Monday, March 31, 2003

A Springfield Girl's Dreams of a Seven Sisters Education

I note that the writers have rotated Mount Holyoke into Lisa Simpson's college dreams this season. Wellesley and Vassar used to top her list. Last night's reference (as best as I can recall): a documentory film maker scolds Lisa's dilettantism and threatens that she'll end up at MHC . . . then "squeezing out babies"! -- "Well, I never!"

After I posted yesterday, the rain changed to big, wet snowflakes. The "wintery mix" lasted for hours. Today, we had bright sun, and it got into the 40s.

I filled in for the attendance secretary at venerable ol' Douglas Southall Freeman High School today. I sent teens off to orthodontist appointments and recorded on the computer the unexcused tardiness of oversleepers. I found the work frantic, but low-stress. Like at a temp assignment, people who weren't sure "what she usually does" tried to teach me a system in two minutes.

I wished I could have roamed around Freeman, more, and admired the 1950s details (though much seems older in styling, including the lettering on the front). It's got that brick-shaped glazed tile in the main hall (pinky tan, trimmed with maroon), and oak-colored wood doors and trim in the spaces I did visit.

Having met a remarkable cross-section of young people, I also wonder how they feel about being "the Rebels," still. I met a number of recent immigrants (Asian and Hispanic); a few black kids; and, still the majority, white kids (few of whom had Virginia accents, though many if the teachers and administrators did).

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Did you listen to "This American Life" this week? Sarah Vowell describes how we did in the Spanish-American War, just over 100 years ago, when the US wanted to effect a regime change in Cuba. Scroll down to "The Balloon Goes Up" at From WBEZ in Chicago | This American Life.

Capital City weather: raining since 8 o'clock last night; 34 degrees this monring.

Friday, March 28, 2003

At the school named for a former governor, a social studies teacher has posted pictures (computer-printed) of student and faculty family members serving in the current unpleasantness. Next to the pictures is a sort of paper flag with an explanation of how families would display such a flag in their windows with a blue star for each person (man) serving in the war. Families placed a yellow star over the blue to show someone had been killed. Two of the eight or so stars were yellow, today.

Bored? Under-challenged in you current job? Find a twelve-year-old and explain The Electoral College to him or her. That’ll get you on your toes.

Capital City weather: sunny, 72
Spring arrived in Capital City on Wednesday. That's the day I noticed the tell-tale fine film of tree pollen on my car. Also on that day, I had lunch with friends at a restaurant in what was a club house for the swimming lake for the Mechanicsville area. We sat on a patio, overlooking the lake and the new suburban houses and gardens beyond. A man puttered in his garden in longish khaki shorts, sans shirt.

I know we've had some terrible dogwood diseases in Virginia, but it was still a hideous site to see that city tore up some, and redbuds, too, from the median on Monument, from 195 to Staples Mill or so. Yesterday, I noted some white-blooming fruit trees have been popped in their place. At the garden at the Valentine, I noted that those dogwood flowers have started to open.

Tuesday, I taught 7th grade English out Varina way; today it'll be 6th grade at Wilder Middle School.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Just like at the “behavior problems school,” students at Friday’s middle school also begin the day with 15 minutes of silent reading. The “regular” students behaved much worse than the “problem” students, setting the tone for a long day. The group next tackled a science reading assignment. Did you know that phytoplankton provide most of our oxygen?

From “Z” building of the campus-style school, I scurried to a new room for a class that seemed to be more of a world cultures class than a foreign language class. The kids had endless worksheets of reading, comprehension questions, and vocabulary. In response, Lou kicked chairs the whole time, while Mark did his work quickly and quietly . . . by writing down anything that popped into his head. We compared-and-contrasted baseball and sumo (a reading piece) together, since the students (except April) claimed to know “nothing” about baseball.

And then, at last, it was time for the actual French class the call promised. They were good kids, though they sure didn’t seem to have been studying French for two years. I asked, “What have you been learning?” - “Nothing.” -- “Okay, do you know the French for that?” - “No.”

