Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Links...with lesson suggestions

Came across this on Mental Floss, and have listened to it many times in the past few days. It's gorgeous. This kind of music would be perfect for the background of a classroom, if you used the songs that aren't in English or you can't really hear the religious aspect.

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What a fascinating program--a Human Library! Leave it to the Canadians to think outside the box and try something completely different and totally awesome. Who would you want to check out and why? This could be an awesome homework assignment/essay topic for students of all grade levels!

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A map of the world, if the largest countries had the biggest populations. Could be a fun geography tool. As a do-now, label three countries that don't move. Or look up the total populations of the top countries least populous countries. Would make for a great intro lesson about population density.

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Have you seen the Japanese multiplication??
If you master this method, it might be a neat way to show kids who don't understand how to do 'standard' multiplication. Though I think you'd have to be able to explain how it works...which I completely don't. So maybe a neat thing for your high-level kids to play with and quiz each other on.


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Science matters! But there isn't as much money for science fairs now. I'm not sure why science fairs cost money--wouldn't a class just do one on its own? or the school holds it in the gym? I think First Middle School did a Science Fair with one of the grades, in the gym, and I can't see how or why it would need a budget, let alone a budget in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Maybe that's just because it's NYC and we're perennially broke? Anyway, it's interesting to think about. I didn't do a science fair last year; I barely had time to teach any science at all. The school didn't do a fair at all either, unless I just didn't hear about it (which is entirely possible). If you're an elementary teacher, do you do a science fair with your class? Does your school do a school science fair? Would you have time to work it in?

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On This Week, Christiane Amanpour chronicled the tragic fallout of malnutrition in children in poverty--physical and mental stunting. One segment showed just how drastic the situation is in Guatemala--nine year olds in poor Guatemalan villages are up to a foot shorter than the mean, and Guatemalan children raised in the US are at or above the mean. There are learning repercussions as well. They do link to a charity-type page, which lists a number of charities that work to help people in poverty around the world. Many of them don't need a lot of money, so that would be a wonderful class project--raise as little as $14 for clean water or a month of nutritional food supplements.

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Learn Me Good posted a link to Teachbad's hilarious article about replacing the entire student body. The rest of his site is brilliant too, in its brutal honesty, and I can't wait to read more. Even though I'm not a teacher anymore.

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Oh, and if you have an iDevice and you need a new game, look no further than Fruit Ninja. It's so fun and satisfying and addictive! You can even play against a friend!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Snowpocalypse!

We ventured out a bit this morning, and then again in the afternoon to unearth my car. I don't have to move it, thank goodness, but it will be more difficult to shovel it once the snow hardens and gets icy. With the two of us, it took two full hours to dig the car out!

Before:
Yep, there's a car under there, see the antenna and the teeny bit of red?
The drifts on the side were as tall as the car; I climbed up there!


After:


Whew!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Are you having a good vacation?

I sure hope so!

We've been lazy and are having a great time. Yesterday we finally did our gingerbread house--it was so much fun!



We also went into the city to Rockefeller Center to check out the lights.


We've also been playing a ton of Rock Band lately--I am loving the keyboards! The husband recently bought a bunch of Billy Joel songs, which of course have some great piano parts. Too much fun!

Of course, we've also watched a few classic Christmas movies--Love Actually and Home Alone, as well as a Netflix movie or two.

What have you been up to?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Congratulations!!

My friends, you've made it! It's vacation!


Please accept a hug, a refreshing and possibly alcoholic beverage, and a good book or tv show from Giant Creepy Santa up there. Good job on making it through a really tough time of year! You should be very proud, and you should not hesitate to RELAX and REST for the next week--you deserve every second of it (and more)!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I witnessed something amazing


Full moon lunar eclipse on the winter solstice!

I took photos from my rooftop. This is cropped considerably.

All because I'm not teaching. I could stay up as late as I wanted, because I didn't have to get up before dawn to go to school. In fact, I'm not really working this week at all, so I didn't have to go anywhere at all!

I slept until noon and haven't left the apartment once today--and it's a Tuesday! That's also pretty amazing, I'd say.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

i found some holiday spirit in my cold dead soul



Y'all, Christmas trees are just heavenly. If it weren't so damn freezing outside, I'd happily spend the entire day sitting in the middle of the tree "lot" on the sidewalk across the street. They smell so good!

We used four entire strings of lights on this puppy (compared to two for our paltry fake tree that we also put up this past weekend), and have put a few ornaments on it. Our collection is pretty small so far, but I've gotten photo ornaments made the last three years, and we each have some ornaments from home (see my Nutcracker set below). My aunt gave us a lovely set of jeweled egg-type ornaments this year too.



