Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Note to self, if I ever become a teacher: Do not fill the classroom with dorky kitten and puppy slogan posters. Do have a permanent place to post date, goals, homework.

The automated system said the assignment would be middle school social studies: imagine my surprise when I noted “Math 7 & 8” on the door. Luckily, Mr. W. left fabulous directions and plans – and I understood the lesson on angles.

First curve ball: Cristopher is new in the class and does not speak English.
Second curve ball: a huge chorus of teen voices saying “we’ve never seen this stuff before.”
Third ball: Hey, they’re hittable from here on out! The other two classes get the lessons and are easily kept in order with the Don’t Mess With Me tone of voice I retained from the first class.

I had an interesting conversation with Stephen and his crowd about the movies Holes (which I want to see). Some of its premises immediately reminded me of God’s Little Acre (Erskine Caldwell).

The consignment shop on Lakeside Avenue has great 1950s and 60s metal porch furniture at a good price. Also, a pair of blonde end table ($95 for both).

While waiting for the Library strategic planning committee meeting, I read Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold. Baker is one of my top five favorite authors. In the book (so far), he asserts that the “newspapers disintegrate because of the acid content” argument so many libraries use as a reason to buy themselves more storage space has resulted in the loss of beautiful, full-color original documents and actual information since microfilms were often poorly shot and do degrade. And, it's not entirely true.

Two thoughts from Baker:
1) “Reading a paper is not the only way to understand the lost past life of a city, but no other way will enclose you so completely within on time-stratum’s universe of miscellaneous possibility.” (p. 39)
As I researched Sharon Indian School, I also kept an eye on the world news the West Point, Va., paper reported; what movies the DAW showed and how often they changed; what tone editorials took; what Capital City stores advertised; and of course all the youth group activities.

2) “Since the seventies, image-ergonomists have known of a kind of motion sickness that afflicts some microfilm users which seems to be caused by the difficulty of visually tracking the creep and lurch of passing text scapes.” (p. 40)
Thank goodness I am not alone in this weakness! An over-heated the room contributes, too.

I can't believe my nice neighbors are moving.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

"Athletes on a losing streak look for something to take it out on."
Thanks to CB for this.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Kevin Millwood, who pitched here in Capital City for the RBraves, once upon a time, pitched a no hitter today!

I planted impatiens and hosta, then attended a charming garden party at the Valentine Museum. I do like mint juleps.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Did you play any of those early role-playing-type computer games? My high school friend Minda had a wizard-themed one. Through text and simple line drawings of passages, rooms, stairs, and doorways we would navigate characters through a maze and conquer goblins, or whatever.

Navigating the halls of the middle school near the mall reminds me of our early struggles to get oriented in that game. There are no windows. The vistas all seem as alike as amber lines on a tiny black screen. “I know I’ve seen these stairs before, but is that good or bad? Am I headed towards the teachers’ lounge or that dead end that I keep choosing?”

The building wants to communicate to me, with its halls tiled different colors, and letters and numbers prominently painted above the tile. Yet somehow the muted tones and identical cross halls all read the same to me.

Speaking of reading, a learned friend loaned me The Gospel According to The Simpsons. I believe I read an excerpt or summary on the web. Author Mark Pinsky argues that we see the Simpson family in church and using their faith to get through problems much, much more often than pretty much any other TV characters. As I read, I have been surprised and delighted to find that even when I know the line, the scene that must be coming, I chuckle at old favorites, like pork-and-mayo laden sandwich at Izzy’s Deli named for Krsuty. Take a look at it sometime.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Some sort of cosmic justice was served today, as I helped three classes of sixth graders sort out fractions. Find the lowest common denominator. Which one is greater? Convert this mixed number to a fraction. Simply this and show your work. No, I didn’t get it at twelve years old, I didn’t keep practicing, I didn’t take math in college, and here – at long last – it has come back to haunt me.

I could just about keep up with the first two classes by falling back on the strategy of having one or two key students “explain to the class” bits I didn’t remember. The third block, though, had all this stuff about estimating that I didn’t get and that no student grasped well enough to show the class – indeed, the kids shouted down Andrew, who did give it a try.

Today, maple tree seeds, those tiny natural helicopters, litter my front porch more thickly than the pollen of the previous few days.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Happy Holidays
It's National TV-Turn Off Week and, of course, Happy Earth Day.

Back to School
Today I taught at my first grade alma mater. I wonder if Mrs. Haslett's class was in Room 4? With the tiny, new windows and replaced floors, I wasn't hit with an immediate sense of familitarity when I first walked in the building. But in a quiet moment at the end of the day, the short hall near the office and a certain flight of stairs spoke to me.

