Saturday, April 30, 2011

A is for Alphabiography

I've issued another writing challenge to my students for the month of May:

An Alphabiography tells stories of your life in short chapters, with each chapter focusing on someone or something important to you.
  • We will work on this challenge for the month of May.
  • You are required to post at least two chapters each week (for a total of 10), but you can post a chapter every day if you want to. CHALLENGE: Post a chapter for all 26 letters of the alphabet and four numbers to win a prize!
  • Each chapter will end with a short “Life Lesson,” something you believe, something you’ve learned, something you want to teach the reader, or an explanation of why the subject of the chapter title is important to you.
  • Each chapter will have a title that begins with a new letter of the alphabet. 
  • The chapters will vary in length. The minimum is 75 words, but two of your chapters must be at least 250 words. 

In response, my students issued a challenge to me-- that I complete the assignment along with them. How could I say no? Watch this space for the results.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Oh Lord!

Today the Tolerance Club sponsored another movie-- this one called New Muslim Cool. It's about a Puerto Rican-American rapper who has converted to Islam. Given the age and ethnic diversity of our student body, we thought it would be of interest, and we had about 50 kids stay after school to see it.

Later, three of the other sponsors of the group and I were brainstorming appropriate titles for our last film of the year. We have shown five documentaries, and our thought was that a more main stream movie that conveyed a message might be a good way to finish the year. As we talked, three of us were using our smart phones to look up information on the titles we were considering. IMDB turned out to be a handy resource for us, but we had to laugh at how the "Parents Guide" information was presented. For example the section on profanity lists all of the swearing in a movie, out of context, like so:

At least one slang term for breasts (as in "It's as cold as a witch's t*t"), 6 damns, 3 hells, 3 craps, 1 ass (used with "hole"), 1 turd, and 2 uses of "Oh my God" and "Oh Lord" and 1 use each of "Jesus Christ" and "Oh God" as exclamations. 

Holy cow! I guess that's good to know, but can you imagine having that job?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Crap Shoot

The other day I saw a bumper sticker that resonated with me: More Fun, Less Stuff. Probably one reason I was drawn to it is because I have a lot of stuff, and although I feel like over the last few years I have getting better, in essence that really only means that I am accumulating junk more slowly. I'm not sure how to break the habit, because like many people in affluent countries, I want what I want when I want it. Big ticket items are the easiest to resist; I think carefully before spending over a certain amount. It's the little things that are easy to toss in your shopping basket and that are currently cluttering up my house, my attic, and my classroom, because once they're paid for, it's hard for me to throw them away.

All of this is the prelude to my annual complaint about the PTA fundraiser our school does. We ask homerooms to choose a them for a "basket" and then the kids contribute items. The baskets are raffled off for a dollar a chance at our big international celebration. It's hugely successful, and why? Because people want stuff.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Power of the Board

The chalk board is a powerful symbol of a teacher's authority, and as such, I confess that I do not like it when my students write on the board, and I rarely allow it. But kids LOVE a chalk board, perhaps for the same reason.

Today I was doing a lesson on the relationship between words and visual images. The students were supposed to take a passage from their books and parse it over the panels of a cartoon, and then illustrate the words. It can be a powerful activity to discover that rather than the proverbial thousand words per picture, sometimes one single word is worth a picture, and a rather detailed one at that.

In the class before lunch, a second language student asked me what a shingle was. Then she asked about a cape. I deduced that it was a cape-style house, and I drew a picture of one on the board; as a good measure, I added a few cedar shakes to the outside. "Can I finish the shingles?" a student asked, and I nodded, having better things to do than detail a chalk sketch.

My assent opened the floodgates. Along with the exterior of the house, kids wanted to add trees, a garden, tornadoes, earthquakes, and a chimney fire. Not to be outdone, other students started drawing things from their books until soon the board was transformed into a fantastic mural. "Stop!" I protested, but half-heartedly, since they were actually pursuing the objectives of the lesson, if only in a tangential way. "I'm just going to erase it when you leave," I finally threatened.

There arose a collective "Nooooooooo!" and so I told them that the only way they could save their masterpiece was to start their group discussions and do them very, very well. They flew to their seats and did a great job in the minutes that remained. As the bell rang, one of them asked me if I would take a picture of the board, and I promised I would. Off they went, quite proudly, to lunch. A nice story, but it doesn't end there.

