Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tough Chick

March 29, 2010

When Danielle decided she wanted to play catcher for her softball team, I figured we'd be in for a little bruising here and there. So when she came home with her leg and knees covered in purple, pink and sickly green, I asked her how many times she'd been pelted with the ball in order to come home with those badges of honor.
Badges of honor, my foot! When the truth came out, little Missy didn't earn her bruises taking one for the team. In what I don't consider her most bright decision, she had decided while playing at a friends house to engage in a friendly little game of 'kidnappers.' The girl voluntarily allowed her friend to tie her up and put her in the garage until the 'detective' came and found her. While tied up, Miss Grace thought she'd reposition herself, and she tripped and got into a fight with an errant scooter. She beamed with pride telling the story though, because she didn't cry, so her friends thought she was a pretty tough chick.

Hopefully she'll stick to good old-fashioned hide 'n seek in the future, sans rope. Purple's not her best color.

Monday, March 29, 2010

That's Just What Friends Do

March 29, 2010
Nicholas met his best friend Edward several years ago at school, and they've remained close ever since. Eddie is an incredibly bright kid (as a seventh grader, he's already taking his math class at the high school) and is very mature in a lot of ways. But just like Nicholas, he's also got the sweet soul of a little boy, too. Neither of them is remotely interested in some of the 'big man on campus' personas lots of junior high kids start experimenting with at this age. Oh, they'll get there, but for now they are quite content to bond over Digimon cards and games on the Wii and Star Wars and chess.

I adore Eddie and love what a positive influence he is on Nicholas. Eddie's parents also love Nicholas and welcome him with open arms into their family. They are impressed with how polite and respectful he always is whenever he's there, and how both of the boys are so willing to include Eddie's younger siblings in their play. It's pretty funny, because as much as he's grown physically this past year, he's quite the conspicuous addition to their household when he's there--a tall, burly blonde young man in the midst of this petite, dark-haired family. No matter--as different as he looks, he fits right in.

Not long ago, back from a visit at Edward's house, Nicholas asked me if we could purchase the Rosetta Stone computer program. If you're not familiar with it, the program is a very expensive means of learning languages, though it's supposed to be very effective. I thought the question was a little out of left field, since Nicholas had never expressed much interest in learning foreign languages. I asked him if he knew what it was for, and why he thought he'd like to have it. "Well, Edward's grandparents live with their family, but they don't speak very much English. I thought it would be nice to learn Hmong so that when I go over there, I can talk to them, too." Totally unsolicited, he wanted to reach out to Eddie's grandparents just because the family was so good to him and he felt so connected to them. Oh, it just made my heart melt! Unfortunately, Hmong is one of the languages Rosetta Stone doesn't offer. We're looking into summer school classes instead. It's okay, though, even if we don't find a class; I'm quite certain Nicholas and the grandparents have already communicated the most important message to each other.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Remembering Gary

March 24, 2010
On the day that would have been my older brother Gary's 45th birthday, things that remind me of him:

--The Carpenters (we used to sing together when we were kids)--The Cincinnati Reds (Gary's team of choice when he first started collecting baseball cards)

--Polo cologne (Way too much of it!)

--McLane High School (His Alma Mater, of course)--Sinbad the Comedian (His mannerisms and sense of humor have always reminded me of Gary)

--"My Adidas" by Run DMC (Gary always used to do the baby step walk from the video whenever he wore his beloved Adidas)
--Little tiny baby socks (When Bree was a tiny baby, any time he saw her he always stole one of her socks and put it up on the ceiling fan blade where he knew I couldn't reach it. It was his little calling card.)

---Coca-cola (He was as addicted to that as I am to Diet Pepsi.)

--'Rack 'em, Loser' (He inherited this phrase from my dad, who used to say it whenever he won a game of pool.)

--Tiffany and Anthony (You never saw a dad prouder of his two babies.)

These and a hundred other little things always make me think of him, on his birthday or any other day.