I'm looking forward to slowly building our own story of ornaments over the years.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

drill baby drill

Yes, I have completed my round of dentist visits! After the cleaning, I had to get one filling re-filled, and today, I had a small new cavity filled. I went to a dentist that's a five minute walk from home, and I was out in less than an hour each time. Nice!

Friday, December 10, 2010

yikes

You might have read the news about a riot in a high school:

http://gothamschools.org/2010/12/09/murry-bergtraum-students-riot-after-bathroom-access-denied/

The story seems to be that after a fight, the principal announced all bathrooms would be closed. In reaction, "hundreds of students began running through the fourth floor hallways at top speed, screaming and shouting."

First, of course the decision to close all the bathrooms is not at all an appropriate one. I don't think anyone will argue with that. The principal will need to think about how to step up consequences for the student body in a logical manner.

Second, I can't see ANY logical reason to 'riot' or join hundreds of your peers running screaming through the halls. That's just mob mentality and it's dangerous.

Third, I experienced something like this quite often at my school last year. Not hundreds, but an entire class (or two) of middle school students consistently ran screaming through our hallway. Like, on an everyday basis. Was anything EVER done about this? No. Occasionally I would attempt to go out there and blow a whistle (sometimes loud noises will stop a group of kids from doing something crazy.)(Several times at lunch, the middle school would start a food fight, and teachers either weren't there or wouldn't do much, so I'd run over and blow my whistle like crazy. It was usually enough to at least get the kids to stop throwing and screaming.), but they would either ignore me, make a rude comment, or nearly run me over.

I hated that my younger kids had to hear that all the time. Whenever it happened, I would try to show my exasperation at that and tell the kids, this is the WRONG way to be--you better not do that! You know better! I had some crazy ass moments with my class, but it was NEVER like that.

Fourth, there are over two hundred comments on the site, mostly from students or teachers in the school. It is ALARMING to read them.

The second comment (not from a student) says, "Another managing fiasco with Leadership Academy fingerprints all over it. Bloomberg’s New York."

STOP IT. That's just ridiculous and I'm tired of people doing this. Anything goes wrong with one person at one school and they just say it's the chancellor's or mayor's fault. It's LAZY. The mayor made sure to hire principals who wanted kids to riot? The chancellor visited the school and encouraged the students to fight for their rights by actually fighting? COME ON.

I'm neither for or against the chancellor or mayor, but I do have the critical thinking skills to assign responsibility to the appropriate person or people. In this case, the school's principal, safety officers, and the students.

Anyway, back to the comments: the majority of them are by kids. For one, some students were just saying that the principal was wrong, but many of them eemed delighted with the disruptance, saying the principal deserved it, and crowed about 'wildin' and promising more riots tomorrow. Just one example: "Lml this skool is live….teachers nd da damn principal is wildin for shutting da bathroom I hope therez a riot every day -_-"

Additionally, there are actual threats: "Yup dam sure we rioted, she has the nerve to say no bathroom because of one fight, she should be dam sure we ain’t kick down her door & throw a bottle at her head"

Also, many of the comments said things like, "you don't know what you're talking about because you weren't there; shut the fuck up." Except spelled worse and more disrespectful.

For two, the spelling (I'd say at least 95% spelled 'principal' wrong, but it went oh so much further than that), grammar, and frequent lack of punctuation is just beyond atrocious. Quite scary, actually.

Look, I taught ten/eleven year olds. They wrote like that. One might say they don't know any better at their age. I did everything I could to help them write coherently, use proper punctuation, and not use abbreviations. But also, they're still kids. They're still learning and I always told them that now is the time to learn those silly mistakes, so that you don't have to make them when you're older.

But high school students still writing like that? I have a problem with that. You really don't know how to spell 'principal'? You really think it's okay to replace all letter Gs with Qs? (By the way what the hell is that about?? This seems to be a new thing--I see it on Facebook too with former students [who are still younger than high school]) You really think you can just omit punctuation altogether, or even worse, just separate all your phrases with ellipses?

This is far beyond being a "grammar nazi" or whatever. I know they're kids and they're not writing in a formal setting, blahblahblah. They're posting in a PUBLIC forum and they show ZERO notice of what they're writing. Completely careless. I can't believe that at their age they don't know any better, or that they're incapable of writing appropriately. They should know better!

Speaking of appropriate, maybe I sound like a cranky old lady, but when CHILDREN are THREATENING their school leaders and promising future violence ON THE INTERNET, there is a PROBLEM somewhere.

It's kind of making my eyes cross, there is so much wrong with it. I can't even articulate everything in my head right now.

I don't know how something like this gets resolved; it sounds like the school was a zoo that day, and after reading the article and knowing how things can escalate with angry kids, I imagine it wasn't much better today. I hope I'm wrong.

