Category Archives: Hope/Inspiration

I can get a little dark at times. But, I’m also an idealist. I can be Quixotic. This category is when I’m trying to make the world a better place. Or, when I’m trying to convince myself it can be a better place.

Thoughts on First Days of School

If you’re a teacher then you probably know the book The First Days of School by Harry Wong. For some, it is a tradition to read it before each school year. This is the first year I have done it, though, and I’m glad I am. I skimmed/read the first 100 pages today. It’s cool because there’s a lot I do right and, the stuff I don’t do, or forgot, I can start.

First, I am resolved that I will always wear, at least, a pair of non-casual shoes. I can’t say dress shoes because right now I’m into my Dr. Marten’s boots. But, those look nice. Also, I will at least wear a polo or button-down shirt. I can’t see myself going to the tie. I think that, with teens, you can dress too formally and it puts a barrier up. I want to stick with business casual. It makes a difference. I don’t mean to be hurtful, but when I see teachers wearing totally casual clothes ALL the time, I just lose some respect for them. There are times to wear t-shirts, for example. Last year, I wore a t-shirt almost every day. But, I was the ASB Advisor. I was wearing school shirts for spirit, not my shirt I got on vacation last year. At very least, teachers should wear clean clothes in good repair.

I also am thinking a lot about my expectations for students. And for myself. I am very cognizant of the fact that I haven’t had a full slate of regular classes like this in four years. Don’t get me wrong, I can handle it. But, I don’t want that. I want to be great. I want every one of my kids to learn. I want every one of them to enjoy the class, to be inspired to think and communicate their thoughts. I want them to consider something new. I want to believe that I can do this even when they don’t, when they give up and when they fight back.

I know they will, too, many of my kids will come from homes that are less than ideal. Some will have absent parents. Some will have parents at home who ignore them. Some will have parents they they wish would leave them alone (and not in that teen drama way). Some will come to school having missed breakfast, and some will have missed dinner as well. Some won’t have a computer or Internet at home. Some will have had to work after school and into the night to help the family make rent. Some will be facing eviction. Some will be wondering if Dad will ever get a job again. Some will be in gangs. Some will act like they’re in gangs. Some will desperately need attention and some won’t know how to deal with me because their Dad left years ago.

So, I’m not naive. I know that chances are, many of my students will struggle. But, I hope fervently that the plans I have made for running classes will work. If it does, it means my kids will focus on learning. It will mean that they will choose to learn because they want to learn. It means that high achievers will be challenged to extend and push themselves and low achievers will get attention and assistance.

I’m doing this because, at worst, I will have to go back to the normal way I used to do it; the whole class working on the same assignment at the same time and, basically, in the same way. That’s not so bad. But, I think I won’t have to do that.

See, I have this weird feeling that it will work. It just feels right. My experience has been that children rise to the expectations we set for them. When you treat them with respect and push them to be their best then great things happen. This is not a wild-eyed theory, but my experience. My students in drama and in ASB did amazing things, in part because I didn’t allow them to settle for less or to believe that they couldn’t do it. And, I feel like everything I learned so far is pointing in this direction. I can put the kids in control of their own learning and give them choices. In the past, when I let kids critique themselves they were far tougher on themselves than I would have been. In their hearts, they know they can it, that they can be better than we think they can. But, first, I need to believe for them because many of them have had the world tell them differently. I will have to show them that they can learn, and, more importantly that there are things they want to learn.

I realize that I may fall short. But, right now, for the first days of school, I am going to believe all my students are going to learn, that they will like learning, that they will find something they love and be inspired to do more and be more.


MegaUpdate: Camping at Shaver Lake

For me, nothing says summer like a road trip or camping expedition. So, I have been excitedly planning for a trip up north to Central California and Shaver Lake. This is the second time I’ve been to Shaver Lake and the first time for me to take my Sun and Stars (my favorite woman in the whole world) and, in a way, the first time my children got to go. I took them about four years ago. The boy was about 1 year old and the girl was 3 or so. Both very young, too young to really appreciate it, or remember it.

I both love and hate camping. It is a hell of a lot of work, to begin with. Packing. Planning. Thinking about what you will need. Logistics. Deciding what to take and, in our case, figuring out how to get it there. We wanted to borrow a larger vehicle, or rent one, or buy a trailer, or a roof rack, etc. But, ultimately, since we are watching our budget, none of those options panned out. We asked Dad to take some items up for us (they were camping, too) and put the rest in the Accord. The kids and my Sun and Stars took bags, sleeping bags, pillows and so on with them in the passenger compartment.

So, Saturday we loaded into the car, crammed full. I barely got the trunk closed and, actually, worried about it suddenly popping open due to a bump in the road or something. Luckily, that never happened. So, we hit the road early in the morning. Very little traffic got in the way and the day was brilliant, blue and bright. By about 10 a.m. we arrived in Bakersfield. Per my own personal tradition, we ate at IHOP. It just seems like every time I pass through Bakersfield on one of these trips that I end up having breakfast at an IHOP. That’s not a complaint, per se. The meal was passable, at least, and all of us seemed happy with it. Back into the car and then on to Fresno. Stopped at Target because my Sun and Stars left her pillow at home and went to a gas station to be refueled.

We made our way out of Fresno and began our ascent into the mountains. For me, there’s something a bit magical going from the flat lands of the Central Valley, to the urban hardscape of Fresno, then into the country and finally seeing the alpine trees and flora. The road twists and turns and dips and dives. The kids in the back seat giggle as we feel gravity lose it’s grip for just a second. Then, they ask, again, how much longer. Something about children hardwires them to constantly need updating on ETAs. I did it. So did you, and my kids do it. I thought telling them we would arrive at 1pm (thanks to the GPS for pinpointing it) that it would keep them from asking. It didn’t. Arrived Shaver Lake by 1 pm as predicted. We unpacked the car and moved into our rented trailer that had been delivered.