Happy birthday Gary (Gae-Ray, Gee, GeRM)

Monday, March 22, 2010

No Exit--Jean-Paul Sartre

March 22, 2010
I have a new post up at my other site. Check out my review of Sartre's No Exit at
Sisters Recommend.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Giving Credit Where It's Due: History Day Post Part II

March 21, 2010

I've always believed in giving credit where it's due. When a waitress has done a great job, I like to let her manager know. When I get good customer service in a store, I seek out the owner of the establishment to acknowledge the strengths of their employee. In a world of cookie cutter businesses, what stands out most is the individual people who make a difference one-on-one. Too often, those managers and bosses hear only the complaints when things go wrong.

The same is true in education. We read in the newspapers about the teachers who shouldn't be in the classroom due to poor moral character. We see on the news teachers who have made bad judgments with unfortunate outcomes. Those are the few salacious stories that seem to speak for the profession all too often. We don't hear often enough about the hard-working teachers who give of themselves in a way that really makes a difference to kids in a one-on-one, everyday sort of way. They do it not just because it's their job, but because it's their passion. So when I encounter a teacher who has made an impact beyond what is expected, I think it is important to share my appreciation not just with them, but with their principals and district administrators as well. Nicholas' History Day coach and Academic Block teacher is one of those who has made such an impression on me, so yesterday I sent the following email to both her and her principal:


I want to thank you again for all of the hard work and dedication that you put into helping Nicholas and all of the History Day kids be successful in their entries. Though the whole process can be, at times, a bit overwhelming, especially for a kid whose organizational skills aren't always his strong suit, you helped him follow through and recognize that he could, in fact, not only handle it but that he could create something that was interesting and something he could really be proud of. I am very proud of his final product and all of his hard work.

Nicholas has struggled off and on throughout his academic career with both social and organizational skills. He's a very intelligent young man and is very much a people-pleaser, and like almost any kid you meet, thrives most when he knows he's valued, accepted, and liked for who he is. I feel very blessed that Nicholas hit your class at a transitional period in his life--the transition to middle school--that can be either a traumatic change or a new and exciting open door. With your help, as well as other fantastic adults such as Mr. Blizzard who have encouraged him on your campus, Nicholas has blossomed. His love for history has only solidified not only through History Day but through your class itself, and he's a much more confident learner. He believes in himself because he knows he's got people (besides his parents) who believe in him and recognize and celebrate the strengths he brings to the table.

I was a little worried that Nicholas might be discouraged by the fact that so many of his schoolmates came home from the competition with medals when he did not, but although he was truthfully a little down, he loved that he got such positive feedback from both you and Mr. Blizzard after the event. As a matter of fact, after a few moments of silence on our car ride home he turned to me and said, "So, I wonder what next year's topic is going to be?" and then he asked if he might talk to you about presenting his board to his classmates to share what he had learned. Medal or no, that is success.

So thank you, thank you again. Nicholas is truly lucky to have you as a teacher this year, and I certainly hope that he is fortunate enough to have other influential people like yourself in his future, who recognize the power that they have to touch kids in an important and meaningful way.

P.S.--Please thank your daughter for me as well, who offered Nicholas some very kind and encouraging words after the awards. It's one thing to hear your parents tell you they're proud of you, or even your teacher, but to hear it from another adult who doesn't have the same kind of vested interest in you--that's pretty cool.


She wrote me back, and told me I made her cry. That's okay; we're even. Her response made me cry, too.