I can't help thinking of the future of these kids. How on earth will they fare if they get to college?

"An educator, Denise Pope, a lecturer at Stanford, says that the University of California requires remedial courses of half its students, even though their high school grades were stellar." That's referring to high-achieving students really motivated to get into college. What the hell happens to urban kids who aren't so privileged, whose schools are filled with this kind of ignorance and violence? "Recently released data from ACT shows that only 24 percent of high school seniors knew enough in four subjects — math, reading, science and English — to do college-level work." If that's an average, I'm scared to know how little some kids have to know to pull it down that far. Based on the existing achievement gap, we know that the kids who perform at a low level are much more likely to be kids in a high-needs school or population. It's just sickening that this is still happening. Do kids in privileged suburbs have riots in the hallways and promise to beat up their principal? Do rich kids know how or when to write any better? I don't know.

Kids these days. What are we going to do?

Monday, December 06, 2010

my business trip, in photos

I left on a nasty day and waited out several hours of delay with lots of knitting--I made major progress on a gift project!


Of course, it was a brilliant blue sky above the clouds. Funny how that works. :)

And the weather where I was was perfectly pleasant!

Here's my adorable rental car! The yellow made me happy.


I met up with some flickr friends for dinner. We had fried oreo sundaes at the end!


I did some hotel jumping, as you do.


I was just kinda getting the hang of things and it was time to go home. :) But since it seemed to go pretty well, maybe I'll get to go on a few more in the future!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

did you miss me?

No, me either. This blog, I mean, not you--I always miss you guys!

I'm glad I did this NaNoBloPoMoNoNo, but it's pretty clear that a)November is too fucking busy to do much of anything and b)I don't really have much to say about anything.

But because I can't take a hint, I'm not quitting the blog or anything. I certainly won't punish all of us by posting every day, but I do hope to pop in here and there and share some thoughts. I actually still have a couple teaching posts rattling around in my head, and some life list stuff too. I'll try to get to it this month.

I'm not sure how, but December is turning out to be even busier than November! This week I went on my first business trip, and had a great time. I got to visit a school and see again what a non-NYC school can feel like. They definitely feel the same pressures of testingtestingtesting, but the atmosphere, both physical and spiritual, was pretty different. It was kind of mind-boggling, actually, even just to see a completely different kind of space.

Yesterday I volunteered with Help Portrait as a photographer. They're a new non-profit (after their first event last December) that takes family portraits of people that wouldn't normally be able to afford it.

It's an all-day event, but I was only there for two hours, because of the Saturday teaching. And truthfully, I was really wary and weary before I got there, because it had just been such a long, busy week and I was cranky about yet another 'obligation.'

Shame on me, because I had a GREAT time. Mainly because I love photographing people, and making them comfortable so they look natural and real, like their best selves. I was assigned to shoot in a room where two guys were already set up, and I have to say, it was interesting seeing them shoot; they were almost silent!

When I starting shooting, I was talking to them a lot, being a little silly, and directing them in a confident manner. And then when kids was there, even for the other photographer, I jumped in and played with the kid to make them smile and have fun. I made noises and faces and again, said stupid stuff. Because if you have a shy or uncomfortable kid in front of a camera, and you're stiff and silent, you're gonna get either a big fat nothing or, even worse, a fake CHEESE smile.

[Ugh, I hate cheese. Parents, don't tell your kids to say cheese for the camera--it's never flattering or real! Those aren't the photos you want of your kids--you want them laughing and smiling their actual smile, so they actually look like your kids, the way you love them!]

I shot one little boy on his own, and it was really tough to get him to focus on me and ignoring his mother who was telling him to smile. He would do this nervous little fake smile and I didn't like it at all. At the end I had him jump for me, and got some fantastic shots of him in the air with a huge grin on his face. Love it! It may not be a 'standard' shot, but I feel like that's the kind of photo that will make his mom smile even years from now.

Many of the adults were also uncomfortable and a little shy, with closed-mouth fake smiles, so I had no problem making a fool of myself to get them to smile for real. I also made noises and faces for them--and it worked! Court jesters got nothing on me. :)

Anyway, I had a blast! I felt so happy and energized wielding my camera; I love getting good shots of people, especially people that may not have had them before, or who don't feel comfortable getting photos taken. I wish I'd been able to shoot more families.

It was the first time I've volunteered in many months...probably in over a year. Perhaps in the new year, my schedule will open up a bit and I'll make a better effort to get out there and give back. (Is it wrong that I felt like teaching was giving back enough that I didn't 'need' to volunteer much?)

I can't wait to take more photos!

