Wednesday, May 31, 2006
One of the things M and I noticed when we bought the house was what must have been an original microwave. After 25 years of use, the thing was not working so well anymore. Heating would still occur, but since there was no turn table all of the heat was concentrated into a single nickel-sized spot. This machine had the amazing ability to practically burn a whole in your pizza while leaving the rest completely frozen. Not very useful for much. Also, shortly after we moved in I attempted to make one of my favorite microwave treats: The Pappadam. However, not only did the pappadum remain flat and lifeless (not crispy and bubbly good) but the microwave actually managed to break the plate in two! It was sort of cool the way it split along a strange and wavy line, but at the same time it did not bode well for the health of our dishes. Thus we went microwave shopping. I could describe the shopping experience, but it is better just to hold an image of Home Depot in your mind (did you know that they don't work on commission like the people at Sears? We've only been told that about 700 times), and you pretty much have it. We came home with a Magic Chef (I've never heard of them either) over stove model. M, clever person that he is, decided to save the installation fee (more than the cost of the actual microwave) by installing it himself (see pics below of installation process). This is not what I would consider an easy job (I am not a very handy sort) but he managed to do it with a minimum of cursing, banging, trips back to the hardware store, or injuries. Low and behold, we have a working microwave! It heats evenly, it has a defrost setting, it doesn't make ominous clicking noises, and (drum roll please) it makes lovely crispy pappadums! Hooray for M and Magic Chef!
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Friday, May 26, 2006
Things We Might Do With D (in no particular order)
2. Salumi (but only if Grandma is making Gnocchi)
3. San Juan Islands
4. Pike Place Market
5. Mount Rainier
6. Mount St. Helens
7. Olympic Peninsula
8. Vashon Island
9. Lavender Festival
10. Bellevue Botanical Garden
11. Sassy Teahouse
12. Tiger Mountain Bus Trail (and/or Lake Tradition)
13. Kubota Garden
14. Canoeing in the Arboretum
16. University District
18. Washington State Historical Museum
19. Discovery Park
20. A Good Sushi Place
21. Farmers' Market
22. Cafe Flora (M suggested this one, so I cannot be accused of choosing things for myself!)
23. Teatro Zinzanni
24. Oregon Coast
26. Mariners Game
27. La Connor
30. Green Lake
31. The Zoo
32. Trek Wildlife Park
33. The Aquarium
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Once the Shakespeare show became a comedy staple, the company decided to try its hand at other types of shows. "Shakespeare" was followed by "Great Books," "the Bible," and even a Reduced Shakespeare Christmas. Of course, not all of these can be as good as the original, but many of them were still very funny indeed. Therefore, with some trepidation but also hope, M and I went to see The Complete History of America (Abridged). We found it to be an incredibly vaudevillian-style of show with lots of quick summarizing, stand-up jokes, water on the audience, and men in drag playing really ugly women. Some of it was pretty funny (anagrams of famous political names--- Spiro Agnew = Grow A Penis--- I guess you had to be there) and some of it was just sort of funny (a sketch about short men joining Washington's army because of a misunderstanding about "minute" men) but over all it was worth the trip. Next time, I want to see All the Great Books because I bet Jane Eyre done in one minute or less is a very strange thing.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Andre's Eurasian Bistro = bad, bad, bad
The second food thing is not nearly so annoying. I often read the food blog Vegan Lunchbox. While I am not a vegan, I do respect the amount of effort and attention this woman gives to making lunch for her son. Some might say that she has a little too much time on her hands (and they might be right) but the other day she really got a little overboard. She used Seventh Day Adventist cooking techniques to create The Magical Loaf Studio. The purpose of the studio is a way to invent new (tasty?) varieties of vegetarian meatloaf. I cannot say that I have actually made any of the magical loaves, but I will get right on it just after I finish grinding my own flour and making my own fruit leather.
Monday, May 22, 2006
In the 8th grade, the State of Washington has determined that kids should study American history. The rough estimate time period for this history is about 1796-1865. One major unit during this course is about slavery and the economy of the Deep South. Of course there are many possible ways to teach this material, but our 8th grade team has opted to do something a little different (and, in my opinion, much better) than the standard textbook, notes, test format. First the kids read non-fiction accounts of slave life, and also textbook chapters about the politics and economics of slavery. Next, they do a research project to get an in depth look at different figures of the anti-slavery movement, and they write an essay identifying the contributions of this figure. Last, but not least, they get to take part in a simulation.
The simulation is basically a game in which the kids play the role of slaves who are trying to escape from bondage in the south (their classrooms) and make their way to freedom in the north (the upper sports field). They must trust the good will of conductors (other students) and station masters (teachers) along the way, and they know that bounty hunters (the principals and councilors) will be actively searching for them at all times. They must follow a map, visit the safehouses (indicated by a secret sign), and collect tokens to prove that they've made the whole journey. Above all, they must not get caught or else they have to return to their plantations and do hard labor (real work such as scrubbing desks or weeding flower beds).
