Birthday!

2013/07/31

Of course we need a rainbow themed party. Of course.

Music

2013/07/28

It's difficult to articulate what music means to me. At my (long and boring) training this week I was cleaning up some of my spotify playlists and looking over all my delectable albums, but unable to listen to them was a kind of torture. Even now when I am able to curl up with a book and enjoy a little time in the wonderful seclusion of my headphones, I choose a favorite album to listen to but feel antsy about all the other great ones I'm neglecting. As time marches on and my music collection grows the problem only grows worse. There just isn't enough time. Such beauty and truth in the world. Such sorrow. Such happiness. I love it all.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

2013/07/26

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though this book may have been overly thick for my deficiencies in attention, the language was beautiful enough to make up for it. There were beautiful gems sprinkled solidly from start to finish. This is definitely a book I need to revisit again, I'd wager it deserves another star. The layers are thick.

What I loved:
His writing. What a mastery of language.

What I learned:
Culturally, it was interesting to consider the early days of comic books - just nothing that's ever been on my radar. Lots of interesting morsels about the characters' Jewishness to file away as well. But in a more meaty sense, the progression of the characters, in particular Joe, were heartbreaking and interesting in the way I love most. Best of educations.

A favorite passage (it is very hard to choose just a few):
Every universe, our own included, begins in conversation. ...summoned into existence through language, through murmuring, recital, and kabbalistic chitchat-- was, literally, talked into life.
...and the cool talcum smell of Shalimar she gave off was like a guardrail he could lean against.
The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost, that they might never have existed in the first place.


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Trees

Hiking at Barton Creek again this morning. This time Xan and I took a detour to play in the trees. The gorgeous green on the trail more than makes up for the heat.

Barton

2013/07/25

It's a little incongruous that I've been in Austin over five years now and have never gone swimming in Barton Springs pool. Right before a very hot evening at Blues on the Green, just across the street, was a perfect time to fix that.

Window

2013/07/22

I am starting another week of professional development, this time at UT learning ways to enrich my pre-AP classes, and I'm already feeling pent up and murderous. I'm trying to pace the discontent since I'm here through Thursday, but the outlook is not good. Some observations by/about yours truly:

I am already feeling deprived of sunshine (as told by the longing photo I took out of the classroom's lone skinny window). That was one of the hardest adjustments last school year and I'm dreading doing it again.

I don't like sitting. Horizontal or vertical for me thank you very much, none of this chair stuff.

Why is it always freezing at these things?

Quite often, the people teaching PD have no clue about what life is like in my classroom. Unless you've taught in an inner city high school where poverty, chronic under-preparedness, and language barriers color every interaction, I have no patience for your pearls of wisdom.

I am a terrible student. Distracted. Cynical. Borderline disrespectful. I guess I'm trying to say I'm a terrible human being.

Sleep

2013/07/19

Sometimes (often) the siren song of sleeping in is just too strong even when I know I'd feel better if I woke up and ran. This morning I had a confederate.

View

2013/07/18

The view today at lunch. Job well done Texas.

Moment

2013/07/16

I'm in San Antonio at a conference about teaching children from poverty. Great stuff so far. This morning I'm starting the day by taking a moment by the pool under a lovely live oak, enjoying a light rain, to counteract the fact that I had to run on a treadmill.

Hike

2013/07/13

Xandy and I headed out for our first training hike this morning. I'm headed to the Grand Canyon again this September and Xandy's coming with. Beyond excited.

Cruise

2013/07/12

Sometime this spring I realized that we were in dire need of a family vacation, but I had no mental resources to deal with that. A cruise seemed like the perfect option, easy done. It was a lovely few days away, removed from responsibility and work and technology.


We drove down to Galveston early Saturday morning to board our ship. We had the rest of that day and all of Sunday on the ocean. Lots of time to sit and relax, read a book, swim a little, and of course eat until we were sick. Lots of fun diversions on the ship. I started getting a little motion sick Saturday night so I took some medicine that made me all kinds of groggy Sunday. I took seemingly countless naps which was kinda pleasant in it's own right. The food was amazing and bounteous and probably deserves a write up all on it's own. I miss the endless choices and minimal effort already. Real life, eh?


