Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Good, The Scary, and The Stupid

Tomorrow, as you probably know, is that day when all the kids in all the schools go more than a little crazy. Even the ones who deem themselves "too mature" for dressing up get all excited and amped up by the thrill of the holiday. Halloween is definitely one of the highlights of the middle school social calendar, and the halls will become deafening as a result. I've learned from experience that it does no good to try to fight the mood. Anyone attempting to do a serious lab experiment or literary analysis tomorrow will be sadly disappointed by the lack of student attention. Instead, I choose to run with all the excitement and do "autumn" (not Halloween because that isn't pc) -themed lessons.

Therefore, instead of the usual Wednesday lesson of spelling, vocabulary, and grammar, we will be reading ghost stories. Not horror movie ghost stories with lots of blood and gore. Those are too much for many of our more tender souls (like mine). Instead we're going to read some great spine tinglers from a website I found called The Moonlit Road. This is a great collection of old Southern ghost stories. Not all of them are appropriate for middle school, but careful selection gives me many options.

In the process of looking for some good stories, I also came across an article from a "real" ghost hunter who'd visited Fort Worden. She is unintentionally hilarious. The best part is her special ghost-sensing camera, Sparkles. Definitely good for a few laughs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

TGIF and TGTO (Thank Goodness That's Over)

Warning, quite possibly boring work stuff ahead.

First of all, it's Friday, and that is almost always a very good thing. Second, the three major projects that have been hanging over my head for the last several weeks are finally completed! Hooray! Let there be rejoicing in the streets or at least in my classroom. I'm practically skipping down the hall.

Project #1 was a very tricky combination of organization, politics, and just plain work. I hate these projects where you don't have any real authority over the group because they are your immediate co-workers, but you are still expected to motivate them into finishing the work. We are finished (at last) and I don't think anyone even hates me (mild resentment maybe, but not hate I don't think).

Project #2 dealt with the extreme incompetence of a vendor. On the good side, the district, my co-workers, and I were in agreement that the Publisher sucks. This meant that there was no hostility or political wrangling (we left this end of things to our admin) between us. However, the logistics of collection, re-numbering, stamping, and distribution of books were intense. The publisher screwed up and had to re-send the order THREE TIMES. My arms and shoulders are still sore from delivering all those books to classrooms.

Project #3 was not so much a project as a political negotiation. As department chair (yay! another position where I have no authority, but I'm still responsible getting people to do things) I'm supposed to "guide my team" to select a person who will serve on a certain committee. This committee has a quite a bit of power, so several people want the job. Eventually, all but one of our team agree on one candidate, Mr. X. It seems like we've made a good choice. However, the lone holdout refused to believe that we aren't putting her on the committee because "she really, really wants it." We are only allowed one representative, and she is NOT a good choice. I tiptoe veeeery quietly off to my boss and lay the situation out for him. He sends out an email saying "since you can't choose, I will choose for you. I choose Mr. X because he needs to do more leadership." I breathe a huge sigh of relief.

I haven't stopped sighing (in a good, relaxed way) since. It feels SO GOOD to be out from under all that stress. The normal work days seems sort of like vacation by comparison. Now it's Friday, and things should get even better.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Little Humor

Nearly all teachers agree that the question "Did I miss anything?" from an absent student is more than irritating. It seems to us like the perfect representation of the self-centered view the students sometimes have of the world around them. This teacher actually came up with some possible answers. Of course, I can't use any of them because "middle-schoolers cannot comprehend sarcasm" according to my graduate school professors. They are funny nonetheless.

Did I Miss Anything?

By Tom Wayman

Question frequently asked by students after missing a class.

When we realized you weren’t here
We sat with our hands folded on our desks
In silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
And assigned some reading due today
On which I’m about to hand out a quiz
Worth 50 per cent.

Nothing. None of the content of this course
Has value or meaning.
Take as many days off as you like:
Any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
And are without purpose.

Everything. I few minutes after we began last time
A shaft of light descended and an angel
Or other heavenly being appeared
And revealed to us what each woman or man must do to attain divine wisdom in this

life and the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
Before we disperse to bring this good news to all people on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
How could anything significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
Is a microcosm of human existence
Assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been gathered

But it was one place.

And you weren’t here.

Originally from: The Astonishing Weight of the Dead, Vancouver; Polestar, 1994

Monday, October 22, 2007

Work is Like...

