Sunday, December 31, 2006

2007 New Year's Resolutions Part 1

This is the time of year when everyone is thinking about the resolutions they want to make for the new year. I was trying to come up with a clever way of approaching the issue, so I did a little on-line research. There are many people clamoring for the chance to offer advice, but I found one site in particular to be an amusing source. The United States government has a few suggestions for New Year's resolutions. Can you believe this? The federal government! I was not aware that this was such a matter for public concern. Nevertheless, these resolutions are not too bad in a general kind of way:

1. Lose weight
2. Pay off debt
3. Save money
4. Get a better job
5. Get fit
6. Eat right
7. Get a better education
8. Drink less
9. Quit smoking
10. Reduce stress overall
11. Reduce work stress
12. Take a trip
13. Volunteer to help others

I feel very fortunate that I do not need to worry too much about 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, or 9. I also feel that 1 and 5 should be the same goal (to exercise), and that 10 and 11 can be combined into one goal. Therefore I find myself with some extra room on my list for more personalized goals. In reviewing my list from last year I see that several goals are met (take that evil Pro Cert!), but several other goals are still, ahem, on the table if you will. Tomorrow I will publish the new list.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

My 2006 Year In Review

On the whole, 2006 was a pretty darn good year. Sure there were some bumps along the way (aren't there always?) but nothing really major to complain about. 2006 was not quite as exciting as 2004 and 2005 in that we did not travel to the other side of the world, but this was our first year in our new house and that was pretty momentous. This is my personal year in review in no particular order:

1. New House--- I can't speak for M, but I am thoroughly pleased with our house purchase. Of course there are always changes and improvements we'd like to make, but over all it is a very good house. We enjoy the peace and quiet, the lovely backyard, the space to entertain, the indoor carparking, and just plenty of room to swing the proverbial cat (not that we would of course).

2. Grew The First Garden--- We the first one at the new house anyway. I really like having a yard again because I get to putter around with flowers and vegetables. I wasn't even sure a veggie garden would grow in our backyard because of the shadow of the house, but even the tomatoes made it. I'm already looking forward to next year.

3. Pulled Off Another Country Fair--- The fair is a family tradition going back before I was born, so it is nice that we are able to keep in up even though we are no longer printers. I love getting to camp with both brothers and enjoy all the tasty food. It's also fun to watch M enjoy them afresh.

4. Took Local Vacations--- We did enjoy the Oregon coast and Portland quite a bit. They may not be very exotic locales, but they are beautiful and easy to do in a long weekend.

5. Snowed My Mom--- The one sort of far away place we visited this year was Pittsburgh. This was part of a plan to surprise my mom with a trip to see my baby brother, JM. With a little help from our friends we managed to get her a little time off work. We told her we wanted to go out to dinner, and she didn't even bat an eyelash until we were getting out at the airport. What a great time! Pittsburgh is not nearly so rusted or icky as we thought. In fact, we really enjoyed ourselves.

6. Saw NYC--- It was a very quick trip, and we certainly did not see everything, but at least we can now say we've been to New York. It really is overwhelming in so many ways. I think we will need a return visit once we've saved up another small fortune to pay for the hotel room.

7. Positive Political Change!--- The election was not a complete sweep, but it did do a lot for my political outlook. I actually feel that there may be some hope on a number of fronts. However, as R likes to say, the Democrats are very good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

8. Finished Pro Cert--- For those who don't remember, the Pro Cert is an evil state requirement for keeping my job. I spent two years jumping through meaningless hoops and paying lots of money in order to prove that I wasn't a bad teacher. I finally jumped through the flaming hoop with spikes all around while wearing a blindfold and writing checks, and they decided I had passed. Now I am the proud owner of a PROFESSIONAL teaching certificate (as opposed to a nasty old provisional one) and I am allowed to go on with my career.

9. Survived Lock Down--- More than three hours laying on the floor in the dark was not my idea of a good time. At least it all turned out to be nothing.

10. Survived The Hanukah Storm Of 2006--- Three days without power seemed really long especially when the temperature in our house went down to 47 degrees F, but it turns out we were some of the lucky ones. I don't know how some people survived more than a week without light and heat.

That's it for the big memorable stuff. Did I forget anything important? I'm estimating that I also brushed my teeth about 1000 times too, but that kind of accomplishment just isn't very exciting. Let's hope next year is at least as good as this one.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Lavender Shortbread Recipe

Before Christmas a friend invited me to her house for a cookie baking party. She and her two small assistants were making a variety of Christmas goodies which sounded like the perfect way to revel in the holiday spirit. When I arrived with my bag of butter and sugar and such, I found them poring over a magazine of cookie recipes. We had a tough time choosing which cookies to make first, but eventually we settled on a few types.

Layered minty chocolate came first, followed by simple rolled sugar cookies, and the third one we decided to try was a type of shortbread. Now I have always been a fan of shortbread. It's just so delicate and subtle. There is even a charming Scottish saying about how every woman's fingers add a different flavor as she kneads in the butter (no! not because she forgot to wash!).

The only unusual thing about this recipe was the addition of two extra ingredients. Crystallized ginger and two heaping tablespoons of dried lavender are what makes this one unique. Tasting the end result was quite a treat. In my opinion the ginger is not really needed, but the lavender is truly a lovely flavor with the tender shortbread. Here is my favorite shortbread recipe with the lavender added in:

Lavender Shortbread
1 and 1/4 cups cold unsalted butter (or this actually does work with a good margarine too)
1/4 cup powdered sugar (lightly spooned)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (more if you like it sweeter, but I don't recommend it)
2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 TBS dried lavender (make sure it's food quality)

This is dead simple to make. Use a fork, a pastry cutter (this is the best method), or a food processor (if you're feeling sacrilegious) to blend the butter and sugar until pea-sized crumbs are formed. Add flour and lavender and continue to blend. The mixture will be crumbly. Press together with fingers until a ball of dough is formed. Roll out dough into a disc, and cut the disc into pie slice shapes. Dock the round of dough with a fork to prevent bubbles. Bake at 275 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour until golden brown. Do not give in to the temptation to bake at a higher temperature. Cool on a wire rack. Store in a tightly sealed container to preserve texture.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Blue Boxing Day

Boo, I hate the end of Christmas. Our holiday was lovely, and I am glad for all the good things, but I still feel a little blue. I think I am especially miffed this year because the storm and the power outage ate a good week of the holiday season for most of us up here. Many people are able to continue in the holiday spirit until after New Year's, but I am not very thrilled by that holiday. So it's time to take down the tree and wind up the lights and pack away the stockings. Now comes the part of winter about which I am less happy. The long gray days stretch from now until the first little dribs of sun start to come out in March (if we're very lucky) or May (if we really aren't). Oh well, I suppose I was getting tired of the muzak versions of all the Christmas carols anyway. I think I'll just go plant some garlic since that's the only gardening fun a person can really have in the end of December.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas 2006

"What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace." -- Agnes M. Pharo

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day. Their old familiar carols play. And wild and sweet the words repeat. Of peace on earth goodwill to men." -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve 2006

I hope everyone will have a warm and happy day today. We will start cooking Christmas Eve dinner soon, and most of the presents are already wrapped. The stockings are not yet hung by the chimney with care, but I will get to that before we go to bed. I do not plan to wear a kerchief as we have wonderful blessed electricity to keep us warm. Remember to listen for the click, click, click of reindeer hooves on the roof tonight, but don't peek or else there might be trouble.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Two Things

First of all, happy Hanukah to all. The first night of Hanukah was the day we were all reeling from the storm. The last night was yesterday. For some of the Jewish people in our region the significance of the holiday was powerfully reinforced by the situation (or so I am told). Everyone (Jewish and non) is certainly giving thanks for the light and the heat having been returned to us. An especially happy holiday to P, A, and S, and to my Dear Auntie E wherever she may have gotten to now.

Second, yesterday was also the first day of winter. The is somewhat hard to believe given the weather we've gotten during "autumn," but we are told that things should be calming down any time now. While I agree with the nieces that a white Christmas would be nice, I would be very happy not to lose any more school days to snow. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the stuff, but if we have to make up any more snow days at the end of the year, we will be there into July. As it is, the last day of school is scheduled for my birthday, and that is something that has never happened before in my memory.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Halleluja!

My baby brother arrived last night! Woo Hoo! The holidays may now begin! M and Big Niece accompanied me to the airport to pick him up. This was a doubly exciting event because Big Niece has never stayed up past midnight before last night. She gets very pale and very solemn when she is tired, but she is really quite a trooper. She was also thrilled by the adventure, and especially by the appearance of Uncle J at the end of it all. The next several days should be very good indeed.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hanukah Storm 2006 Part 3: Fun in the Dark

Three nights in the dark really changes your perspective on what counts as amusement. For example, tending the fire can be a really absorbing task when you don't have much else going on. A sink full of warm dishwater can be quite appealing when you are in no hurry to get on to something else (and its 50 degrees in your house). We spent quite a bit of time on conversational odds and ends, but even that gets tough when you are cut off from your usual sources of new information. My confidence in our compatibility is bolstered by the fact that we did not get on each others nerves even when we were stuck inside and huddled by the fire all that time.

