Thursday, July 31, 2008


Lately my post titles have been onomatopoetic.  

Today has been a GOOD DAY!!! 

Yesterday, not so much.  As my husband can testify, the PMS has arrived.  

Here is why today, JULY 31st, 2008 is a VERY GOOD DAY:

1) It is Harry Potter's and JK Rowling's Birthdays!  

2) JK Rowling announced that she and will release the rights to "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" and Scholastic will release the book December 4th. 

And it will include more information about wandlore, wizarding world stuff, etc.
And it is available in both standard and collector's editions. 

If you would like to pre-order a copy for me for my birthday, Christmas, Name's Day, or Pascha
(*ahem* parents -- yes mom, you are still off the hook for my birthday because you got me the collector's edition of The Order of the Phoenix, but I am throwing more ideas out there) 
you can here -- I will be happy with a standard edition, but would LOVE the collector's edition (it is $100!!!  Perhaps a birthday/Christmas/Name's Day/Pascha present combo?).

And it is for CHARITY!  JK Rowling is my hero -- she gains no profit, just the awesome feeling that comes with being generous to those who are less fortunate and ensuring dignity for all mankind.

3) I had an eight o'clock dentist appointment and have NO REASON for a second appointment!  Woot!  The dentist was worried about my inflamed front gums but I have breathing through my mouth due to sinus drainage (sorry -- it's true), he said it was nothing to worry about but I should watch it.  So, I have my mouth closed right now.


4) I am so HAPPY to announce that one of my stories was accepted on a Harry Potter Fan Fiction Site!


No it is not about Lily and Sev, but whatever, MY STORY IS ON A FANFICTION SITE!!!

My beta, Gabe, gave me the thumbs up on Monday, which caused me to do a little snoopy dance inside, but I kept my cool.  There is always a chance that the moderators will not think one's story is well done.

So, I submitted the stories to Mugglenet FanFiction, Fictionalley, and The Quidditch Pitch (I had not heard of The Quidditch Pitch till Gabe recommended it.  It is a really cool site and I like how it is organized.  But that's ok :).   If I submitted to three sites, I would have pretty good odds.

AND...this morning I received an email from Fictionalley and MY STORY HAS BEEN UPLOADED!!!

I literally said "OH MEEPERS!" when I read the email.  I have no idea what "meepers!" means or where it came from, but I said it and I decided to use it for my title.

Only two things to dampen the experience: 1. I have a typo :C  It is my own darn fault; 2. My author's note did not make it: the one where I offer a HUGE THANK YOU to my beta Gabe for putting up with my neuroses as well as misuse of quotes, dashes, and ellipses and for guiding my writing from a jumble to a story AND how I quote the Godfather  Part I.

Oh well, you can't have it all.  But I did email the folks and hopefully these two errors can be corrected. 

And now I can add a new link bubble where you can check out where my stories are.  :D

But here's the thing -- Fictionalley is a really large community.  So is Mugglenet Fanfiction.  In the future I might just stick with The Quidditch Pitch, if they'll have me.  I really like small communities where you can foster relationships instead of being faceless in a mass of people.  

So, I'll see what happens.


(except there is Vespers for Procession of the Cross, so I will have to stop then, light a candle in thanksgiving, but after that I am proceeding)

Friday, July 25, 2008


Summer is slipping through my hands like fine grains of sand.  I had planned fun and adventure -- perhaps meet more people, make more friends, hang out in libraries, etc. 

My mom came last week which forced me to go out and have more fun.  She also showed me how to use a sewing machine (at my request) -- what?  A girl can never have too many crafts!

But alas, I told myself that as soon as August rolled around I would HAVE to get back to school work.  I have some math curriculum meeting that I don't know the details for, and some planning, a survey to write, etc.

Then I looked at my upcoming blogposts schedule and I still haven't addressed four items -- I haven't even RE-STARTED my pysanky projects!


I have been crocheting my sweater, which is taking a lot longer than I thought.  I think my stitches are becoming larger :(

And as far as the JK Rowling speech goes, she is ten million shades of awesome and everyone should just read it.  I especially liked when she mentioned that most of the graduates are American and in a position to influence the government -- she didn't got the extra step and call all Americans to the carpet for their apathy, but it was encouraging to hear.  Read, and I believe listen/watch, to her speech here.

And GARDENING --  I bought basil at Trader Joe's and put it in water to keep it fresh (a la Barefoot Contessa, aka Ina Garten) AND THE BASIL GREW ROOTS!!!  No joke!  I meant to transplant it, but that didn't work out and it died.  I was reminded of Feist's line in the song Mushaboom: "second floor living without a yard".  Well, more like fourth floor, but I have no yard either way.  So, I decided to buy these pre-potted basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary plants and keep them on the kitchen counter.  I did water them, but the whole lack of sunlight thing is what did them in -- my husband likes these thick curtains that prevent light and sound from coming into the condo.  I think he really likes caves...

But, we (my mom, my mother in law, and I) went to the Yakima Fruit and Plant Stand on Monday and I picked up a dahlia and a lavender plant.  Don't be fooled by the name -- this fruit stand was near Lake City (which is near Seattle); I think the Yakima refers to farms that grow the produce and plants.

All my plants are doing fairly well on the porch -- I was able to keep the basil alive and a lily alive as well.  I just lack a green thumb.

Which begs the question -- what have I been doing so far then this summer?


1. Writing blog posts and trying to edit them into something coherent which includes LOTS of spell checking and editing out the passive voice (I am very guilty of it, I know  - and of completely vague and general descriptions)

2. Going to the bead store and not doing any beading at home

3. Crocheting my sweater while watching Anthony Bourdain and Samantha Brown on the travel channel...and Project Runway...and Oprah...and Kathy Griffin My Life on the D List.  But not EVERY day.