Last weekend, I set up two photoshoots with local models. I was a little nervous, but again, I had a great time. I love taking pictures! I was really pleased with the results--we got some beautiful photos.

I need to figure out how to get around this blasted cold weather so I can shoot more.

Unfortunately, next week is also going to be pretty busy anyway. I'm hoping to find time to make another batch of those delicious brownies for our book club meeting on Thursday. Mmm.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

fyi

I am neither a cartoon character nor a supporter of child abuse. Because a) those are things that don't or shouldn't exist in real life and b) they have nothing to do with each other! Come on people!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teaching

I have three more Saturdays to go with my teaching/test prep job.

I am so over it. Have been for at least a month.

When it's time to prepare the vocab quizzes (which everyone fails anyway), I HATE it. I hate it. I don't want to do it and I'm irritated and a little angry that I have to. I don't know why.

Maybe I'm just out of the habit of teaching preparation? Maybe I just hate it because I'm at home and I feel like I shouldn't have to lesson plan at home. I know that sounds wrong, but remember that I would spend many hours at school doing prep so that for the two hours I was at home before bed, I wouldn't do more schoolwork.

Maybe it's just because it feels pointless. Perhaps because it's a short term thing and I don't feel super invested.

Don't get me wrong--I don't hate the kids or the actual teaching that takes place on Saturdays. The first group I have, the older and smaller group, is lovely and I would teach them all day long. The second group, which is larger, younger, and much more rambunctious, is trying but nowhere near the discipline problems I've faced in the past six years of regular classroom teaching. There are between two and four boys who do not stop moving or talking or writing inappropriate things (but relatively tame inappropriate--normal little boy inappropriate goofy stuff), and at least one boy who does absolutely NOTHING, and one to two girls who just write random answers in their work.

Overall, it's tiring in a way, but I don't leave defeated. Quite the opposite; I often feel energized, strangely. Like when I used to have those days where I taught six periods in a row. I got in the groove and all hyped up on adrenaline.

(By the by, I think there's a key difference between teaching six periods and being done before 3pm, and being in a classroom for seven straight hours and then still there for another three or four. That's the difference between a)middle school and elementary school and b)public school and charter schools. God. I'm tired just thinking about it all.)

Anyway, I have to go make up these pointless vocab quizzes now. Which the students will all fail. This school gives teachers the words they want tested, which usually are weird, irrelevant (notable examples include an eradicated disease and a not-famous European city), or too advanced. I am cranky because these kids don't need to pretend to know these words; they need high-frequency words at their level, like adjectives and verbs that take their vocabulary past "pretty" and "courageous." Have I said yet that this is pointless for all parties involved?

Gah. Now I've gotten myself all irritated again AND I still have to go do the things. Dammit.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Calendar for Sale!

I put together a New York City calendar. It features some of my favorite shots in and around the city. It's a great gift for young and old!


Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Life List


At the end of AmeriCorps, the big push was to think about "Life After NCCC." We were encouraged to think about what kind of life we wanted, what kind of jobs we were interested in, what paths we might take. I learned about the book The Back Door Guide to Short-Term Adventures, which unfortunately I never used (maybe someday I will). It felt like anything was possible, which was exciting as well as unnerving and scary. I was inspired to make a list--a life list, a list of things to do, to accomplish, to work towards, to wish for.

Here is the list all typed out and the 'verdict' on what I've done in the past eight years.

1. TRAVEL (in progress, but satisfactory so far!)

2. Mentor

3. Be an actor

4. Burn CDs

5. Get a master’s degree

6. Pay off my car

7. Dance! (I just saw Burlesque; it made me want to take dance classes. Too bad they're expensive.)

8. Collect maps

9. Write songs

10. Learn/study photography

11. Learn Latin (hahaha)

12. Design clothes

13. Work in film

14. Write a stage production (Oh! I totally did this for my students last year! Does that count?)

15. Buy a print/scan/copy/fax flatbed unit (I bought a scanner after AmeriCorps and a printer when I moved to NYC, but I've never had the thrill of an all-in-one unit.)

16. Learn Italian

17. Buy a new car

18. Own a zoom APS camera (Dated list :D)

19. Volunteer more

20. Find a job I love that lets me live well and travel (Teaching actually worked for the last two parts)

21. Work at a camp

22. Always learn new skills

23. Join a choir

24. Be an NCCC team leader in CA or MD (I applied but never heard back. It was the same time I applied to NYCTF, and after I'd applied to both I felt over NYC and was really excited about TL. Oh well.)

25. Always vote (I've always voted in the presidential elections, but this was my first midterm voting)

26. Donate blood (Total fail. Occasionally there's a trailer on a busy road near me, but I always see it when I'm either on my way somewhere or have time but haven't eaten anything. I always vow to come back and actually do it. But in the eight years since making this I have never donated. I will someday, though!)