During lunch, a few other students entered the room to drop off or pick up their things. They were stunned that any kids had been allowed to write on the board. "You like them better than you like us!" they accused me, and I tried to tell them it wasn't so, but in nothing short of outrage, one picked up an eraser and started to obliterate the chalk art. The others joined in with their bare hands until chalk dust powdered the tables and the board was an empty cloud.

"You didn't really need to do that," I said, a little shocked and perplexed. They wanted to write on the board themselves, but I took all the chalk and put it away. "Go to lunch," I told them.

Of course the first group was mad and disappointed to find their work was gone. "That's what happens when chalk is your medium," I told them lightly, but unconsoled, they had some choice words for their eraser-happy classmates.

Maybe my next lesson should be on symbolism.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Our school is organizing an origami crane drive to benefit the survivors of the Japanese Tsunami. In support of the effort, the Tolerance Club learned how to fold them yesterday. The idea was that we would make some ourselves, but we would also teach other people how to make them, too.

First of all, those critters are complicated, but like skinning the proverbial cat, there are many ways to make the necessary folds, and since learning the skill, I have done my part to spread the word of the crane. Yesterday afternoon, two boys came to my room after track practice, one sorry he could not have been to the meeting, and the other just tagging along. "She's going to show us how to make origami cranes!" the first kid told his friend.

"What??!" his friend asked with profound confusion.

"Origami cranes," I repeated, but still he frowned.

I showed him one that was already finished. "Ooooooh," he answered, "origami cranes. I thought you said origami brains."

I laughed and crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it at him. "Here! We can make those, too."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pep Talk

In the last class of the day today there were a couple of kids absent and several who were pulled for a meeting with the Gifted Coordinator. That left me and seven sixth grade boys. Tomorrow we are administering a reading test, the results of which will help determine whether kids take a foreign language next year, or continue on with reading, and I gave them the same spiel I had delivered to all of my classes. "A standardized test is like a snapshot..." I started.

My point to the kids was that there's no shame in doing their best on the test and finding out that it would help them to postpone taking another language for a year, but it would be a shame for them to blow off the test and miss out on the chance at a high school credit. I also reminded them that if they did take a language, then their grade would be important when they applied to college.

This group was confused. "What do you mean "apply"?" asked one.

"Well," I answered, "colleges don't have to let you go there. They get to choose who they want based on an application that you fill out.They look at a lot of things, but they definitely look at your grades."

"Whaaaaaaat?" said another student. "You can't just go somewhere?"

I shook my head.

"Did you go to college?" somebody asked.

"You can't be a teacher without a college degree," I shrugged.

They were unusually quiet for a moment, but then the silence was broken. "Let's get to work!" one guy suggested, clapping his hands in encouragement, and it was a very good class.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Easy Part

I just can't shake the sense that as a culture we over-burden ourselves. As an example, what does it say about us and the way our lives are organized that it's quite common to hear folks say that they need a vacation after their vacation? It seems that we put so much time and energy into relaxing, that we miss out on the down time. I know I'm guilty of that; in fact, I'm feeling it right now. Fortunately, as a teacher, I have considerable time off in the summer, and not surprisingly, knowing that I don't have to go right back to work after a trip makes everything much less stressed.

I wish I knew the solution, but for now, I'm going to have to content myself with identifying the problem. I'm too busy to do anything else!

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I like to think of myself as a pretty positive person, steady in the face of crisis, even, but time and again, it's the little things that can get me down. Today I stoically bid my family good-bye and drove 9 1/2 hours through terrible traffic, only to arrive home and find my refrigerator not working. Sigh.

Yesterday at the beach I counted six iPhones, three iPods, an iPod touch, and an iPad in our group. Apple must have seen our family coming. Earlier in the week, my sister and I met the next door neighbor and his dog, a cute, nine-year-old, golden retriever-chow mix. Later, while walking with our mom, we saw the dog out in the yard, and my sister and I spoke of her in very familiar terms. "How do you know that?" my mother asked.

"We did genetic testing on her," I joked.

"We scanned her with our iPhones," my sister added.

"Yeah, there's an app for that," we laughed.

Eventually we explained about meeting the owner, but we were off and running on all sorts of app ideas. (Who Shat That? is still my favorite.)