The outage reminded me of how much in a hurry we usually are. When there are so many things that need doing, and so many amusements, you are constantly trying to wrap up and move on to the next. It was almost forcibly relaxing to not have another thing waiting. Nevertheless, I can see why TV seems like such a miracle in the third world. I find it pretty exciting too now that we have it back.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hanukah Storm 2006 Part 2

Only one more couple in our circle of friends is still waiting for power. It turns out that our 65 hours was not too bad when you compared to others. Some areas are not going back up until FRIDAY OR SATURDAY. I cannot imagine having another three or four days to go. I keep thinking over and over how lucky we are to have heat and light again. It reminds me how tough life must be for people who never have the help of electricity to get by.

This morning as I was leaving our neighborhood I saw a huge crane working on levering a massive tree out of a backyard. Fir trees have once again been the bane of our area. I have always believed that the shallow root system of firs was what caused them to fall so easily. However, a biologist recently pointed out to me that many of our native varieties have shallow roots. Therefore, the mystery of why they fall remains. Nevertheless, I do feel vindicated in my refusal to consider houses with tall skinny firs nearby. The realtor thought I was nuts (and I probably am) but it turns out I was right about the trees.

I will never forget the sight of a 50 foot plus fir tree broken off and fallen across the road. The only thing holding it up was the power lines it had crashed through on its way down. There were probably 20 feet of headroom between the tree and the road. Emergency services had placed a "road closed" sign just in front of the tree, but some clever, clever person moved the sign to the side, and everyone was just driving UNDER the tree and the (live?) power lines. Talk about taking your life into your hands. We are very lucky to have come out of this whole thing with so little trouble.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

December Storm 2006 Part 1

Computer access severly limited. Storm damage was not too serious, but our house lost power for almost three days. It was 48 degrees in our bedroom this morning. The kitties are NOT amused. We had to burn the old fence to stay warm. One tree was damaged, and lots of fence was lost. We are SO happy to have heat and light again. If you have the power and internet to read this you are one lucky person. More soon.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wet Car Update

This is the part I love about going to a dealer for service. Finding and fixing the leak cost about $260. Removing and dry-cleaning the carpet will cost more than $1100. Why so expensive? Because it will take more than 12 hours to remove and clean the carpet. The man just assumed that I was signing up for the entire job, and he was surprised when I said I wasn't so sure about the carpet. He warned me that it MIGHT start to smell if I don't replace the carpet. I asked if it would cause any body or mechanical damage, but he said no, it just might start to smell. For goodness sake! It's had leaks before and never gotten wiffy. I've had other water leaks in cars, and nothing horrible every came of them. If it starts to get smelly I plan to apply a bit of bleach and a heft sprinkling of baking soda. Baking soda only costs $.89 per box.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Car Puddle

For some time now my car has had a little problem with wetness. Not a big problem, mind you, just a damp patch on the floor when it rains really hard. It dries out quickly enough, and I've been lucky not to have any problems with mildew or stinky-ness. The odd bit is that there is no visible leak. The windshield is fine, the top seems sealed, and there is really no obvious way that the water is getting in. Three different mechanics have tried to find the problem without success. Mostly I've just lived with the problem, and been really glad that I had covered parking. Yesterday, however, things got quite a bit worse.

Washington may be the rainiest state in the U.S. (or is it Oregon?) but our rain is usually of the constant mist sort. It rarely pours for hours on end, but yesterday was special. I've never been in a proper monsoon, but I think it must be something like what we had. It was raining so hard that it was hard to see as you ran from building to building, and it did this for quite some time. Needless to say, when I went out to my car to go home I was not very happy. Instead of a little wet patch I found a two inch deep puddle of water on the driver's side. I sloshed my way home (even getting my cuffs wet in the process) and used beach towels to soak up the worst of the water.

Now I have accepted the need to do the unthinkable. I am taking my poor wet car TO THE DEALER! Normally I am loath to do this because I think they rip you off at every turn (I have many experiences to back this up) but I don't think I have a lot of choices at this point. Theoretically they will be able to find the leak because they know the ins and outs of this specific model of car. That or they will just spend 700 hours at $50 per hour inspecting each and every seam twice. Ouch, my wallet hurts already.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Burning the Midnight Cat Food

M had some extra work to complete one night last week, so he came home, had dinner with me, watched a little tv, and then went up to the office to work. Around 10:30 I kissed him goodnight and went to bed as usual. Everyone was comfortable with this plan except the cat. MY sweet little cat came up to bed with me and curled up next to my feet. HIS evil, evil, demon cat decided that if M was staying up then so was he. And he was thrilled about the idea of a late night. He went galloping up and down the hall, he attacked my feet, he jumped on the other cat. He generally went wild. The final straw was when he raced into the bedroom after midnight meowing bloody murder. M had to come take him into the office and shut the door. I ended up getting about three hours less sleep than usual that night, and I was not a cheerful person the next morning. People usually say they like keeping cats because they are quiet, unobtrusive, and do not cause much trouble. Obviously these people have not met our cat.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Holiday Cheer

Yesterday I finally put up the twinkle lights at our house! Of course I forgot to test them before putting them up (that would have required thinking ahead) so I was REALLY happy that they actually lit up when I plugged them in. I had actually forgotten from last year to this one that they are twinkle lights. I plugged them in and then got a nice surprise when they started to flicker. It is always a precarious job getting them up, but the pay off is definitely worthwhile. They look beautiful! The next step is to decorate the inside of the house. Operation get-a-tree is taking place this weekend. Winter holidays are invaluable for making you feel warm and happy during the middle of the gray season.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Democratic Potential?

With only two years to go before the 2008 presidential election, things are already kicking into gear. The furor over Hilary Clinton's potential (and likely) run is putting the spotlight on all Democrats. Bloggers, news outlets, and commentators are all falling over themselves with slates of possible candidates. Some, like Politics 1, have a veritable laundry list of potentials. They seem to include anyone and everyone who ever uttered a word about the presidency. To be fair, they do include a section on those who've said they will NOT run. Their may run list includes Hilary Clinton (of course), Evan Bayh, Joseph Biden, Christ Dodd, John Kerry, Barak Obama, Bill Richardson, and John Edwards. This is not an exhaustive list by any means.

Calling the odds for this slate is Polling Report. They have gathered together a number of public opinion polls about the popularity of some candidates. Their meta report makes for some very interesting reading, and it puts Hilary Clinton at the top of the list. Al Gore seems to be something of a spoiler in the polls drawing 10% or more depending on the poll. Given that he has denied a run, this is pretty high. I would vote for him in a second, but I doubt I will have the chance. My biggest concern about this slate is that none seem remotely like a slam dunk. We need someone who can actually win!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Kinder Gentler CIA?

Do the words cute and friendly come first to mind when you think of the Central Intelligence Agency? Perhaps a few people think this way, but I think most associate the CIA with secret assassinations and tortured confessions. For decade after decade this image seemed to be okay with the folks in government, but now it seems things are supposed to change. Apparently someone noticed the hard image and decided that the agency needed some softening up. The CIA website has undergone a facelift, and one of the newest features is a cute kid-friendly what kind of spy am I quiz. It turns out that I am a "thoughtful observer" so there could certainly be a place for me at the CIA.

In fact, it "takes all kinds" to run the agency, so visit the website today and consider a career in international espionage. You will probably end up pushing paper in an office somewhere, but if you are lucky you might get to try out drug or gun running, or you might have the chance to develop new and more creative forms of "interrogation". If you are really, really lucky you might end up a "hero" like Johnny Mike.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Christmas Quiz

Several months ago a new friend of ours, D, decided to pass around one of those "getting to know you" quizzes that float around in cyber space. Several of us had all sorts of fun reading each other's answers (the question "what kind of underwear are you wearing right now" got all sorts of interesting and creative answers). When I ran across this Christmas themed version of the quiz I knew it would be fun. There may not be any under garment-related questions, but at least it gets a person in the feel of the season.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Both and in large quantities please! Eggnog lattes are a good invention too.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Big important presents are just set under the tree, but smaller stuff is often wrapped by Santa. Strange that Santa’s handwriting is a lot like my mom and dad’s.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? White please. Call me a light bigot.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Down home in Oregon we don’t just hang the mistletoe; we shoot it out of treetops with our rifles.

5. When do you put your decorations up? I would put them up right after Thanksgiving. However, I’ve lived with one killjoy (my mom) and then another (M) so I have to wait until a bit later.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? Tamales! I’m not making this up. My dad’s family is from New Mexico, so it really is an old family tradition to make tamales for Christmas dinner.
7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: Christmas was 100% unadulterated magic in our house. I honestly can’t think of a single bad one.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? There is no “learn” about Santa; Santa simply is.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No NEVER! We must not give in to the foreign devils and their Christmas-Eve-present-opening ways!

