shade, writing postcards to friends back home.

Quite an enjoyable afternoon, altogether.

So ends the next four days of the thirteen day road trip. I shall continue more at another time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


From the day that I left New York, I was tired. Every day, while in Washington and on my road trip, I was sleepy and lethargic. Couldn't sleep much more than normal, so never got to "catch up." Plus sleeping in different beds every night or every other night for three straight weeks obviously took a toll, physically and mentally. Stress, you know, etc etc.

So one of the reasons I was so anxious to get home, and then excited to be home, was my own bed. And staying in one place.

The first night back in my own bed, I slept about nine hours, hard. It felt great.

The second night, I simply could not sleep. I stayed up until nearly seven AM, then slept really hard til 11. No nap or anything that afternoon, and I stayed up until 3.30 AM the next night. (And I got up at about 1pm--ten hours!) Now it is the third night (right?), and it's three AM, no sign of sleepiness.

The first two nights, I had some snacks pretty late, and I figured that might be the problem--sugar, digestion, blah blah. So tonight I had dinner around seven, but didn't eat after 8pm. And apparently that has done nothing to helping me sleep.

What the hell is wrong with me?

I better fix this really soon, because in two weeks school starts, and I have to start getting up early again. Getting up at 6am sucks enough on its own; I don't want to wake up at that ungodly hour after only three or four hours of sleep.

On the other hand, the last three days, I have felt great, wide awake all day long. It's nice but now I'm worried. Though at least I'm not tired all damn day long. I suppose that is a plus.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Road Trip: Days One and Two

This is a long one, with a fair number of pictures.


Below: The early-morning sun shining over the Cascade Mountains, about a half-hour into the first day of the road trip.

After the glory of the mountains, most of the morning was in Central and Eastern Washington, which is all brown and scrubby. Dad and I passed the time discussing education and trivia. Around midday we'd gotten into the boonies of Idaho (no, you da ho. ha ha!), increasing our altitude to 4,000-6,000 feet, and back in the forested mountains.

We stopped for lunch in Kellogg, a tiny old silver mining town. The restaurant in the ski resort base was called Terrible Edith's ("Shut up and eat!"). The resort used to be called Jackass. Yep, really.

All afternoon was taken up driving in Montana. Montana is not very exciting. It's not exactly scrubby, but it's not lush either. Some crops, some cattle, but lots of empty expanse of land. And some mountainous areas too. In fact, we drove right through the wildfires. I even saw the water helicopter flying around between the mountain and the river. And thankfully, the fire wasn't raging or anything, there was a lot of smoke but I only saw two places with flames burning. Weird.

At seven, we pulled into Bozeman. We went to Main Street, which had a very cute, old-fashioned, small-town feel to it. Dinner at a local pizzaria, which happened to be full of cute college boys. Whee!


Day Two was much more interesting.

Left Bozeman at 6.30 in the morning. I snoozed in the car as we approached Yellowstone National Park (and Wyoming), at around eight.

Yellowstone is a huge park and has a limited road system, to help preserve the nature. There are four entrances, and the road is shaped like a figure eight. We drove into the park from the north entrance, down the left...arm? of the eight, across the middle, and down the right arm and out the south entrance. Altogether we were in the park about four hours.

First stop was the sulfur spring terraces. Stinky but gorgeous in an alien-world way. Then the sulfur/mud flats. We visited the Dragon's Mouth, and it lived up to its name, I tell you. Scary grunting and booming from a pond splashing into a cave.

Second stop was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and the Lower Falls. Gorgeous panoramic scenery!

Driving along the road, we saw a bunch of cars parked haphazardly on the shoulder. Animal sighting! We crept into the woods and saw a huge bull elk, just chilling on the forest floor. We were ten feet away from him, and he just sat there, practically a statue. It was incredible, though also nerve-wracking. Obviously.

A bit later, we cruised on down the road, eating the leftover pizza, when I suddenly choked, "Holy shit!"
A family group of buffalo (well, actually, in America we have bison, which apparently is not the same animal as a buffalo. But pretty damn close, if you ask me. Which you would, seeing as how I'm a biologist and stuff. *eye roll* Sometimes I should just shut up.) was standing around about five feet off the road. We pulled over and walked as close as we dared--about thirty feet. (My dad explained that buffalo are really near-sighted, which is why the dumbfucks get really close to the animal before it gores the hell out of them.)