When you first get a job, it's as if they hand you a satchel and tell you that your job is to carry the satchel and not let anything fall out. You think to yourself "This satchel is not so heavy. I'll just sling it over one shoulder, and that still leaves plenty of space for the stuff I was already carrying."

You go on like this for a brief period, and then people at work start handing you extra things to put in the satchel "Oh, by the way, this is part of your job too, and your also responsible for this, etc" None of these items is very large or heavy, so you just keep stuffing them into the bag. Pretty soon the satchel is getting kind of heavy, but you figure it's not that big a deal because you can keep switching it from one shoulder to the other.

One day you realize that nothing, not one more tiny thing, can fit into the bag. This is the point at which 25% of new teachers say "That's more than I want to carry!" and they put down the satchel and walk out the door for good. The rest of us decide that maybe a new backpack wouldn't be such a bad idea, and maybe a coat with lots of pockets?

After a while you start to learn that it's bad to volunteer for everything. In fact, some people cope with the problem by flatly refusing any and all requests. I loath these people because they try their best to skate through on the assumption that "someone else will do it." For those who continue to engage, even "good causes" must be scrutinized with extreme care.

People will come up to you and say "Look at this important thing. It really needs some attention from a caring person like yourself. It's just a tiny little thing anyway; you'll hardly notice it among all the other stuff." Sometimes they convince you, and then you have to find a place where you can cram the thing. In truth, sometimes things fall out again. At some point, you just have to start putting things down.

My only real professional experience is in education. However, I suspect that many other kinds of jobs probably work in much the same way. The difficult part is finding a way to remain energized and enthusiastic about your work without eventually getting your back broken. I’m still working on this.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Venue! Venue!

Hooray we have a venue! This means that we can actually get married next year! (I suppose we need an officiant, but still) We decided on a building in the Arboretum, so I'm crossing my fingers for beautiful scenery. The place that we've selected is surrounded by wisteria, and I'm also crossing my fingers that some of it might still be blooming by our wedding (it's normally a late spring thing). I love the way the venue has an outdoor area for the ceremony, and an indoor place for the actual reception. We also have a line on a caterer who knows the facility and will provide not just food and service, but also rentals and decorations. Now we're on to searching out the fun stuff like flowers, cake, and music. Woo Hoo! It's all starting to come together!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Wedding Venues #10 and #11

Okay, I admit it, I'm burning out. We have not seen the perfect venue anywhere (or for any price) we are going to need to make a compromise somewhere, but it's not an easy choice to make. When we started out looking for venues, it was fun. Now, however, it's starting to get frustrating. We will need to make a decision soon.

Skansonia--- Historical, funky, charming in many ways, but also on a not-so-lovely portion of Lake Union. Lots of old boats, junk, and construction stuff lying around. The main view is the underside of the bridge. Also, no good parking, the seating space is cut up into several different rooms, and they have a 150 minimum on Saturday evenings in summer.

Lord Hill Farms--- We went in the dark, so it's sort of hard to say what the outdoor spaces are like. The indoor part is quite charming in many ways. Big open spaces, a very nice country feel, and plenty of room for dancing, eating, etc. The in-house catering is also reasonably priced. Some details that aren't so great such as the floors, the road noise near the outdoor ceremony space, and the distance to greater Seattle. Oh yes, and the part where they have no Saturdays for all spring/summer 2008. We would have to do a Friday such as the 4th of July. Do I want my anniversary to be the 4th of July forever?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wedding Venues #7, #8, and #9

Newcastle Golf Club--- Very pretty views, slightly musty tent smell, HUGE price tag for even the "lesser" venues. I agree that the views are worth quite a bit, but I cannot see spending that much on the whole wedding, let alone just the venue.

DAR House--- We really liked the historical charm of this old place. There was room to hold the wedding in the large living room, and then go upstairs to have the reception in the ballroom. However, there was a feeling of faded elegance about the place that almost reached the level of shabbiness. We sort of wanted to ask if they were planning to paint any time in the next year. Also, the house is located in a crowded part of Seattle and had NO parking at all. All the guests would have to pay in a lot and hoof it several blocks.

Graham Visitor Center--- This venue is located in the arboretum, and it serves as a gathering place for many local plant societies. When we arrived to take a look, there was a bulb sale set up in the conference room. This room, along with the patio, make up the wedding facility. I admit that the room is not exactly glamorous or romantic, but I do think it might be okay with some serious decoration. The patio is what does it for me. Surrounded by arbors, it is covered in wisteria vines, and it looks very lush and pretty. Downsides of this place are the room, and the tiny little kitchenette. It remains on the list.