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? We start with the lights and then we sort of hurl the other stuff on top.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Are you kidding? You mean fluffy white flakes of pure joy and time off work? Of course I love them.

12. Can you ice skate?! Yes, veeery slowly and close to the edge of the rink.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? My car is pretty memorable, but there have been SO many good things over the years.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you? It reminds me of that feeling you got when you were a kid and you were trying to get to sleep on Chirstmas Eve. Also M looks cute in the Santa hat.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? You name the marzipan creation and I will probably drool over it. Phefferneuse is good too. Also most kinds of pie and cookies. Maybe I can just live at the gym for the month of January.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Selecting and decorating the REAL tree is pretty good, but search through your stocking on Christmas morning has to be the winner.

17. What tops your tree? That depends on who wins the argument that year.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Giving would be the politic answer wouldn’t it?

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? I love Christmas music, but not Muzak, if you know what I mean. I’m quite fond of Santa Baby and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. If you ever have to listen to me sing around Christmas please as tolerant as possible. It makes me unreasonably happy to sing carols.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Tasting Words

The New York Times had a fascinating article a few days ago about people who suffer from a rare form of synaesthesia. Synaethesia itself is a condition wherein a person's senses become sort of cross-wired due to injury or birth defect. For example a person may see certain letters as tinged with an associated color, or they may hear certain words as musical notes. In this even rarer form, people actually experience sensations of flavor when they see certain words. One man they quoted hates to drive because certain words (presumably those on road signs?) make him taste earwax and pistachio ice-cream. Granted this could have a positive effect if you were able to discover words that created pleasant tastes. However, can you imagine what flavor words like unctuous, platitude, or outrageous might have?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Snow Pics 2006

Hey that rhymes! This is a sampling of the photos we took on our walk yesterday:

The house in all its snowy beauty. I have to keep reminding myself that rhodies are from the Himalayas so they can probably handle this chill.


The shrubbery in our front yard was practically buried! Hee! Hee! I said "shrubbery"! Perhaps Roger the Shurbber will appear.



This tree branch is determined NOT to give in. Never submit! Never surrender!



This is the reason I declined to drive my ultra-light, two-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, soft-top car out the last few days. The dark bits represent about an inch of ice over the road. It is tough even to walk across these stretches.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Snow and Also ICE!

Wow! I think perhaps Jack Frost was listening when my kids wrote persuasive letters begging for snow. We got snow in a big (for us anyway) way. Accumulations varied from a dusting to six and seven inches. We are a bit up above sea level, so we were on the more end of things. However, it was not just the snow that cancelled school today. When we went to bed last night it was snowing beautifully. When we got up this morning it was one big sheet of ice. The highest temp. around here today was only about 28 degrees, so even though it was beautiful and sunny, not much had the chance to melt.

They decided to cancel school for tomorrow at about 5pm today. This is unheard of because officials for our district usually wait for the absolute last moment always hoping for some sort of miraculous heat wave. Even they could see the ice in the streets today. We will pay for this in June when we have to make up the days, but I can't help enjoying the novelty and the time off.

I refuse to set foot in a car (my car is pretty much the worst ice vehicle out there) but many people are happily flying around on the ice. These people are stupid (I've done a fair amount of snow and ice driving so I feel I can say that). The road outside our house is literally an untreated sheet of ice, and yet many different types of cars are just zooming along out there. The news is littered with footage of people spinning out, hitting each other, or just sliding out of control. Snow tires (not to be confused with chains, studs, or ice tires) are not very helpful on ice. Many all-wheel/four wheel drive people are surprised when they slide off the road, but they don't help much if none of your tires have traction. There is no substitution for going slow. If you just don't build up the speed you don't have to find a way (or a wall) to brake it later.

Pics to follow (I hope)

Monday, November 27, 2006

No Snow Day

The disappointment is as bitter as the weather here at school. The kids (and I) were teased by cold temperatures and snow falling thickly yesterday. Many of us thought that we would get at least a late start and maybe even another day off. Come 6am the truth came out that it had not snowed past about 10pm, and the roads were clear. School was on as usual. Now the temperature is hovering around freezing, the predictions are for more snow (60% chance the last time I looked), and all eyes are turned towards the windows. If youthful prayers and wishes have any power the snow will be falling any moment now. Personally I'm all for snow, but I would prefer if it would hold off until I get home because I already had on harrowing drive this morning.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hooray for Vacation!

I love my job, but I love vacation too. As soon as that bell rang on Wednesday I was as happy as the kids. The benefits of sleeping in, doing exactly as you please, and taking it slow cannot be overstated. Yesterday we slept late, went to the gym, browsed around a bookstore, and then went to dinner and a movie with friends. That has got to be one of the nicer ways to spend a day. Tomorrow, of course, is the last day of this four day weekend, and that is sad. However, it is only a few weeks until Christmas :)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thinking of Thanksgiving

Today in school everyone is feeling pretty antsy and excited about the upcoming holiday. In an attempt to salvage some of their attention, and to honor the holiday itself, I asked the kids to do a writing activity about thankfulness. They were to write a list of 100 things they were thankful for in no particular order. I showed my own list as an example, and I reminded them to be creative and think of all five senses. I also encouraged them not just to include the obvious entries like friends and family, but to also think about the small things that make life good. We agreed to try and think about the "nooks and crannies" of daily life as well as the other stuff. Here is a sampling of my list:

1. Soft white snow
2. Red leaves in autumn
3. Sunday newspapers
4. Music
5. Flannel PJ's
6. Great books
7. All kinds of pie
8. A good job
9. Disneyland
10. Thai food
11. Mt. Rainier
12. The library
13. Tea!
14. Vacations
15. Raspberries
16. The smell of fresh-cut grass
17. The beach
18. Camping
19. Jeans and tennies
20 Family and friends

Monday, November 20, 2006

Screaming For Power

Last week our area experienced high winds and lots and lots of rain. Rivers were rising over their banks, debris was being blown around, and many trees were toppling over. We were lucky to be up high, so the water was not too much of a problem, but the wind still managed to make things interesting. A tree fell over in our front parking lot hitting four cars (though luckily not doing much damage), and the power was switching on and off all day.

Middle School students absolutely love change from the normal routine. In fact, any kind of unexpected change usually sends them into a screaming, giggling, jabbering fit. The power situation was certainly no exception. The first time the power went out I was in the hall before classes. The moment it went dark I was surrounded by the sound of 930 children screaming at the tops of their lungs. A few minutes later the lights came back on, and there was a collective sigh.

Once classes started I carefully explained to my students that power outages are actually bad things for them because we don't get first priority on going home. A massive outage can cause schools to be closed, but since share our busses with three elementary schools we do not get to go straight home. Imagine that the school day is canceled due to an outage at 9:30am, it takes about two hours to get the little kids home, and another hour to get all the busses back and loaded. This means the earliest pick up would be around 12:30pm. We would get to sit in the dark, getting colder and colder, for THREE HOURS with NO LUNCH other than PB and J. I explained all this to them, and they agreed that it sounded not fun.

A few minutes later the power went out again and, you guessed it, they all screamed their heads off. Logic is not always their strong suit. The power came back on again a few minutes later. You begin to see the pattern. Very little work actually got done that day, but still no one got to go home early. If the power is going to go out again, I would really prefer it go at night so they can cancel school BEFORE everyone arrives. I'm not sure my ears can take another day like that one.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I Love NY (but it smells)

Whew! We're back from a whirlwind trip to the East Coast! We packed as much as possible into four short days, but I still feel like I've only seen a tiny portion of it all. There is just so much to see on that one tiny island (we never left Manhattan). I feel like I spent the entire trip looking up at things with my mouth hanging open. We saw:

1. Times Square (all nice and sparkly)
2. Statue of Liberty (smaller than expected but still beautiful)
3. The subway (smelly)
4. Grand Central Station (incredible ceiling they have there)
5. The NYC public library (it makes you want to weep for joy)
6. The subway (very smelly at times)
7. Central Park (wonderful)
8. Canal Street (many things to buy but no room in my luggage)
9. The Farris Wheel at Toys 'R' Us (how fabulous is that?)
10. The subway (not only smelly, but also full of very glum-looking people)

We did not get to go to the Russian Tea Room or a Broadway show or to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or a number of other things, so we certainly need to go back sometime. Next time we will ride the subway SOME of the time, and we will occasionally save time by riding in an actual taxi. However, it was a great chance to get our feet wet and to hang out with the family. One more major American destination to check off the list!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Victory?

I hestitate to be completely delighted about the election just yet. Once everything is signed, sealed, and delivered I will believe that we've made a sweep, and we can break out the irrational exuberance. My friend T sent my this perfectly marvelous comic. I haven't enjoyed a comic so much in about six years:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Political Success?

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not (John 1:5)

Thank goodness for the fact that the light has indeed begun to shine in the political darkness. We may not have made a sweep of the whole thing, but the situation is definitely improved. The jury is still out on the senate, but no matter which way it falls, it will be much more difficult for Republicans to simply ram their agenda home. Whether Bush really is comprending it not is now up for debate since Rumsfeld has resigned, but it will take some time before we really see how he responds to the change.

