Friday, April 30, 2010

It's Off to Work We Go...

Although my amazing teaching partner was absent today, I had a fun day at school with my crazy staff. Nancy emailed the names of all the students who had won the weekly raffle. (Students get tickets for completing classes, keeping a planner, and more, and five of them win (donated) $5 gift cards every Friday.) Today, all the winners were from one class. All five.

Wendy replied: Whoo hoo! In your face! Look whose students won this week!! Watch your back, the underdog is catching up...

Me: Something's rotten in Denmark.

Wendy: All is well in Denmark and the Queen is smiling.

Jean: For some reason, all of a sudden, I am wishing that this morning Mr. G. had brought not the usual Friday donuts, but instead, danish...

Mr. G: With all due respect, Jean, danish--or lack thereof--is not what's rotten here. I'm with [me] It's Novak's shameless, brazen co-opting of this whole Renaissance raffle process that has me more than a little concerned. I must say I'm not surprised by that brown nose Wendy. But I'm starting to worry if Nancy, Mrs. Office Manager, or Mrs. Counselor, are "involved" too.

Someone put a Danish flag outside Wendy's classroom.

Me: Room 2 has posted a Danish flag. It is an act of hostility indicating that the non-Room 2 students are not as worthy as the Room 2 students. "Though this be madness yet there is method in it."

Jean: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." There may be a flag posted on Room 2, but that does not mean that Room 2 has posted a flag.

Louise: Be it known that I am swearing allegiance to the Queen. She is a little scary.

Kris: My roommate SWEARING? "Foul whisperings are abroad. Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles." Alas!

(These quotes are all from Hamlet, which is set in Denmark, by the way.)

Mrs. Counselor: I hope it isn't the danish. I am still glad we have donuts today.

Ms. Principal (who has Fridays off, but keeps up on her iPhone): You guys are hilarious. I'm sad I'm not there today!

Wendy: We miss you. Feel free to throw in some zingers. I can take it.

Ms. Principal: I'm Switzerland.

Often the exchanges are full of puns and grammar corrections. Mr. G is an expert in hyphen use. They always demonstrate the camaraderie we have with each other, and the thirty seconds spent creating the email pays off in so many ways.

Here's one from the other day:

Me (after a round of hilarious emails that don't translate well if you don't know our in jokes): I think Mikey (Mr. G.) should copy us on all his emails to keep us laughing. Where does he get off hiding such talent?

Taz: Oh, believe me, he doesn't hide it. It just emerges from time to time and he can't help it.

Mr. G: Hey Taz, when you said “he can’t help it,” I think that was the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me (though, in fairness, you haven’t said many sweet things). But we like it that way.

I love our staff. We all get along, we collaborate well, and it makes us better teachers. We aren't competing with each other--we are giving each other laughs, ideas, help, and encouragement. I know this helps our students, too.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Tad too Late for Earth Day

Today was an agricultural day. In the wee morning hours Jim and I mixed peat moss, vermiculite and compost into potting soil.(And when I say "Jim and I" I mean mostly Jim.) The ground wriggled and squirmed, still moving because the compost was packed with red worms wondering why they had been dislodged from their bin. Then (and this is the easy part), we planted baby plants: lettuce, beans, three kinds of squash (butternut, crooked neck, and zucchini), green and red peppers, and tomatoes. Yum! The plants are so little and cute and the beds are all neat and tidy and weed and fungus free!

Then I went out to my family ranch where today they are picking avocados in preparation for Cinco de Mayo. It's so beautiful out there with the mountains, the flowers, and the rows of fruit trees. I loved seeing the big bins of fruit. This year the avocado trees are so heavy with fruit that Raul, who does most of the work on the land, had to put in many support boards in to keep the branches from dragging on the ground. Because there was so much fruit on every tree the avocados grew to only about 3/4 the size we normally see. Every farmer has a big crop, so the price will be really low. Great news for the consumer! Not so good for the rancher. My cousin, Bob, made me pick the avocados I brought home with me. The picking pole is about 15 feet long, and it takes a lot of strength and coordination to cut the fruit off. I wasn't even on a ladder and I was so terrible at it that Bob complained that he'd be broke if he had to depend on me to get the fruit off the trees! I, and my painful shoulders, felt a new sympathy for the men who were working in the groves.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When I say teasingly that I'm old, no one laughs anymore

There are so many ways I feel old. I learned tonight that only old people use the Comic Sans font. Sigh. Now on top of everything else, I need a NEW favorite font. I'm going to go soak my bunions now.

