Monday, December 31, 2012

Blueberry Coffee Cake

Recipe a Day(ish), Winter Break 2012-13

So, you know I can't just follow a recipe.

For Christmas breakfast, I made this coffee cake, except that I made a few alterations.  This time, my experimentation worked out great.  The cake was moist and flavorful.  The almonds went fantastically with the blueberries. It did have the undesirable side effect of making the recipe more complicated, however.  Ah, well.  I'm off of work.

Here is my embellished recipe:

Crumb Topping

  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/2 c. slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/3 c. sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2.5 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda (I figured the extra lightness couldn't hurt and it would work w/ the acid of the sour cream)
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. frozen blueberries (I used wild blueberries and forgot to drain them... definitely don't forget!)

I left off the glaze on the original recipe, but it would have been good.
  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Grease bottom and side of 9x3-inch springform pan or 9-inch square pan with shortening or cooking spray. In small bowl, mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour and the cinnamon. Cut in butter with fork until crumbly. Set aside.
  2. In large bowl, stir together all coffee cake ingredients except blueberries; beat with spoon 30 seconds. Fold in blueberries. Spread batter in pan. Sprinkle with topping.
  3. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove side of pan.
  4. In small bowl, mix all glaze ingredients until smooth and thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle over warm coffee cake.
Makes 9 servings

Friday, December 28, 2012

Winter Break

Scooters and stars. Doggie time and daddy time. Puzzles and cocktails. Board games and cooked breakfasts. Books and tweets. Closets organized. Children cuddled. Bedtime annihilated. Flannel pants. Mickey and Oswald take on the Wasteland. Kites and walks. Gnawing on professional chewtoys and mourning dead children and lost friends and teachers taking shooting lessons. Indulging in chocolates and naps. Winter break.

She pushes him around like she's a playground bully, but they love each other.

Rare Marky visit while I read in bed. Usually Roxy comes and noses in.

Apparently, prosthetics are "in" for the holidays this year.

These kids have the hairiest Sasquatch arms I have ever seen.  Where did THAT come from?
Nice we have the time to ponder such mysteries.

Ah, puzzles.  The most underrated and budget-friendly gift ever. Hours of quiet, engaged fun.

The cover of Life Magazine feels incredibly irrelevant this year.

Sibling cooperation. Rare and lovely.

Dinner at Rocco's with Daddy.  Love having him around more these long holiday weekends. 

This Razor Powerwing scooter is so cool.  Santa made a good choice.  I want the grown-up version.  Seriously.

Cleaning out the barbecue for our Christmas steaks.  It's awesome to have an enterprising kid who likes fire.
Or frightening.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Alas, Poor Yorick!

I had no idea Lego mini figures were so dang cool. Hamlet! Skull and all. I wish it was mine, but Santa brought it for my son.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

What my Students Learned from NaNoWriMo

Summary of what I'm seeing in their reflections...
  • Dedication to a long-term goal and the realities of time.
  • How difficult it is to create a well-crafted story.
  • Daily discipline and how it can add up to amazing things.
  • Giving oneself permission to explore... giving oneself the freedom to not finish the story, to drop characters, to add in surprising ideas and elements into their writing.
  • Becoming involved in their novels made them realize how much fun it can be to lose oneself in one's story... they liked that feeling of immersion in the characters, plot and setting.
  • Genre-bending.  Fictionalization of reality; begging, borrowing and stealing ideas and making them their own; "lectures" on relationships, etc. 
  • Google Drive.  
  • How conversations with friends and supporters can move us forward. 
  • Things don't have to be perfect for there to be a nugget of awesomeness in there somewhere.
  • Even something unfinished can have value.
  • Accomplishing a long-term goal that has been hard-won feels fantastic.
  • Sometimes planning leads to awesomeness.  Sometimes planning leads to frustration and stiltedness.  
  • Our minds are surprisingly fertile.
  • For some people, noveling is not their optimum medium of creativity.
  • It is surprising what we can accomplish when we invest time and energy in our own minds.
  • It feels good to tell a story that NEEDS to be told.
When I look at this list, I realize that I didn't teach most of this in the traditional sense.  We discussed some of these ideas during the process; I had lots of conversations with students.  But mostly, I feel like I offered them the space and opportunity to experience this learning for themselves.  That's the beauty of NaNoWriMo:  when we trust our students' minds, we see that indeed they can discover their own paths.  I provide time, structure ,goal-setting, strategies... they provide the rest.  They are not empty vessels.  I wish there was time in all my classes to take them through NaNoWriMo.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Art and Relationship

"An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone."  -- Madeleine L'Engle

A moment's reflection in the midst of grading book reviews. The following thoughts are inspired, I suppose, by a former student's apparent philosophy that any kind of human relationships are basically illusions, and that they aren't really necessary or desirable-- maybe only tolerable at times.  The thing that has always made no sense to me about this person is that he/she is a gifted poet and drawer/painter. And so...

A writer, an artist, a creative person must both discipline and indulge oneself in order to create.  Discipline: of technique, of time, of practice, perhaps even of research, of precision.  Indulgence: of time, of imagination, of personal resources invested in oneself, one's mind.  Right?  My mom and dad can probably speak to this.

However, I have a hard time swallowing the idea of an artist as a complete nihilist, a complete misanthrope, someone who has absolutely lost faith in humanity.  I just don't think it is ontologically possible.  I haven't fleshed all of this out, but here's my basic line of reasoning (and I'm sure there are other philosophers and artists who have said the same thing...):

1. Being creative implies creating something.  This seems self-evident, but sometimes I think people start to think of "creativity" as this abstract faerie-like quality that artsy people have.  All creativity is is coming up with an idea that you make real-- you create something.