Races in the final two states are still undecided, but both counts had slight leaning in the left direction the last time I looked. Oh please! Oh please! Oh please! Retaking both the house and the senate would go far to lightening my political mood, and it's been crummy for SUCH a long time now.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Election Day Tomorrow

Oh please! Oh please! Oh please! I may be an atheist, but I'm still offering a heartfelt prayer to any gods who may be listening! Election Day is tomorrow, and I will most certainly be heading over to the voting booth as soon as school gets out. I'm just hoping that about 100 million other Democrats decide to do the same thing. Winning back the house would be great, but winning house and senate would be fantastic. Of course there are other possible outcomes too, but they don't bear thinking about. As R likes to say the Democrats do have a knack for snatching defeat from jaws of victory. Oh please! Oh please! Oh please!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sad :(

My poor old dog died on Friday. We took her to the vet becuase of a persistant cough, but the vet took an x-ray and found things to be not good. We wondered if we might be able to wait a bit since she still seemed to have happy moments, but the vet said she was probably having a lot of trouble breathing. "Labs have a big heart. They try really hard to stay cheerful, but life can't be very nice for her anymore." Above all we didn't want her to be suffering for no reason. They let us stay with her the whole time, and I was feeding her cookies as they did their work. She went so quickly quickly that she never got to finish the last cookie. I'd had her since I was sixteen. She was a great dog, and she did have that big lab heart.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Playing With Pumpkins

Pumpkins are one of those things that make me feel great about fall. Somehow they manage to convey this feeling of cheerful warmth that really makes this idea of fall (and the end of summer) an acceptable thing. Back when I was a college student my route home used to take me past a huge field of pumpkins being grown for a Mrs. Smiths Pie plant nearby. It was always quite a sight just before they were picked.

Now we have to go to Fred Meyer instead of the back yard or the farm stand, but at least we still get the pumpkins. This year M and I went and selected several good ones. Choosing a good carving pumpkin is not a task to be taken lightly. Color, skin texture, flat spots, grooving, stem, and heft are all parts of the selection process. Plus, you have to make certain that the pumpkin actually sits flat on the ground and doesn't flop over. Some people prefer the more oblong shapes because they are more head-like, but I always go for the classic squat ones becuase they look the most traditional. Having a nice curling stem is definitely a bonus.

Once we'd chosen our bunch we took them home for carving. The nieces were kind enough to join us for this task, so it was one pumpkin per person with Grandma L there for moral support (I think Grandma L has already had her lifetime supply of pumpkin guts, so she was quite happy not to have her own).

First we cleanded; then we carved. Little niece informed me (with a serious gleam in her eye) that cleaning is fun "because of the squiiiiiish." She needed a little help with cutting the top open (that does take muscle on a big pumpkin) but then she was off and away. Big niece used the BIG knife to cut hers open all by herself (thank you very much) and she actually did a great job. One of the nice things about her is that she is safety obsessed, so you don't have to worry quite as much.

Carving was a good time too, and everyone approached the task a little differently. M had purchased a pumpkin carving kit, so he and the nieces had all sorts of interesting tools to work with. I stuck with the paring knife for mine. Over all the results were quite good. M created a work of squash art while the rest of us made silly faces. A good time was had by all.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

R is a god

I hit up all my flexibly scheduled friends to help with the essay grading party at school. R was the only one who was available, so he joined me and seven other teachers at the grading table. Firsts he went through the fun of a background check, and then he had to get up early, struggle through traffic, and find a parking place near our crowded campus. Finally, he helped us grade 307 essays TWICE. Don't forget that these were essays written by a bunch pre-teens, so they were sometimes a challenge to read or understand. Like I said, R is a god. We will reward him with birthday cake.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween

Happy Halloween! We are looking forward to our first year as a candy giving house in a kid-rich neighborhood. Yet another hallmark of being a grown up I guess. We hope to get lots of kids because otherwise we will have waaay too much candy laying around the house just waiting to be eaten. Here's a poem about the ancient pagan festival of Samhain. Some say that it is from Samhain that Halloween is derived.








Between the heavens and the earth
The way now opens to bring forth
The Hosts of those who went on before;
Hail! We see them now come through the Open Door.
Now the veils of worlds are thin;
To move out you must move in.
Let the Balefires now be made,
Mine the spark within them laid.
Move beyond the fiery screen,
Between the seen and the unseen;
Shed your anger and your fear,
Live anew in a new year!-
Lore of the Door

Monday, October 30, 2006

Tomatoes Galore!

Well the growing season is definitely over for this year. My mom helped me strip the last green fruits off the plants last weekend, and I am crossing my fingers that they will deign to ripen. All told I had more than sixty tomatoes from my four plants, but the production was not evenly divided. I had one Early Girl that became the monster of the garden and sort of pushed some of the other plants to the side. It produced MANY smaller fruits with good flavor and a pleasant texture. I also had two "heirloom" varieties that were supposed to produce unusual-looking fruit. One was supposed to be striped and the other was supposed to have dark to black skin. These were a bit of a disappointment. One produced hardly anything, and what did grow was the normal reddish color. The other produced a few very large fruits, but these were bright golden yellow instead of black. The flavor was watery and the texture was actually kind of fibrous and tough. I worked out the math for our garden this year. I believe we spent about $200 on wood for the boxes, soil, plants, stakes, and other goodies. We got about sixty tomatoes, five or six cucumbers, several handfuls of lettuce, ten or twelve onions, and a whole lot of nice flowers. Over all, we probably paid a very high price for our produce, but I am not at all upset. The pleasure I get from doing the gardening is definitely worth the price. The straight-off-the-vine taste is pretty good too.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Autism and TV?

Anyone who has ever seen a truly autistic kid in action cannot help but be struck by the impact it can have on nearly every part of normal life. Even moderately autistic kids often have very unusual behaviors because they are hyper-sensitive to one or more sensory inputs. This means that some kids can't stand any more than dim light, while others are driven mad by the feel of their own clothing against their skin. Still others are unable to modulate emotions to the point where every minor mishap or sorrow is a major event. In short, living with autism is no picnic.

Unfortunately diagnosis and treatment are not easy for this condition because no one is exactly certain what physical problem exists or what might have caused the problem in the first place. There are a million and one guesses but few good answers. For many kids the "treatment" is to try and learn to cope with a brain that is very differently wired than most.

As it turns out, Washington State has one of the highest rates of Autism in the country (about one in 167 children). Some believe this is due to better diagnostic screening our state. Others claim it has to do with the high tech industry which may attract mildly autistic (and therefore highly focused) workers. Whatever the reason, autism is a very real issue for our state school system.

Recently Slate carried a fascinating article about one autism study. Number crunchers and doctors have long suspected that TV viewing in the earliest years of life may have some impact on the development of the brain. However, it has always been very tough to prove this theory since you're generally not allowed to use human toddlers as lab rats. However, one scientist had a brilliant idea. Knowing that TV viewing goes up when the weather gets cold, what if he looked at a few very cold years in a given area to see if rates of Autism increased? His results are pretty striking.

Tracking one group of kids who went through the cold spells as toddlers he found dramatically increased rates of autism. Other kids, who did not experience very cold weather, were much less likely to develop autistic symptoms. Of course, none of this counts as "conclusive" evidence that TV can lead to autism, but it certainly does make you stop and think about all those two year olds out there watching hour after hour of Tellitubbies (designed specifically for the under two set) and cartoons.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I Do NOT Heart Copland

As part of our season with the SSO we recently attended a concert featuring pieces by Rachmaninov, Mendelson, and Copland. Normally R warns us beforhand of the things we are likely to enjoy versus the things we might find "challenging" or even "polarizing." He is usually right on the money, and this performance was no exception. The Rachmaninov WAS challenging, but satisfying largely because the pianist was so good. The Mendelson was, without question, absolutely beautiful. Then there was the Copland. Ugh. It sounded like, I don't know, a sort of jazz-themed orchestral piece that had been put into a blender and roughly chopped. Granted, I am a musical idiot, but I could not detect any kind of theme or melody for more than about 30 seconds. I found it incredibly frustrating to say the least. Even R, who is a big fan of frustrating music, was not overly fond. Add to that, the only other Copland I've heard consists of '50s era western music (think beef) and I am not a fan.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Please Just Don't!

