Monday, October 29, 2012


I know I'm not the only one humming "Oh Sandy bay-beeee, can't you see? I'm in misery!"

Moved the cars across the street:

That's the view from my bedroom window. There is a tree all the way to the left, plus pines overhanging the driveway (also on the left).

We've all showered. I made food from the freezer last night for dinner. The bathtub's full of water.

Enjoy some Joss Whedon endorsing Romney:

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Benefits of Private Education

A friend of the family lives 1.8 miles from the Catholic school where she sends her 7 year old son. The bus company just notified her that her son will be picked up at 6:33 am for an 8:05 start time.

No. Fucking. Way.

She's going to go medieval on the people who invented going medieval. Karma....

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Liberal Arts and the Workforce

I'm often at odds with people at 11D over the role of some academic majors in helping people find jobs. I teach at a very career-oriented university, and I see a lot of practical career-focused teaching go on all the time. Over the past week, I found out that the higher-ups think that majors in liberal arts are actually a growth area, too, with strong hiring potential, which was kind of shocking to me. We're never going to have a History major or a Philosophy major, but there are ways that the university sees liberal arts contributing to the growth of the university.

But this just blew me away.

Charles Kennedy, a senior VP for research within the TV division, is going across the conglom to share some unusual theories regarding how the most popular entertainment of yesteryear provides clues to what could work today.

If Kennedy is correct, not only is there a predictable pattern behind why ABC series "Once Upon a Time" and "Revenge" struck a chord in recession-era America, but it's for some of the same reasons classics like "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Public Enemy" touched the same strings during the 1930s....

What Kennedy does might be best explained in terms of reverse-engineering: He studies the kinds of stories that succeeded in comparable historical eras in order to suggest how new programming can be tailored to resonate in the current marketplace.

I've always believed this about entertainment, but it's nice to see that a big business sees it the same way.

Slight tangent: In the thread I linked above, there was a discussion about the relevance of German. Two things:

1. In my week in Germany, I was never condescended to, and 
2. As a result of our Germany trip, my husband has decided to take a German class at my university, and it has 24 students enrolled in it. (I'd take the class, but I have child transportation issues at that time, plus I learn languages more easily than my husband, who needs more structure.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

East-West Extremes

My husband has a geotagger attached to his camera, so he can pretty well document where we traveled in Berlin. As you can see, we were in East Berlin almost exclusively. One day we went to Spandau to see the Zitadelle Spandau, and we had to change trains in Charlottenberg (hence the one hit there).

This is basically what I see whenever I travel:

(Photo of the Julius Tower at the Zitadelle Spandau.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

East Germany

The town in Thuringia where my ancestors/relatives are from bordered West Germany. My cousin took us to the location where the border had been. Appropriately, there's a farm, smelling of manure, and a McDonalds alongside the location. He said that he was one of the first people to cross the border because as an electrician, he needed to access the electricity across the border. The East German police almost shot him, and the mayor of the neighboring town had to speak on his behalf. He would have been 45 when the wall fell.

Although there are other family members in the town, it seems that they don't really intermingle that much. We met not only my cousin, his wife, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, but my cousin's cousin and his son. "K" is in his 90s, and his wife is of Polish descent. She escaped to East Germany in 1944 (!) with only the clothes on her back. I still don't quite get that, but I guess East Germany was better than Poland at the time.

Under Communism, my cousins' electrician business seemed to flourish. And the town's main industries stayed because they couldn't really go anywhere else. However, when unification happened, the industries left the area and moved to West Germany. This disappointed my cousin (my father's 3rd cousin) because she wanted to go into that industry. Right now, Thuringia is the poorest district of Germany, I think I've read somewhere. It's a shame because the area we were in was so beautiful.

In Berlin, we ended up spending most of our time in East Berlin. It amazes me to think how much of the ground we covered was behind a wall for half of my life. One of our guides said, Russia took the best parts of Berlin. We did two tours, one a general walking tour and the other a bike tour of East Berlin and the Wall. I'm also reading Stasiland, by Anna Funder. The incredible amount of work that went into surveilling and controlling East Germans' lives is frightening.

I said to Amy in an e-mail that though I will never become a Republican, I do have a greater appreciation for why so many Russian immigrants I know are so fiercely libertarian and distrustful of any government program. East Germany was so clearly a failure economically and socially. The Communist totalitarian governments of the Soviet bloc exerted such control over individual lives and businesses that only the most obtuse and delusional person could have escaped feeling that government could ever be a positive force.