I wrote “RIEN” on the board. Two kids remembered it all the way through the lunch break and into the second half of class. Cool. We also practiced the passe compose. This class meets in the room of a social studies teacher, who spent some of the time working at her desk. She told me I did a good job engaging the kids.

The last class of this Friday, a health class of about 8 million cranky 13-year-olds, would not be engaged by the respiratory system reading. Quiet C.J. stood up and looked longingly out the door at the soccer field and track. Where are you headed? “I ain’t goin nowhere.” Yeah, I can see that.

The room was hot and stuffy. The kids were loud, and only about 6 (out of 30, I guess, really) even acted they were working. I had to shout. Chairs were flipped, books hit the floor, toy wind up cars and comic books appeared. “Why we gotta do this?” “I don’t wanna be here.” You don’t wanna be here? Who cast me for this poorly-scripted (or perhaps too well?) Substitute Teacher scene?

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Today James Lileks mentions Richmond's own Sauers. He links to the spice company's own page. Alas, neither Sauers itself nor any other site I could find features the beloved Vanilla sign, so I had to be a geeky fan and write and describe it. Nah, I guess if I were really geeky, I'd own a digital camera.

The forsythia along 195 have begun to bloom. It's cold and cloudy today, though.

At today's Friends of the Library meeting, we heard from our peers at the library Foundation about how well they are doing raising funds for major renovations. In a handful of years, we should have a swell, spiffed-up place. (Those renderings look better in person.)

Mark the Friends' book sale on your calendar: April 4 - 5, Main library.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Noted in Carytown today: red banners, with a single scribbled flower graphic, on the light poles; men doing prep work that suggests replacement trees are on the way; and a man walking two smallish dogs, each clad in a different little green coat.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

The weather turned cold; I caught a cold. The latter, of course, was not caused by the former but by the kindergartners sneezing on me on Tuesday.

Since I have an interview on Monday, I tried to rest and stay in all weekend. Luckily, I had three weeks' worth of New Yorkers on hand. When the name Brian Urquhart tunred up twice in one issue, and given that Mitch recently noted that a road near her bears that last name, I knew I had to do some research.

We call our family antiques bizz Urquhart's Place, for a long-defunct restaurant and/or county store on the way to the beach. You'll find us in a modest case at the West End Antiques Mall (Staples Mill at Broad Street). We've got some nice red Hall pieces and a set of shiny kitchen cannisters, right now. . . .

The surname Urquhart is Scottish; and indeed you'll find it attached to a Castle on Loch Ness. Sir Brian Urquhart served as Under-Secretary-General of the UN from 1974 to 1986. Other people who rate high on a Google search are lawyers, a poet, a teacher, and professors. I found eleven Urquharts in the Richmond phone book, and one Urquheart.

I wonder how I can quantify a wordy coincidence into numbers to play the lottery?

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Happy Birthday to my sister Girl Scouts! We're 91 today.

I had a nice walk to the Carillon today, where I met many of the moms in the crowd at the "tot lot" just behind the memorial bell tower. What happened to the word "playground"?

Capital City weather: low 60s and sunny.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Digital Watches are a Pretty Neat Idea

Douglas Adams was born today. In my twenties, I found turns of phrase like “Ford inched up the hall as if he would rather be yarding down it” brilliantly funny. The Hitchhikers Guide series introduced me to smarty humor. In college, a friend and I indulged in the geeky habit of writing random quotes from the books on the note boards on each other’s dorm room doors.

In my thirties, his books became comfort reading, what I pick up when I have trouble sleeping or when I’m sick. I bought the posthumously-released partial book a year or so ago; I was a bit disappointed and have not re-read it. But the others are always there for me.

