Monday, January 30, 2006

New Warm Boots

only $39!


Grades are FINISHED!

After school, we had our last official PD. Thank goodness. :) Then I made copies and stuff, trying to organize my hopelessly-full-of-crap desk, to not much avail.

I ran errands in my old neighborhood: reordered contacts, eyebrows waxed, warm boots bought, crate o' copy paper bought. Hurrah for productivity!

I got home and immediately got to work (and heated a pizza). In less than two hours, I calculated the last class's grades, and, in a solid bout of concentrated bubbling, completed ALL the grade sheets.


I get to turn in my grades more than a full day early! I'm so proud of myself.

A few minutes ago, however, I suddenly remembered that classes start tomorrow evening. Meaning I wouldn't have had much time to work on grades tomorrow night anyway.

Anyway. I'm finally done and it's time to watch tv and read. Whew.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Productive yet also Relaxing Sunday

...I just wish there was more of it. :)

First thing this morning, I did a workout. It was the first since my mom was here a month ago; no wonder my size eights are getting snug (forget about that size six).

I had a semi-healthy breakfast (instant oatmeal with banana and organic juice).

I FINALLY finished grading the short stories that were turned in back in OCTOBER. Yep, lazy bum, right here.

After deciding to leave the bio grade for next quarter (I already graded the quiz and resume), I was able to calculate grades for two of my three classes. No bubbles yet; perhaps I can start that tomorrow during some preps.

I bought another eBook, for the l!t c!rcle book that we don't have much info on. (I bought one last weekend too; we already have a bunch of stuff for the third title).

Upon the frustration that is my old-school desktop DVD player was acting up with all kinds of discs, and with nothing on television, I (rather excitedly) took myself to the library. I came home with TWELVE books: four each related to travel, teaching, and fluffy chick-lit. Guess which stack will get read first? Guess which stack will almost assuredly NOT get fully read? Heh.

I lay in bed reading and giggling for a few hours (Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need), took a nap, snacked on fully unhealthy foods.

AND, I finished my road trip scrapbook! I'm so excited! I just wish I had people to show it to. Maybe I'll bring it to school and force people to look.

That means that I can begin on the scrapbook for Barcelona/Paris! I think that one will run long, there are so many pictures! So many things to write about!

I talked to my mom tonight and brought up the danged fur coat. She wants me to bring and wear it in Prague (in less than three weeks now!). I'm interested in the warmness quality, but not so much in the bulkiness and heaviness factors. But basically, she's gonna force me (by phone from three thousand miles away, as moms can do) to bring it anyway. I'll probably have to use it as a blanket to keep it safe in the hostel at night, cause I'm ghetto like that.

She said she'll send me a fur-trimmed hat with fabric strappy things, and that I really need to go get fur-lined/other big warm boots. And hand-warmers. And toe-warmers.

All these things sound very practical. In theory, I should need them for winter here in New York. I really needed them last winter, when I had to walk around in the snow and below-freezing temperatures for several months. This year, it's a cakewalk! More like Northwest weather than typical Northeast. Weird.

Anyway, so sometime next weekend (which is busy!) I shall visit some stores, and spend money. And here I was hoping not to buy too much for this trip, since I bought a bunch of stuff for the Christmas one. Ah well.

Monday looms again. Damn, these weekends go too quickly.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Biology and Sociology plus Education...

Greg at Delenda Est Carthago wrote a fascinating response to the Newsweek story, The Trouble With Boys. Go read what he and others have to say.

It seems the main idea is that studies of the brains are continuing to prove that boys and girls are different--in learning, maturing, behaving. No shit. What are the ramifications? Well, in the current climate of both testing madness and political correctness/equality, things 'for boys' are getting cut, like recess and masculine stories.

I completely agree on Greg's point about structure. If boys have such a hard time sitting still and paying attention, give them that structure so they know what they are expected to do. If they're so competitive, make it a competition to see who can get things done the best or fastest. All kids need structure.

When my classes come to me after gym, they're running down the hall, all sweaty and hyped up. I usually have to snarl at them to remember how my classroom works (ie, quietly), but they do settle down and get to work. Because they know that's what's expected of them in that room. When they leave my room, they sound like crazy people. But inside, they get it done.

That said, as far as 'talent', there's a lot more girls that already have it than boys. Of course, the girls in middle school (especially at the beginning) are light-years ahead of the boys physically, and physiologically; it makes sense they're ahead intellectually as well. I'm sad to say that I am surprised when I have a good writer who's a boy; it's not often. Now, whether that's innate intellect or socialization that ELA, reading and writing are "soft" or "girly" subjects, who's to know.

Very interesting stuff indeed.

Friday, January 27, 2006

And furthermore:

I was a little taken aback by a comment earlier, regarding my indignance of the plagiarism. And I know that most of the comments said completely opposite things. But I get defensive and feel the need to explain prove that I'm in the right, or at least not an idiot.

You say that plagiarism a rampant problem. I believe you completely.

So why in the world would you deride me for doing something about it? If it's such a problem, the first step is to let the students know that it's wrong, isn't it? Why accept it and ignore it? Why be so complacent and then insult someone for standing up for the right thing and fighting the problem?

If they've gotten away with it before, or if they get away with it in the future, well, I can't help that. They're only eleven; maybe this was their first 'offense.' I can help what goes on in my room. I will not let them get away with it, and I have no problem telling them off for their misbehavior. I can try and nip it in the bud; I'd rather it be their last offense.

Plus, if you read the post, you saw that right away I did begin helping them learn how to write in their own words. I'll definitely be continuing that when I can.

Here's the thing about this year's crop of kids, or at least mine: most of them are very high level, and good writers, and they really can--and actually do--do well on that level. This year I have not seen plagiarism before; perhaps it was, as Ms Frizzle pointed out, some vagueness on my part in writing/telling the assignment. (I know that's something I need to work on, and I am, and I think I'm improving, if slowly.) But as I told the students, we've all been working hard and improving; there was no reason to go and abandon everything we've done for the last five months. That's what disappointed me; they haven't shown that easy-button mentality before.

The good ones--and I have many--shouldn't need the severe talk. Sadly, some of those good ones cheated here. So it was my hope to set them all straight--guilty and innocent alike. These are decent and sweet kids who really want to work hard and succeed. Obviously I would be surprised when that changed all of a sudden.

I'm still new, and apparently I have some ideals and morals left. That's actually a good thing in New York! I'm no hippie bubblehead; I've become awfully jaded awfully quickly about the reality of the situation here. Still, I've got to try to do what I can to steer the children toward the right path, whether or not they choose to take it. That's just who I am, and I think it's a positive trait for a teacher in this city, to keep striving for the right thing despite the shitty circumstances.

Thanks for the love and support, y'all, keep it up! We can all fight the good fight!