2.  In bringing something into the world, in creating it, I believe there is inherently an intended or implied potential transaction.  Plenty of writers write about writing for oneself, to see the thoughts of one's own mind.  However, although our concepts of reality are deeply rooted in language, really, why would thoughts need to be made into language unless there was the possibility of someone somehow reading them one day?  

3. Even if you can argue that language might be used for the artist's own reflection and metacognition without an outside audience, what is the point of refining that writing and fine-tuning language, if not for a potential reader?  Even if a writer is attempting to create new language to describe new concepts, I suspect every writer, if she were honest with herself, would be gratified if someone at some point read the writing and thought that the new concept and new language were works of genius, and not some impregnable code or gibberish. 

4. If life has absolutely no meaning, then why create art?  Art creates meaning.  Even in absurdity, meaning is created.  Even with lack of intention, art creates meaning when it is viewed, when writing is read, even if the reading or viewing is done by the creator.  And if there is no intention for a work of art to come out a certain way, or no intention for any ideas or inner feelings or thoughts of the artist to manifest themselves in any way in a work of art, then I would argue that it is not art, but coincidence.  Still, art can be made out of coincidence by a viewer with intention or imagination (hence, Dada or found sculpture). I wouldn't argue that anything has to be eternal to be meaningful.  Meaning can shift, sometimes abruptly. However, art is inconsistent with nihilism, because it inherently creates meaning.

Existentialism, sure.  Nihilism, no.  Art cannot be nothing.

“The poet, however, uses these two crude, primitive, archaic forms of thought (simile and metaphor) in the most uninhibited way, because his job is not to describe nature, but to show you a world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind.” 

-- Northrup Frye

5. Art can be dark, can question our concept of reality, can condemn human folly and idiocy, and explore thoughts of destruction and violence and suicide. But a real artist can never be a complete misanthrope, because an artist has to respect at least her own mind.  And she is a human being, after all.  And she must extrapolate from there.  So, although I believe that art, if it is going to be honest, can definitely explore hatred, and an artist might feel hateful about certain topics, an artist must have some kind of small flickering of faith in the mind to create a better world.  Otherwise why communicate all of those emotions or ideas?  Why not just implode?  I suppose a person could be a self-loathing artist, but somewhere in the mix would have to be a desire to not loathe oneself, and even that is a glimmer. 

6. Nihilism is an absolutist, materialistic and reductionist philosophy. Art, by its nature, is not based in the material, but in the imagination.  Art that is materialistic and/or reductionist and/or absolutist is propaganda.  Living one's life by propaganda is as bad (if you're a nihilist) as living one's life according to faith in God, right?  Propaganda requires a certain type of secular religious attachment...  which I would imagine any self-respecting nihilist would reject.  So, a person who sets out to create art to promote nihilism is, in effect, producing propaganda.  Which is not art.  So, therefore, art and nihilism are inherently in conflict with one another.

Sometimes, I'm really good at breaking down arguments, but not so good at constructing them.  So I appreciate any comments that would help me clarify or challenge these ideas.  

Perhaps it is too late.  I've been grading too many teenage book reviews. And none of this will make any sense in the morning.  It's certainly possible.

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them -- words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a tellar but for want of an understanding ear.”  -- Stephen King

Monday, December 17, 2012

Little Tree

Several years back I found the board book Little Tree based on a poem by e.e. cummings, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka.  I have never found that book again, but I wish I could because I'd like to give it away each year.  It is remarkably sad, I think, yet sweet at the same time.  Kind of like a cuter, more festive Giving Tree.  Read it.  Or, if you can't, at least read e.e. cummings' poem below.  I think the Gothic undertones come through in the poem as well.  Still, the illustrations in the book are so wonderful, and to me they and the expanded story fit the (faux?) quaint style and geometric repetition of the poem.

"every finger shall have its ring/ and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy "
little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look          the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Notes to Self

Notes to Self

Note to self: Don’t be an idiot.
Note to self: Don’t be late.
Note to self: Put on some deodorant.
Note to self: Brush your hair.

Note to self: Keep foot out of mouth.
Note to self: Don’t be too honest.
Noted: Be honest in your own mind.
Note: Stop speaking your mind!

Jesus, do you never listen?
Will you never get it?

Note to self: Go for a walk.
Note to self: You’ve gained weight.
Note to self: You’ll feel better if you lose it.
Note to self: Stop buying junk food.

Note: Stop hurting yourself.
Note: You are not happy.
Note: Remember what that feels like.
Note: Be good to yourself.

I keep telling you these things
but you never listen.

Note: Really listen to people.
Note: Stop “listening” with your worries.
Note: The mountains are beautiful.
Note: You should learn to meditate.

Note to Self: Hug your kids more.
Note to Self: Be generous.
Note to Self: Don’t be selfish.
Note: Be more selfish.

Note to Self: Less interior monologue, more action.

Note to Self: Take a nap.
Note: Write every day.
Note: Make homemade food.
Note: Read a book.  
Note: But it has to be good. And it has to be fun.

You never listen to me.
You do what you want.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What I Learned This Week(ish) #5

1. Seneca, The Epistles  Good stuff.  It just keeps going and going...  I think if I was Lucilius I would have stopped reading a long time ago, but...