I am a huge fan of simulations, so when the 8th grade team asked for volunteers to play station masters, I jumped at the chance to help. My classroom door proudly displayed the secret sign (a quilt square with a red center) and I explained the whole thing to the students in my classes. On the day of the event, we did not see anyone for quite a while, but about half way through 1st period a group of slaves and their conductor burst in looking for a place to hide. We quickly hid them away in the closets and under tables, and just as we did, the bounty hunter arrived. The bounty hunters (working hard to be serious and mean-looking) searched the room and grilled the kids. We kept saying that we didn't know anything, but the bounty hunter was in no mood to believe us. He caught one of the kids hiding in the closet because they had the unfortunate need to giggle uncontrollably. Nevertheless, the others managed to keep silent, and they were not discovered. It was really quite a sight. Kids were darting silently through the halls, ducking into classrooms, and even climbing out of windows (in classrooms where the teachers were dumb, in mean kind, enough to allow it). This is an experience like nothing else and they love it. The most surprising part (to me anyway) was the fact that they really didn't abuse the privilege. Not one kid landed in the office for being out of bounds, harassing others, or any other crime that they might have been tempted to commit.
All throughout the day, groups of slaves and station masters came through our classroom. My students did not get overly much done since they were always on pins and needles about when they next group might come. However, we had some incredible discussions about racism, the practice of dehumanizing others, the power of cultural influences, and the effects of fear on the human mind. Teenagers are famous for being apathetic, lazy, and even stupid, and frequently they do display these unfortunate traits. However, when you really catch their interest in something real and serious, it is amazing just how sharp they can be.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Blood, blood, blood, blood, blood
The leaves of autumn look red
men fall the same way
Blue skies are the best
We can see the sea from here
We love the sand dunes
Horses thunder down
soldiers fall like raindrops
Horses wander free
I see the sun shine on me
Breezes flutter too
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
We started out with a tiny little sixth grade boy who did sound effects. We got the squeaky door, the jungle scene, the train engine, and a few others. He was pretty good for an amateur, and the audience was completely silent (a real mark of respect for a middle school crowd) for the performance.
Another great act was a group of three students who played a classical composition for three violins. Given that our school often ranks #1 in the state for middle school orchestra programs, it was surprising to no one that they were really good. It's really impressive the way they always look so serious and dedicated when they perform. I am reminded once again why music is good for the whole kid.
There were, of course, a few of the more "challenging" (to borrow the phrase from R) performances. There were several pairs of girls who chose to sing veeeeery high-pitched songs that were really not within a range they could comfortably manage. We did actually have to cover our ears on one song when the performer went for a high, high note. One girl did sing a show tune wearing a fabulous white wedding dress ('80s?) and you just had to give her credit for, I don't know, gumption? Then again, any kid who will get up in front of 1000 of their peers deserves some credit.
By far the crowd favorite was a boy who solved a rubik's cube. He first asked someone else to randomize it for him, and then he proceeded to solve it in 1 minute 12 seconds. The audience went absolutely bonkers. Rubik's cubes have fallen so far out of fashion that many kids aren't really familiar with them. This was a truly amazing feat as far as they were concerned. They cheered, they clapped, they yelled. I am fairly certain that the solver will not ever forget that experience.
It was definitely one of the better shows we've had here at school, but I think I may still have a flat place on my bottom.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Have you ever had that experience where you have an idea in your head and it makes perfect sense, but when you try to explain it to another person it just comes out as nonsensical babble? Perhaps not (depending on your level of elocution) but it happens to me fairly often. Now, I know what you're thinking, a teacher should be clear at all times. In the classroom I do a pretty good job on that, but when it comes to more esoteric topics, I often have trouble laying things out clearly. That is why I was so excited by the things Julia Sweeney had to say in her show "Letting Go of God."
When we first saw the ad for a show by Julia Sweeney (of Saturday Night Live fame) and Ira Glass (of NPR fame) we thought it sounded like an interesting combination, so we bought tickets without really knowing what we might get. What we did get was a very intelligent and also hilarious look at Julia's struggle with religion and spirituality. I have seriously tried several times to write a summary of her show, but it just isn't happening. Her timing and delivery were such an integral part of things that it just doesn't seem to work in text form (or maybe I'm just a lame writer) Suffice it to say that she illustrated her true and honest attempt to have deep faith, but she could never quite get past her own doubt. Blind faith turned out to be really hard to maintain when she took a good, hard look at the things she was being asked to believe. When this show comes out on DVD (in June?) I would highly recommend it to anyone who has ever been troubled by these kinds of doubts.
In the end, this show took my opinions about religion, summed them up, cleanly refuted any opposition through careful research, and then added perfect comic timing, and bitingly funny commentary. It was a beautiful experience. Now if only she would do the same for my views on politics, relationships, the environment, food, child rearing, school funding, health and fitness, textbook selection, the economy...
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Some people may be familiar with my other book committee experience (Shot Down and Pissed Off) and may remember that it was not a happy one. To sum up, I was the lone hold-out against the favored social studies text book, and I lost out to the crowd. However, I was not about to let that scare me off of the rest of the committee work (that would be letting them win!). Therefore, I signed up for novel selection committee as well.