After that excitement, we continued on. A few miles later, the territory opened up to a plain home to a small herd of bison. (All those dots) Can you imagine what the Great Plains of the Midwest once looked like, with herds of buffalo numbering in the tens of thousands? Damn those destructive white people.

As they do, the herd had no care to notice a strip of tar running through their land, so they hung out on it and right next to it.

So here I am, standing on the shoulder on one side. And there are a bunch of buffalo, right on the other shoulder. There were others on our same side, too. Notice that look on my face, and how it's not a beaming smile? Yeah. That's called a nervous grimace. They were crossing the road at will, rushing each other, and generally ignoring all the quiet commotion of a crapload of tourists looking and snapping pictures. We crazy.

Though I'm pretty proud of this particular pic I snapped:

It's one of the buffalo on our side of the road. See its raised tail? Look closely. Yep, it's taking a piss. This is a picture of a peeing bison. Awesome, no?

Now, I ended up around ten buffalo pictures altogether, from the two places we saw them, and that's pretty good. On the last road trip in Yellowstone in the mid-90s, we ended up with nearly a whole roll of the damn things. We were so in awe that we just kept firing our various cameras. When the prints arrived, we shook our heads and laughed, why the hell did we take so many pictures of the goddamn buffalo? We never need to see another one!

So I was proud of my restraint. :)

Half a mile up the road, there was a huge group of both cars and people, up on a hillside. We hoped that we'd see either a bear or a moose, to make our day a triple-hit of big-ass animals. Sadly, we'd missed the black bear by about a half-hour; it had been feeding on a bison carcass.

In 1988, more than half the park was ravaged by wildfires. As my dad explained, the firefighting policy has totally turned around since the 60s and 70s. He worked there as a college kid for a summer, fighting fires and keeping up the park. Back then, they fought and contained every single fire, to protect the forests. Eventually the botanists or whoever realized or remembered that wildfire is a natural phenomenon that actually does some good to the affected areas. So after that they always let wildfires burn themselves out, though making sure to protect any campsites or staff housing, I'm sure.

So the '88 fire went on and on, eventually getting too big to control once they realized it was totally out of control. Whole sections of the park were burned and totally barren. That summer, my dad, brother (five) and I (about eight) took a road trip to Yellowstone. All we saw in certain places were dead, burned trees.

We drove through those same areas on our trip; I recognized the mountains and vistas. The dead trunks still stand, but growing up all around and among them is a new growth of evergreen trees. A lot of them. Looks like a Christmas tree farm, in fact.

The point is that nature really does do things in a cycle, and nothing really dies. (As long as us dumb humans don't kill all of something, as we're apt to do.) It was beautiful and inspiring. The circle of life goes on.

From there, we drove around the lake, admiring the view. Soon we exited the park, and soon after that we entered the Grand Teton National Park. That one is not quite so organized. There aren't signs or trails or anything, you mostly drive through. There's lots of campsites, and I'm sure a great deal of hiking to do. But it's more of an independent park. No entrance fee, no fancy brochure or anything.

The weather was not ideal for viewing the mountains and the lakes; it was fairly cloudy and gray. Boo. Even so, the scenery is still impressive.

Around three, we finally arrived in Jackson, Wyoming. The clouds at Jenny Lake (left) had grown into a huge storm that was right behind us. Not two minutes after getting into town, the sky opened up, with a deluge of water, thunder and lightning. It continued for at least the next hour and a half or so, while we walked around looking at shops. Jackson, for all it's out in the middle of nowhere, is a highly-priced haven for artists, antiquers, and collectors. Oh, and people who like dead, slightly-endangered, stuffed creatures.

HUGE ones.

At 4.15, I was sitting at a rickety table in the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, writing my second batch of postcards for the day, when the lights flickered a few times. A few minutes later, the power went out. In the whole town. Short of a hurricane or something, has this ever happened to you? Not to me; the central parts of towns always have generators to keep them going. But every single light in Jackson went out that afternoon, thanks to the huge storm.