4. Taking walks to the library -- and devouring just about everything I bring home, which lately has been Jennifer Weiner.  I believe I have read all of her books, let's see...Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, Goodnight Nobody, Little Earthquakes, The Guy Not Taken, Certain Girls (her latest).  I think that is most of them...what?  I like her writing!

And, last but not least, writing Fan Fiction.  I have about four or so stories I am working on, one with a beta, but I don't want to overwhelm the beta with four stories (right?).

But there was a two week stint where I hadn't heard back from said beta and I totally didn't realize it because I was too caught up reading Jennifer Weiner books.  

Yep, I have been a busy girl.

Oh I also made tropical fruit Popsicles and cooked many a tasty meal.  My hubby says I need to bake more pies and cookies.

But I better get myself in gear if I am going to live this summer to the fullest.  My husband certainly is by taking hikes every weekend and planning small trips for us.  I think I would appreciate all of his efforts more if he would dedicate a weekend or two to new (to us) car-buying and bed shopping, but I think that is exactly what he is avoiding.

Well, I better get to editing that story and sending it out to various fanfic sites.  I just recently found out about -- which is pathetic because I have trolled many a fan fic site and somehow missed this one. is pretty cannon compliant (i.e. no Lily/Snape shipping, which I say is lame cause I think there was some snogging there, so I don't know if my stories will be accepted, but whatever).

Agh -- editing, ok, going to do that now.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Challenge

Last year I had a complaint from a parent about the lack of difficulty in my math instruction. She and her husband might explain that they were not complaining, but merely concerned with the progress of their son's math abilities/skills/knowledge.

I am here to report that they were indeed complaining.

Their son had been enrolled in the "Spectrum" program here in the lovely Emerald City (Seattle, not Oz, though it can feel that way sometimes).  Spectrum is a program of the Seattle Public Schools that selects top performing students for services and programs that will foster their learning style/abilities/intellectual curiosity.  It is not quite the Gifted and Talented program of my childhood, but a way to acknowledge that a child has scored well on standardized tests.

Or, this is what I understand from various teachers who have taught in public schools in Seattle.

It is interesting to note that students in public school settings score slightly lower than those in most Catholic Schools, and the school I am at is no exception.  Students at my school have a better chance of being loved and nurtured from an early age and studies have shown that this environment is beneficial to a child's school performance.  That is not to say that public school students are all neglected or even that students at my school are not neglected -- every school has its bright spots as well as a murky underbelly.   It is just that the population of children in my school fit into the "overly cared for" category.

So when the parents mentioned above decided to enroll their child at this Catholic school for sixth grade, they expected the Spectrum program, and perhaps the Spectrum treatment and cache, to follow them.  They were pleased that their child was in my classroom, but not pleased that he was studying sixth grade math.  Apparently, his fifth grade teacher had given him sixth grade lessons the year previous.

{Just a quick aside here -- I teach math classes that pull students from the top percentiles of each grade.  So I teach, supposedly, high performing fifth, sixth, and seventh grade students. Some students definitely benefit from the class, others struggle to keep at the pace of instruction. This is one difficulties of using data based grouping -- not all high performing students are good students.}

The problem was, while he is a quick learner, his skills were not totally in place.  I had to use a series of tests and data to show that he was accurately placed and the instruction in my classroom would benefit him.

They were still not pleased.  I had already thought through this worst-case-scenario.  I offered to provide projects that would be extensions of the instruction in class and I refused to just offer it to this one student.  I felt that it would be worse to provide extension for one or a few students since so many already wielded their status for being in my class over the other students in their grade.  The extra projects finally pleased these parents. 

I would like to write that their son did an amazing job on every extension I provided him with, that the parents were effusive in their thanks and compliments for the extra work I was doing, and that he scored in the top most percentiles so that I would have to seriously consider advising them to find a private math tutor for next year to meet his needs.

But this would be falsehood.

The projects he turned in were mediocre and his scores were good, but not exceptional.  After our meeting in October of last year, I received an email of "thanks" but nothing beyond that for all of the extra time and effort I put into these extensions.  Upon reflection, I think the parents felt entitled to this sort of work, which is not in my job description, and therefore felt no extra thank you or compensation was in order.

I am constantly taught in my Orthodox faith that humility is the highest virtue.  Humility is the thing that provides one with love of God rather than love of self.  It is that detachment from the world that we need in order to unite ourselves with God -- that we care not for the world's praise or wealth, but for only what blessings our Heavenly Father bestows upon us.  

If this experience with these overly-caring parents taught me nothing else, it taught me humility.  Not so much because my work went unacknowledged, nor the humiliation they must have felt seeing their son's scores in the "good, but not exceptional" category, but that their son, who one might expect to be a cocky and rude little fellow, was one of the most kind and attentive students I taught last year.  He was apologetic when he made mistakes, he was helpful to those who struggled around him, and was effusive in participation and curiosity.  It is amazing to me that such a young man could be the product of such pushy parents.

And next year, I think I get to relive the experience again for two reasons: 1) they have another son enrolling in sixth grade, and 2) I received an email from another parent whose son will enroll in seventh grade next year.

The new parent, a mom, is some big wig educational mucky muck PhD down in Tacoma -- so she could make my life not so fun.  I am especially worried because her email was very much to the same tune I heard last year: "my child is very gifted". {The tune is like the Queen of the Night Aria -- pretty, but with"kick your butt" intentions.}

More humility is coming my way.  Can I handle it?  I will try.  If I said this to my husband, he would quote the great Master Yoda to me: "Do or do not, there is no try".  Well, I take exception and reply that "Everyone is always giving their best".