It is clear to you, I am sure, Lucilius, that no man can live a happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of wisdom; you know also that a happy life is reached when our wisdom is brought to completion, but that life is at least endurable even when our wisdom is only begun.  This idea, however, clear though it is, must be strengthened and implanted more deeply by daily reflection; it is more important for you to keep the resolutions you have already made than to go on and make noble ones.  You must persevere, must develop new strength by continuous study, until that which is only a good inclination becomes a good settled purpose.  Hence you no longer need to come to me with much talk and protestations; I know that you

have made great progress.  I understand the feelings which prompt your words; they are not feigned or specious words.  Nevertheless I shall tell you what I think, - that at present I have hopes for you, but not yet perfect trust.  And I wish that you would adopt the same attitude towards yourself; there is no reason why you should put confidence in yourself too quickly and readily.  Examine yourself; scrutinize and observe yourself in divers ways; but mark, before all else, whether it is in philosophy or merely in life itself/a that you have made progress.  Philosophy is no trick to catch the public; it is not devised for show.  It is a matter, not of words, but of facts.  It is not pursued in order that the day may yield some amusement before it is spent, or that our leisure may be relieved of a tedium that irks us.  It moulds and constructs the soul; it orders our life, guides our conduct, shows us what we should do and what we should leave undone; it sits at the helm and directs our course as we waver+amid uncertainties+.

    I grow in spirit and leap for joy and shake off my years and my blood runs warm again, whenever I understand, from your actions and your letters, how far you have outdone yourself; for as to the ordinary man, you left him in the rear long ago.  If the farmer is pleased when his tree develops so that it bears fruit, if the shepherd takes pleasure in the increase of his flocks, if every man regards his pupil as though he discerned in him his own early manhood, - what, then, do you think are the feelings of those who have trained a mind and moulded a young idea, when they see it suddenly grown to maturity?
     I claim you for myself; you are my handiwork. When I saw your abilities, I laid my hand upon you,/a I exhorted you, I applied the goad and did not permit you to march lazily, but roused you continually.  And now I do the same; but by this time I am cheering on one who is in the race and so in turn cheers me on.

The last part is quite a heavy claim... quite a heavy burden, ownership. Isn't it?

2. Open Culture has a blog entry with a list of animated literature and books online, including Shakespeare, Dickinson... Neil Gaiman's weird Christmas poem.  Lots and lots of wild, amazing stuff.  I bookmarked it.

3.  The word "shambolic", an informal, mostly British term originating in the 1970's, means "chaotic, mismanaged or disorganized."  I'm thinking... I need to apply this word as often as possible from now on.

4. The United States Department of Education RESPECT project.  I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion about this vision statement (in draft form-- a very live document).  Although I am a little hesitant to hope that policymakers in Arizona would sincerely and creatively find ways to implement this ambitious vision, I really feel like the changes it would make to schools would be good for teachers, parents, students and administrators, and would make school a more satisfying experience for all. Download and read the document-- it doesn't take long to understand the general changes being proposed in the way that the teaching profession is envisioned.

Damn, I am ready for winter break.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why Teacher Salary Schedules are Fictional

Here is my newest Stories from School AZ blog entry (

I focus on inequities in teacher pay that make the publicly published salary schedules into works of fiction.

We were asked to try to find juicy topics.  I think this one is juicy.  My worry is that it will appear to target my current district for criticism.  I use my district as an example, but honestly, this happens all over the place, at least in Arizona.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Margaret Atwood "Is/Not" Provides NaNoWriMo Procrastination

I just found this blog, Poetry Post, through Twitter.  It will bear more exploration in the future... meanwhile, the entry I linked here has a wonderful poem I hadn't read by one of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood.  I haven't read much of her poetry, actually.  Mostly novels and short stories, and I'm way behind the times.  Although I did see recently that she is co-writing a zombie serial novel with another writer, which will be published online (or has been already) [Note to self: Find the link and put it on here later.]

I hope this is an accurate copy of the poem.  You know how it is, finding poems online.  You never know...

by Margaret Atwood
Love is not a profession
genteel or otherwise
sex is not dentistry
the slick filling of aches and cavities

you are not my doctor
you are not my cure,

nobody has that
power, you are merely a fellow traveller

Give up this medical concern,
buttoned, attentive,

permit yourself anger
and permit me mine

which needs neither
your approval nor your surprise

which does not need to be made legal
which is not against a disease

but against you,
which does not need to be understood

or washed or cauterized,
which needs instead

to be said and said.
Permit me the present tense.

I am not a saint or a cripple,
I am not a wound; now I will see
whether I am a coward.

I dispose of my good manners,
you don’t have to kiss my wrists.

This is a journey, not a war,
there is no outcome,
I renounce predictions

and aspirins, I resign the future
as I would resign an expired passport:
picture and signature gone
along with holidays and safe returns.

We’re stuck here
on this side of the border
in this country of thumbed streets and stale buildings

where there is nothing spectacular
 to see
and the weather is ordinary

where love occurs in its pure form only
on the cheaper of the souvenirs

where we must walk slowly,
where we may not get anywhere

or anything, where we keep going,
fighting our ways, our way
not out but through.

Is it a breakup poem?  Or is it a "grimly determined to live through the hell that we create through love" poem?  More reflection required.

However, I love some of the ideas and images:  "Permit me the present tense," "there is no outcome," and "fighting our ways, our way/ not out but through." The idea that love is an ongoing series of choices, a process, not so glamorous much of the time, but inevitable, worth it, though we cannot predict where it will take us, nor can we expect a specific reward.  And I appreciate the acknowledgement of anger.

