19 May 2010

This is what texting was like before digital was invented...

Yup, it's another note. This particular little girl wasn't feeling very well so she slipped me this tiny note before coming to my room.

"I want to sleep in the Quiet Corner in your classroom," the note says, "I'm laying down."

...but on the back she makes an observation:

"I'm drooling on the table."

15 May 2010

If only the silver kitties were musical...

So I must say that I am digging Cheryl Wheeler's new album, Pointing At The Sun. Cheryl Wheeler is the celebrated creator of the Potato song, which is quite possibly the most ridiculous song ever written:

As expected, Cheryl has two polar opposites on the album: on one side, the sweet and profound and lyrical, and on the other, the utterly hysterical. One of my favorites of the former is a re-recording of Summer Fly, a quietly desperate song about relationships. Of the latter, well, I heard about this album from Mum, who said that the last three songs are about cats. Well, turns out they are about one cat, Cheryl's beloved Maine Coon named Penrod. Penrod himself even makes an appearance on the last song, even though he is... um... not entirely corporeal any more.

But before I explain what I mean by that, all throughout the month of April I was excited because Cheryl was going to come to Portland. I got Mum to get tickets for us, and we got to sit fairly close. As we were waiting for the show to start, a frumpy grey-haired lady in a grey t-shirt and sweatpants wandered through the crowd, and what was funny is that those "in the know" just sort of smiled at her and shook our heads. When the show began and she came on stage (her piano accompanist had been the opening act), she was dressed in the same t-shirt and sweatpants. She plugged in her guitar, looked out at the audience, then down at her clothes.

"Oh my god," she said, "What is wrong with me? I forgot to change into my concert pants!"

And then she shrugged and started playing. And that is soooooooooooo typical of her-- she is so amazingly funny-- she makes even tuning a guitar so hysterical you will pee your pants. Seriously. She's a nut-- absolutely brilliant, and absolutely insane. When I grow up I want to be just like her.

So anyway, this last song on the album, is all about Penrod's fifteenth birthday. However, when Cheryl went to record the song, Penrod had passed away at the ripe old age of nineteen.... and she had him cremated... and so when she went to record the song, she handed the drummer a baggie of "catash" (pronounced cah-TASH) and thus Penrod became his own percussion instrument. Behold:

I have to say that I came home from the concert with sore ribs from laughing so hard. If you have a chance to see her, go!

13 May 2010

Apparently I need to go shopping...

One of my little girls (the "polege" kid, for anyone who is keeping track) likes to give me little presents-- mostly little notes and drawings and things. She is one of those quiet kids who so very often blow you away with the odd but brilliant things they do...

So today she handed me this folded piece of paper, and apparently she had been working on it for quite some time, taking stock of all the things my classroom was lacking.... (Clickee to embiggeren-- you really have to see it big to enjoy all the subtle nuances of this note.)

Here's a translation:

Miss N.
Shopping List

lemon drops
cough drops
peanut butter
water bottles for kids

I keep reading the list and shaking my head. It all makes sense. Yes, I give the kids hard candy and gum (sugar free if I can find it) because many kids have a neurological need to chew and suck on things when they are concentrating (ever notice how certain kids have wet chewed-on t-shirt necks and sweatshirt strings, not to mention pencil erasers and anything else within reach??). The peanut butter and crackers-- well, I'm always going after the kids to eat high-protein and complex carbohydrate foods instead of junk food, so that makes sense. The water bottles I can understand too, as we have a sink in our room but no cups, and the kids are always asking me if they can get up and get a drink of water. And the Band-Aids? Well, most of my kids start spontaneously leaking at inopportune times, but especially after I say the dreaded words, "you need to start doing your work now..."

But the problem is I always seem to say, "yeah, I need to go shopping" or "I forgot to pick that stuff up at the store yesterday", and I never have any of these things in my room! So obviously, I needed a shopping list. Now I have one. I will have to remedy this problem as soon as I can, won't I? :)

Oh, P.S.-- I think the very next thing I will teach her is the proper use of apostrophes, or else she's going to go through life saying thing's like this and making every one of us teacher's out there cringe.

06 May 2010

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means...