And often I get the reply back "What if their best isn't good enough?"

Well, "You must help them to do better".

So, I will have to pray (and ask prayers of those of you reading this) that I can do better, because this mother who emailed me back in May, wrote the dread word.  The word I have avoided using this whole post, but I used in the title.

"I want my son challenged."

Really?  Challenged.  Such a funny little word.  When a students struggles to be successful in school, we say he or she is "challenged" by *insert skill*.  When a student shows exceptional skills, we say he or she needs additional "challenge" in *insert subject*.  Math tends to be the subject that parents really want their student to succeed in  and not be challenged by it.

For  some parents math becomes the measuring stick for how smart their child is. I was watching a DVD presentation of Dr. Mel Levine on "Thinking with Numbers" (founder of the All Kinds of Minds institute -- he was on Oprah and our school is becoming an All Kinds of Minds school).  It was surprising -- no, it really wasn't surprising.  Is there a word for totally-and-completely-predictable?  If not, someone needs to invent one, because it was totally-and-completely-predictable that of the 12 disc DVD set in my Principal's office, the only one not opened, the only one with the shrink wrap still on, was the "Thinking with Numbers" disc.  Dr. Levine said in the presentation that a student will feel success or failure in school directly proportional to how they feel they are doing in math.  His words very well described what I have always thought.  Math seems so foreign, so distant from anything real (though it describes most of reality), that students view it as that subject that only the wise and  intelligent can understand.  And these students grow up, have children, and perpetuate this attitude.

I am neither wise nor intelligent.  I like to think myself clever, but not exceptional.  And I teach math without knowing all of my times tables.  It is therefore possible for anyone to teach math because I do it everyday.  Teaching math well...that is another story.

My question is: How do you challenge someone?  I jokingly said that parents who want their students challenged should try hiding their child's shoes in the morning or some other prank-like action that would give their child a true challenge.  But some how I don't think that is what these parents have in mind.

My shoe hiding epiphany came from all the reality shows that have different "challenges".  I watch only two reality shows and I view them more like a high stakes Spelling Bee (you know I am a fan) or a Game Show.  Both shows provide excellent analogies for understanding the difference between teaching in the lower levels of education (K - 9) and upper levels (10th and higher).  The two reality shows I watch are America's Next Top Model and Project Runway.

I very recently started watching Project Runway -- it is very fun. These folks are trained in clothing design: they come knowing how to draw an idea, piece it with suitable fabrics, and sew it together. Their challenges range from designing a concept piece (like "envy" in season 1) or designing a prom dress for a client.  My favorite challenge so far was in the last season had to design a wrestling out fit for women in the WWF -- or whatever -- and they had to shop at Spandex House in NYC.  

Project Runway is very much like the upper levels of education -- students go to high school and college knowing how to learn or at least cope with the challenges school can provide. Like Project Runway students in upper levels are expected to work independently with little advice or help and then their work is critiqued and given the "in" or the "out". Almost every designer leaves knowing a little more about themselves, just like in high school when you think you know what you want to do for the rest of your life.  However, some students do opt for the "Auf Wiedersehen" before they even finish all of the challenges.  
{Note:  I am a Mexican -- I only sing in German and occasionally enjoy Bavarian folk music.  I cannot pronounce German and it took me awhile to figure out how to say this much less spell it.  I would have spelled it "auf vetesang".}

Sometimes I wish I could teach the upper levels of school and not have the responsibility to teach students the skills they will need for life.  I wish I could just sit on a directors chair and issue assignments, quickly critique them, and then hope the students will do better on the next one.  But alas, that is not how my life has worked thus far.

No, I teach in a more America's Next Top Model environment. Some girls on the show have never modeled in their life nor thought about modeling; others have some experience or this is their dream. Same with lower school: some students in come with no experience of school nor even thought about school before they walked into the doors for kindergarten. Others had been in pre-school since age three and for some it has always been a dream to go to school (it was for me -- yes I am a nerd).  Students come to you knowing how to talk, but they leave with skills to go and receive more education. The girls on the show often say what a "great opportunity" it was and how much they "learned" from the experience, but a few will say they continue to work towards the goal of being a model.

And much like lower school, on America's Next Top Model, the challenge is usually proceeded by instruction on how to complete the challenge -- whether it be posing in a fish net over a waterway in Thailand or posing in a skydiving chute to look as if  they were reaching for a bottle of makeup.  Likewise, before I can challenge my students I must instruct them on how to tackle or approach the content first.  

But here is my problem with challenges:  on each of these shows, the challenge ELIMINATES one of the designers or models each week.  There can only be ONE top model or ONE winner of the designer's dream of a lifetime.

If I merely look to reality shows as the definition of "challenge", is it then fair to say that teachers should "challenge" students?   Or even if I didn't look at reality shows for a definition, shouldn't teachers say we "teach-students-at-an-appropriate-skill-level-such-that-their-love-of-the-subject-grows-and-intellectual-curiosity-sparked-for-a-lifetime-of-learning-because-all-of-life-is-a-problem-waiting-to-be-solved"?

And if there is a verb for this, will someone please let me know ASAP, because I told this mother to send her son's test scores and transcripts and gave her no indication that her son would be challenged

And if this word/verb is in German and twenty syllables long, it would be good for me to get a head start on pronouncing and spelling it so I can repeat it OVER and OVER again as I try to convince the overly-caring parents that their children need to first be able to solve problems at their own level before throwing a banana-peel-like challenge their way that might make them feel terrible about their school performance because they are not doing as well as their parents would like them to in math. Try to remember that math, whether we like it or not, becomes the measuring stick for school success for both parents and students.