OH, yeah

As we know, Friday is my busy day. Imagine my absolute delight when my phone rings during a class, and one of the secretaries says, "[PiTA Parent] is here, she has an appointment?" I said sweetly, "I'm in class, and no, she doesn't." I know the secretaries get the brunt of this parent, and I feel bad they have to run interference, so to speak. Then I get a call two minutes later, "Oh, they'd like you to join the meeting next period [my lunch break]." O-kay.

I armed myself with the plagiarized paper her child wrote, the conduct sheet she rejected over a month ago, and my record sheet of parent contact.

The meeting was with her, me and the principal. The woman hardly let me get a word in edgewise. However, the principal called her on her bullshit and backed me up right good. It felt wonderful to have such support in the face of parent adversity.

She accused me of not being open and kept going on about her commitment to a rapport. That she comes up and checks in, that she calls my cell phone but I say 'don't.' I cut in as much as I could--because this is bullshit, look at my record sheet--to remind her that she called me at seven in the morning ONE TIME, and I repeated (now for the THIRD time) that that --the one time--was inappropriate. "Well, [the math teacher] talks to me when she's at home" blah blah blah. Man, I was ready to pop. I restrained my eyeroll as much as possible; I think it ended up directed at the wall rather than one of them. But holy jesus, shut the hell up!

What few sentences I could get in, I said firmly that what's important is the student, and that he needs to get it together so he won't do poorly like he has been. After some lecturing and backup from the principal, the parent finally agreed that yes, the child is lazy and does just enough to get by.

I explained that just because a homework assignment is turned in, doesn't mean it gets all the points. All the directions need to be followed. For example, he just turned in two paragraphs for a paper that was supposed to be two pages. I also brought out the conduct sheet again and told her she'll see it each week. I got her cell number (the only number she's given me before is one that she never picks up), and it ended amicably, for the first time ever.

And I was only ten minutes late for my class I had to, you know, teach. Be the responsible adult. The class was waint for me, and someone crowed, "Ms C, you're late!" Grit those teeth: "Yes, I am," as I fast-walked to the door.

The only bad thing is that I didn't get to tell her about the cheated extra credit paper, and that he will still probably fail this quarter. I did tell the student himself at the end of the day: I pulled him aside and pointed to "assiduous" in his paper: "How do you pronounce this word?" "asid...I looked it up!" "These are not your words. You did not write this." "My mom didn't help me!" "You did not write this. That is plagiarizing. That is cheating. You will not be getting any credit for it." I said all this very quietly, calmly, gently. I wanted him to understand (briefly) that what he turned in is not acceptable. I hoped he would take it as a lesson to learn from, but with this kid, I rather doubt it. "Anything you turn in, must be in your words. Do you understand?" He looked mad but said, "Yes."

Oh Fridays and teaching, how I love you at times like this.

Happy note: I got all my grouping/seating charts done already! One more thing off the list. Only ten more to go!


It feels weird that it's Friday. Somehow the week went almost too quickly. I think it was the weeknight goings-out.

On Wednesday night I went on a semi-date to a quiz night in Brooklyn. It was fun, but I was definitely not a useful member of the team. The visual round was all battlefield maps!

On Thursday night, a bunch of teachers went out for a little goodbye dinner; my friend N is going on medical leave.

Now it's the end of the week, and grades are due next Wednesday. Urgh.

I gave a quiz on kpat today and I graded them at school; the scores averaged perhaps 19 out of 23. Not bad. We also did some book walks for our three titles and I let them give their input for books and groups. Which means that I have to sort those and create groups this weekened. In addition to grading a bunch of projects. Each class turned in two things, making a total of six things. Two are finished. God, that doesn't sound like a lot at all.

Tomorrow morning is stupid extra teaching. Fortunately, it looks like someone will be taking over for me in March. The extra money is really nice, but the time is not. The waking up early on Saturday, and the fact that I have to think and deal with low-level kids when I'm not in school mode: that part I really dislike.

Ho hum.

Three weeks til Prague! Whee!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A very unsmiling day

Thank you for your comments and suggestions about this plagiarism business! It's interesting, because I ended up going in a direction very different from you all.

First, the motivation was a word game. Part one was to find all the definitions of 'incense' (inspired by yesterday's post). Part two was to unscramble a word (which was 'plagiarize'). Once they had both, they were to find the connection.

Most students in both classes (class 3 was a on a trip all day, so they get this tomorrow) did find the connection.

Once they got that, I gave them all a lecture. I didn't want to single anyone out, and I wanted all of them to know about it and understand the gravity of the situation. So I spoke in a quiet, measured voice for at least ten minutes. I told them how upset I was, but also how disappointed. That after half a year of working together, they would decide to cheat and lie. That they've known since day one that I expect nothing but the best, and that every day we work toward achieving that best. Plagiarizing is cheating, it is lying, and it is wrong, period. I am smarter than they are and I can easily tell when they are not using their own words. The grade AP has received a list of names of the plagiarizers. The students have failed me and upset me, but they have also failed themselves by trying to take the easy way out. Lying and cheating will never get you to the top. You may not get caught, but you'll cheat yourself. All of my students are intelligent, and should excel through their own work. And my trust in them is broken. From this day on, every.single.word they turn in--to me, to other teachers, this year and later--had better be their own.

You could hear a pin drop in that room. A lot of the innocent kids just watched me wide-eyed. I noticed that a couple of the plagiarizers were looking down in shame.

After my lecture was over, I said, "Clearly we need to work on writing in our own words. Rewrite this organizer. Take notes as I read, deciding which category the information belongs in. If you don't know a word, why would you write it down? Remember, this is YOUR voice."

So I told them that we would distill some information--take something big and break it down into easier, smaller pieces. I read them a few paragraphs about another famous children's author, we compared which information was written down and under which category. Then I told them to recreate and write one or two paragraphs about that person, using their OWN words.

They wrote for a few minutes, working hard. I praised students that I saw incorporating strategies we've learned this year. I let them share with their tables, telling them to make sure it is in their own voice. "Doesn't it feel better to write from your own voice, your own words?" They agreed.

I concluded this section of class by reminding them that this is how they should write their biographies for this assignment: taking notes with the organizer, and using their own words to write about it. It seemed like they got it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I am absolutely APPALLED.

Last week, I gave an extra-credit assignment: do research on a dead famous person, or rewrite a fairy tale. It was due today.

Eighteen students turned in a research/biography paper.

FIFTEEN of them were either directly plagiarized or copied NEARLY word for word (It's pretty clear when there are words like 'tenure' or 'assiduous' sprinkled in there, from kids that can hardly write a five-paragraph essay correctly).

I am utterly incensed and am trying to figure out how to punish the children adequately. This cheating came from all three of my classes, from smart children to the...less-high-achieving.

