Monday, May 25, 2015

Oh Good, Something Else to Obsess Over

As I've mentioned, my new car is quite advanced, technologically speaking.  Advanced for me anyhow, trading up from a 12 year old car whose tech consisted of power windows and a CD player.  The Rogue has so many bells and whistles, I still don't know what a lot of them do.  Once summer break is here, I'll have some extra time to go sit in it with the user manual and figure out the rest.   In the meantime, the fancy odometer computer is causing me all sorts of anxiety.  Gone are the days of resetting the "trip" after filling up with a tank of gas and then dividing the number by the gallons the tank holds to figure out your gas mileage for the tank the next time you fill up.  That's how I did it for YEARS, and I also always knew when the gas light went on, I had about 2 gallons (25-30 miles) left.  In the new car, all of this information I used to figure out in my head is displayed on the dash screen ALL THE TIME!
 Therefore, I am now obsessed with this car's gas mileage.  Each time the "Range" changes I gasp and recalculate how much gas I've used and how good or bad the tank's mileage is going to be.  It is also putting a little crimp in my style as I tend to have a lead foot, and each time I use it, the number in the "Range" drops quickly.  The majority of my drive to and from work is on our old "highway" that runs alongside the freeway.  The speed limit is 55 mph, but there is a traffic light every three-fourths of a mile or so. Inevitably, the car will just get up to speed (and the miles-to-gas number has gone down), and I'll have to stop at a red light.  The constant stop-and-go has always irritated me a bit, but now that I have proof to what it's doing to my gas mileage, it's changing the way I'm driving.  Yes, that's a good thing, I guess, but I don't like driving slow one little bit!
To top it all off, upon getting to my destination and turning off the car (with a stop button, by the way - see, it's like the Jetsons!) another screen comes up telling me what my gas mileage for that drive.
Sometimes it's downright depressing, mostly on the drive to and from work.  The fast speeds combined with the stoplights is a bad combination.  This car is supposed to get 26 mpg around town and 33 mpg freeway.  Most of my trips around town are getting me teen numbers.
Still, I can't complain too much as it is incredibly better than it was in the old car.  This car holds 2 gallons less than the old one, and I'm getting almost 100 miles more to the tank. Even so, the in-your-face reminder of how much gas I'm using keeps it constantly on my mind.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


I learned a new acronym this week, SMH (shaking my head) to be used when something is too unreal to even have words.  It occurred to me that I don't shake my head as often as I roll my eyes so I thought RME might be a better acronym for me.  But I didn't come up with a new Facebook or Twitter acronym as it's already being used.
Anyhow, after reading of yesterday's oil spill in Santa Barbara I both SMH and RME.  No matter where they occur, these environmental catastrophes sicken me, but this one hits home.  Santa Barbara is a place I visit often.  I've walked along those beaches on numerous occasions, and to see that tide of oil roll in and out, well, it's just awful.  There is so much wildlife there.  This time of year, the humpbacks and grey whales are in that area just off the coast of Refugio and Gaviota Beaches.  The clean up does seem to be going better than the one off the Gulf, so hopefully the damage won't be as severe - they are still dealing with the after effects of that spill.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Dad Bod

For the last month or so, morning and afternoon "news" shows have been "reporting" on the new trend for men...the dad bod.  The dad-bod "story", if you're not familiar, was initiated by some college sophomore's post about the type of guy her roommate usually dated, "The dad bod says, 'I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating pizza.'"  Every news outlet has addressed this as a color story and some (gasp) as an actual news story.  While some men are cheering for the label, others are shaming their less toned brethren, and at the same time many women are in tizzy over how an average-looking man is now making positive news for having a regular body while women continue to be subjected to unrealistic body standards.
I can see the critics' concerns, while at the same time I can also appreciate that regular men think this is great news.  I've been planning a post in my head about how silly the whole thing is when, lo and behold, I caught up on last week's The Daily Show and Jon Stewart and Kristen Schaal explained the newest pop culture phenomenon.  I couldn't have said it better myself...
The most poignant part of the whole segment - "You earned it Dadio.  All that not working out, focusing on other things besides your off how your looks are not what society values most in you."  It is too bad that our society has created this double standard that women's looks play a far bigger part in our "success" as women than it does for men.  With that being said, there have been some pretty nasty things written about men with so-called dad-bods, even by women.  How can we expect men to be respectful of all of our body types if we are unable to do the same...a bit of double standard, no?
My take on the whole thing, beyond the silliness of it all, is if you are happy and comfortable in your own skin, that's all that matters.  If you are not, then do something about it.  And most importantly, if we (both women and men) stop succumbing to what the media says is and isn't beautiful, we'll all feel a whole lot better about ourselves and others, perceived imperfections and all.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