Monday, April 12, 2010


I set the alarm for 3:30 because we had to leave for the airport at 4:10 am. We traveled all day and as we pulled into my town, my alarm clock startd beeping--it was 3:30 am in Copenhagen. We had spent exactly 24 hours traveling from Copenhagen home. I am happy and exhausted.

Copenhagen Day 2

Today started with a sightseeing tour of the city, which included then colorful and quaint waterfront area, the changing of the guards, the intertwined dragon-tails spire of the stock exchange, and many beautiful buildings, many of red brick with copper spires. In the afternoon a small group of us set off for Kronborg Castle, the home of Hamlet. Because I've had too many times when people have taken advantage of me, I have become old and skeptical. (My family will remember a certain Chinese restaurant.) Today my Grinch heart was melted just a little. On the train to Helsingbǿord, we met Jack, a New Yorker who has lived in Copenhagen for 40 years. He offered to show us around. As the crowds turned right off the train, we turned left and discovered a darling and colorful medieval village that, as Jack put it "coined the word 'quaint'." The narrow cobblestone streets led to a beautiful, but hidden church, built in 1616, and then to a convent with a peaceful garden. Without Jack we would have hurried past not realizing these treasures existed. He led us down a dirt path to the castle and joined us on the tour. The castles was a fortress guarding thee sound between Sweden and Denmark, and had beautiful tapestries and a lovely old chapel. In the labyrinth of a dungeon was a huge statue of a sleeping giant. The legend is that as long as the giant sleeps there will be peace in Denmark. T hen Jack showed us his favorite pizza parlor, where we warmed up from the biting Nordic wind. Here Jack shared how lonely he felt. The independent Danes don't accept him, and the Americans come and go. He spends each day trying to find kind deeds to perform, but that he hasn't had such a wonderful day for a long time. He thanked us profusely for letting him be our guide. He took all the stress out of our day--translating, bargaining, asking for group rates, and finding the right trains. He made no profit off of us, but we brought him joy by allowing him to make our day brighter. There are still kind strangers in the world, and I am deeply encouraged.

Beautiful Beautiful Copenhagen

We spent most of today getting to Copenhagen by bus and ferry. The ferry was amazing and the kids really liked it because of all the stores and places to eat on board. Then, In Copenhagen we took a walking tour of the city and then had a lot of free time. The buildings are beautiful. The famous little Mermaid statue is visiting China right now, but we still got to enjoy the Hans Christian Andersen statue. We went in a lot of little shops and walked along the pedestrian street. Had dinner at a Middle-Eastern restaurant. I loved it , but many people thought the food was strange.

Lübeck had predicted rain on several days of our trip, but so far we've avoided it and had beautiful sunny days. It's rained at night, and it rained the whole time on our long bus ride today to Lübeck, Germany. It was great timing because we were warm and dry in our comfortable bus and spent much of the day sleeping. At our lunch stop on the autobahn we ate delicious German food including Apple Kuchen and Cherry Kuchen.

It was difficult to connect with my friends Hilli and Niels and their 2 year old son, Joschi, because neither of us knew the city. We're both on cell phones saying things like "I'm at this big round tower.." "Do you know where the big open square is?" "I'm looking at a McDonalds." until we found each other. We walked around the quaint medieval town with it's picturesque buildings and caught up with each others' lives. We had dinner at the little Hotel Trave. I fell in love with Joschi. He spoke German and I spoke English. We didn't understand a word each other spoke, but communicated quite well. Two year olds are very accepting of people who are different. I gave Joschi some books and he LOVED them. He made all these great delighted noises as I read him, and when I read King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, he imitated all the characters' facial expressions.

Lübeck is a darling medieval town in Germany with lots of history. The buildings are gorgeous! I'm a sucker for brick buildings because we can't really have them in California. I had a great time in this small town.

Amsterdam Day 2

We are in Amsterdam now, and what stands out to me are the windmills and tulips and marijuana. The way each country uses its natural resources gives it character. In Ireland the farmers

cleared their fields of the many rocks, and then built fences out of them. In Amsterdam flooding is an issue so the Dutch have built dikes and canals, and use the water as fences to enclose their animals and delineate their property. It feels a lot like Venice to me. The canals are lined with daffodils and quaint bridges.
Sometimes my students don't want to get involved in politics, or even register to vote when they are 18. Young and old here are very interested in politics. Before the war, the Dutch left politics to their government. They learned that you couldn't always trust the government to do what's right.

