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Friday, April 27, 2012

I never know if anyone ever reads these posts, and it has been almost two years since I've written one, but they tell me I will go into Internet limbo if I don't, so here we are: I need a serious attitude adjustment about my job. This year has been stressful for a lot of reasons: no contract, large classes with some very challenging students, first time teaching a particular class in six years, and seemingly never-ending testing. Or maybe I am just hitting a wall. I've been doing this job for 12 years and I find myself counting the days until the end of the year like I haven't done in a long time. More than that, I'm starting to do the math and trying to figure out when I can retire comfortably, if ever. I've always loved the WORK but often found the JOB less than satisfying. This year, the WORK has been tougher on me. I love to teach, but the idea that I have to care more than some of these kids whether they make it or not is exhausting. Maybe a little time off will help.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reflecting on World Cup, Wimbledon, and sports in general

One of the jobs I sandwiched between my teaching gigs was sportswriting and editing. To understand just what that meant to me at the time, you'd have to know that my dream job as I approached graduation from college was to be Sports Information Director at the University of Delaware. I had done stat work for the college radio station in both football and basketball, and I thought being the SID would be as close to perfect as I could get. But those jobs were and are scarce, and I found myself teaching - coaching lacrosse satisfied my sports hunger during those first years. When I found myself sitting around at home, waiting for my first child to be born, the opportunity arose to become a sports writer for a small local weekly and my ten-plus years as a sports journalist began. I schlepped my kids to countless games and learned to ask intelligent questions about soccer, cross-country, and wrestling, as well as gaining more knowledge of my beloved field hockey, lacrosse, football, basketball, baseball, and track and field. For a while, I even subscribed to The Sporting News.

As my kids grew, we were a full-bore sports family. I stood at countless soccer, lacrosse, and baseball games, then later at cross country and track meets. I love to watch people who love to play and get a thrill out of "my" teams winning. I've been a huge Phillies fan for over 30 years and find myself looking forward to every Olympics, winter and summer, for the pageantry as well as the competition.

And I really get the World Cup, having been in the UK the last time it was played. I was excited that the American team qualified and really enjoyed watching them play. But I have to confess that I was actually kind of glad that Ghana defeated them, not because there is anything inherently unlikeable about the American squad or its coach, but because it means so much more to other countries. It's not like the 1980 ice hockey squad - a bunch of amateur college kids playing against the Soviet machine; most (if not all) of the U.S. soccer team players are pros and many play in Europe. It reminds me a little of the basketball Dream Team - I never really liked that whole concept, frankly. And I am SO sick of American fans behaving so badly in international events. I really hate the constant chants of "U.S.A! U.S.A.!" whenever any American is competing in any sport. Seriously, folks, you had NOTHING to do with the little gymnast or water polo player accomplishing anything.

Also, my son-in-law has a soft spot for Ghana, having spent some time there. And Ofebia Quist-Arcton, an NPR reporter who is a Ghanaian and usually is covering much more serious events, was delightfully excited when she reported on the victory and what it meant to her country.

We Americans do American football, baseball, and basketball pretty damn well - we can enjoy soccer without feeling like we have to be a world power in that, too.

Is it wrong to love Wimbledon primarily for upsets? I somehow feel that it puts me in league with people who go to car races and are disappointed if no one crashes. I love it when the big names are pushed to the edge (Roger Federer) or occasionally defeated by a relative unknown (Venus Williams). And that marathon match was one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen. I remember watching the fortnight back in the Evert-Navratilova, Connors-McEnroe days and hearing Chris Evert talking about the ladies in the locker room drawing baths for the players. I particularly love the announcers: "Ad-VAHN-tage, Miss Nav rah ti LOV ah." And I thought it was funny that the married women were, at least early in my memory, called by their husband's names: I believe Chris was known on the scoreboard during her first marriage as "Mrs. J. Lloyd."