This and That

All week we've been hearing about STORM WATCH 2015.  This winter-like storm was supposed to roll in on Wednesday night and bring three days worth of rain.  Not unlike every other STORM WATCH over the last two years, it got cloudy and cooler (70 degrees as opposed to 90 last week), but the rain didn't come last night.  The rain didn't come this morning, although the temperature dropped significantly.  The storm that we'd all been "watching" didn't seem to be coming...again.  As much as I HATE rain when I'm at school due to inclement weather schedule, I was actually hoping for some water to finally fall from sky, even if it was during the school day.  And we did finally get a little shower about noon lasted about 15 minutes.  Wah wah wah.  We continued with our day under the assumption that STORMWATCH 2015 was over.  But it actually wasn't.  Right after dismissal, the sky opened up and poured down rain on and off for the next several hours.  It was the perfect excuse to crawl into bed at 7PM and just read a book for a couple of hours.  I never do that...probably because the rain never actually comes.  It seems to have stopped as I write this post.  It is forecasted at random times during the day tomorrow, but again I think it's another case of STORM WATCH lasting longer than the actual storm.

Rigby is at it again.  In the last two weeks two lizard tails have been carried into my house (one which I touched because I thought it was a piece of cording, GAH!), one dead lizard has been found in the grass, and there was a heart stopping moment when I let her out in the back at 5am yesterday morning and a bunny had found its way back there too.  Zoom!  Zoom! Zoom!  Both Rigby and the bunny dashed around the backyard, faster than I could even call her name.  Thankfully, she must have still had sleep in her eyes, the rabbit was able to find its way out the fence.

A couple of weeks back, I attended the LA Times Festival of Books at USC.  I go most years and have posted about it before.  During one of the panels (Crime Fiction), it was discussed that many new book manuscripts are actually written with the intention of a screenplay anymore.  A book like "Gone Girl" was used as an example of that.  It was not an idea that I had ever thought of before, but it wasn't something that surprised me either.  Last week, my book club's June book was chosen.  Everyone has been talking about The Girl on the Train over the last few months, so I was glad it was picked.  It's been a fast and intriguing read.  I'm enjoying it very much, but I can also see it becoming a Hollywood film in the near future.  It could cross over to screenplay quite seamlessly, without losing its story.  It's the first time that I have recognized that and it makes me wonder if that is what the panel was referring to.  While I understand the concern over a possible change in quality of book writing, there's also something to be said for a very entertaining story.  I'm both a book and a movie fan.  The quality in movies, for the most part, has also changed.  It seems to me that when a movie concept has made its 8th sequel, it might be time to look for concepts elsewhere - maybe even at really good book writers.

Monica Lewinsky is making news again as her "activity" in the White House has reached the twenty year mark.  She's twenty years older and wiser and now reflecting on her experience.  Human nature's apparent need for public shaming is the topic of her new Ted Talk.  In the recent focus of cyber bullying, that lack of compassion by people sitting at their keyboards, it's very interesting hearing her story again, that broke at the very start of the internet age, but before social media.  Regardless of one's opinion of her, the message is a good one.  Having empathy for others is rare in our tech rich society, but essential to derail this internet bullying culture.  I thought it was well done.

Happy Friday!  With four weeks left in the school year, the days leading up to Fridays are starting to drag.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Little Secrets

A recent BuzzFeed video...
Overall, these are pretty mellow secrets (the prom one is pretty funny though), but even so, adult children revealing secret childhood shenanigans doesn't always go so well.  A couple of years ago, I revealed a high school transgression to my mom.
One of my closest childhood friends used to be my "babysitter".  Kristen is four years older than I am so my parents would ask her to stay with me when they'd go out for the evening.  As I got older and no longer needed a babysitter, we still rode horses together and spent a lot of time with each other, forming a sisterly bond.  Once I was in high school, my parents would agree to let me stay home mostly on my own when they'd travel as long as Kristen would stay at the house too.  She was in college then and officially an adult, so she could be trusted.  On one such occasion we took full advantage of Kristen's adult status.  My parents left town on a Thursday.  Kristen and I had spent the afternoon after school at the barn, with another horsey friend Robyn.  The three of us then went out to dinner and came back to my house to watch movies and laughed and laughed.  When it was time for Robyn to go home, reality set in that it was still a school night, and she and I had to get up early the next morning.  Kristen, being in college, didn't have classes on Friday.  So we talked her into using her guardianship to get us out of school the next day.  Robyn showed up at my house the next morning and Kristen called the school as our mothers, telling them we were sick.  We spent the day lounging about the pool and enjoying a day off.  It went off without a hitch, with the exception of the severe sunburn I incurred having spent the entire afternoon at the pool slathered in baby oil.  My parents never found out, and I figured the sunburn was my punishment - I couldn't ride my horse for almost a week.
Kristen and I have remained dear friends.  During one of my mom's visits to the mainland, she and I met Kristen for drinks.  After catching up with current events, we enjoyed reminiscing about old times.  Since most of our time together as kids revolved around horses, those stories led into this particular one.  Kristen and I laughed through it as my mom heard it for the first time.  With a furrowed brow all she could respond at first was with a few "Oh"s.  Then came a few, "I can't believe you both did that."  She wasn't laughing with us or at us or at all.  "Well," she said seriously, "I don't think it's all that funny."
I was a pretty good kid.  The horses kept me mostly out of trouble, but there are few stories in my book, and this one was pretty tame in comparison.  Mum's the word on any more secrets though, at least around my mom.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Remember When