I just witnessed something quite horrible. Our two school councilors just gave a presentation about sexual harassment to my class. On the surface, this seems like a good idea as it is a very important subject. However, the way the chose to present the issue was very unfortunate. Instead of just discussing the problem and giving examples they decided to act out some scenes. They pretended to be middle school students for about thirty minutes of role-playing, and they used all the words and phrases that they thought were representative. Remember, these are two white women in their thirties wearing cute blouses and slacks. Hearing the words "homie" and "dawg" and "peeps" coming out of their mouths was incongruous to say the least. The part where they pretended to be two boys "from the hood" was the absolute worst. The polite kids were snickering behind their hands, and you can just imagine what the impolite kids were doing. To make things worse, they don't realize how awful they are. One of them complimented me as she left the room in having a class that was "really willing to participate." It took everything I had to go back to class with a straight face and continue with our normal lesson.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dog 2.0

On of the vastly amusing parts of being a middle school teacher is the excuses they come up with for not doing the things they are supposed to do. Both kids and their parents will tell you the most amazing whoppers with a completely straight face and expect you to swallow it whole. In many cases they believe their own stories, so it becomes very tough to bring them around. In other cases though, they're just grasping at anything they can think of on the spot.

Me: Why haven't you turned in your work?
Kid: You didn't give me the assignment!
Me: Yes I did. In fact I've given it to you three different times, and I can see a copy poking out of your binder right now.
Kid: Oh THIS assignment! You didn't say THIS assignment!
Me: Did you do it?
Kid: Yes of course I did it!
Me: Could you turn it in so I can give you credit?
Kid: No!
Me: Why no? Is the assignment not finished?
Kid: I finished it!
Me: Could I see it then?
Kid: No! It's at home!
Me: Could you bring it in tomorrow?
Kid: No! Mrs. H (our principal) won't let me!
Me: I find it hard to believe that Mrs. H would prevent you from bringing your homework to school.
Kid: Well she won't!
Me: Why?
Kid: Because she says I can't have my laptop in class.
Me: Is the homework on your laptop?
Kid: Yes!
Me: Could you print it out for me?
Kid: No! Mrs. H is the one who won't let me bring it in! I don't have a printer cable at home!
Me: Could you email it to me?
Kid: No! Mrs. H is SO mean!
Me: Mrs. H is just following the school rules of no laptops at school. Why can't you email this to me?
Kid: Because I don't have an email cable!
Me: An email cable?
Kid: To email from my laptop! Mrs. H is so mean!
Me: How did you plan to turn this in if you did it on a laptop that couldn't print or send email?
Kid: I was going to bring in my laptop and SHOW you the work! But Mrs. H is...
Me: Mrs. H is not being mean to you. You must turn in a physical copy of your work, and if your laptop can't produce a physical copy you must do it BY HAND.
Kid (turning pale): By hand! My dad and I will fight this! I can't do the work BY HAND! You and Mrs. H are so mean!
Me: Go sit down and get out a piece of notebook paper. I will be over in a moment to get you started on making up this assignment.
Kid: You are SO mean! I want my laptop! Mrs. H is so mean! I want my laptop!
Me: If you cannot be quiet and get started you will be going to see Mrs. H with a major (disciplinary action) in your hands.
Kid: Squeak!
Me: NOW!
Kid: Fine, but you are so mean. Mrs. H is so mean. I want my laptop! My dad will....

He turned in the assignment (written out by hand I might add) and I haven't heard another thing about the laptop. The weird part is that he is now my good buddy, and comes in early every class period to say "hi" and get started. Our old councilor had a theory about kids being relieved when you create boundaries for them because it shows that you care about what happens to them. On the other hand, he may just realize that excuses are not going to get him anywhere with me. After all, I AM the meanest teacher EVER!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Demonic Democrats

Warning! Liberal politics ahead! My most favorite thing to hate lately is the Republican take on the Mark Foley scandal. Now Mark Foley is, inarguably, a Republican. He's been caught doing something really untoward, and it seems that prominent Republican leaders knew and did nothing about his behavior. This would appear to be a Republican problem, and the best strategy to deal with it would be for the party to hang Foley out to dry while decrying anything and everything he ever did. However, some Republicans have decided to put another spin on the whole thing.

Katherine Harris (who should be first against the wall when the revolution comes) is one of several Republicans who have asserted that Mark Foley is, essentially, the fault of Democrats. Why? Because she says that Democrats knew about Foley and sat on the information until the election season came around. Since crazy insane accusations are her specialty we should not be surprised, but I still can't quite wrap my mind around the gall of it all. Oh, not that it matters to them, but there is not a single shred of published evidence to support the claim that Democrats knew anything about Foley until the story broke. This from the lovely folks who had an absolute fit over Monica who was a consenting adult. How do you spell hypocrisy again?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Love Letters

Some adults claim that the medieval novel, Catherine, Called Birdy, is too "salty" for young readers. They base this claim on the pregnant teenager, the mention of bodily functions, liberal use of mild curse words, and the cavalier attitude towards sex in general. However, many of us argued that the book was an accurate representation of attitudes at the time, so it was reasonable to use it as a teaching tool even though it may be a little shocking at times.

Fortunately (if you ask me) we were able to get the book, so I am now in the process of reading it with my classes. We are having a great time to say the least. Before we started the novel I told them that some people were not sure they were old enough to read it. Of course the thing middle schoolers hate more than anything is to be told they are too young for something, so this made them really determined to read the book. Every time we come to something shocking (such as Sir Rollo pissing on the fire) they smirk in a very pleased way as if to say "see, I can take it." The one thing that makes them a little uncomfortable is the regular mention of romance. This is not sex we're talking about, but romance of the old-fashioned, lutes and flowers, love poem, kisses- under-the-moonlight type. That is the one thing that makes some blanch and others blush.

Knowing this, I decided to stretch their comfort zones just a little bit. Last week I assigned them the task of finding all the unique and unusual language the author has used in the novel. They found colorful phrases such as "grumbles my guts" and "God's thumbs!" along with the usual terms such as kirtle, rushes, dirk, and the ever popular privy. Next, I asked them take on the role of one character and write a love letter to another character. I told them they were free to be as flowery and over the top as they liked as long as they used language from the book. For a little while they hemmed, hawed, and harrumphed, but pretty soon they were working in earnest. The results were delightfully awful and over the top, and they were clamoring for the chance to read them out loud.

"Dear Aelis, your eyes twinkle like twinkly sparkles in the night sky."

"Dear George, you are like a flummery all sweet and fruity."

"Dear Aelis, you are my dear sweetums and it grumbles my guts that you are far away."

"Dear George, I miss your hair as yellow as the snow. Please don't give yourself an ale head over me."

"Dear Aelis, I spend all day in the privy wishing to see you again!"

"Dear Georgikins, my guts are grumbled and I can't wait to see your comely face again. You are the sweet, sweet, sweet, dearest!"

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Big Tv

Imagine this: M and I are in Costco, and we are standing in the electronics department in front of a really big TV. There are other men surrounding the TV as well. I can't actually see the drool (thankfully) but I get the feeling that it may be there. I say "well it's your money, but do we really NEED a new TV?" he turns away from the massive screen "we don't NEED one, but look at that picture. Listen to that sound!" He's clearly hooked.

We don't actually buy a new TV on that day, but it does get him started on the hunt. Every once in a while we head into an electronics store to see how their merchandise compares. We look at all different types and all different sizes. It turns out that TV's range in price from about $90 (the kind I foolishly thought was good enough for my apartment) to the price of a small car. Fortunately for me I do not have one of the most classic TV purchasing struggles. M is a sensible man and does not even look at the massive 50-inch-and-up models. We wander the aisles, dodge scary and hyper-intense salesmen, and try to tell which one is best.

We end up back at Costco (nearly salesman free!) and finally buy our very own BIG TV. I have to admit that I am now quite addicted to the sharp picture and the movie-like sound, so I can't complain too much about the purchase. However, I did laugh the last time I was in Costco and I heard a couple talking. Him: Look at that picture! Her: Honey, our old TV is still perfectly good...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Parent Night

Parent, aka curriculum, night was a few weeks ago. This is one of those teacher duties to which we do NOT look forward. Our primary complaint with the whole thing is the sixteen hour day. Granted, we do get two hours off in the middle, and that does help, but it is still an exhausting experience. The other thing that gets us a little tetchy is the fact that we do not actually transmit any new information to the parents who come to see us.

All the guidelines, and subjects, and bits, and bobs about our classes are included in the paperwork we give out at the beginning of the school year. Ah, you might be thinking, perhaps they come to ask questions about the curriculum! No, in fact, the principal tells them at the start that this is not the time to ask questions, and they should make a conference if they want to do that. Nope, there is no real informational component to parent night. The real reason so many parents come out to see us on work night is because they want to take a look. They want to actually lay eyes on the person who is teaching (or tormenting if you ask some of them) their child.

Now I admit that there are two very good reasons for this desire. First, I should be happy for this demonstration of interest and concern for the educational process. Second, I should be able to see how important it is for the parents to feel secure about who is spending hours and hours a week with their children. Both of these are excellent points, and I can completely understand them. In truth, I probably wouldn't cancel parent night even if I could. However, I don't think I will ever quite escape the feeling of being a monkey on display at the zoo. Perhaps next year I should scrap my PowerPoint presentation and eat ants from a log instead.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

New Fish!