And I can see more about why people fear the redistribution of wealth. That was, obviously, government/fiscal policy in East Germany. And it failed. It's worth thinking about and analyzing why it failed, and how much of that was due specifically to the policies of redistributing wealth. But it's easy for me to see how the whys don't matter. It just didn't work, and I can't really blame the people who lived under that system for never believing that a bigger government could ever be a good thing.

From the East Side Gallery, photo by my husband:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ancestral Home

For our 20th anniversary, I managed to make all the pieces fall into place so that my husband and I could take a week-long trip to Berlin. Why Berlin? Airfare was cheap, and it wasn't London (which I love but had been to twice) or Paris (which I am finally admitting is a city I don't love).

But there was a little thought in the back of my head. I've been doing genealogical research on my father's family, and I learned that his great-grandfather emigrated from Germany. I talked my husband into agreeing to an overnight trip to that small town in East Germany. He agreed. It was a 5-hour train ride from Berlin, and we decided to do it right when we arrived in Berlin.

A few weeks before we left for Germany, I found out that my great-great-grandfather had not only the 2 siblings I knew about but a total of 8 siblings, two of whom seemed to have lived into adulthood, both sisters. Armed with their last names, I sent a form letter, written in German with the help of Google translate and a friend, to every person with their last names in the area of their town. I gave them my address and e-mail address and a photo of my great-great-grandfather.

Within the week, I'd received a e-mail from the grandson of my great-great-grandfather's youngest sister. He is my grandfather's second cousin. Actually, his granddaughter (my fourth cousin) wrote the e-mail for him because he does not speak/write English. Hesitantly, I e-mailed back: "I don't mean to surprise you, but I am planning to be in your town next week." The response was surprising: utter and complete excitement. They insisted on meeting us at the train and inviting us to dinner and taking us around the town.

It was wonderful. They were truly wonderful, caring people who had never known their grandmother had siblings who emigrated to the US. It was 24 blurry (we were jet-lagged) but thrilling hours of talking and visiting other relatives and seeing the main spots in town. Here is one view of this beautiful town in Thuringia:

One of my cousins gave me two small porcelain heads made by his grandfather, a toy maker. I have to figure out how to display them. We were given photos and genealogical info and treated so nicely. I wanted to cry, not just for how generous they were but with how I wish my father had been alive to know about all this. I can't wait to share it with my uncle, who is on vacation in an internet-free location.

I'll write another post later about my feelings/education about East Germany, which is where we spent all our time. I was 23 when the Wall fell, and it's been 23 years. My relatives in Thuringia lived under Soviet/DDR rule. When we were in Berlin, we spent most of our time in East Berlin. I'm still trying to process all my thoughts/experiences.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Snot Nose

If you squeeze a button on the back of the nose, a gooey kind of snot-like substance bulges out of the nostrils. E, as you can see, bought two (at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, where else?).

I think the golden age of traveling with children is probably 7 to 11 or so. E was still pretty fun, except he is (according to my mom) exactly like me, and wherever he is, he wants to know when we're leaving and going to the next place. S turned 13 last week. Need I say more? Sometimes she's as giddy as a 7-year-old, and the other times she's as sullen as the Goth-iest of teens.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Unpaid Work of the PTO Mom

Technically, I'm not a PTO mom, but this week I sure feel like it. Last Tuesday I chaperoned a field trip for the middle school. On Saturday I volunteered at our annual Spring Fling, which was moved indoors thanks to pouring rain. Yesterday, I served lunch for the Band Festival instructors. Tonight is a Band Concert. Thursday is Middle School Awards Night, and Friday is the Band Festival Field Trip to the Swim Club. Add to that a School Committee meeting last night and my volunteering to be on the committee interviewing for a new fifth grade teacher, and I'm putting in over 20 hours this week on school-related stuff.

Going out the window: any hope of cooking healthy meals this week. Last night was pizza. Tonight will likely be Wendy's. Who knows about Wednesday because I am pretty much screwed. I think I've been invited to a BBQ. Maybe I can eat and run?

