Monday, November 30, 2009

I Can't Remember The Last Time Saturday Was So Fun

November 30, 2009

There are a lot of people who turn their noses up at Facebook--those who lament that tuning into the cyber world discourages real, face-to-face interaction and human contact. To be honest, I certainly see that as a potential problem. Given certain personalities or dispositions, it's a real possibility that one might dive into the safe anonymity and disconnect from the 'real world' that the internet can provide. However, it has been my experience thus far that Facebook has had quite the opposite effect. It has brought the far reaches of my community and my world together--it has shrunk the boundaries that I might otherwise operate within-- and helped me reconnect (on-line and in real life) in ways that I very much doubt would come to pass without it.

Take Saturday, for example. My sister was still in town on her Thanksgiving vacation. She and I both posted, via Facebook, an open invitation for any of our friends who might also be in town visiting (and those who live here as well, of course) to join us in what we hope will be the first of many Family and Friends softball games at the park right around the corner from my house. We heard from several people who wanted to come join us, and suddenly we had enough people to field a couple of teams. Some of our friends who joined us already knew each other, and some met on the field for the first time that day, but all of us were ready for a little good spirited competition and fun.

Lisa and I were the captains. We figured it might be the best way to ensure fair and balanced teams, since the guys tend to get a little too competitive and we had little kids involved. We split into teams we thought could give each other an equal challenge, and then chose names for our respective teams. Lisa's team was the Vipers. My youngest niece, Bailey, wanted us to be the Green Team because, well, she likes the color green. My other niece Taylor (who told me repeatedly that I was her favorite Aunt Donna, since she was buttering me up to pick her for my team) piped in that a mongoose can kill snakes, so that was her name choice. Thus, Team Green Mongoose was born.

We had players who play softball weekly, and players who had never picked up a bat before. No matter--we all cheered for everyone (especially the kids), and got excited no matter who crossed home plate. It was a beautiful day, despite the rain the day before, and everyone had a great time. By the time we called it a game, everyone had made contact with the ball, everyone had managed to cross a plate at one time or another, and Green Mongoose had emerged victorious.

Team Viper

Team Green Mongoose

We took a little time to play at the playground a bit before heading home and resting up a bit. Later that evening, we all met up at the local pizza place. We again sent out the invitation for anyone who was around to bring their families and join us there. We had all of our softball players (who, by the way, are already looking forward to a re-match) plus a whole slew of additional people who came out to socialize, meet new people, and eat great pizza. Not only did several friends stop by with their kids, but my Grandma came out to visit with her grandkids and great-grandkids. Lisa and I were thrilled that her best friend from sixth grade, whom she hadn't seen since elementary school, also came out to reunite with us and to meet new friends. In all we had at least 40 people show up for some good old fashioned face-to-face, human contact and interaction.

Finally, the adults decided to cap off the night with a little adult time singing karaoke at a local dive bar just up the street from my place. Brianna, Kathryn, and another of our friends' sons, Michael, offered to babysit several kids at our house while we were out. The kids were fabulous, and took turns playing Rock Band, watching movies, and playing games. Bree even baked them a cake and saved some for the adults for when we arrived back home. While we were singing and dancing and laughing among our adult friends, the kids were at home bonding and making future playdates.

Is it possible that all of this could have happened without Facebook? Of course. But the ubiquitous accessibility of Facebook and the instant communication it allows means no missed calls, no 'well maybe I won't call him/her because what if he/she is busy/doesn't like me/isn't home,' etc. It means basically shy people can reach out to others in a relatively safe, non-threatening way, and create opportunities for real interaction. And it means that friends from far and long away can choose to reconnect in a meaningful way using a pretty direct and straightforward device. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't take the place of human interaction; it's a highway that provides access to it in a way that's never been possible before its advent--and I think that's a pretty good thing. At the very least, it's been the means that led me to one pretty spectacular Saturday with family and friends, and I intend to make it one of many more to come.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

