Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hypothetical Despair

Imagine, if you will, an office with thousands of employees. Just for the sake of argument of course. Now imagine a manager who has been assigned a very specific group of reports. These twenty or so employees have been pulled out specifically to work on this team because they are the company's underperformers. They are not bad enough to fire, and in fact, many of them are quite talented individuals, but they all have had problems in the past. Some do not meet their quotas, others have repeated HR violations, and some just seem totally checked out. This re-assignment is a last ditch effort by the company to save them.

At first, the new team struggles to find its footing. Some of the employees find it very hard to leave bad habits behind, and even with much coaching from their new manager, they still have trouble making the right choices. Some members of the team seem to want to improve, but others continue to make life difficult for everyone. One time, the problems get serious enough that the manager's manager has to step in. However, as time goes by, things do begin to get better. The manager begins to notice glimmers of hope. Decent quality work begins to emerge. They may not be the top-producing team in the company, but they are also not the last. On one project, the team excels to the point where they earn a commendation from above.

To be fair, this purely hypothetical team is not perfect. Some still drop the ball, and allow work to fall through the proverbial cracks. However, the team has certainly improved as a whole, and only a few are still in danger of firing. The manager is especially happy to see that some of the most recalcitrant members of the team are now putting in true effort and working to collaborate constructively with colleagues. Could it be that this team of mis-fits might actually make a true turn-around?

Then one day, this imaginary manager comes to work to discover a huge crowd of officemates. The people are buzzing like a swarm of angry bees. As the story comes out in bits and pieces, the manager discovers that something major happened the day before. It seems that after most people had already left for the day, a small group of employees were escorted from the building by security. They were caught doing something not only against company policy but also illegal.

Most of the employees involved were from a more senior team, but one other person was also caught out. This person was one of the biggest success stories from the manager's "special" team. The manager is horrified. What will happen to the employee? What if others on her team were involved? How could this have happened when he was doing so well?! Why did he have to make such a stupid choice?!! The manager has become virtually frozen by disappointment and disbelief. Hypothetically speaking of course.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Perfect Snowflakes

The dusting of snow falling this morning made me remember the snow we had on Sunday. I don't remember ever seeing such perfect snowflakes! They were like the sort that you cut out of paper when you were a kid, or the kind that your grandma knitted as Christmas ornaments. I kept catching them on my gloves and stopping to look at all the intricate detail. We usually get a variety of flakes from the cotton wool-type clumps to the grainy sand-like bits, but flakes like the ones we saw on Sunday are certainly a rarity. Don't get me wrong, I'll take any kind of snow on offer. If the snow falling right now will only stick around long enough for accumulation, I certainly will not complain.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Year of the Ox

Happy Chinese New Year! According to one story, The Buddha invited all the animals to join him for a party, and twelve of them answered his call. The Chinese zodiac represents the order in which the animals appeared. Having tricked the kind and generous ox, the rat arrived first as they all raced to cross the last river. The poor ox was second, the rooster third, and so on down the line.

Having left the year of the rat behind, we are now entering the year of the ox. According to the Chinese zodiac, ox people are supposed to be "unswervingly patient, tireless in their work, and capable of enduring any amount of hardship without complaint." Unfortunately, many of the predictions, both zodiac and real world, are saying that this will be a year filled with hardships. The good news is that these are supposed to be hardships of the economic, and not personal, kind. Supposedly, the ox's greatest pleasure is spending quiet time at home with family and friends after a good day's work. Maybe this is just the ticket to finding happiness and success in 2009.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Teacher Pride

Many readers know about my "small block" as I often call them. These are the kids who do not meet the legal qualifications for special education, but they are still not quite up to being successful in our fast-paced general education classes. Our former vice principal used to call them her "tweeners" because they just didn't fit in either category. Why are they low performers? Divorce, suicide (parents not there's of course), poverty, and abuse are the usual culprits. It is rare for me to have a kid who isn't impacted by one of those. To meet their needs, my small class was created.

We have few kids (15-20 instead of 30+), we go slowly, and we explain and model everything very carefully. In general, the class is quite successful at keeping these kids from failing language arts and social studies. The challenge for me is to keep myself upbeat as I explain, for the fourth (or fortieth) time today, the definition of a thesis. Sometimes I struggle to keep things light, to keep up hope for them, and to support them as they act out or pull in due to stresses at home. Then, every once in a while, I get a wonderful, heartening moment.