Personally, I believe there is not only an app for most things, but a poem, too. Here's mine for the broken refirgerator:

Meditation on Ruin

It's not the lost lover that brings us to ruin, or the barroom brawl,
           or the con game gone bad, or the beating
Taken in the alleyway. But the lost car keys,
The broken shoelace,
The overcharge at the gas pump
Which we broach without comment — these are the things that
           eat away at life, these constant vibrations
In the web of the unremarkable.

The death of a father — the death of the mother —
The sudden loss shocks the living flesh alive! But the broken
           pair of glasses,
The tear in the trousers,
These begin an ache behind the eyes.
And it's this ache to which we will ourselves
Oblivious. We are oblivious. Then, one morning—there's a
crack in the water glass
—we wake to find ourselves undone.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fair to Middlin'

Tonight was our last dinner at the beach, and as we gathered around the table, someone proposed that each person share the highlight of the week for them. Next it was the low point, which was sort of negative, but still interesting, and then five-year-old Richard suggested that we tell the middle of our vacation.

We asked him what he meant by that, and he explained that it was something kind of good, but kind of bad, too. He went first. "My middle was when a wave hit me in he face," he said.

Fifteen-year-old Treat was skeptical. "That was the mid-point of your week?" he asked. "Half of the week was worse than getting a face full of salt water? You couldn't have had a very good time."

The adults around the table wanted to jump in and defend Richard, but we were silenced by his explanation. "Treat," he said, "that was my middle because I was a big boy when the water hit me."

His answer clarified the task for us, and next Treat told us about the horseshoe crab tail that he carried all the way back from his bike ride only to discard it in disappointment when he found that everyone else had left the beach to go home.

Emily paused a little before she started. "What was my bittersweet moment?" she wondered aloud, and that word, bittersweet, really helped the rest of us get it. As it turned out, there was much more discussion about those in between times that each of us described than of any of the the highs or the lows, and those stories somehow seemed a lot more revealing and true, too.

What a good question, Richard!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Southern Fried!

This afternoon we were treated to a good old coastal thunderstorm. With the thermometer pushing the upper 80s earlier in the day, it sure felt like summertime, and even though that's why we chose this place for this vacation, I was reminded of what one of my students posted just a few days ago: Are you ready for summer? I need some spring first. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Anyway, the boomers passed through, and we ran around the house closing all the windows. Unfortunately, one of them was not securely latched at the top, and as I pulled it down, it swung in and smacked me squarely on the bridge of the nose. For a long moment all I could do was loosely cup my palms over my face and hope that nothing was broken. I barely had the ice pack applied before there was a loud crack, and Treat and Richard raced wide-eyed down the stairs to report a bright flash of light and the faint smell of smoke in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Next came Jordan out of the downstairs bedroom with the tale of a laptop power cable that had just popped and flamed. As the smoke alarms screamed, we checked the unfamiliar house for signs of hazard or catastrophe.

As best we could figure, lightning had struck very near. The TV was down for the count, and a few power cables were fried, but it seemed like it was only the things that were drawing power at the time of the surge that were damaged. Even so, I considered how quickly things can go south-- that window, like the lightning, hit hard and without warning, but when it was all over, it could have been so much worse.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Southern Fried

My grandmother was from Mississippi and her fried chicken was legendary. Whenever we visited her, she would make it for us to have on the three hour car ride back home. Once, she ran out of time and sent my grandfather to KFC to buy the chicken. Family tradition has it that the four-year-old me knew something was amiss from the first bite. "This is not Grandma's chicken!" I reportedly exclaimed.

I don't have any memory of the incident, but I always thought of it as a testimony to remarkable chicken rather than a remarkable palette. My grandmother died 39 years ago, long before I started cooking, and her chicken recipe was lost to me for about twenty years, until I had the occasion to ask her youngest sister about it on one of her rare trips up north. She told me how she made hers, and how their mother made hers, and that she reckoned my grandmother's recipe was somewhere close to in between.

It was almost another 19 years until I put her method to the test. Skillet frying a chicken just always seemed like a lot of trouble. But on this family vacation to South Carolina, we planned to celebrate my brother's birthday, and making fried chicken the way my grandma did seemed like a perfect menu choice.