After half an hour, we decided to skedaddle and get on our way to Rock Springs, our scheduled stop. Nearly an hour later, we were out of the town and on the two-lane 'highway' going south. Wyoming is EMPTY after the mountain ranges; the Rockies kind of stop in a high plateau for most of the state. It's called the South Pass and that's where all the wagon trains on the Oregon Trail came through. It is seriously desolate land and honestly depressing and tiring to look at. There is nothing there. No trees. No crops. No animals. Nada. Scrubby brushland rolling on for miles in all directions.

Wyoming is the least populous state in the nation--less than half a million. The biggest city is its capital, Cheyenne, which has less than fifty thousand people. I think it's safe to say that the whole state is the utter antithesis to New York City. Certainly a culture shock, and I'm not even from a big city.

Oh, somewhere in the middle of all that nothingness, the odometer on my car hit 100,000 miles. Cool.

Remember that storm in Jackson? Oh, it didn't stop there. No, it was part of the biggest, lowest black cloud I have ever seen. We were trapped under it for at least a hundred miles. (That is not an exaggeration, either.) Remember the alien ships in Independence Day, covering the skies of the cities? That's how big this thing was.

Look at that!

Roughly fifteen miles north of Rock Springs, we escpaed from under this Gargantuan Black Cloud of Eternal Doom. I tell you, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Get a look at the side view! Look how thick it is--you can't even see the top! The fucking thing looks like an anvil; it billows out angrily at the bottom, all the better to wreak its havoc upon a poor innocent just trying to get across the country.

Around 8, we finally got in to Rock Springs. Took less than half an hour to learn that every single room is booked--not only in Rock Springs, but also in the towns 100 miles in either direction. (As in, two towns, one west and one east. I tell, you, NOTHING in Wyoming.) We ate a quick dinner and decided to just head for Laramie, which is a bigger town and about 200 miles to the east. Left Rock Springs at 9pm.

At 11.30, again in the middle of nowhere on the dark and nearly-empty-but-for-semis highway, we stopped for about sixty seconds on an exit ramp. The sky was totally clear, and it was completely stuffed, just littered, with stars. I had never seen so many before. (And that's saying something; my dad lives on top of a mountain.) The Milky Way was a clear trail of white fog, cutting a wide swath across the entire sky. It was just utterly, breathtakingly, astoundingly beautiful.

Five minutes later, no joke: the sky was completely clouded over. Not a single star visible.

Anyway, at exactly midnight, we pulled off I-80 to Laramie, and thank the good gods of travel, the EconoLodge had rooms. Hallelujah! I will forever love and be grateful to the entire EconoLodge company for being our savior that day.

In these two days, my dad and I drove over a thousand miles, and saw tons of wildlife and abundant natural beauty. I swear, those two days lasted about three weeks. They were intense, interesting, and sometimes dull (ahem, Wyoming) but what an incredible way to begin my journey. Talk about adventure!

The week in brief

I hung out and visited with people. Plus I slept in a different bed each night. (Nothing naughty; I was just nomadic.)

I saw a few friends and a few family members. It was all good. My youngest brother turned 17, which is just weird. I changed his diapers! And my baby sister is going into eighth grade already, too. I'm getting so old. It's pathetic.

It felt strange being back in familiar territory. It was like muscle memory; I knew where most things were, but I didn't remember names or directions of things. And farther places that I rarely used to go, like Seattle or Tacoma, forget it. I was clueless.

But driving was fun; I knew where I was going and the scenery was stunning, as usual. Traffic not so much, but hey, it's Seattle.

The weather was perfect while I was there, sunny and very warm, and not at all humid. I think I already mentioned that, didn't I. Well, I'll say again, ah, it was wonderful, I just loved it.

Oh--during the weekend, I went camping, with my mom and her friend's family, down in Oregon. Another post on that in a bit. With pictures!

The last night, I was at my dad's, up on the mountain. I made sure to go outside to see the stars. Mm, it was lovely. You could just make out the Milky Way, and the North Star shone brightly. My brother joined me, and we found some new constellations. I showed him the Salamander constellation (which I had only previously ever seen at Trailblazers, laying on the girls' dock), and he pointed out a giant arrow. I also saw a huge smiley face that took up about half the sky. Sweet!

Early the next morning, Dad and I were off. The cross-country road trip was actually going to happen!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Back to the beginning.

Well, before all the hoopla with the road trip, there was the week visit at home.