Monday we had our first port in Progresso and took an excursion to Chichen Itza, the ancient Mayan ruins. It was pretty amazing. I didn't do any research before hand (me and the limited bandwidth) and I really wish I had. It was just awesome in scope and I felt like I couldn't fully appreciate it.


Tuesday we stopped in Cozumel and we headed over to Chankanaab National Park to do a little snorkeling and spent some time in the clear kayaks. It was so beautiful. The water is a color of blue that I could never describe properly.


Wednesday we were back at sea with lots of time to relax. I had a massage and a facial and we hung out a lot at the pool. It's amazing how you can fill up your day with a whole lot of nothing. It was great.


We got back early Thursday and drove back home to Austin. It's been a day and a half off the boat now and I still feel like the ground is swaying, but it was definitely worth it. Cruising is a strange kind of vacation. I don't know if it's something I would do over much. The luxury and gluttony and shrink wrapped tourist nature of it all made me feel a little weird. But there is something to be said for sitting back and having nothing in the world to worry about. I'm a little lost without someone to place my napkin on my lap and hand me a menu of just the right amount of gourmet dining options to choose from.

More pics of our trip here.

Swamplandia!

2013/07/11

Swamplandia!Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the most unusual and inventive books I've read it quite some time. The story is so unique - it seems like she must have pulled it out of a parallel universe.

What I learned:
Dysfunction and grief come in many different flavors.

What I loved:
The plot and the characters were pretty amazing. Engaging and interesting in a way that kept me moving through. It surprised me.


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Cannery Row

Cannery RowCannery Row by John Steinbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the characters in this book. Each one is such a careful study in humanity. I didn't know much about the book when I picked it up, and it wasn't quite what I expected, but I was thoroughly pleased with the journey.

What I learned:
Presentness. That the joys of life, and the sorrows too, come in small moments.

What I loved:
His writing. The passages are transporting and reverential in a way that is not intimidating or overly holy.

A favorite passage:
There is an amazing passage about the relationship humans have with the truth that is pretty staggering around page 100 in my copy - too long to quote here. But it ends "Doc still loved true things but he knew it was not a general love and it could be a very dangerous mistress." Staggering.


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Daily Life

2013/07/06

Another recap, more pedestrian in nature. I have some proclivity towards an anthropological view of things and I enjoy going back years down the road and remembering what shape daily life took.
So I'll try to reconstruct some typical here, knowing that there wasn't much typical that carried through the year.

I wake up at 5:15 to head out the door at 5:30 to run three miles up and down the biggest road in our neighborhood. I hate running in the dark and I certainly don't like waking up that early, but it is a necessity for my sanity. Towards the end of the year I was pretty down on running and was hitting only threeish days a week rather than four or five, but it was still good for me. I'm in the shower by 6:00, with my girls waking at 6:30. We breakfast and they gather their lunches, with Sylvie and me out the door at 7:05-7:10 to drop her off at school. Tessa rides the bus and gets herself out the door a bit after that.

I'm at school usually by about 7:45 which gives me a little time to get some work done. I have posted tutoring hours from 8:00-9:00 every day, but most of the time I have that hour to myself. Classes start at 9:00. My school has block scheduling with Mondays and Wednesdays being an A day with periods 1-4 for 90ish minutes, Tuesdays and Thursdays are B days with periods 5-8, and Fridays being a C day with all eight classes for 45 minutes. Of course there are endless modifications to this schedule due to holidays, late starts, pep rallies, etc. On A days I had off 1st period for meetings with my "house"; on B days I had off 7th period for meetings with my department. Not much of the time in my off periods is discretionary or available for me to get any personal planning done, probably 1/3 of the 7 hours a week I have "off" - a moderate level frustration.

Our school is divided into three "houses" (think Harry Potter), named after Viking heroes as that is our mascot, with about 500 students per house. Students typically take all their classes within the house and it allows cross-disciplinary collaboration and discussion of individual students. We do pull out tutoring occasionally, or meet with students about attendance issues, plan initiatives and work on other compliance issues. I like the system a lot and am glad to be able to work with other teachers for individual student success.