Camp Edison is roughing it but only just. Each site has power and a cable TV hookup (no, we didn’t use the cable, but we did use the power). There’s water within about 30 feet of each site. The bathrooms have hot and cold running water and there’s even showers you can pay for. Honestly, it’s kind of luxurious for a camp ground. Each site comes with a fire pit, a picnic table and one of those square barbecues you find in a lot of parks.

Our campsite came with a spectacular view of the lake. And, we rented a little pop-up trailer to stay in. No sleeping on the ground.

I really do love camping, too. I love the outdoors. I love the smell of a campfire, the adventure of building your own fire, and, the romance of cooking your meal outside. I hate washing the dishes by hand afterward, hate the dirt and dust and flies and mosquitos. I love the sounds of the birds calling to one another and the sight of bats at dusk feasting on flying insects, swooping swiftly amid the trees. I hate getting all sweaty and dirty and knowing that there’s no shower on the schedule tonight.

Anyway, my Sun and Stars got her mother to make us some tacos that we barbecued for lunch. I had never had them this way prior to having them with her. But, they are good. Corn tortillas, beans and cheese, folded over and pressed flat. Then, the other type of taco has cheese and chiles. You barbecue each and then make a sandwich of each type. Delicious. The kids were so excited about having a campfire so we decided to get right to it that night. For dinner we had hot dogs roasted over the fire. Each kid got a long skewer and proceeded to roast their dog over the open fire. And by that I mean they managed to smack it against the burning logs, dip it in the ashes and hold it too far away from the fire to actually roast it. So, I cleaned them off and roasted them myself. But, they had fun.

One of the reasons we go to Camp Edison at Shaver Lake is because my uncle worked/works for Edison and he goes up for two weeks. One week he spends with the family and one with his Edison peoples. This year it was my family, my Dad and Stepmother, my stepsister and her twins meeting up with the uncle and aunt. Various factors conspired against my other family members so that they didn’t attend this year. So, we closed out the evening at my uncle’s adjoining campsite by having S’mores around his campfire.

S’mores. If you go camping and don’t have S’mores then I feel bad for you. Truly, they are wonderful. And, most people screw them up. Yes, I said it. S’mores done properly are amazingly delicious. Most people just jam their marshmallow into the fire, catch it alight, and then blow it out, declaring loudly that they “like it that way” to explain that they meant to catch it on fire. Know why they “like it that way”? It’s because properly toasting a marshmallow is not always easy.

I make S’mores properly. First, you have to prepare. Don’t just run over and grab a marshmallow. No, first you get your graham cracker and split it in half along the width. You should now have two squares of graham cracker. Next, break off some milk chocolate and lay it on one of the crackers. Don’t be greedy. But, do break off a whole piece large enough to fit within the area of the cracker, no more. Now, get your marshmallow. I know you probably know this, but, you have to buy the jumbo Jet Puffed marshmallows. DO NOT get the flattened ones that are marketed as being for S’mores. If you’re cheating and doing this at home in the microwave, get those. But, they are not legitimate S’mores, know that.

Okay, now we come to the most crucial step. Get the marshmallow on your skewer, piercing it in the middle through the flat end and so that it is completely, well, skewered. Now approach the fire. If there’s a lot of flames, you do not want that. Find the coals. If you can, find a spot where the coals are visible between logs. Whatever you do, don’t catch the marshmallow on fire and don’t get it in the ashes or char on the logs. Be patient and deliberate. Find a nice hot spot with coals and rotate your marshmallow slowly. Watch carefully. The outside will expand and brown. Brown is good. Get the brown evenly all over the marshmallow. At this point, the marshmallow should be wiggling on the skewer and may even spin freely on the skewer. This is a good sign. It means the interior of the marshmallow is so hot it has become molten. Now, move swiftly but carefully. Go to your crackers and put the marshmallow that is now golden brown and crispy on the outside but molten on the inside on top of of the chocolate and take the other piece of cracker and angle it to slide the marshmallow off of your skewer. Set the skewer aside and slowly press down, squeezing the crackers together. Don’t apply too much pressure, just enough to flatten the marshmallow.

If you did it right, the marshmallow will ooze out the sides, pure white marshmallow cream, and the golden brown skin will complement it. The chocolate will be melting and it will all taste amazing. No charring, no bitterness, just creamy marshmallow, crispy crackers and gooey chocolate. The perfect S’more.

Sunday we just hung around the campsite. The kids went to the beach for a while with my Stepmother and then, we they got back, they climbed the rocks. I was lucky to find a grill that would fit over the fire pit so, we set about making hamburgers for dinner over the campfire. I built the fire and started it with FireSteel. It sounds simple when I say it. But, I’m going to be honest and tell you that I worked and worked and worked to start that fire. I got out my iPad and read about how to do it, then watched a couple YouTube videos about it. Honestly, starting a fire is not easy. I resorted to taking a paper towel and wrapping it around the striker, as I saw on one video, and it worked a charm. The tinder that hitherto had resisted my efforts to light it now crackled with flame. Once the fire settled down I barbecued the burger patties over the fire. We also did corn on the cob wrapped in foil over the fire and topped it off by toasting the buns, too. Delicious. It was one of those perfect moments, eating food I made, tasting the accomplishment of starting the fire without the use of matches or lighter and looking out over a blue lake in the cool dusk. Beautiful.


On Monday we got up early and headed down to the Marina so we could rent a pontoon boat complete with a barbecue to look for a waterfall and let the kids fish.  We motored across the nearly glassy lake in the cool morning air, feeling a million miles from the furnace heat of the Inland Empire.  We found the waterfall and it was pretty.  Not Yosemite’s waterfalls pretty, but a wonderful little cascade of hydrogen dioxide.  I somehow managed to get all three kids poles ready and got them fishing.  They were so excited… for about ten minutes.  Then they pretty much decided that fishing was for suckers and monks.  People either so patient they can wait or too foolish to do something else.  So, they didn’t catch anything.