My plane was to arrive at approximately 10.15 PST. I called my mom right after I boarded the plane to let her know, and she said, "Okay, see you in a couple hours."

My flight ended up being Delta Song, and just as I'd heard, it was kind of like JetBlue. Televisions for every seat. However, I don't recall if all the seats were leather like JetBlue. Anyway. It was pretty good. Oh, except for having to buy all food. At least JetBlue gives you those little boxes with crackers and cheese, and cookies.

Anyway, the plane got in on time. I walked toward the arrival gate, anticipating being greeted by Mommy. My smile faded as I scanned the crowds, not seeing her. Hm, strange. Okay, well maybe she got mixed up with the wrong arrival gate, that's happened before. So I walked through baggage claim to the other gates...not there either.

I strolled around the area, and soon the bags came through, though the flight was not marked on the display thing above the carousel. It was only two down from the one listed on the monitors, though. My bag came through right after I stepped up to look, which was fantastic and never happens.

Still no Mom. I called her cell phone again, and it was turned off. Strange indeed. This had never happened before. She had always either been there or called me, always.

This went on for forty-five minutes. Me pacing around, up and down, growing more and more uneasy and anxious. I even retraced my steps to the arrival gate. Nothing anywhere. Eventually, I found the airline desk and had them page her, but by then I was already giving up hope.

I called my younger brother and he said he'd go check her house. He reported back that no one was home and her red car was gone. I tried to keep my voice steady as I said, "I don't know what to do. This has never happened before...I guess I need to start calling hospitals."

And I did. I called all the hospitals in the area, trying to stay calm and act like an adult. It felt so surreal, but I just couldn't think of what else to do. What other conclusion was there?

One last pace around, then I finally got in a cab, still searching for a sign of her car at least. It had now been over an hour since my plane had landed.

Thank god I got cash before I left New York, and that my mom lives a 20-minute drive from the airport. As the taxi sped up the highway, I scanned the sides of the road, looking for wreckage or disabled vehicles. My reluctant plan was to get to her house (I still have the key on my keyring), put down my stuff, and then find and visit the local police.

Halfway there, my phone rang, and I jumped on it. It was an unfamiliar local number, and I answered.

My mom's voice said pleasantly-but-slightly-annoyed, "Well, where are you?"

I burst into tears, right there in the backseat of that taxicab. "Oh my god Mom, I'm in a cab, because I thought you were dead!"

She of course felt awful, and I asked, "Where in the world are you?"

"I'm at Carousel 16."

"What the hell is Carousel 16?!" My baggage had come in on, like, 5, so I was at that far end. When I'd done the pacing, I'd gone as far as deserted number 10 and figured that was the end of the row or whatever, because I couldn't see any more after that.

"It's where United bags come in," she said defensively.

"My flight was Delta!"

"Oh...I wrote it down earlier but forgot to bring it with me. My phone died and it didn't occur to me that I could use a payphone until a few minutes ago, then I had to go get quarters..."

Quite an inauspicious beginning to my carefree summer visit, eh?


That's the number of miles I drove during my road trip. Wow.

21=number of days I was gone from New York.

13=number of days I was on the road from Seattle to New York.

13= number of states I drove in.

5=number of old teammates I got to visit. (pictures very soon!)

5=number of other friends/family I got to visit.

5=number of elk I saw.

4=number of deer I saw.

1=number of bears I saw (stuffed).

40=number of bison I saw (1 stuffed).

15=number of times the lovely aroma of sulfur was palpable in the air.

5=number of mountain ranges I saw.

1=number of magical lands I visited.

5024=number of corn fields I saw.

4042=number of cattle I saw.

17=number of books I bought. (I know. I'm sick. I just can't help myself.)

5=number of keychains I bought. (To add to my international collection, of course.)

46=number of postcards I bought.

15=number of postcards I sent to friends and family.

2=number of torrential downpours I got caught in. (Actually, I'm pretty sure it was the same one, just fifteen hundred miles apart. More on that later.)

2=number of NYC bridges I got to drive over.

62=number of minutes I sat in New York City traffic. Oh yeah, this is why I promised I would never drive in the city.

115=amount of a parking ticket received, after less than 24 hours in the city. Welcome home, baby girl.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

I'm back!!!!!!


