Friday, May 29, 2009

Politics and the Media

I just couldn't pass up this wondeful quote since it is so heart-breakingly true:

from Quotes of the Day

"When the politicians complain that TV turns the proceedings into a circus, it should be made clear that the circus was already there, and that TV has merely demonstrated that not all the performers are well trained."

Edward R. Murrow

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cute Kid Quotes

A family of our acquaintance has recently moved back into town (we are ecstatic with joy over this!), and we are enjoying their company once again. They have two young children, and it seems as though every time we see them, one or both of the kids says something incredibly cute. Of course it certainly doesn't hurt that they have adorable little accents as well. Here is a brief sampling:

Upon being told they could play for five more minutes before going to bed, the younger one replied "Hmm, sounds reasonable!"

Upon winning a tough game of Blockus, the older one crowed "Ha! ha! I've foxed you!"

Upon beating her brother in a video game race the younger one yelled "Look! Brother blew up! Yay!"

Upon watching her brother struggle with something, the younger one said "Be careful Brother, or you will break open your whole head!"

I could go on and on, but you get the general idea. Kids of a certain age are great fun to have as friends. This is especially true if they are borrowed kids, and you get to give them back at the end of the day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Healthy Vegetarian Kids

Note: Keyword analysis #3 Raising vegetarian kids, healthy vegetarian kids, cooking for vegetarian kids, or a dozen other ways of saying basically the same thing.

Yes, for the 1000th time, yes, you CAN raise healthy vegetarian children. If I encounter one more person who puts on a vaguely disapproving expression and begins muttering things about protein and iron and "little bodies" and "strong bones" and then finishes up by saying something like "of course it's fine for the parents to do what they want, but growing kids need real/proper/decent/nutritious food" I am going to scream.

My brothers and I were raised on a purely lacto-ova vegetarian diet, and we have remained vegetarians in adulthood. One brother is 6'1" and the other is 6'4". We are all healthy and mentally acute (well most of us anyway!). We did not eat vitamin pills or supplements to get here, and we did not suffer significant social stigma in the lunchroom. Our mother fed us healthy, fresh, planet-based meals with a few dairy products on the side. I have never, in all my blood donating years, failed an iron test.

Sure, you might say, it's always possible to find an outlier to any situation, and maybe most vegetarian kids are shrimpy, sick, and stupid. Studies show that this is not the case. In fact, one study looked at the diets of teens and found that the vegetarians were actually HEALTHIER than their meat-eating peers. Vegetarians, over all, tend to eat less fat, less sodium, and more fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition, protein, iron, and B vitamin levels were found to be within acceptable standards. When you start looking at the research, the theory that vegetarianism is not healthy just doesn't hold water.

Now of course it is possible to become malnourished by eating nothing but French fries. Then again, it is possible to become malnourished while eating nothing but chicken nuggets too. In fact, any sensible person should spend time thinking about what they eat, and come up with a healthy balance of foods. All I'm trying to say is that a well-considered vegetarian diet can be just as healthy for children and adults as a meat-eating one. I'm living proof.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Beethoven's 9th Symphony

Keyword analysis entry #2: Beethoven's 9th

I cannot believe that I am getting hits from the simple search "beethovens 9th." You'd think there would be about a million music sites vying for the opportunity to tell about one of the most famous pieces of music in the world. Nevertheless...

Beethoven's 9th symphony (aka Symphony No. 9 in D minor) is one of the single best-known and most recognized pieces of classical music. Beethoven's last symphony, it was composed after his hearing loss had become complete. It is the choral section, commonly referred to as "The Ode to Joy", that is perhaps most memorable to the average listener.

Because many symphonic music directors are loath to overplay the "big hits", Beethoven's 9th is usually reserved for special occasions such as the winter holidays, the 4th of July, or other events. This piece is considered by many to be very accessible for listeners who are new to the genre of classical music. What do you think Symphony Club? Does that about cover it?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why Go to the Symphony?

Note: This is keyword analysis post #1. It seems that a handful of people wonder why anyone would bother to attend a performance of classical music. For some odd reason, many of these searchers are from Texas. By the way, this entry SHOULD have been written by my friend R who is the maestro of all things symphonic.

So you're thinking of taking a trip to your local concert hall. Maybe someone is dragging you along, kicking a screaming, to see a show. Maybe you just won free tickets in a raffle. Maybe you just think it's time you tried out some of the more "grown up" cultural activities out there. Whatever the reason, going to the symphony is a great idea! Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the music!