November 29, 2009

My sister Lisa was able to come up from Corona to spend Thanksgiving with us this year. Both her kids and my kids have been beside themselves waiting to see each other again. (I just love how much our kids love each other!) Jim (who is the closest thing to a brother that I have, besides my ACTUAL brother) hosted the feast at his house this year, taking on the turkey duties, along with gravy, candied yams (which I just don't get, but his daughter Kathryn really likes), mashed potatoes, green beans, pumpkin pie (made by Kathryn), just to name a few dishes. At my house, we cooked the ham, dressing, corn, rolls, and deviled eggs before packing it all up and heading to Jim's for dinner.

At Jim's we all took turns sharing what we were thankful for before digging in and relishing the food and conversation. Things we were thankful for varied from being thankful that we could all be together to being thankful for Team Edward (my niece, Taylor) to being thankful for rolls (Nicholas was hungry!)

After letting our (quite) full bellies settle a bit, Doug broke out the karaoke, and we all took turns singing for hours. Doug has an amazing library of karaoke songs, so we were able to sing 80s pop, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, Frank Sinatra, Kings of Leon--you name it! Everyone got up and took turns singing solo, duets, and background. Perfect family entertainment for a family kind of day.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Giving Thanks

November 26, 2009

There are a great many things for which I am thankful this Thanksgiving, not the least of which are:

I am thankful for a husband who knows all of my insecurities, shortcomings, and idiosyncrasies, and still loves me in spite of them, or maybe even because of them, with his whole heart.

I am thankful for three amazing children, who are big-hearted, affectionate, and loving human beings. I love the beautiful people they are, and the bright futures I see ahead of them.

I am thankful for the health of my family.

I am thankful for the love and support of all of the members of my extended family, who are so important to me.

I am thankful that my sister and her girls are able to visit often enough that our kids feel like they get to grow up together, and that she and I remain closer than ever.

I am thankful for a beloved group of close friends who make every gathering a homecoming of sorts, and a rejuvenation for the soul.

I am thankful for an amicable partnership with my ex-husband in raising our kids with their best interests at heart.

I am thankful for teachers who have genuine spirits and positive influences as they help guide my children along their educational paths.

I am thankful for a home to live in in this tough economy, and more than enough food to feed my family, and plenty of clothes to keep us warm through the winter.

I am thankful to have a job in a time when the unemployment rate is frighteningly high.

I am thankful for friends at work who make my job a pleasant place to be.

I am thankful for students who make it a joy to go to work most days.

I am thankful for the technology we have that allows us to connect and reconnect with loved ones and friends old and new.

I am thankful to see random acts of kindness, small courtesies, smiles for strangers, and willingness to help those in need still alive and well in our world. Sometimes you have to look for them, but they're there.

I am thankful for a generally positive and optimistic outlook, which helps me choose to seek out the good in circumstances that come my way.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Road Trip!

November 25, 2009

I love family vacations--I think my kids are pretty fabulous people to hang out with. But every once in awhile, (and believe me, it's been way too long!) what I really want is a get-away for just Doug and me. This past weekend, the kids were with their dad, so we decided to jump in the car and head to the Bay Area to visit some of our favorite people in the world.
Often when we visit David and Carrie and Freya, we go out to eat, we run around town a bit, take walks--pretty low key and incredibly relaxing. This time, though, we didn't even leave their place the whole weekend; we just reveled in the company, the conversation, and the comfort of people we are truly at home with no matter what we're doing together. We were thrilled that Clarke, a long-time friend to us all, was able to come spend Saturday night with us. I adore Clarke--he's got such a beautiful soul--and even though we don't get to see him nearly often enough, whenever we see him it's like no time at all has passed.