Looking back across the past two months, I realize that an amazing number of sick and home-with-sick child teachers manage to leave a good-to-great lesson plan. Today, however, I was working from the phone notes another of the fifth grade teachers jotted down when Mr. Whitehead called.

For math, his had a quick exercise in congruent, similar, and symmetrical figures. That group also had music and recess in the morning. Then I led a science lesson on plant reproduction, four times, as the classes rotated. I had the students read out loud, calling on the next student when they felt done. It struck me how eager they all were to read, even the kids who turned out not to be strong readers, and even the ones who would have to read (surely they saw them coming?) loaded words like stamen, pistil, or ovule. Not a flinch, not a giggle. As an aside while they tackled the comprehension activities, one girl knowingly asked the teacher’s aide (who came in with some special ed students), “don’t we have ovaries, Ms. Wilkinson?” One boy might have had a certain tone in his voice, but he had a certain attitude all day. When, as I shared these reflections with the other fifth grade teachers (three delightful, sharp, and motivated women) over lunch, they noted that students had had some sex ed earlier in the year, so they knew. I can’t explain it; I know middle schoolers would have caused a scene.

Capital City Weather: mostly sunny, seventy, and pollen-y.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Lest I continue to offend Henrico County public schools graduate, and my inside source at the Virginia Historical Society, let me share his take on the Westhampton:

The Times-Disgrace quotes Dick Westerling, Sr. VP of Marketing for Regal Entertainment Group, as saying "his is a viable location for us, and we've made some capital expenditures to upgrade the facility-- new carpeting, new concession stand. The cash flow is positive...." and that although Westhampton is not typical of Regal's theatres, they do have "some complexes with a 'lower screen count, that are successful and profitable.' "

My guess is that they're looking to sell the place to someone like the 501c(3) that now operates the Byrd, or a for-profit that's willing to accept a poorer-than-average return on their investment in return for the satisfaction of operating an art-movie-house. Alternately, they may just want to boost awareness of their theatre, without having to pay for advertising. Either way, I don't see them closing the Westhampton in the immediate future. Huzzah!

“Analyzing Hamlet, Act I”

Why is the ghost of Old Hamlet denied eternal rest?
What is “rotten in the state of Denmark”?
What advice does Polonius give Laertes?

Ah, yes, the Monday after spring break started with a little Hamlet with “advanced” seventh graders. Actually, I started the day with two blocks of “advanced” sixth graders. While half the class spent time with the guidance counselor discovering careers, the rest of us watched a video about cartoonist Ub Iwerks. After sitting through it once, I felt the need to add a pre-show vocabulary list and quickie history lesson on Saturday kids’ matinees. (Word list: animation, draftsmanship, synchronization, shorts, main feature, talkie.) Yes, we got to watch some of “Steamboat Willie.”

Once I had the video down pat, I browsed the paragraphs the students wrote about how they felt about the careers the activity must have suggested will suit them. A boy plans to be a neurosurgeon so he can have the satisfaction of saving lives and making money. A girl who loves little kids wants to teach K-2, even though teachers don’t make as much money as they should. A girl thought voice over artist sounded cool, because she could read and act without being seen, but she’s not sure she’d like the long hours.

As ever, I have The Simpsons on. Remind me why I didn’t call this “Dear Log” – Lisa’s diary-entry opener? “Floor Pie” was taken (and is not used).

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Speaking of old theaters, I went to hear some bands play at the Hippodrome on Friday night. It's a little "transitional," a little shabby, but still a wonderful space. The parts of the ceiling not covered by acoustic tile boast lovely painted curlicues.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

My source at the Valentine Museum says that channel 8 news reported that the Westhampton will stay open, but that Style is sticking by its story (link below).
This depresses me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

For the record: I don't Love Raymond.

Today, I filled the dull spot after The Simpsons (Lisa picks football winners, followed by Choo-choo-choose Me) by searching for something in my desk, which led to throwing out some old bits and pieces, and to the discovery of a photo I need to mail to someone.

Now, Jeopardy's on; Alex says: 70% of cell phone calls begin with the question "where are you?" I'm surprised it's that low.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

This afternoon's long line at the post office seemed to have had only two tax-mailers in it. A skinny woman in expensive clothes mailed a large envelope that she didn't want insured or to have the recipeint sign for it, but she did want "proof it was mailed." A woman with a very old fashioned hair-do shipped about six packages to a member of the armed forces. The clerk helping her had to pause to corret the mistake the next clerk made trying to ring up a money order on a credit card. A man in a sweatshirt returned something to Land's End. The man in line behind me showed his impatience by shifting his weight, sighing loudly, and drumming his fingers on that skinny bar that so many p.o.s have, now, around which the line wraps, and on which people lean to write addresses. I stopped leaning when he started drumming.