So a lot of the kids in my classroom are, how should I put this... quite under-educated. They just aren't exposed to much, and so even the simplest concepts need a thorough explanation to help them understand about the world. You can't just say big-concept words like "peace" and "justice" or "equality" because the kids really don't have much prior knowledge to anchor these words to. I just don't think that many adults talk to them about these sorts of things (at their level, anyway) so the kids appear to be "ignorant", which is a harsh word, but their ignorance is built upon under-exposure to explanations about how the world works, rather than any sort of conscious decision by the kids.

I also try to (gently) bring up other points of view, or opinions, just to throw the kids a loop and see what they do. It's amazing seeing them try to wrap their minds around these sorts of things.

In my class, I have a policy that the kids can't draw (or pretend to use) any sort of weapon, especially guns. This can be a hard rule to enforce, especially around hunting season, but I do it to show the kids that not everyone thinks the same way or has the same opinion as them.

Today, a boy "accidentally" drew a gun on his folder, and I told him to erase it. "Oh yeah, I forgot," he said. "You don't like guns."

"No, I don't."

"And you don't like shooting and wars and stuff."

The boy then looked at me, and you could tell the wheels were going around in his head. "But... um, what if two armies agreed that they hated each other? Would you be okay with it if they fought each other?"

That's a good question-- I really didn't know how to answer him. However, before I could, another boy asked, "but what if people who weren't in the army didn't want them to fight? How could people stop them?"

That I could answer, in a way. I herded them over to the computer and looked up this picture:

"This is a picture from the Vietnam War," I told them. "Look at what the man in the middle is doing to the guns. Do you think that's a better use for guns than to shoot people?"

"Is he really putting flowers into the gun?"


"So it's like a plant-holder instead of a weapon?"

"Exactly. The man in the white sweater is a hippie-- an early hippie, but a hippie nonetheless."

"What's a hippie?"

"It's someone who was against the Vietnam War, and thought that peace would be better. They didn't agree with the war and often protested against it, but instead of protesting in a yelling and loud sort of way, they protested by doing gentle things, like putting flowers in guns." (I know this is a pretty sugar-coated and idealized way of describing what a hippie was, but for the sake of this conversation it would suffice. Besides, my kids are only in third and fourth grade and I didn't want to bring up anything that would cause me to get fired if the kids were to repeat it!)

So the kids digested this for a while, and pondered it.

Later in the day, I was going through some of the pictures on my computer (I was trying to look up something else), and the kids were watching me. I happened to come across this picture of my friend Steve-o:

And one of the kids yelled out, "Oh, oh, I know who that is! It's a hillbilly!"

"It's a what?" I asked, a little confused. Steve-o is the least hillbilliest of all the people I know!

"It's a hillbilly! You know! A person who puts flowers in guns!"

....well, at least they are sorta understand... :)

02 May 2010

Green stuff in my yard

So Spring came on as a bit of an ambush this year... it went from below freezing and grey to above 80 and humid in a matter of just a few weeks. I am waaaaaaaaaaaaay behind in my garden routine, but it doesn't look that bad. That's the nice thing about green growing things-- you can forget about them and they will forgive you for it (except the most spiteful fussy plants, but I tend to avoid those anyway).

It was the Harry Lauder Walking Stick plant's first winter here, and I was worried about him, since he looks so fragile. He had grown in Mum's backyard, and where Mum lives is much more mild than here. Here, he'd be buried under drifts of snow and frozen solid. I bundled him under burlap, but I was still afraid he wouldn't make it.... but I was wrong. I know it's a terrible photo, but check out all those green shoots!

In the big garden, there are daffodils in the middle, and behind them you can see pinks, creeping phlox and lots of hollyhocks-- all babies, but they are growing quickly. In the front there, I planted some rosebud impatiens today (I've never grown those before so who knows what will happen).

Here's the right side of the big garden-- the daffodils are in the middle, and the big mound of hollyhocks (which will be pink) in the back, and an entire bush of chives in the front. There's a tiny bit of thyme over there on the right border, but that's slowly being choked out by aggressively invasive weeds. I need to fix up the edges of this garden or else the grass and the creeping weeds will strangle everything in sight.

I haven't decided what to put in the middle there-- maybe more herbs or something.