I also need this word/verb right away because there is no way I am grading tons of project next year.  I don't want to be the teacher who eliminates students -- each student should feel successful, each students should be successful, and not just ONE student should feel like they are on top.  

My challenge is, I suppose, to convince parents that their student will feel more successful and more "on top" if their student is appropriately placed without at need for challenge -- that math should not be challenge laden but accessible.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Aren't We Cute

One of the women at our church took pictures of the families in our Parish.  Here are the results (I cannot take responsibility for my hair - it has a mind of its own):

My hubby looks pained...I am afraid that is his best posed smile.  This one is a bit better (and I think the one up in the Parish Hall):

And now I am the one who looks confused and/or nervous.  I don't know why I get that expression sometimes.

But we still look pretty cute!  Unfortunately, I learned after this photo was taken how to use a clip to hold back loose strands.  I am probably going to get my hair cut this short, so maybe it will be better behaved.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

HUGE Book Review...and Writing Plans...

I have spent the past few weeks reading the following (in this order):

Wuthering Heights
Mrs. Dalloway
The Guy Not Taken
Good in Bed

I finished the last three in two weeks...

Wuthering Heights:  When I first started reading this I thought instantly of Lily and Snape.  A dark young man and a beautiful young lady grow up together and have a strong connection to each other.  Then a really handsome and well to do guy moves into the neighborhood and the beautiful girl marries him.  Then she dies, leaving a child behind, then the guy dies, and the dark young man is left pinning for his love and treating the child badly.  So very much like Snape in the Harry Potter Series.

Except Heathcliff makes Severus Snape look well adjusted.  Heathcliff had some SERIOUS ISSUES.

A brief comparison:

Appearance:  I think Heathcliff is hotter.  Snape I imagine was kind of skinny and sallow.  Heathcliff had some meat on his bones and a bad boy scowl that would have appealed to some ladies.  I don't know what their noses or eyebrows looked like, but I wouldn't have gone for either one.

Vocabulary:  Here, Snape is definitely more civilized.  Heathcliff swears like a sailor.  They do share the ability to insult their true love's child-by-another-man (especially since the child looks like the father...just sayin').

Morals:  Heathcliff has no morals.  I am not surprised that those around him think he is beyond human.  He is violent, he digs up graves, and he is in no way hospitable.  He drives people to ruin and is vengeful. 
For quite sometime I thought of Snape as a very foul little man.  He constantly insults Harry (what did Harry ever do to him?) and generally belittles students (which I do take issue with).  However, the only time Snape was violent was when Harry fished around in Snape's memories and Snape threw a couple of spells at him.  Snape is some what dubious in his morals when he asks Voldemort to save Lily and not the rest of her family.  But, he makes up for it by doing his darnedest to protect the-boy-whose-very-presence-causes-him-to-simultaneously-remember-his-childhood-friend-and childhood-enemy.
I never thought I  would think well of Snape, but both Deathly Hallows and Wuthering Heights have forced me to conclude that he was really not THAT bad.  He was bitter, he was sneaky, and he had his own motivations that he never revealed to anyone (except Dumbledore and Harry) -- but he wasn't as bad as Heathcliff.

Which brings me to a couple of interesting thoughts.  First of all, the oldest cousin (the one who should have inherited the estate if Heathcliff hadn't gotten his father drunk and gambled it from him) looked like Catherine (H's true love -- more like true obsession) or at least HAD CATHERINE'S EYES!  Ahem!

Hello, Harry had Lily's eyes!  But Heathcliff, from what I could tell, was sort of nice to this boy and was trying to toughen him up much in the way Heathcliff was reared.  My question is:  why couldn't Snape be that nice to Harry?  I think it was the same reason Heathcliff couldn't be nice to Catherine's daughter: she looked too much like her father.  But, as some Harry Potter fans have wondered, would Snape have been nice to Lily's child if he or she had looked like Lily?  I think so -- it seemed that Heathcliff couldn't help it and he's totally off his rocker.   Snape, who is a smidgen more reasonable, would not have been immune either.

Overall, Wuthering Heights was AWFUL -- it made me so mad at times, and not the good mad where I start yelling at the book or throw it across the room.  But, I wanted half the people to attack Heathcliff with a shovel or an embroidery hoop depending on who they were -- I even imagined a scene where Nelly and Cathy attack Heathcliff by standing at the door with a poker and some upholstery. Sadly, this never happened. 

As I read on, it just got worse, and worse, and worse...and the ending was sort of lame.  If I had to like a Bronte novel, I guess it would be Jane Eyre because at least I could wrap my head around the character's motivations there.  I could not understand the people in Wuthering Heights.  The one part I did like was the crazy groundskeeper with the very thick accent and how it was written (a possible inspiration for a Hagrid?).

{A funny side note as I was editing this post -- from my profile you know I cannot spell.  So, I could not spell Heathcliff and was too lazy to look it up.  So I just typed whatever, like "Heithsliff" or "Heithclif" or, my favorite "Heithclifee".  Hee :D  Then I finally looked it up and spelled it properly.}

Mrs. Dalloway:  I bought a copy of the book on May 26th (or thereabouts) -- it took me about a MONTH to finish it and the book is only 3/4 of an inch thick.  I think it was more coherent than Faulkner, but just as difficult to follow.  I sometimes liked bouncing around into different character's heads, but sometimes it just made it difficult to keep track of who it was and I had to go back and re-read it.  

I liked it - kinda.  It was a hearty read and I didn't always understand what was happening.  I did like how Woolf captured post-war trauma in a person.  I think it very accurate how difficult it would be to come home after war.  The Iliad with its crazy metaphors sometimes alludes to this, but the chaos of the thoughts of someone traumatized by war -- it can get to you.  She did some wonderful writing there.  