I will certainly give them no credit at all; I am thinking about actually lowering their grades.

Certainly I will bring this to the AP and Principal. This is completely unacceptable!

My dear colleagues: any experience with this? Any suggestions for powerful punishments? Please help.

Monday, January 23, 2006

It's a whole new ballgame now

Today I let down my hair, literally and symbolically. To show that it's a new season, so to speak. I certainly didn't go party with my students or anything. (Eek, can you imagine?)

Anyway, so today we began the very beginning of our @uthor st#dy of K*ther!ne P*terson. First we are doing a rese*rch project on her. Today's lesson (that lasted WAY longer than it was supposed to) was kind of cool, I think: I taught my kids how to 'read' Google results pages. I made transparencies of several pages and showed them the three parts of each hit: title, excerpt, and URL. I showed them how to look at those pieces to figure out if it's worth their time to click. For example, I did a page on 'seat belt statistics,' and the first hit sounded really good, until you looked at the URL and saw the .nz code, rendering it useless for our imaginary purposes.

It's not a terribly exciting lesson, or even hands-on, since I laugh in the face of technology in the classroom. But every one of them has used Google already and knows it to be an excellent resource. So they were actually interested in what I showed them, and I feel good about that. This kind of discerning 'reading' is absolutely applicable to real life!

For this rese*rch project, they must complete three things: a biography, an a*thor resume, and a group art project. I introduced their choices for the latter (illustrated timeline, collage, mobile, cere*l box bio, or comic book), and told them that on Thursday they will present their work to the class. Two classes had five minutes or less to discuss their choices, but I'll give them as much time as possible the next two days. They excitedly immediately began their discussion of which to choose. Yay! I like having the option to assign artistic projects like this.

My grade department colleagues and I decided that although we have three books for this @uthor st#dy, doing all three at once will be too confusing and difficult for us and the students. So it was decided (to all our relief) that first, the entire class will do the first book--Br!dge to T#r*b!thia (heretofore BtT). Then, as groups (who will be grouped heterogeneously) finish that one, they can begin one of the other books (J!p and L!dd!e) on their own.

Like I said, this is a big relief. I had everything planned for only one book, since we already had a good number of BtT resources from last year. As you may or may not know and remember, this unit was a complete disaster last year. There are so many pieces, namely l!ter*ture c!rcles, and the structure of that within the workshop model, and the TIME issue--as in, there's totally not nearly enough--completely overwhelmed me. Eventually we had to abandon the stupid book in late May, because it was never gonna end.

I'm nervous about this, but especially now with the one-book-first plan, I'm confident that the kids will work with me to get this done right. Also, we are not doing a separate writing product, just projects related to the books. Which means it will be totally fine to go over the time of only one period for reading stuff. Plus the kids will get to do some more research, creative writing, and artistic stuff!

This is my favorite painting.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Madame Barbe de Rimsky Korsakow

It makes me happy, and I hope you enjoy it as well.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


The other night I got a chance to catch up with a friend who has just returned from a stint in Africa as part of the Peace Corps.

She said that her cultural adjustment has been pretty easy, except for the ugly Seattle winter weather. We were talking about places to live and prices, and she mentioned a cheap studio she read about: "It's probably a shithole, but I just lived in a worse shithole for two years, so I wouldn't even care."

We also talked about the materialism of this country, and how ridiculous it is. I mentioned how New York is especially bad, with the prevalence of hipsters with their iPods and such. She mentioned that in her town's market, white toilet paper cost more, so she always got the rougher pink or blue stuff. I excitedly told her about the wonder of 99-cent stores out here, how you can furnish nearly your whole house there, even the kitchen. She was like, that is so cool!

About the weather and jobs, I asked if she had thought about moving to another place with nicer, warmer weather to get a job. She replied that she needed to be home with her friends and family more than anything else, as that was more important than anything else. Also that though she definitely identified with Seattle, she mostly identified as being a citizen of the United States, rather than any one particular region of the US.

I hope she doesn't mind me sharing all this (Hi, L!), but I found it really fascinating, and also a bit validating for my own opinions. I only went to the East Coast in AmeriCorps, and moved across the country later, but I too have developed a sour taste for many of the American ideals (namely, materialism). Sure, I love my digital camera and computer and television, but I live in the outer boroughs and I probably won't ever leave. In the city, I have to admit that a bit shamefacedly, because 'real' New Yorkers, or even other transplants who live in the city, are always like, "Oh no, you HAVE to move here and live in Manhattan. There's nothing like it; it's so fun!"

And I don't doubt that at all. There's all kinds of nightlife and interesting people out and about all hours of the day and night. But I just don't care to spend any higher percentage of my income on rent than I already do. And if I teach out here, why the hell move farther away and increase my commute? Ugh.

As for the trappings of modernity and hipsterism and New Yorkishness...spare me, please. I'm going to continue buying my non-name brand clothes either on clearance or at Marshall's. I'm not going to wear cute shoes; I cannot stand my feet hurting.

Even after a year and a half, I still feel like an outsider and a minority in New York. I come from a different place and I can't help identifying more with that place. I can't help but be frustrated and disappointed when native/transplant New Yorkers have not even a clue about how the rest of the country works, or what it's like to travel other places. Don't even get me started about all the times I get the question, "But why would you travel alone?" I don't know if the West Coast has more open-minded people or more solo-minded travelers or not, but I'm tired of feeling like a weirdo.

That said, now that I've been here for this amount of time, and knowing that I'll be here until at least June of 2007, I wonder about my future here. I have been here and away from Seattle long enough that even though I occasionally forget where I am (truly!), I'm not sure I'm ready to jump back into Seattle life, either. I'm unaware of anything going on there, and it seems so far away and almost foreign. Naturally, Manhattan seems the same way. :)

I could never imagine myself settling here in New York, in any borough. But since the fall, I've been feeling happier with my situation: my job is better, and I have developed a wonderful social circle (even if I don't always see them very often). Against my better judgment, I seem to actually be settling here. The idea of going back to Seattle, leaving my students and my fantastic friends, and starting over professionally and socially (other than my few college friends, whom I love, but I'd need to widen the circle a bit), is daunting and exhausting to think about.

Obviously, this won't matter much for the next year and a half, but amazingly, I am looking at time in adult way. I haven't lived in one place for more than two years since high school (nearly nine years ago). I've been a nomad, wandering the planet for my place. While I don't think New York is THE place for me, it is A place for me at the moment. Maybe the distinction will get clearer as time goes on.

Where did all this come from? Occasionally, I get forwards from my boss at my college job. Most of them are God-related, or jokes, or whatever. But this one came along the other day, and totally hit home. All of this stuff finally made sense.