1. No stinky venues

2. No busy roads within hearing distance

3. No ugly ceiling tiles

4. No wedding planners who can't manage their own schedules

5. No rooms without windows

6. No venues that cost the same as my car

7. No staff who just can't be bothered

8. No hideous decor

9. No venues that completely lack parking

Monday, October 08, 2007

Whirlwind Wedding (but not our own) Part 2

We were surprised (and touched) to be seated in the family pew with M's aunt and uncle, and it gave us an incredible view of the proceedings. I don't think I've attended a seriously Christian wedding (I'm sorry, but Christian-light is a whole different experience) since I was a very tiny child, so much of the ritual was foreign to me. I was later informed that we were watching the Lutheran equivalent of high mass, so the service included hymns, a homily, a number of prayers and readings, and Holy Communion for all comers. We kept watching everyone else to know when we should rise, say certain things, look prayerful (or respectfully silent).

I am not a Christian. I do not pretend to be a Christian, and most of the time this is not much of a problem. The more rational portions of the world at large are accepting of the fact that not everyone follows Christianity. However, many people do seem to have this idea that everyone will sort of automatically know the ins and outs of Christian ritual. I do not know these rituals at all because I am (say it with me now) NOT A CHRISTIAN. Sorry to get strident, but I feel I understand a little of what it must be like to be a Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist etc. in this country.

The issue of Holy Communion had me panicking. The priest announced that all baptized people in the church were welcome to come up, and that the bride and groom would serve as chalice-bearers for the wine (or blood depending on your views). I suddenly did not know what to do! M's family are dear, sweet people, and I did not want to offend them. However, the priest was very clear about the baptism part, and also I'm not comfortable doing such a ritual. Better still, he had the people coming up one row at a time. This meant that when M and I stayed seated instead of going up, the whole church was looking at us and waiting for us to move! Fortunately, Uncle J., in the row behind us, understood quite quickly, and shoved his family out to go up to the alter. M and I just sat and smiled vaguely. I'm still hoping his aunt and uncle weren't offended.

All this said, it was a beautiful wedding. The bride and groom both seemed so happy, and there is not doubt that their families were pretty ecstatic as well. The flowers were a lovely combination of roses and rosehips (to add a fall touch and great texture), and the stained glass windows of the church made everything glow. M and I certainly got some great ideas for our own wedding. However, I think we'll skip the hymns and communion for our ceremony.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Whirlwind Wedding (but not our own) Part 1

Last Friday, a friend of mine from work covered the last 20 minutes of my last class so I could make it to the airport on time. Of course, this being 2007, the flight was delayed, but we did eventually make it down to Southern California. M's aunt, uncle, and two grown cousins are also from South Africa, but they have lived in San Diego for several years now. The elder one was getting married, so we had the chance to do a little research by attending the wedding.

Of course, since our flight was delayed, we missed the rehearsal dinner, and had to go instead to an Olive Garden at 10:30 at night. Olive Garden is not a good choice at any time, but it was especially bad because they were doing their best to hurry up and get us out of there. This was the first of our unfortunate food experiences. The second occurred when we went to get breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Some buffet breakfasts are sinful but also delicious. This one was sinful and not delicious, so we did not partake all that much.

After the unfortunate breakfast, we had a few hours to kill, so we used the navigation computer M bought to find Balboa Park. The navi is called Tom Tom, and I have to say that it was incredibly useful. Even when you make a mistake, it just recalculates the route and give you new directions. In just a few minutes, we were to the park and admiring the incredibly beautiful setting. Why can't our old World's Fairgrounds look like that? Amazing architecture, lovely landscaping, and even a perfect reflecting pool with blooming water lilies! We really enjoyed our time at the park, but pretty soon it was time to head over to the church.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Wedding Venue #6

Acalia Events is a sweet LITTLE place in a so-so neighborhood. Emphasis on the world "little." The dance floor is literally the ten foot square entry hall, and you can't seat more than 40ish people in the "main" hall. I can't imagine trying to hold a wedding reception (with toasts and such) while people are all seated in different rooms! Extra credit to the owners for turning a pokey little place into a nice venue for small events. However, we will not be holding our wedding there.