Yesterday we took our novel quiz. Today we discussed the first half of our novel, and I graded the quizzes. It was amazing. The average score on the novel quiz was 32/35. I've used this quiz before with previous classes, so I know this is not just an easy one. I also know this class pretty well now, I've seen a lot of their work, and this is something amazing. They've finally "bought in" to this whole reading thing, and they're actually PAYING ATTENTION!!!

During our discussion we had this exchange:

Me: Okay, so let's think about the characters in this book. What makes them tick? Why do they each do the things they do?

Boy 1: Because they are Confucius?

Me(amazed that he remembers this term from one class and is applying it correctly to another): Confucian? What do you mean by that?

Boy 1: Because Confucian makes them have to behave, so Haoyou has to do what his dad says or what Uncle Bo says no matter what.

Me (floored!): Wow, that's really clever of you. How did you think of that?

Boy 1 (totally nonchalant): Because Haoyou said it himself about needing to be obedent.

Me: Obedient?

Boy 1: Yes, oBEEdeient.

Boy 2: Yeah, they all kind of have to be obedient because that's the rule. Be obedient to your family.

Girl (forgets to raise her hand and blurts out): I think they're all looking for families! That's what they all want.

Me (totally amazed now because our discussions usually consist of one word answers): Families? What do you mean by that?

Girl: They are all missing some family. Like Haoyou misses his dad and the Great Miao is kind of like a dad for him cause he's nice to him and stuff. And Mipeng wants, um (blushing), a new, nice husband.

Boy 1: Yeah, like if you put them all together then they kind of make up a new kind of family. Then they could all be loyal to each other and still be kind of in Confucian.

Me (still floored): Well, um, wow, that's very good everybody. I think you've done a great job summing up the motivation for these characters.

This may seem like a weird kind of blog post to be sharing, but if you knew this class, if you knew how far they'd come from the start of the year, you would be amazed too. They’re thinking, they’re actually thinking! And not just on a purely concrete level! On Monday, when they get their novel quizzes back, they are definitely getting doughnuts.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Good News for Sick Kid!

Yay! Finally some good news for my student who has cancer. Unfortunately, she still has cancer. However, surgeons were able to remove the tumor and it had not moved into the bone! She still has to do a full course of chemo, but then her outlook should be very good. Even though the chemo is very rough, she still wants to come to school, and we end up seeing her 2-3 times per week. She seems tired and wrung out, but she still the same sweet girl as ever. Here's hoping that good luck and modern medicine can help her live to a ripe (and healthy) old age.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Nod to Non-Believers

Many commentators are saying that Obama's inaugural speech was somewhat lacking. I would have to disagree. True, he did not go for the idealized flights of fancy that characterized some of his more famous speeches, but hey, this is definitely a time for realism. At times it almost seemed like he was taking the country to task for its collective mistakes, and, again, I thought this was very appropriate. I found his speech to be inspiring without sugar-coated any of the facts about our situation.

One portion that particularly pleased me was his mention of religion:

"...for we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus--and non-believers."

Wow! Non-believers! This IS an historical moment. In my 15 years of following politics closely, I don't think I've ever heard non-believers mentioned in any remotely positive context. Talk about being inclusive! Add to this, all his words about returning science to the fore, and I am feeling very optimistic about his platform. Now if we could only make some progress on gay marriage and charter schools...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh Frabjous Day! Obama is President!

Callooh! Callay! we chortled in our joy! Obama is safely elected 45th president of the United States! I do not have the proper words (beyond Carroll) to express the amazement, satisfaction, and delight I am feeling right now. What a long strange trip it's been to get us to this point, and this morning was no exception.

This morning, it was still dark as night when I left the house. Fog was rolling over everything, but you could still see a huge bright crescent moon looming overhead. I thought it set a very interesting tone for the rest of the day. When I got to school I discovered there was no heat in my classroom, or in our building as a whole. The gauge in my room read 52 degrees F. It was so cold that the overhead lights were not working properly, and the classroom was left in a sort of dim shadow.

I assumed that the heat would come on eventually, so I went about trying to make sure that the computer/vcr/cable (no, I don't know why it has to be so complicated) connection was working. I wanted to show the kids at least 30 minutes of the event if not more. The media system had other plans though, and I couldn't get anything besides static on the screen. I asked permission to stream it from the internet, but this was denied. It was really looking as though we might not get to watch the inauguration at all. Meanwhile, the heat still was not on, and the bell began to ring.