Top Ten Reasons to Visit the Symphony

1. Many classic composers had incredibly cool hair. Look through the program to find new cuts and styles for yourself.

2. You can check out all other hot symphony goers who may be sitting around you. Perhaps you can meet someone new! This is especially likely if you prefer ladies or gentlemen of the blue-haired variety. This is doubly true at Sunday afternoon performances.

3. You can score free cough drops from the ushers! Just be sure to unwrap before the music begins.

4. You get the chance to shoot withering glances at people who forget to unwrap their cough drops before the music begins. You also get to do this to ANYONE who talks for ANY reason.

5. Enjoy this chance to dress up. No, no, penguin suits are only for the performers, and you should leave your Marti gras costume at home. Symphony attire can be anything from khakis and a polo to fancy dress clothes. Saturdays tend to be the most formal.

6. Snacks are the best. At least here in Seattle, you can get an entire dinner before the performance. During intermission, they have the best cookies. Just don't try taking anything back to your seat.

7. Oh yeah the music! I knew there was something I was forgetting! The music IS the reason that most symphony goers bother to come.

8. Many claim that classical music is good for the brain improving an array of cognitive skills at least in the short term.

9. Many also claim that listening relieves stress, and thus can have positive physical benefits.

10. Last, but not least, music is good for the soul. I know, I know it sounds like a cliché, but I really think it's true. Not every composer will "speak" to you, but when you find the right piece, it will take you away completely. I recommend starting with Beethoven and working your way forward. Besides, Beethoven had some of the coolest hair of all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Keyword Analysis

It's time once again for that fun, fun game bloggers like to play with the "keyword analysis" feature that is available on most visitor counters. This little item allows you to see how visitors managed to find your blog, and it also tells you what search terms they used in their query. Frequently people often seem to be looking for one thing when they end up finding another. Why they click on something that is obviously unrelated to their search is beyond me.

Years ago, for example, I got many, many hits on a post I did about gardening. It turns out that people were searching for an Australian band called the "Spiky Cucumbers," but for some reason they were finding me instead. I tried to find a site I could link to for the band, but alas there were none. Perhaps the strangest I've ever run across was the large number of people searching variations on "why your baby is pale." Why the heck they ended up with me is anyone's guess, but I did my best to suggest that they might like to take the baby to the doctor instead of simply googling for answers.

Anyway, the number of reasonable queries for which there must be a shortage of good answers seems quite high. Therefore, in the next few posts, I will attempt to create decent answers for common "mis-hits" on my blog. Regular readers might just want to skip these as they might be boring as all get out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Why does the blogger editor have a different view than the actual blog?

Why does the "preview page" show one thing, but then the published page is totally different?

Why do pictures suddenly invent their own sizes and margins after being imported?

Why? Why? Why?

You get what you pay for perhaps?

NOLA Rocks! Part 4: Buildings

One of the parts I most enjoyed about our NOLA trip was the archetecture. Our buildings on the west coast are so young, that there isn't so much variation in the styles. In New Orleans, the fingerprints of history can be seen all over the city. A building in a more French style might sit next to one with Spanish touches. A very modern skyscraper might be found only a few blocks from a warehouse built in the 1700s. It's a wondeful mish-mash that gives the city such a unique feel.

Many of the pictures were taken on our coach tour, so they may be a bit blurry around the eges. The first two are houses from the famous (and incredibly beautiful) Garden District. Picture four was taken to show the iron railings and plantain shutters that are so common in this area (plus that little orange tree is just cool). The last pic may seem kind of dull after the others, but it is of a warehouse from the early 1700s. You can still make out some of the original signage over the doors.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Atheists Come Out

There are certain topics in the news that always catch my attention. Any article dealing with vegetarianism, for example, goes in my "must read" category. There are dozens of these issues that are particularly important to me, and they are the ones I flip (or click) to first before skimming through the rest of the paper. Recently this article about atheism could not be missed. It turns out that atheists and agnostics are everywhere, and more and more of them are willing to admit their beliefs even if it means discrimination by others.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Charts for the Masses

Reason #2,568 that I love M: He makes me charts and graphs.

Recently I was "asked" (ordered) to present information at a meeting with very little lead time to plan. It turned out that the information was not prepared properly, so the task of presenting suddenly required a lot more effort. I was faced with having to crunch the data myself, and with my knowledge of Excel (LOTS of highlighting and manually moving things around) it was not going to be a quick job.

