Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trail #2

There isn't a day goes by that I don't wish I was full time at work. However, on days like today, when I get to leave work at 1:00 in the afternoon, when the sun is shining and the temps are in the (say it with me!) upper 70s, I do smile at the glass-half-full side of being part-time.

I've been trying to motivate myself to start exercising again, so I started walking a couple days ago, covering several blocks in town. Yesterday, my schedule didn't work out as well, and I didn't make it outside. (Bad Odie!) Today, I knew I had to get out in that sunshine. Instead of heading out on the sidewalk, though, I decided to drive to the state park and walk one of those trails.

Because I hadn't had lunch yet and was hungry, I chose one of the trails closest to the park's entrance so that I could get parked and get walking. It was already 1:30 by the time I got out of the car.

Trail #2 is not just a hiking trail, it's also a horse trail. Our state park is very horse-friendly, so the horse trails get used a lot. I knew it was a shared trail, but I didn't anticipate that being an issue. It was, but probably not for the reason you might be thinking. (I didn't step in, or have to dodge anything stinky.)

The ground under the trail I'd chosen had a high concentration of sand mixed in it. Four-legged hikers, shod in iron shoes, had churned up the soil so that it reminded me of walking on the beach. In many places, the trail sank between banks almost a foot high of the same sandy soil, and all of it was covered in dead, dry leaves. It was not an easy walk (which is good news, on the exercise front).

As I chugged up the trail, wallowing in the horses' footsteps, I glanced at the forest floor that ran beside the soft trail, and I thought, "I bet it'd be easier to walk there. It looks flatter, smoother, less beach-like." So, I tried it, with "try" being the key word.

The ground beside the trail wasn't as churned up as the trail itself, so my feet didn't sink into the sand. Unfortunately, there were lots of little switches and branches with briars growing along the trail, so I traded my sand-filled shoes for scratches on my legs. I also found it difficult to stay off the trail. My feet were constantly slipping down the little banks and slopes - the leaves worked against me and the sandy ground kept eroding. It was more work - and more painful - trying to stay off the trail than it was to stay on it.

It dawned on me, as I tried to avoid the overused path and blaze my own - parallel to, yet different from the established one - that it was a great symbol for life choices. Some people choose to follow the herd, to stay on the chartered path, even when the path isn't exactly what they thought it would be. They follow it diligently and usually end up right where they thought they would. They measure their success in reaching the desired destination.

Then there are those who refuse to walk in others' footsteps, who fight to make their own way, who stumble and fall and wear themselves out in an effort to do it differently. Sometimes, they fully abandon the established trail and forge into the wilderness with little more than a good pair of boots and a backpack full of hope. Sometimes, these wanderers blaze a trail others can't help but follow; once in a while, the mavericks simply get lost. Whether they end up at a predetermined destination or discover a whole new world, they measure their success in the journey they took to get there.

I think I'm a little bit of both. I like to know where I'm going, and I like the comfort that comes from knowing there's a path that will get me there. At the same time, though, I want to make my mark on the world. I want my footprints to stand out from the rest, somewhere along the path I'm walking.

I came out of the woods where I planned to today - with sand in my shoes and scratches on my legs.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

No Idol left behind

I think anyone who reads my blog knows that I'm a teacher. I also hope that those who know that about me also believe I work really hard at my job and love spending time in the classroom with the kids. I try to see the best in each of them and to encourage them to be their very best.

That being said, I don't like the No Child Left Behind act passed by the federal government years ago. It basically says that every child can succeed in all academic areas - that every child can master algebra for one thing. No they can't. That doesn't mean they can't succeed at anything, but it does mean that not everyone is going to be successful (to the same degree) in school. Common sense should tell us that, shouldn't it?

Know why I'm thinking about this tonight? I'm watching American Idol. The judges (with the exception of Simon), the audience, and Ryan, they all seem incapable of telling many of the contestants that singing should not be their chosen profession. They don't want to tell them the truth: Pick another path. Choose another dream. But please, for all of our sakes, STOP SINGING!!!

Why are they so reluctant to just say that? Why do they have to cushion the blows by saying, "We love YOU, but that song choice was bad." Or this one, "You've got mad skills, dawg. This was just an off night." No. They can't sing. They can't hit the key they're aiming for and they're hurting my ears.

Now, again, I'm generalizing. I could listen to Crystal Bowersox all night. I'm not a fan of Big Mike, but he hit it out of the park tonight, IMHO. Lee Dwyze was good and (thank God!!) Andrew was great! I think these people prove my point. Some can do it. Some can't. We can't all be stars.

But what I'm wondering about Idol and about No Child Left Behind is this: Is this what society is pushing? Let's prop everyone up. Let's make all of these special arrangements to make everything and everyone equal. That way, everyone can feel good about themselves.

Except that's not real life, is it?

We aren't all equal. We aren't all good at the same things. We aren't all winners at everything. That doesn't mean that we can't have pride in ourselves. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't push ourselves. That doesn't mean we can't excel - it just means we should be honest with ourselves and with each other about what we're really good at.