From this site:

We're also wired to strive for the things we think will make us happy--but to never quite achieve happiness itself. We're constantly thinking that happiness is just around the next corner--that happiness will finally be ours once we acquire the products we desire or achieve our personal and professional goals. Yet, invariably, after a brief burst of delight upon finally getting that hefty pay raise or that fancy new laptop, it's just a matter of time before we return to our usual level of happiness--and a new set of desires whose fulfillment we believe will finally make us happy (this time, for real).

More! Bigger! Better!
Why is this so? Probably because for most of the time humankind has been around on Earth, the ability to accumulate material goods meant an increased likelihood of passing on one's genes--thus, our never-sated desire for more, more, more. These days, though, when we talk about material wealth, we're not talking about necessities like nuts and berries to eat and buffalo skins to wear. We're talking about non-essentials like iPods, PDAs, and SUVs. And owning a BMW makes you no more likely to have children than owning a Toyota.

Regardless, when it comes to happiness, this is our lot: We want what our peers want--but even when we get it, we end up dissatisfied. Scholars call this cycle the "hedonic treadmill" and have shown that living life on this treadmill increases stress and undermines good health. It categorically does not lead to happiness.

Unfortunately, our culture, with its focus on materialism and glorification of competition, makes it exceedingly difficult to step off the hedonic treadmill. Every day, seemingly everywhere we turn, we're bombarded by marketing messages. These days, there are even ads printed on urinal disinfectant cakes and on the tops of city buses (the latter targeting office workers, who can see the ads when they look down on the street from their office towers). Most of these messages are aimed at trying to get us to desire things that we don't really need, at convincing us that we won't be happy--not really--unless we have this or that product.

And while it typically encourages innovation, lowers prices, and increases efficiency, capitalism has its faults--among them, that it reinforces the idea that we can measure our worth as people by how much material and financial wealth we accumulate. (Back in college, a guy in my dorm had a poster that stated this attitude quite succinctly: "He who dies with the most toys wins.") This is ridiculous, of course. Our society is wealthier than it's ever been--on average, we've far surpassed "a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot"--yet studies show that we're no happier, on the whole, than we were 50 years ago. Indeed, if sales of antidepressants are any indication, we may well be less happy than ever.
One sure step in the right direction is to increase the sense of community in your life. Indeed, a recent study showed that the happiest people are those who spend the most time socializing. So join a club. Volunteer. Get involved in your church, or in your children's activities. Start a book group. Make an effort to get together with friends more often.

Humor is also a key component to a happier life. One recent study showed a decrease in cortisol and adrenaline (chemicals associated with stress) in participants who'd just watched videos of their favorite comedians. So take your attention off the bottom line, now and then, and share a laugh with your friends and coworkers.

Other steps to increased happiness, suggested by a variety of experts, include getting regular exercise, taking care of your health, and giving your life more meaning by serving something bigger than yourself, whether that means your community or your deity.

Perhaps even more important to achieving happiness than any of these things, though, is what Buddhists call "mindfulness" and psychologists call "flow": a sense of being so absorbed in the present moment--in whatever task you're currently involved in--that any regrets or worries you might have about the past or the future recede from your consciousness. Studies of both Buddhist monks and people who regularly achieve a "flow" state of concentration show vastly increased brain activity of the kind associated with positive feelings.

The psychologist Martin Seligman puts it as follows: The good life consists of the roots that lead to flow. It consists of first knowing what your signature strengths are and then recrafting your life to use them more --recrafting your work, your romance, your friendships, your leisure, and your parenting to deploy the things you're best at. What you get out of that is not the propensity to giggle a lot; what you get is flow, and the more you deploy your highest strengths the more flow you get in life.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


We had the second Teacher Game Night tonight. The first was at my friend N's house back in late November, and three of us showed up (teachers from school). We had a monstrous Cranium Turbo game that lasted nearly three hours.

Tonight, only my two friends N showed up, but we still had a good time. First some Uno, then some Taboo, and some Cranium. We snacked on carrots and dip, cookies, mini quiches, and beverage.

Bloggers, I'm totally bringing Boggle to the next happy hour!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Philanthropy and Philosophy

In a meeting today, one of the icebreakers was to reflect on a time that you 'gave' philanthropy and received philanthropy.

That made me think. That thinking (plus boredom at the all-day meeting) led me to create a list of all the volunteering/community work that I've done. I was pretty surprised. Take a look; I've been involved for nineteen years already!

--3rd grade (1987): Adopt-a-whale project. We adopted an Orca named Nugget. (We may have voted on the name.) We then created a life-size papier-mache orca that was hung in the hall/ceiling by our door.

--4th grade (1988): Adopt-a-grandparent project. You totally couldn't get away with this now: our whole class walked a couple blocks to the local nursing home and hung out with the old folks. My 'grandparent' was Merle, who always gave me candy.

--6th-8th grade (1991-1993): working with the 5th grade orientation program (led/organized by my mom [I went to middle school where my mom and stepdad taught; a very affluent, well-known district; I stuck out like a sore thumb but I was in it for the academics]).

--6th-8th grade (1991-93): in a community group called, I think, "Together!" We did your basic awareness stuff and did a couple walks, though I can't for the life of me remember what for.

--11th-12th grade (1996-97): Planned Parenthood Teen Council

--12th grade (1996): in a special health class where, either once a week or four days a week, we all drove down to the nearby elementary to tutor at-risk first and second-graders.

--12th grade (1997): Seattle AIDS Walk

--12th grade (1997): for Senior Marketing class, held a stuffed-animal drive to benefit the fire and police departments. (You know, to bring to traumatized children)

--freshman year of college (1998): volunteer project at a church soup kitchen serving homeless/at risk teens.

--sophomore year (1998-99): Lifestyle Advisor (campus peer health program with about ten different subprograms): Positive Body Image

--junior and senior year (1999-2001): University Health Education Leadership Program (after I transferred to UW)

--junior and senior year (2000-2001): intern at Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention (EDAP; merged with AABA in 2002 to become NADA)

--2002: AmeriCorps NCCC: extra volunteer hours performed with/for: Bea Gaddy; a church soup kitchen; Habitat for Habitat; a park near the Delaware Water Gap in New Jersey; DC Peace Corps ceremony; Baltimore Reads; New York Cares. Service day projects: cleaning a Baltimore bird sanctuary (made a trash dump by locals); cleaning up Baltimore streets

--2003-2004: Habitat for Humanity of Eastern King County (about once a month)

--2003-2004: Seattle Works TeamWorks events (12)

--2003, 2005: TrailBlazers Operation Muscle

--2005: New York Cares bi-annual events (2)

--2005: MLK Day of Service

--2005: TrailBlazers work; benefit

--2005: Katrina donation drive at school

--2004-present: teaching!


Dang, look at that! I had forgotten about most of this; I need to make a fancy resume version for future non-profit endeavors.