And the Sally Seton stuff - woo!  Clarissa was quite the make-out mogul, was she not?!

The one question I have after all of this is:  is Elizabeth's, Clarissa's child, father Richard (Clarissa's husband) or Peter (other dude Clarrisa could have loved, or at least married)?  

The daughter is said to have a dark quality about her, dark, Oriental eyes.   Peter was said to be half-Indian and he and Clarissa spent some time in a wine cellar in their youth (this is what I understood).  And a nurse remarked that the Dalloway's are usually fair...I don't know what larger impact this question could have on the whole of the novel, but it is just a question I had.

The Guy Not Taken and Good in Bed:  These books are both by Jennifer Weiner, who writes intelligent chick lit.  Or at least this is what I tell myself.  But seriously, I think Weiner has a amazing style and ideas.  Her characters are captivating.  My hubby asked me if Good in Bed was all about sex (he looked worried) and I told him some of the plot.  After telling him about Cannie almost losing her baby and getting an emergency hysterectomy because her ex-boyfriend's crazy girlfriend shoved her, he said "So, did she sue them?" with that angry glint in his eye and curl of lip that I occasionally see when he is super mad.

He is such a Hufflepuff.  Seriously:  a strong sense of justice and a hard worker.  I am definitely a Ravenclaw (creative, a bit loopy -- think Luna Lovegood, and a fussy know-it all) with Hufflepuff leanings (I have a strong sense of justice too, but I am WAY too lazy).

So, Weiner's characters and plots can draw a reader in, but more over she has a way of articulating what it is that people feel when they love and especially when they divorce (her parents, like mine, divorced in her late teens).  Good in Bed hit hard on the abandonment issues (I know I was really hard on my father after his affair and the divorce, but he is WAY better and more loving than Cannie's dad), but The Guy Not Taken was even more of an exploration.  She said that writing was like her therapy.  I agree -- I write to soothe my mind and the many thoughts that churn therein.

Good in Bed was especially nice because she chose as her protagonist a woman who is intelligent but not confident about herself due to her perceptions of her appearance.

In other words, she thinks she is fat. 

All women, at some time or another, have cared far too much about their appearance. But unlike Bridget Jones, Cannie is tall and has lots of curves and some curves that shouldn't be there.  So it is justifiable to say that the protagonist is plus sized.

I always think I am fat - well, I didn't when I weighed 110 pounds which is where I should be.  However,  I should not be 103 or even 90 pounds which is where I was after a lot of fasting and working out.  And while diet and exercise did help, I actually had cancer at the time. That would make anyone lose weight and keep it off...the problem is you KEEP losing weight (which is when I got REALLY worried).

But, it is really easy for people to dismiss your concerns when you are five feet tall.  Yep, I have smaller bones and everything APPEARS small -- but when you wear a 32D and have cellulite, you certainly don't FEEL small.  I weighed myself at the gym the other day -- 122 pounds!!!  I have not been this heavy since junior year of college!  And even then I was 118!  I know my metabolism is slowing and gravity is setting in -- but I SERIOUSLY need to lose some weight (did I mention my mom was recently diagnosed with diabetes and I am scared out of my wits now...).

Still, I have not the issues of women who are taller who also are well endowed and have cellulite.  I am short and therefore can be cute.  They are taller and are labelled "fat chick" and other hurtful things.  Cannie must come to terms with her body type and who she is apart from her body.  And, moreover, find people who do not CARE what she looks like and love her.  

Stardust:  I saw the movie on an airplane or train -- it was fun.  The book was not too different except for the ending (the movie was much more Hollywood, obviously).

It was a very well written and very funny fairy tale.  I loved it.  I love books like these -- a little break from reality but still a sense of humanity in the characters and plot of the book.   

The only thing I did not like was the lack of development of Tristan and the Star's relationship, how they fell in love, etc.  I was not looking for that Hollywood glance/touch/inappropriate-sexual-liaison, but some more of them working together in their journey so that they develop a friendship that turns into love.  Tristan takes care of the star and the star just sits around -- girl didn't even help when he got turned into a door mouse.  But, other than that, I really enjoyed the novel.  I will have to look for other stuff by Neil Gaiman. 

Ahh...but now I feel compelled to write (and not just blog entries) and read some more.  I want to polish up a little story I have about Snape and Lily's friendship (it is pretty cute) and I also have this other story I want to get out about Snape in Death Eater mode.  But my mom is coming soon and I won't have a lot of time to write...

I sort of started Crime and Punishment (to get me in a Snape-writing mood) but I started re-reading Sense and Sensibility (because I think one should take all things in moderation).  I think I will keep switching between the two of them to get a criminal mind set paired with some English sentiment.  Maybe I should just read Montemorency - except it is for young adults and I have already read it.


I am off to cook.

Monday, July 7, 2008

There will no longer be a fish tank in my classroom...

...Spike, the noblest of the four fish I received almost five years ago, has gone to the big fish bowl in the sky.

I will not label this Memory Eternal because he was a fish.  As unfortunate as it may be, animals do not have immortal souls.  No, they will not greet us in heaven.  There is no comfort in knowing we will see all of the pets we once loved on the other side.

At first, learning that animals do not have immortal souls (according to Orthodox Christian practice and theology -- and therefore I believe it) was heartbreaking.  Animals eyes, their reactions to us, all make us feel loved and as if they are capable of human love.

But they are not.  Nor would I want them to be capable of the sort of love I give my family and friends.  They might actually turn on me if they shared the emotions and connections we have.