Sadly my old goldfish, Quin the Quintessential Koi, gave up the ghost about a month ago. We'd been together since I was a sophomore in college, so it was a bit hard. Nevertheless, he had lived a good, long, goldfishy life. M kindly buried him in the backyard (he was waaaay to big for the toilet) and put a big rock over him to keep the cats away (you know it's true love when a man buries dead things for you). I cleaned the tank and let things stand, dry and empty, since then.

This morning we decided it was time to remedy the situation. With my mom and my nieces along for company (and expert advice if you ask Big Niece) we went to the special fish store near our house. We saw all sorts of fancy saltwater fish, spiny mini-lobsters, snails, crabs, and even a clown fish JUST like the ones in the movie. The goldfish section is off in the corner because they are not considered very impressive by "serious" fish people. We don't care; we like goldfish. We had a hard time deciding, but we finally settled on a Red Cap Oranda and a classic little Fantail. We've named them Satsuma and Clementine because they both have coloring like a tangerine. Hopefully these will be as beautiful and long-lived as Quin.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sad State of Affairs

Every year, during the first few weeks, I ask my new students to write a letter of introduction to me. I get all kinds of letters about all kinds of things, but this year I got one of the sad ones. One of my kids is of "Persian" (as he puts it) decent, and he still has a large family including grandparents still living in Iran. This summer he went to visit them which was very exciting. He also got to bring home a kitten from a special line bred by the family, and that was even more exciting. However, the fun stopped when they landed back in the United States. His letter tells about how the family was immediately pulled aside for questioning, how he and his brother were taken away to separate rooms, and how the TSA people questioned him for more than three hours. He is TWELVE YEARS OLD! What the heck do these people think he is going to tell? The fact that he is a minor and an American citizen did not seem to make any difference. Later, he said they actually accused his brother of having a bomb. If he had a bomb wouldn't he have blown it up WHILE HE WAS ON THE AIRPLANE? I feel so much safer knowing that little boys are being separated from their mothers and grilled for hours. I'm certain that is making all the difference in the war on terror.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Flaming Chickens

We are studying The Middle Ages in our Humanities class. We are learning about the lack of hygiene, the importance of the church, the poor quality of the food and the healthcare, and the importance of loyalty in the feudal system. We are also learning about the dangers and potential military applications of flaming chickens. One of our books tells a story about a chicken scratching too close to the fire, setting her feathers alight, and then burning half the village as she ran madly around.

The piece is supposed to be funny and to illustrate the problems with sticks and daub as building materials. However, our discussion quickly veered off course when someone suggested that flaming chickens might be good for breaking a siege. Why not pitch them over the wall, and let them burn the enemy out. This, of course, caused outrage among the more tender-hearted girls in our class who feel that chicken abuse is not acceptable. How anyone could think that school is boring I will never understand.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Primary Update

Note: My purpose in the previous post was not to criticize people who did not have the chance to vote. I was merely pondering the question about different voting systems.

A friend of mine pointed out recently that many people do not vote in the primaries if they feel that their party is not really having a contest. Maria Cantwell's race is a good example of this because she was never really in danger from any of her challengers. Therefore, if you are a Democrat you might just decide to let the whole thing ride until Election Day when your vote will really be needed. This may be a fine theory but there is at least one big flaw. In this election we had several judgeships up for grabs as well as the other races. I was very surprised to discover that judgeships in Washington State (again according to my very clever friend) are often awarded in the primaries without any further contest in the November election. In our most recent primary we had four different judicial "races" and three of them were decided on that day (the last one went to a November run-off). Given the amount of power judges have been exercising lately these positions really do count for something significant. The tough part is in getting good info on which judges best represent your opinions. Endorsements are helpful, but hardly enough to feel you've made an informed decision.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Paltry Primaries

Earlier this week we had the primary elections in Washington State, and let me just say that the polls did not seem overly crowded when I stopped by. It turns out that a grand total of about 95,000 people cast votes in our state. This works out to about eleven percent of all registered voters. Eleven percent! And that is just of registered voters. Voter apathy is a major problem in the U.S. political system where even major races are considered "high turn-out" when only fifty or sixty percent of voters cast ballots. Of course, other countries face this problem too, and that has led some to impose a fine on all voters who don't show. In most cases this increases turn out dramatically, but many people argue that this is not always a good thing. If we force people to vote on subjects about which they are not informed, we may be surprised at what we get by way of results. The founding fathers thought they had solved this question by only allowing rich, white, male citizens to vote, but that philosophy had certain, ahem, flaws. What do you think? Is it better to "encourage" the masses to cast a vote, any vote, as a way of ensuring the health of democracy? Or should we let the few, the bored, the opinionated, the (hopefully) well-informed to make the choices?

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Wilde Rover

I am lucky enough to be a member of the world's most entertaining book group. Most recently we read The Importance of Being Earnest because we felt we should read some classics along with our more modern fare. One clever member of the group noticed a new pub in Kirkland that she thought would be just perfect for our September meeting. Why so perfect? Its name is The Wilde Rover. We all gathered there on a Sunday afternoon to chat, discuss our book, and try out the array of tasty pub treats. We were not remotely disappointed. In proper pub fashion "chips" were of the fried potato variety, and they will serve them either normal or curried. I think perhaps my new favorite evil indulgence is curried chips. Next we tried the vegetable pasty which was very tasty indeed, and finally we had the Irish Nachos. Now this last one was a little weird since it consisted of all the usual nacho toppings on, you guessed it, crispy American-style potato chips. I can't say I was a huge fan of this recipe, but two out of three really isn't bad. Another great feature of this pub is the smoke-free environment. Oh wait! That's right! All restaurants in Washington are now smoke free! Woo Hoo! Anyway, I highly recommend this place if you want a pleasant and very "pubby" experience.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Magazine Mania

It's that time at school once again. The magazine drive is here. We only have one fundraiser at school all year long, and this is it. A few days ago we had the assembly where the incredibly-charming-yet-oily salesman made his pitch and showed off the FABULOUS prizes kids could earn if they sell enough magazine subscriptions. This is one loud assembly because the kids are allowed to show their enthusiasm for the prizes as they are announced. You are pretty close to deaf by the time it is over, but it does give you the chance to find out (based on noise level) which are the most exciting prizes. I do have to say that salesman guy does know his stuff. The kids are warm towards a box of caramel apple pops. They are yelling and clapping about a tiny refrigerator that cools six cans of soda. They are yelling and screaming over a stuffed hamster that sings "Kung fu Fighting" and wiggles to the tune. They are screaming and jumping out of their seats for, get this, a tiny version of an office water cooler. Yes, that's it, the kind that goes "glub, glub" when you fill the little paper cup. There is no sense behind the things they want. A cheap plastic bouncy ball that probably costs the magazine company less than a dime is worth major scrambling when thrown into the crowd of kids. At least they had the good sense to ohh and ahhh over one of the top prizes, and X-box 360 with several games. I hate watching (and listening) to their naked greed, but you can't blame them too much because the whole process is designed to capitalize on just those urges. I guess I should be happy that they earn money (A LOT of money usually about $90,000) for school activities such as clubs, sports, equipment, and so on, but it still is not my most favorite part of the school year. Next time I need to remember to borrow a pair of the good noise-canceling headphones from woodshop.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Early Autumn

Like a knife through a melon
autumn slices summer


This is a quote is from a poem by a Chinese poet of the eighth century. More than twelve hundred years later it still sums things up quite nicely. The rain is here, it can't be more than sixty degrees outside, and everyone is feeling the change. A few red leaves might make the situation easier to take, but they won't be out for some time yet. Even the squirrels seem sleepy.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Educational Video Game is NOT an Oxymoron

As most everyone probably knows, we have new social studies curriculum this year. This means that all of us teachers are frantically trying to stay three jumps ahead of the students on information and activities. We all read the textbook over the summer, and most of us read some college-level texts for background, but we are still trying to fill in the gaps. Today I was looking up information on the tiny Russian enclave of Königsberg (German name, Russian possession, long story). This led me into a discussion of The Hanseatic League, and suddenly I was powerfully reminded of being twelve again. We used to have a video game called The Patrician which delt with trade and political intreague around the Baltic Sea. We loved this game and spent hours happily trading wool and wax and all sorts of other things between the cities. I can still remember the cities in the league and the trade goods on offer. I studied this stuff in college, but that is not what stuck in my memory. Now if only Halo and other games had this kind of benefit to offer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Dorking It Up a Notch

Someone suggested I add this as an addendum to my Devo post. It is the email I sent out to my fellow attendees to announce the successful purchase of the tickets. In case you are not familiar with Devo music, there are more than a dozen song references. My brother's reply to this message was that I needed more things to do with my time.

You know, I've got an uncontrollable urge to go to the Devo show. I have to say though it was like working in the coal mine to get these tickets, because the Paramount Theater does not offer much freedom of choice when buying tickets online. They only offer ticketbastard, and we all know that trying to get tickets from them is like trying to twist away some gates of steel. The website would not take my perfectly good credit card, so I was screaming "I can't get no satisfaction with this stupid thing!" Nevertheless, I said to myself "girl U want tickets so you've got to whip it into shape." Then I decided I was through being cool with the technology side of things, so I went with my gut feeling and turned to my mom. She is like some sort of secret agent man downtown, and she got us the tickets! It's a beautiful world we live in and this concert will be a sweet romantic place. You're all such beautiful people, and I think you should all go comb your hair.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Oh Yes It's Devo!