Coming from Atwood, I like the idea that (what I interpret as) the female narrator disposes of manners, is not a saint or a cripple. She doesn't have to be saved or fixed, but on the other hand she isn't seamlessly self sufficient or a self-denying perpetual nurturer, either.  As the wife of an actual cripple, I sometimes become grumpy about running to the other end of the house for something after I'm already in bed (etc., etc.)  And then I feel guilty about being grumpy.  And then I feel stupid for being grumpy because hey, I have two legs.  But, honestly, is it realistic that a person will have the personal energy to be a saint to everyone, all the time?  I try hard to be a loving person.  Mostly, I succeed.  Except when I get grumpy.  Oh, well.  This poem acknowledges those dynamics in a relationship, or at least, that's how I read it.

I have 6,000 words left on NaNoWriMo to meet my truncated goal of 25,000 words (see my last blog entry.)  Will I do it?  Or is writing this blog sign enough that I have capitulated?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Accepting Defeat: A Teachable NaNoWriMo Moment

I am planning a lesson on accepting defeat.

Part of teaching for creativity is helping students learn how to deal with failure, and it looks like I'll have a chance to teach them firsthand.

Last year, I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time.  It was an intense ride, and thrilling to take on that challenge alongside my students.  For some reason, I latched onto my 50,000 word goal for the month, and wrote consistently almost every day of the month, finishing just in time and earning my button and winner's web badge.  At the end, I wasn't at all satisfied with my novel, but I was happy with myself for my achievement.

This year, I just haven't worked myself up into the frenzy.  Perhaps it is the anti-anxiety medication.  The little edge that anxiety gives me can a very useful little edge, albeit with plenty of drawbacks.

At any rate, I've been writing.  I should be able to reach 25,000 words, which is still a lot.  But I won't win.  There's no way.  I only see my husband on weekends; during the week I've been having to leave work early to deal with doctors' appointments, kids getting sick at school, cancellations of their other rides home after school... it seems like I can't get enough time at school to do what I need to do at school.

And at home?  I don't have my husband to rely on to interact with the kids at all.  So if I sit and write, they either play or watch TV with no attention.  It feels extra selfish.  By the time they're in bed, I'm pooped (not to mention way behind at work-- more than usual).

On weekends, I owe it to the man I married to save some of myself for him:  tidy up, do things as a family, give backrubs, receive backrubs, that kind of thing.  I can sneak away for a little bit of time, but... I've lost so much time at school during the week that I have to spend some time planning, grading.  And my lowered anxiety level has left me less willing to get up early in the morning and write. Last year I insisted on the writing time.  This year I've been more compromising.

And I've compromised my novel.

So... for my students, here are my steps in accepting defeat, and the lessons I can learn from it.

1. Explore whether there is any way to meet my goal.  Realistically:  What would it take?
2. Assess: Am I willing and able to do what it will take?  Be honest with myself and others.
3. If so, then GO FOR IT.
4. If not, assess: What do I really want out of this process? Can I get some of what I want with the time and energy I have left?
5. Set new goal I can live with. One that is still challenging and offers me some success I can recognize.
6. Work to achieve my new, compromised goal.
7. Forgive myself.  Every day is a new chance to kick ass, after all.
8. Acknowledge what I did manage to achieve.
9. Analyze what I can do next time to meet a higher, more worthy goal.  Or, assess whether my priorities are really elsewhere.

Honesty is key when we set goals.  We need to be honest about our motivation, what it will really require, our level of intensity and our commitment to meet the goal.

Challenging ourselves to amazingness may not result in the exact outcome we had planned, but will probably lead to more amazingness than if we hadn't tried at all.  (I will have 25,000 words of a novel after all, and my concept is more cohesive than last year.)

Accepting defeat can free up our energy for other pursuits that turn out to be either more important or simply more urgent.  Accepting defeat lets us look toward the future, dwell in possibility and not the defeat itself.

When we accept defeat, we must also accept the consequences of not meeting our goal.  I'm certain that my inability to meet my goal will affect my relationship with my students who pushed themselves to meet their goal.  I have a student going for the 50,000 word mark.  What do I teach him by not meeting mine?  Still, I can't avoid it now.  There may be negative consequences, and I have to live with that. I'm not willing to be dishonest with my students just to preserve a veneer of amazingness.  The amazingness has to be genuine.  It's the same way when students don't earn the grades they hope to get in my class.  If they choose to cheat, lie or plagiarize, then I lose all respect for them.  A respectable C is  just that, a C, but respectable.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An Ending

Every ending is a new beginning.  But it's hard to feel the new beginning without feeling an ending, closing a chapter, boxing things up, cremation.

I chose to celebrate earning my National Board Certification by burning all my work.

This might seem like a negative way to end things, but it didn't feel that way.

Ever since I finished my portfolio and sent it in March 31 this year, I've had one of those little teachery rolly-cart things sitting around in my dining room.  It was filled with binders, folders from retreats, hotel writing pads, file-folders of student work.  I kept thinking, "I should really go through that stuff."  I'm sure my husband kept thinking, "I should really go dump that thing in the alleyway."  But I had forbid him from touching it.  Everytime I considered sorting through it, it seemed like a waste of time.  I knew that if anything came up during scoring, I had everything from my process either in the rolly cart or saved digitally on my hard drive AND Google Drive... AND the server at school... AND a flash drive.

[It would be a lot easier to blog if this dachshund would get off of my face.]

So anyway, I didn't touch it.  Then, when we moved houses, I moved it into our new dining room.  Much smaller house, though, and it's been in the way.