I'm sure we've all got mad skills for something, dawg, but jeez, could ya just get off the stage? I want a "vote off" number, please....

Teacher stories

Hi everyone! For lots of reasons, I'm hoping you will all be willing to tell me who your favorite teacher was (or teachers were) and why? What did they do that makes them stay in your memories? It would also be awesome if these were teachers that you learned from too!! Anyway, if you'll share your stories, I'd be very grateful!! THANKS!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

My two daughters

I have the rare opportunity to see my daughter in her environment at school (because it's where I work), and it's truly fascinating seeing her in her element there. She's the same Tori I see at home, yet she's not. I know many of you who have children know what I mean, and if they're too young yet to fully grasp it, don't worry - one day all too soon you will.

Tori is the light of my life. She makes me laugh. She fills me with pride. She astonishes me with her wit, her wisdom, and her insight. And every day she brings love to my life. At home, she is familiar to me.

I know what jokes she'll laugh at on TV because they're usually the same ones I laugh at. I know when she'll roll her eyes at Terry because I'm usually rolling mine as well. I anticipate the light in her eyes when she's talking about band or guard or ... Jimmy. I hate the frowns and the tears I've witnessed when friends fail her.

This is my daughter.

Some other creature inhabits her body at school . . . and I don't mean that in a bad way. It's quite interesting, actually.

Tori at school doesn't see me when I'm standing twenty or thirty feet away from her in the hall. It's not that she's ignoring me - I'm just not on her radar. She's still on mine - how else would I be able to tell you that I'm the invisible mother? I watch her come down the stairs, gabbing a mile a minute to her friends, laughing loudly enough sometimes that I can hear her.

I teased her a couple days ago about wanting to chaperone the prom this year because she's going for the first time. I told her how cool I thought it would be if we got to share that "first" of hers together - all night. (It was all tongue-in-cheek, of course, and she knew that - I think!) She made it very clear to me that I was not wanted nor was I needed at the prom. If I was asked to chaperone, she said I had to turn them down. She was denying me entrance into that part of her world. I laughed at her as she squirmed, trying to figure out if I was serious about wanting to come. The daughter-Tori didn't want to hurt my feelings. The school-Tori doesn't care about my feelings. That girl does not want me at that party.

And that's okay with me.

Our kids have to grow up. They have to become individuals and live their own lives. It's what we want for them. It's what we hope we've prepared them to do well. When I see her in the halls at school and she doesn't see me, I know she's on her way. And she's laughing and smiling with friends as she goes.

Prom is her night. I'm staying home.

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's my money!

I had to laugh at Headline News this morning. They came back from a commercial break with "iReporter" footage of people gathered outside a Utah representative's office in support of the health care bill and then different iReporter footage of people protesting it at the Capitol. After showing both of those short segments, they zoomed back to Susan Hendricks in the studio who says, "The big story of the morning is ... Tiger Woods's first interview since ... " and we all know how she finished that sentence.

Silly me, I thought the big news of the morning was the passage of the health care bill.

God knows, I don't know or understand all of the ins and outs of the behemoth of a bill. I doubt many of those who voted on it understand all of it. So this morning I went looking (not for the first time) for info on the Web about the bill. I found a great article listing 26 facts and figures about the bill, which was an excellent starting place. Click here to read it.

Within this article are links to several others, most of which I read. The best one of these, IMHO, was the one titled, "Checking the Math on Health Care" from The New York Times. Although my husband may disagree (though hopefully not before reading it - hi, honey!), it provided a balanced look at both sides and was fairly indepth.

Since Terry lost his job in June 2008, he and I have been without medical coverage. I'm only a part-time teacher and do not have medical coverage available to me. If I were full-time, it would cost us more than $700 a month to insure our family. Terry is self-employed now, and we have looked at independent policies, but they cost more (anywhere from $350-$500+ per month) than we can afford right now.

I've been afraid that once this bill passed, we'd have to go out right away and buy insurance. After reading these articles I've mentioned here, I've discovered that's not the case. We'll simply be penalized in the future if we don't buy it. And that, my friends, is where I have a problem with the whole thing.

As soon as Obama signs this bill, we will have in place a law telling us we have to buy something (health insurance) and that if we don't buy it, the government will penalize us for our refusal. That is a scary slope to start down, don't you think?

There are other implications that my non-economist brain doesn't completely grasp. Larger corporations will be affected if they aren't providing health care coverage to their employees as will the wealthier segment of our population when they have to pay Medicare taxes on their capital gains. What those effects will be, no one knows.

State governements will be affected, and we know the state of our state governments right now, don't we? (There's good information in that NYT article about the effects on the states and the handouts they're already looking for....)

There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to ObamaCare. Here's what I do know. I know that 219 members of the House voted for the bill while 212 voted against it. With such a tiny margin in favor, I know that I abhor the way the bill was pushed through and will be watching closely to see whether the courts believe it was constitutional.