27. Play ultimate a lot

28. Visit Alaska

29. Take a bike road trip

30. Get a tattoo (eeesh)

31. Make a movie (Does a stopmotion count?)

32. Visit Africa

33. Own TiVo

34. Be a writer

35. Learn auto maintenance

36. Live in Greece

37. Buy a diamond ring (Note "buy" not "get from a man"; I wanted to get one for myself just because.)

38. Start my own charity

39. Take a cross-country road trip

40. Learn calculus (hahaha)

41. Hike around Europe

42. Live simply

43. Grow roses and herbs

44. Never be complacent

45. Work for a non-profit (Teaching should really count for this...)

46. Lead a Girl Scout troop

47. Support causes I believe in

48. Take voice lessons

49. Buy a new computer

50. Write my life story

51. Buy books!

52. Open my own business

53. Learn HTML

54. Relearn piano

55. Sing on a published CD

56. Tour nation as a speaker

57. Publish a book

58. Live in Los Angeles (Good lord why?)

59. Live in New York City

60. Buy a big new stereo

61. Be a comedian

62. Find a place of my own

63. Study math, music, drama, art history, accounting, writing, poetry, language, drawing

64. Make new friends and visit old ones

65. Be strong

66. Join a softball league

67. Read 50+ books a year

68. Make a scrapbook with homemade paper

69. Hike at least a third of the Appalachian Trail (My knees wince at the mere thought.)

70. Go bungee-jumping (I've been ziplining twice! Much more compatible with my discomfort at freefalling.)

71. Work abroad

72. See one Broadway show a year

73. Write to my congresspeople

74. Work at a national park/reserve

75. Expand personal library of books, CDs, DVDs, videos

76. Find independence!

77. Own DVD/VHS combo

78. Work in community health/public health

79. Endorse a charity—libraries, environment

80. Live in Paris

81. Play the cello again

82. Teach (Wow.)

83. Buy a digital camera (Remember that in 2002, almost no one had digital cameras and they were super expensive.) (Done one, two, three, four, FIVE times. Holy cow.)



Friday, November 26, 2010

bricklayers

Continuing Round 4, the other project we did in Wallingford was building a labyrinth in one of the parks. I loved this project--it went so fast and it's permanent--still there for the entire community to enjoy!

First we learned about labyrinths and what they mean, and we learned how to draw a simple one. We went to the site and drew out a huge one in the sandpit--maybe twenty feet in diameter. Then we set out the pathways with bricks, carefully measuring to keep the paths a constant width.

The completed bricks:
We filled in the paths with a fine gravel.
The gravel had to be tamped down with a special machine to really pack it and make it secure.

Two days later, we opened it to the public!

After I moved to New York, it became a sort of tradition to take a mini road trip (it's about a two-hour drive) to visit the labyrinth over Thanksgiving weekend.

It's been nice to see change and additions over time; they've added a brick pathway and a plaque honoring our team and the sponsors. Plants fill the space around the edges.


But mostly it's a time to contemplate life, my wonderful experience in AmeriCorps, and enjoy recollecting the years since. It's been a crazy eight years, and I'm sure the next eight have even more adventure in store.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

happy thanksgiving

I hope everyone is having a restful and fun day so far, and will be with family and/or friends to celebrate.

I have much to be thankful for this year.

First, I am so thankful for my husband, who became my husband this year. He proposed, and put up with, and finally helped with all the wedding hullaballoo. He's been extremely supportive this fall while I've been unemployed or underemployed, and encouraging me to go for things I'm interested in.

My family was also really supportive and wonderful with all the wedding stuff. They were so excited for us and supportive, and I felt so blessed to have them all come to New York to celebrate with us. I got my third ever photo of my mom and dad and me together in one place.

And how could I forget the friends and cousins that flew across the country for our wedding? It meant so much to have you there! The whole wedding was a great experience--the outpouring of love and support, plus cake!

I've made more friends this year, which is something I always want. I have to give a thanks to my friend who invited me to be part of a book club, which has been such a joy--meeting with women my age for a few hours a month, eating, talking, laughing, and hello, books! This year I've been a lot more social, hanging out with friends at home or at a cafe or park or something. I hope that this lasts and I continue expanding my friend circle.

I'm grateful that I had an amazing summer. I didn't work or worry about work, I had time to relax, have fun but also get things done (since nothing gets done during the school year). We got to travel and have adventures in other states. We got married, of course! I really tried to focus on what was happening, instead of being anxious about the fall.

I'm even thankful for some unemployment. Though it got boring at times, I was glad to have some downtime. I felt rested, and I could do things during the day and on weeknights. I got in a better habit of working out, since I wasn't exhausted from eleven hours at school.