Saturday, we had my brother's family and a good friend over to grill out.  The weather has been absolutely beautiful here in Southern Arizona, and the evening was cool enough for a fire in our little fire pit.  After a couple of beers and marshmallows, Rich was joking about whether we had anything else from inside the house that we could burn.  I brought out my rolly cart, and slowly emptied it into the flames.

The fire burned hot, and the paper created gorgeous layered canyons of bright coals. I burned it all:  my drafts, my instructions, my rubrics, my worksheets, copies of student writing, reflections, doodles, and handouts. Handful by folderful. It was a long task, and a lovely sight. What a relief, letting go of the anxiousness about what was in those folders and worry whether I had made the right choices. The contents of the rolly cart were no longer part of my present, but part of my past.  My new initials are part of the present:  NBCT. And what will I do with my new initials?

Now comes the beginning. The beginning of what? I am not certain. I never am. I keep my eyes open for opportunity, and enjoy the adventure (except when I am agonizing over it.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Steamboat Willie Halloween Costume

My son wanted to go as Steamboat Willie this year, Mickey Mouse in his first role.  In black and white.   We visited Disneyland for the first time this summer, and he spent the money he had saved on a stuffed black and white Steamboat Willie.  He goes for the classics, the originals of things.

I knew it would be a challenge, but it sounded like fun.  Also, I felt I needed to compensate for buying both my kids their costumes last year.

We started with a design.  G drew his ideas and we talked them through.

Then we went shopping.  He already had white shorts, but we picked up inexpensive black gloves, a black turtleneck and black opaque tights.  At the thrift shop we found a pair of Crocs clogs, and decided to cover those in white somehow.  At the craft store we picked up plaster coated gauze, inexpensive craft paint, and black and white craft foam. I also found a jumbo-sized black pipe cleaner that was perfect for a tail.  Really, it was not an overly expensive costume.  $35 for everything.

Mask: Next, we made a plaster mask over G's face.

We didn't worry much about the shape of the eye holes and left the space immediately around his nose and mouth open.  I figured we'd trim the eyeholes to the right shape.  I covered the back of his head with plaster gauze, but ended up having to cut away much of the back so that he could put on and remove the mask.

Next, I shaped the nose out of aluminum foil, and duct-taped it to the face.  All of this was just by playing around until it looked right.
Then we trimmed the eye holes (for looks) and the sides and back of the mask (for fit), and covered the whole thing in another layer or two of plaster gauze, to hold the nose on and smooth the edges around the chin and eyes. The nose shape fit over the top of the mouth/nose hole (because Mickey's smile would be more around G's actual chin than on his mouth.  So breathing was easy to manage.

Nose: I used black yarn to shape an oblong nose for Mickey, which we used glue and straightpins to attach after painting.

Ears: Before painting, we used a multitool's serrated edge to cut slits in the plaster gauze where Mickey's ears should be.  We used my daughter's headband with Mouse Ears to get an idea of the angle.  Then we made the ears using two circles of black craft foam glued together.  In between the layers on one side there was a tab that was cut to fit through the slits.  The idea was that after the ears dried separately, and the paint was dry, we could slide them into place and duct tape the double-layered tabs inside the mask.  It worked pretty well.

Paint: After the plaster was finished drying completely, we painted the front part of the mask white with acrylic craft paint, pencilled in the marks for the black, and carefully added two or three layers of black acrylic craft paint.  I had a bit of trouble with the mouth, and ended up having to make Mickey's tongue much thinner than I originally thought it was at the bottom of his smile.  Wider and not so thick. I painted the smile down where G's real chin was inside the mask.

Hat: G shaped the hat out of white craft foam.  We made the slouchy top with a black athletic sock with a coffee can lid inside it and another sock stuffed in there.  We used Tacky Glue and straight pins to first get the hat to stay on that head. Once it dried it stayed amazingly well. You can kind of see the black-yarn nose in this shot:

Pants: We found oversized white buttons at the discount fabric store, and outlined them with Sharpie before attaching them to G's shorts.

Shoes: In a stroke of genius, we covered the clogs with athletic socks and then painted over the socks (shoes and all) with white craft paint.

Ta Da!  I think we had to go back inside and get the tail, but he looked great!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I am a National Board Certified Teacher!

It's a big day for me and two others in my English department. We are NBCT's!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Austerity Measures

Austerity Measures

How should one
measure austerity?
It must, as everything else
during a recession
be portioned out I suppose
and brought out in small doses
enough to whet the appetite
make us hunger for
future days with a wealth of it
make us remember
the days when there was so much
of it we didn’t know what to
do with it all. Remember? We
would seal it in Kerr jars and
walk it to the neighbors. We took
it for granted. It was part
of the lifestyle then. People
didn’t think about it or appreciate
it. Our hearts overflowed with
sincere, unmeasured austerity.
And now, just like everything else,
we can’t get enough.

Teaching for Creativity

My next Stories from School blog post.

Too tired to comment further for now!  Comments appreciated, especially on the SFS site.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

RIP Prop 204. Anyone Hiring an Idea Person, Highly Literate, Excellent Work Ethic?

So much for Prop 204.  And the funding it guaranteed for Arizona schools.  I don't think most people fully appreciate how essential that money is/was for our state's schools.

I will most likely be on the job market next year, and I am cringing at the idea of being out there under these circumstances, with so many other teachers looking for jobs because class sizes will most surely be increased to save money.  Entire schools will close.

I am honestly frightened. 

The future, for me and for my kids' schools, is very uncertain. 