Then, like the hero that he is, M. came to the rescue. With a few deft keystrokes, he had Excel quaking in its boots. Suddenly my mess of data was transformed into beautiful charts with clever sounding names. The presentation went off without a hitch. My boss was grateful, and my co-workers were impressed. I did confess that I had a secret assistant, and that got me a whole new kind of street cred, the superior husband boost!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

End of Year Already?

We still have five weeks left of school, and yet kids are already beginning to lose it. Just this morning, before class began, I had one of my most capable and pleasant boys walk into my classroom, speak a few words to his friend, punch the friend in the nose, and calmly walk out. I spent a good fifteen minutes cleaning up the blood and reporting the offender to the office.

Yesterday, told one kid that he couldn't leave the classroom to visit another teacher, and he pitched such a fit that I had to ask the principal to come and remove him. I've also confiscated about a dozen toys and perhaps another dozen cel phones in recent days. Gum, running, and dress code violations are everywhere. It's as if all the usual rules have suddenly stopped applying to this class. I begin to have sympathy for those grim authority figure stereotypes who yell at you for the ridiculous infractions. Perhaps they have simply lost their minds after being pushed too far too many times.

Why are they doing this so early? I really don't know. This has been a tough class all along, but now they are really showing their colors. Perhaps this is just the result of extra stress at home since the economy has so many people out of work. That could be the answer, but it sounds like a bit of a cop out to me. There is definitely a PhD project in figuring out why certain classes have the personalities that they do. If I could figure out an antidote for the more hard-bitten groups, I would be one of the world's only teacher millionaires.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

NOLA Rocks Part 3: Cemetary

Part of our grand NOLA trip was a bus tour around the city. While bus tours can be painfully touristy, they are a way to see a lot of things in a very short space of time. Ours was no exception. One of the highlights of this trip was a visit to one of New Orleans' famous graveyards. Number Three Cemetary was once situated a good way outside the main part of town, but as they city grew, the area was surrounded. Houses and other buildings now hem the yard in on all sides, and there is even a retirement home with apartments that look out over the graves.

One of the things that makes NOLA cemetaries so unique is the above-ground burials in crypts. This practice came about because the city is built over swamp land, and if one digs a hole, it soon becomes a pond. The early Catholic inhabitants of the city did not seem to think that sinking their loved ones into the swamp constituted proper Christian burial. Go figure.

The actual method by which the cemetaries are used is both shocking and fascinating. A family may own a crypt for hundreds of years, but the actual dimensions of the building (often the size of a garden shed) certainly could not accomodate dozens of bodies. The very first coffin put into the crypt is left there until the next person in the family dies. At that time, the old body is taken out of its coffin and put into a chamber beneath the crypt while the new coffin is put in its place. I'm not sure how I would feel about mixing together with all my dead grandparents, but it seems to work for them.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Benaroya Never Smelled Like This

Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony, may not be a venerable institution, but it certainly tries. The soaring ceilings and elegant decor are intended to give you the appropriate feelings of gravitas that seems to be required in order to appreciate this type of music. After all, there are traditions to be upheld and rivals to be upstaged! We cannot allow our symphony hall to be less grand, less, imposing, less impressive than, say, the Arlene Schnitzer Hall in Portland or even the Hult Center in Eugene. What would the other symphonies think of us if we allowed our standard to relax? Other conductors might refuse to visit, our players might not get out of town gigs, high-brow culture in Seattle could ultimately collapse!

All joking aside, even for all its stuffiness, I really do enjoy my time at Benaroya Hall. The stringent behavior requirements of symphony attendance actually make sense when you think about the music. How can you truly enjoy a delicate violin solo if somebody next to you is talking about their bunions or slurping on a soda? It just doesn't work. Therefore, I've really trained myself to be extra careful with my behavior while enjoying an evening in the main concert hall. That is why I found it so very unnerving when we went that same venue to hear a totally different kind of music.

A few months ago, we actually attended a rock concert there. David Byrne, one of my perennial favorites, was having a show, and M was kind enough to grab a pair of tickets. We weren't even inside the building when I started to notice the difference. People with dreadlocks and hemp skirts generally do not attend the symphony, but they were in the crowd tonight. The throng milling around the entrance also included the very young and very pierced, and it noticeably did not include the seniors one would usually find. Nothing about this crowd worried me, but the disorientation was severe. It only got worse as the show began.

Instead of the stirring strains of a Beethoven piece, we heard "Take Me to the River" and "Psycho Killer." The guy in front of us was actually wearing a mic to illegally record the concert. People began dancing in the aisles. It could have been any rock concert at any amphitheater or arena. Then came the ultimate in brain-bending moments. The smell. You know the "concert" smell? That aroma of illegal celebration? Anyway, I never actually saw anyone lighting up, but they were certainly there somewhere.