My original idea was to use a deep fryer, but I left the cord at home, and so I was forced to fry it on the stove, just as she did. Honestly? I'm glad I did, because it turned out really well, and it wasn't the hassle I always thought it would be. In fact, I may not wait another 19 years to try it again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Believe It or Not

I gave my students the option to keep posting throughout our spring break, and I was curious to see if they would and what they might say. I told them all it might be fun to check in with the group, especially since we wouldn't be seeing each other every day. It has been interesting-- kids have posted from Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Utah with tales of their journeys. Other kids have written about the adventures they've had at home, but it only took until today, Tuesday, for an underlying emotion to come to the surface. "I miss school," one person wrote, and after that, every kid who went online replied with how much they missed it, too.

And the best part is that I have it writing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

We Do This Because

Today was the beginning of Passover. My brother-in-law is Jewish, and we have shared a Pesach Seder dinner with my sister's family for the past few years. I like it; the customs, although unfamiliar, are comforting in their ritual, and I appreciate feeling connected to two thousand years of history, even if it isn't my own. Tonight was no exception-- my sister made a wonderful meal; my niece and nephew shone with the excitement of the festivities, and their dad led us through the traditions of the holiday.

We were raised Catholic, and although I have some serious issues with the church and its social policies, I always loved the rituals and traditions of mass and the sacraments. I know that they can be mystifying to the uninitiated, though. Years ago, a friend of mine, who happened to be Jewish, and I were invited to the wedding of another teacher on our team. The ceremony included a Catholic mass, and when the priest asked that the gifts be brought to the altar my friend looked at me in panic. "I left mine in the car!" he whispered.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Our trip down to South Carolina was about an hour and a half longer than we hoped, mostly because of traffic backups in North Carolina. Oh, we made the best of it: the weather was glorious, cloudless blue skies, warm sun, and cool spring air; the van was comfortable and of course, the company was excellent. Still, we were in a place that many travel, but few actually see, and details that anyone would have been forgiven for missing at 80 mph were unmistakable: the way the pavement gleamed, studded with the broken glass from countless accidents, the dead dog nearly obscured by the tall grass, it's tail fluttering gold in the patch of fluttering green.

The cause of our delay? Violent storms and tornadoes had ripped through the area yesterday, and their devastation was visible from the highway. In one spot, people wandered aimlessly through the shattered remains of a trailer park, presumably trying to help put somebody's life back together, and we on the interstate were a legion of vehicles, passing by in a column ten miles long, slowed to a crawl so that we could see.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I Love a Minivan

How did the minivan get such a bad rap? Almost all of my friends and family with kids are waaaay too cool for the grand caravan and its ilk; you should see the faces they make when someone suggests that they might like to own one. It's impossible to tell what provincial stereotypes they wrestle with, but as a mature adult without children, I am free from those surly bonds.

I have merrily rented a van or two every summer for the last eight in order to pile all the nephews in and head out for some awesome kids-and-aunties-only vacation. It's hardly surprising then that to me a minivan represents nothing other than enough space for everyone and the dog to hit the road for some F-U-N! What could be the stigma in that?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Blood on the Ice

"How many years has this been?" someone asked me today on our annual sixth grade skating trip.

"Let me think about it," I answered. "I remember them by the injuries..." We eventually figured that this was number five, but not before a little girl fell and cut a couple of fingertips open on her skate. Despite the blood, it was no more than a band-aid injury. A friend asked me earlier in the week if we'd have an ambulance standing by, given our track record of stitches and sprains. "Shut up," was my witty rejoinder to her.

Still, there's something strangely satisfying about taking 200 sixth graders ice skating and to the food court, despite the inevitable exhaustion at the end of the day. This trip seems to offer the perfect balance of positive risk-taking and independence for the age group, and the kids love it, almost unanimously, despite the bumps and bruises and the gentle and not-so-gentle reprimands.

And each year as I lace up my skates with a simple prayer, Don't let me fall in front of my students, it gives me an appreciation of how hard it must be to be a kid in school.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


When I was a kid, Euell Gibbons was a household name. Maybe it was the Grapenuts commercial where he looked fondly at that pine tree and drawled,"You know some parts are edible...", but whatever the case, old Euell was the punchline to many jokes. Later in life I was introduced to his book, Stalking the Blue-eyed Scallop, but even then, appreciation was not my primary response.

