Friday, August 31, 2007

Finally, Results

After many months of phone calls and negotiations, our house is painted AND we have a new fence around the backyard! When I drove up yesterday I could hardly believe my eyes at the change. We no longer look like the shabbiest house in the neighborhood, and that is a very good thing. We have our privacy back in the backyard, we can let little kids out to play without fear of the road, and our kitties can enjoy the sunshine without fear of dogs. It's a pretty wonderful thing.

Home improvements are kind of like being sick. First you think you might have to do it, then you know you have to do it, they you do it and it isn't much fun, but you feel so much better afterwards.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

To Shirt or Not to Shirt

Okay, so I am not exactly a fashion maven (to say the very least) but I try to present myself in a reasonably tidy way. I always set my clothes out the night before an early morning, and I usually don't have too much trouble choosing outfits that are clean (always clean!) and relatively un-goofy. Last night, however, I had a major fashion dilemma. Well, that's not quite right. Fashion choices were involved, but the real issue was about labor unions. Strange combination, I know, but I am not making any of this up.

Last night, I went to a union meeting to hear how the negotiations are going on the new contract. Some of the old issues have been worked out already (yay!), but a few big things are still causing trouble. The main issue most of us care about is the proposal to convert a portion of our weekly teacher preparation time to do district business. For example, instead of collaborating with my team, correcting papers, or planning lessons, I could be required to attend meetings, trainings, or any other district-directed activity that they choose to throw at us. We are not amused.

The negotiation team still has hopes on this issue, but they also feel that the district may be willing to go to the proverbial wall on this plan. In order to show our solidarity, the union wanted us to all wear black shirts. I was SO torn about this request. I do support the cause, but I am a big fan of the secret ballot. This, to me, was a request that we vote early and wear our opinions on our chests. One of the things that allowed us to avoid divisions during the last strike was by keeping our votes to ourselves. I went back and forth trying to decide what I should do because there just wasn't an easy answer.

In the end, the black won out. I had a colorful shirt with me, but I wore the black all day. It turned out that almost all my co-workers did the same. Hopefully none of the non-shirts (ha! ha!) will hold it against the rest of us. Even more hopefully, we will get a contract, and we can stop displaying our opinions via our clothes.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fun With Unions

Still no contract. The old one runs out in just over a week, and things are sticky, sticky, sticky. The district has become "more flexible" on a number of smaller issues, but they are still holding fast on the big ones. I'm crossing every finger and toe that I have. As I mentioned before, strikes are NO FUN.

To answer Sabragirl's questions:

If the teacher's union goes on strike what are your responsibilities?
You don't really have too many "responsibilities" because they really can't force you to do anything. However, they strongly urge you to do all sorts of things to show your support for the strike.

Do you have to be in the picket line during the hours you would otherwise be teaching?
Again, you are strongly encouraged to "walk the line" as they say in the business. I think the only positive things about the last strike was the camaraderie we developed as a group. I really got to know my co-workers in a lasting way. After the strike was over, the normally sparse (we mostly work) lunchroom was packed for weeks.

Do you get strike pay?
Not as such, but if your employer chooses to withhold pay (as ours did last time) they send financial officers from the national union to offer interest free loans in the amount of your paycheck. The issue of withholding pay is a sticky one for many reasons.

What if you disagree with the strike; would you be kicked out of the union if you crossed the picket line?
Many disagreed with the strike last time (myself included at the beginning). You are welcome to go and speak your mind at the various meetings, but your chances of swaying anybody are slim. However, no strike can be called without a strike vote from the general membership. In other words, the union mucky-mucks can't just do this on their own. The law says they much present the district's offer to the members. Crossing the picket line was simply not done in the last strike. However, since teacher strikes are "illegal" in WA, we may face that issue this time.

If you got kicked out would you then not be able to teach? I'm very curious about how this works.

Our district is not a closed shop, so you can decline to be a member of the union. However, this is very difficult to do, and it might not make you very popular in your building (depending on the building). I don't know for sure the consequences of crossing a picket line, but I don’t think it could be used to take away your license or anything like that.

Wish us luck!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Please Not This!

Camping was, of course, a lot of fun. We all enjoyed ourselves, and we managed to avoid most of the rain. However, when we got home I had a less-than-fun email waiting for me. Union negotiations are going "very poorly" according to the teacher bargaining team. Upon return to the summer bargaining session, the teams have failed to resolve even one of the sticking points that caused trouble to the end of the spring session.

What are the issues? Surprisingly, straight-up compensation is not one of them. One of the biggest questions is the special teacher preparation time we have each week. This is a two hour block of time during the "regular" school week where teachers are left to themselves to collaborate or work individually. Administrators want to take a percentage (how much is a big part of the debate) of this time to schedule meetings, trainings, and other admin. directed activities. Translation: instead of grading papers, planning with my team, or preparing lessons, I would have to sit in some "class" or meeting that was not directly related to my daily work.