Volunteering is fun and easy! You should do it.


Sorry for the dull post. :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Second Day Down


The l!stening s3lection went fine this morning. The students all wrote busily for a good amount of time. I looked over a few shoulders; one girl, fairly mid-to-low before, totally bombed it. I was very disappointed. I hope all the other writing was a little more on target. But at least we've gotten through this much.

As for the comment/questions from yesterday's s3lection, check the comments on that post.

I talked to Mr Principal about the parent. She'd already contacted him. I briefly explained the situation. He understands and we'll have a meeting, but he's got my back. Which is a huge, huge relief; when dealing with last year's pain-in-the-ass-parent, Mr AP totally did not have my back. So it's good to know that I have support this year. Really, really good.

I had a good conversation last night with my friend N. We exchanged anecdotes about our shitty days, and we laughed and vented and commiserated. It made me feel a lot better. Hurrah for friends!!

Today was a fine day.

I gave the students the extra credit options, they did some reading, and we reviewed the different sentence functions. I found a handout in a lesson book on grammar and quickly adapted it. I gave them definitions for declarative, interrogative, exclamatory and imperative sentences, they made their own examples, and then they drew a creature and wrote a paragraph about it, using each of the sentences types. Fun and efficient and I hope effective.

Oh, and we played Boggle yesterday and today. They love it. I'm cultivating the future generation of word-game geeks! Watch out, they're gonna beat you!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

WTF, man?

I swear, today was okay. Not awesome or fantastic, but definitely fine and okay.

But apparently, that whole synergy thing is coming into play: being greater than the sum of its parts. But what if most of the parts sucked ass?

You be the judge of my day:

1. Mr Cute Teacher is officially engaged.

I am happy for him. Really. He is a very good guy (obviously, or else he wouldn't be my pretend boyfriend) and deserves something great like this. But, you know, still a bit heartbreaking for little me. :)

On the up side, he hung out in my room at lunch, and we talked about that plus travel and stuff. It was very enjoyable. He is a friend. Which does make me happy.

2. Right after school, I had to talk to a parent on the phone. This parent has been a pain in my ass the entire year. One of the parents who wants to put the blame for their child's averageness or failure on everything except, oh, I don't know, THEIR OWN DAMN KID.

After conversations like that, my heart and fury are still going strong, and I keep replaying things in my mind, trying to convince myself that I am the sane one here, and that I am doing a good job, and that if she doesn't want to agree with that, nothing I can do will change her mind. But still, it rankles. A lot. Most especially since I am so much better than last year, at the entire teaching thing. Apparently the parent relating still needs some work. I had a parent like this last year, too. I try to reassure myself that since there's only one each year who is on my case, that it's them and not me. You know? That there's always going to be a parent like that. I know that other teachers can back me on that one.

3. I just had another conversation that was totally ridiculous. Did you know that when one person suggests friendly-ly (huh?) that you should email someone, that that equals "going after other women's boyfriends"? Yeah. Complete outlandish bullshit.

Again, the issue is clearly not with me, but it still gets my righteous indignation flowing, and I have a hard time letting that go.

4. I had to proctor the l!stening s3lection for the eighth grade ex@m this morning. I had to yell at them to get them to quiet down and get serious again. And then, of course, the p@ssage had two different terms that are funny to urban adolescents, so they all giggled and snickered--in an obnoxious, disrespectful way, not all cute and innocent--and I had to stop reading and yell some more.

5. I gave a last-minute pep talk/chant to Class 3 this morning, and I felt a rush of love and affection and pride in all the work that we've done.

6. In talking with my colleague teachers about the upcoming bookstudy, I am finding that I am well-prepared and organized. Three weeks of lessons already mapped out! Lots of materials AND plans to actually use them!

7. I ran a bunch of errands after school: drop books at the library, run to the bank to deposit the check from a workshop, a stop at Rite Aid for homegoods, and then finally a grocery run. When home, I immediately made a huge salad, washed down with fresh orange juice. Yum.

8. Scrubs is on tonight!

9. Durr, I almost forgot this one: I checked my grades from last semester, and I got an A- in both my classes. Yay!

(My GPA is still only 3.6 because of the freak C last spring. All my other grades are As or A-'s, with at least one A+. See? I'm smart and I swear that C doesn't still piss me off...)


See? I'm really not trying to feel that my day was stupid, but it sure does sound like that when I lay it all out like that. But honestly, I am trying (and mostly succeeding) in focusing on the good stuff.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Just made it in time

I don't know if I have lurkers; a lot of visitors seem to come from Google searches. But if you read my blog, I love to get comments and emails! Hint, Hint!

Holy Freezing Windstorm, Batman!

My room has a radiator/heater that goes on and off without my control. Up to now, mostly the heat has been high and stifling and I am forced to put on the A/C or fan or open the window.

For the last...fifteen hours or so, and huge windstorm has raged outside. It whistles through the fire escape so loud that occasionally it drowned out the television.

Also, the wimpy heater has not been on at all. In the middle of the night I got up to put on full pajamas as well as socks and a hat. Still very cold and uncomfortable.

When I finally got up, I lit all the candles I could find and layered on my grape penguin suit and slippers, on top of my previous pajama outfit. My toes are still nearly numb and soon now I'm going to have to put on gloves. Inside my own room.

It is very neat that snow has fallen outside during the storm. Though frankly, I can't see how the snow has actually fallen anywhere; as opposed to being blown all over the place and left to pile up in corners.

This windstorm reminded me of college, when I lived in a dorm up on a wooded ridge. The wind blew in strongly off the bay in town, rustling through the three-story-high evergreen trees.

I came to love the sound of that wind blowing through the trees. With everything that goes on the first and second year of college, I often felt very stressed out and/or depressed. Hearing those gusts made me feel like I could fly away on them. Something was always yearning to be up there in the trees, blowing around on a whim.

One night, a bunch of my dorm friends went out somewhere and came back later during a nice windstorm. I decided to go for a walk and just revel in the strong winds. The boy who freshman year had been my first boyfriend for a month in the fall, and with whom lately I had been feeling another connection growing again, said he would come along.

It later became known as "The Walk." We were out for like two hours, strolling around the dark and windy campus, talking and flirting gently. We found the spot between the edge of a building and a wood that acted as a natural wind tunnel, and laughed as the breeze threatened to push us over. We found a patch of mud in a secluded area of lawn, and lost a couple shoes, wandering after that barefoot. We explored new corners of the open spaces, looked at all the outdoor sculptures in a new light (literally), and had an amazing, magical night.

That night made us both realize the connection that was there between us. It took another six or seven months to have both of us ready to act on it, but eventually we did. We were togther for a year and a half after that. Sadly, we had both left that school and didn't have many more nights that could touch the magic of that first one.

