30 January 2008

I really love my kids...

...even when they alternately make me giggle maniacally and make me want to cry.

The terribly sad story first: The kids had filled up the "mystery prize" cube jar and got a fun day today-- I give them a snack, and we play games like Apples to Apples and Othello and they get to free explore with the math manipulatives-- things I wish we could do more often but there is always so damn much work to do. Anyway, I didn't feel like making cookies or anything last night, but I had a box of Clementines that I had bought and I figured that with these kids, fruit is such a treat, so I might as well hand them out. The kids loved them and they just beamed-- "oooh, oranges!" They knew exactly what to do with them-- get a piece of paper towel to put the peel on and to catch any juice squirts, and watch out for the seeds, and wash your hands afterwards 'cause they'll be sticky.

Except one of my boys didn't know what to do. He just looked at his Clementine as if I had just handed him a completely foreign object. He held it out to me-- no words, there were no words, but his eyes were huge question marks. I nodded, understanding that he just had no idea what to do. I showed him how to break open the skin and peel it off. Once he had done that, he brought it to me again. "Do I eat the white stuff?" he asked. I explained that it was a matter of preference, and that some people really liked it. He turned the peeled orange about in his hands, and then said, "How do I open it?" He meant how should he place his thumbs to split the fruit into halves and then into sections.

I could understand if maybe this boy was new to this country, or lived in a part of the country where fruit was scarce, but no... this boy is a born-and-bred white-bread American, living well below the poverty line. This is a society where it makes more sense to spend $6 on a week's worth of 99-cent bags of chips than it does to by a box of Clementines. Yes, he has had oranges before, but they've all been served at lunch (free lunch, I might add, which means he comes from a certain financial bracket) where they have already been quartered or peeled for him. He had never had the pleasure-- no, the luxury-- to peel an orange for himself. Just holding the fruit in his hands was strange to him.

If this was a prize for him, something strange and novel, then I must make it more of our classroom routine to have treats such as these. If something as simple as an orange makes more of an impression on a child than any No Child Left Behind implementation, then something in our schools is very, very wrong.

And now, to cheer you up from that insane injustice, I present the silly story: I have another boy who loves his little toys, little gadgets and gizmos, little-boy things, but sometimes they get too disruptive and he'd rather play with them than do his work. The first time I had to take one away he sulked for an hour-- and this is not normally a kiddo who sulks. (Of course I told him he could have it after class-- but he would rather stim with it than focus on me and that's what was making him upset.) Anyway, yesterday it happened again-- he had a little plastic doodad and it kept appearing and work wasn't getting done, and he was getting that I'd-rather-perseverate-on-this-thing-than-do-anything-else look in his eye again, so I took it away and put it on the back table where he could look at it but not play with it. He's one of those kids that I have to play Captain Obvious with because he can't always express his feelings, so when I noticed his work was still not getting done I said, "Wow, I see you have your hands over your ears and your eyes are really wide. That is telling me that you are worried about something and it's not your math."

"But I want my toy back," he sniffled.

I explained again that the work was not getting done, and he could have the toy after class, but now wasn't the time to play with it. He covered up his ears again and stared at the table, wishing hard I would just go away.

I needed a new tactic to get this kiddo out of his funk. I just shook my head and said (completely deadpan), "Well, that leaves me no choice but to torment you with really bad jokes until you smile again."

The kid turned beet red, and I thought oh no, now I've embarrassed him and made everything worse, but his face burst into this huge smile and he just started giggling. Not just giggling-- all out guffawing! His expression was like, "Dear God, no-- not the bad jokes! Anything but those!"

So of course I dipped into my wide repertoire of pirate jokes (Why couldn't the little kid watch the pirate movie? 'Cause it was rated AAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!) and this kid almost went into convulsions laughing so hard. In a few minutes he wiped the tears from his eyes (so did the rest of the class-- we haven't laughed like that in a long time) and I said, "are you better now?" and he said "yep" and did twenty minutes of solid work, and the toy was no longer an issue.