Maybe I should go into durable medical equipment sales.  I have skills.  But, at least right now, the idea of committing myself to any other career is heartbreaking, because although I can imagine being decently good at other jobs, I can't imagine throwing myself into those jobs as wholeheartedly.  And at 41, I'm learning that I am a person who has to be able to fling myself completely into what I am doing. I have to have a drive for it.  I have a drive for teaching English.  I have my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, but I think my drive to innovate, learn and connect with my students makes me a good teacher. 

I was a real estate agent for a while, on the side.  I could be good at that.  And it was good to feel like I was helping friends and family learn better how to negotiate the hairy business of house-hunting, helping protect their interests.  My efforts were sincere.  But I'm just not a real estate agent at heart. You know?

I could maybe throw myself into working for a nonprofit, or something else where I could come up with ideas and try to implement them.  I am honestly at a loss.  What if I can't find a teaching job next year?  What if I have 40 kids in each class?  I spiritually can't do it.  Of course, I can do it, but it is essentially different.  Teaching demands infinite hope and innovation. But the idea of innovating and assessing for even more students is just demoralizing.

And what about my own kids?   The mental health of their teachers? Their ability to meet the needs of the little boy and girl that come home to me each night?

The whole picture frightens me.

NaNoWriMo Day 6 (Oh, and Election Day)

Today on my way home, I was trying to gather my thoughts for my novel.  I'm kind of getting bored with it, which means it needs an injection of new ideas.  I'm into the action, but I haven't developed any characters besides my main character, and that only internally, really.

Maybe because it is election day, and my novel takes place in the future, I started to play "What If..." with the school in my story.  What if schools were well-funded by the time my novel takes place?  In fact, what if they are completely privatized... but still public in name?  I'm thinking:  Seniors don't pay for any graduation paraphernalia, but their caps, gowns, announcements, class rings et al are covered with logos and slogans.  Marquees scroll across the tops of the plasma boards.  Lessons are routinely interrupted by short ads which you can skip after 10 seconds.  Candidates run on platforms of supporting educational funding, but what it really means is a new form of pork-barrelling, but from the corporations into the schools vs. the other way around.  Students become a major market.  It took a foothold when parents became so grateful for all the "support" companies were providing trying to encourage graduation.  Meanwhile, up to one full graduation credit can be earned by cutting out boxtops and pasting them onto colorful worksheets and handing them into the office. I'm trying to focus on all the possible manifestations of this idea, but I'm distracted by my actual teaching load.

My novel may turn into satire.

My student numbers just don't seem to go down.  156.  And most of them show up. The grading load is going to do in my nanowrimo novel.

Meanwhile, hypothetical projections of presidential winners are being declared all over the networks, one state at a time.  And my kids somehow managed to turn on The Simpsons.  How did that happen?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 1


I have 357 words so far.  I've taken a third person omniscient perspective so far, which surprises me, but maybe after a day of teaching followed by students in my room at lunch, an evaluation post-observation conference, and students in my room after school, squeezing in 357 words isn't half bad before picking up the kids by 4:00.  It was fun, anyway.

I'm completely exhausted by Halloween this year.  (Photos... coming soon.  I want to blog about each of our costumes a little.)  Last year, working on National Boards, I bought both of the kids their costumes, and I didn't dress up, and neither did Rich.  This year, we made all three costumes (Rich was in Phoenix).  And then, Tuesday night after my two doctors' appointments and a book club meeting, the kids insisted we hadn't carved pumpkins AGH!  So we did that on Tuesday.  Then I finished costumes until 11:45.

Making the costumes together was so much fun, though, and they turned out awesome.  Well, mine (Athena) and G's(Steamboat Willie) were awesome, L's (princess vampire) was fantastical... wild... out of control.  A bit like Bertha Rochester from Jane Eyre, or at least how I imagine her to be.  It did not turn out the right profile/ silhouette, but she did look pretty awesome walking down the street at night with yards of poorly-tailored tulle and organza streaming behind her.

Turns out our new neighborhood is a pretty sweet trick-or-treat spot compared to what I would have guessed.

Today I woke up with a sore throat, and then read Stephen King for three hours out loud to my juniors.  and then the remainder went as above.  I'm pooped.

Oh, and G needs a Civil War sailor uniform for his book report tomorrow.  He has to speak from the perspective of the narrator in Avi's Iron Thunder, a character who, as a young teenager, sails and fights on the Monitor.  Pretty cool... better get to it.


I added this photo, obviously, later that evening...

Friday, October 26, 2012

What I Learned this Week(ish) #4

1.  I learned what "aegis" means (as I have been doing research for my Athena costume). And also "cuirass" and "chlamys."

2.  I found this amazing quote: “Sound had always been my portal to poetry, but in the beginning sound was imagined through the eye. Gradually the mouth-juice of vowels, or mouth-chunk of consonants, gave body to poems in performance. Dylan Thomas showed the way. Charles Olson said that “form is never more than an extension of content.” Really, content is only an excuse for oral sex. The most erotic poem in English is ‘Paradise Lost.’”  --Donald Hall

3. I learned that guilt can still work on a short-term scale to motivate students to be quiet and listen.

4. I found out the deal with the apps you can add to Google Drive, and they are amazing. There is an online video editing app (WeVideo) in which students can collaborate on video projects. I'm still figuring it out, but I think it will work on some of our newer school computers.

5. I learned how to make and use QR codes.  And I incorporated them into what I think is going to be a fun assignment for class on Monday:  Our Mount Olympus Mixer.  The kids attend a business mixer playing the role of an ancient Greek god, goddess, hero or ruler.  They exchange business cards with a link and QR code to an online profile of their character.  Students can create simple profiles with our class wiki, or profiles on tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Instagram... whatever!!  So excited.