Finally, I am shocked, SHOCKED to hear that Lenny Dykstra took steroids. Really, weren't we all just so impressed how he developed those muscles through off-season hard work? I'm wondering what other names are going to trickle out now. Hate to think the whole decade of the 90s will carry the stain.

Oh, and it turns out there is a huge gambling scandal in sumo wrestling. Just saying.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The rite of passage

Yes, the Senior Prom.

Like no other event, even more than graduation, the prom is the defining moment of transition for our seniors. They begin thinking about it, it seems, in January; they start shopping for dresses (often on the computers in my classroom) in February. The drama of who will sit at which table or share which limo seems to dominate the emotional landscape for most of April and May. Finally, the first Friday after Memorial Day arrives, and the cars, limos, and party buses pull up to the catering facility.

Along with my friend and partner, Karen, I have my assigned spot every year - checking in those with ticket numbers 1-200. This is my chance to see the girls teeter in on impossibly high heels, zipped, buttoned, or laced into dresses of a dizzying array of colors and patterns, trailed by young men who range from confident to bewildered to downright terrified in their rented finery. The attendees line up for photos (there is a LOT of tugging on tops of strapless dresses), then wander into the oh-so elegantly decorated to find their tables. The background music is lively but not so loud as to interfere with conversation and everyone is behaving like ladies and gentlemen - I saw any number of young men gallantly pulling out chairs for and offering their jackets to their shivering bare-shouldered dates. The salad is served, and then each table take its turn at going to the buffet. Once dinner is over, the lights go down, the volume of the music goes up and the kids step on to the dance floor.

Now, I've watched Dancing with the Stars and any number of music videos, but this is NOT what happens at prom (I've learned to eliminate the definite article in front of the word). First, the kids are jammed onto the floor with barely enough room between them to turn around, so that the really good dancers don't have space to make their moves. In fact, I watch one boy do some impressive dancing IN THE LOBBY because it is the only place he has the space to cut loose. Second, the partners do not face each other; they go for long stretches of time without ever seeing their dates' faces. Beyond these descriptions, I have nothing to say - I'm hoping it isn't my advanced age that makes me avert my eyes and retreat to the chaperons' spot on the perimeter. Let someone else wade through the throng and be the decency police.

We left before the wonderful ice cream sundae/bananas foster dessert buffet on the patio - the second shift of adults had rolled in - and drove home listening to the Phillies and Flyers games, pondering yet another version of our students' crossover into post-high school almost-adulthood. I remember my own prom, so many years ago, and how grown up I felt; I remember helping my daughter shop for her dresses and the photo shoot at my parents' house for her senior prom. It's a lot of planning and emotional investment for just one night, but for most of the kids it will be indelibly etched in their memories - for better or worse. Next week is exam week, then, in ten days, graduation, and it will all be a blur. But, years from now, when they look at photos, they will recognize that kid, straddling the divide between childhood and adulthood, and smile, remembering how important it was at the time and just how it felt to be that elegant, if only for one night.

Friday, May 14, 2010

So who exactly is stealing jobs?

I confess: I don't know a whole lot about the impact of illegal immigration, especially in border states. I tend to side with those who feel outrage at the law recently enacted in Arizona, mostly because it conjures up the specter of Nazis checking the papers of Jews or the Peri-Urban police scrutinizing the passbooks of blacks in South Africa. But I do sympathize with those who decry the tax revenues being spent on social services for illegals, and those whose jobs have been lost because illegals will work for much less. So, am I being hypocritical or spineless?

This got me thinking - I guess it was triggered also by an Arlen Specter political ad in which he refers to jobs lost because of illegal Chinese practices - what is the difference between a company hiring Mexicans or Salvadorans to pick lettuce (which, by the way, the farmers would have a LOT of trouble finding Americans to do) and one that outsources its customer service or billing functions (which, frankly, a lot of Americans would LOVE to do) to India or Singapore or China? If I own stock in a company that outsources high tech jobs to other countries and that means I earn higher dividends, am I contributing to this problem? Is my desire for my investment to do well a major cause of lost tech jobs? And when I buy an electronic item at a cheap price because it was built in a Third World country, how is that different from buying cheap lettuce or tomatoes picked by illegal Latin American farmworkers?