It took all kinds of effort to get the tickets, but it was entirely worth while. We actually got to see a Devo show. My older brother had been to one before, but for the rest of us it was a major first. Now, I know many people are not proud of their 80's music passions, but I am cheerful to admit mine. I love, love, love Devo. They have a quirky, addictive, synth-driven sound, and they have been described at different times as being punk, new punk, new wave, techno, and alternative. They also have a very strange sense of humor which happens to appeal to me. Therefore, the chance to go to this show could not be missed.

Other than being short, the show was everything I could have wished. The opening bad was called "The Punk Band" and they did a very entertaining mix of original songs that parody punk and techno. The line "I don't need no drummer cause I'm a mad programmer" got a good laugh, and the song "Fat girls on bicycles trying to lose some weight" was also pretty popular. We might need some of their CDs.

However, the opening band was really just a warm-up. The crowd went wild when Devo came onstage wearing their traditional yellow hasmet suits. They are certainly older and paunchier than they were thirty years ago, but they have not lost one bit of their goofy charm. They played an array of crowd pleasers such as Girl U Want, Whip It, and many others. Most of the audience was confined to seats, but there was still quite a bit of moving to the music when the classic songs came on. They did not play Beautiful World OR Through Being Cool, but I suppose there's not time for everything. My ears are still ringing, but it was such a great time.

Friday, September 08, 2006

How Old Do You Think I Am?!

The most unsettling thing has happened. A few days ago I went to the mailbox in my usual fashion, and what should I find there? An invitation to join the AARP! Those letters used* to stand for American Association of RETIRED persons! Just how old do they think I am?! I checked to see if maybe it was addressed to the former resident, but no, there was my name printed in the little window. Add to that the letter they included that assured me I was "fully qualified" to be a member and receive their "powerful assistance" on all kinds of things. Yeah, I can imagine the kinds of things they are thinking of: power chairs, prescription drugs, long term care insurance, and so on. Now I am trying very hard to imagine how they got the idea that I was "fully qualified." Is it the magazines I subscribe to? My political affiliation? The way I drive (oh god I hope I'm not THAT bad)? Some form I filled out and accidentally put 1938 for DOB instead of 1978? I really don't remember doing that, but I guess when you get to be my age memory just starts to go.

*A few years ago, the group decided to keep AARP as their name, but stop having it be an acronym because too many of their members were still working.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

First Day of School

Wheew! That was the first day of school for the students, and I am exhausted! Even though we ran a short day it still seemed like a marathon. My voice is not used to doing all that talking, and my feet are not used to doing all that standing. The kids were VERY excited to be back. We always hand out their schedules in the gym before class begins, and they get their first look at their classes, their teachers, which electives they got, and (most importantly if you ask them) which lunch they have. To get a lunch different from your best friend is a heartbreaking travesty that needs correcting RIGHT NOW! I do not envy the councilors and the front office in these first few days. They have the task of dealing with all the kids who are certain that serious mistakes have been made. Fortunately, by the time they released us to our classrooms at least a little of the shrill quality was starting to wear off. Well, that or I had just gone a little deaf from being in the huge echoing gym with all of them.

My first class (actually two because humanities is a block of language arts and social studies together) is a "highly capable" humanities class with thirty students. These are the kids who actually had trouble deciding when I asked them to write down five good books they read last year. They are very dedicated, very sweet, and also very highly strung. My job with them is to present interesting challenges, but also to help them keep a sense of perspective. Neither perfection nor ulcers are required to get into a great college.

My next class is a study skills class for kids who have had serious problems being successful in school. There are only nine kids in this class, and the idea behind it is that they get some serious one-on-one attention. I will be teaching them some organizational skills, some basic editing, some reading strategies, and other goodies. However, I think my primary job is to sit on their heads and make sure they do the work.

My last class is made up almost entirely of squirrels. I'm not sure if they are of the native or invasive variety, but they are definitely going to climb the walls. This is another humanities block, and its purpose is to help kids who have demonstrated problems with reading, writing, and other skills. This is supposed to be a class for kids who try hard, but have difficulty with the subject matter and the pace at which it is normally presented. In reality, I also get saddled with a few knuckleheads who just don't want to work. I can handle both types of kids, but the knuckleheads do take up an unfair portion of the time. Luckily, I have an assistant in this class, so I get some help with all the head sitting.

One kid in my afternoon class said "one day down and 179 to go" when the bell rang today. I try not to think about it that way. I can't say I'm ever overjoyed when my vacation is over (who is?), but there are many good and exciting things about being back in school. For example, life is never boring when you are teaching a class full of squirrels.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Oscar Peterson

I was feeling very lucky a few nights ago when we went to see the jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson. He is veeeery old, has suffered a stroke, and has had to learn to play the piano all over again. Not only that, he has only limited use of his left hand. You would think that all of this would impact his ability to put on a good show, but this is not at all the case. They wheel him up to the stage, he teeters over to the bench, and you worry that he may slip as he tries to sit down. Then he starts to play and you know why they call him an international treasure. I do not have the correct vocabulary to describe his playing, but let's just say that when he plays "Love Ballad" it is impossible to think about anything else. I must confess that I frequently find lighter jazz to fade into the background, but I was very impressed by this show. I think I may need to go CD shopping.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Would You Like Kim chi With That?

Today on the radio they had the French chef from a locally famous restaurant. He is a very entertaining guy, and he clearly LOVES food in many forms. Since he is a semi-regular guest on the show they have a segment wherein people call and list the contents of their fridge. His challenge is to figure out some tasty recipes to use up the ingredients Of course the people who call in are usually "foodies" so they say things like "I have five Vidalia onions, a leg of lamb on the bone, and three heads of radicchio, and some nice fresh duck fat." He is normally very good at this, but today there was a special list. A man called in with a very strange and limited collection of ingredients that included (if I'm remembering correctly) some "older" Kim chi, eight cups of uncooked white rice, packaged lunch meat, red bell pepper, shredded cheese, and mustard. Instead of just saying "ewww" go shopping he made up a recipe for rice cakes made with little bits of lunchmeat, cheese, and mustard. He suggested the Kim chi would make a nice bed for this concoction and warned the caller not to let the rice get over-done. I don't think any amount of cooking could save this one. Yuck.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Job Description

Every job has its share highs and lows, secret benefits, and unexpected surprises. I'm quite certain that very few young students ever think "oh the fabulous meetings I'll have when I'm a (insert profession here)!" Instead, we all dream about the more glamorous aspects of our chosen career without much real sense of what it will take day in and day out. Invariably it is a bit of a shock when reality hits.

My shock for this year was that I was expected to number, stamp, sort, and distribute 1200 new social studies textbooks. I had about three days of notice, and no extra help (or extra pay for that matter). I did one set of 300 books and then I ran over to my computer and begged for help. Fortunately for my back, I have many wonderful friends, and six willing helpers volunteered their time.

Everyone made their way through horrible traffic to meet me at my school after the workday was over. We sliced open boxes, unpacked the books, numbered them, stamped them, and put them back in the boxes in numerical order. It turns out that seven grown-ups are a force to be reckoned with. What would have taken me at least two days took the team only a couple of hours. Hooray! Now I just have to organize distribution to classrooms and things will be good.

Thanks and thanks again to the volunteers!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Camping With Children Part 2

There are good and bad things about Money Creek Campground. The bad things are the highway and the rail line that sandwich the sites. Most of the trains seem to run at night, so you are jolted awake every few hours by the sounds of whistles and wheels. It started to get pretty comical after a while, and everyone was exceptionally good natured about the whole thing. Fortunately, the campground itself is quite beautiful with huge old cedar and fir trees, and the swimable river off to one side. Another great thing about this place was the buffer between the sites. I love car camping, but not when I can see and hear every little detail of my neighbor's camping experience. We arrived at the campground with plenty of time to set up the tents ("can we get in the tent yet?!" x 1000 repetitions) and get the fire going. Luckily scavenging of downed wood was okay because the kids found the foraging process to be very exciting.

It is easy to forget how exciting things are to children. We adults get soooo jaded, but they seem to enjoy every little detail. The tents, the fire, the special cooking, special foods, lanterns and candles, singing around the campfire, and all those things that seem like such common parts of camping. We also had a few other entertainments planned to keep the peace. Little niece got to play with all the playdough she wanted (there is no carpet to worry about in the woods!), and we also had a set of Velcro mitts for playing catch with a tennis ball. The most popular entertainment was definitely the Madlibs. We had "A Trip to the Farm" and "Science Lab" to start, but the most popular one by far was "How to Ride the School bus." Both little and big niece were nearly falling off their chairs with the humor of it all. We learned that you should never talk to the hippo or throw princesses while the bus is in motion. We wrapped up the evening with roasting marshmallows. This was a very popular activity, but there were a few tricky moments when a little person would forget themselves and hot sticky marshmallow went waving around on the end of its sharp stick. Beware the stick!