So, though I loved windstorms before, after that night, they meant even more to me. It reminds me of that youthful glee and hope for love, flying off into the night.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Weekend Meme Fun

Thanks for the tag, Rebecca!

Four jobs you've had:
--foodperson at catered corporate picnics: I usually got stuck with the corn booth (lots of shucking involved there) or the hamburgers/hotdogs. Once I got the smoothie booth, that was a fun treat. And I also usually got stuck with helping to wash the dishes. It took an hour or more and left me soaking wet from head to toe (outdoor tent plus industrial kitchen sink and cooking tools).
--candlemaker: (Officially, that oocupation is called a chandler. Did you know that?) It was the summer of the 1996 Olympics, and I could watch the swimming and other events while pouring, mixing, wrapping, etc.
--barista: For nearly my whole college career plus a little after. Only was forced to drink coffee once; for the rest of the time I successfully avoided it. I made friends, developed crushes on coworkers, and smelled heavily of coffee and milk. My bad wrists complained heavily for the first year or two with the manual espresso machines, but the advent of the automatic ones made everything much smoother and faster, if less artistic. My specialty drink to make was a caramel macchiato.
--watchseller: For the holiday season at the Bon Marche after AmeriCorps. It was actually pretty fun. I'd thought it would be boring, but we kept pretty busy and I was decent at matching watches to people.

movies you could watch over and over:
--The Princess Bride
--Love Actually
--Bring It On

Four places you've lived:
--Paris, France
--Perry Point, MD
--Bellingham, WA
--Brooklyn, NY

Four websites you visit daily:

Four television shows you love to watch:
--Grey's Anatomy

Four of your favorite foods:
--Chocolate Gelato
--Caesar Salad
--Fresh French baguettes

Four albums you can't live without (at least for the moment):
...this is hard! I play random lists by alphabet! don't make me choose!
--Haley Bonar, The Size of Planets
--Simon & Garfunkel, The Greatest Hits
--Rhys Fulber, Conjure One
--Norah Jones, Come Away With Me

Four places you'd rather be:
--Western Washington State

Four (or six) people who are now obligated to do this on their blog:
--Mz Smlph

--Ms Frizzle
--Ms M

--Mr Lawrence
--everyone else that I know, who wants to

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Yesterday I had a coverage of Class 1 for dance again. First we did some yoga. The kids remembered some of it! They still giggled and fell over and stuff.

And then I proceeded to teach them the Electric Slide. As I told them, I first learned it in sixth grade, so it was fitting that I passed it down to them at that same age. Yeah. Anyway, I counted fours about a bazillion times, and led them in slowly doing the hop-step-brush-turn thing at the end of the set. We Electrically Slid many times, and some of the kids were just generally moving in the directions instead of stepping, and seeing it made me laugh and lose count. Just helpless shuffling. Aw, poor rhythmless children. :)

A few girls and boys both sat down about halfway through; I guess they were fed up or hopeless or bored. But a good chunk of the class stuck it out and seemed to really get the hang of it. These two kids, a boy and a girl, really did get it. They were on beat, counting themselves, and doing well. This boy in particular was great, adding in his own attitude and boogying. This kid is awesome; he's very smart and driven, but he's also an old man trapped in an eleven-year-old body. When it was my birthday party a few months ago (yeesh!), he came up and said quietly and solemnly, "Ms C, does this have high cholesterol? Cause if it does, I can't eat it. I have high cholesterol."
Anyway, he's a champion dancer in the making.

It would be so cool--if I had time and training and money--to do the ballroom dancing program in my school!

Today I brought in a CD with the song on it, but I couldn't find them on their dance class period. So another time they'll get to dance to the music. Awesome.

Today we had fun, kind of. A good lesson, in any case.

The motivation ended up being the mini-lesson, too, sort of. Their first task was to write the four kinds of figurative language that we've done this year: type, definition, and example. Since we've gone over it multiple times, but it's been awhile, I said they could get information from their previous notes; I would not give them the information again.

The second task was to write down the names and definitions and examples of the other two major figurative language (personification and hyperbole) that we had not yet covered. And try to write an example of their own.

I let them talk in groups for about three minutes, comparing definitions and examples. Then each table explained one type of figurative language. We quickly reviewed the two new types, and they came up with more examples.

Then it was time to put the theory into practice with something that had been stewing in my mind for a week or so. I played Simon and Garfunkel, I Am a Rock. The first few lines have about six examples of figurative language:

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

They totally loved the song, bopping their heads when the drums kicked in after the second line. I love that, seeing these wanna-be tough pre-teens grovving to old folk pop songs.

They had to listen and write down the figlang they heard, and identify the type. We also learned two new vocabulary words: shroud and stoic. The second in reference to our analysis of comparing oneself to a rock. I had to push them a bit with the rock and island metaphors, but they mostly got it.

Oh, and then I fast-forwarded to the very end, where it concludes:

I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;

And an island never cries.

More figurative language and more continued analysis. One student even said that he was "proud and lonely." And that, friends, is very concisely it!

The lesson was awesome, easy, and engaging for all of us. Score!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Family Similes

From an assignment in December. I think you'll enjoy them like I did.

--They're as helpful as an elevator in a 10-story building.

--They're like a backup file because when things break down they help fix it.

--My mom and my school are more serious than a dictator presiding over his country.

--My mom works hard like a CIA/FBI dog. Her nose is wet like a dog and picks up a smell of guilt from a liar.

--My sister is as quiet as a snail under a foot of snow.

--My family is as cooperative as sheep running wild!

--My two brothers are as annoying as a mosquito bite itching constantly.

--My family is as loud as an airport.

--My family is my bulletproof vest when I walk through a gunfight.

--The way a bat eats insects is the way I read books.

--My lego creations are as odd as the Empire State Building is tall.

--My younger sister's commanding voice is like the general in a 5-gold-star military.

--Our family love is a beacon of light in a dim world.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Irony or Stupidity: You tell me

On Saturday, I did go shopping, and I did get those things I need: shoes, socks, and pants that fit. Two pairs, actually. As a matter of fact, one of them was a size six. My very first size six pants! Cause my ass is just that hot and slim, apparently.

So what have I done in the day and a half since embracing my thinness? Why, stuff my face with chocolate, popcorn, cookies, and chips. Of course.

It's Monday? Really?

Today was a gorgeous day; must have been in the high 50s at least. Not a hint of chill in the air. I was only outside for two minutes, but it was such a pleasant surprise.

The indoor part of my day was also pretty great. Mondays are my short day; I teach only four periods because we are supposed to have gr@de pl@nning. But our AP never comes to the meetings. (Also, my Fridays with two preps make up for Mondays with four, so don't go thinking I'm a lazy bum.)