We came back and made a simple lunch.  My Sun and Stars (whom I think secretly wishes she was a grade school teacher sometimes) had brought along some craft supplies.  So, the kids and she set about making turtles from paper bowls complete with little feet and googly eyes.  Then, as the turtles dried they wove “God’s Eyes (example pictured left).  I could be wrong, but I got the feeling that My Sun and Stars enjoyed the crafts more than the kids did.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that at all.  But, somehow, that’s how camping always seems to go, doesn’t it?  Lots of things in life, really.  You think it’s super cool and when you share it with the kids they appear to be completely unimpressed.  Then they go play in the dirt.

For dinner that evening the three families met for a potluck.  Our contribution was bacon-wrapped shrimp that we grilled over the open campfire.  It was as delicious as it sounds.  There was also spaghetti, garlic bread and salad to be had.  And, we finished off the evening with S’mores.  Because we could; because we were camping.  When you’re camping, you get to have S’mores.

Tuesday we got into the cars and drove about 45 minutes deeper into the forest to visit Big Creek.  You seek, much of the area up here is owned by Southern California Edison and was the site of a major hydroelectric system.  Basically, they used dams and penstock valves to make the waters in the area generate electricity.  Several of the lakes, including Shaver, are part of this system.  The water is passed through multiple generating areas as it makes it way to the Central Valley.  As they put it, it is the hardest working water in the world.  The tour takes you down to the power station and you get to walk past the turbines.  You’re not allowed to take pictures of them.  But, we did get to look at them and then visit a small museum upstairs.  All of it was very impressive and interesting.  You don’t really think about where the electricity comes from so it was neat to see it.

We visited the little town and had homemade ice cream at Big Creek General Store. Yum.  Then heading back, we took the scenic route to camp and circumnavigated Huntington Lake.   That evening we cooked dinner over the campfire.  We had potatoes baked in the cooked in the coals, and grilled, bacon-wrapped steaks. Yes, bacon again.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  If you think so, I believe you may be un-American, or possibly Jewish.  Nothing wrong with that either.  Ended the evening with S’mores at my Dad’s camp.  Again, because we could.

Wednesday we went to Dinkey Creek.  I guess it’s Dinkey, but since we got so much snow fall in the Sierras there was more water than usual.  The area was quite beautiful.  Huge pieces of granite worn smooth by the millions upon millions of gallons of water rushing over them.  It would have been the perfect place to cavort in the afternoon sun…

However, the water was cold.  Super cold.  So cold that your feet hurt when you put them in.  So, you wait and and you get used to and it’s okay.  But, then, it’s way too cold to put your legs in.  So, you do and you get used to it and then you’re not so foolish to put your torso in.  So, you don’t.


The kids had fun anyway and the daughter was brave enough to go tubing a little.  The water was very swift in places so we found a sheltered area for her to play in.  She did it once and realize that granite isn’t really all that smooth on your butt as it seemed at first.  So, that game ended.  The son and I splashed each other a little.  Good times.  In a pool we could see trout schooling.  Nature.  You don’t see that every day.  Or, I don’t because I live in the city.

We had ice cream in town on the way back and then got dinner together back at the campsite.  Hamburgers, spaghetti (from us) and tri-tip (from Dad).  I believe we had S’mores again.  What.  I noticed I picked up a couple of mosquito bites.  I’m okay with that because I want my immunity to West Nile Virus kept current, thank you very much.  I think we also had showers this night and Tuesday night.  Showers are wonderful when you’re camping.  Brief, fleeting moments of cleanliness.  Then, the dust and the smoke settle upon you again.  Did I mention that I hate some parts of camping?

Thursday we did a lot of nothing. I sat around the campsite reading.  My Sun and Stars went to the laundromat and washed clothes.   I had finished “A Feast for Crows” the other day (Hence, I guess, calling my favorite woman in the whole world “My Sun and Stars”; she likes it, so there.) and got back to reading “Ghost Rider” by Neil Peart.  I really like that book, but it’s kind of a bummer to read sometimes.  Hard to understand how you make your way through so much sorrow.  I guess that’s why he rode for so long.  If that ever happened to me, I feel like I would have to do something similar.  So, I read some of that, some fantasy football stuff, looked up my classes online to see if I recognize any names (I did).  I made spaghetti for lunch and we made carne asada for dinner to go with the tacos that my Stepmother made. The kids spent their time making goofy videos on their iPods and playing with the Popsicle stick figures they made. (Stella counts down “In 5, 4, 3…” just like on iCarly!) Lucas spent some time on top of the rock “shuffling” (a kind of dance) to a song on his iPod. He’s actually getting kind of good at it.

One last night in the camper.  It smelled like dirty socks in there.  Three dirty kids and two dirty adults will do that to you.  We went to sleep and in the morning, awoke before 7 a.m.  I made coffee and we got to packing.  We crammed as much into the Accord as we could, shuttled some over to my Dad so he could get it home for us and we headed out.

I often say that camping is like a palette cleanser for life.  Camping refreshes me for what life throws at me.  And, by camping and doing without, say, a daily shower, the convenience of a kitchen, air conditioning, a comfortable bed,  and big screen TV, I remind myself how good I have it.  So, in all, I really love camping.  And, we had a good time.  Now, ideally, I will get back to blogging more regularly.  Lucky you!

Been Busy This Summer

Summer relaxation has been a lot of work lately. I have been playing a few video games, true, and reading a lot. But, there’s been some work getting done around here as well.

First off, my honey asked me to redo our closet. She had some ClosetMaid stuff from her previous accommodations so we got some other stuff and went to town. First, we pulled out the old closet shelf and bar then patched up the holes. Of course, we had to paint in there, too. Then, up went a new shelf, a new bar, some cubby shelves and her shoe palace.

Yes, I said shoe palace.

See, we had a china hutch that we got when we purchased our kitchen table. It was from a private party and they were moving so they threw in the china hutch with the table. We didn’t want it and we didn’t have any china to put inside of it, either. So, it sat for a long time until I had the idea to put the lower half of it under our flatscreen in the family room. That worked, but now we had the upper half of a china hutch sitting in our living room.

Honey got the idea to turn it into a shoe palace. As much as possible, I like to give honey what she wants. She is my favorite woman in the whole world, after all. So, we managed to get this thing up our stairs and into the room. I cut a thin piece of plywood to fit the top and screwed it down to create a flat top. Then, I stained it. The stain is still drying.