I'm not sure when I realized what a smart guy he was, but for years, I have been consciously cultivating my knowledge of the plants around me and what we can eat. Just tonight the neighbor kids and I spent a merry half hour trying to reach all the red bud blossoms we could from the tall tall trees in our courtyards, both to nibble on out of hand-- the pink buds are a little sweet-- and also to toss in our salad.

I kind of like the fact that they might look at a tree and think that some parts are edible, without a trace of irony.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Annual Riddle Poem Edition

Each year my students write riddle poems. Here are a few pretty good ones from this round:

I smell as though a thousand years
I can be sad and bring many fears
Romance, fantasy I'm sometimes called
I'm creative and with me people have bawled
I make new worlds that are real and fake
I am as great as my creator make
Many shapes and sizes, skinny or plump I do come in
But the real great treasure is the one within.
A book

i am clear as a diamond
no color or shape
too much of me is deadly
but if you dont have enough of me you can die
many people try to run away from me
and they just cant because i am too fast. 
what am i?

Good times never last,
I should never have let you go,
I'll never forget my careless mistake,
All the time I prayed for your reappearance,
But you never floated back home.
A balloon

It is fluffy in the inside,
soft on the out.
In the night it has a head,
But when the morning comes,
then it does not.
What is this?
A pillow

The Real Treasure:
Yes, I'm partially in gold,
and in some part of diamond
Look at what it takes to get victory.
Yes I'm somewhat in money.
Check in these things
and you will see
my true identity.

What Am I?????

(The answers appear in ghost post below each riddle.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Buyer's Remorse

The other day in class the attendance secretary came to fetch one of my students. His dad was there to pick him up for a doctor appointment. He gathered his belongings and then hesitated at the door. With a concerned expression he turned around and approached my desk. The other students were working quietly on an assignment, so he whispered his request. "Will you tell (here he named another student) to give me my money?"

It was my turn to be concerned. "Why does he have your money?" I asked.

"Because we traded," he explained.

I was confused. "What did you trade?"

"I gave him my money and he gave me those cards." He pointed to the table where a deck of cards still lay.

"We call that 'buying' when we trade money for something," I told him, and looking sternly at both boys, I continued, "and we don't use class time to conduct that kind of business."

"But I changed my mind," the first kid said with a slight whimper, "and I need my money back. My dad will be mad."

The card seller had the sense to look abashed, but he kept the cash in his pocket. I sighed and canceled the transaction. "Give him his money and get back to work."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Here and Now

We've reached a point in the year where some of the students are in the habit of seeking me out either before homeroom, at lunch, or after school. They just want to talk, or tell me something, or take a shot at the mini-hoop I have hanging by the door. I welcome this attention, both because building relationships is what we do, and I genuinely like all of my students. Also, it's kind of fun to hang out with kids.

Our interactions are interesting, entertaining, and enlightening, and they feel meaningful to me, but it's weird when I think about it, especially if I try to recall my own sixth grade experience. Chances are, these kids won't remember anything of what we say. They are growing and changing so quickly that even in a year or two, when they are in seventh and eighth grades, this time will seem like ancient history to them. Who knows what will stick?

I guess that's all the more reason to be present in the present.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Survey Says...

What's with all the surveys lately? It seems like everywhere you go to shop, once you've settled up at the register they pause before handing you your receipt and circle a little web address at the bottom. If you take the time to enter the string of characters into your browser and answer a few questions, you will be eligible to win a gift certificate. Some are worth a hundred bucks (not sure it's worth it, Staples), but today Home Depot was dangling five grand, and last week Sears was offering four thousand.

No matter the odds of winning, it becomes tempting to plan how you will spend your reward... new clothes, new carpet, new windows? That is, if you can find the time and patience to actually answer their questions.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

M to the O to the Vs

We live in a pretty diverse area and it so happens that one of the movie theaters we most frequent is primarily staffed by young African-American people. The place was hopping this afternoon when I got in the concession line, and I was relieved when the girl at the register to my left waved me over. She efficiently took my order, swiped my new Stubs card (that's a whole 'nother post), delivered my popcorn and Dibs, and sent me on my way with a cheerful, "Enjoy your shi-zow!"

Yes, I laughed.