I guess I need to memorize a bunch of horridly terrible jokes for when this happens again!

27 January 2008

The Broken Farmhouse

So yesterday I had to go out to get some groceries, and on the way I decided to stop at one of my favorite abandoned houses to take some pictures.

I have no idea who once lived here, but it's on this beautiful little piece of land in the middle of no where-- there are some modern houses up and down this road, and some homes that may have been farmhouses but now are just family places. I think I will call this place the "Broken Farmhouse." When I was little my Nana and Grampie lived in a house in the country, and when you looked out one of the back windows you could see a little brown house far off on the other side of one of the fields. The roof was sorta caving in and the windows were all smashed, and we called it the Broken House. I was fascinated by it, even at such a young age (I was maybe seven or eight, perhaps even younger). Who once lived there? Why did they let their house rot and splinter? Why didn't somebody take care of it? Eventually people bought the property and the building was renovated, but we still sometimes called it the Broken House.

This building here has many of the same qualities as the Broken House-- it's in the country, there are fields and brush piles around, and even a few old apple trees. It's on this quiet road, all by its lonesome, just sitting amongst the skeletal trees. It's a fair distance from the nearest neighbor, but close enough so you could still borrow a cup of sugar.

How old is this house? There's evidence of it once having electricity, and you can see the TV antennas on the roof.

That front door certainly isn't contemporary, however...

I decided to take a walk around to the back. Other people had been on the property too-- there were snowmobile tracks and boot prints in the snow, and I really didn't think anyone would mind if I just took a quick trip around the house to take pictures (I wouldn't go in the house without permission, though I am tempted)...

This was a surprise-- the backside of the house is red!

Now this is where I started noticing something really strange. Remember those snowmobile tracks and boot prints? Well, I thought that I could see trails all around the backside of the property, all around the house. Look at this old tree and (what I presume was once a) compost bin:

And all around the backyard:

Weird. And the trails all seemed to converge under this apple tree:

It wasn't until I scrutinized the trails and found this isolated footprint that I figured out who had made these trails:

The broken farmhouse had become a deer convention center! Cool! They seem to hang out by the tree a lot. I wonder if they were eating the fallen apples and the bark. Since the back door is wide open I wonder if they ever wander inside:

It's just interesting, how houses become abandoned and nature starts reclaiming it. I think this sort of thing is so very beautiful-- sad, but beautiful.

26 January 2008

Sicky Saturday

Two of my kids have had strep this past week, and now I'm feeling blaaaaaaaaah. I've gotten immune to most bugs the kids bring to school, but every once in a while they bring in a doozy. I hate feeling sick. Every time I get on the computer Julian holds my hand, kitty-style. I think he knows I'm not feeling so hot.

He looks a little like a concerned doctor in this pose, taking my pulse:

So, you know how the kitties rarely sleep together? Once in a great while they snuggle in the basket in the window, and they lick each other's heads, and it's generally a show of dominance (after a while the "loser" hops out of the basket--and surprisingly it's not always Zeek). Today I found the two of them in the basket. Julian was either hugging Zeek or strangling her-- you decide:

A close-up:

Zeek's all like... "um, a little help here?"

They didn't seem to mind when I perched crappy sock #2 on them:

It got a precursory sniff from Zeek...

...and then a few hearty noms. Mmmm, yummy needles. Nom nom nom.

And yes, the second sock is coming out just as crappy as the first one. I was really careful with the pattern this time, but I still messed up in a few places. The heel on this one is better though-- I just think I miscounted and/or was horribly inattentive last time. I don't think the crappiness of the knitting will affect the wearabilty of the sock in any way-- it just upsets me that I've made about 10 pairs of socks since September for other people and they've all come out great, and then I go to make a pair for myself and they come out like poo.

25 January 2008

Loooooooong week (and it was only four days!)