Boys Will Be Boys

March 21, 2010

When kids are young, they engage in a lot of imaginative play, creating worlds and scenarios to explore. They try on personas and personalities and adventures and learn about who they are, who they can be. I always loved watching my kids play pretend when they were little, but there was one line of role-play that I tended to steer them from. Gun-play, cops and robbers, cowboys and indians--I could just never get behind seeing my kids pointing guns, even pretend ones, at each other in the name of fun. There were so many other avenues to explore that I never felt they'd feel deprived if they didn't have guns to play with.

forward several years. Nicholas is now in 7th grade, and as fortune would have it, his Academic Block teacher is the History Day advisor. As an avid watcher of the History Channel, Nicholas' interest was piqued when she talked to the class about the County History Day competition. The kids could choose to put together an exhibit, or create a website, or film a documentary, write a paper, or perform a dramatization. The theme for this day's competition was "An Innovation that Made an Impact in History." After brainstorming and looking at several possible topics, Nicholas committed to developing an exhibit that would showcase his findings. His innovation of choice to study? The Gatling Gun.

I wrestled briefly with this, honestly. Yes, it's an innovation, and yes, it modernized warfare, but I still wasn't thrilled with him spending weeks being drawn into the world of war and weaponry. To be frank, it wasn't just about him, either. Knowing what I know about the extent of the requirements of the History Day project, including guiding research and citations and annotated bibliographies, I knew that I myself would have to be sucked into that world as well, as I helped him through the process, a prospect I was not particularly interested in. (No joke, I actually had a nightmare about annotated bibliographies while I was trying to teach him correct MLA formatting for the information he'd gathered. There were angry historians and books that came to life involved.) Ultimately, though, if he was going to invest that much of his time and energy into a months-long project, I knew it had to be something that he really wanted to study. The Gatlin gun it was.

I won't go too much into the details of the project, but I will say there were some long nights, some procrastination issues, and a little bit of frustration on Nicholas' part that his mom is an English teacher who actually wants him to accurately cite his research sources. I think he must have been envisioning reading a little bit, surfing the web, and gluing a handful of Gatlin gun pictures up on a foam board when he first signed on to this project. Needless to say, it was slightly more involved. In the end, though, he came up with a project he could be really proud of. I was very proud of him, too, for his perseverance and hard work. He learned quite a bit, and as a matter of fact, so did I.

The actual competition was a great experience for him, too. He was interviewed about his project and his research process, which I think is wonderful experience for the kids. His coach and his principal were there to support all of their History Day kids, cheering them on and offering encouragement. We also got to see all kinds of fascinating projects and presentations, some of which were truly amazing. Since this was his first History Day, it was an opportunity for us to really see the potential for what these projects could be. Although he didn't win any kind of a prize, he is already wondering what the theme is going to be for next year, and what else he'd like to learn about. That, my friends, is what I consider success.

Nicholas' project:
Some of the other projects we saw:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

After Happily Ever After

March 20, 2010
What happens when After Happily Ever After isn't so happily ever after for everyone? Why, you bring the whole enchanted family on a talk show to work out your issues, naturally, and if the mood strikes you, burst into a song or two while you're at it. If you're really prepared, you'll bring along choreographed back-up dancers to sashay and shimmy to your up-tempo showcase numbers. I've often thought it would be nice to have back up dancers of my own to make life a little more interesting, but so far they haven't shown up yet.

Anyway, that's the premise of the play Danielle just wrapped up. The Ever After--A Musical, featured Snow White and the Evil Queen, Cinderella and her 'beauty impaired' step-sisters, the Frog Prince, and Jiminy Cricket as a panel expert. We went to see the show last Thursday night. Once again I was amazed at how much fun I could have watching an elementary stage production. There was humor, both intended and unintended, and some very well-played roles. Danielle was in the chorus again this year, but got to be in one of the featured small group dance numbers. She also got a line this year, playing a small role in one of the 'commercials' in between segments of the play's talk show. One line or a hundred, it made no difference to me; I was the misty-eyed mama in the audience cheering her on.

The kids also performed during the school day on Friday for the student body. My sister Lisa was able to make a quick one day trip up from the L.A. area to see both of the girls' plays, so I got to see the show a second time when I brought Lisa to the student show. Lisa scored some serious Super Star Aunt points, by the way, for making the turn-around trip just so she could see the girls up on the stage. That's about ten hours worth of driving in twenty-four hours for a little under three hours' worth of theater. (We saw Bree's play that evening.) My sister rocks!