6. I learned I must add John Green to a higher position on my "to read" list.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Stories from School: Substitute Saga

If, in the classroom, I am (policy-wise) interchangeable with a man who walks in, hands out the papers, sits at the desk, points at the board and says "You know what to do," then what does that say about how the institution values me and other teachers?

This is the topic of my next installment of... Stories from School.

Comments welcomed!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Halloweening In Progress

Serious grading-time crisis.  No time to read papers.  I started five online communities in the past three weeks, though, and students have posted writing about neighborhoods, podcasts about themselves, book reviews. A group of students has voluntarily come together to write and talk about writing once a week for an advisory period.  Today we took a cue from Maurice Sendak and the illustrations where Max's room transforms into the forest.  We wrote about a familiar setting, and then transformed it. That was fun.  And I'm encouraged, because they want to sit all in one circle and have in-depth critical workshopping of their work. Yea! I'm excited.

Meanwhile... very little gets graded.

Because the other priority is making Halloween costumes. G's Steamboat Willie costume is coming along. He's going to be Steamboat Willie in black and white. How cool is that? We made him a plaster mask, and just have to paint it. The rest of the costume is ready to go. Except the shoes-- Goodwill Crocs covered in white felt, somehow. I will blog about that costume in detail when complete. I am so excited.

This is actually my daughter showing off the unfinished mask
 (with her bridal Minnie ears from the summer trip to Disneyland)
O is going as a vampire princess. Really, all princesses are vampires, because they suck the life's blood out of any other form of imaginative play a little girl might have. For example, look at the mouse ears she picked out. Princesses are all-consuming. So a princess vampire is fitting. I talked her into a sort of Victorian bustle, and she has a short train on the dress we got from Goodwill.  It'll almost be a sort of a steampunk vampire princess, if I can make the short little cape work over the bustle. I'm not much of a seamstress, so we'll see. I do better in plaster-maskage as a medium. But her veil with a red and black rose and a homemade papier mache/glitter tiara should be cool.

Me?  Athena.  In honor of kicking off Homer's Odyssey with my froshies.  Sneak peek... (I still need to fashion a helmet out of something somehow.  Cereal box and duct tape? Bubble wrap and papier mache?  We'll see.).  I also need to make a spear and shield.  I ordered an owl. 
I have to figure out how to attach the "cape/drape" to my shoulders, and shorten the fabric. 
Then on to making a helmet, and figuring out my hair.  Not bad, though!  Yea!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Things That Peeve the Living Blankety Blank Out of Me

1. The number of typos and amount of lazy typing I do now.  I am writing all day long at a furious rate.  I cannot believe the number of mistakes I make with commonly confused words (its/it's, your/you're, their/they're).  You don't understand.  I don't make mistakes like that.  I mean, I do now.  It must be the 17 years of looking at misspelled words.  These types of errors are only slightly more annoying than my old Blackberry randomly "correcting" my typing into things that are not words at all.  And then, now that I have the iPhone 4S, I can speak text messages.  But they have no caps and punctuation.  So.  There goes my ability to lord all these things over everyone else in the world.  But the tradeoff is quite an active online presence.  Whatever that's worth.

2. Our runty poodle, Markey (short for Skidmark, which has multiple references), who has to take his mouthful of food over to the nearest dominant personality and chew right in front of them.  He has terrible teeth, and eats very slowly, but he won't eat anything except dry kibble.  And he leaves little kibbles and bitten ends of kibbles all over the hard floor.  Feels like walking on tacks.  Or Legos.  Luckily, we have Roxy the Dachshund to run around and clean up the mess.  Except that she's very pushy, and prone to overeating, and usually ends up eating most of Markey's food before he can finish it.  So then we have to feed him little tablespoons of food at a time so he can keep eating.  Tonight, we tried putting Roxy in the dog crate while Markey finished eating.  She didn't eat Markey's food, but he walked over next to the cage and ate each mouthful right in front of the bars, stringing foot-stabbing bits of kibble all around the kitchen.  *sigh*

3. Fricking browser issues.  Why can't everything just work?  I hope we're all going through an awkward phase that will end soon.

4. The amount of money we pay each month to access information and data on all platforms:  cable, cell phone, internet access, Netflix, Kindle books.  It's really crazy, when you think about it.  But I don't want to cancel anything.

5. I have no time to grade papers.

More to come... there were things I was thinking of that I can't remember now.  Gotta go to school.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NaNoWriMo Multitasking

I'm (was) grading papers (a minute ago) (not yet).

I'm starting to get some ideas for NaNoWriMo.  Shall I post them here?  Even half-baked?

Will anyone join me on this literary terror-ride of obsessive indulgence in the imaginative?

My novel from last year still sits on my nightstand.  I re-ordered it into a notebook, but never did any revisions to the original document.  Such a mess.  I wonder what I would find if I re-read it?  Parallel "narratives," "real" and imagined, amputations, drownings, selkies, mother-daughter tension, romance, failed romance, coming of age and tsunamis.  Maybe it should have been a whole series.

OK, current ideas:  A school lockdown.  Students and teachers huddled along one side of a room.  Two teenagers stalking the halls with automatic weapons (or some kind of guns.)   Some characters get introduced in the classroom(s).  Not sure whom (who?).