As I drive through different neighborhoods near me, I see many people having yard work done, and it seems to me that most of those workers are immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries. I wonder how many of them are legal, but, more to the point, I wonder if they really have usurped jobs from native-born Americans. I teach around 115 high school seniors and I'm willing to bet that not more than five of them would deign to do such work. If, magically, all illegals disappeared from the United States tomorrow, most wealthy people's lawns would remain unmowed, a lot of hotel rooms would remain untended, and lettuce would rot in the field.

I wasn't a fan of President George Bush, but his "guest worker" plan was a good one. Decriminalize the process so that people can freely come into the country to work and return to their families when they aren't working without worrying that they won't be able to come back. Make employers keep good records and collect and pay taxes for these folks so that they are making some contribution to the U.S. economy as they use roads or schools or whatever. And allow those who demonstrate law-abiding behavior to become citizens without jumping through hoops.

I'd like to ask parents of newly minted college graduates, especially those who majored in technology fields, how they feel when they call customer service for their cable company or insurance carrier or credit card companies and realize that their calls are being handled by people who have essentially robbed their children of a job. Where is a hue and cry against Bank of America or Comcast or Verizon?

Let's just be consistent in our outrage.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How far do I go?

So I'm contemplating selling my house - again - and I'm doing an inventory of what needs to be done to make it more marketable. I mean, it seems sweet and homey and light and airy to ME, but when I look at it with the eyes of a potential buyer, not so much. So I make a list and have to decide which of the most glaring imperfections to deal with.

Bad looking roof? Done and done, along with new shutters and gutters. Now I'm getting the things to go IN the gutters to keep the leaves (and, I'm hoping next year's snow) from clogging them.

Funky looking drywall buckle in the dining room? Had the guy who came in to fix the ice dam damage to fix that and I'll paint it as soon as it's totally dry.

Missing floorboard in Paige's/Lea's/Susanna's room? Next on the list - the guy who has been doing the work on my back room will do that, along with replacing two pieces of siding that blew off.

Big giant tree and big giant tree limb hanging over the back of the house? Scheduled sometime in the next couple of weeks - will be a big expense but has to be done.

Painting of family room ceiling, living room ceiling, and kitchen? Working on that - shouldn't be too bad if I can get the guy to come out. I'm rethinking whether I should do a tile back splash in the kitchen - I remember my mom did one in their house - it was NOT cheap - and when the new owners recently put it back on the market, I could see that they had replaced the lovely tile mural with the little mosaic tiles. So maybe just paint it really nicely and keep it neutral.

Now, for the pricier things (beyond the roof and tree cutting):

Making the yard actually look like a lawn? Ah, it is SO bad that I don't know WHAT it will take to make it actually grow grass. I've deluded myself that I haven't put weed killer or fertilizer on it because I'm uber-green, but the truth is that I'm lazy and also thought I would not be here by now.

Re-doing the upstairs bathroom? While it will be pricey and it IS still functional, I'm convinced that the 1970 vintage avocado green tile (with the oh-so-lovely gold fishes on some of them) is a deal-killer. I may not recoup all that I have to pay to get it done in a nice, neutral motif, but at least it won't scare people off.

Refinishing all the hardwood floors? I have no idea what this would cost, but I'm guessing it might make a difference. Maybe just the back sun room.

This is a very difficult place I'm in, both literally and figuratively. I enjoy walking in the door in the evening and seeing the things I love in a familiar place. But I need to get a smaller place that is all mine, without the grass, leaves, and snow to deal with. And I know that staying here, as easy as that might be, is keeping me in that figurative place I need to get out of. As long as I'm here, I will think of myself as one of four people who lived here happily for a long time; the truth is that I am the only one who still lives here. I remember how sad I was when my parents moved out of their house almost nine years ago - sadder, probably, than they were. I guess maybe part of my reluctance at making a move is that it means acknowledging that I am no longer that young wife and mother who moved in.