We are giving full-length pr@ctice t@sts this week. So for each class today, I simply got them started, then sat down and worked on grading homework, packets, and tests. I got a whole lot accomplished, obviously. Like Nancy, I never do any grading at home. And for a long time this year, I've been good about grading stuff at school, so that I don't have to feel guilty about doing nothing at home. Lately my piles have sprouted piles, so it feels fantastic to move those "to do" piles into the "done and graded" piles.

When I got home, a package was waiting for me: the Rick Steves guide to Prague that I ordered last week. Hurrah! Less than six weeks until my trip. Speaking of trips, my photo prints from Barcelona and Paris should be here by the end of the week. Whee!

The title is not at all sarcastic; I had to remind myself at the end of the day that it was still only Monday. I got a bit out of whack with last week's short week, and next week's shortness as well. Plus, it was such an easy and pleasant day. Let's hope for more of the same tomorrow!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Sad news: Star the Laptop is gone. I hadn't used the poor thing in three weeks, and I felt guilty owning something so expensive (relatively) and letting it lie there. It was a tough decision and I resisted at first. But I know it's for the best. I'll always remember her. :(

Good news: It's Friday! Whee!

Coming back to school after time off is really difficult for my life as a teacher. On a real vacation, you return to normalcy. You have time for yourself. You have time to run errands. You can sleep in or stay out. You can see movies and go shopping. In short, you get to be a human again.

So obviously it's a rough awakening to face the grind of teaching once more. You put on that mask of toughness and strictness, even if you're bored or tired. You look dispairingly at the piles of homework that grow every night. You watch your desk continue to be buried beneath that homework, books, book reports, staff memos, project information, lessons, lesson books, calendars, snacks, and on and on.

All this considering, my return was fairly easy. I had one less day than everyone else, because of the Pointless Tuesday Trial. My throat was really sore at the end of Wednesday, and I was afraid of oncoming sickness, but I think that I just overdid my speaking harsh/yelling voice, in ensuring that the boundaries were redrawn. Plus, I had a coverage.

This coverage pissed me off. I started off with MadLibs, but a few boys refused to follow the rules--shutting up until it was your turn. So I made them take out paper and write a quiz. First, the eight parts of speech: definition, example, use in a sentence. Second, the parts of a four square.

I will freely admit that I could not tell you exactly which parts of speech are the eight parts of speech. I know verbs, nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, objects, prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and there's more I'm forgetting. Clearly I should do some research. Actually, I don't need to; my students know only a couple and that's tenuous at best, for some of them. All the rules -- and I don't even know all of them! I wouldn't know a comma splice if it hit me in the face -- that I know only serve to remind me how much the children now do NOT know, because of that wonder of wonders, Balanced Literacy. Blah blah.

Don't need to talk politics, sorry, yeah, grammar.

Anyway, about one-fifth of the class (all girls, interestingly), immediately got to work on this information, really making an effort. Most of the rest kinda faked it like lazy bums. A handful of boys all at one table kept grousing about, "We don't know this. We never learned this. Why we gotta learn this stuff we never use?"

To that, I walked to the table and asked, "Do you mean to tell me you've never used words before?" He replied disdainfully, "I talk with words all the time." I stared at him pointedly, willing him to see that DUMBASS, you DO need this stuff, and he just looked back blankly.

Overall, I did not hide my shock and dismay (near disgust) at their claims of ignorance. By the way, this was an honors-level class. I was like, "Seriously, if you don't know this by now, that is just ridiculous."

So the next day, their teacher was in the teacher's lounge, and I said, "Oh hey, I had your class yesterday!" She said, "That was you? They were so mad; they were like, 'she got mad at us 'cause we didn't know this stuff! it wasn't fair!'" She said, "I said, 'what do you mean, you don't know this stuff?!"

We laughed incredulously at their indignance, that it's MY fault for THEM not knowing something. Sheesh.

One more week until the EL@ test. Next week is gonna be straight crazy. Pr@ctice ones and more instruction. I also want to do some breathing exercises and meditation with them, and some motivational self-talk. But we'll see. I know that last year I felt too stupid to really do that stuff. Ha. Like I actually have any pride. Please.

There's homework to grade. There's a lot of grades to input if I want to tell the students what their second-quarter grades are looking like. If I was a good person I'd do that this weekend. But I might be a big fat bum instead. There's too many clearance sales going on, and Mama needs some new socks and pants that actually fit and ugly/comfortable shoes! What an exciting life I lead!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Miscellaneous Pictures and Stories and Quirks

After our initial visit at Chartres, we broke for a much-needed lunch and warm-up. (It was really cold outside, and inside the cathedral we still needed gloves and hats.) So Mom and I went to a pizzeria/salon du the. I had a delightful fizzy lemony beverage by the onomatopoeiay name of Pshitt. This made us giggle. Oh, but then. While walking around the old town of Chartres before getting the train home, we bought me this little vanilla Yule log.
On the train ride home, we were discussing what to do the rest of the evening. I was talking about something and dinner: "...and then for you we'll have a nice crepe [rhymes with PEP not PAPE]; a sit-down crepe. Oh, that sounds like something else..."
At which Mom and I burst into giggles like the ten-year-old American schoolgirls that lurk inside us all.
That night, writing in our journals back at the hotel, Mom asked me how to spell the name of the Pshitt. And then she wrote down about the log, and the crepecrap, and we had a fit of laughter for a solid five minutes.

I like comparing American cinema when I'm overseas. The Narnia posters were very pretty, so I took a Spanish picture. The French posters were even more fierce, and I loved looking at them every time they appeared (which is often; the Metro stations are like giant advertising stations. Each has six or seven HUGE posters on each side of the platform. There are less than ten ads you'll see at any one time, total, among all the stations.).

This one, though, is from a bus stop thing. You can see it better than the one I took in the metro (which is wider too).

At El Corte Ingles, I "shopped" on the nine floors, mostly just quickly strolling through. But I took a few minutes to look at the jacket/coat selections on the 4th floor, and I found this cute, cheap green corduroy coat. It had a hood and toggles and was cozy comfy. I didn't buy it, though.

I brought Mom back later that night. She really liked the coat.

In fact, she liked it so much, she bought one for herself.

Look at our size difference. Heh. She's like a mini next to me.

I have several strange photo habits. One is taking pictures out of moving vehicles: cars, busses, trains, planes. Another is taking pictures of sunrises and sunsets. I am always thrilled to get to combine those hobbies, like you saw with the sunrise pictures from the Barcelona flight.

Another thing I like to take pictures of is giant ice cream. Here's one of my favorites, from the summer in 2000.

(sorry for the double; I couldn't erase it without erasing them all for some reason.)

My first giant ice cream in Spain! Yummy gelato with whip cream on top!

This ice cream is a chain around Barcelona. I think this giant cone is chocolate chip or something.
I am nonchalantly drinking the orange drink I bought for dinner at the Pizza Hut on Via Laeitana.