School ends at 4:20 and it's my goal to be out the door at 4:22 as traffic gets worse by the minute at that time of day. I'm usually home around 5:00, give or take (usually take) 10 minutes. There were maybe three or four days the entire year where my commute pushed 90 minutes, but typically it's more like 40 minutes. Not ideal but I deal with it better than I thought I would. Tessa has been spending her after school hours at my mom's and Sylvie goes to after school care. Dinner happens by Dave's hand or by miracle most days of the week. I'm pretty dazed from a busy day and long commute when I get home. I usually stay late one day of the week at school and get work done. Sometimes I'll tack a yoga class on that, but not as often as I had hoped. Sometimes I stay late on Fridays too for a school basketball game or happy hour with friends.

At the beginning of the school year I spent a lot of time working in the evenings but that thankfully tapered off as the school year marched on and I figured out how to include small efficiencies in my days. It makes me grumpy to work in the evenings and I'm just not very productive at that time of the day. Most weekday evenings are spent either vegging out to TV or heading to church for various activities or just dealing with the regular this and that of life with kids. There is a fair amount of social activity on everyone's calendars these days as well and that is just what I need to pull me through my stressful days.

Away

Peace out, internets. Don't do anything too crazy while I'm gone.

First Year

2013/07/05

The short version of lessons learned:
   A little less sleep
   A little less food
   Regular exercise
   A lot less discretionary time
   A lot more stress
   A lot more challenge
   A lot more socializing
And I'm happy. Really happy.

I've been dancing around the idea of a first year teaching recap for a while now, without landing on anything solid. I'm about a month out now from the end of the school year and I'm realizing the feast or famine nature of a school teacher's yearly calendar is going to take some getting used to. It was too easy (and essential) during the school year to put off much of the more grimy parts of my life, thinking I'd get around to it in the summer. But now that summer is here I'm busy in new ways and jealous enough of the free time to want to spend it on anything less than golden moments. I'm going to have to work out some more sustainability into this rhythm.

But back to this teaching thing. I'm still at a loss of words to describe what I've been through. It was hard. Hard in ways that defy description. I could go on and on about the small crimes committed against teachers and the frustrations in the classroom but its not very productive and in the end not very interesting. The analogy I keep coming back to is that of parenting. Teaching is difficult and boring in many of the same ways. My experience was obviously highly specific, yet universal at the same time that makes writing about it in a satisfying way hard. It is fruitless at demoralizing at times. The rewards are fleeting and nebulous. Yet there is an inextricable pull that keeps me going, lets me know that this is a *good* work. I don't understand all of my attraction to teaching, I certainly don't articulate it very well, but that's okay.

As a marched through the year there were emotional valleys for sure, times when the ocean of small difficulties felt like it would suck the life from me, but I feel like on the whole the year was successful. Not that I felt like a whole lot of Math knowledge was imparted, but I feel like the kids did well (my kids started out at a severe deficiency but improved and had big gains on their passing rates on the state examinations) and I learned TONS. I am invigorated to do it again. Ready to hone and improve and tweak and adjust. The intellectual challenge in the classroom is endless and that is very attractive to me. The opportunities to check my pride are also many which I hate but recognize that I need.

I love the school I am at and will continue on there regardless of my semi-stupid commute. I really love the students at my school, I am impressed with their inclusive nature and except when it comes to homework, appreciate their easy going attitude. I also like the administrators. Even though there are always to be faculty-administration conflicts of interest, they have the right focus and that is the best interest of the students. The school is a rough one and scholastic achievements are small but the improvements over the past five or six years have been impressive. It is difficult to teach in an environment where teachers always seem to be the scapegoat for what is wrong with America's education system. There is an endless barrage of new "right ways" to improve student performance that makes a teacher feel like a contortionist. But our administrators try to distill it down to a bare minimum and let us do what we need to do in the classroom.