While there is no doubt that there is some sort of emotional intelligence and general intellect within animals, it is fleeting.  Nothing is stored permanently in memory unless it is so heinously painful, the animal never does it again (in about 70% of cases I would argue some animals never learn).

With such temporary sojourns in the world of being, I think it best to treat animals with care.  If their life will be quick in the grand scheme of things, why not make it at pleasant as possible?

And so it was with my fish.

Many would argue that fish cannot feel, be attentive -- but they are wrong.  Every morning when I came into my classroom these past five years, the fish would swim around excitedly until I fed them.  When the morning bell rang, they would again swim in a frenzy as the students arrived.   When the students came near the tank, they were most attentive, swimming to the top quickly, fins flashing in urgency.

Yep, like all goldfish, they wanted more food.  But it was kind of sweet (they never got any extra treats).

Here is how it began: two students decided to liven up my classroom by purchasing me four goldfish.  These were not fancy goldfish; they were the "feeder" goldfish that come at 50 cents a pop.  So the girls spend about $2 plus some tax.  I shelled out around $30 over the following weeks getting the fish appropriate accommodations.  Then there was a contest in my homeroom to name them...

Here is a brief chronology:

Angel:  This fish was appropriately named because she 1) had pearly, almost iridescent scales and fins, and 2) died in the first week.  I think I either flushed her or chucked her into the bushes outside my window.  It is a tricky thing to tell the gender of a fish, but let's just say she was a girl because that is how my students treated her.

Saltine:  This fish was next to die (three years later) -- and of unknown causes.  He just started floating upside down one day, his pale orange belly up in contrast to the normal bright orange scales we saw every day.  The next day he stopped breathing.  I buried him in the bushes.

Twinkle Toes:  In spite of the name, this fish had only fins, no toes.  He was orange with white spots.  He was my "Miracle Fish".  My second year of teaching, there was a horrible outbreak of scale rot.  The two other fish managed to recover -- Twinkle Toes did not.  He floated at the top of the tank, white belly up, still breathing and (I think) having small seizures.

So I called the nearest Petco and explained the symptoms of my fish.  The guy on the phone told me my fish was food and I should just let it die.  


{yes, I am still bitter...}

After giving him a piece of my mind, I hung up the phone.  Petco my @ss -- these people care more about money than animals!

Then I called a fish store near my house (on the advice of my husband who heard the tearful tale of how the Petco guy said my fish was food) and was very emotional in describing the situation with Twinkle Toes.  The man who answered the phone at the fish store was very good at calming me down, talking me thorough the steps for setting up a hospital tank as well as doses of fish medication and food.  I followed his advice, though he had told me at the end of it all he would be surprised if Twinkle Toes would make it.

I was undeterred and perhaps it a bit too emotional about this fish, but I went into full time prayers for Twinkle Toes.  I placed an icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker near his tank because St. Juliana of Lazarevo used to pray to him for help.  I lit candles, said prayers most of the evening, and the next day after my vigil, Twinkle Toes was swimming in his hospital bowl and was pleased to join the other fish a few days later.  He had lost a good amount of his fins and could never swim straight, but he was alive.

The year he got ill, the year I kept vigil, the auction project for seventh grade was to create a screen of Milagros.  Each child was asked to write a short bit about a miracle they had witnessed and draw a scene in tin that the room parents would then attach to a frame to create a screen.

Milagros these are little tin or metal pictures of what ailement you have that you would like healed and you can attach them to a retablo (or icon) of who you are asking intercession from (in the case of Saints or the Virgin) or praying to (in the case of Christ or the whole Trinity) -- it's a Mexican thing as far as I can tell.

While the students (and perhaps the parents) did not quite get it, I chose Twinkle Toes as my miracle.  I drew a fish in some weeds and waves for the water.  

I did not do a scene about me surviving breast cancer because...well, what do you think that Milagro would have looked like? Plus I was still struggling with why I survived. 

So, Twinkle Toes was my miracle and I am thankful to St. Nicholas for answering my prayer, and the Theotokos for her intercessions.  And if I am forgetting any other Saints I prayed to, forgive me and accept my gratitude.  Most of all I am grateful to the Physician of all souls and Our Creator for letting me see this miracle and know your love for mankind and the bits of creation you gave us.

This past year, Twinkle Toes really struggled with his fins -- he had grown in those three years and only his back fin was long enough to support his girth. He would swim straight as an arrow when it was feeding time, otherwise, he hung around upside down or in the plastic plants in the tank for balance.  One day, he didn't flip right side up for food and shortly after he stopped breathing.  I buried him along side Saltine.

Spike:  He was my favorite fish.  When he first came to my classroom, he was smaller than the other fish and a greenish black.  Over time, he grew larger and orange!  He was cool -- hard core and not susceptible to fin rot at all. 

I think he died of loneliness.  He didn't notice when the other two had left the tank -- I think he was quite comfortable with his bachelor pad (as it were -- not like he had any prospects swimming around).  But, at the end of the school year when I was not there for regular visits or the kids weren't around to greet him, he got lonely.  

I needed to go to school yesterday to pick up somethings and meet a colleague about some materials, and I found him, at the bottom of the tank, auto-feeder pointlessly whirling to feed him new flakes.  

My heart was heavy -- that he had to be alone when he died, that the loneliness killed him, and that he, my favorite and last of my fish...that he and I never got to say goodbye.  I so much wanted to make his sojourn on earth pleasant, and I feel guilty that he died from lack of companionship, something I could have easily have given him.

I know it sounds cheesy, but I will definitely miss him.  I will miss all their fins, all their company, and all the soothing water sounds that come with owning a fish.

And as Spike is my last, I hope to never have animals in my classroom again.  I don't think I could stand once more becoming so attached.

