Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Portugal, Finally (Lisbon)

As I mentioned after returning, I had a wonderful time on my spring break trip to Portugal.  I kind of hit the ground running a couple of days after getting back so the stories and the pictures were put to the side in order to recover from jet lag and go back to work.  Almost TWO months have gone by, and I’ve finally finished going through all my pictures.  I must say, I was discouraged going through them.  Between the unusual rainy weather and my camera giving me fits because it kept shutting down, it was frustrating to go through the photos and not have them look like what I saw with my eyes.  Anyhow, here are some highlights…

Lisbon City with the Castle of São Jorge sitting on the hill and the Tagus River in the background.  It is a very old city, but much was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1700s which destroyed most of it. Jeronimos Monastery in the Belém parish.

Pastéis de Belém said to have been created by the monks in Jeronimos Monastery.  They were all warm and cinnamony – yum!  I must point out the smudgy mark my camera left on about half of my pictures in Lisbon.,

Tower of St Vincent, right on the water in Belém. 

Many of the walkways have beautiful stone tile work.  We were told that at one time, the city needed something for the prisoners to do and so the stone walkways were born.  The tile work in Portugal is amazing.  Unfortunately, none of my building tile pictures in Lisbon do it justice.
  Cafe Nicola in Rossio Square.  It’s been around since the 20s.  The food was so so, but the location was great for watching people in the square.
Castle of São Jorge – mostly in ruins now, but the views of the city are amazing.
   Lisbon is a beautiful city.   After a few days (and pretty much our last glimpse of the sun) we headed north to Porto.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Last 6 Weeks

It’s been a rough month and a half.  Between the Boston Marathon bombings, the Texas fertilizer plant explosions, and most recently the Oklahoma Tornadoes, there’s been one tragedy after another and a rising death toll.  Then, just this past Thursday, a bridge near Seattle, along the I-5 collapsed.  Fortunately, traffic must have been light and very few cars fell from the bridge into the River. 


Although there were thankfully no deaths in the collapse, the fact that it happened at all, is kind of a metaphor to what is going on around here.  Officials have surmised that the bridge collapsed due to a oversized truck hitting an overhead support.  But if you look past that, what you’ll find is a bridge that was deemed “fracture critical” meaning that a collapse could occur if even one part of it failed.  Its structural condition was rated a 5 out of 9 or “somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is."  It would seem to me that a car or truck hitting parts of a bridge would be a common occurrence on a major interstate freeway.  It didn’t seem to be adequate at all.  I wonder if the inspectors cringe when they have to pass a structure with that rating.  It sure makes me cringe.

The last two major natural disasters (Hurricane Sandy and the Oklahoma tornado) exposed major flaws in our infrastructure.  Public buildings were destroyed not being able to withstand the recent strength of mother nature and then the cherry on top is this bridge -  a bridge not able to withstand what was essentially a truck accident.

Also in the news this past week was the House Republicans voting again to repeal “Obamacare”…for the 37th time.  I wonder if the time and money used on this many votes would have been better spent on other areas.  I’m afraid that we’re all going to need “Obamacare” with the country literally collapsing all around us. 

As congress continues to argue over who’s is bigger this nation has also become “somewhat better than minimum adequacy”.  However, it’s getting awfully hard to tolerate.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Saturday 9 - Memorial Day Weekend

1) The Battle Hymn of the Republic was played at St. Patrick's Cathedral, during Sen. Robert Kennedy's funeral. While both of Bobby's older brothers were decorated war heroes, he served too -- enlisting in the Navy in 1943. Are you a veteran? Are there veterans in your family? I am not, but I come from a family full of vets. My dad was in the Navy, my maternal grandfather was in the Army, a cousin was in the Air Force, another cousin in the Marines, and a great uncle (on mother's side) was in the army and killed in World War II.

2) Memorial Day also kicks off the summer season. What's your favorite picnic food? I'm looking forward to summer fruit - peaches, plums, grapes, and cherry picking time is just around the corner!!!

3) Name a scent that reminds you of someone special in your life. Tide

4) When was the last time you had your hair cut or trimmed? It just so happens I had my hair cut on Tuesday.

5) Crazy Sam runs on Dunkin'. Are you loyal to a particular brand of coffee? I prefer Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf over any other, but the closest one is across town and not on the way to most places I go, so I can't be too picky. I like what I make at home and I can do Starbucks, which by the way, I pass about 5 of them on my way to work.