Meanwhile, we went into the boys’ room and redid their closet so they can better share the space. Their TV got mounted on the wall. I pulled in my old home theater sound system and mounted those speakers on the wall as well so they could have 5.1 sound. 🙂 We painted the room a light bluish-gray and began decorating in a “garage/industrial” theme. We used plastic PVC conduit attached to the walls to go around with the speaker wire inside and give it that industrial look. We got a couple of junction and switch boxes to spruce it up a bit, as well.

I installed some shelves, too, but the DIY store didn’t have all the shelving supplies in stock so they are unfinished as of yet. After fishing some of the other wires behind the wall, I was finished with that phase.

That was several days’ work. So, besides Assassin’s Creed 2, that’s most of what I’ve been up to. We had decided to have our kids start a blog, too, so they can keep their writing skills sharp over the summer. And, as a teacher, I think it’s good to write when your kids do. So, here’s the post I wrote while they did theirs. Now, back to relaxing.

My Summer Goals

I understand that my Favorite Woman in the Whole World has a ToDo list already written for me. So, I may be busier than I think. I know we have to get the ceiling fan installed, finally. I think there’s some painting to be done, as well. We have to redo our closet. But, here are my goals for the summer.
1. Learn to speak Spanish. I already have some foundation, pero necissito become fluent. I want to be able to speak to all of my students and all of their parents, as much as possible. Oh, and I want to keep my FWITWW from being able to talk about me so easily when I’m sitting there.
2. Rethink the way I run an English class. I want to create a class based on the standards and that grades kids based on what they know, not the amount of work they did. I want to guide their learning instead of forcing it. I want to give them some autonomy to choose how they learn, when the learn and what they learn, within the guidelines of the district approved curriculum and the standards set by the state. This is a lot of work for me, but I have some time on my hands. (side note: to all of you who have uttered the words “teachers get the summer off!! This is what teachers do with the summer off.)
3. Workout 30 minutes, minimum, each day and limit myself to 1900 calories per day. Got to lose weight.
There you go. Wish me luck!

Separate the Eggs and Beat the Whites

Mother’s Day, like many holidays, is one of those things.  You know?  I don’t want to turn this into a “feel bad for me” piece, or whatever, so, that’s not my intent.  But, a day dedicated to thinking about what my mother did for me is not totally fun.

My mother passed away in 1998.  January 8, 1998.  It was not totally fun, either.  I mean, yes, I was an adult and didn’t need her in the sense that a child, still growing, still maturing, needs their parents.  I was capable of taking care of myself, had a job and all that.  I was in the midst of getting my Master’s degree at the time.  It did, sorta, put a kink in my plans, though.

In point of fact, it kinda screwed up my life.  Some of which is obvious, as in, the mourning process took me off the grid for a couple months, made it very difficult to finish my master’s thesis, and some have told me I still haven’t completely finished mourning her death.  I don’t really get that last part because I have worked really hard at mourning her.  I’ve visited her mausoleum/tomb/slab in the wall and I’ve cried too many times to count.  I don’t mean “cried” as in I had some tears over a Hallmark commercial.  I’ve had those, too.  But, I’ve had some real good cries, the kind you save for when you’re alone and will be uninterrupted.  That’s the kind of cry that you just can’t share.  It’s awful, face-contorting, dry-heaving, full of snot and salt water and is just disgusting to be a part of, much less see.

I know what my mother did for me.  I’ve had 13 years to think about it.  So, I don’t need another day for that.  You know how they say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.  I know what I had and it’s gone.

So, I should pay tribute to the other mothers in my life, right?  I try to.  Honestly.  My favorite person in the whole world got a gift and I made her my best Belgian waffles ever this morning.  I’m not a cook, even in the most definition stretching sense of the word.  But, I’m super good at Belgian waffles.  I make them “from scratch” with flour, sugar, eggs, milk and so on.  I add extra vanilla and some cinnamon and nutmeg even though the recipe doesn’t call for it.  But, the real reason my Belgian waffles are so good?  It’s the eggs.  First, I use about 50% more eggs than the is called for in the recipe.

(Here’s my math, feel free to correct it… The recipe calls for 4 eggs, I use 6.  So, 50% of 4 is 2.  Two more is 50% more, right?)

But, that’s not all.  I separate the eggs and beat the whites.  I beat them hard.  Seriously, I am relentless.  I’m just kidding.  I beat them until soft peaks form, just like the recipe says.  Then, I fold them into the batter, carefully, not over mixing.  It’s important because you should be able to taste the eggs.  Then, I’ve learned that you have to leave the waffles in the iron longer than the iron thinks you should.  It beeps and I wait until panic sets in and I’m sure I’ve burned them… and they were golden brown.  Almost perfect.  And, for the first time, I felt like they were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  I made those waffles with love, trust me.  Normally, my idea of cooking is opening the can and warming up something in the microwave.  Otherwise, I eat it cold or order it.  So, for me to take the time and care that I did was because of the love I bear that woman.

I would have spent some time with my step-mother but she was visited her daughter some distance away and we had my mother-in-law and other family coming over here for a party.  So, there you go.  That’s Mother’s Day.  That and a little private thinking about my own mother.  If you’re a mom, Happy Mother’s Day.  If you have a mom, I hope she meant enough for you spend some time with her and whatnot.

Parents are important in the lives of their children.  I hope that I’m doing a pretty good job at it and I realize that, no matter what, I will most likely still fall short and have things to regret about how I raised them.  I will make some poor decisions and probably have made a few already.  But, at least it will not be said that I loved them any less than completely.