One of the biggest components of my success and satisfaction this year has been my co-workers. The faculty at my school are great people and I have made some amazing friends. There is a real sense of team work and camaraderie in my department. And a lot of wonderful crazy too. I eat lunch every day with a group of other teachers, mostly but not exclusively Math, and it has been a saving grace. I started out the beginning of the year as many teachers do, using the few minutes afforded at lunch to grade or organize or plan or tutor or the million other things that are always waiting for my attention. But I soon learned that I never made a dent in the to-do pile, but was getting worn out fast. I soon put that away and made myself step away each day at lunch to eat with my friends. Essential. They are happy to troubleshoot problems in the classroom with me. Or serve as a safe space to vent about the ridiculous infractions I see on a daily basis. Or discuss deep and shallow topics of all flavors with equal relish. A place to reset in the middle of the day. We hang out a lot outside of work and it has been a huge boon to my sanity.

Among all my travels this summer, I find myself taking small moments to contemplate changes big and small to make my classroom run smoother. It only took a few days away and it had already begun. I take that as the biggest indicator that this is the place I need to be. I don't know how long I will be teaching. I can understand in equal measures paths that would take me to burn out or boredom in this career. But the appeal is great enough for me that I am hoping to find ways to stave off both of those and find a path instead to sustainable excellence. My life is so different than it was a year ago when I walked away from GCC. I am excited to see where I'll be next time I stop to take measure.

And

And a trip to Shipley's donuts. Can't forget Shipley's!

Austin

2013/07/04

We headed to the top of Dave's building downtown to watch the fireworks tonight. Made me fall in love with my city a little more. I feel like there are endless opportunities here to embrace moments that make life choice. In the few short days I'm home between trips I'll have been to Torchy's for queso, Lick for the best ice cream ever, Lambert's for a crazy good meal, Violet Crown for a great film (not quite the Alamo Drafthouse but still top notch), Half Price Books for literary yumminess, swimming and BBQ with friends, tubing on the San Marcos, world famous BBQ in Lockhart, a great run through the Slaughter Creek trail, and of course this great view of the State Capitol and the UT tower.

While I was in D.C. I saw several people wearing Texas apparel and it made me smile. I'm almost ready to take that step. I love this place.

Quotes

I am a collector of quotes. I found ample opportunity in D.C. to find beautiful words.

Inside the Capitol

At the Library of Congress

One of the many beautiful words at the MLK Memorial

D.C.

I just got back from a trip to Washington D.C. with some friends. It was amazing on many fronts. It was wonderful to get some time to reconnect with friends. It was fabulous to see the sights of a city I've never had the pleasure of visiting. It was essential to log a little more head time to decompress from my crazy year.

This trip has been in the works a long time and once upon a time was the only blip on my now hectic summer schedule. My dear friend and erstwhile running partner Abby and I were bemoaning last year (or has it been longer now?) how we love museum trips but most often kids do not. So we decided that we needed a girls' trip to D.C. to gorge on the richness the Smithsonians have to offer. For a long time it felt to me like just a pipe dream, but all of a sudden we were buying plane tickets and had recruited two more friends to join in on the fun.

Washington is such an amazing city. It is a little hard for me to wrap my head around the scope of what goes there. What attracted me most to the city was the enormity of the ideas represented there. The art and architecture I saw spoke to me of that kernel more than the artifacts, as awesome as they are. I would say the best part of the trip for me was the time spent basking in the aesthetic. I have always enjoyed art museums, but right now I am at a place where the humanity and the beauty of art just captivates and nourishes me deeply. Completely transfixing and transforming.

We flew out of Austin Thursday evening, leaving just enough time in the day to get to our accommodations and enjoy a little catching up before heading to bed. We used airbnb to find a place to rent for our stay, a great town house just a few blocks off of the National Mall. It was great to be within walking distance of all the action and also have a place to put our feet up at night and watch a little TV to unwind. Much more comfortable than a hotel.


Friday we started out things with a bang with a private tour of the Capitol by an intern with Congressman Lamar Smith. The Congressman himself was full of hospitality and thankfully savvy enough to avoid asking us about our political leanings. His view of the Capitol is pretty impressive.


Next we headed over to the Library of Congress which ended up being one of my favorite places all week. I was overwhelmed (that word's gonna get super overused in this post) with the beauty of the building and the scope of the work they do there. I have been a devotee of libraries my entire life, but this is just a whole different scale. Seeing Thomas Jefferson's personal library, which served as the starting point for the entire library, was super cool.