One of the other discussion points is about the amount of work done by our special education teams. The laws are so strict now about the documentation of special education students that the teachers in this area often wash out within one to two years. Some of these people, depending on their case loads, are working 60-80 hour weeks with little or no additional compensation. The district is refusing to cap the workloads of these teachers or consider extra compensation for their efforts.

There are other problems as well, but I will not go on for pages. It's been several years, but many of us have walked the line (no Johnny Cash puns intended) before. Going on strike is emphatically NOT FUN, and I am really, really hoping we're not headed there again. Fingers crossed that they work something out in time.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Camping No Matter What

In spite of all the dire weather predictions out there, we are going camping this weekend. The girls are coming along to try out a new campground on the peninsula, and we are hoping, hoping, hoping that the skies will not fall. We have marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate. What more could we possibly need? It turns out that we last went camping almost exactly a year ago, so we will once again be able to celebrate Big Niece's birthday while we're there. Camp songs and s'mores here we come! Wish us luck.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Big Picture

Several months ago, I was chatting with a friend (lamenting really) about the lack of nice, not skuzzy, lounging/gathering spots on The Eastside. Where are all the cute coffee shops, relaxed bistros, and elegant tea rooms of my youth? Part of the problem is definitely our distance from any universities. College students encourage the growth of "stop and sit a while" establishments. We have Starbucks and Tully's, you might say, but I maintain that those places were never intended for extended group gatherings. That is why it was so nice to find The Big Picture in Redmond Town Center.

This is a great little movie theater tucked away on the second floor of the mall. Who needs another movie theater when there are so many around? Well this is no ordinary theater. For one, it sometimes (not always) shows some of the more art house-type films (we've seen TWO French movies there). Second, it is a 21 only venue, so there are no crying babies and, better yet, there are no irritating teenagers talking through the whole movie. Third, it is absolutely clean. You can put your purse on the floor and not worry about pools of mysterious stickiness. Wouldn't you pay an extra dollar for your movie ticket with these amenities?

But the real reason to go to The Big Picture is the bar and lounging area. Beautifully, elegantly, decorated, the whole place really recommends itself to an hour of chatting and sipping before the show. They do have popcorn and candy, but they also serve some delicious and unusual drinks both alcoholic and non. I believe we should encourage this kind of establishment, so please consider heading down there some night soon.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Harry Potter For All!

A few weeks ago, shortly after the 7th Harry Potter book, I was in a favorite bookstore, Powell’s Books, and I happened to overhear a group of clerks talking together. They were discussing the launch party they'd helped to run, and one of their favorite topics was the derision they felt towards the teenagers who attended. "Come on, that guy had to be like, eighteen, at least! Doesn't he have anything better to do on a Saturday night? I mean, come on, it's a kids' book!" (paraphrasing heavily, but you get the point)

Now I understand that one of the ways to survive your job sometimes is to make inappropriate jokes about it with your co-workers. Goodness knows I’ve made some. However, even knowing that, I was very disappointed in that bookstore. This was not just one knucklehead spouting off, it was a group, and they were all enjoying the joke. Add to all that, they were having this conversation IN THE YA SECTION for all the children to hear. Shame! Shame! Shame!

Now, if they want to make fun of the grown up readers, they should go right ahead. I will cheerfully take on anyone who wants to berate me for reading kids' stuff (narrow-minded people do this on a regular basis), but leave the teenagers alone! A kid who is eighteen now may well have started reading the series when the first book came out ten years ago. These kids have grown up with Harry and they, perhaps more than anyone, had a right to be there for the final installment.

A recent study of 500 young Harry Potter readers found that 51% did not read for pleasure before they met Harry. I have seen this happen so many times in my classroom. Students discover the wonders of Hogwarts, and then they start to get curious about what other interesting worlds might be hidden in those previously distrusted items called books. No matter what you think of Harry or his fans, large amounts of credit are due for that effect.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Painter! We have painter! It's such an exciting day (I'm being honest about that, and it just shows you have old we really are that we get excited about that kind of thing) There is a slim chance that we will have a fence AND a freshly painted house BY THE END OF THE MONTH! Wow! Of course now I've probably just jinxed myself, and everything will fall apart. Hopefully not though. The painter we picked is neither the lowest nor the highest bid, but we like him, and he comes with good references. Thanks again to my friend, T, who gave me the referral.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Misplaced Lavender

Normally, M and I are big fans of Tully's coffee (at least when we're choosing from the big chain stores), but sometimes they do disappoint. If you ask me, the Tully's flavor of the month plan is NOT a good one. This month is lavender which is an improvement over the previous flavors of banana and blueberry (banana coffee!?). However, they let me smell the "lavender" syrup, and I really could not detect any of the familiar aromas. A taste of a lavender/white chocolate mocha was quite disappointing as well. All in all, lavender should be left for baking and sachets.