Back in the olden days, I looked forward to Fridays.   Fridays meant work was over and the fun could begin.  Happy hours or get-togethers occupied most Friday nights and Saturday was spent recovering in order to go out drinking and/or dancing later that evening.
Tonight, while working on a DIY project, I received a silly meme from a friend.  The meme made me roll my eyes, but the message made me chuckle.  I texted him...
Me: You're sending me memes, and I'm recaulking the kitchen sink.  What a wild Friday night!
Jason: Remember when we used to go out?
Me: Remember when we were fun?
Jason: Ya...that was hard.
It didn't seem hard when we did it.  But now, the thought of going out after work on Friday night kind of makes me want to cry.  Even being social on a Saturday takes some effort.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The High Stakes of Testing

Last week, teachers in Georgia were sentenced to jail time for a cheating scandal that broke in 2009.  These teachers were convicted of erasing/changing incorrect student answers on standardized tests. The standardized tests were linked to monetary bonuses, and therefore they were charged with conspiracy and racketeering.
Being in the same profession, also subjected to standardized testing and the same No Child Left Behind Act (which is, thankfully, no longer education policy) this has been a story I've been following.  I am appalled by their sentencing - anywhere from 1 to 7 years in prison, depending on their level of involvement.  In our recent history, we've had ball players physically abuse their spouses ON VIDEO, a famous comedian accused of assault by more than multiple women, mothers who have killed their children, and cops who have shot unarmed citizens and none of them were given jail time.  Interestingly enough, around the same time these teachers were conspiring to cheat on standardized testing, much of the financial world was also engaged in cheating and lying and stealing and pretty much single-handedly bringing on the world's economic crisis.  Not one of those in charge at the time went to jail.
Putting it all into perspective, it would seem that a more just punishment would be firing, loss of credential, and returning the money "earned" due to test scores.  But these cheating teachers earned years in prison.  The judge who sentenced them said, "It's like the sickest thing that's ever happened in this town."  Oh, please.  This happened in Atlanta, Georgia.  Cheating teachers are at the bottom of the list of "Sick Things".  They are being made an example of.
I was hoping this verdict/sentencing would bring about the debate over standardized testing.  While there has been some, most has been the regular vitriol about teachers, which so offends me.  Mind you, these teachers also offend me, but their actions stem from a much bigger problem...standardized testing.
NCLB made success at a low income and/or high ELL population schools VERY difficult with its "requirement" of 100% proficiency for all students by 2014.  Each year, since its start in 2002, schools were required to make substantial growth from year to year with 100% after 10 years.  It is certainly not a bad thing to want 100% of our students to be proficient at their grade level, and every teacher should have high expectations of their students.  The reality, however, is that kids are not standardized.  They develop at different rates and they learn at different rates.  Kids also come to school with different needs.  Those who have their basic needs fulfilled at home are often far more successful on standardized tests than those who don't.  Those who live in impoverished neighborhoods or come from families who do not speak the language of our school system (often these two go hand-in-hand) more than likely have a much different set of needs when they are at school.  Some are looking for routine, some are looking for a hot meal, some are looking for someone to love and care about them - all things that must take place before any learning can.  Having spent my entire teaching career at schools that are 80+% low income and ELL, I'm quite familiar with standardized testing and the impoverished student.  I love where I teach and have super high expectations for my students, but every year I have no less than 5 who struggle so much academically or behaviorally or mentally or all of the above (last year I had 5 who DIDN'T struggle with something that affected their academics).   In all schools, there is more to teaching and assessing learning than a standardized test, but at schools like mine, standardized testing actually inhibits learning.  And then to use them as the basis of assessing teacher performance is a little bit like being a Mercedes car dealership and blaming and penalizing the salesman for not being able to sell a car to a homeless man, who just came in to use the bathroom.  I'm all for holding teachers accountable and getting people who don't care or are ineffective out of the classrooms.  Standardized testing isn't the way to do that though.  It causes more harm than good.
There is a tremendous pressure put on districts to do well on these assessments, who then put that pressure on their administrators, who then put it on their educators.  That has been no exception in my school district - each school has a yearly visit, right after school started, from the superintendent who "reminds" us on the importance of test scores and then congratulates or humiliates the staff depending on the previous year's scores.  Over the first decade of the 2000s teaching changed.  We began teaching TO the test.  Actual learning was not quite as important as the bottom line.  My point being is schools changed, for the worse, after NCLB and it would seem these GA teachers let that get the best of them.  It's no excuse for their behavior, but even so, they don't deserve to go to prison.