We had a little time at the end of the day and an immediate need to get out of the rain (a recurrent theme for the trip) so we stopped into the National Gallery of Art and I quickly realized that I was going to need to find much more time to carve out and explore their collections. I haven't spent much time in galleries of this caliber so I wasn't really prepared to find such a confluence of works by significant artists. I've seen a handful of "famous" pieces over the year but to be confronted by entire rooms of Monets and Renoirs and Rodins and Degas and Rembrandts and on and on was, you guessed it, overwhelming. I can't even begin to describe how moving it was for me.

Saturday Abby and I were up earlier than Rebecca and Melody so we started out early with a walk through one of the sculpture gardens. Rodin - need I say more? Stirs something deep inside of me. We still had some time on our hands so we strolled down the Mall, past the Washington Monument which is under heavy scaffolding right now to repair earthquake damage, on to the Lincoln Memorial, stopping by the Vietnam Memorial on the way back. My dad served in Vietnam and it was very touching for me to be there. Definitely a hallowed place. We stopped into the American History Museum to see the First Ladies and Presidential exhibits before rendezvousing with Rebecca and Melody to head over to the National Cathedral.


The National Cathedral was another definite highlight for me, perhaps my favorite spot the entire week. We spent a couple of hours there in total, exploring the gorgeous stained glass, visiting the crypt down below, walking around the gardens and listening to the carillon, and heading up top to see the incredible view from the towers. There was a service while we were there and it was very tender for me to be present for that. An amazing place no doubt. (Overwhelming!)


Next we drove over to the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum, which are housed together. How many high points can there be to one trip? The Portrait Gallery was spectacular. Crazy amazing. After that we headed back to the Mall and stopped into the Natural History Museum which was ridiculously crowded. I've been to enough museums of this type in my life that I just didn't find it worth the hassle. The day had been overmuch on walking so we ended things in another sculpture garden with our feet in the fountain and it was oh, so nice. We rested for a few hours at the apartment and then drove back down to the end of the mall to see some of the monuments at night. We stopped by the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the MLK memorial, and the FDR Memorial. Beautiful evening.


Sunday we started out the day browsing through Eastern Market. We had lunch at a lovely cafe and browsed through Capital Hill Books, which was charming and fabulous, but one had to just hope you weren't deep in the labyrinthine stacks when the whole thing caught fire. After that it was a unanimous vote to head back to the National Portrait Gallery since we had all enjoyed it so much. It was great to have more time to take in the incredible collection there. Portraiture is such an intimate vehicle, I do love it.


Monday we started out in the National Archives where I saw the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Which I realize is no small thing, but I actually enjoyed more the Documerica exhibit there which is a photo exhibit, commissioned by the EPA in the 1970's to document the American landscape and it's connection with humans. It was great.


The next big chunk of the day was back to the National Art Gallery. I'm starting to bore even myself with my bland language of amazement so I'll just say it was awesome. I heart art. We stopped by the American History Museum again (which ended up being my least favorite of our stops) and the Natural History Museum where I enjoyed most a collection of nature photography (surprise, surprise).


As wonderful as D.C. is, about two-thirds into my stay, I found myself feeling saturated. Just overwhelmed with the emotions stirred by all I had seen and a little jostled by the crowds. I started really craving some time in deep nature. Wishing for some time to be alone with music. I took a solitary run the last morning we were there, heading out from our town house to the Mall and down to the Lincoln Memorial for a third time. It was a lovely 5ish mile run, but just not quite what I needed. There was the skeleton of a big festival on the Mall and a lot of construction and fencing in seemingly every corner. It took away some of the serenity of the place for me and that was unfortunate. I guess I'm not as much of the city girl that I sometimes dream I am. I need nature uninterrupted and quiet from time to time.

All in all a beautiful trip. I feel like I approached it just right. We saw tons, but weren't so over scheduled to be exhausted. There was a lot I wanted to see, but didn't head into the trip with very many "must do's" so that I could be flexible and enjoy how each day presented itself. There is no way to see it all and my lack of an agenda let me walk away without disappointment at missing something. You can find my photo album here. Thanks friends for making it such a great trip. I can't wait to see where we go next year!


4th

Pool and BBQ with friends. Summer.