Sunday, September 25, 2011

Viva Las Vegas

I've driven past this house on a street near me over and over and, especially on Fridays, there is a crowd of people on chairs, seated on the patio of the side yard. There are fiesta banners hung overhead, and sometimes I see people standing there with guitars playing music. There is a little shed with opened doors too, but I can't see inside. It doesn't really look like a wedding, a quincinera or a birthday party. So, I've been baffled. On Saturday morning I drove past it around 10:30 A.M. and people were in the yard, powerwashing the patio and there was a new banner announcing....something. Since I wasn't in a big hurry, I turned around and went back to investigate.

The banner said, "L'Aniversario de Virgin de Talpa"--I've heard of the Virgin of Guadalupe; I have a great book by Tomi de Paola telling the story. I parked and walked up the sidewalk. I chatted a bit to the fellow who was manning the broom and the power washer man stopped spraying for a minute so we could chat. It turns out the the Virgin de Talpa is the special Lady of Jalisco and inside the shed is shrine to her. There are prayers every Friday night, so people come from the neighborhood to worship.

Why build a shrine in a little wooden garden shed in your side yard and invite people to come and worship your icon?  Because there was a miracle. The miracle was the little daughter; he pointed to his sister. She was born with Down's syndrome, and was supposed to die. She'd suffered a series of strokes when she was three, and wasn't expected to live. At the very least, she should be paralyzed and crippled and unable to function. But his mother and aunt prayed to the Virgin and---look---a miracle! I could see. There was a little girl, about 5 or 6, playing, skipping, jumping all around. She clearly had Down's syndrome, but she certainly wasn't paralyzed.  We talked a bit more about Jalisco and this Virgin and then I thanked him, and agreed it was a miracle, and told him they were obviously blessed. Then I went on my way.

What a lovely concept! Their little corner of the block is a beautiful sanctuary, and every Friday night they open the shrine, plug in the twinkling over head lights and set up the chairs. Devout women and men come from the surrounding blocks and listen to the gentle music and pray. So different from the ganster inspired cacaphony just a few blocks away.

Later that day, CoolGuy and went over to the recycling center to off-load a collection of cardboard. Our favorite place to lunch was....gasp! CLOSED. FOREVER. The owner was a proud lady from Guadalajara, and her tortas were to die for. CoolGuy always got a torta and a Jarritos Mandarin soda--Hecho en Mexico. I always got two carne asada tacos and one fried jalapeno. (By dipping it in the hot oil briefly, it roasts it and kills some of the fire, so you can just pop that yummy thing in your mouth and slurp it down, leaving the seeds behind.)  Closed?? Now what?  We were so hungry, and just salivating for some authentico Mexican food. Not Taco Bell, Del Taco or Taco Time, each of which had a building along that street.

Ah, there was a little establishment a couple of blocks away:  Don Tortacos. That looked promising. (get it: torta and taco spelled together?) It was delicioso, muy, muy delicioso. It was a different type of torta, but stunningly yummy. My carne asada tacos were to die for, too. We had a flan for dessert. While we waited for our food, a young man was dishing up some salsa for himself, and as he stood there filling little cups, a classic Mexican folklorico song was playing. He looked mischieviously over to the table where his teenage brother sat, and the guy at the salsa stand started to do the dance that I've seen over and over. music. His feet were going, he leaned over and really got into for a moment. Then he burst out laughing and sat down. A few minutes later he walked by our table and our eyes met briefly, so I spoke, "Looks like you've done that folklorico dance a few times."  He smiled, "Yes, since I was a little kid. You should see my little daughter now! She's great!"  I replied, "I could just picture you with the sombrero and the boots."  We laughed and he walked away.