You would think that a class full of freezing kids would be most concerned about the freezing part, but this was not the case. They were very upset at the thought that they might not get to see the new president! I'm not kidding, this was their main concern, and several of them spent quite a while trying to get the TV to work. We played "Simon Says" to stay warm, and I served hot cocoa in little paper cups. When the game was over, I showed historic photos and info about past inaugurations. Then Ms. S swept into the room. She did not have any students in her room first period, and she wondered if we would like to come and visit? We made the switch in two minutes flat.

Ms. S. already had the TV on when we arrived in her room, and there he was, Barack Obama, larger than life on the big screen. We were enthralled. Most of the students in my low skill block were silent and attentive during the ceremony. This is a pretty impressive performance for a group of students like them. A few boys had some trouble being quiet, but even they settled down when the actual swearing began. We heard Aretha Franklin, we heard Itzak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma (that was the hardest part for the difficult boys), and we watched Obama put his hand on the Lincoln bible and become our new president. The whole scene gave me chills. There was a spontaneous round of applause from all the students.

I told the kids to really pay attention today because this is one moment in history that they will want to remember. I'm hoping that as the next eight years go by, the inauguration of Barack Obama can begin to eclipse 9/11 as the most important historical event in my memory. It all depends on what he does from this day forward. Best of luck Barack.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Birthday MLK

One hopes that most Americans are familiar with the life and work of Martin Luther King jr. At school we are working on an assembly to honor his memory, and to point out that his struggle for justice must continue. Our country has changed quite a bit since his death, but many of the problems he denounced are still with us today. Nevertheless, progress is being made in some areas. On the eve of his assassination in 1968, MLK gave a speech that seemed prophetic:

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

Now I don't want to over-state the situation or anything, but I think maybe I can see a little bit of the promised land coming up over the rise? Yep, that's certainly it. I believe a small, but very important, portion of The Promised Land will be arriving Tuesday at 12pm eastern time. Happy birthday Dr. King.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Happy Baby!

Congrats to our friends J and T who have just become proud parents. Welcome to little baby E who arrived just in time to watch the inauguration. What a joyful and momentous week this will be!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Teacup Location

My most favorite Seattle tea shop, Teacup, has changed location. Don't worry, the purveyors of fine Dammann Frères teas (and others), have not gone far. They are still located on Queen Anne Avenue North, but now they have moved just up the street to a larger corner location near Safeway. If you've never been, be sure to stop by and sniff some of the many fragrant varieties of loose leaf tea. Then, once you've made your choice, order a cup to go, wrap your hands around the steaming cup, and breath in the happiness.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sick Kid

At school we just found out that one of our kids has bone cancer. Not just any kid in our school, but one of MY sweet little girls from the morning class. I understand that when you gather a group of 1000 kids, you are bound to have car accidents, suicides, and serious illness (we've had all of those before). However, knowing that never seems to take away the shock. This poor little girl is one of those all-round nice kids who looks after other people and plays beautifully on her cello. Why does this have to happen to her instead of some grumpy grown-up? Sometimes life really is not fair.

Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

Some books are great fun to read, but they don't promote much deep thinking. On more than one occasion, I've picked up a promising-looking book only to discover a vague memory of having read it before. For whatever reason, the story just doesn't stick. This is never the case with books by Malcom Gladwell. His topics always leave me pondering the ideas for months or even years afterwards. His newest book, Outliers, is no exception.

The main theme of this book is success, and it attempts to debunk the myth that some people are successful simply because they are talented. Success, Gladwell claims, is the result of a complex interplay of many factors including natural talent, extensive practice, thorough education, bountiful opportunities, and a healthy dose of luck. Quite the counterpoint to that old story about a person who pulls themselves up by their bootstraps through sheer pluck alone.

One part of the book I found particularly interesting was when he looked at the role of education in success. I won't repeat it all here (you can and should just read the book), but it was so good to hear his opinion that American schools are not, one the whole, total failures. He argues that our education system does, in fact, educate nearly all students (he has the test results to prove it). However, it seems that this learning is often disrupted, disjointed, and ultimately stratified by issues of class, parental style, and social expectations. I could go on and on, but it turns out that Gladwell is a much better writer than I am.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Precise Art of Taunting

At seven and ten years old, my nieces continue to amaze me on a regular basis. They are so creative and smart (but I'm not biased) that they are always catching me by surprise with one new idea or another. Most of the time this is quite wonderful to behold, but it can, from time to time, get to be kind of annoying too. On a recent road trip, M and I beside ourselves at their latest bit of cleverness.

