There is indisputable evidence that the earth is heating up, glaciers are melting, oceans are rising and the weather is becoming more severe. If you plan to live for at least a few more decades and you are not concerned about this, it might time to start.

Not to get all apocolyptic on you, but Sloan and I went to hear Granger Morgan speak before the Focus the Nation webcast. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, too many people were interested in finding out how we can prevent the destruction of our species, many other species and our planet. The webcast crashed. Fortunately, Granger Morgan is sufficiently entertaining and informative to listen to for a while longer, so he entertained some additional questions, in lieu of the webcast. I do urge you to follow the link to Focus the Nation and see what they have to say.

Here's the breakdown. We need to reduce CO2 emissions by 2% a year until 2050. Energy production is a big part of this. And this basically means that we are burning too much dirty coal. Riding your bike to work is not enough. I would suggest attending some teach-ins tomorrow, and possibly wearing more hemp. But seriously, the gears in my tiny brain are turning on this issue, and I foresee much googling and attending of free CMU lectures in my future. Stay tuned.

The Beauty Academy of Kabul

Tonight I watched the Beauty Academy of Kabul, about a group of hairdressers who travel to Afghanistan to start a beauty school. I have two main observations about this film. First of all, the images of Afghanistan are stunning to my American eyes. Kabul looks kind of like a bombed out version of Phoenix. Dusty and blindingly sunny; lovely, rugged mountains in the distance. It's beautiful, but it looks so bad (and this was filmed in 2003) and torn up, just covered in piles of rubble, with everybody going about their business as if nothing is wrong, that it makes me want to do something about the situation immediately. If I learned anything from volunteering in Louisiana last year, it was that it's really hard to look at destruction day in and day out and stay psychologically intact. So my heart really goes out to a nation where bombs have been falling for, quite literally, the span of my entire life.

The second observation I had was in the difference in attitude in the women. Now, some of the hairdressers in the movie had some ideas about how they were going to liberate the women of Afghanistan by teaching them to wear makeup, drive cars, not listen to their husbands all the time, etc. But sometimes I wish that I had to go home and ask my husband permission before getting myself into another cock-a-mainy situation. Certainly I cannot condone honor killings or other misguided practices of radical Islam. However, I am not sure that the so-called independence that American women have is true liberation. What I see when I look around America is a bunch of over-worked, frazzled women trying to raise up babies and earn money and look ten years younger. We think because we can do it all, we HAVE to do it all. Is liberation really working for us?

But this movie is about Afghan women. And it is definitely worth watching.


Logan's Run (and a Birthday Party)

Happy 551st birthday to my dear old mum. Actually, she's 54, but we have kind of a strange birthday candle tradition in my family, as in, we never buy new candles. Used candles of birthdays of yesteryear are saved in a shoe box, to be pulled out and reused whenever another birthday rolls around. Unfortunately, we don't have a complete set, so sometimes we are forced to construct equations, such as 55-1 (=54). To celebrate, M and I cooked a dinner and we had a few guests over, including my Uncle Joe and Cousin Lisa. Pete and Meg were also in attendance. My dad made his famous vegan chocolate cake, and I made stuffed shells.

We recently discoverd, Dreaming Ant, where we can rent any number of off-beat, alternative, gay, foreign or independent DVDs. M's selection for tonight was Logan's Run I have difficulty choosing a favorite part of this movie to blog about. Is it the colorful, sexy tunics? Is it the shiny, boxy robot that tries to freeze Logan in a block of ice? Is it when Logan beats his old pal, Francis, to death with an American flag in the vine-covered, cat-infested shell of the Capitol Building? Much of the set bears a curious resemblance to my old workplace, sort of half shopping mall, half 1970s office building. But it turns out, the movie was filmed in Dallas and Houston, in places such as the First National Bank and the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Anyway, I especially love the part where they find the Outside World, and upon seeing the sun, gasp, "what is it? whatever it is, it's warm!" I imagine a similar scene being recreated all across Pittsburgh at the end of this long, cold winter.

Fourth River

I stayed up way past my bedtime last night to go and see my brother's band play at the Thunderbird in Lawrenceville. I was really impressed with how well they played together, and how much fun they seemed to be having with it. If they could manage a gig that would start sometime before 11 pm, I would go and see them again. My favorite songs were 801 and the cover of Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult. Oh yes.


Pittsburgh in January


Teaching and Learning

Oh my goodness. The winter weather sure does have all the students in a tizzy, or at least that is the hypothesis of some of the teachers. Today, while attempting to teach a lesson on consonant blends (I know, I know), I had one student leave the room, another student begin to cry uncontrollably because I had a water bottle and she wanted one, a third student growl at me while he slowly ripped up his papers, while two others sat serenely at their seats, holding a SLANT* position, because they wanted to earn tokens, which is my latest attempt at taming their wild behavior.

The thing is, they are very good if I give them worksheets and they can sit quietly and do their own work. Voices at a Level 0, which is to say, complete silence. Everybody seems to enjoy the first ten minutes of class, which I always start off this way. But worksheets, and non-collaborative work, are frowned upon at my school and in education circles in general. I seem to remember spending a fair amount of time engaged in activities such as these during my own elementary days, but education is notorious for blindly following the latest trend, wherever it leads us. I am tired of trying to be creative, or making group activities. I just want them to learn SOMETHING, and frankly, filling out worksheets is great experience for a successful middle-class future. Be honest, grownups, most of you spend a fair amount of time at work filling out worksheets. We just call them paperwork, or forms.

All human behavior is a reaction to environment, so I can't blame these students entirely for their behavior. There must be something in my actions or words that provokes them to act these ways.