His clothing and tattoos and the shaved head and goatee were those of a fellow that I would normally feel somewhat wary of if I were walking along the street, and he and his guys were walking toward me. But, there in the restaurant, grooving on the music, and licking the salsa from our fingers, we were just two friends having a conversation. All because I knew exactly what he was doing when he was showing off for his brother. I didn't feel at all self-concious stopping and talking to the people at the little home-shrine because I knew all about the Virgin of Guadalupe and so could relate to the Virgin of Talpa. I like having my life enriched by knowing about other people's cultures. Yeah for books! Yeah for learning! Yeah for living in parts of town with people from other cultures! It's fun!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mmm, mmm, good

And may I just say that the peach I ate for supper tonight was like a teeny piece of heaven? I stopped at one of my favorite markets on Monday evening and bought some vegetables and fruit and fresh mozzarella. Outside the store was a sign advertising "Utah peaches" because everyone knows that they are the most delicious peaches this side of the Mississippi. So, I bought four of them. They've been ripening on my counter for a couple of days and tonight, I sliced one and ate it for dessert after I gobbled down my caprese salad.

Oh. My. It was perfection. Perfection. Thank you, Utah, for the peaches.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teacher Needs A Time-Out

Well, today was one of those lessons that I wish I had video-taped. Not because it went so fabulously, but because it was so bizarre. It could be a winner on America's Funniest Home Videos, or (since there is no one falling down, or getting smacked, perhaps not....)

I've started this new system this week, after weeks of planning and training. The students are divided into sections. One group is practicing typing on the computers. Really---fingers on the home keys---real typing. Another group is practicing spelling through word sorts, another group is revising and writing a final draft (because we've met together). A fourth group is writing the next first draft, and the fifth group of five students meets with me at a table and we discuss and practice a writer's technique. So, today--it was all about a strong lead (beginning) to captivate your reader and make him want to keep reading.

I showed them a list of strategies, and we practiced a couple of them, by changing a story they knew. We started with a quote from a character; next we tried a vivid description of the scene; then it was a question; after that we used a sound effect. Same story---different beginnings. Then, I went around the table and suggested a couple of concepts to students based on their own writing. But when I got to the only boy in this group, he didn't seem to get it. Here's a little sample:

T:  So, you could say, "As my dad finished parking the car, I looked around. "At last, " I thought excitedly, "We're here at Universal Studios!" [His beginning was: I went to California and we went to Universal Studios and had fun.]

S: My dad wasn't driving.

T: Well, then, say "my mom parked the car."

S: My mom wasn't driving either.

T: Who was driving?

S: My aunt.

T: So, "My aunt parked the car and I thought, "At last, we are at Universal Studios!"

S: Well, we went to the beach first.

T: Okay, but then you went to Universal Studios, right? And you were excited?

S: I thought we were going home.

T: So you were surprised it was Universal Studios?

S: No. I thought we were home.

T: When did you notice you weren't home? Didn't you have to buy tickets to go in?

S: My aunt had already bought the tickets.

T: Well, did you notice you were going through the gates, and that there were a lot of other people?

S: No, I didn't see them.

T: (Teacher is starting to feel a little dizzy by now.) When did you figure out you weren't home?

S: When I saw the giant robot shark.

T: I think I'm just going to put my head down here for a minute and rest. You write whatever you want.

At this point, the four girls who made up the rest of the group just burst out laughing and blurted out: "[boy's name] Good Grief!! She is trying to show you how to fix your boring first sentence. Don't you get it?? It doesn't matter who was driving!! You just write down something more interesting. Sheesh..." They really jumped him, and told him exactly what they'd learned, and what he was supposed to do. I just watched and smiled and shook my head. Those girls got it!

Well, it turns out that this trip to California happened when he was five years old, and he can barely remember anything except his astonishment at seeing a giant robot shark trying to eat a scuba diver, when he truly thought he was going to his house. So, no harm, no foul.

Next time, I told him, try to write about something that happened more recently so that the details are clear in your mind and you can tell a vivid story.  But, I'm not too sure that much is clear in his mind, ever, so that could be a challenge, too. Sigh.

Ha! Ha! Ha!

"Dyslexic devil worshippers sell their souls to Santa."   (bumper sticker my friend recently saw)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Multiple Intelligences

The concept of multiple intelligences is popular in education circles. The point is made that different people have different ways of being skilled. "...our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence." There are other ways of learning and having innate ability. I've attended workshops and classes that explain and promote this theory of learning and teaching, and I have antecdotal experience that there is something to it.