In other lavender news, Martyr Stewart recently featured a lavender champaign cocktail in her magazine. The recipe consisted of pouring a glass of champaign and sticking in a stalk of lavender. Awfully simple and easy for someone like Martyr. Perhaps it's more about the smell?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Home Improvement Frustration

M and I have been valiantly trying all summer to get a new fence and a paint job for our house. We did not think this would be such a big deal because we plan to use the Microsoft home improvement tool (a telephone and a checkbook) to get the job done. No gathering of tools, no visits to Home Debit, and no hours and hours of hard work. Easy right? Ha, ha, not so fast.

You know all those unflattering, unkind things people say about the intelligence, integrity, and possible drug abuse of painters, roofers, and construction workers? I now believe that any and all of those things may be true. The first problem you face with these guys (they're always guys) is just getting them to talk to you. M probably called four or five different fencing companies trying to get estimates from them. You would think that a business would not survive if you completely fail to call the customers back. He finally found some companies that would come and give him estimates, but some of them were sky hi. After MANY months (and two letters of complaint from our HOA) we are FINALLY getting a fence in the next few weeks (knock on wood).

Roughly the same thing happened when we tried to get a house painter. M called one guy who said he would be out on Friday. Then he called back to say he would come at 11:30, oh wait, he meant to say SATURDAY at 11:30. Saturday at 11:30 came and went without any sign of him. He called to ask if M wanted to set up an appointment some time? Argh! Now he's supposed to come this afternoon. We shall see.

Meanwhile, I've been searching for painters too. My friend, T, very kindly forwarded several recommendations and I called three of them from the list. One called me back. He said he would call in the next two days to make an estimate appointment. He called four days later to ask if I was home right at that moment. Fortunately I was and he said he would come in an hour. Three hours later he actually appeared. If our house ever gets a paint job and a new fence I will be thrilled and amazed.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Teeniest Tiniest Little Green Frog

Yesterday I went out into the garden to pick some mint leaves to use with dinner. While I was out there I was rearranging pots a little and admiring the flowers. When I moved one plant, I saw a brief flash of movement. A little searching revealed the cutest little tree frog, and I'm sure it could literally have sat on my pinky nail and fit perfectly. It was one of those bright green tree frogs (Hylla Regilla?) with the black and gold racing stripe along the body, and I REALLY wanted a picture. I ran inside for the camera, and when I came back out, it was still there. However, every time I leaned close to get a shot, it would jump away from me. At least M got to see it, but I don't have any great photos to post. That is so much better than being surprised by say, centipedes, in your garden!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Red Star Restaurant Review

As I've mentioned before, M and I are very fond of Hotel Monaco (formerly 5th ave Suites) in Portland. We stay there whenever we go because it's such a nice place, and also such a good value for quality. We've also enjoyed at least two good meals in the hotel restaurant. Therefore, on our last trip, we looked forward to staying the night and enjoying dinner in the Red Star Restaurant. The hotel is still very nice, however, the meal we had left quite a bit to be desired.

Before booking for dinner, I checked the menu and found that they did have one vegetarian entree. We arrived at the appointed time, were seated at a very nice table near the window, and placed our orders. I asked for beet salad to begin and the leek and morel tart as my main course. I was very much looking forward to both courses since beets and morels are two of my favorites. However, it was not to be. The waitress returned and said that the mushroom tart was "out, or actually sort of, um, unavailable" I'm not quite sure what was actually going on with that, but it was clear that I wasn't getting a tart.

I asked if there were any other vegetarian options, and while she tried to be helpful, there was not much she could suggest. I ordered one of the green salads as my main course (how exciting is that?!) because there wasn't really any choice. When the mains arrived, it took me a while to realize that she'd brought the wrong salad. Instead of greens with goat cheese, I got greens with hazelnuts. I hate, hate, hate hazelnuts. I was not feeling up to sending it back, so I just pushed the nuts to the side and ate my greens. At one point I saw that a nut was buried among a forkful of salad, but I decided just to soldier on. This turned out be a bad choice because the "nut" turned out to be a clod of dirt. I was spitting mud for several minutes.

The meal finished with a dessert billed as something like "three flavors of berry" which included a cherry sidecar so viciously alcoholic that not even M could stand it. All in all, it was NOT a good experience. As we were leaving the hotel, one of the clerks was chatting with us about our stay. M told him the truth that we love the hotel but did not like the restaurant. He explained that the chef was new and having trouble getting the hang of things. "There have been meetings!" he said severely. We sincerely hope the meetings help and Red Star gets back on its feet.