But the STUFF that is here that isn't all mine is paralyzing me. The books alone are staggering - I'm tempted to set up a couple of tables along the sidewalk and offering them up to anyone who wants them. Then there are rugs and other stuff in the attic - including a couple of bikes and a sandbox. Every time I set out to throw stuff out, I end up just moving it around.

Yep, gotta keep making lists. But at the top of that list will be "Do some stuff on the damn list!"

Friday, March 19, 2010

May I just say YAY!!!!!

It's still officially winter - at least until tomorrow - but I have windows open and the deck furniture out. I even have the umbrella up! I spent a few minutes picking up sticks, but the state of my yard is, frankly, appalling and distressing, so I just decided to sit on the deck and prop my feet up. This is just plain glorious.

I know that we'll have some rotten, cool, windy weather before it turns lovely for good. But a bit of sunshine, a little spring training baseball on the radio or TV, and swinging a golf club for the first time in over a year give me hope.

I need to so some research into Seasonal Affective Disorder, because I feel I may be a victim. The funk I get in every winter was especially bad this year, so I sure would love to be able to put a name to it, other than "I feel listless and sad and overall icky." I don't expect a miracle cure, but it would be nice to know that there are ways to at least alleviate some of the blue funk.

I know I've probably mentioned this before, but I often think about primitive man and how relieved they must have been every spring to see green things pop up and feel the warmth of the sun. I am pretty sure I know JUST how they felt.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Never thought I say it, but I really hope it DOESN'T snow.

My adult son posted something like this on Facebook: how, in his whole life, anytime snow was predicted, there was a little thrill to it, and no matter what it interfered with, there was something wonderful about watching it fall; this time (the third big snow predicted) he didn't have one iota of that thrill, he just wanted it NOT to snow. (I hope I paraphrased accurately, Eric.) I think he was wondering if that made him officially old.

I know just what he meant. I don't think, honestly, that my traditionally excited feelings about snow are completely linked to my job as a teacher. When it snowed that weekend in December, I thought it was kind of beautiful and got me in the Christmas mood, but I was glad it WAS on a weekend, although I had to admit that the late opening on Monday was pretty sweet. The first big snow last month, also on a weekend, was daunting, and I was very glad that my nice neighbor was able to help me get out, but I still was impressed by the power of nature and the loveliness of the snow covering my not-so-great lawn. The next big snow that paralyzed us pretty much did me in, plus my nice neighbor's snowblower went belly-up and I had to shovel the whole driveway by myself, except that another nice neighbor helped me with the mountain that the plow created at the street end. All I could do for those six days was fervently wish I was elsewhere! And, of course, there was the ice damming in my raingutters that had water pouring into my sunroom. But that's another topic for another day.

Now, we had been warned that another storm was in the offing; I had coincidentally put in for two personal days, and I jumped in my car on Wednesday afternoon and headed south for long weekend. While I went through about ten minutes of whiteout conditions on Route 81 Wednesday evening, it was pretty uneventful. At home, however, everyone was braced for Round 3, and, while it didn't amount to much, it did close schools for two more days and I think even the kids (seniors excepted, since they don't have to make up days) were sick of it. The good part was that I didn't have to sacrifice my personal days, although we now have two more days to make up, and, by the time I got home, the sun (and my nice neighbor) has cleared the driveway.

Now it's melting and my not-so-great lawn is peeking through and looks worse than ever - it's essentially a sea of mud - but I have NO longing for snow to cover its flaws. The roof is clear; the gutters are clear; I have an almost completely clear driveway. By this time next week, I expect most of the snow to be gone, even the huge pile on the deck.

I suppose by December I will be longing nostalgically for snow, but I'm pretty sure I won't want more than just a nice little aesthetic, purifying coating. And I really hope I'm somewhere where someone ELSE will be doing all the shoveling and worrying about it!