But, I'm not talking about Dr. Gardner's work today. I've had my own theory of "multipile intelligences" for many years. Actually, it may be more of a "multiple beings" theory.  I posit that we all have our intellectual/logical being, and our emotional/impulse being, and...our spiritual being. Yes, there are more than two sides to the coin. Now, as you read this, you may being thinking--duh--who doesn't know this. And that is because you may have been accessing all three of them throughout your life. Many people do.

But, as I've read and listened to various works,  I've begun to realize that there are people who are unaware that there is a spiritual being. They have learned to rely on their intellectual/logic being only. I recognize that our emotional/impulse being is the one we spend our lives trying to control and dominate if we hope to stay out of jail, save money, keep our jobs, maintain good personal relationships, etc. But, sometimes that effort prevents one from recognizing, or trusting, the spiritual being.

I heard some terrific talks recently from people who became participants in religious congregations as adults and I learned a powerful idea from them. Several of the people were, at first, frightened or put-off by the "feelings" they experienced when first coming to church, or participating in a funeral or some other religion-related affair. The feelings were powerful, real and intimidating, and the speakers explained that they'd never felt this way before. It was confusing and difficult to deal with because of their lack of context or understanding. Later, they came to know that it was the Holy Spirit giving them knowledge. But, when one only has experienced emotional/impulsive or intellectual/logic reactions, a powerful spiritual experience cannot be immediately understood or processed.

I've been working on this concept for some time. And today I read another writer's explanation. I will quote him here, but you should definitely go to the source and read his entire article.

Christ spoke in parables to both friends and enemies in Jerusalem.  His followers grasped what He was teaching because they were tracking on a deeper level.  But his enemies were baffled; they were the blind ones with eyes to see but see not, and ears to hear and hear not.  They were strangers to spiritual intellect. 
So what appears to the world to be stupid may instead be deep and profound. What appears to be blind following may turn out to be well-informed discipleship.  All because of spiritual intellect and its attendant personal revelation.

See: spiritual intellect! That's what I've been trying to articulate. Everything in this world cannot be understood through logic. We also need to access our spiritual intellect. It isn't emotion, impulse or superstition. We have a third way to process our experiences. Just like our logical intellect, the spiritual intellect needs to be cultivated or it will weaken and lose acuity. Use or lose it--brains, muscles or spirituality--it makes sense to me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Happy, Happy Birthday to Her

It's late, but we just finished talking to her, so I need to wish our daughter a Happy Birthday! It is getting too weird though, that the people with whom I work at school will say things like, "Oh, we're the same age! My birthday is next month." It is making me feel old...that and the Frankenfeet.

But, I've whined about that before. So today I'll say that it is a pleasure to be the mother of grown children who have dynamic lives and are busy living them and being of service to the world. I look at her career and realize she is energetic, caring, powerful and intelligent. You go girl!! 

Here are a few views down through the years. (CoolGuy has such a great collection of photos that he's made over the decades.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Listening to Interesting People

I was listening to a podcast recently of an interview with an author named David Berlinski. He writes about math, and has a great deal of experience in the field, but he is clearly a philosopher. Anyway, the interviews were meaty and interesting and as I listened to them (each segment was published one day at a time) I sometimes had to start it over to hear it again for more comprehension. It was fascinating.

But here is a quote from it that I loved and wanted to share because it was insightful. The discussion was about a statement from another gentleman that both the interviewer and the author knew. It was something like "Well, I say to those who ask what I'll say to God when I meet Him upon my death, [on the reason for the speaker's atheism here on earth] You just didn't leave enough evidence of your existence for intelligent people to know you..."  The author laughed at the quote and replied to the interviewer that he'd heard their mutual acquaintance say that often, but here was the author's response to this witty remark:

"There a point of presumption in that particular argument --that Bertrand Russel also used--[the argument about not enough evidence]. The point of presumption is that human beings, constructed as humans are constructed, could so interact with God as to be persuaded by the countenance of Diety when they were left unpersuaded by the evidence of His handiwork. That's a remarkable presumption. Much more reasonable to me is that those who cannot see the handiwork could not see the countenance."

Awesome, huh?

Monday, September 12, 2011

New Semester

Tonight, I started my last required class for the master's degree. (!!) I still need more credits, but they will be earned by doing some type of project. I have already put out my feelers to the research division of our school district and a guy is going to get back to me after he's spoken with my faculty advisor at the university. They've worked together often. So, I have to finish this semester, do the internship/project and write a paper about it all and VOILA---I'll be done. Cool. I'd love to have a summer vacation again. It may not be next summer...but soon.