It is revealed:  the school shooters are the Trelawney twins.  Not sure who these guys are before they do this... but... okay, so this part seems to have potential:  It turns out the neural pathways of the Trelawney twins' brains have been taken over by, basically, a computer virus.  It is an A.I. that, was developed at nano level to simulate the growth of various biological communities such as bacteria, virus, fungus (or something... need to research here).  They were using them in the biotech class to run simulations to study evolutionary biology.  Somehow the twins became infected.  So a rudimentary AI has combined its consciousness, which is focused mainly on survival of the species, with the consciousness of a teenage male, which, in its own way, is also extremely focused on survival of the species.  This whole dynamic worries me because I really don't want to get into issues of rape... but I'll have to figure out how I can not go there.  Still working out the details of how these two minds exist side-by-side in the same brain.

So, why have the twins shot some adults so far, but no students?  Perhaps a political statement?  Had they been somehow victimized?  No.  Turns out, for survival of the species, teenagers offer more potential as hosts than the adults, whose neural pathways are less plastic, more rigid, harder for the AI to work with.  Something about small children doesn't work out, but really that's irrelevant b/c teenagers were what was available in the location the AI escaped (the lab.)

At some point later in the story, as a possible escape plan, one of the girls in the classroom reveals that in fact, she is not a human, but a Cyborg, part human part robot.  Interesting:  Her brain is organic, but is occupied by an AI.  If she can convince the Trelawney twins that she is one of them, that she can help them, maybe she can get out of the classroom and find a way to help the students trapped in the school.

That's what I've got so far.

It could easily get out of hand, just like last year.  I need more characters.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Parenting Techniques

I promise he did this to himself.

Poodles, after all, are among the smartest breeds.  Even the runty ones, I suppose.  :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Moment of the Surreal

in our front yard

(The sounds are central to the surreal of the everyday in this very short video.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Get it off! Get it off!

Having had no luck in getting technical support for podcasting at school, except for our very generous newspaper teacher Mr. Bourland, I really hope I do not react as the child above during class fifth period tomorrow. I'm counting on my students' prior digital literacies... and their ability to coach each other through.

I took the photo outside of BICAS in Tucson last week when we went there to try to find training wheels for my daughter's bike.  Someone on FB asked me if it was Banksy, a street artist (in the U.K.?)  I doubt it, but at least now I know who Banksy is.  I like the idea of guerilla art.  I want to do something with that idea in my Creative Writing class this year. Somehow, without getting in trouble.

Okay.  Back to setting up my class wikis.  Here's one promising result of my online efforts with students:

Although, speaking of teachers having to resort to guerilla tactics in support of their students, check out this story about a middle school ban on student-to-student hugs. I'm sorry, but I would feel like the hugest jackass in the world writing up a student for giving a simple, friendly, supportive hug to another student.  That's ridiculous.    

Friday, October 5, 2012

Invisible Data. Stories from School.

My latest Stories from School blog entry for the AZK12 Center both recognizes the wealth of data that good teachers have about their students, and also questions the usefulness of that data outside of the classroom walls.

I have a really hard time staying under 800 words for these entries, but this one got a comment immediately.  Yea!

I definitely have more to say on the subject. When do I not have more to say?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What I Learned This Week(ish) #4

1. I made my first tres leches cake for my birthday.  I used Alton Brown's recipe, but converted the weights using this site.  I know better, of course.  There are good reasons for using weights vs. volume measurements.  However, the 9-volt battery in my kitchen scale was coopted by a child to be used in a racecar remote control. And now it's dead.

I only put the whipped cream on half at a time.  I was going to freeze the second half, but then I found folks to share with so I later ended up doing the whole thing.  Raspberries were my addition, but the cake is usually served with some kind of nut or berry garnish.
I am just learning to use my new iPhone camera, so this didn't focus quite right.  Going onto the bucket list: Photography class.
My cake was a little dry... I wanted more of the leches.  At El Charro Cafe, my model for tres leches cake, they serve it with extra of the milky glaze to drizzle over the top or pool around the cake for dipping. (They order from a bakery.  Once, I asked Tia Sandy how to get a recipe for it and she replied, "There are at least 25 ingredients in the thing.  Just order one!") I may have overdone the flour or sugar slightly.  I also might have overcooked it a bit.

I'm going to give it another shot, once I get a battery in my scale.  I need to wait for a very special occasion, though.  The stuff is so good it's practically lethal.  If you are borderline diabetic, don't make this cake.  It will take you the rest of the way.

Did I tell you I had a pretty interesting dream in which I won a date with Alton Brown?  Weird, because usually my dreams don't have that much of a plot. Unless being chased by someone/something and not being able to run fast enough counts.  Haven't had one of those in a while, though.  Anyway.

2. I learned that, indeed, as predicted, owning an iPhone AND a Kindle Fire has pretty much made a paradise out of life on Earth.  I'm fulfilled, and can now die happy.  Well, maybe if I had a few more iTunes and Amazon gift cards. And a good protective case for the phone.  And if my Kindle could get online at school, and if and weren't blocked.  And if it were easier to read the e-books from the public library on the Kindle.

I guess I can't die, yet. Anyway, my children still need me. Good times with them this week.

3. KSLG out of Humboldt County is a great radio station.  Once you get past all the advertisements for gro-lights and hydroponic systems, the music is great, and I love the community spirit of that area. If we have anything like that in Tucson and I just don't know about it, please, let me know.  I've been streaming it online ever since we got back.  On my Kindle through the TuneIn app.

4. Well, that's about enough for one week(ish).  It's Fall Break, after all, and my birthday week.  Can't be working too hard!