This was Twinkle Toes, circa 2005:
I took these pictures for a geometry project I was modeling for my students.

This is Spike (orange one) and Twinkle Toes (white and orange guy) - I think Saltine must have been out of the tank by then...and yes I kept that icon of St. Nicholas by the tank at all times.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


When I first encountered the Harry Potter series, one of the first things I began to search for on the Internet was Harry Potter websites.  Deathly Hallows was not yet released and I was looking for a forum where theories were discussed, you could find information on the next film release, etc.

I happened upon Mugglenet.  They seemed informed, had a nice encyclopedia, a funny caption contest, and a decent fan fic section.  I settled in and when I learned that there was a podcast, I subscribed in itunes.

I had heard of The Leaky Cauldron, but not paid much attention to it.  I listened to a snippet of the podcast on itunes and felt the conversation droll.

Then along came the JK Rowling interview a year later.  It was really well done and answered a lot of questions that I had post - Deathly Hallows (and asked some interesting ones I had not thought of asking Rowling).

But I still subscribed to mugglenet podcast and listened to it, and decided to listen to the Leaky Podcast too.

A few months ago, I think, there was an announcement about the last Harry Potter film being split into two movies.  I didn't quite catch all of the news because the announcement was made during Lent where I make an attempt to shun all media.  But, knowing that I am a HP fan, most of my family and students passed the information along to me.

After the fast, I listened to all of the Lent podcasts that I had missed.  I started with mugglenet because, well, it was habit.

I was appalled that in their discussion of the two films for Deathly Hallows they decided to play the song "Money" (you know, 80's tune "Money, Money, Money...MONEY!").  This was while people were trying to have a discussion on why and how they would split the plot of DH into two films.

It was such an immature move that I shut off the podcast and un-subscribed (best word I could come up with...).  I understand not wanting to suck up to WB execs and say "oh, it is great that you are going to do two films so we can see more of the DH storyline" because anyone who has read the books and seen the films knows that WB hardly sticks to the plot or characters of the film.  I am actually fine with that because books and films are two different forms of media and require different types of story telling.  No movie could capture every element of a book -- the sets, costumes, props, actors, etc. could look very similar to what you visualize in your head when you read a book, but all the history and nuances can not be there.

And perhaps WB is doing the two films for the money; it is possible that they will try to milk the HP fandom for all that it is worth.

But to play a song while people are trying to actually have a discussion about the film and the benefits of two films -- a song that implies it is just for the money -- is rude and immature.  Have a separate discussion, but don't interrupt decent discussion just to be annoying or prove your point.  Such behavior does not facilitate discussion but halt it.  If one can only give a single reason for a decision without reference or consideration of other possibilities, than it is futile to have a discussion with that one person.

And so I bid adieu to mugglenet and listen to the leaky podcast instead (even though there are a lot more inside jokes there I don't get).   They have some pretty good discussion and I appreciate their humor a little more.

Oh, I still troll the fan fic and caption contest on mugglenet, but I refuse to listen to the podcast and they are not my source for current HP news.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I am not a spelling bee champ...

...well, I guess I technically was one of the fifth grade representatives in our school wide spelling bee, and I got past round one.  Then I totally bit it in round two (which ended up being the final round).

I wonder if that school really emphasized spelling...I remember getting a list every week or so.

But, I LOVE watching spelling bees.  I love words, though as writer I am often incompetent in putting them together and using them correctly, much less spelling them with accuracy.  Every year I would watch the spelling bee on ESPN and have a great time.  So when I read in the paper a few months back that the spelling bee would be on a Friday night, I was SUPER excited.

It would be on ABC network, which was alright.  In fact, I thought better because then the whole country could see how cool the spelling bee is.

I was wrong.

One might think that ESPN would play up the "sports" aspect of it all -- the back story, the rivaliries, etc.  When I would watch the spelling bee back in the day (I just realized the other day that ten years ago for me was 18 :|  I am getting old...), there was not that element at ALL -- it was all words, all the time.  No interviews, no backstory, just spellers.

But I guess the documentary Spell Bound changed all of that.  I you have yet to see Spell Bound, go out now and watch it.  It is the funniest and most heart-warming documentary you will see.  

As a junior high/middle school teacher, I often can be quite cynical about my profession, giving every event an eye roll and a scoff.  The Masses, the assemblies, the flippin' talent show - I  give it all the best laugh I can when I am organizing it all.  But, my heart goes pitter patter when watching kids doing the events -- my collegues say the best part of the talent show is watching me direct and smile during the performances (I will have to watch that next year...).  I am the same way during the spelling bee -- I totally root for the kids and feel for them when they miss a word.  I am so invested in them.

I guess I love them.  

Whatever.  It doesn't mean I let them get away with anything.

The disappointing thing about the ABC network spelling bee was HOW MUCH PRESSURE THEY PUT ON THESE KIDS!!!  No joke: one of the interviwers said to a girl "You are the favorite  to win tonight...".

I screamed at the tv - hello!  Pressure much!  Of course that girl did not win, and no doubt because she was nervous that she was the "favorite" to win that night.

And how the heck do people determine who is the "favorite"?  Seriously, THEY ARE JUNIOR HIGH KIDS - leave them alone! 

 The back story element was cool because you got to see some of the kids being kids.  The unfortune part is that it is difficult to predict who will be a winner or in the final round (ahem!  ABC...), so they only showed the back story of a quarter of the kids who made it to the final rounds.

I usally like to play along at home, and I was used to the ESPN format where they do not show the word till it is spelled.   No such luck on ABC - they flippin' show the word first off!  No fair - so I took to covering the screen with a notepad I use to write down food network receipes.