This class is about testing and test validity. Tests like the IQ test, and other sorts of human measurement. The teacher is an experienced researcher and has created and published tests and a whole plethora of research projects. He's a classic brainy professor. He's changed the syllabus twice on-line and then changed it again tonight. He's awesome when it comes to explaining his craft; and his knowledge of, and ability to explain, this very math-y and scientific subject is superb. He just has a l-i-t-t-l-e problem with some paper work details in the class. So, if I stay on top of it, I'll learn a lot and be fine---but I'm going to have to pay close attention to the on-line messages to keep abreast of the "Oh, and I forgot that I needed to change....." stuff.

Another great detail about this class is that half of it is being held on-line, so I will only have to drive across town at the same time that every elementary school in the city is dismissing just five more times this semester. Life is good.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years

Of course I've been thinking about it all week. We've been talking about it in school, too. Half of my students this year weren't born yet when the terror attacks happened. The others were just babies. But they know what we're talking about. Actually, I've spent this week talking about war and an attack on the U.S. every year since I started teaching sixteen years ago. 

This is also the week of the anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore in 1814, when a man named Francis Scott Key was on a prisoner exchange trip out in the Chesapeake Bay aboard a British war ship. He'd gone to get his friend Dr. Beane, who was being released after having been wrongly arrested. But the men had to stay on board the British ship until the bombardment of Fort McHenry had been completed. Fortunately, the British lost that battle, as Mr. Key learned in the smoky dawn as he peered from the deck of the ship looking to see which nation's flag was flying over the fort after the two day fight.  "T'was the star-spangled banner..."  So now, since 2001, I've taught a history lesson where we compare the two battles that happen 180 years apart--how frightened everyone was that our country was under attack, who was attacking, what was the outcome, how did we fare as a nation. It's a good way to teach and discuss and show them that history just keeps happening, whether it was long, long ago, or just long ago (in the life of a 9 year old.)

I was teaching fourth grade in 2001, too. I kept seeing people go in and out of the library and huddle around the television that was on in there. Finally, around 10:00, I took my students to gym or art or something and I went into the library. It was appalling. I knew that CoolGuy would probably stay late at work and I knew that nothing would ever be the same. By noon, parents had taken away most of my students. They were just frightened. Our school was located 30 miles south of Andrew's AFB, and one mile across the river from Patuxent NAS. We were accustomed to jets flying overhead, but we didn't know yet how many jets were still waiting to crash into something.

My students wanted to know what was going on, since there were only about 8 of them left in our classroom. They guessed a plane crash; I told them, yes, a couple of them in New York and one in Washington D.C. One of the students left in my classroom looked stricken and said, "My mom works in Washington."  No one had come to pick him up. He left on the bus, and until the next morning when he returned to school with a smile, I didn't know if his mom had come home or not.  A girl in our son's high school lost her father at the Pentagon. One family in our school lost an uncle in NYC.

The worst part of our day was waiting for our PTA president's husband. He worked in DC for the FAA and was scheduled to be in the Pentagon that morning for a meeting. You couldn't get a cell signal for hours. She was in the building helping with her children's classes. We were really good friends. My first year there, her daughter had been in my room. She just quietly worked on copying and cutting and pasting in the office, and we all just prayed silently as we went on with our lessons.

At 12:30 he came striding through the front door of the school. Our building at that time had open pods, so it was possible to see the length of the school and into the foyer by the office from just about anywhere. As we saw him come into the building, we all just fled to the front and he was engulfed in a group hug of teachers, office workers, and his wife as we all (including him) cried with relief.

He'd been driving to his meeting when someone called and said that the plane had hit the Pentagon and that he should just get out of town. Everyone was leaving and the roads were a mess. Every government building was being evacuated because there was still a plane up there that was known to be hijacked. The last we all heard was that jets had been scrambled from Andrews to intercept it.