I will have LOTS to share. In fact, it will probably take all week. Can't wait to catch up on all you guys and stuff. Especially you suckers who are already teaching again. :)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Nearly one week in!

I'm about halfway across the country, geographically, in Lincoln, NE. No big problems yet, knock on wood.

So far it's been quite a trip, and definitely an adventure. I've taken over two hundred pictures (love the digital!) and seen a decent amount of both wildlife, mountain vistas, and rolling plains. But I'll save all the juicy details for the end!

I think that I'll be back in New York in a week or so; things are going quicker than I'd thought. I suppose that's both good and bad. Good because things are going smoothly and "according to plan," and bad because I don't have anything to do in New York for nearly two weeks. Resting will probably be my first priority; I have been tired ever since I left NY two weeks ago.

See you in a week!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Oregon Coast

That's where I was this weekend; actually, we stayed at a campsite west of Astoria. This picture is from a daytrip including Oswald West, Manzanita (that's that beach there), and Nehalem. I got kind of sunburned, but that's okay. I've been pasty-ass pale all damn year. Therefore, I am allowed some sun damage, right?

Anyway, it was a fun weekend. There are more pictures and anecdotes to share later.

I have one more full day here and then the driving (shoud) start. I'm bummed that I didn't get to see more people (Rae! Happy belated birthday, my dear!), or things like Mt Rainier and downtown Seattle. Next time, next time.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

this is the life...

It is SO gorgeous here in Seattle. Beautiful, warm weather--80s and 90s--with none of the humidity! I am loving it muchly.

I arrived safely on Monday night, though there was a mixup with my mom in the airport. I joined her at her informal French lesson. I love speaking and hearing French! I was surprised at how much I could still say and understand. Hurrah.

Spent some time at my dad's, hanging out with dad, brother and sister, and the tiny baby kitties in the barn. Squee! So cute.

Yesterday, I visited with my friend Syd; she and her sister Les are the only high school friends I keep in contact with, because they are both awesome. Syd and her newlywed husband also just finished their first years teaching. I asked if they had the workshop model, and they both said, "What's that?"


The incentive to return to Washington to teach just got bigger!

Anyway, Syd and I had a leisurely lunch in Kirkland, then sat by the water, had some ice cream, and stopped off at her school and classroom. People, it was beautiful. It looked like my dreams. There was carpet, there were built-in cubbies, there were COMPUTERS (including one on her desk), there was a TELEVISION, AND a VCR, AND a pull-down projector screen, AND pull down maps, AND all kinds of cupboards, AND an office to keep class sets of books...oh man, I was drooling all over the place.

From Syd's lovely house in Bellevue, I drove down to Tacoma to see my college friend and old roommate Stacey. She's living in a tiny but cozy studio while doing a one-year teacher certification/master's program. We went to the Ram and compared stories of students and management and stuff like that. It was good fun, like always.

The next three nights I'll be out and about staying other places. I'm taking pictures and saving stories, which I may not get to share until much later in the month. Currently the plan is to leave here early Tuesday morning. That will give me oodles of time to drive and also hang out a bit with the people I'll be visiting along the way. Yay!

Catch ya later, dudes!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Injury Update!

Look, another bruise! I didn't catch this one until I got near a full-length mirror. Isn't it just disgustingly nasty? Hee, you are such lucky readers!

Monday, August 01, 2005

On Sunday, after the vacuum debacle, I had a great day.

A girl in my class takes dance classes on the Upper West Side. She said they were pretty good, so I traveled for a whole hour to the studio. Two other girls from class were there too, we were all first-timers in the jazz funk class. But it was great. Sweaty and difficult, but awesome. I loved just dancing. The instructor was good; he's a hiphop choreographer. We learned two combinations to different hiphop/rap songs. Some of the footwork was tough for me, but for the most part, I did pretty well. I wasn't great or perfect, but I wasn't horrible either. Not too shabby at all, which is fine for me. Especially considering I haven't taken a proper dance class like that since...high school, if ever.

Then us girls took the train to Astoria and had a nice, chatty dinner at a Greek restaurant. We talked about Harry Potter, shopping, and boys, among other things.

That's the kind of New York life that I want, that I've been hoping for. Going into the city, doing something fun and active, having dinner with girlfriends at a little local's all good. Let's hope there's more of that this next year.