Now, of course, I'm glad to be working. Even though it's crazy as all get-out right now, and I'm kind of worried about next week and how I'll get everything done. I'm doing some interesting things, I'm gaining experiences, I'm getting some paychecks, I'm keeping busy but not shackled to a rigid schedule.

I couldn't do a thankful post and ignore this here blog--I am grateful for each of you that's ever stopped by and/or left a comment. I really appreciate this little community that we've built over the last few years and I'm still amazing anyone is still reading (especially with all the drivel non-content this month. yeesh.), and I'm glad you're here.

I hope you all are having a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you have a fantastic long weekend!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

River project

For the first two weeks of our fourth round, we worked in Wallingford, Connecticut, where we had two projects. First up was clearing logjams in the Quinnipiac River for a week. Each day we loaded into canoes, armed with loppers and saws, and paddled until we came upon a jam. We would 'park' the canoes, jump into the water, and do whatever we needed to move the blockages.

Of course I had my camera with me for this project, stashed in my handy cargo pockets. I kept it in the drybag when I wasn't using it, I think. I had the foresight to capture a few big sites that we cleared:

Canoeing downriver, we came upon at least three large fallen trees.


We sawed them up and moved them out.


Looking back at the cleared path:


The most impressive was a backup of debris, both natural and manmade, at a bend in the riverbed. This required the full team, doing different tasks.


Some people sawed up the big pieces of tree, while others gathered garbage in their canoes.

Finally, we cleared a path!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Ameri-versary!


Eight years ago this week, Class VIII of NCCC Northeast Region completed our term of service.

It was the hardest thing I had ever done (only eclipsed by teaching later), and remains probably the best, most amazing thing I've ever done (more so than any trips because this was so much longer--ten months). My life would be totally different if not for my experiences with Fire 4!

Apparently I haven't mentioned AmeriCorps at length for several years, so if you're new or you've forgotten, let me catch you up.

AmeriCorps is part of the Corporation for National & Community Service. There are hundreds of programs on state and local levels (working with Habitat for Humanity, or after-school programs, for example), as well as two national programs-VISTA and NCCC. Vista is a year of (often office/administrative) service working for a nonprofit fighting poverty.

NCCC, based on the CCC of the Depression is the Road Rules of AmeriCorps. You work in a team of 8-12 people, traveling in a government van to different short-term projects (called a spike, usually 4-8 weeks) around your region. NCCC teams work for nonprofits organizations in fields of education, public safety, unmet human needs, environmental needs, and homeland security. They also are a huge partner with Red Cross disaster relief, because NCCC members can be deployed at a moment's notice.

My team, Fire 4, based out of Perry Point, MD, did our first round in a Baltimore primary school (good lord, those kids would be in high school now!); second round at Trailblazers, a decentralized in the woods of NW New Jersey; third round at a Girl Scout camp in New Hampshire and then on Cape Cod; and fourth round in Connecticut, first in Wallingford, then in Bridgeport with Habitat.

When you live and work with the same people 24/7 for months, shit starts getting real pretty fast. We cycled through the stages of group dynamics (norming, storming, forming, performing) several times. The team quickly becomes like a family, so you laugh, quarrel, get annoyed and love those damn people no matter what. (We always loved to look at that top photo and shake our heads--that was the day we all met each other for the first time as a team. We had no idea of all the adventure awaiting us!) We had some really difficult times, but of course the fun and rewarding times are the ones that stick with me the most.

I could go on for pages and pages about my AmeriCorps experience. And I think that I'll do a little reminiscing other days this week with more stories and photos.

I'm still so grateful to have those people in my life, even if I haven't seen half of them in years. One of my teammates was at my wedding this summer! Another teammate got married this year too. A third had a baby this year. Yet another one got her college degree. A fifth has been starting his own nonprofit. The others have been equally and impressively busy.

But for now, here's a great overview through the lens of our awesome Ameri-pants. I posted this FIVE years ago, so a) the chances that you've seen it are slim to none, and b) if you've been reading for that long, you won't remember anyway.

--


These are trousers that have put in time and effort all around the country. They are genuine, government-issued khaki BDUs (battle dress uniform) in men's size medium. (What, you don't think the Army would actually make clothes to fit women, do you?)

These pants bear the scars of their own, nonviolent battles. The marks are not listed in chronological order.

1.
A spot of burgundy on each knee represents two full days spent crawling around on the ground, painting large, wooden wagon wheels. If you think it is easy to paint something round and full of crannies with a large, flat brush, well...you are mistaken. :) This was one of the projects at TrailBlazers in New Jersey.