Last week I bought some tulips for Ellen and Kate and I kept some for myself. I plunked them in this container by the end of the driveway. Plants that grow by bulb seem so foreign to me-- I know that's so silly, but they do. To me, plants are either bought from the nursery already growing or you can start them from seed. "Weird" methods of growing plants-- like bulbs and cuttings-- scare me somehow. However, since I love daffodils, I was able to get over my bulb paranoia a little bit. Tulips, though... well, they're an experiment. I have no idea if they will come up next year at all. They're pretty, though.

In the little raised bed the irises are taking over (which is great!!) and the daffodils are just bursting. In the middle there, you can see a little mound of what will be dahlias (freshly planted). On the left, you can see some sad little tulips that I planted last year.

Sad (but still triumphant) little tulip close-up:

In the front garden, we have (going clockwise, starting with that poky prickly plant in the corner): The incredibly cold-tolerant yucca, then four hollyhock plants (which will bloom this year, but they are a mystery color), six pink plants, then a row of tulips in the front.

Nestled in between some of the tulips are some pansies and johnny-jump-ups...

The circle garden in the front is the garden I give the least attention to. It really is a mess. There is a mass confusion of jacob's ladders, hostas and sweet williams that I planted that sort of just clump together. The people who lived here before I did planted mint here, and by the end of the summer the entire garden is completely taken over by the stupid mint plants. Once the garden decides that it only wants to be a mint garden it looks relatively pretty, but until then it looks like a weedy sprawly disaster.

The one thing that grows there, and does well, is the clematis. I've read that clematis is a really fussy plant, with all the pruning and special care that it needs, but I haven't done a thing to it except encourage it to grow along the poles. It's really happy where it is, and soon it will burst into its pretty powder blue flowers... and I am always happy when that happens. The tendrils wll eventually run out of room on the poles, and I'm hoping to train them to grow on the tree branch (you can just barely see it on the left there) and have the vines and tendrils and flowers spill over to the other side of the tree, which faces the street.

So even though it's still early, and there's lots to do, the garden is already looking great! :)

01 May 2010

Yup, pretty much.

I love my Dad. I love my Dad's useless advice and pointless stories even more. :)

(Click to embiggeren...)

The little ones are always the most dangerous...

I just walked into the hallway to find Zeekie lounging in a sunbeam.

Getting Miss Prissy Pants to "smile" for the camera is nearly impossible.

During vacation I was sleeping in, or at least trying to, and Zeekie took it as a personal insult as her breakfast was delayed. She decided to sleep on my chest, facing away from me, and would "snuggle" backwards inch by inch, until she had almost completely covered my mouth and nose with her floofy little bum. When I woke up coughing and gagging, she seemed very proud of herself. I worry a bit about her homicidal tendencies...

A few more school stories

So this year we have been doing an informal study of elephants. The reasons for this is that the kids like to talk about animals (a universal subject) and they often like to hear stories where bad things happen but then everything turns out all right in the end (the universal fairy tale theme). Also, we like to use technology, and live web cams are like magic to these kiddos. So anyway, my Dad suggested that we check out the Elecam at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Each of the elephants has a history (some tragic, others not so bad), but they're all happy now in the Sanctuary.

One of the most tragic stories is about the elephant named Sissy. Her full story is here, but the part that caught my kids' attention was the time she was in a zoo in the early 80's, and a massive flood came and swept through the zoo. Sissy was found several days later, with only her trunk visible above the water, as she had been trapped between two tree trunks. Sissy was rescued, but she was (understandably) terrified of storms from that day on. One of my boys drew this picture on the whiteboard of Sissy stuck underwater:

The picture just breaks my heart! Another detail that I didn't mention was that Sissy lived alone for many years, and the only "friend" she had was a car tire that she carried around everywhere. However, the tire was nowhere to be seen when she was stuck in the tree. One of the other boys said, "She must have been so scared when the tire was washed away! It would be just like a thunderstorm taking a little kid's favorite blanket away!"

But the good news is that Sissy lives in the Sanctuary now, and she is slowly getting over her storm fears, and since she is around many other elephants she doesn't need to carry her tire around with her as much ("which is good, because it means she feels safe, and she can leave her toys at home when she goes out to play," one of the kids told me).

I'll put up more of the elephant pictures when I get a chance, because the kids and I have been talking about nothing but elephants for about two months now...

And, just to take you back to your own days in elementary school, here are some shots of a "fort" several of the boys got to build when they earned some free time:

Remember when it was the coolest thing in the world when the teacher gave you time to build anything you wanted with the math materials?