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Last night was my daughter's first rehearsal at a summer youth wind ensemble. Fortunately, a friend went with her, and two other kids from her school were there. This was important because after an hour or so of rehearsal, my daughter was pretty well convinced it was too hard for her. However, thanks to her friend being there and her being able to talk about the difficulty, I think she and her friend will persevere. She's only just eligible to join this ensemble; she is entering 8th grade next year, and the ensemble ranges from 8th to 12th grade.

Neither of my children has been challenged very much in their lives, and I desperately want them to have those challenges. It works better, because of their contrary natures and my husband's and my easygoing natures, for them to be challenged by others rather than us. But it is so hard to find things that challenge them and to motivate them to see the challenges through.

My husband would say it's genetic--we're both somewhat lazy and underachieving ourselves. And I can't really argue. Here it is, the last day of May, and I have a long list of summer projects, yet I can't seem to get myself up out of this bed and get started.... So much easier just to stay here and read.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Smart Kids

Laura's post on the six-year-old spelling bee contestant is coinciding with a nostalgia burst I've been having lately about my early childhood. I was a bit of a child prodigy in my little world, but with young, financially struggling parents, I didn't get homeschooled or anything like that. I drove my parents crazy with my curiosity and knowledge (Mom: "She drew on the wall!" "Gail, she wrote the alphabet, and she's only 2!" "But it was black crayon!"). My dad was working a few jobs and trying to finish college, and my mom was in her early 20s and spending all her time at her mom's house with her crazy (literally) father and 5 younger siblings, including a sister only 4 years older than I was. In a different environment, would I have been coddled into more prodigy-like behaviors? Who knows. In 1969 my mom was pregnant, my dad went to Woodstock, and I was more a curiosity than anything.

After chatting with my 12 year old (almost 13) about something last week, I went looking for my old diaries and ended up going through that box of childhood mementos we all have. I went to a neighborhood elementary school for the first 3 years, spanning years K-3. (I was accelerated to 3rd grade 3 months into 2nd grade.) I have only a few scraps of memorabilia from those days: my kindergarten and 3rd grade report card; my 1st grade class photo. And very very dim memories. It reminds me how much memory is based on shared experiences that we discuss with others. My three younger sisters didn't attend this school; two hadn't been born, and the other didn't start Kindergarten till we moved the summer after 3rd grade. My mother always chuckles over this, the only bad "grade" I ever received in elementary school:
OK, I got a B one term in science. I never liked physics.

On Facebook I recently found a group for former students of the school. I've posted there asking if anyone remembers some of the things I do, can help fill in/sharpen these misty memories. I wonder if I stand out at all--the kid who was "smart," who skipped a grade. I learned real quickly in my transition from 2nd to 3rd grade not to step on anyone's toes by acting too smart, even though I learned in one week the same times tables it had taken the other kids 3 months to learn. My main memories are of the Christmas plays. I was in them twice, probably to get me out of the classroom because when I was there, I finished all my work early. My mom says that in one play I was asked to fill in last minute because another child couldn't perform. I had memorized all the lines in the play anyway, so I could fill in anywhere. All I remember was wanting to be one of the elves in the cute green costumes with the jingly bells. I would kill to find someone who remembered those plays and could tell me more about them.

Yesterday I got a call from the "adjustment counselor" at E's school. She meets with him in a lunch group for social skills on Tuesdays. She thinks he would really enjoy some sort of acting class. He loves role-playing exercises, and he's goofy and really quite funny. It would be a great way to channel his energy, and memorizing lines wouldn't be a problem for him. I wish they had plays in E's schools the way we did when I was in school. We did 1776 when I was in 5th grade, and then Oklahoma the next year! There is a summer acting program nearby that takes place in 2-week sessions. But he hates doing anything new. But it would be a real trip to see him perform the way I always loved performing (and still do, to be honest, as a teacher).

Monday, February 27, 2012

I've been reading The Secret Life of Pronouns, by James Pennebaker, and I've been looking at some reviews and his website and found a series of quizzes on one part of his website. Here are my results on the LIFE survey:

Your responses suggest several things about you. Overall, there are four major dimensions to people's daily behaviors:

Dimension 1: Suburbanite

People high on the suburbanite dimension tend to live a more conventional lifestyle. Their home is their castle. They like to cook, do yardwork, and keep things clean and organized. Suburbanites like their cars, SUVs, and pickups. Young suburbanites watch MTV and listen to the occasional heavy metal. Those who are a little older tend to watch ESPN and listen to country music. The suburbanites also are somewhat more family oriented, conservative, and healthy in their daily behaviors.