We went to a working farm where they made cheese and clogs. It reminded me of my family's farms in Ireland--small, family operations on beautiful land. It took about 3 minutes to make a clog from a block of wood, and only a little longer to sell a large part of their inventory to us.

We saw the bustling flower market where they sell bulbs, and found some bargains at the flea market. We saw most of the artist's original paintings at the Van Gogh museum. Amazingly beautiful! At the museums many young people are standing in front of a painting getting the information about it from their iPhones. Only the old people are using the audio-tour headsets.

Anne Frank's house was quite sobering. She always believed she would escape and get to live a normal life again. The eerie details of their lives shut away are still there: the marks on the wall to measure the children's height, the flash cards Anne's sister used to study Latin by correspondence course, and the playbills on the wall of Anne's room of the performances she was missing.

The Red Light District was actually started by the church to keep the sailors concentrated in one area, and not let their sinful excesses corrupt the rest of the area. They put a huge church in the middle of the area in hopes some will find a more lasting comfort than the drugs and sex they are seeking. Marijuana isn't legal, but tolerated, and the coffee shops don't sell coffee. There is a huge crime element connected with the drug sales.

Then we took a cruise down the canals. The kids were tired and quiet until about halfway through the cruise when a passing boat of 5 young men mooned us. They were quite animated after that, and many said the cruise was the best part of the day.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Amsterdam Day 2

A full day! We were gone from the hotel from 8 am to 11:30 pm. We saw a cheese and clog factory--My dad would have loved the beautiful woodworking tools for carving the clogs. It took about 3 minutes to make the unpainted shoes--and about an hour to sell a good share of cheese and clogs to the Americans. Also had a sightseeing tour of the city with a knowledgeable and funny local guide--an American with a masters in International Relations. At the Getty there are one or two Van Gogh paintings, but here we saw dozens--most of his famous ones-- at a museum that also had a visiting Gauguin exhibit. We took pictures and observed a windmill up close and personal. We also shopped at a flea market and the grocery store (always my favorite.) Do I know how to find the bargains, or what? The tour of Anne Frank's house was sobering. I had, of course, read her diary, but to actually see the pictures she had glued to the wall and hear the church bells she heard, and to see the lack of sunlight she endured for two years was heartbreaking. She and her sister kept up their studies, always believing the war would end and their family would return to normal life. They even kept track of their height on the wall. The pencil marks are still there. As if the day was not full enough yet, we took a river cruise through the canals, and walked through the Red Light district. Interesting that the church initiated concentrating all the brothels in one area. They wanted the sailors who came into the busy port to keep the sin in one area, rather than infecting the whole city. Now Amsterdam couldn't clean up this area because it brings in tourist dollars. The kids have been great. Annie was hospitalized last night, but is much better today after resting in the hotel and taking the medicines--that's been a little stressful. I am exhausted, but happy.

More Paris to Copenhagen

We are in Amsterdam now, and what stands out to me are the windmills and tulips and marijuana. Some areas of the city smell like my college days. Pot is not legal, but it is TOLERATED. Amsterdam had such a bad drug problem in the '60's that they localized all the drug dealing to one part of the city, and looked the other way when it came to enforcing drug laws. A "coffee shop" here means that they sell recreational drugs. Cafes are where you buy lattes. The way each country uses its natural resources gives it character. In Ireland the farmers cleared their fields of the many rocks, and then built fences out of them. In Amsterdam flooding is an issue so the Dutch have built dikes and canals, and use the water as fences to enclose their animals and delineate their property. It feels a lot like Venice to me. The canals are lined with daffodils and quaint bridges.

Sometimes my students don't want to get involved in politics, or even register to vote when they are 18. People here are very interested in politics Before the war, the Dutch left politics to their govt. They learned that you couldn't always trust the government to do what's right

The internet connections aren't great, so I'll have to add pictures later!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Days 1-2 in Paris

We left LA Saturday afternoon, and arrived tired and happy in Paris on Sunday afternoon. We immediately took the train into the city and started sightseeing. We are six of a group of about 40 people from California and Canada. We explored the area around Port Clichy, including the Moulin Rouge and had dinner at a nice restaurant. (The chocolate eclairs were delicious and I ate two of them.) The kids love the architecture and are taking a million pictures. When they put their cards into the ATM and euros came out it was like winning the Lottery. One of them commented about how French money was so much prettier than ours, and it is. If they learn that other countries and cultures have much to offer, and that the way America does it is not always the best, I will feel the trip is valuable. Meanwhile we are all having a great time. We are tired already and it's only Day 2, but also eager to see and do everything.