In the long run, I'm actually kind of happy when my expectations are so completely turned on their heads. Perhaps it will prevent my brain from moldering away into a series of impassable ruts. Nevertheless, if I hear Chopin the next time I'm at the Moore, doubtless I will be confused all over again.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

NOLA Rocks Part 2: Boat Ride

Due to public transportation hiccups (DO NOT RIDE THE STREET CAR IF YOU ARE ON A TIMELINE!) M and I had to run for it in order to catch our ride on the paddle wheel steamer. However, I'm very glad we did as it was an unforgettable experience. Paddle wheel steamers used to be common in the United States as both cargo and passenger ships. However, the invention of new technologies has made them all but obsolete. The Natchez, a sternwheeler, still plies the waters (as they say) around New Orleans, but it is confined to ferrying tourists. While the boat itself was built in the 1970s, it's steam boiler system was taken from a much older ship, the Clairmont.

The boat ride is an entertaining and relaxing way to get a good look at what happens along the shores of the river, and you also get an impression of just how much boat traffic there is in that area. Lunch, dinner, and drinks are also served, but I would stick with a drink and take it out onto the deck.
Pic #1: Boiler room on the boat (M became suddenly eight years old when we went in)
Pic #2: The wheel!
Pic #3: An abandoned school in the lower 9th ward.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Cooking for Big Kids

Not long ago, I had one of those sudden realization moments about the nieces. They were staying the night with us, and I was making dinner for the four of us. Without giving it much thought, I cooked enough for two normal portions plus about one more portion to be divided between the girls. You probably know what a kid's plate looks like. That night it was maybe half a cup of tofu, half a potato, and a little hill of peas. Often, the dinners of little kids end up looking like something from nouvelle cuisine because they just have such tiny stomachs. I was used to this.

After just a few minutes of eating, I began to realize my mistake. Food was disappearing at a much faster rate than I'd expected. Before M and I had taken our first few bites, Elder Niece was already chasing the last few peas around her plate. Younger Niece began eyeing my potatoes with a dangerous gleam in her eye. I got myself back in the kitchen as quickly as possible for fear that they might eat M in my absence. Lucky I'd cooked extras for the next day's lunches! Seconds were devoured at much the same speed as the first round.

It seems that the nieces have reached a new stage in their lives where the "hollow leg" effect begins to take over. Never again will I make the mistake of serving them tiny children's portions of anything. You'd think Elder Niece being taller than her grandmother would have tipped me off to these changes, but sometimes I have trouble accepting how fast these things happen. Weren't they sweet little babies about five minutes ago?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Excuse Me M'am May I See Your Pass?

One thing you realize really quickly in teaching is the need to wear many different hats in a given day. The hat I like the least is probably the police helmet. Part of our time is spent keeping the peace in the hall, organizing audiences, and generally looking out for any signs of trouble. A few months ago, I had one of these "policing" moments that went above and beyond the norm.

It all started when I was heading down to the office during my prep time. When class is in session, the halls should be pretty much deserted, and those kids who are out should have passes from their classrooms. I noticed a girl moving without much "purpose" (as we like to call it). She did not seem to have a pass, but she did have a large wad of gum that she was chewing with bovine intensity. She seemed a bit too old to be one of our students, but some 8th graders can be deceiving. I checked for a visitor badge, but she didn't have one of those either.

Me: Excuse me; may I see your pass?

Her: What?! I don't HAVE a PASS! I don't EVEN go HERE!!!

Me: Oh I see. So you checked in at the office and you have a visitor sticker?

Her: NO!!! My mom is a TEACHER here, and I came to see her! I don't need a PASS!

Me: Nevertheless, you still need a pass. You also need to spit out your gum.


Me: Nevertheless

Her: OH MY GOD (yes, she really said that) I DON'T BELIEVE THIS! YOU CAN'T DO THIS!

Me: Nevertheless


Me (telling my name): Nevertheless

At this point she stormed off, and I went down to the office to report the problem. Just as I was finishing explaining the event, here she came around the corner with her mom (an assistant, NOT a teacher) in tow. As the mom frantically tried to explain the daughter's horrible behavior to the principal, I turned to head back to my room. Once I'd turned the corner and was out of sight of the front office, several staff came up to high five me. I was confused. Then one explained that the girl I'd caught was something of a regular in the Front Office. "She's an absolute menace" said one. Ah yes, that's me Officer Teacher, catcher of menaces. Ugh!