I also know that now the government has the right to tell me I have to spend my money on something I can't afford and that if I don't, I'll be penalized.

I am certain that I don't like THAT.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I miss Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter!!

Kathryn Stockett's THE HELP is one of the most memorable books I've read in a long time. I read a review of it in Entertainment Weekly when it first came out. The review was a rave, but the description of the book was vague enough that I just didn't "get it." I put it on my list of "read when nothing else is jumping off the shelf at me." Stupid, stupid, stupid. I can't believe I waited a YEAR to read this book!

THE HELP intertwines the lives of black women working as domestic help for white, upperclass women in Jackson, Mississippi in the early (think early Civil Rights Era) 1960s. Aibileen is in her 50s and has been working for white families since she was a teenager. She's strong, quietly proud, and tender in the care she takes of the white children she's hired to raise. In stark contrast to Aibileen is Minny, fifteen years younger than the older (and often wiser) Aibileen. Because of her sharp tongue, Minny has a hard time keeping a job, and the needs of her large family and abusive husband demand that she work. But it's not just her mouth that gets Minny in trouble, it's the Terrible.Awful.Thing she did that haunts her footsteps.

Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan grew up on a cotton plantation that her father sweats over from sunup to sundown and that her mother lords over from the family home. The Phelans also had a black maid when Skeeter was growing up, but the mystery of her beloved Constantine's departure from the Phelan household goes unsolved for a large portion of the book. When Skeeter finds out what happened to Constantine, it personally reinforces for her the theme of the book she's been writing with the help of Aibileen and Minny. The book that provides the first honest, open look at what it's like for a black woman to work for a white family in Jackson before Civil Rights took hold. Some of it is as horrible as you'd think it would be. Some of it illustrates how close people can grow to each other, even when society works hard to keep them separate. The book Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny construct is called HELP.

Stockett grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. Her family had a black woman who worked for them for many, many years. While the fictitious Minny is famous for her caramel cakes, Demetrie actually baked them for Stocketts. THE HELP is a novel, but the honesty of it is undeniable. The characters are so real, I long to find them somewhere, invite them over for a cup of coffee, and continue getting to know them. I am not ready to let go of them, and I know I will reread this book over and over. It doesn't matter that I know what happens.

I want to hear Aibileen tell Mae Mobley what a wonderful girl she is again. I want to hear Minny tell the story again about the Terrible.Awful.Thing. I want to see Skeeter crouched in the pantry, the phone to her ear, taking a chance to do something that might just change the world she lives in, if it doesn't kill her, Aibileen, and Minny first.

I will read it again. You need to read it. Now.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Imagine this...

I almost started this blog last week and then thought, "No, you're being an old crone. Don't write that." But I just finished reading a review in Entertainment Weekly of a new video game called Heavy Rain, and the same idea came back to me. So, old crone or not, I'm going to lament a little. Let me know if you are commiserating with me or if you think I need to start looking for a walker.

I'm a big fan of the imagination. When I was little (elementary school age), my friends and I played all sorts of games. We turned the big propane tank outside my house into horses and became cowgirls. My best friend and I ran around her house, over a fence, into the dog kennel, and back over the fence because we were cops chasing the bad guys. Diane Bauer (rest in peace) and I were ElectroWoman and DynaGirl in the gym at school during recess. Other than the propane tank, none of us really had props or costumes - just our imaginations, and they took us so many places.

I also use my imagination when I read. For as long as I can remember, reading has been one of my favorite pastimes. I imagine the settings and characters in my mind and hold onto those images as I read. That's one of the reasons I'm always reticent to see the movie version of a book I've read - I'm afraid the "motion picture" will pale in comparison to the one I've created for myself.

I've contended for a long time that one of the reasons our kids' critical thinking skills aren't what we want them to be is that so little is asked of their imaginations anymore. As they're growing, they aren't always asked to think for themselves as much as we used to be. Video games are so realistic now that they immerse you in fantasy worlds as you become a character within those worlds. No imagination required. It's all right there in front of your face.

I mentioned that I thought about writing this blog a week ago. I'd just read an article in EW (yes, I love that magazine) about the future of movies - specifically the future of movies in 3D. The general consensus from that article is that we will eventually see all movies in 3D. The phenomenom was related to the transition from black-and-white movies to color. At first, color movies were a treat and only a few were made. Then, they became more common, even though black-and-white ones were still being shot. Now, as we all know, color is the common medium. Following that logic, I can believe that eventually all we'll have is 3D.

My problem with this is the same as the one I mentioned regarding video games. We will need even less of an imagination - or, if you prefer, we'll use our imaginations even less - when we are completely immersed in the movies we go to see.

I fear we're becoming more and more apathetic and uninvolved. Our imaginations aren't as necessary as they used to be. They aren't being used enough, so that when situations arise where they would benefit us, we don't even know enough about them to call them up. And that just makes me sad.