Friday, March 19, 2010

My Little Leprechan

March 19, 2010

I just love that Danielle is still young enough to totally get into the spirit of holidays and festivities. When her teacher announced there'd be a contest for the students wearing the most green in honor of St. Patrick's Day, she was determined to go all out. Here's how my little leprechan went to school on the 17th of March this year:
They didn't end up announcing a winner because so many kids came to school sportin' the green, but she loved it anyway. By the way, in case you can't tell from the pictures, that's a tiara worn over a ballcap. Totally Danielle--a princess in comfy-casual wear.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

But How Do I Answer the Telephone?

March 16, 2010

Unless you've been living under a rock or in a much more temperate clime than I do, you recognize this:

Yes, folks, it's the Snuggie.

When I first saw a commercial for these blankets with arms on television, I thought it was a joke. Seriously? People in distress over how to be warm and talk on the phone or find the remote at the same time? C'mon, it's not rocket science! Do these people lose connection with their extremities once they don't have a visual on them? "Oh no--my arms have disappeared!! What am I going to do if I need to change the channel?"

When my daughter suddenly decided that it was the must-have Christmas gift this past year, I was amused and decided to order online, sort of as a tongue-in-cheek present. I'm sure the new designer animal prints made it even cooler for the sixteen-year-old set, and the buy-one-get-one-free offer certainly appealed to the ninja shopper in me. Turns out, the joke was on me.

I should have known there'd be problems when I went to the As-Seen-On-TV website and started to order. $19.95 plus shipping and handling for two, even though in stores they were selling individually for twenty bucks. (For the record, all the local shops were out of the leopard print Snuggies--the blanket of choice for Bree.) However, they didn't show exactly how much shipping and handling was until you submitted the order. Wanna know how much it was? $18. 90, with tax. So much for two for the price of one. If it sounds too good to be true, folks, it is. So I was irritated, but I figured, what the heck. I have two daughters, and if I found them in the stores, that's how much I'd spend for two anyway. Okay, so I let it go.

And then....nothing. I got a confirmation email that my order had been placed, but nothing was deducted from my bank account, and no Snuggie appeared on my doorstep. One week went by, then two. Nothing happened. I went back online to check the status of the order, but there's no way to do that on the site, and naturally the 1-800 number takes you to a charming recording. (No human beings were used in the making of this message.) No way to get through, no, one at home, thanks for trying. Ugh!

Mind you, that was in mid-December. Christmas came and went, and Bree's presents under the tree were shy one Snuggie. Still, no charges appeared on my bank account, so I figured the order had been misplaced or overlooked and that was that. Until yesterday. Yesterday, I checked in on my bank account and found not one, but two nearly forty dollar charges from the fine folks in Snuggie world--three months after the fact! They tried to do it undercover, too, under some vague and innocuous company name. They couldn't fool me, though. I know how to Google, and yeah, I found them out. If they're gonna charge me that kind of money, I'd better be toasty warm underneath four cozy blankets with eight arms. Right now, though, I've got nothing. Zip. Actually, I guess that's not entirely true, since what I do have is an uphill battle of paperwork to dispute the charges for non-existent merchandise, a canceled debit card, and sudden dislike for leopard prints.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Guys and Dolls Opening Night

March 14, 2010

We took the family to the high school's opening night of Guys and Dolls this weekend. Although Bree has been involved in choir and drama throughout high school, this is the first Buchanan theater production she's been a part of. Weeks of hard work and long hours went into the show, and it was fun to see how it all paid off. I was a proud mama seeing her up on the stage! I also loved seeing several of my students in the show--I love getting to see the sides of my kids that don't necessarily come out in the classroom.

Two shows down, four more shows 'til the final curtain falls next Saturday night.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Who's a Loser?