I spelled three words correctly: aurelian, boulangere, escapeche

The rest, yeh...

Here is the notepad - pathetic. I took high school Latin, college Ancient Greek and French, grew up speaking Spanish, have sung enough in German and Russian to get by, and am fairly good at guessing.   I even read Nietzche (and will never do it again).  But I could only spell three words. Granted, these words were HARD!  The hubby was excited when tautological made it in the bee because we are always reading tautological statements made by my students. For example, when I ask them to explain why they would choose the mean to represent a set of data, they write things like "I would choose the mean because it is the average". 


But to ask one of my students to spell Nietzschean in front of the whole country - I think we would both cry.

I will say this:   I totally rooted for the kid who won!  Sameer Mishra!
What a cutie!  He was really funny too - his word was numnah and he looked at the announcer and said "what?"


But as soon as he was given the origin (Hindi) and definition (horse blanket) he was good to go. There is a youtube video of his reaction, but I have difficulties with videos and even uploading photos, so google it.

And I was so glad to see such a variety of kids up there - different parts of the country and back grounds.  I love how multi-cultural America is.  And I love spelling bees.  So there you go.

But NEVER ABC network - PLEASE!!!

Martha Stewart = LOSE & FAIL

Last year my mother decided that she would try to domesticate me.  Or, just get a better deal on her Martha Stewart Living by purchasing a gift subscription for me (of course I had to pay the shipping -- curse you Martha Minions!!!).

And every month a new magazine would come with stunning photos of how one "should live" -- I know that is not exactly the motto of the magazine, but is it not implied in the title.

The second month in I found M.S. pretty annoying -- she photographed and wrote an article about her "craft studio" where she had coordinating boxes made to hold paper and ribbon and dodads that I would not know what to do with if I even had the time to take up crafts other than pysanky, crocheting, and some minor sewing.  I don't "live" with coordinating anything -- furniture, clothes, etc.; only my shoes match each other and sometimes my socks.

The recipes were good though.  Well, when adapted.  I mean, with instructions like "pick tomatoes that have ripened in the sunshine in your garden" -- come on!!!  Like I am not going to Trader Joe's and getting whatever tomatoes they have that look good.  If I am virtuous and have the time, I might get some from the farmers market, but still, I am not growing tomatoes on my condo balcony just to follow through on the recipes.

And I don't think I like champagne vinegar.  Or at least the expensive kind from Whole Foods -- the cheap stuff at Trader Joe's is a lot tastier.

Pascha was swiftly approaching and I was trying to make pysanky when this arrived at my door step.

And I got really excited! This looked like pysanky made simple, like pysanky quick and easy, and perhaps like pysanky in mass production. So, I read the article on the next page...
...and it looked simple enough. I just needed to grab some dye (no trouble since I have tons from getting ready for pysanky) and some "inexpensive" lace trimmings (this fact will come into play later...).

So, I headed up to Jo Ann fabrics in Shoreline (just over the Seattle border) and spent an hour searching and selecting lace that I thought could work well on an egg.

Then I headed home and following the instructions, first tried it with a red and brown egg -- thinking it would be really pretty with a brilliant red against the relief of a lacy brown.

I ended up with a completely red egg (no photo available) with a faint imprint of lace in one section.  I just shrugged and thought "oh, the pysanky dye is too strong" and turned the egg into the black and red Asian inspired egg pictured on this blog. I went back and read my pysanky books and saw that one could create a "lighter" shade of blue by diluting it and thought "oh, maybe this would work for the lacey eggs".  But I tried the lightened dye first on a pysanky in progress.  It turned out well, so I took it as a good sign for the lacey eggs.

So then I tried it with the lace. And I am proud to present evidence that MARTHA = FAIL.

I ended up with blue eggs! I even tried a HARD BOILED egg just like prescribed in the article...and no success there (I had to throw it away too because the pysanky dye is toxic). Then I tried it with normal edible egg dye and clean lace -- had some funky eggs in my Pascha basket (beside the one with a wrapper showing Obi Wan fighting the Evil Emperor.   What?  Don't judge!)

Some of you reading it may recall the bitter rant I gave about this in Oregon and had some insight into how my logic was distracted by the hopeful thought that I could churn mass quantities of pysanky out like I did in college. It really would not, could not work...ever. If you think about it, lace is not sturdy enough to lie flush against the curved surface of an egg nor does a rubber band enough of a tension to cause the lace to stay still long enough so no dye could get under the surface.

And after putting all that time into trying to make the dye and lace work I just ended up with a bunch of blue eggs...I threw them away (as painful as it was).

And I have tons of lace now, so if any of you out there need some inexpensive lace trimmings, I have them.  And by inexpensive I mean it was $1 for a yard of three inch trim.  MS on the other hand spent $60 ^%&$%# dollars on her "inexpensive" lace trimmings.

I suppose if I had gone to Federal prison for insider trading, $60 would be inexpensive to me as well.

I am left to conclude that the images in the magazine were either:

1) photoshopped by her minions

2) hand-painted in Mexico or India by under-paid workers who were not allowed to leave  until they had a product that resembled something that could be done with lace, eggs, and dye easily so as to fool readers into a false sense of successfulness.

And if my body is found in a remote location, then you know I have uncovered the truth.

Just make sure my husband is well fed - thanks :D

(on a side note:  what is up with the shuffle on my favorite itunes mix?  It is totally churning out the good stuff: Arthea Franklin, Lily Allen, Bow Wow Wow, Kate Neil Diamond in sight.  Yes, I like Neil small doses.  I have had to stop writing for awhile to dance in my chair -- it is difficult to type and bop around.  Plus I get some physical activity that, Crocodile Rock!)