2.
The pants are marked in many places with pale blue paint. The number marks the place where a poorly-aimed roller rolled right off the plank I was painting. Oops. The planks were some weird, very heavy material for house siding, which we painted for our sponsors, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Bridgeport (Connecticut).

3.
Spots of thick gray paint represent our short sojourn in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. For two weeks, we did almost nothing except paint. As a result, I dreamt of almost nothing but painting. It was so boring that I would not be able to stay asleep; I bored myself awake!
Anyway, the first thing we had to do was scrape off the old, gray, lead paint from the main lodge building. There had to be tarps (old bedsheets) underfoot at all times to catch the flaking chips. After the old stuff was off, we painted a layer of the thick, gray, oil-based paint. That shit does NOT come off easily. We all had to soak our hands in turpentine, and then scrub, to remove it. And even then there was a gray tinge left to the skin.

4.
These markers in two places represent a project with Seattle Works. One marker is at a spot of yellow, in a clear imprint of the end of a paint roller, the other is at a streak of bright green dripping down the leg. There's also a small bit of purple on the other leg that I didn't mark.
This project involved painting the computer lab of a nonprofit. We painted using those three colors they had chosen: a two-foot-wide purple strip running horizontally along two walls, with green below and yellow above. Another whole wall was green, and the last whole wall was yellow. It was an odd combination, but it worked alright.

--Some of the white paint at the bottom is from painting the computer lab at the primary school where we tutored kids in Baltimore.

--Other white paint is from cutting in ceilings while working in Bridgeport.

Now, lest you think that I only did four things while wearing these pants, and they were all painting, oh, just you wait! These pants also bear invisible witness to all kinds of other projects:


--They helped me build things and haul things in all projects.

--The tough material soaked up river water and mud from the Quinnipiac River in Connecticut.

--It absorbed sweat while we built a labyrinth out of gravel and brick.

--It bounced off chips of paint being scraped from a dock and a basement at TrailBlazers.

--The pants kept me warm in the freezing cold of Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut. Often I layered sweatpants or leggings underneath.

--In the same vein, these pants became pajamas in New Jersey when it was too cold to undress. We slept in our uniforms, then worked all day in them, then slept in them, then worked, etc.

--These pants got washed a maximum of once a week. They really became part of me!

--They have protected me from nettles, thorns, and poison ivy while hiking the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey, canoeing the river in Connecticut, and pulling weeds at Magnuson Park in Seattle.

--They protected me from dust and insulation debris while climbing around basements and attics while volunteering with the East King County chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

--They protected me from needles and other scary human debris while cleaning a bird park and several city blocks of Baltimore.

--They kept me sweaty while doing disaster work in humid-ass Texas.

--The huge cargo pockets provided space for wallet, book, walkman, snacks, and camera, while traveling by van or by plane. When working, they held water, snacks, gloves, and camera. I loved those damn pockets.


What about the warm, humid summer months, you ask? Well, during that time, the Traveling Pants were replaced by the Traveling Shorts.

These shorts were acquired secondhand, as my issued pair were heavy winter weight material, and huge enough to slide off even fully buttoned and buckled (see the little tab at the upper right corner? that's for cinching them tighter if needed. all the pants and shorts have them).
They came pretty dirty, but I did my part in contributing even more scars of battle.







5.
Our main jobs in New Hampshire and Cape Cod involving painting unit buildings around the camp. We always used the same dark brown paint. As you can see, I was quite often a messy painter; my shorts, shirt, and even bathing suit (what? it was really fucking hot in New Hampshire in July!) got a good coating of the ugly brown stuff.

6.
This gray paint is from the Cape Cod oil painting.

--These shorts also kept me cool while running around doing other projects in New Hampshire, like walking horses, carrying hay, and doing outdoor programs with campers.

--These shorts absorbed sweat and mud in Delaware, when we planted 700 trees in one day at a charter school.

--They helped me gauge my weight: when tight, I knew I had been eating too much lately. When I could tighten the cinches, I knew I was on the slender side.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I swear, it's fall today

I went out tonight without a coat! It's been snowing in Seattle! What kind of craziness is happening?!
Oh--I brought most of the brownies to my office today, and my colleagues gobbled them right up! Yay. :)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy Sunday

Friends, I had a lovely day today. Mostly because I finally had a chance to sleep in! Ahh, what a difference some good rest makes.

I also got some major progress on my to-do list. (The 'notes' feature on the iphone is one of my favorite features! I'm a little bit of a list-lover.) However, deleting tasks means that I don't have a record of what I accomplished. Hmm. But one of my projects was my passport--I'm updating my name. So I set up my tripod, flash and umbrella to take my own passport photo. I can't wait to gather stamps in my new passport! I hope we can add one every year.