March 12, 2010

I just read an article about big to-do surrounding a 6th grade teacher from North Carolina who wrote the following on his student's paper:

Seriously? What was he thinking? The girl's mom, naturally, is up in arms, as I'm sure I would be if this came home in one of my kid's backpacks. She's calling for the immediate dismissal of the teacher, especially given that this is not the first time he's written such gems on her daughter's paper. His defense? He was just joking. And several other parents are also coming to his defense, saying his joking manner is his way of relating to the kids, reaching them.

Honestly, I kind of get that. Now, before you go and attack me, I have to say I don't condone what the guy did. Maybe he's just a mean-spirited guy who gets his kicks out of making kids feel bad, but I think probably something else is at work here. I myself can be prone to sarcasm now and again (or all the time--whatever). Sometimes I say things to kids that, if taken out of context, could be perceived as mean or angry or rude. But my demeanor, my facial expression, the context of the conversation, and the relationship I have with a particular student all play into how a student hears what I have to say. We joke, we talk, we interact--I teach high school kids, and you simply can't survive if you don't have a sense of humor. I actually am really careful about the students with whom I am sarcastic, because I want to know that a student knows I really care about them and that they understand my sense of humor when I have that kind of exchange with them. I would be mortified if I learned that a student mistook my sense of humor for something negative or derogatory.

That is what seems to be missing from the story here--we don't get the kid's reaction to the teacher's comments. Does she feel like she's been unjustly attacked, as her mother says, or does she take it as an intended joke, knowing that her teacher thinks very highly of her and has a solid relationship with her? If he did really mean it as a joke, I hope the girl was in on it. His mistake, if that was the case, was allowing it to occur outside the scope of context, devoid of facial expression and body language, removed from any personal contact that would ensure she knew it wasn't intended maliciously. The power of words on the paper is that they can take on different inflections and tones than originally intended, if one isn't careful.

Or maybe he's just a jerk. Who knows? All I'm saying is, I'd want to get the whole story before I jumped to any conclusions. If it was my kid, would I be upset? Absolutely. It wouldn't mean I'd alert the media immediately, though, at least until I felt like I'd gotten the whole story.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

And the Oscar Goes To...

March 10, 2010
Sunday we held our 5th annual Oscar Party, something we look forward to every year. We rolled up our sleeves to spruce up the place, then rolled out the red carpet to welcome fifteen or so good friends to watch the festivities with us.

This year's front runners were Avatar and The Hurt Locker, with The Hurt Locker running away with majority of gold by the end of the night. Highlights of the show itself were the John Hughes tribute and the acceptance speeches by both Mo'Nique and Sandra Bullock, which all moved me to tears. We were also excited to recognize some of the dancers on stage during the tribute to the Best Song nominees, since choreographer Adam Shankman drew from the talent at "So You Think You Can Dance" to fill his stage.

Despite the fact the Doug and I once again set out to see the Best Picture Nominees (he managed to see eight, I saw seven), neither of us ended up in the running to win the Oscar pool and the coveted Oscar trophy. First place honor went to our good friend Victor, while second place went to our attendee-by-proxy, David. I think we're going to start making David actually attend if he's going to keep winning the pool. For the rest of us, it was an honor just to nominated (to donate our money to the winners).

For a new twist, we added and appetizer contest this year, and the players came to win. We had two fantastic chili dishes, Chicken Salad Lettuce Cups, stuffed mushrooms, turkey meatballs, sushi rolls, homemade guacamole and salsa, bar-b-qued ribs--some really amazing offerings. The competition was fierce and the judges were enthusiastic in the taste-test. Hands-down, though, Donny's unbelievable ribs were the party favorite and yielded him the $20 Starbuck's gift card for his award. It's no Golden Trophy, but it's nothing to sneeze at either.

With all that fantastic food, it was hard to save room for the belle of the Oscar ball: Donny's incredible Oscar cake, a coffee flavored cake with almond filling, specially designed for the occasion. I had no idea we had such talented friends!

As always, we had a wonderful time with family and friends, and when we closed the door after saying goodbye to our last guest, we were already looking to ways to make next year's party even bigger and better.