Friday, April 8, 2011


It happens every year-- the sixth grade gets swept up in a silly social game called ZAP. The rules, as far as I can tell, involve one person writing the name of someone of the opposite sex on another person's palm along with ZAP on the top of the hand. The person who has been zapped has to guess whose name is on their palm within a set time or they will have to ask that named person "out", and the same is true if they look at the name before they guess correctly.

So far at our school we have never banned the game outright. The adults in the building, if they are aware of it at all, look the other way unless it becomes disruptive, and it always fades away after a few weeks, anyway. Besides the distraction that ZAP creates, however, I have a few other objections. First, what does that even mean to ask someone out in sixth grade? Second, everyone knows that the asking isn't sincere, so what's the point? Third, what if the other person says yes? And finally, there have been too many times I've seen somebody show the name on their palm to somebody else only for the response to be, "Ewwwwwww!" and a giggle. That's just mean, and I never hesitate to say so.

The popularity of ZAP is not really so surprising, though. When you think about why the kids would like such a dumb activity, it becomes clear that it allows these young adolescents to experiment with social roles and risks within the structure of a game. It's a safe way for them to practice for the emotionally perilous times ahead.

(Read a student's view on ZAP here.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Save the Bacon

From bacon-eating vegetarians to bacon of the month clubs to bacon chocolate bars, it seems like bacon is enjoying some extra popularity these days. Half savory addiction and half culinary punchline, bacon is sizzling in the skillet of our national consciousness. So much so that when it came time for my homeroom to pick a theme for the basket we would assemble to be raffled off for a fund raiser later this month, there was a vocal faction in favor of the bacon basket.

I confess that I laughed along with them at the silliness of such a suggestion when we were brainstorming, but when the concept became a serious contender, I spoke against it. Of the twenty-two kids contributing to the basket, three are Muslim, one is Jewish, and one is Hindu, and I could see that the bacon idea was not so amusing to them, much less anything that they wanted to be a part of. Without singling anybody out, I reminded the group that in some cultures and religions bacon is taboo, and it would be exclusionary to adopt it as our theme.

Oh but The bacon lovers were as brash and salty as, well, bacon, and they tried hard to overwhelm the flavor of our discussion."But bacon is sooooo goood!" one insisted. "Shouldn't it be majority rules?" But I told them no, and exercising my role as authority, I flatly took bacon off the table.

Still, even after another theme was chosen, a couple of kids persisted until one of the Muslim students said under his breath, "Why do you have to be so mean?" on his way out the door.

The girl he spoke to came to me later to complain. "Why did he say that?" she wondered, her feelings hurt.

"Because you were expressing blatant disregard for his religion?" I replied.

"What! Omar's Muslim?" she asked incredulously. "Ohhhhhh. Now I get it!"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Keeping It Going

I hadn't realized how spoiled I was last month until I noticed how glum I've been recently since my friends haven't been posting to their blogs as regularly now that the Slice of Life Story Challenge is over. It was a great way to check in and see what was on their minds, plus there was some awesome writing, and now I miss it. So I was really glad when Mary at Scattered Thoughts posted last night, and I'm hoping Leah and Ellen will blog again soon.

My students expressed so much disappointment when the challenge was over that I set up a space for them to continue slicing, and I renewed my commitment to reply to everyone who posts. It's a lot of work, but in the end I asked myself what kind of English teacher I would be if I denied them the chance to write when they wanted to.

You can still read a daily sample of their work here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

It's Time to Pay Attention

It wasn't too long ago that I couldn't keep the difference between Medicaid and Medicare straight in my head. I knew they were medical care programs provided by the government, but which was for seniors and which was for people who couldn't afford insurance was irrelevant to me. I'd like to think that the debate on health care reform over the last couple of years clued me in a little. Well that, and maybe the fact that my mom qualifies for one of those programs raised my awareness somewhat, but it wasn't until today, when I heard of Representative Paul Ryan's proposed changes to those particular programs (slated to take full effect in 2021), that the difference was crystal clear.

In ten years, I will be nearing the age when I will probably rely on Medicare. All of a sudden, that hypothetical blah blah blah didn't seem quite so unfathomable and irrelevant as it once did... now they are talking about me and my benefits. I can only hope that most other people my age aren't too preoccupied with the busy lives they are leading right now to come to the same awareness.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gone to Carolina

Spring break is late this year, as late as it can possibly be since it is based on the Easter holiday. Treat and I looked it up a couple of weeks ago, and it seems that Easter is traditionally scheduled on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Okay... Well, that super moon just happened to be the day before the equinox, thus pushing Easter back to late April.