6) If money was no object, what home improvement would you like to make this summer? I really want new floors and I've been saving and saving for them. The problem is, getting new floors means I have to pack, like I'm moving, and the thought of packing up my house sounds so very unappealing I haven't gone any further than thinking about it. I also have a never-ending battle going on with my backyard. I'd like to do something with that, but I don't know what or even where to begin. Maybe over summer break I'll find some time to tackle one or both.

7) What was the last thing you bought purely for your own enjoyment? Art supplies, shoes, and I get my nails done every 2-3 weeks, that's it I think.

8) When was the last time you rode a bike? It's been awhile. I've lived on the top of a fairly steep hill for about 8 years, a hill that isn't conducive to a bike. So it's been at least that long.

9) Sam worries that many of her song selections reflect her decidedly Baby Boomer sensibilities. Is there a song or a performer that you'd like to see featured in a Saturday 9 this summer? As long as it's not country music, I'm easy.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Well, I Liked It

The Great Gatsby was required reading in high school.  It was most likely part of the American Lit curriculum, but I can’t remember if that was taken in my sophomore or junior year.  Regardless, I was maybe 14 or 15 years old when I first read the book.  At the time, I remember thinking, “At least it’s short.”  Reading the classics in school was never something I enjoyed.  It was maddening to be told that what I was reading meant “xyz” by the teacher.  Sometimes I didn’t see it, and other times I didn’t agree.  The Great Gatsby was no exception.

A few months ago the trailer for The Great Gatsby movie came out.  It’s a Baz Luhrmann film so the preview was flashy and sparkly and loud with good music.  Immediately, I was drawn to it, like a baby to something shiny.  When the film came out a couple of weeks ago, the reviews were mixed.  The critics haven’t been terribly kind, but regular people seemed to enjoy it.  I saw it this past weekend without too much expectation.  It has been years and years since I read the book, but as I watched, the story came back to me.  I rather liked the film, and I think it was pretty spot on as far as the story goes.  It has a modern spin to it, and there was a lot going on visually, which I think turned a lot of people off.  They took a few liberties with Nick Carraway’s method of telling the story, but to me, that was minor.  The dialogue was almost verbatim. 

After seeing it, I felt like there was so much more I could relate to in it than there was when I read it over 20 years ago.  I went home, searched my bookshelves for my old copy, and started reading it again.  The book resonated with me more as an adult than it ever did as a teenager.  Doesn’t that say something about having teenagers read these books with themes so far beyond their experiences.  Most kids that age don’t have any way to connect with these stories of power, the human condition, politics, love; at least I didn’t. 

It surprised me, that even after all these years, the quotes that I had highlighted back then were actually my favorite parts of the movie as well. 

Daisy: Well she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where.  I woke out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away  if it was a boy or a girl.  She told me it was a girl, so I turned my head away and wept, ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl.  And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’

Nick: He had passed visibly through two states and was entering upon a third.  After his embarrassment and his unreasoning joy he was consumed with wonder at her presence.  He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it right through to the end, waited with his teeth set, so to speak, at an inconceivable pitch of intensity.  Now, in the reaction, he was running down like an overwound clock.

Nick: As I went over to say good-by I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby’s face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness.  Almost 5 years!  There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.  It had gone beyond her, beyond everything.  He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way.  No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

I think Fitzgerald wrote Jay Gatsby so well.

As a whole, even though it’s a sad story, the movie was entertaining and fun to watch.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Saturday 9 – Greased Lightning