While the social studies textbook committee took almost an entire year and much piloting to make a choice, the novels were given barely two months of consideration. This turned out to be a very good thing for me because I came to the first meeting with a list of books I thought we could use. No one else was prepared for things to move so quickly, so my selections formed the core of our candidate list. We did all go away and read the books on the list, and then, yesterday, we got back together to come to a decision.
Now the only sticking points were a few people who wanted to include science fiction (Hello! We're supposed to connect to the history curriculum. You know, the stuff from 600 to 1600!) and the people who wanted to bring an existing book down from the gifted program. The first group were dealt with pretty easily since they wanted something that clearly didn't fit with our goals (that didn't stop them last time, but in this case things were more clear cut). The second group were a little tougher to quell. They wanted to take a book that we currently teach in the gifted program and assign it to all students. I said that we should not do this because the book was too hard for the average kid. However, I could not back up my claims based on reading level alone because this book scored a 7 on the standard level test (about 7th grade level) just like one of the books I suggested. Once again, I came prepared.
It turns out that the reading level given for most books assesses only the complexity of sentences and vocabulary. Thus, a book with a very complicated plot can get a low score just because it uses small words and simple sentences. Knowing this, and with the help of our librarian, a few of us from my school managed to find another scoring system (you can find it on Amazon.com under "concordance") that takes other factors into account. Using this scoring system we discovered that the book from the gifted class scored a 9.3 (about ninth grade level) while the book I suggested scored a (wait for it!) 6.8! What do you know! Objections cleared, we were ready to move on.
My main goal for this committee was to get at least three decent books on the required list. In the end, we managed to agree on FOUR. Remember, it is tough to find books that suit our particular corner of world history (the world from 600-1600 minus North America, but also Washington state history). While these are not the best books I've ever read, they are at least decent which is more than I can say for some books I've taught. I am quite pleased with the combination of literary quality, historical content, and readability. In the end we chose Ghost Canoe, Catherine, Called Birdy, Beduins' Gazelle (spelled that way for some reason), and The Kite Rider. Now all we have to do is figure out how we want to go about teaching them next year.
Monday, May 08, 2006
Thursday, May 04, 2006
After the dinosaur, one of the more striking examples of philanthropic fervor is on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The Cathedral of Learning was built in the early part of the 1900s to look like a cross between a medieval church and a castle. It features some very elaborate stone carving, beautiful stained glass windows, and many perfectly medieval details. One visitor summed it up by saying that Harry Potter could have been filmed inside. In keeping with the castle theme, the interior features two huge fireplaces, a massive common room with vaulted ceilings, and several giant wooden thrones. As far as we are concerned, my little brother is the king of Pitt (hey, we hardly know anyone else there) so we made him sit in the throne and look regal. I think it is especially funny that his shirt says "ego" (his shirt really says Oregon, but happenstance made it funnier) because he does get a little bit of a big head sometimes. Who would have thought that my round baby brother would turn out to be brilliant and handsome :) Anyway, if you ever get to Pittsburgh be sure to visit the Cathedral of Learning. It's both strange and cool enough to be well worth the trip.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Monday, May 01, 2006
For the first 45 minutes or so, we played telephone as quietly as possible, next we tried pass around conversations (on paper and pencil), then we played connect the dots in pairs, and finally we started "toss the question." In the middle of all this the kids would ask me repeatedly if I knew anything, how long I thought it might last, and what they could do to amuse themselves. In the beginning, one girl asked why we had to lay on the floor in the dark. This girl has participated in many drills over the course of the year, so she should know this already. However, I gathered together my patience and explained that this was the school's way of keeping us safe just in case something dangerous might be out there. They all seemed to accept this, and we went on trying to be quiet. A little while later, another kid crawled over to me to ask if we would still be going to lunch on time. Again, I gathered my patience and explained that unless the lock down were over, we wouldn't be going to lunch on time because standing up and walking down to the lunchroom would, you know, defeat the purpose of the lockdown. This news caused furious whispering and many complaints of imminent starvation. Eventually, however, I got them quieted down with promises of left-over cheezits at lunchtime. Some time during the third hour, another child raised his had and asked "Miss L when it gets to be 2:06 (the normal end of the day) they will let us go home won't they?" I counted to ten before answering.
Finally, almost three hours after we went into lockdown, we were allowed to sit up and watch a video instead of lying on the floor. Officially we hadn't been released, but the police were confident enough to allow some flexibility. I handed out cheezits and cookies when lunchtime rolled around. Then, almost four hours into the whole thing they finally declared the lockdown over, and we could return to what was left of our normal school day (including full lunch by the way). Why, might you ask, did we have to do all this? Because a man, a grown man, decided to wander up and down the road outside school waving what appeared to be a rifle. They never found the man, but his "rifle" was actually three soda bottles taped together and painted black. If they find him, I think his punishment should be to lie on the floor in the dark for four hours times 982 for all the people who were forced to be part of his "prank."