Let's not go into the pros and cons of the current academic calendar except to say that we have gone a long time without a break, and there is some weariness among the school folk, both child and adult alike, with whom I spend my days. It won't be too long now, though...

When April 15 rolls around, we are going to the beach right outside Charleston, South Carolina with my family, and then the lateness of the break will work to our advantage all the way. Average temps in the upper 70's, cool ocean breezes, family fun, and fried shrimp will recharge us for the final push toward June 23.

Let the countdown begin!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Unintended Consequences

So the month of March was an emotional one for a few of my students. I know because they used the discussion board on our online course not just to do their slice-of-life writing, but also to flirt and nearly "go out", whatever that means in sixth grade these days.

A boy and a girl from very different social groups started  playfully posting back and forth to each other in several forums on the discussion board, but anyone who bothered (or was professionally obligated) to read their conversations would be clueless not to see what was going on. Oh, I spoke to them, both personally and in writing as they continued their cyber-courtship, but they both assured me that they didn't care if everyone knew what was on their mind.

Like many things in a pre-teen's life, this relationship burned brightly and then flamed out. She wanted him to speak to her in person at school, and he never did. Then she slighted him in science class, and his temper was revealed; there were some angry posts. Even though it turned out to be a misunderstanding, she was clearly miffed at his e-tantrum. And here the plot thickens:

Sensing his chance, another guy started posting friendly and supportive messages to her. The first boy responded immediately, dismissing his rival with playful insults. Eventually, they decided on a duel of wits-- a joke off. Several posts later, she finally intervened. "You're both so stupid-- you wrote all these things and thought you could agree on the winner!"

Smart girl.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


"You did the right thing to call us, ma'am," was the last thing the paramedic said as he and two of his colleagues, three firefighters, and a police officer left our house tonight. For the first time in my life, I had actually dialed the digits that summon such help. Heidi was hypoglycemic and alternating between combative and unresponsive. She had fallen twice, and I had already made good on my threat of using "the big shot". There hadn't been any improvement, though, and frankly, I was scared.

A tear slid down my nose as I pressed those three buttons and heard that iconic answer: 911-- what's your emergency?

My voice trembled as I explained the situation, and we were still on the phone when I heard the sirens wailing. With a start, I realized they were on the way to our door.

Fortunately by the time they got here, Heidi was a little better, and within five minutes, I was able to call from the landing outside the bedroom that what they were seeing was just her regular oppositional personality, not necessarily the low blood sugar. They left without treating her, and as the seven of them tromped down the stairs, I'm sure that my cheeks burned with a little embarrassment. It was a struggle not to second-guess my decision to make the call. I thanked them all for their help, and on his way out the door one of the paramedics stopped.

"You did the right thing to call us, ma'am," he said.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mixed Message

Last weekend we went to see the documentary I Am,  made by Tom Shadyac, the director of such silly movies as Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor, and Bruce Almighty. After a life-changing injury, he decided to interview an array of spiritual and intellectual leaders and pose the question of what is wrong with our world today.

I knew from the trailer that the movie had an uplifting message about the fundamental interdependence of us all, and I was looking forward to seeing it. Arriving at the theater a little early, because we had been lucky to find on-street parking downtown, we had our choice of seats, so we picked a couple in the center. I relaxed and waited for the film to start, and over the next few minutes several more people came, but the place was by no means full when the lights went down. Just at that moment, a really big guy entered the theater and, despite all the other open seats, came and sat right next to me.

All of a sudden, my whole experience was a lot less comfortable; I was physically crowded and kind of irritated. There was another seat on the other side of Heidi, and she suggested I just scoot over. I squirmed as I considered the idea, wondering what the guy would think if I moved-- it would obviously be because he sat there. I thought, too, about the premise of the movie we were about to see-- that we were all connected on some level, and I tried to reconcile my strong desire for personal space with that idea.

In the end? I moved. The movie was good: thought-provoking and uplifting, but I left the theater a little bummed, weighed down by my inability to overcome my discomfort at sitting a bit too close to another human being.