This is a picture my father took of me and my mother when I was, quite obviously, a newborn.  Every time I look at this picture I get a catch in my throat and that full-feeling in my eyes like they’re going to water again.  That baby is loved.  Totally.  There is nothing ambivalent about the way my mother holds that baby.  He’s safe, protected, and cared-for.  All of his needs are met.  He’s beat from all of that smiling and eating and pooping.  Clearly, he just had some delicious milk and needs to sleep while all the blood diverts to the stomach to digest that stuff.  You can see from the tilt of her head that she adores that baby.  She loves the smell of him and the feel of his hair on her cheek.  She loves the sweet shallow breaths he makes and she can feel his tiny heart beating fast through his thin skin.
Time slows down.  The moment stretches for an eternity as the shutter clicks as the father realizes that, for his son, that is as good as life will ever be.  And, if he was anything like I am today, that was the best it was for him, too.
I love this picture, too, because I held my own babies like that.  I hope to love my own children as well as my mother did, teach my own children as well as my father did, and be half the man my grandfather was.  I have accomplished one of three so far.

If you can read this blog post, thank a teacher!

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week and this post I read inspired me to think about those teachers who made an impact on me.

First, I want to tell all of my readers that thanking a teacher is a big deal. When you tell us that we helped you or just that you appreciated our work, it’s amazing. Seriously. Amazing. Most of us became teachers because we want to make a difference or help others. We are suckers for that. It’s why we will put up with attitudes and getting sick every Fall. We deal with all manner of insults, lately from the press. We don’t mind not making a bunch of money, most of us are happy to just make a living if we are making a difference.

So, seriously, find a teacher and thank them. Take a minute and send them little card or something. You will freaking make them so happy. (And, this is NOT a blatant plea to be thanked. If you do want to thank me, cool. But, make sure you find another teacher to thank, too.)

This last year we had Rachel’s Challenge come to my school and it reminded me that sometimes the smallest effort can have a big impact. A smile and a quick “hi” can save a life some days. So, in that spirit, I wanted to thank some teachers.

Mrs. O’Leary, thank you for making me do my homework in my Junior year of high school. You didn’t punish me or scold me. You just looked at me and said, with a deep sadness, “Dearheart, why don’t you do your homework?” I can still hear those words in your soft, Irish voice. I’m sorry that I didn’t get to tell you how much it meant to me that you just cared about me. The other teachers belittled me. But, you were kind. I often try to be kind to my students because of that.

Mr. Dineen, thank you for being such a jerk to me that I never want to do that to any other student. When you called me (and every other kid in your class) a “dumb bunny” because we couldn’t solve your mother loving Algebra 2 or Trig problems I actually felt dumb. Thanks for showing me how much damage words can do to a student.

Mr. Knish, thank you for putting all your heart into reading Hamlet to us in my Senior year. When I used to read to my English classes, I would try to put emotion and acting into the reading. I even threw in a “voice” for some of the characters if I could do it without pulling the kids out of the story. You inspired me to try to convey my love of words to my students.

Mr. Ballingall, thank you for teaching me about public speaking. I did better in college because of your class and I speak in front of crowds all the time, today.

Mrs. Quinn, I’m sorry my French class was so awful to you. That’s all. I’m just sorry and I hope you have better students today.

Mr. Uribe, thank you for teaching me that it actually was possible for ALL of the students to be on task in the classroom. I didn’t believe it. But, you told me to wait until everyone got quiet and it worked. Thanks.

Mrs. Cabrera, thank you for listening to me when I was brand new and wondering if I chose the wrong profession. It helped to have an ear to bend.

Mr. Navas, thank you for sharing your lesson plans and talking with me about my classes and reassuring me that falling behind on the curriculum guide wasn’t the end of the world.

Mr. and Mrs. Beal, thank you for EVERYTHING. I probably never would have survived that first year without your support. Lesson plans, advice, and even sending me tech support in the form of former students. I will always be in your debt.

Mr. Valencia, thank you for making me feel like I was the best teacher in the world every time I talked to you.

Mr. Matamala, thank you for showing me how to respect students as individuals and worthy of our care and attention. Thanks for being a friend and a good boss.

Mr. Paulsen, thank you for giving me a running start on being an Activities Director and spending two weeks getting me pointed in the right direction. Being an Activities Director is the hardest job I have ever had, but it’s also the best. Thanks for leaving so I could have it.

Mr. Abernathy, thank you for helping me remember that I’m not the one with the hardest job in the school and also for helping me learn to be a better employee.

Mrs. Colangelo, thank you for inspiring me to push students to be better writers. I got the chance to watch you teach a couple times and it really made me want to help kids learn to dissect their writing and hone their abilities.

Ms. Buchanan, thank you for always smiling and helping me with choreography. My musicals always looked better because you were involved. Thanks for sharing your talents with the school in the pep rallies, too.

Mr. Farnsworth, thank you for helping me think about instructional minutes and making me aware of the impact my activities have on the classroom. I appreciate your dedication to the learning process for your students.

Mr. Shotts, thank you for helping with graduation and for all the chats we had about Drama or English. It was fun to be your colleague and also entertain the rest of the English Dept. with our routine.

Mr. Allmond, thank you for your unyielding pursuit of excellence. I have never ever heard you accept less than the best a student could do and it reminds me to have similar expectations of my own students.

Mrs. Young, thank you for being my first Union Rep in my first, um, discussions with the principal. Sometimes those guys are scary and it helps to have someone “on my side” so to speak. I appreciate you trying to help me save Man of La Mancha.

Mr. Stover, thank you for being my most used Union Rep. You are way too much fun to talk to and I love how dedicated you are to your clubs and the store. You represent true professionalism in business to our students and I really appreciate that.

Mr. Mazzulli, thank you for being the best Union Rep I ever had (sorry Mrs. Young and Mr. Stover, but, he plays better guitar than you!) and for always being ready to share a story and remind me why we teach.

Mr. Maiorca, thank you for teaching me the importance of ASB public relations and the importance of following our ASB Constitution. Seriously. You challenged me to learn my job much better.

Janet Roberts, thank you for being so kind, cheerful and positive and for teaching me about making fantastic posters and advertising for our school. We aren’t on your level, yet, but we are getting better.

Mary Jane Smith, thank you for being the first smiling face I remember at CADA when I felt out of my element and so lost. Your friendly and warm personality made me feel right at home and as if I belonged there. Now I know I do, but you showed me first.