Plan of action on my part includes:
(1.) Chill out.
Remain calm at all costs. Do not take it personally. React to all outrageous acts of destruction and wildness with the serene air of a stately queen. Ignore all attempts to win my attention through negative behavior. Walk continuously and unpredictably around the classroom to control minor behavior problems with proximity. Avoid negative statements (stop doing that, don't touch this). Model politeness.

(2.) Bribe them.
Some kids need a little jumpstart to invest them in school and learning. We can call this extrinsic rewards, or bribery. I am making a new behavior chart, I have a treasure chest full of trinkets, and they can earn lunch with me and other teachers (oddly, students dig this).

(3.) Make a plan for removing and/or punishing the most disruptive students. I am kind of clueless as to how to make this work. I guess I will google it.

My mom is supposed to come and visit on Monday and I will be grateful for the extra hands and the observation. I want somebody who knows me and will be honest to give me some advice. Plus, I think reading books with my mom would be a great reward for my most emotionally needy students - my mother is a great nurturer.

*SLANT is a school-wide term that means sit up straight with your feet on the floor and your hands folded, and be ready to listen. But nobody can tell me exactly what SLANT stands for, so I feel a little silly using it. But it kind of works. At least for students not in the midst of a temper tantrum.



Downtown Pittsburgh is notoriously dead after dark and on the weekends, which is why we were surprised to find ourselves in a traffic jam last Sunday. As we inched through the cultural district, the reason was revealed. Menopause...the Musical? We navigated carefully, as the streets were filled with post-menopausal women streaming in from as far away as Ohio. I'm guessing that you pretty much have to have gone through menopause, before it's funny enough to view in musical format.


More Visits to the Burgh

Last weekend, Thom and Madeline came to visit Pittsburgh. This being Madeline's first visit to our fine city, we found ourselves once again on the Duquesne Incline, on another frigid, winter day. The views of the skyline can't be beat though. We then went to the Andy Warhol Museum, where we saw a truly bizarre Ron Mueck exhibit, containing lots of giant, and some miniature, extremely life-like sculptures of humans. I would actually consider this a must-see, if you are willing to spend $15 on art. Especially for the tiny man in the row boat, and the giant, slimy newborn human, complete with umbilical cord. The cold weather made some of my preferred tourist activities (ice skating, hiking in Schenley Park) undesirable, so we spent a good part of the day in various bars, watching football. A very Pittsburgh thing to do, nonetheless.


Outta Town Visitors

I could say a lot more about Golden Boy and Flick's visit to the Burgh last month, but a picture's worth a thousand words. Nothing like karaoke to liven up a Saturday night. Wish I had photos of the bowling that occurred later. The funniest thing was that after a VERY long night, we returned to La Casita and set up the old projector screen(relatives of mine will remember it as belonging to my grandfather) and watched a slide show of AT photos. I know most people are sort of tired of hearing us talk about it, so it was good to reminisce with people who will never grow tired of talking about it.


Bike Trip Photos

As promised here are a few photos of our recent bike trip to Connelsville. Here I am getting ready to leave our apartment. At this point, I have no idea how much my behind is going to hurt the next day. I am not much of a gear head, so most of my gear is icky, old hiking gear, so I don't really look as fashionable as many do on a bicycle.

Here is another photo of us once we got onto the bike trail. The thirteen or so miles to McKeesport were the most difficult of the trip. I got a flat tire on the Rankin Bridge, traffic is no picnic, and it was kind of cold. The day warmed up as we went, though, and once we got on the smooth, packed limestone surface of the trail, with warm sunshine on our face, it was quite pleasant. This trail also has a TON of places to stop, including toilets, on the side of the trail.


Bike Trip

M and I discovered this weekend that we are within very easy reach of some lovely weekend getaways....and we don't even have to get in our car. This past weekend we biked out to Connelsville, PA, on the Youghiogheny River Trail, which is part of the Great Allegheny Passage. We rented a cabin at the River's Edge Campground, and the trip was about 55 miles each way, door to door. About 42 miles of that was on the bike path, which is flat, packed limestone and pretty scenic. The rest was on city streets between our place in Bloomfield and McKeesport, where the trail starts.

Highlights of the trip include the cabin, which turned out to be heated, with a hot shower and bathtub, full kitchen and lovely view of the river, as well as some wildlife along the trail - lots of ducks and geese, turkeys, a beautiful red-headed woodpecker, and some unidentified birds that had striking yellow patches on the undersides of their wings, but were otherwise rather drab in color.

I am a little sore from all that biking, and we were terribly muddy on the way back since it rained and we don't have fenders on our bikes. Nonetheless, we consider it a successful trip and plan to again real soon.


I Did A Bad, Bad Thing

How did I end up here...a teacher who doesn't believe in school?

Let me clarify. I love to read. I believe in teaching reading. I believe in teaching. I believe in learning.

But I think school might just be a very bad idea.

Today, while I was lining up my students to get on the bus, one of my cutest, youngest, and least conformed students came trotting over to the line, a joyful bounce in his step.

Go back and walk, I said.

He went back...and skipped back to the line, joyful bounce still intact.

Go back and walk, I told him again. He looked sheepish.

He went back and started walking. And then the joyful bounce came back. He looked at me.

I can't, he said.

Yes you can, I told him. He took a few more steps. It looked painful. He took a few more. The joyful bounce returned.

I looked at him. His face crinkled up in the way that only a frustrated kindergartener's can.

Go back and walk.

He went back.

And walked to the line, bounce free. He sat down and played with his hat. I took roll and put them on the bus.

Another day, another dollar. Another free spirit squashed, thanks in part to me.