Sunday, November 29, 2009

'tis of thee

This is going to sound really weird, but as it's been on my mind so much lately, it must be said: I am so grateful to be an American.

In South Africa, they often speak of ubuntu, which in essence means, "I am because you are, and you are because of me; we could not exist without one another."

That is how I am feeling about my country right now. It may sound ridiculous, but for the first time in my life, I see that America is not simply a place filled with people - it is those people. And we have the power to define our country, to build it and shape it any way we want. In doing so, we also define and create ourselves. It doesn't get much more powerful than that.

It's sort of like a church - yes, there's a building we call "church," but the real church is made up of the hearts and minds that gather together in that building.

You could've told me all this in the past, and I probably would've agreed (heck, there has to be an Obama speech somewhere with a similar message). But understanding with your head is one thing; to have something truly resonate in your heart is quite another.

I've been pretty sick these past few days, tucked up in bed sipping veggie broth, so I'm having trouble articulating exactly what I'm feeling. At the same time, it's such an intense feeling that I don't think I could ever fully put it into words. It's gratitude, it's love. It's idealism and activism and passion and hope. It's everything I think America can be. And, in her more transcendent moments, everything America already is.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


OK, I confess.

Yesterday I was a big ol', I-come-from-the-U-S-of-A-with-camera-and-wallet-in-hand tourist.

I know. I can't believe it, either.

I went to Poland, where I did nothing but buy pottery, photograph castles from the back of a minivan, and eat pierogies. I didn't meet lots of interesting locals, experience lesser-known parts of the land, or learn any of the language (although, c'mon, "Polska" is an easy one).

And you know what?

It was still fun. I had a great time. And I bought some very cool stuff you can't get anywhere else, from the people who actually make it.

Giving my Polish cheese lady and baking dish a bath.

Maybe sometimes the do-it-like-it's-Disney version of travel is all right? Maybe? It's definitely not my first choice, but so goes life. (Plus, I have the advantage of being able to disguise myself by speaking German. Then people usually think I'm from Holland or France because of my accent. Which, when the only other Americans that tend to travel to the town in Poland you are visiting happen to be loud, demanding military wives decked out in stars and stripes, is one BIG advantage. In my opinion, anyway.)

Nothing like a bowl of coffee in the morning! I filled this baby up twice today - glorious.

Here's to a successful (and restful) weekend. Cheers.

Friday, November 13, 2009

my favorite poems - part III: witty irreverence

And now for the last installment, a poem that makes me laugh as I shake my head and contemplate its brilliance every time I hear it. It's the kind of poem that leaves me hungry for more more more. (Note to writers, authors, and the like: Craft a poem like this, and you will instanly convince me to buy everything you've ever written. Just saying.)

Diane Burns

How do you do?
No, I am not Chinese.
No, not Spanish.
No, I am American Indi-uh, Native American.

No, not from India.
No, not Apache.
No, not Navajo.
No, not Sioux.
No, we are not extinct.
Yes, Indian.

So, that's where you got those high cheekbones.
Your great grandmother, huh?
An Indian Princess, huh?
Hair down to there?
Let me guess. Cherokee?

Oh, so you've had an Indian friend?
That close?

Oh, so you've had an Indian lover?
That tight?

Oh, so you've had an Indian servant?
That much?

Yeah, it was awful what you guys did to us.
It's real decent of you to apologize.
No, I don't know where you can get peyote.
No, I don't know where you can get Navajo rugs real cheap.
No, I didn't make this. I bought it at Bloomingdales.

Thank you. I like your hair too.
I don't know if anyone knows whether or not Cher is really Indian.
No, I didn't make it rain tonight.

Yeah. Uh-huh. Spirituality.
Uh-huh. Yeah. Spirituality. Uh-huh. Mother
Earth. Yeah. Uh'huh. Uh-huh. Spirituality.

No, I didn't major in archery.
Yeah, a lot of us drink too much.
Some of us can't drink enough.
This ain't no stoic look.
This is my face.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

my favorite poems - part II: soul-shaker

The first time I ever read this poem (while sitting alone on my parents' screened-in porch one summer), I promptly burst into tears, then could not stop crying. I have some inkling as to why, but never you mind. For whatever reason, this is my security blanket poem, the one that's been folded, unfolded, and refolded so many times the paper is falling apart. It's my desert island poem - as in, if I were abandonded on a desert island and could only have one poem with me, it would likely be (perhaps quite irrationally) this one.