Sitting in the back seat, they are bored by the four hour car ride. It's dark, so they can no longer read, and we don't have any laptops or dvd players in our car. They are becoming antsy. I try to engage them in word games and "what if" questions, but that only works for so long. Pretty soon they start pestering each other. The subject they argue about is indicative of their ultra-liberal magnate school education (which I love):

Small Niece: I'm making up a religion, and you can't have it. It's a religion about giants (she's done Greek mythology at school)

Elder Niece: Oh yeah, well your religion is stupid!

Small Niece: My religion has giants, and it's the best one.

Elder Niece: Oh yeah, well, I'm not respecting your religion!

Small Niece (incensed): You HAVE to respect my religion!

Elder Niece: NO I DON'T! I'm not respecting it! Ha! Ha!

Me: That's enough

Now you have to repeat that entire conversation from beginning to end about 800 more times. Then change my line to "I SAID BE QUIET RIGHT NOW!!!" (oh my goodness, I sound like my mother). The next part is what makes all this so amazing.

Elder Niece: I'm making up a hand sign that means "I don't respect your religion!"

Small Niece: Oh yeah, well I'm making up a hand sign that means "you can't be in my religion!"

They continued to battle out their fake theological differences (yes, via hand signs) for another hundred miles or so, but at least they were quiet. Who knows, on the next road trip, maybe they can debate the meaning of life using only shadow puppets.

Friday, January 09, 2009


When I was very young, I remember the Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax, being banned from our public school library. That story shocks many people because Seuss is such a beloved, and harmless, figure. There is no nudity in Lorax. Nobody curses, no one is murdered, and none of the characters even mentions having two mommies. Nevertheless, after parent complaints, The Lorax was gone.

Why? Because I lived in rural Oregon in the early 1980's. The timber industry was busy shedding jobs, and many logging families (maybe half my little school?) attributed this to liberal forestry policies (hrm let's check, who was president then?). The Lorax included themes about ecological conservation, and this was unacceptable to many parents. Rather than simply preventing their own children from reading the hateful book, these parents felt the need to prevent everybody's children from reading it.

That, to me, is the most amazing thing about censorship. It's not about one person avoiding a certain book. It's not about keeping their child from seeing the book. It's about that person wanting to make this choice for everyone. This reminds me a lot of the gay marriage movement. If you, an individual, don't like gay marriage, then don't have one! Why in the name of everything important do you need to impose that belief on everyone else?

It is amazing that censorship still exists in our country, but it most certainly does. Usually, the excuse for this is to "protect the children." One of my favorite examples of this logic is from a school district in California who, the story goes, handed out copies of Fahrenheit 451 to it's 8th grade English classes. The books had the "naughty" words like "hell" and "damn" blacked out. The main theme of Fahrenheit 451? The horrors of censorship.

Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books in 2000-2007

1 Harry Potter J.K. Rowling
2 Alice series Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3 The Chocolate War Robert Cormier
4 Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
5 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou
6 Scary Stories Alvin Schwartz
7 Fallen Angels Walter Dean Myers
8 It’s Perfectly Normal Robie Harris
9 And Tango Makes Three Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
10 Captain Underpants Dav Pilkey
11 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
12 The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison
13 Forever Judy Blume
14 The Color Purple Alice Walker
15 The Perks of Being A Wallflower Stephen Chbosky
16 Killing Mr. Griffin Lois Duncan
17 Go Ask Alice Anonymous
18 King and King Linda de Haan
19 Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
20 Bridge to Terabithia Katherine Paterson
21 The Giver Lois Lowry
22 We All Fall Down Robert Cormier
23 To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee`
24 Beloved Toni Morrison
25 The Face on the Milk Carton Caroline Cooney
26 Snow Falling on Cedars David Guterson
27 My Brother Sam Is Dead James Lincoln Collier
28 In the Night Kitchen Maurice Sendak
29 His Dark Materials series Philip Pullman
30 Gossip Girl series Cecily von Ziegesar
31 What My Mother Doesn’t Know Sonya Sones
32 Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging Louise Rennison
33 It’s So Amazing Robie Harris
34 Arming America Michael Bellasiles
35 Kaffir Boy Mark Mathabane
36 Blubber Judy Blume
37 Brave New World Aldous Huxley
38 Athletic Shorts Chris Crutcher
39 Bless Me, Ultima Rudolfo Anaya
40 Life is Funny E.R. Frank
41 Daughters of Eve Lois Duncan
42 Crazy Lady Jane Leslie Conly
43 The Great Gilly Hopkins Katherine Paterson
44 You Hear Me Betsy Franco
45 Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut
46 Whale Talk Chris Crutcher
47 The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby Dav Pilkey
48 The Facts Speak for Themselves Brock Cole
49 The Terrorist Caroline Cooney
50 Mick Harte Was Here Barbara Park
51 Summer of My German Soldier Bette Green
52 The Upstairs Room Johanna Reiss
53 When Dad Killed Mom Julius Lester
54 Blood and Chocolate Annette Curtis Klause
55 The Fighting Ground Avi
56 The Things They Carried Tim O'Brien
57 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Mildred Taylor
58 Fat Kid Rules the World K.L. Going
59 The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things Carolyn Mackler
60 A Time To Kill John Grisham
61 Rainbow Boys Alex Sanchez
62 Olive’s Ocean Kevin Henkes
63 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Ken Kesey
64 A Day No Pigs Would Die Robert Newton Peck
65 Speak Laurie Halse Anderson
66 Always Running Luis Rodriguez
67 Black Boy Richard Wright
68 Julie of the Wolves Jean Craighead George
69 Deal With It! Esther Drill
70 Detour for Emmy Marilyn Reynolds
71 Draw Me A Star Eric Carle
72 Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
73 Harris and Me Gary Paulsen
74 Junie B. Jones series Barbara Park
75 So Far From the Bamboo Grove Yoko Watkins
76 Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
77 Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes Chris Crutcher
78 What’s Happening to My Body Book Lynda Madaras
79 The Boy Who Lost His Face Louis Sachar
80 The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold
81 Anastasia Again! Lois Lowry
82 Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Judy Blume
83 Bumps In the Night Harry Allard
84 Goosebumps series R.L. Stine
85 Shade’s Children Garth Nix
86 Cut Patricia McCormick
87 Grendel John Gardner
88 The House of Spirits Isabel Allende
89 I Saw Esau Iona Opte
90 Ironman Chris Crutcher
91 The Stupids series Harry Allard
92 Taming the Star Runner S.E. Hinton
93 Then Again, Maybe I Won’t Judy Blume
94 Tiger Eyes Judy Blume
95 Like Water for Chocolate Laura Esquivel
96 Nathan’s Run John Gilstrap
97 Pinkerton, Behave! Steven Kellog
98 Freaky Friday Mary Rodgers
99 Halloween ABC Eve Merriam
100 Heather Has Two Mommies Leslea Newman

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Car Buying for M Part 2: Playing the Harpy

A little while after our great test-driving extravaganza, M noticed another Subaru Forester XT in the paper. This one seemed to have all the features he wanted, and the trim package and color were a big improvement over the one we'd previously driven. Add these features to the significantly lower price, and we had to drive out and see what this car was actually like.

That meant a trip to a certain Seattle suburb. This is not a place where we normally spend a lot of time, but we soldiered through the traffic and found our way to the dealership filled with shiny new cars. Of course, we were not actually heading for the new car portion of things; no glossy Toyota showrooms for us. The used cars at this dealership were part of the much smaller, and much more utilitarian, Kia showroom. I warned M in the car that I planned to be the "bad cop," and so I put on my grumpiest face as the lot attendant first approached.

I let M do most of the talking as we were shown to the Subaru in question. Then, once we were on a test drive I started my show. "Why do you need a new car anyway? Your old one is perfectly good!" M almost jumped at my whiney tone and gave me a sidelong glance to check how serious I might be. I did my best to feign total innocence. I went on and on (hopefully not laying it on too thick) about how much the car cost, how we didn't need a new one, how the old one was still good, and how we shouldn't be spending money anyway. By the end, I was "wondering" if the car smelled funny. The very young lot attendant said nothing, but he heard everything I said.

After the test drive, M said he was interested in hearing more about the car, so a meeting was arranged with a more senior car dealer. This person was not immediately available (what a surprise!), so we spent a few minutes cooling our heels among the Kias (motto: crappy but cheap!). Finally, we were ushered to a cubicle festooned with sales award plaques. Clearly the lot attendant had warned his boss about us because the presentation we got was almost entirely directed at me. We heard all about the merits of the new car, the excellent price, the repair record etc. Anything to try and convince us (me) that it was a good buy.

I continued to look grumpy, but when he started talking about price I had my most shining moments acting out my mean wife part. What price did they want for the new car?! No that can't be right?! HOW MUCH?! Then I got to do the same for the proposed value of the old car (I wash shock! Shocked!). By the end of the whole thing, we got very much better prices for both, and I believe I helped out in some small way by playing the harpy.