Your score on the Suburbanite dimension (which ranges from 0 to 13) is: 8. By most estimates, you would be considered MODERATE on this dimension -- neither too suburban but not too unconventional.

Dimension 2: Cultured

People high on the cultured dimension tend to get involved with all parts of life in order to better themselves and those around them. They often go to museums, do volunteer work, organize study groups and do a lot of writing-- whether it's letters to friends, personal journals, or short stories. Although they love to read, most would not be considered shy. Their musical tastes can be quite broad -- ranging from jazz and classical to hiphop. People high in Culture also like time to themselves. They also have an unhealthy appreciation of Macintosh computers.

Your score on the Cultured dimension (which ranges from 0 to 13) is: 7. Overall, you are fairly MODERATE on this dimension. You aren't taking your yoga classes too seriously -- that's probably good.

Dimension 3: Slacker

People high on the slacker dimension tend to spend a lot of their time on their computer. They download music, chat, and play computer games at high rates. They like to play other games as well -- pool, poker, and occasional board games. Parts of their lifestyle are unhealthy -- lots of TV, fast food, smoking, drinking, and just staring into space. They also have a slight hostile streak -- with a higher than usual rate of arguments with friends.

Your score on the Slacker dimension (which ranges from 0 to 13) is: 6. Good news. You are MODERATE on this dimension. You enjoy your time with computers and games but probably aren't obsessed with them. You like living on the edge occasionally but have an appreciation of a healthy lifestyle.

Dimension 4: Preppie

People high on the preppie dimension are concerned with how they are seen by others. It is important that they look good to others. They spendPreppies also seek structure in their lives. They make to-do lists, like their home and workspace clean and organized. They watch Oprah, Desperate Housewives, and reality dating shows on TV. Their music preferences are for pop and soundtracks. Women tend to score higher on this dimension than men. Not surprisingly, they rate themselves as agreeable, reliable workers, and not lazy.

Your score on the Preppie dimension (which ranges from 0 to 12) is: 4. You are relatively LOW on this dimension. This often reflects the fact that you are relatively happy with your appearance and the ways others see you. You might have some tendencies to slob-like behavior. Hey, it never hurts to clean your room occasionally.

That fourth dimension part really has me pegged. :) "tendencies to slob-like behavior"? LOL, yes.

Off to take more quizzes....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Education "Reform"

It's no secret that I am a fan the public school system. I think the system itself is good, though like all systems, there are going to be some weak points. I mean, there are some pretty awful doctors out there, but I think the medical profession is a pretty damned thing. Also, full disclosure, a friend's spouse works in Central Falls as a teacher.

But even without both those things in mind, you have to agree that installing a 22 year old as a teacher with no teaching experience in a troubled school district was a pretty lousy idea. I'm pretty sure they fired a perfectly capable, experienced chemistry teacher to give this moron a job.

To sum up, she started in August 2011 (ah yeah, August 2011, a month during which my friend's spouse was desperately looking for work after having been fired after 10 years as a teacher for no good reason other than "education reform"). So while they were firing my friend's spouse, they were hiring Emma Wise, who within 2 months was having sex with one of her students and buying him and his friends alcohol.

So, who hired such an incredibly inappropriate person to teach high school students? Why, Michelle Rhee, of course.

OK, not Rhee directly, but her organization The New Teachers Project. They train these people for 5 weeks then send them into a district like Central Falls, and what do they expect? Really?

This is education reform?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Destination Imagination

So, I have this kid who is diagnosed with Asperger's, which makes him socially awkward. He also tested as highly gifted, which pretty much makes for a nightmare in any school situation. If he is with people of equal level of learning, he is too immature for them. If he is with socially appropriate kids, he's smarter than they are. It makes for a conundrum.

So about a year ago, I decided that I'd like to start a Destination Imagination team. But in typical me-style, I put off thinking about it, mainly because of the work involved.

And this is where the adage about luck being a mixture of preparation and opportunity came in. I got E accepted into Davidson Young Scholars. I didn't quite know what would come of it, but if there was some sort of group that involved social gatherings of gifted kids, I wanted to be part of it. Unfortunately, no one in New England seems to do much with it. However, a DYS moved to my town. And he was in fourth grade, like my son. And his mom and I met and I found she was looking for something for her son to do, the same way I was. So *together* we started a Destination Imagination team in our town, 6 fourth-graders.