1) In the movie Grease, Greased Lightnin' was the name of a car. Have you ever given your car a name?  No.
2) Could your vehicle use a trip to the car wash this weekend?  YES!  My car can always use a trip to the car wash.  Just last week the car was so full of stuff that I was the only one who would fit inside.  I finally got it cleaned out so now a car wash is the first item on my weekend to do list. 
3) The song Greased Lightening is from the soundtrack of the movie Grease, the biggest money-making movie musical of all time. Have you ever seen it?  I have, numerous times, and I must admit I’ve also seen it’s lesser known/lesser quality sequel Grease 2 almost as many times.
4) John Travolta's astrological sign is Aquarius. What's yours?  Libra, but just barely.
5) In addition to being John Travolta's birthplace, Englewood, New Jersey, played a significant role in telecommunications history. In 1951, Englewood's mayor made the first-ever direct dial long-distance call in the United States. Now it's your turn. Tell us something about your birthplace…Granada Hills was on the itinerary of Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to California in 1959, the first time a Soviet leader visited the United States.  Also, GH has been the setting of several movies and TV shows like ET, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Scrubs, and Knots Landing.
6) Travolta is an excellent dancer. How are you on the dance floor?  I don’t know how excellent I am, but I love to dance.
7) Grease is an upbeat musical about the students of Rydell High. Another Travolta movie is Carrie, which features the worst prom night imaginable. Grease or Carrie -- which is closer to your high school experience?  Hmmm, well it was nothing like Grease and it was nothing like Carrie, so neither. 
8) What was your best subject in high school? What was your worst? English, History, and the Arts were my favorites and math and the sciences were the worse.  Although, I had a crush on my physics teacher my junior year and managed to ace the class.  I’d never paid such close attention.
9) Sam made good use of the bus ride to school, using that time to complete her homework. What do you remember about getting to or from school?  For the most part I walked to school every day until my friends and I were old enough to drive, and then we carpooled ourselves.  The only exception to that was the year we moved neighborhoods and I went to the school my dad taught at.  That year I had to drive to school with him every morning and drive home with him every evening.  It was WAY too much time together. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Things They Say - Annoying Big Brothers

There are a handful of boys in my classroom this year who have older brothers; brothers who are pre/early teens.  I had a professor in college who always said that preteens needed to be sent away to the desert until they started high school.  I'd like to send these big brothers to the desert.  Second graders are still fairly innocent.  Every so often a "curse" word like "damn" or "pissed" will be blurted out, but overall most still gasp if "stupid" is uttered in front of them.  This group of little brothers are turning my classroom into a 7th grade locker room, and I have a feeling their older brothers are to blame.

The most recent incident...My kids were working on various assignments one afternoon last week - working, talking, basically taking it easy after a rigorous day of testing.  It's always kind of funny listening to them talk to each other.  I worked on some end of year paperwork at my desk and smirked as I vaguely listened.  That's when I heard one of the "little brothers" make a request to one of the sweetest, most innocent boys (this was the boy who asked me how many more days until Christmas every day in the month of December), "Hey Carlos, say the letter 'x' five times really fast."  It took a very quick moment to process the directive (take a moment if you'd like) and then I called across the room, "No, don't do it Carlos!"  Carlos wouldn't have had any idea what he was saying, but he would have been the butt of a joke that even the jokesters didn't really understand.  Yes , it makes me laugh.  When I shared the story with colleagues or friends, they laughed. But really, it makes me a little bit sad that these tiny seven year olds aren't as innocent as they should be because of those pesky older brothers.  If the desert isn't an option, I think they shouldn't be allowed to talk to their little brothers about anything lame like 5 Xs or the PEN15 club (take another moment if needed) or anything else that makes a 13 year old boy laugh.  Because it’s not THAT funny.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

It’s Getting Hot in Here

Saturday was a hot one.  When I got up in the morning to take the dog on a walk, it was already over 90 degrees.  I had tried to put it off, (which had been fairly easy since it was in the 60s just 4 days before) but it was time to dig out the dead-of-summer clothes, including shorts.  The quick change in weather this time of year always leads to shock and horror – whose pasty white legs are those?!?! 

After the walk, which I respectfully wore pants as to not blind the neighbors, it was necessary to go back outside, bare legged and get some sun.  Of course, by that time it was 105.  
temp1I wouldn’t have even bothered in that heat, but the forecast shows those temps into the week – shorts might be a necessary addition to my wardrobe.  Luckily, in this case, I’m a burner not a tanner so my time outside was limited to about 15 minutes on each side.  In that 30 minutes though, I felt like I was laying out on the actual sun.  In fact, while talking on the phone to pass the time, I lost the call to a message that it was too hot for the iPhone to work. 
tempThat has only happened one other time…when I left it on the seat of my locked-up car in similar weather.

Today, I spent a few more minutes outside trying to add some color.  Instead of being 105, it was almost 110.  110 DEGREES people!  I’m almost sure the heat won’t last for too long as June gloom is just around the corner.  Regardless though, the first really hot days are just a reminder that summer is going to be long if we’re already getting over 100 in May. 