While my book club-issued desk calendar does note DNA’s birthday, today I had it drawn to my attention by Garrison Keillor’s Writer's Almanac, at o-dark-hundred this morning. I subbed in an elementary school in the far west end today. I signed in at the shiny new school at 6:58 a.m. At last, I found the dedicated, professional school staff. They serve the children of the (mostly) expensive neighborhoods. From the lunch room volunteers who wear aprons full of plastic forks, ketchup packets, and napkins so kids don’t run around looking for these forgotten items; to the janitors quietly sweeping up every dropped fry before it gets stepped on; to what I saw (as a floating teachers’ aide) of the teaching styles – I was impressed.

The classrooms in the post modern building seemed enormous, and are supported by all kinds of special little rooms for a speech teacher, an English as a second language instructor, and the like. Classrooms have wall of built in coat racks, cubbies, and a sink across the back of the room. The counters had a bright confetti design, making me think of those sliced soaps. The entry way had a clinic and display cases on the left, and a glass walled office on the right. The big panes were held together by metal (or miracle plastic?) strips in a way that suggested a greenhouse or the Crystal Palace. The ducts in the hall were painted bright purpley blue.

I have to admit that two “developmentally delayed” boys who were my charges for the morning kept me so busy I couldn’t take in the art room, downstairs. I think it had an arc of windows overlooking playgrounds and woods. I know it had a high ceiling, cool racks for storing partial projects, and what seemed like tons of storage space.

I wish the school well. It took only eight years for Robious Elementary, with its once exciting and cutting edge open plan, pizza hut roof line, orange carpets, media center, and activities room to be overcrowded and out of date. We fourth graders used the activities room as our classroom.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

It’s the Fear, Stupid

I saw Bowling for Columbine at the Byrd last night. Since it was Saturday, we got to enjoy a few numbers by Bob Gulledge on the Mighty Wurlitzer, first.

I had been missing Michael Moore, and not known it. He does the things that need to be done, that I might have conceived of doing, but am way too shy and lazy to carry out. And in this episode, he seems to bring about a real change: K-Mart will, in fact, phase out the selling of ammunition. He achieves this as part of a bigger mission to find out why so many people in the US die because of guns.

A leading answer turns out to be “because we live in a culture of fear.” Though I had not been able to perceive the bigger pattern and meaning as well as Moore, I have known for a number of years that we are a fear-mongering culture. I first had an inkling around 19, when a camp director mentioned weather-report-generated calls to camp. Concerned families called to say “channel 12 said there were dangerous thunderstorms there last night, is little Susie okay?” Or, “the news says it’s going to be dangerously hot today: what are you going to do about it?” As I took on more and more responsibility, I took more and more of those calls myself. The Weather Channel and internet had combined with improvements in forecasting to create a situation in which most people had ready access to scary-sounding data. But wait. Is it the data that’s scary, or is it the way news people use pictures and charts and graphs and numbers to tell you about the heat index and how you should under no circumstances leave your air-conditioned home that alarms people? Reporting scares them (and makes them call camp to demand that their daughter be kept in A/C all day), not numbers. Though I don’t recall a weather clip, Moore provides lots of other American news clips (and at least one salesman) that depict the growing alarmist culture. He contrasts our local news with a few Canadian clips, including the memorable graphic: Breaking News! New Speed Bumps.

I like his movie making style. He cuts old news footage of violent world situations the US set up or got involved in, with movies, “South Park,” interviews, and that trademark walk into the corporate (K-Mart) headquarters to demand something apparently outrageous of the CEO. Even imagining the divestment of bullets as in the works, I have to give the chain store credit for letting Moore’s appearance in their lobby with two Columbine shooting-injured boys appear to be an immediate cause.

Perhaps that success will make it possible for the filmmaker to do more of his important work.

Capital City weather: sunny and low 60s.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Why are children at a local elementary school learning a social studies lesson from a 1964 book on Robert E. Lee?