Ron Ippolito, thank you for inspiring me to use technology in my everyday ASB activities and for making me laugh so hard my face hurt when playing Silent Football.

Stu Shaffer, thank you for having such cool activities for kids to do at lunchtime and inspiring me to have better games for our Class Competition.

Coach Olay, thank you for inspiring me to shut my dang mouth and smile more. Honestly, that’s an amazing thing for me to shut up and I appreciate you showing me the power of not talking so much.

Ms. Schweiger, thank you for always making me feel like I’m amazing and fantastic when you talk to me. When you make people feel like that, you are a leader. You make me want to be the kind of teacher and Activities Director that you think I am!

Mr. Young, thank you for always making me laugh. You are the kind of teacher that makes kids want to show up to class to see what you will do today. That’s very inspiring to me.

Ms. Ervin, thank you for always telling me how much you liked our rally or whatever activity you saw. You will never know how much it helps and how much it means to hear it from you.

Ms. Connors, thank you also for complimenting our activities. It seems like your words always come right when I need to hear something positive. Thanks for being involved and helping our program.

To my regular chaperones like Mr. Greiner, Ms. Gamson, Ms. Patterson, Ms. Martinez, Mrs. Alcala, Ms. Macias, Ms. Phillips, Mrs. Johnson, and the other Mrs. Johnson, and the others that my poor, old, stressed mind is misremembering right now, thank you for helping me to put on great activities for my students. It wouldn’t be possible without you.

I will probably remember several other people that deserve thanks and I’m sorry for missing you.

To my absolute favorite teacher, the one who everyday is the President of my Fan Club (and sometimes the only member), the one who always reminds me that the students are the reason we do this, the one who opens my eyes to see it from their point of view, the one who pushes me to do better and be better, the one who always listens when no one else should be subjected to my whining self pity, the one who dares me to dream and to reminds me to inspire, the one who taught me the most important lesson, Ms. Marchis, I absolutely thank you for sharing your life with me.

If you have a moment, thank a teacher. Even if it’s not Teacher Appreciation week. You will never know how much it means to be told, “You helped me.”

It’s Not Just a Powderpuff Game

Something has occurred to me in the last year that I think is a very important, simple, and pervasive truth about school. It’s an idea that I’ve been sort of realizing for some time now. A column I read earlier tonight about public schools struck a few chords with me.

First, this post might be a little short and/or disorganized because I’m tired and it’s Prom week. I’m sleepy, it’s late and I want to make sure you have something to think about over your coffee or other beverage of choice.

Okay, so as the Activities Director (what’s that? Well, at my school, my job is to supervise, produce, plan, organize and otherwise make happen things like Homecoming, Prom, pep rallies, lunchtime games and other student activities that foster and promote school spirit) I have had to think a lot about what school spirit is. Why is it important? A lot of teachers probably look at my job and think, “Nice work if you can get it. I wish I could sit around all day and just think of stupid games for teenagers to play.”

To be fair, I don’t think of them. I steal them from other schools, TV shows, and books.

I don’t sit around all day either. I get up, walk around the room and sometimes stand at my desk.

So, it’s not all fun and games. But, something has really been coalescing for me in this last year. School spirit is positive pride resulting from the relationship you have with the institution. School pride comes from the school doing things worth being proud of. Winning sports teams, high test scores, and great arts programs are all sources of school pride. But, what about pep rallies and dances.

I think so. (In fact, it is in my best interest to think so.) If it is a school activity and is done well, it can lead to school pride. But, more importantly, to me, these large student activities are not just a chance for kids to have fun, make noise, and move in ways that annoy and disgust adults (like, say, at Prom). These are not just rallies and dances, they are opportunities for students to bond with their school.

This was illustrated to me the other night at the Powderpuff game. Now, in a way, this is one of the goofiest high school activities. If you’re not familiar, Powderpuff football is a bizarro football game. It’s flag football played by girls and with male cheerleaders. At our school, the Juniors play the Seniors for bragging rights. And, it is intense. The kids take it very seriously. Maybe too seriously sometimes. They practice for weeks learning plays and conditioning. The boys from the Varsity Football team coach them. And the male cheerleaders embarrass themselves.

It’s goofy. And fun. And, thousands come out to see it.

Why? Well, for one, my community loves football. We come together under the lights to enjoy a public spectacle. And, it is like this for many Friday nights in the fall. But, this one is different. We typically do Powderpuff right before Prom (in the hopes that going to Prom on crutches might be enough of a deterrent to not try to kill the other girls!).

The thing that I think is important is that somewhere along the way there was a cultural decision that Powderpuff was important. So, now, I would guess that nearly 2,000 people came out to see it. And, they cheered and hollered and had a good time. These days of war, recession, bubble markets and layoffs find us with good times in short supply. But, the article I read made me think about Powderpuff football because this is our community. This is people coming together to share space, time and activities. To bond with one another and to find commonality. To associate and socialize.

And, for me, it is humbling to realize I was a catalyst and partner in it. Because I believe that public schools do this, as the article says, in a way that others cannot. Charter schools will not do this. Private schools don’t do it the same way. Public schools do this by having the people that live near each other, the people of the neighborhood come together and be in the same vicinity as each other. These kind of events are important and vital to our society. A private school will have students that *can* be together because of academic achievement or socio-economic status. A charter school will have students there that chose to be there (but something tells me charters schools won’t have very rich activities programs or won’t throw Powderpuff games. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am).

But, as the article points out, public schools are democratic because they bring us together no matter who we are. We belong together because of this school and these student activities give us a chance to celebrate our achievements and commonalities. I heard once that a Supreme Court Justice said he only reads two pages of the newspaper (for our digital natives, a newspaper is big sheets of paper with ink printing that were produced in mass quantities and had current events on them for people to read each day); he read the front page and the sports page. When asked why he said he read the front page to see about man’s failures and troubles and the sports page to be reminded of man’s successes and potential for greatness.