I also tried one of the new brownie recipes that Nancy shared, partly because who doesn't want brownies, and also to test it out. We're bringing a dessert to Thanksgiving this year and I want to make sure I make something tasty! These are definitely tastier than the previous one, though since I used a square pan, they don't look fudgy and thick like the picture. Not convinced that they're great (due to user error) yet, so I'll probably test out the other one later this week.

Tomorrow I finally have a dentist appointment! It won't be pretty, but I'm glad that I'm finally getting it done. Wish me luck and lots of novicaine. :)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

happy...holidays?

Wow, Christmas is out in full force. In other exciting news, I'm pretty exhausted after a long busy week. Goodnight.

Friday, November 19, 2010

autumn

It's another busy day. For all you teachers, only a few days until a super long weekend!
Happy Friday, everyone! PS: Have you tried the Instagram photo app yet? Do it!! I'm also playing with Hipstamatic, where you can change lenses and films to use for different looks as you take photos. I like that with Instagram you can try different filters on photos already taken.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

currenty

Watch out now--I'm going to take a break from blathering about my humdrum life and be in the now!

How wonderful that Prince William and Kate got engaged! I think it's so sweet and happy. I'm also glad that the media, in general, seem to be happy and nice about it, instead of snarky and trollish like it can be. (Though of course when gothamist posted about it, the legendary commenters immediately starting hating. What about NYC being the best, again?) Anyway, good on them, and congratulations! We can all use happy news like that once in a while.

Not quite congratulatory, but I suppose any former teacher blogger shouldn't ignore this passing of chancellor-baton that's just starting. I only taught under Klein, so thankfully I don't know what it's like to have a new chancellor every couple years. When I began teaching, I accepted the party line of disliking everything he tried to do. As time went on, and I was forced to think about it and understand that he was a person working hard for the system, I no longer hated him. Some of the decisions I found odd or ridiculous, but it's not hard to see that at least it's better than nothing.

And seriously, no matter what, the New York City school system has pretty much been fucked for a long time. It's completely broken and I don't ever see a way out of it altogether, because the system is just too big--too many buildings to maintain and build, too many kids to cram into those crumbling buildings, too many principals doing really great or really stupid things, too many kids who don't do much at all but still pass, too many angry parents who don't want their kids to take responsibility for their actions, too many parents who don't give a shit or who are too busy to care, too many teachers who work their butts off for not enough pay or acclaim, too many teachers who don't do a damn thing all day and still get paid, too much focus on fucking bulletin boards instead of real live learning, too many sensationalistic news reporters eager to break a new scandal about all the things wrong with the schools/the teachers/the chancellor/the union/the city/the world.

Was Joel Klein a hero for the schools? Eh, probably not. Did he and the mayor work hard to try and effect change? Yeah, I think we can all agree on that, even if we don't agree on the results. Can anyone be a hero for the schools? I doubt it--see above.

The pick for new chancellor, Cathie Black, does seem completely out of the blue. Along with pretty much everyone else, my initial reaction was wtf? A publishing exec? Huh? What does that have to do with schools?

However, in reading a little bit and thinking on it, I suppose that a schools leader on that level doesn't necessarily *need* school experience, because it is a high level managerial position. However, I do think that experience in schools, especially in inner-city public schools, would develop some humility and a dose of reality to those on the top. It makes sense that the person in charge of public schools knows what it's like to be in one, as a student and/or teacher. Which is why there's apparently the law that superintendents have to have at least three years' teaching experience. Good job, New York State!

On the other hand, I can see the benefit of bringing in someone fresh, who's not already bogged down in edspeak and teaching jargon, dismayed at the state of education. I don't think publishing prepares you to be a chancellor, but perhaps being a leader in one field might translate to being a leader in another one. Certainly good leaders all share similar traits, across disciplines.

One thing is certain--actually two. One, I would not want to be chancellor, because there's no way to win. You'll never be the good guy because there will always be groups clamoring to bring you down and argue against every single thing you do (whether it's deserved or not). Two, Cathie Black has her work cut out for her! She's jumping into an awfully big ocean on a fairly flimsy canoe.

I'm not sure it's anyone's place to question the placement. If the waiver is granted, then it's done and there's nothing we can do. Fighting and arguing and signing petitions isn't going to do much. Clearly, Bloomberg has his reasons, whatever they are, and his history shows that if he gets an idea, he will not give it up.

Furthermore, all that fighting does exactly the opposite of what needs to happen--focus on the kids. Okay, we have a new chancellor. Whatever. What are we going to do about this crazy broken system? How about we be realistic--there's no money to put into the schools, and not enough kids are learning what they should--what can we do to move forward?