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Before I Forget Again:

On Monday, I went with my friend Molly (who always knows about cool events) to hear Sarah Vowell speak at Randolp-Macon College. Her recent piece, from her newest book, on being a civics geek and "partly cloudy patriot" on This American Life had me laughing and smiling knowingly. So did her remarks at the college up the road. The Q&A session opened with "Have you been asked to guest host for Letterman yet?" which set us off at a great pace. To the dutiful "how did you get on This American Life?" Vowell told about being acquainted with Ira Glass and telling him a story he thought was funny. "By accident," was the gist; she never really planned her career the way one is supposed to, she admitted. That's the kind of role model I like! Following a thread of what historic sites she saw while in Virginia ( The MOC ), we all encouraged her to get to Hollywood Cemetery next time, and shouted out names of who is buried there. Only in Richmond? You decide.

On Tuesday, I saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at the Byrd. I picked up a flyer about the fund raising campaign in celebration of its 75th anniversary year. For a $500.00 donation, you can get your name on a plaque on a seat. I guess you should click on the Foundation e-mail address on their web site and ask for more details if you have the spare cash.

Yesterday, I substituted in the clinic at a middle school. Things operate about like the Pill Box at camp, so I had no trouble. One difference dismayed me a little. They do not keep standing over the counter meds like tylenol: if you have a headache (or cramps) tough it out. On the one hand, as the part-time clinic assist and I discussed, should kids learn to look for a magic solution to every butterfly in the tummy, every tired head? On the other hand, if the medicine is know to be safe and effective for people their age, why withhold it from a 6th grader with his face drawn with pain and a tiny tear on his cheek?

I also attended a strategic planning committee meeting at RPL and Maggi’s stitch-n-bitch, where the crowd remains devoted to, FYI.

Today, I am goofing off.
Capital City weather: 50ish and muggy; yesterday we hit 71 degrees.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Substitute Teaching, Round One

“You do know we’re a school for children with discipline problems, right?” asked the fresh-faced guidance counselor as we walked up the stairs to the classroom.

Um, no.

I met a bunch of kind teachers whose names I forgot immediately. Ms. Edwards looked over Ms. McIntire’s ransacked desk for a lesson plan, and did not find one. As the students arrived, she pulled a writing assignment on stereotyping out of the book. It could not have interested the students less.

Because of my casual teaching style, I don’t mind a degree of rumble, I don’t mind being ignored – but these eighth graders went much further down that road than I had been before. They played music on their IMacs, looked at the internet, brushed each other’s hair, picked on each other, and baited me with personal questions. All at once. I went from desk to desk to desk. I felt frustrated not because the kids couldn’t or wouldn’t sit still, but because I couldn’t keep them talking about the good ideas they do have in their heads. I also felt frustrated because I knew I’d be passing on rowdy students to Ms. Edwards, who assured me that after we swapped kids, I’d have the “better” ones.

The “better” kids clearly talked to the morning class, because they were out of hand from moment one. A Mr. Handsome (seriously) got them more or less in hand.

I wish someone had explained the “trips” to me. Several kids came to "my" classroom "on trip" during my break. They seemed to be “time out” trips, to a neighboring class, which sounds like a consequence I could have used. But when, and how?

At the end of the day, the staff seemed surprised that I “still had a smile” and wondered if I would come back. (Please, the people I worked for and with for the last seven years toughened me up.) Well, sure, if you’ll have me; if I didn’t let them run too wild. I can only get better, now that I know the lay of the land.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

A bit of flotsam from a converation with Rita the other day. We're both squished penny fans: Squished Penny Museum | Home
Capital City weather: 50-something and a good bit of sun. At the Byrd: Harry Potter and Bowling for Columbine

I did some antiquing today. I saw a scruffy penguin ice bucket for 15; a Philco radio integrated into a streamlined end table (overstripped & refinnished) for 125, I think; and lots of examples of dishes like those I'm trying to sell. I bought a self-published tree guide book, put together by Richmond Girl Scouts in 1968 (four bucks, from the overpriced guy at the flea market on Belt Blvd.). Compared to internet sources, Russell Wright goes cheap in Richmond, and so I should go back for an $8 American Modern soup bowl. Other sites for dinnerware I learned about in a collectors book that came in the mail this week: Retrospective Modern Design, edish, and

Yippee! An episode of Futurama. See ya.