So today we had the last of the NWEA's, which is a computer test all students at my school take twice a year except for the special ed kids who take it three times (to more accurately measure progress). We can't read the reading test to the kids (kinda defeats the purpose of a reading test) but we can read the math test. Now, one of my kiddos who can be quite volatile at times-- he's one of those kids that you do all you can to keep him from getting frustrated because he it is inevitable that he will blow his top. He also doesn't like to be touched or talked to when he is concentrating--it just makes him lose it even faster. Well, it was best that an adult sit right next to him to quickly diffuse any frustration or anger he had just in case, and I decided to volunteer. Some of the questions he didn't need any help on, and others he just needed me to read one word to him (like "perimeter" or "estimate"), and still others he needed me to read every single word. Well, he really took his time and even attempted (and succeeded at!) some of the harder multiplication and division problems. When the test finally was over, this kid took my hand and flashed me this enormous grin, and proceeded to dance down the hall, happily skipping and bouncing. He would occasionally come back and give me a huge bear hug and walk with me, still hugging me, and then he would skip around a few times. I have never seen him so proud of himself. It was weird. It reminded me, strangely, of this book when Fletcher bursts out of the egg and he and Alexandra go skipping off, all covered in mud splatters.

So after school my best friend Cassady and I went to the House of Pizza and hung out--she loves the socks, by the way, but is afraid to wear them any more because she's worn them about seven times and is worried about how to wash them! Awww. (Hint: machine washable in cold water, lay flat to dry.) She is plodding through another school year, trying to make it through 'til June. My Mum calls her "the singing teacher" but to tell you the truth she hasn't done a lot of singing lately, and that makes me sad. I'm thinking she needs more than a pair of electric-blue knee-high socks to make her feel better.

But anyway, that's another story, and I need to go to bed, so I'll leave you with this random cat picture:

24 January 2008


Go to Google.

Type in "French Military Victories."

Click "I'm Feeling Lucky".

Walk away from the computer. Don't look back.

22 January 2008

Every Tao and Zen you need some bunny photos!

I realized today that I have 45 zillion pictures of Julian and Zeek but none of the bunnies, so today after school I cleaned their cages in preparation of a photo shoot.

As I have mentioned before, Zen is the inquisitive bunny, always sticking her snoot into things and being mischievous and goofy.

Whenever I get near her cage she stands near the door in preparation for making her escape.

And you have to dig that sweet little mustache she has.

She is strong--a big bundle of attitude. If my hand is in the way while I am feeding her, she just muscles her way past it. Raaar! That rabbit's DYNAMITE!!

Tao, meanwhile, is my little bashful bunny. She is very shy and cautious. This is her "lumpples" position-- she is a humble, benign little rock. With ears.

but those ears... oh, those ears. They are the softest things ever.

...and from this angle you can sort of see her little "Muppet" hairdo. She didn't want to look right at the camera, but you can see a tiny bit of that fluff of hair between her ears.

So those are my bunny babies! They are roughly five months old now and every day they show me another facet of their personalities. They are so sweet... and to answer the inevitable question, the kitties are alternately fascinated and utterly terrified of these creatures-- are they a threat? Are they food? Who knows...

21 January 2008

Cherry Blossom sock #1 done!

So this first sock is done. It came out like crap. The yarn is thinner than I like, the divisions between the needles show, I goofed on a needle and K1 P1-ed instead of P1 K1-ing but didn't notice it until about six rounds later, the pattern is lost in the color scheme, the heel turn isn't quite symmetrical, the cuff ribbing is shoddy, and to top it all off I made it too big. But the good news is I tried a new pattern and I think I like it. I couldn't quite "see" the pattern when I was making it, but after taking a bazillion photos in a bazillion different angles and lighting conditions, I think I see diamonds.

I have made the tough decision to start the second sock instead of starting over. If the second sock ends up being the same degree of crappiness, I will call it good. If a miracle happens and it comes out a million times better than the first one, then I will just have to do the first one again.

It's been the only truly crappy sock that I have made in a long time.

