Tuesday, October 31, 2006


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.