(I started writing this because of the obligatory early-news April 15 segment from the Brook Road P.O. Late-breaking news: the (second-rate) post office in Mechanicsville has been evacuated by HAZMAT teams "becasue of a bad smell." Come on.)

Monday, April 14, 2003

Over a cup of tea in an apartment overlooking Monroe Park yesterday, I learned that Monumental Church (see April 6) may become the theater for a new theater company.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Random question: Is it possible that This End Up furniture existed only to furnish public school teachers’ lounges?

Ways Substitute Teaching is Like Temping:
You get lost going to strange parts of the suburbs.

Sometimes, the work is more than you can handle: too many phone lines; too many classes and a note that says “I don’t get lunch on Thursdays.”

Sometimes, there’s too little work: “Oh, we thought copying and assembling these training manuals would take two days; you can, um, help Ms. Smith file. Or, “You just need to act as scribe for this student.” And the four hours at mid-day he has keyboarding, lunch, and gym.

You never know what each day will bring.

You get to eat lunch with people you'd never have over to dinner.

Because Roy did not need my help, I spent time in the school library. The assistant librarian was on duty by herself. She accepted my offer to shelve some books. Middle school libraries cover a wide range of reading levels: R. L. Stein to Steinbeck. I also enjoyed the strange bedfellows in Biography: Elvis – Charley Pride – Colin Powell, for example. The recent renovation to the 1951 school won the library a soaring ceiling (and two mezzanine meeting rooms), smart blond bookshelves and carrels, some of the latter fitted with candy-colored Apple computers.

At the end of the day, I supervised two boys finishing posters on the U.S. Cabinet. They researched the cabinet members on the internet with their iBooks, then wrote captions and printed out pictures to glue stick to the posterboard. They seemed mildly interested in the fact that Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao went to the same college that I did, until they realized they’d never heard of it. (Bonus trivia: the first woman cabinet member, Frances Perkins, MHC 1902, served as Secretary of Labor during whose administration?)

Speaking of Mount Holyoke, Su forwarded this link to me: - Restricting Women's Military Role Hurts All (Newsday is the daily paper for Long Island.)

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Questions from today’s lesson on “Virginia Pathways”:

The point where the level of the land changes and the rivers become waterfalls is called the ______________.

The largest natural harbor in America is ____________________.

The first roads were paid for by __________________.

Virginia voted for a “_______ as you ________” policy for funding new roads.

I-64 goes from east to west from N_________, through R____________, and C____________.

Today, I started with rowdy fifth graders, and got better and better behaved ones as the day progressed. We did some math, social studies, and reading. Actually, I did social studies three times: the Virginia Pathways video. They also had recess, P.E., and lunch. And snacks. I don’t remember snacking in school.

How do teachers know when to pause and say, "apologize for hitting him" and when to move on with the lesson?

Their school is out by the mall that I still think of as The New Mall, and looks to have been built in the 1950s, with those brick-shaped wall tiles, asphalt tile floors, tilt-out windows, and nice honey-colored wood trim. Ms. White's classroom has a long closet with hooks for coats, and, next to it, a built in bookcase that once had glass doors (I'm guessing from the hinges) and still has doors below that fasten with wonderful, industrial brass latches. Their mascot is a penguin, which seemed right on this damp, 40 degree day.

Answers: Fall Line, Hampton Roads, local governments, pay as you go, Norfolk – Richmond – Charlottesville.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Ms. Clark, the lead teacher for today’s special ed. middle schoolers, is a pistol. Her playfulness with the class did not detract from her ability to be taken seriously. I don’t mean that the kids sat still and listened, though. They seemed to be “special ed.” based on the inability to sit still and follow directions. Some, though, clearly could not read well or do the work. As an aide, I mostly went over worksheet type activities so Ms. Clark could tackle the paperwork that comes with this class, and do some one-on-one work with students.

Today the first group of kids worked on choosing the correct article, “an” or “a”; read aloud, then answered questions about the three states of matter (solid, liquid, gas); and practiced subtraction. The students at the end of the day took a quiz on the periodic table. It reminded me that perhaps the most import thing we learn to do in school is listen and follow the directions. Nearly half of the students did not round to the nearest whole number for one part of the quiz, despite Ms. Clark’s having reviewed how to do it at least twice, and leaving an example on the overhead projector.

On the one hand, I get paid less as an instructional assistant; on the other hand, it's often easier, and meeting a cool person like Ms. Clark is a perk.

Capital City weather: back to cold, -- upper 40s? – and rainy. At the Byrd: Catch Me If You Can and the latest Star Trek.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

In early April 1865, President Abraham Lincoln clambered out of a boat at the Confederate Navy Yard, near Rocketts Landing, and walked up to the White House of the Confederacy to meet his army of occupation. The Valentine Museum marked the anniversary with “Lincoln’s Richmond Walk,” a mapped out walking tour with over a dozen stopping points featuring various interpreters to talk about the city and the events at the end of the war.