Walt Whitman

Allons! The road is before us!
It is safe – I have tried it – my own feet have tried it well – be not detain'd!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the

        shelf unopen'd!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! Let the money remain unearn'd!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! Let the lawyer plead in the
        court, and the judge expound the law.

Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

my favorite poems - part I: the bigger picture

Elizabeth Barrette

Hope is
folding paper cranes
even when your hands get cramped
and your eyes tired,
working past blisters and
paper cuts,
simply because something inside you
insists on
opening its wings.


Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


I am so tired of dealing with smallness. Of mind, of heart, of self. These poems help release me from that tight, sinking feeling I get when I'm unable to avoid absorbing the negativity and narrowness of others. They help me wrap it up and say, "I don't want this, you can have it back." After reading these poems, I am settled, and I remember that I can choose to paint my life with a broader, more joyful brush.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

oh, and another thing

Two Three things, really.

Besides updating my blog for the first time in weeks and going through piles of school stuff, I can't stop watching these videos. I feel like I should've known about this already. (It may or may not be a discovery I made on this blog after Googling "how to survive student teaching.")

This wise use of my time turned up a few more gems, namely:

I think I'm going to change "Leaving Brooklyn" to "Student Teaching:" and turn it into a giant, folding poster to put over my head whilst I slump exhaustedly at my desk and cry.

I also really want this clock I found at It's particularly apt considering the week ahead: We're starting a unit on time in maths.

On the bright side, I'm easing into it by teaching the children some choice songs, such as the "Months of the Year 'Macarena'" and theme from Happy Days. Nothing like horrible earworms for the sake of education! Hmm, that gives me an idea: "Earworms for Ed," a website devoted to finding classroom-worthy songs on the internet...
Or not.

And now it's time for actual work. And yes, I do mean practicing the Macarena.

l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l  l

I did not actually practice the Macarena. (Seeing as I spent hours doing that when it first came out many moons ago and have been at countless weddings since, there's really no need). Instead I made this:

We've just started "Can Buildings Speak?" in Art, and this past week in Literacy the kids labeled pictures of famous buildings and created glossaries of building terms. I've taken those words, plus some of our other discussion vocabulary and created a Wordle. Highly recommend making your own. Very good stuff.

perfectionism is anything but perfect

Sorry I haven't been writing. The lack of blog activity probably has something to do with the fact that I spend all my time working on school stuff, and the moments in between wondering, How am I EVER going to do this? Or at least do it even moderately well.

I should probably stop comparing myself to Rafe Esquith.

It's hard to quit a lifelong habit, so ingrained that it frequently threatens to define who I am. I mean being a perfectionist, of course, which is probably why my expectations are too high. Seeing as this is starting to seriously inhibit my teaching, it's a problem. Oddly enough, the more I aim for perfection, the crappier life seems to become.

Mostly I just need some babies to cuddle, I think. If I can't get someone else to hold me, I may as well do the holding. (For now, I've decided to replace hugs with the Hamam.) (Though there's really no substitute for baby-cuddling.) (I can be such a girl sometimes.)

At least there's a little laughter in the classroom. It comes suddenly at times, in between reminders that, "You only have five minutes, and I WILL be marking this, so you'd better do less talking and more writing."

We begin lessons by zipping our lips, opening our ears, and putting our thinking caps on. The other day, a little boy just sitting down to start his maths worksheet said, "Oh wait, I don't have my thinking cap on!" and proceeded to mime pulling a hat over his head. I laughed to myself at that one, which eased some of the tightness building up around my heart, as well as the knot that has made itself a permanent fixture in my stomach.

Oy and vey.

I try to remind myself that I already have a job lined up. (In case you didn't get the memo, I'll be starting a short-term post at BBS in January as a Year 3 Classroom Teacher.) But that's kind of stupid, because it generally makes me feel worse: "OH NO! They hired someone completely inept, and they'll probably change their minds at any minute!"

Also, I do not want to live my entire life telling myself, "I can do anything short term, I can do anything short term," over and over again. Multiple years of "getting through" have robbed that coping mechanism of its power.

Maybe I'll replace it with a line from Ani: "I've got myself a new mantra/It says: Don't forget to have a good time!"

Speaking of good times, ask me to recreate Miss K's Magic Maths Shop for you the next time we're together. Explaining it here won't do the hilarity justice. What a ridiculous person I am. Those poor children don't know what's hit them.


Pictures soon, cross my heart. I just have to take some first. . . . xx