Sunday night Carrie made us all dinner (after she worked all day, no less!) and we got to hang out with more of our extended, extra family--Laurie, Mitchelle, and Gryphon. There was much giggling and playing and chatting and laughing. The kids had a great time, too--ha ha! Gryphon has such a beautifully infectious smile, and Freya's eyes just magically light up when she's happy. I just loved playing with them and watching them play with each other.
I always look forward to spending time with David and Carrie. The four of us just have such an easy, familiar rapport, as if we've known each other for many lives. And my goodness, I've loved seeing how amazing they are as parents, too. Carrie absolutely comes alive in the presence of her daughter--it's magical and palpable. She is the kind of mom I try to be (but am not always successful in the attempt). And David's eyes and smile are filled with love whenever he sees Freya; he's such a big playful teddy bear with her.

Yes, it was a long awaited road trip, and well worth the wait. I feel so blessed that we have such great friends.

CSF Trip

November 25, 2009

Last Thursday and Friday I got to chaperone the annual CSF college visitation trip. Our destinations were UC Davis and UC Berkeley. What was especially fun about this trip was that Bree and several of her friends came, so I knew most of the kids on the trip.

Our Davis tour was beautiful. Great weather, amazing facilities, lovely campus. The kids were a bit skittish, though, because the primary mode of transportation for students was cycling, and man, those cyclists were aggressive! I heard the kids more than a few times mutter that they were nervous about crossing the roads for fear of being run down.

Highlights of the campus visit for me were getting to meet up for lunch with my former student, Brittany (one of my all-time favs!), hanging out with some great work friends (Mary, Brook, and Amy), and getting to see the student protest regarding UC tuition hikes.
The next day, our Berkeley leg of the journey, was not quite as much fun. The campus was great, and I actually ran into four or five former students, which was an unexpected surprise, but the weather was much more uncooperative. It was gray and cloudy at first, but in the middle of the tour, we got caught in an absolute deluge of rain. Our group of forty-eight kids was sharing approximately twenty umbrellas, so most of us got soaked to the bone. Also, as might be expected, the UC tuition protest had an even stronger base in Berkeley, so some of the areas we might have seen on the tour were closed off to us, as there was a sit-in in progress and several buildings closed due to pulled fire alarms. Nevertheless, it was exciting to have the students see real political activism in progress.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Literary Food Festival

November 24, 2009

Every once in awhile, my students ask to have a little party in class--you know, to break the monotony, take a break from the stress of all the work. Mostly though (I'm not fooled even a little bit), it's because they try anything to exercise Advanced Senioritis. (My freshmen ask for parties, too. Senioritis starts quite early with some of these children.) Anyway, I have a hard time justifying having a random party, but honestly sometimes I'd like a little break too, especially with my A.P. students. Instead of a party, we have what I call a Literary Food Festival.

At the Literary Food Festival, students can bring in any food to share with the class, but they have to tie it in some way to a piece of literature. They each have to do a mini-presentation on what they brought, and why. See? We're learning about literary allusions and symbols, but deliciously. I tell them the allusion can be to any book, from children's books to pop fiction to classics. In a less creative year, we'll get lots of plates of cookies, alluding to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Tasty, but not so much thinking outside the box. This year, I was quite impressed with some of the offerings:

Breakfast at Tiffany's--(Breakfast=Pancakes. Tiffany's=Turquoise Packaging. Turquoise Pancakes!)

Harry Potter Cupcakes

Harry Potter--Golden Snitch Cupcakes

Alice in Wonderland--The cookies she ate that made her shrink

Lord of the Flies (A bit of a stretch, but great effort. Had the boys been left to their own devices--had they NOT been rescued, goes the explanation, they might have resorted to cannibalism. Check out the cookies: hand-shaped, foot-shaped, tongue-shaped, kidney-shaped, intestine-shaped, etc.)

And finally, the winner for both the most creative AND grossest has no corresponding picture but is worth including by explanation. We had just finished reading Oedipus Rex, so we were served two small scoops of vanilla ice cream. On each scoop was one chocolate-covered raisin, representing Oedipus' eyes. And over the top? Ooey-gooey strawberry syrup. Get it? Oedipus' eyes after he plucked them out with his wife's brooch!