At least I’m partly ready for summer in that I’m no longer translucent. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thoughts On Day Three of Testing

Yes, it’s only Wednesday.  Testing weeks are SO boring and therefore make the days crawl.  Even though I am not involved in one single minute of the testing, other than to assign the directions, I am exhausted and my nerves are a little frayed.  This is the first year I haven’t worked for an admin who beat his chest and harped on test scores, which is a relief and the year has been far less nerve-wracking, with that being said the importance is known, for a lot of reasons – one being it’s my first year at the new school and it would be nice to have been successful.  So handing off a year’s worth of instruction in multiple choice format to seven year olds, well it’s bound to cause some anxiety. 

It doesn’t help when, after all the directions are given and the students (some who are just beginning to read independently) are set out on their own, a handful come up with their test booklet after a very short period of time and say, “I’m done.”  More than once this week I’ve said these words… “Really?  You’re done?  It’s only been five minutes?  I couldn’t even have finished it in five minutes?”  And so it goes, these little beings who don’t understand the stakes of high-stakes testing, who don’t know that schools are ranked by how well THEY do on the test, and so don’t really care to put forth the time needed to be successful.  It’s a lot to ask of a seven-year-old.  It really is. 

I can’t believe there are 7 more days of it.  There really are.

On a side note, I had plans to make this post a bit humorous because it’s been a funny  week.  I had to finish my book club book (The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe) first before writing however.  I just finished it and haven’t stopped crying since.  I’m kind of a wreck.  What wonderful inspiring book, but it brought up a lot of emotions.  It’s a must read if you are a reader.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

I Shake My Fist at Standardized Testing (and Jillian Michaels)

Today was the last day of test prep for the year. Standardized testing begins next week. I resisted the temptation to vent about testing for the past 4 weeks of test practice because what more can I say that I haven't already said. However, after the kids left today I took some time cleaning up the room and preparing for next week. With 6 weeks left in the school year, I spent the afternoon taking down any evidence of academics because, god forbid, I leave something up that might be on the test. Funnily enough, even though we're only testing language arts and math, I also had to take down the materials from the science unit I'm in the middle of teaching. Each day, the test takes an hour more or less to complete. With a daily schedule of 8:00am to 3:00 PM, that leaves us with approximately 5 hours left in the day to keep the kids busy, like maybe by teaching. The worry about securing the tests has become almost as important as the test itself. (Even more silly is this is the last year we will be taking this test, so why does it even matter, but that's a different post). We still have so much time left in the day and the year that it's illogical to require schools to remove materials used for teaching, especially ones that aren't even on the test. We'll be doing a lot of "busy work" simply to make it through the day. Which is unfortunate and really boring. As I took things down, I also had a twinge of worry that baring the classroom will be more of a distraction to the kids than leaving instruction there. Most wouldn't even notice if I posted the answers on the board, but panic might set in for some who have used the learning materials in the room.

After a couple of months sabbatical (due to being too busy for anything more than walking the dog 3 miles each day, which is a must) from Jillian Michaels' Shred workout, I got back to it this week. And I'm in utter PAIN! It's a good work out, and before I stopped I was on level 3. Level 1 has literally leveled me. Having used muscles that I haven't used in awhile, well lets just say my thighs scream when I sit, stand, or walk down the stairs, my abs cramp when I lean forward or roll over in bed, and I can't lift my arms...all evident by my repeated guttural cries of "Ow, ow, ow" when any of these muscles are used, even the thought of using them hurts. A good reminder to not stop in the first place.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Swoosh, Was That April Flying By?

It’s almost like I blinked and it’s already May.  That means it’s time for The Kathryn Wheel’s Calendar Challenge

stuff 076Really, really simple this month.  I knew I would not have the time to draw and paint each date this time around, so a quick watercolor wash, a hand-cut flower template, drop in color for the centers and done!

Really the only time I have to work in my journal is the weekend, and my free weekend time was really limited this month.  Fortunately, I did get a few hours in here and there…and that makes me happy.

stuff 079 stuff 080 stuff 081This last page on the right isn’t finished yet.  I finished the background on Sunday, but haven’t had any time to go back in.  Maybe this weekend.

Getting through all my Portugal pictures has been a laborious process.  One of these days I’ll post about the trip, until then, I finished up a few pages in my sketch book that I started while I was there.  In every city I visited, I was absolutely fascinated by the tile used architecturally both inside and out.  It is gorgeous. 
stuff 082 stuff 083 My sketches don’t do it justice, but I really enjoyed the patterns.

Anyways, with a third of the year over (gasp!), Happy May!