20 January 2008


So this weekend I went to my friend E's birthday party. Her mom had invited me without telling her, so it was going to be a real surprise. I found the road no problem, but when I drove in there was a whole bunch of people milling about in the little mini-parking lot at the top of the road. Turns out the road was too icy and steep for "normal" cars to go down it, so when a pick-up arrived we all got into it-- three little girls and a lady in the back seat, and me and this other lady in the front. Nobody introduced themselves so I had no idea who they were or if I was going to the right place! :) But in the bouncy, slippery ride we told each other who we were-- the girls were E's friends from school and the ladies were both E's aunts. Me, I was just a friend from camp.

The house itself didn't look like much from the outside-- the snow and the ice masked what it looked like, and really all I saw was a garage and some detritus out front... but inside it was warm, full of giggles and little girls and a very close family. E's mom covered E's eyes and motioned me to come over, and it was a huge surprise-- E had no idea!!

So for a while we played with the karaoke machine-- or rather the kids did and I just watched, as I am not the bestest performer in the world. E and her mom have beautiful voices, and they both got waaaaaaaaaaay too into it.

E's mom even sang a special birthday song for E, which made E cry. Her mom's goal was to embarrass E three times during her party, and that was one of them.

After the karaoke, there was cake. The girls had made the 12 cake the night before, with ice cream and tons of chocolate.

Afterwards the girls went swimming in the indoor pool...

...and I hung out with Baby J.

Baby J is just about a year old, and she loves to share--which can end up being pretty disgusting. Somebody gave her a piece of bologna, and she kept trying to feed it to me--when I resisted, she smeared it on my face and on my shirt and down my shirt and I think she got some in my hair. It has been the most intimate I have been with a piece of meat in nearly five years of vegetarianism. When I finally could put her down she played a game of slobber-the-bologna with the dog. Bleeeeccchhhhh!

For the rest of the party, while the girls were swimming, I hung out with E's grandmother Nahnie, and found she was once a teacher in the Washington D.C. area and facing some of the same challenges that I do now-- abject poverty, class distinctions, teaching tolerance and value especially with those in special ed., etc. Nahnie's pretty cool and I am glad I got to know her a little.

So that was how I spent my Saturday-- I had such a marvelous time. Happy Birthday, E!

14 January 2008

Just to clarify....

My father apparently needs a clear and direct explanation with small words so that he can understand.

My friend Bri is pregnant. That means she will be having one of


not one of these:

Got it? Good.

However, for the first few months it felt vaguely hamster-ish and even looked like a hamster on the ultrasound, but the doctors have assured her that she is having a human baby, not a small rodent. However, it is fun to tease her that she called her baby boy a hamster. It is what intelligent people call a joke. Right now she says that it feels like a


but I assure you she is not having one of those either.

[shakes head, wonders how he could have possibly raised two children]

[I try to imagine the conversation that must have taken place that led Mum to relay this information to me... and I bonk my head repeatedly against the nearest wall...]

13 January 2008

A Winter Weekend

So this weekend was really warm and Spring-like, which just means we are going to get hammered the next few months. Still, it's pretty to look at.

I love the little camp/fishing shack on the right of this picture (click on it to embiggeren). Every time I drive by I just fall in love with it.

But, not everything around here is quite so lovely. I went on some errands this weekend and look what somebody had parked in a nearby parking lot:

I could just imagine one of the rednecks around here saying, "Uhhh, dude, where's my house?"

So I spent a teensy bit of the Christmas money not on fuel. Bad me. But I was tired of having these beautiful hanks of yarn and no real way to wind them, so I bought myself a swift. It was the cheapest one they had, and certainly not the flashiest, but it's so much easier to use this thing than to wind yarn around two back-to-back chairs.

This yarn is Interlacements' Reds Plus which Mum got me for Christmas. Yes, it's different shades of crimson and maroon, but also has little bits of purple and charcoal in it.

But after winding it all up I realized I was more in the mood for something less dramatic. Usually I'm not in the mood for something lacy or pink, but there's something about this yarn that I love... maybe it's the fact that it is incredibly soft, and I'm trying out a new pattern, and the colors seem to be swirling interestingly... I think I like it.