Yes, yes, I know you may be thinking that we got a good deal because of the bad economy and the lack of car buyers in general. Perhaps I am just flattering myself by saying that my act helped. That may all be true, but I hate the way car dealers play with their "victims" and try every trick to manipulate buyers (one tried to tell my mom that she couldn't even go get lunch if she wanted the price to "stick"). Therefore, it amuses me no end to play with them in just the same fashion. No matter what the real reason, I've checked around, and we did get an incredible deal on that car. The next time you are considering a car purchase, think about pressing a friend or family member into service as your own personal bad cop.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Car Buying for M Part 1: Luxury Cars Disappoint

Not long ago, M decided that it was time for a new car. His old one has done good service low these many years, but it needed expensive repairs, so he decided it was time for something new. Well, not new exactly, but new to us. I'm delighted that M concurs with my belief that a brand new car is rarely worth the premium price. By some estimates, a brand new car loses 20% of its value by driving off the lot. In short, that "new car smell" comes at quite a price. But I digress

M decided to get a new car, but he wanted one that still had the practicality and AWD of his old Subaru. The question was, should he just buy another Subaru, or would it be more interesting to trade to something different? SUV's were right out from the beginning (need I explain?). Audi, Toyota, Volvo, Volkswagen, Infiniti, Saab, and several others have cars that met his criteria, but when we did a Consumer Reports search, some of these makes went out the proverbial window too. It seems that many cars aiming for the luxury AWD market do not fair so well on reliability ratings. With the options somewhat narrowed down, we moved on to my favorite part: the test drive.

The Subaru Impreza STI came first. Heading out, this is the car I thought M would probably buy, but he surprised me. The car is fast and sporty, it corners well, and it has AWD, but it had a turbo lag that wasn't much fun, and it had the curse of all Subaru’s: very poor leg room both front and back (there's also the clutch issue in my mind, but M doesn't seem bothered by that). Thus we walked away from the STI without buying.

Next came the Infiniti G30. Do you remember those Infiniti commercials with Jonathan Price? You know, the ones that are supposed to make you think of Infiniti's as suave and elegant and the epitome of controlled power? Yeah, not so much as it turns out. I really expected something special given the price and the hype, but the best thing I can say for this car is that it sounds really cool when you first turn it on (with a silly push button instead of a key). That throaty purr is not enough to make up for the fact that driving this car is no fun at all. Smooth and powerful sure, but also strangely heavy and unresponsive. I've also come to the conclusion that a tiptronic (at least the ones we drove) is just a fancy/smart automatic. I'll stick with a real manual (at least in cars that are meant to be sporty) thank you.

We declined to drive the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 (which was stupid because it would have been fun to try once) because who wants to look that silly (plus it didn't meet M's criteria). We did not drive the BMW's, Volvos, Mercedes, Lexus, the RX-8 (sob!), the canary yellow Thunderbird or many of the other impractical or unreliable cars they had on that lot (I think maybe gas prices and the economy are helping people shed some of their sillier cars) In fact, by the end of that day, the only real contender on the list was a Subaru Forester XT in a most unlovely shade of brown. We went home without a new car.

On another weekend, we set out again, and this time we headed over to an Audi dealer. I expected the Audi dealership to be a funny place due to the level of snoots often put on by fancy car dealers. However, a very nice, low-pressure sales staff brought out an A4 for us to try. The Audi was certainly better than the Infiniti, but both cars lack the feedback that both M and I enjoy. The designers of these cars seem so focused on giving you a luxurious ride that they remove all "car" (feedback?) from the driving experience. I felt as though I could have been in an armchair watching a movie about driving. No thank you. I was all prepared to talk M down from buying such an expensive car, but I found it entirely unnecessary. Once again, we went home without a new car.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Resolutions 2009

In 2009 I resolve to:

1. call or get together with at least one friend or family member per week.

2. sit down with each Basic Block student at least once per week.

3. find at least one fun new activity to do with M (get your mind OUT of the gutter Dear Reader!) each month.

4. work on one significant garden project every week from March through October.

5. travel to Pittsburgh, C's birthday, and DISNEYLAND!

6. keep my door closed and my mouth shut at work.

7. write at least five times per week (projects for school, blog entries, letters, etc.).

8. work on one significant house project each week.

9. eat fewer foods that have extra sugar, extra fat, or more than five ingredients.

10. exercise for a total of at least four hours per week.