Imagine my excitement when, while partaking of a morning coffee and orange juice, this giant mug of hot chocolate!
(There was actually giant ice cream in the shop too, but there were people in the way.)

And then, at the buffet restaurant near the Sagrada Familia, giant fruits and vegetables!

And giant chicken!! There was even a giant fish in the next window!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Barcelona Part 2

Meet Henry the Holy Snail of Barcelona. He lives on the cathedral in the Barri Gotic. Isn't he cute? The Sagrada Familia is clearly visible on the skyline, even with clouds. Mom wanted to see this big park down by the water. Who knew that a wooly mammoth lived there?
"Yikes! Don't eat me!" says Mom.

But I say, "Hi, friend, take me for a ride!"
A pretty unique sign: "BARCINO" in huge brass art letters. It's in the cathedral square. Those are Roman ruins built into the walls behind. Another part of the Barri Gotic. This is the September 11 memorial, except it's for a massacre that happened several hundred years ago. I believe the victims are buried under the ground here, too. The eternal flame honors them.
"My name is Picasso, I'm a painter! Come visit my musuem nearby. Or just go in the gift shop like those lazy, cheap American tourists. They have no appreciation for culture!" El Corte Ingles: signs in Catalan and Castilian. Different but very similar. If you are feeling down, and are in need of compliments, this is the place to be. :)
The sub-basement houses a supermarket. We bought lunch and got a pulley thing to carry our stuff, because we were too cheap to get a real cart (it costs like a euro or two).

Here's our spread, in the hostel kitchen: water, apple/peach juice, caesar salad-in-a-bag, spinach, vinaigrette, avocado, Edam cheese, crackers, and chocolate chip cookies. And jelly candies for treats while walking. Our modest hostel room. I was cold most of the time; they didn't really heat the place. But other than that, it was a great place to stay.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

More pics up

The Paris pictures (it's a big one) are below the Barcelona: Part 1 pics. They're lovely! Enjoy!

Stay tuned for more Barcelona plus Random and Miscellaneous Things.

Christmas with Mom

Mom arrived on Wednesday morning. I went off to a shortened school day and she took a nap. Later we went out to dinner.

Thursday night, the night of the evil, horrid traffic, we went into the city to see the Rockettes at Rockefeller Center. Sadly, because of the stupid final, there was no time to chill and meander around, or even eat dinner. Mom made me a plate of nachos and a bowl of salad while I furiously typed short responses and chose multiple choice answers.

Oh, and she insisted on leaving her antique beaver coat here with me. In Seattle, one cannot wear fur; one will get yelled at or possibly otherwise very bothered. Of course, out here, you see fur all the time. So it was her rationale that I will have an opportunity to wear it. A fur coat. As a poor teacher who lives in the outer boroughs. Sigh.

Soon enough it was Christmas Eve and we opened presents! I got a whole bunch of cards from students, and a good amount of gifts, too, including this angel candle thing. My dad gave me two things: this three-foot-tall French waiter butler dude, and this:

It's a purple fleece pajama suit that makes me feel like both a penguin and a grape, though very toasty warm.

Other things from my tidy haul:

A jar of garlic pepper dill pickles from Pike Place, lots of candy, a nike cinch backpack that I took on the trip with me, and some pictures from when I was little. Not to mention a pretty turtleneck sweater and a jewelry set--both from students!

Then, a hurried rush to pack and get to the airport.

Barcelona in Pictures, Part 1

Our flight left JFK around 6pm; we flew all night to Paris. At CDG, in a mostly-empty area near the boarding gate to Barcelona, Mom and I did yoga. I felt silly but it felt wonderful after the cramped 7 hour flight.

During the short flight to Spain, we saw a gorgeous sunrise over a blanket of woolen clouds.

Upon leaving the plane in Barcelona and waiting for baggage, I was disoriented to see palm trees waving outside. It looked like LA. From the cab, I looked around us at the passing scenery, including signs heading to Barcelona, our destination.

Our lodging was a hostel in the Barri Gotic, or the Gothic Quarter. It's the oldest part of the town, from back in the Roman days. The main Barcelona cathedral was a mere block away.

After a three-hour nap to attempt to prevent jet-lag, we headed to the cathedral. It was twilight. Inside, we stayed for Christmas mass. Since Barcelona is the capital of the Catala region, all the signs are in both Catalan and Castilian. Also, the masses alternate between both languages as well. I think we saw the Catalan one.

After the cathedral, Mom directed us to La Rambla, a few alley-streets over. It's this long street with a promenade in the middle, lined with shops and restaurants, and merchants in the daytime. Our Christmas dinner was at Moka Restaurant: french fries for me, and an omelet for Mom, and fresh-squeezed orange juice for both of us. As a special Spanish treat for dessert, we indulged in churros con chocolate. Just what it sounds like: a plate of short, sugared churros along with small cups of thick, creamy chocolate. Mm.

Happy Holidays from El Corte Ingles, the huge department store. Look, the Nativity has palm trees!

For our first full day in Barcelona, we started at the famous Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that's been under construction for over a hundred years. The principal architect was Gaudi, the celebrated Catalan artist/builder. His work is unlike anything I've ever seen. I do know that nature was a huge influence. The columns inside the cathedral are based on tree-trunks, and their spiral construction, rather than straight up and down tradition columns. There are a whole bunch of towers and spires (at least eight now, there will be twelve eventually), decorated with all kinds of unusual shapes and figures. They are topped with what looks like giant bunches of multi-colored grapes.

This tower is really interesting. It's got a grass-like decoration background, and these doves who appear to be in motion. Not exactly your standard cathedral fare, huh?

The circular steps climbing up one of the towers.

From the Sagrada Familia, we had a buffet lunch (perfect for a picky American like me), and

then walked to La Pedrera, a famous apartment building designed also by Gaudi. It was closed (Spain observing Christmas as well as Boxing Day), so we continued on and ran into Casa Batllo (bat-YO), yet another Gaudi building. This one is heavily based on nature, specifically water. Notice that even on the facade, there are no straight lines; that continues all throughout the interior as well.

In the first parlor/salon room, you find the mushroom fireplace. The mushroom wall is actually slanted; there's a bench on the right for two people (a young couple), and a bench on the left for one (the girl's chaperone).

A gorgeous nautilus ceiling in the dining room.

Rear facade: Look at the difference between Gaudi's whimsical, flowy architecture and traditional.

Gaudi created a revolutionary and stunning space for laundry on the top floor. The slats on the right let in light and air, drying the clothes that were washed and hung across the hallway in small rooms with huge sinks. Again you notice the use of curves and unique lines.

On the roof, in the pump room (I think), Gaudi put in this fountain whose bubbling water creates a mesmerizing melody.