I got home that afternoon and hugged my sons. CoolGuy came in later and we knelt and had family prayer. It was so surreal and way too close to home. I can't even imagine what it was like for people in Manhattan. It simply made us want to hug our families and friends and thank God for our own safety.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Working My Way Back Down the Ladder

Hmmm...tonight, my checking account indicates that I have received my first automatically deposited paycheck for the 2011-2012 school year. It is $93.23 smaller than my last automatically deposited paycheck for the 2010-2011 school year. This is not a good career plan. The reason, I know, is because our school's budget can no longer allow us to have our extended day, for which I was paid for an extra 40 minutes of work everyday. Our students were in class for half of that time, and we used the rest for team planning. Hmmm...bummer.

On the other hand---I still have a job. Many of my students' parents are not that blessed here in Sin City.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Who Knew It Would Be This Much Work?

As I have mentioned, I'm working on a master's degree at the local state university. I enrolled two and half years ago, and I've been plugging away at my classes one at a time each semester. I'd take more, but each of them is quite a bit of work and, as I've also mentioned, I teach fourth grade full-time. During this last summer term, I took two classes to make up for the one I had to drop in the Spring semester due to the Frankenfoot Saga.

Well, when I wrote the title above, I wasn't actually referring to the courses I take. Yes, yes, they are a lot of work. But I expected graduate level work to be challenging. I want to learn something after all. The reference in the title is all the attendant folderol that keeps occurring due to being part of big bureaucracy--a state university system.

Last Thursday, I had a hard time sleeping. So I decided as long as I was awake, I'd go on-line and order my yearly parking pass for campus. I needed to add a vehicle--CoolGuy's truck---because my car's air conditioner has experienced a fatal failure, so for the next month I need to drive something that will provide a cool interior. By October, I can go back to my own car. But, the parking sticker can be moved from one vehicle to another by one owner.

As I was typing in the information, I inadvertently made a typo and so the truck's license plate was wrong. But I didn't know that till the next morning when I opened my e-mail to find a notice from the university that I owed them $30 for a parking ticket I received four years ago on my Range Rover, license plate XXXX--the typo plate. !!!  I figured, "Oh, I'll just call someone and get this straightened out."  I tried to go on-line and fix the typo, but I couldn't make that happen. 

I called right as I got to school at 8:00 A.M. and got someone on the line. She was able to fix the typo and insert my actual license plate number, and generate my parking sticker (to be mailed...I got it the next day.) BUT---the ticket. No can do. Sister, you said that was your license plate, that is now your ticket.

Seriously. That was her best advice. Oh, no, actually she had other advice: contact the DMV and see if they would tell me who the real owner of the Range Rover with that plate was, and then tell the university and then they could contact those people and tell them to pay the ticket. I asked her if I just ignored it, would they keep me from graduating? Yes.  She recommended I could just pay it, or try DMV---

I asked her for her name, I said thank you. I hung up. GOOD GRIEF. So, since it was Friday, and we were going out of town for the weekend, I just decided that Tuesday, when the parking office would be open again, I'd drive down there straight after school and try and sort this thing out. Actually, what I was really thinking was "I'm going down there and not leaving until someone removes my name from that bogus ticket and if they won't do there then I'll hire a lawyer." 

Well, it only took a face-to-face with a very pleasant young student worker. I told her the problem, I showed her the e-mail "ticket notice," I pointed out that there had been a typo. She noted that on the computer screen she could see where the typo had been fixed. She said to wait a sec and she'd be right back. And in about four minutes, she was right back. "Everything is straightened out. Your name is off the ticket. No problem." She said that they'd been having quite a few complaints about one of their new workers and her information on the phone. I mentioned the name, the girl nodded, I leaned in and said, "Well, put one more mark by her name from me, okay? And thanks ever so much for helping me!" 

So I stopped off at a delicious pizza place and picked up a half-mushroom and half-pepp to celebrate.  Wow, college is hard, sometimes.

Monday, September 05, 2011

This Post Was Meant For Friday

There should be some type of law, or rule, or something....
It stinks all over the school. It is very unpleasant for those of us not eating fish. I mean, seriously, why do we have to say this? But, then again, none of us dare say periodically (except that it happened THREE TIMES THIS WEEK) someone will heat up fish and, even though it may taste good to the eater, the rest of us seriously need to retch when we catch a whiff of it as we walk down the hall.  BLEH....