Sports are taken more seriously than student activities like dances and pep rallies, but I think they are similar. I think that dances and rallies offer remind us to live, to love, to dream and to achieve. They offer inspiration. The root word of inspire is related to breath and to spirit. Literally, inspiration means to give someone spirit, that is, to breathe life into them. And, that’s why I think my job is so cool. I get to breathe life into students, into a school. It’s not just a Powderpuff game. It’s not just a school. It’s an inspiration. It is a democratic community.

Defending Mencia

I will probably take massive amounts of flack for this from all five of my regular readers (God bless you, or you know, whatever), but I think Carlos Mencia is funny, smart, and misunderstood.

I will wait for you to clean whatever beverage you were previously enjoying off of your iPad or cellphone (My stats tell me at least one of you is reading my blog on an iPad, a cellphone, and an iPod. Or one of you is loading the blog up on multiple computers. And the other three of you are using Windows. There was one guy on Linux but he only read like one post and hasn’t been back and frankly, we won’t miss that neckbeard.)

All clean now? Let me start with misunderstood because it’s his own damn fault. My only experience with Carlos Mencias was from his race-baiting Mind of Mencia show on Comedy Central. It was like they said (and I’m about 98% sure it went exactly like this), “You know, that f@cking Dave Chappelle show is awesome! We get great ratings from him! I think it’s because of all that racial s#it he does. We need a Hispanic version of Chappelle.”
“What about George Lopez, sir?”
“No, f@ck that guy. He sold out. His show is on Nickelodeon now.”
“Okay, then how about Carlos Mencia?”
“Orale! Get him on the phone!

You might not realize it, but practically every show business executive curses like a longshoreman. I guess. I don’t know any longshoremen and neither do the show business executives which is probably why they get away with telling everybody that’s who they are swearing like. Regardless, they swear a lot.

So, this is why it’s his own fault. Mencia goes on his show and proceeds to give us all the impression that his comedy consists of racial nonsense, half of which is not very funny, Then, on top of that, there’s a controversy that Mencia has stolen material from other comics. And, there’s YouTube videos that make a compelling case for it. So, I had decided that Mencia was an unfunny, talentless, hack.

Then, MFWITWWW* goes and tells me that, in fact, Mencia is hilarious. Now, she is my favorite woman in the whole wide world for a good reason. She is SMART. She is so smart that I actually have to write it in all caps as I properly did right there. She is so SMART that she actually knows how and when to keep her mouth shut, which probably makes her smarter than me. Hmmm. Oh well, no time to think about stupid stuff like that. So, she tells me that she went to see him in concert and that it’s nothing like his show. Okay, yeah, so you say, I thought. I didn’t argue with her because she’s Latina and I’m still afraid she might cut me.

I let it pass. I mentioned that I didn’t like the show and didn’t find it funny and she said he was smart and I started to think she might only be smart instead of SMART. Cause, to me, he seemed like a buffoon. So, months later, she mentions that Mencia is going to be at the San Manuel casino and will I go with her despite my objections to his comedic stylings, she asked.

I acquiesced to her request. Just like that. Acquiesced. If nothing else, I would get to see this casino out in Highland, CA that I’d always been curious about. Was it a dirt shack out there with some slot machines? I dunno. I thought it was like this old, run-down building about the size of Costco and with as much charm. The parking lot would be gravel and the marque would be one of those signs with the movable letters, “TONITE! C RLOS MENCI “. Someone stole the “A’s” I guess.

San Manuel is about 3,000 times better than that. There’s parking structures, fountains, a covered skyway, and it’s really nice inside. It looks like a nice, but smaller, Vegas casino. Not Bellagio, but at least Rio nice. But it doesn’t smell like a Vegas casino. Can’t smoke in California, you know. Anywhere. Ordinarily, that’s a good thing. But, in a casino, you should smell cigarrettes, like, everywhere.

So, we get there and Mencia is funny. I laughed a lot! And, to me, the most impressive thing was that he did, no kidding, at least a two hour set. Being funny for two hours onstage is not easy. Even more impressive? At least a half hour of that was him improvising on stuff from the audience. That’s not easy. I’ve seen comics try to do that and you can tell they just want to get back to their material. But, he was funny then, too.

Does he steal material? I don’t know. But, he was smart enough to write his own material on stage in front of us. As well, he had a good message about thinking critically and realizing that the world could be a better place if we realized that politics was goofy. Or something. I forget exactly, but it was good; not mind searing truth like George Carlin, but in that vein.

So, if you haven’t seen Carlos Mencia live and you like comedy, you might consider taking in a show of his before you declare him a talentless hack.

Oh, and I also think that some of Dane Cook’s routines are funny, too. Louis CK and Oswalt Patton are funnier, but still.

Bill Hicks: comedian, prophet, pale demon

Just watched “Bill Hicks: Sane Man” on my Netflix stream. This is not my first exposure to Hicks. I have five or six recordings of his. But, good lord he was funny. He was sacrilegious, profane, vulgar, offensive, dark, full of hate, bile, and spewing gouts of flaming truth wherever he went.

I think my favorite part of a Bill Hicks set is how much his audience hates him. I have one recording where they get downright hostile toward him. And let’s face it, he wasn’t there to win friends. That might be what I love most about him. He was telling the truth as he saw it and if you didn’t like it, too bad. He was probably going to make fun of you next.

In case you’re not familiar with Bill Hicks, he was very liberal. He absolutely hated Reagan, the first Bush and was intensely critical of the first Iraq war. Can you imagine what it would be like if he lived today? Here’s what I think he’d being saying:

What is wrong with you people? You elected the son?! Did you miss all the crap his daddy did? And you let him go back to Iraq to finish the job? You believed that bit about the WMDs? You people are dumber than I originally thought!

Seriously, Bill had it nailed. He spotted the anti-intellectualism movement, the take-over of corporations, the awfulness of pop culture and on and on. He reminds me a lot of George Carlin, another truly great comic. The great thing about both of these guys is that they are funny but they are telling great truths and making serious points. They are using the laughs because, I think, that is a great way to get you to listen to some things that are otherwise unpalatable to most of us. I think they can’t help making the jokes either. I think they are those guys that are in a car accident, have their arm amputated and look at the doctor to say,”I’ve been meaning to lose weight, doc, thanks.” They’re the ones getting dirty looks at funerals because they couldn’t help making the people around them giggle.