I spent a couple of hours at The Market, the new grocery store in Shockoe Bottom, passing out free water, maps, and Museum information. To some people, we looked like a water bake sale, with our folding tables by the sidewalk, and they'd stop their cars and ask how much the water cost.

Then, since it’s a beautiful day, I drove up to Court End and walked to a few sites. Orange Alert barred our entry to the Capitol, but sitting on the portico steps looking at the dogwood was no hardship. The volunteer talked about the evacuation fire and Lincoln's unscripted speech from the Washington monument.

At the Egyptian Building, an older white woman described the people and events of the neighborhood better than I had ever heard before. She told of the 1811 theater fire: 72 (I think) dead, and many of their remains still on site. Funds were raised for a memorial, and since so much money came from Episcopalians, she said, the building became Monumental Church. Almost two hundred years ago, people felt it would be okay to build again on the site of sudden and great loss of life, and indeed built something both somber (a memorial “crypt” to the dead is in the entry) and useful. Because the guide had much else to tell us, we didn’t learn how citizens felt about the design, or whether family of the deceased who were, say, Baptist or Jewish were mad about the persuasion of the church.

Probably contemporary citizens found it challenging to make these decisions, but it seems they did okay, since history geeks and people who come out to educational events still have a chance to remember those lost. Now I feel surer that New York will be able to work out something satisfactory for the World Trade Center.

After spending quality time downtown, I drove out to the antique mall to check our space. April in Richmond cancels out the gloom of 40 degree, rainy days in the winter. The median dogwoods are gone, but those in the yards of Monument Avenue have begun blooming, pink and white. A few early azaleas are opening, too.

I need to sweep the pollen accumulation off the porch, though.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Ham and Plaques

Ah, classic Simpsons reruns have returned to channel 35. We had been getting way too many repeats of the same six episodes from the past three years.

A reliable fan site identifies one of tonight's as Homer Defined, but does not highlight my favorite line. In this ep, Homer becomes Employee of the Month thanks to eeny-meeny-miney-mo-ing his way to the right button for averting a meltdown. The next day, Mr. Burns calls upon Homer to deliver a motivational speech at Shelbyville's power plant (owned by the voice of John Lovitz). Homer tries to weasel out of it, but Burns chides him that "Employee of the Month isn't all ham and plaques you know." I love that. I use it all the time and folks look at me funny.

The Friends of Richmond Public Library book sale drew the usual cast of characters, today: voracious readers on a budget, used book dealers, students, and retired folks. About 55 people came in when we threw open the doors at about 9:58 a.m. Tomorrow we'll get more families, and school teachers looking to fill their additional reading shelves.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Play Ball!

The R-Braves open today in Charlotte; we have to wait a week for the home opener, though. Can we please have a day like today (sunny and 80)?

Other good reading for opening week: Rickwood Field - America's Oldest Ballpark ; industrial leagues ; and a book review in Style: Home of the Braves.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

My Little Town

After work on Monday, I wanted a walk, so I strolled to the mailbox by Retreat Hospital and dropped in a few things. A block or two from my destination, I realized it was getting colder, so I decided I'd better pop into Halcyon on the way home to get warm. The owner, was on duty (with her Scottie and another little terrier), and before I knew it, I had a smart 1960s white dress on hold, to wear in the Laurel Parade at reunion.

On the way back over yesterday, a man walking with his toddler girl and an older man gives me "hey baby," in a cool, not-quite-threatening voice. What the hell? I wore a biggish, frumpy sweater and sneakers. Don't talk to me like that just because I think it is proper to look at, nod to, the people I meet in the street. The "cultural differences" shadow looms. Maybe to him, my looking his way was an invitation; maybe he thinks "baby" is a correct thing to call women he doesn't know.

And cultural differences leads to the US's current entanglements. Why do we get to say “democracy for everyone”? Why do we have “In God We Trust” on our money, and then get to tell them no religious leaders in their government? I don’t trust in god, despite what my cash says. How do we know when to respect someone else’s culture and when to say, “yo, that’s too much?”

I read that UR will have a campus-wide question next year: “How do we know which questions to ask?” Cool.

All these thoughts slipped in and out of my brain quickly. The evening was too nice to contemplate if I should have done something other than ignore him. Yesterday evening was much warmer than Monday, and I enjoyed the 4 o’clock light on the old houses and the hyacinths and daffodils blooming. I liked walking over to Robinson Street to pick up a $22 dress to wear in May. The world is complicated, but all-in-all, not that bad.