I find I really love DI. I like working with kids in situations where I don't have to discipline them, so I like after-school clubs and things like that. With DI, I love how the kids have to come up with the solution to the challenge themselves. And I love how it involves cutting and building and learning and teamwork. It should be ideal for E. Alas, E hates it. But why?

Well, believe it or not, it's because he doesn't know anyone on the team, and he wants to be with his friends. The kids on the team are all from the other elementary school in the district. In some ways, we're a victim of our own success, if the problem is that he has bonded with the kids from his school. :) On the other hand, he will be going to middle school with these kids in 2 years, so it will be good for him to get to know them a little.

And, also, I think he's in a situation he's never been in before--not the smartest one in the room. I think he hates that.

I am pretty sure that once we do the regional competition, he will love DI. The competition sounds like a lot of fun, and I know how to apply food and other treats to make the day a positive experience.

And next year, I will run a separate team just at his school. It's a plan, right?

The Juggle

Today was a major Juggle day. I had an 8 am meeting, then a 9:20 exam, then I had to leave to bring my daughter to the oral surgeon at 11 to get a wisdom tooth extracted.

The extraction went fine, and my daughter follows in a fine family tradition of high pain tolerance and is having few aftereffects. I have vicodin to give her if it hurts, but I plan to try ibuprofen first, and only if she says she needs it. The oral surgeon told me to give her the vicodin before the novocain even wore off. Really? And we wonder why we are so dependent on meds.

I brought her home, made her a protein milkshake with chocolate ice cream, milk, and protein powder, and then we curled up on the sofa and watched 3 episodes of Merlin.

Right now (Series 1, but yes, I am spoiled), I really love Morgana, who has a really awesome scene with Anthony Head (Uther) in "To Kill the King." And I like Arthur. I really like assholes who rise above their assholery to be good people when they have to. That story always seems much more interesting to me than a good guy who resists evil.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In case you doubted me...

Doubt no more. I really do write "title pages kill trees" on papers turned into me with title pages:

(The topic was a problem-solution paper on what to do about customer complaints about other customers breastfeeding in public in a restaurant. This is the kind of topic you give when you have students in the hospitality industry.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Some Random Pics

I'm not a photographer like Laura, but I like to use the iPod Touch to capture things. We've been house-hunting lately, nothing urgent, just trying to find the right house while remaining in our town--not an easy task.

I liked what this family did with the ladder, using it as a way to display hanging planters.

One of the homes had a poster for Singing in the Rain I'd never seen before. The images of the three actors look nothing like the real actors.

The basement of this house was like a time capsule. This calendar was behind a workbench and never replaced.

A couple of more recent photos:

The exact place where I got married, right next to that lilac bush.

My dog traveling with us, *inside* the car, not on top a la Romney. FTR, we were in traffic approaching the Cross Bronx, so we opened the window a bit so she could get some fresh air.

E skates

Let's see if that works. He's the one who almost falls right at the beginning. :)

Marriage is a luxury?

I hate weddings, really. There's so much to dislike about them. You have to dress up. If you're a bridesmaid, you have to dress up in something expensive that you'll never wear again (I've done it three times). You eat way too much. The music is Too Damn Loud. When I go to a family wedding, most of the people I want to talk to are outside smoking half the time. I angst over how much to write the stupid check for.

The celebration of the love of two people? Whatever.

So reading this post kind of bugs me because it reminds me how invested we are in A Wedding in this country. Anne points out all the problems inherent in such an investment and that this may be a strategy in the process of turning working class people against same-sex marriage. But basically, it sucks if having A Wedding is the only way you feel you can be valuable/worthy in this society.

I really really hope my kids elope or something.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Let's Go Red!

So, in a fit of insanity, I decided to take my son to a Cornell-Brown hockey game. This has led us down a horrible path of addiction (or re-addiction, in my case) to college hockey, culminating in a trip last month to New Haven (!!!) to see a Cornell game. We had awesome seats, too. This is the view from my seat.

Now my 9 year old wants to play hockey desperately, so we signed him up for ice skating lessons. He thinks he's Wayne Gretzky now. All I can foresee are the early mornings at the rink for practice, the cost of the hockey gear, and the fact that Sarah Palin and I might have something in common.