On Saturday morning we headed out for hiking at Bridal Veil Falls. Little niece and I had the same opinion of the steep and rocky trial, so we spent most of the trip brining up the rear. She is such a tiny little person that piggyback rides are not difficult to give, and she got more and more of them as the trail went on. Big niece, on the other hand, was not having any assistance of any kind, and she was actually the one to set the pace. By the time we reached the top we all agreed that the view and the falls made the trip entirely worthwhile. We all dangled our toes in the cold mountain water, and some people even took off their pants and went wading. Big niece and I agreed that we do NOT take our pants off in public thank you very much!

On the whole, I would say that our camping expedition was a huge success. We were not put off by freight trains or helicopters (oh I left that bit out didn't I? It was loud.) and we managed to enjoy almost every moment. By the time we were heading home on Sunday the nieces were getting a bit crabby with each other, but they were SO well behaved for almost the entire weekend. Having the two of them along made the whole camping experience seem fresh and new (not that I was tired of it, but you get the idea) and I hope we will have time to do it again soon (maybe in a slightly quieter place?).

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Camping With Children Part 1

Last weekend we went camping with my nieces who are five and eight. It was the "second best thing in the world after Disneyland" according to my elder niece, and I have to say that I concur. Okay, maybe not the second best time in the whole world, but still pretty darn good fun. We all met up on Friday afternoon and headed out to Money Creek campground on highway 2. I found this place by looking at reservable campgrounds in Washington State, and then finding one that had two free sites on the correct weekend. In short, I had no idea what we were really getting into. Nevertheless, we were all pretty cheerful with what we found when we arrived. But I get ahead of myself.

First, there was the packing part. Packing for a camping trip is usually a mad dash for me. I find it both thrilling and anxiety inducing to try and get all the required bits and pieces together in one place. We are so used to having all our comforts that it can be kind of tough to remember all the things will really be needed. Food is a good example of this. It is easy to remember that you need to buy some cans (keep in mind that we are car camping, so cans are just fine thanks) of chili if you want to have anything to eat. However, it is also easy to forget that you will need a can opener to get at that chili. I once carefully packed all the ingredients and materials required to make pancakes (including the butter and the whisk and all that) only to find that I'd forgotten to pack any forks. You get the idea. Therefore, I spent most of Friday morning running around trying to figure out what I might be forgetting. The elder niece vacillated between making fun of me and bouncing off the walls with excitement. She got extra excited when we went shopping for a new tent (we didn't know how to fit two not-so-little girls into our two person dome). We found one with, get this, two separate rooms! Add to that it's apple green color, and you've got something very special as far as an eight year-old is concerned.

Splendiferous green tent in hand, we moved on to packing the rest of the car (save the nasty anti-car camping rants for someone who cares please). Ice chest, sleeping bags, and all the rest went in and we headed off to meet up with the rest of our party. It only takes a little over an hour to get to the campground, so we also had time to stop along the way and buy a few essentials. These included a disposable cameras (we forgot the good camera) chili-cheese Fritos (mmm chili-cheese!) and a Strawberry Shortcake kite (little niece was captivated by its glory and it only cost $1.50). Finally, in the early evening, we made it to Money Creek.

Part 2 shortly

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Happy Birthday Mjo

Happy birthday to our friend Mjo who turned 30 last week! Going to that party certainly reminded me of how close I am to that same milestone. Somehow, the idea of being 30 is sort of a shock. When you hit your 20's it's sort of like being an adult with training wheels. No one is surprised if you still behave like a child every once in a while. Once you hit 30 though there can be no question that you are a grown up. It's not that I fear being responsible or even sober(not that you are required to be serious); it's just that I can't quite see myself as a 30 year-old. I'm quite certain that I was 12 just a little while ago! I suppose it's going to happen no matter what, and I will just have to get used to it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Kayaking the Duwamish















M and I love a good Kayaking trip, so when our friend P suggested a trip along the Duwamish we jumped at the chance. This is, perhaps, the most industrial part of the Seattle waterfront, and it is quite famous for having been badly polluted. However, we were not put off, and I'm glad because it was an amazing trip. We started out in a nice calm area near Alkai, but before the thing was over we were weaving our way in among the huge cargo cranes and massive cruise ships. The tugs were both amazing and a little scary because of how quick and maneuverable they are. We were SO tiny and slow compared to all the other things out on the water.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

To Work or Not to Work

That is the question. Today we met at school to continue our planning for the upcoming year. There is no doubt that by working now we are saving ourselves a lot of effort later, but still, summer is only going to last a few more weeks. I could go in tomorrow and get a whole slew of useful and important things done, but would I be better off sitting on my bottom in the backyard? Tough to say for sure (I know that’s a fragment, but I just couldn’t help myself). The Stop and Smell the Roses Crowd (SSRC for short) would definitely say that a sunny day should never be spent inside, and besides stress is bad for you. Then again their own argument can be used against them. The Nose to the Grindstone Crowd (maybe I should call them The Deferred Gratification Crowd?) would probably argue that stress IS bad for you and that is why I should go to work and save myself from future stress. What do you think? Is it better to get your sunshine even if it costs you later? Or should more people get on with IT to avoid pressure down the line?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Produce at Last!

Sure, we've eaten quite a bit of lettuce from the garden already. However, the first cucumber seemed like a much bigger deal. Growing lettuce the way we did feels like a sort of a cheat. You plant the wee lettuce plants in the garden box, add water, and eventually you pick leaves off the big lettuce plant. The cucumber, on the other hand, came from tiny plants, grew into big plants with lots of leaves and nice trailing tendrils, grew flowers which turned into teeny tiny little cucumbers which grew into big spiky cukes. Wheew! Then I went out and whacked it off with a knife! Ha! Ha! (and people say vegetarians are wussies) It tasted very good, and I think we might even do some pickling if all those flowers live up to their potential. I LOVE my little garden.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Back to Work

Yesterday was my first day back to work since we went on break at the end of June. We spent two days writing a curriculum schedule for the whole year, and unit plans for the individual subjects. Since we weren't getting paid I was not surprised that only 6 of the 20 teachers decided to attend. However, it turned out that fewer cooks was really a very good thing. We were able to plow through a huge amount of work without much, ahem, debate or digression. Meetings that are actually useful and highly productive are SUCH satisfying things, but they are just so incredibly rare. The other 14 people will be back with us by the end of the month (not even they can avoid contract time!), so we will have the fun of hearing them complain about the things we did and did not include in the plan. I will have to restrain myself when I have the urge to say "oh, well it's too bad you couldn't attend when we decided that in August."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Oregon Coast

Okay, I've been waiting and waiting to post about the trip to Oregon so I could include the pictures. However, as the pictures are still not available, I am giving up on them and posting about our trip anyway. Otherwise I will forget all the pertinent details.

Right after we left the fair on Sunday afternoon we headed over to the Oregon coast for a little relaxation on our way back to Washington. The coast is only a little over an hour away, so it was not a big undertaking. It was hot and sticky in the valley, but as we got over toward the coast it was misty and clouded and the temperature was at least 20 degrees cooler. That was perfect as far as I was concerned; cool and misty is how the coast should be. We came first to Florence and then headed north to Yachats. The Overleaf Lodge is my new favorite place to stay on the coast. It is clean, beautiful, and located right on the water, so you can actually hear the serf at night. The best part is that it isn't very expensive. I only wish it wasn't quite so far south from us because we won't get to go back very often. I love, love, love the bluffs and craggy rocks of the Oregon coast. The waves CRASH into the shore and the spray flies over you. We have none of this delicate lapping along the sand like some places. We also stayed in Cannon Beach on our second night, but that place was just fair, so I wouldn't want to recommend it. I really want to resolve to go to the coast more often.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Luxury

Okay, there can no longer be any kind of doubt that M and I are members of the bourgeoisie. We are the bloodsuckers who live a life of luxury on the backs of the poor proletariat. We are the yuppies who consume and consume and consume without creating anything of value ourselves. We are members of the western military industrial complex. The proof? We have air-conditioning--- and it works.

Sorry, sorry, that was a political science joke (half truth). The really big news is not about our bloodsucking ways, but the fact that it was 97 degrees outside yesterday! 97! That is just not something we are used to in the Pacific NW. For us, anything over about 85 is cruel and unusual. Most of us are like frogs; we like cool slightly damp places with just a touch of sun now and then. All I could do was lay around and read. Today, on the other hand, we've cranked the air-conditioning for the first time. I don't mean to brag, but aaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh that feels good. Because it's partly cloudy you could almost imagine that it was a 70 degree day, but all you have to do is step outside to realize that the heat, and more importantly some humidity, are still out there. I think I'll just stay inside today and enjoy the ill-gotten fruits of Capitalism.