The thing is, we need guys like this now more than ever. I think this is where Jon Stewart and The Daily Show come in. And, Stephen Colbert, yes. We have to hear some humor. Maybe I should try writing more humorously when I have something serious to talk about. Hmmm…

Mr. Hicks was, if you can believe it, darker and harsher than George Carlin. Hicks would point out how the great people of history tend to be murdered, they don’t die of old age. Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, JFK, etc. But, Ronald Reagan? He got shot, lived through it, and was old as Hell when he died. Note: this is well before the beatification of Reagan and the whitewashing of his legacy (go read the record, that brother raised taxes lots of times! And he dug spending tons of money on defense.) so Reagan was still the devil as far as Hicks was concerned. At the end of his set, Hicks sometimes would tell the audience his plan for world peace: if you took the trillions being spent on wars and gave it to the citizens we could build a home for every person in the world, then spend our time and money exploring space together in peace and harmony. What a wonderful world to live in. Then, Hicks stands with his arms up as the audience applauds, his set over… And gunshots ring out loudly in the room. Hicks crumples to the ground, clutching his chest, apparently shot to death, assassinated. The lights go out. Hardee har har.

In the tradition of dark comedy, Hicks makes sure that the laugh you were having a second ago gets caught in your throat. Sure, it’s a little self-aggrandizing, but, well, the man had some awesome, funny, truthful, and brutal bits. And, guess what? He was right. We could easily house the entire country if we wanted. But, no we can’t do that. House freeloaders??? No way!

It’s kind of weird. How would you rather spend trillions of dollars. Ending homelessness and giving the American Dream to everyone in the country? Or bombing people in another country that may or may not represent a threat to us? As George Carlin put it, they call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. I am so grateful for people like Hicks, Carlin, Stewart, and Colbert for helping to wake me up.

A Plea for Common Good Sense

I realize how this might sound. But, I feel like I have to say it. I wish that more of us would make a choice to work more for the common good. I want us all to have a better sense of our common good. I am worried about the direction our country is going, where we are going as a people.

Maybe I’ve watched too many movies. Maybe things never were all that good, people were never all that kind. But, I think things were different. I think that we went to war for the right reasons in WWII. I mean, it’s not like we’ve found out that, in actuality, despite what some idiots might say, the stories about the Nazi’s were exaggerated. I don’t think there was some kind of conspiracy to get us into the war so we could secure our supply of sauerkraut. But, ever since then, it seems like our wars have ulterior motives.

And our parents tell stories about how you didn’t even lock the door of your house when you went out. Seriously? I turn on the burglar alarm at night and if we leave the house for more than a short errand, and even then sometimes. I have deadbolts and bars and dogs.

I think things were different with employers and bosses, too. It used to be that an employer took care of their employees. It was the right thing to do. And, it made sense because your employees made your company better. Employees felt cared for, worked harder, had loyalty. It wasn’t just a paycheck, it was your job. Now, that being said, it couldn’t have been all roses since the government did, at some point, need to step in and mandate a minimum wage as well as health benefits for full time workers.

So, maybe that last part is wishful thinking and Hollywood hoohah.

But, I can’t help feeling like things are different now. And I wish we would all just make a decision to do it differently.

A lot of it has to do with corporations and the drive for profits. It’s hard to blame corporations. They do what they are designed to do. And, not only that, they have a legal obligation to maximize profits. But, maybe some things shouldn’t be for profit. Things like schools, health care and utilities. Capitalism is a good system for business. But education is not a business. It is an art. We have a problem when we are cutting costs to maximize profits when it comes to education. Or health care. Because what happens when you start thinking of cutting corners, making things more efficient? Well, we know what happens. We lose. People don’t get the care they need. The don’t learn the things they need to learn. Utilities that earn a profit mean that some people won’t get them because it will price them out of the market. Or, that profit-taking will occur in times when supply drops or demand rises.

Isn’t that what we saw with the housing bubble? Isn’t that what we’re seeing with gas right now? Libya produces about 3% of the world’s oil, but that’s all the excuse that was needed to start raising gas prices 20 – 30 cents per gallon. Rediculous.

The Buddhists have a concept called Right Livelihood from the Eightfold Path.

I am not a Buddhist so I will probably either oversimplify this or get it otherwise wrong, so I apologize in advance. However, as I understand it, it is the idea that we should make our living in life in a way that doesn’t hurt or victimize others. Think about that for a second. No, think about it for a good minute. How many corporations violate this all the time? We have Apple and the FoxConn controversy. Or Enron. BP. All of Wall Street. HMOs. I mean, let’s be honest here. Practically every business of any success has made a good portion of it’s profit on the backs of some people or another in a way that has made them poorer or less happy in the process. Think of all the polluted streams and toxic dumps, the sweatshops and the grey markets. We don’t even pay the full cost of things because of the human suffering that subsidizes our commerce.

But, hey, that’s Capitalism. People vote with their dollars and all that. Well, yeah, if we know about it.

But, what if we lived in a world where people decided to do the right thing because it was the right thing to do? What if they paid people more than they had to? What if they paid workers a living wage and helped them take care of themselves and their families when they were sick? What if we lived in a world where a corporation published their misdeeds and then offered to make amends to those who were hurt? What if we lived in a world where corporations actually tried to make decisions that made people’s lives better, safer and healthier instead of making the shareholders richer? What if we lived in a world where the only time war was fought was really to defend freedom and justice? What if we lived in a world where freedom was actually for everyone and not just the people that look like us? What if we lived in a world where people paid their taxes because it made everyone a little better off? What if everyone paid a fair share? What if everyone paid a fair share? (Yes, I said it twice because it seems like such a novel concept. If you have more, you pay more, but in the same percentage as everyone else. And, as I remind my students who complain, “That’s not fair!” Fair means everyone gets treated the same. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not fair.)

What if we lived in a world where people actually had a sense for the common good? Then, being good wouldn’t be so uncommon.