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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reading Jeff Skinner's Success in Connecticut...

in the New York Times and as a Louisville, Kentucky transplant.

The New York Time's Sunday Book Review looked at "The 6.5 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets" by Jeffrey Skinner and had wonderful things to say about his writing. I know his work as a student of his when I was 22 years old at the University of Louisville. I was fresh out of Ruth Stone's whimsical teaching and when I entered his class in Kentucky I switched gears from poetry to short fiction. He was there to mentor me and once told me, "Don't tell anyone I told you this, but you need to keep writing. Often, I don't encourage that of all students."

(My guess is he told everyone this)

Either way, I supported Jeff and Sarah Gorham's Sarabande Books while still in the classroom and often attended their readings. At times, they'd send poets to speak with my students.
I remember vividly attending a reading from the collection Last Call, a collection of writing of recovering addicts who were fighting through addictions and the power drugs and alcohol had over them. The writing was brilliant.

So, here's to you, Jeff...on a Tuesday morning, the last day of July in 2012.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Frugal Bastard...Okay, I'll take that...

I don't do debt. I didn't take out loans for my degrees and I usually pay off my vehicle payments when I get a new car.
I use credit cards only to get discounts and in severe emergencies, like the one in January when my house needed $9,000 in repairs so it could be sold and when my real estate agent, bless her heart, failed to punch numbers correctly causing me to have to pay at my closing. My goal was to break even; instead, I went in the hole almost ten grande.

I am proud to say that seven months later (almost 8), I have paid off that debt. I took an adjunct job for the summer and also ran the summer institutes. That money went to take care of the business that needed to be taken care of.

And it's funny, too. Five years in Syracuse making hardly a cent, and I never used any of my credit cards. I depleted savings, yes, but did not have too hard a time (although I lived without and was smart about the way I lived). It is humorous to me that I paid off bills that total more than I was paid as a graduate student. This is the difference between being in a doctoral program and having a career again.

I don't believe I felt like I lacked too much while in Syracuse. I also didn't buy new things. I went with the basics and I survived. I suppose that is why there was irony in the real estate fiasco that ended my time in Central New York. But now I can say, wola! It is now behind me and gone.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Magic of being, well, with teachers who write...

...and writers who teach. Pictured here are memoirist, colleague, and diva delicious, Sonya Huber, and high school educator, and passionate inspirer, Kelley Gordon-Minott. This is a Stratford/Stamford connection that was made last friday when Sonya did a research/passion exercise with the teachers enrolled in the summer institute.

Yesterday, Sonya, her husband, Cliff, and I returned to Pequot Book Sale (in the pouring rain) to scour acres of books. Sigh, the ones I hid yesterday were no longer in their secret place and I was unable to retreat them. I did, however, find a few of them on the tables  of books, but not the collection I went to retrieve.

Afterward, our trio drove to Milford to pick up the mats I had made for my University of Louisville diplomas and then went to Dao Explosion for Thai food and laughter. Cliff, also a writer, shared his brilliant perspectives of the world, including his work to become a state legislature in Connecticut and Sonya discussed her writing processes and finding a voice that fits what she is currently trying to say.

Me? I shared whacky stories from the Brown School, travels to Japan and England, and how I became a curious fellow interested in EVERYTHING. It is true that surrounding oneself with interesting people is the surest way to keep a lifetime extremely interesting. Ah, but today I must buckle down and read, design, and prepare for September. I want to have time for me in August (and all the books I now have to read).

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pequot Library Book Sale - Oh, no...I may be hooked.

You know you are with English teachers during the week when, after spending 35 hours together in the same room, you think it might be a great idea to get a citrus mojito and check out the Pequot Library book sale the day before it opens. Books are double price ($2 or $4) but you get first dibs.

I didn't realize the double price deal until close to checking out. I'm glad I discovered this because I had boxes to purchase.

Why? Well, I blame it on Colette and her USED BOOKS IN CLASS BLOG which is brilliantly written and extremely motivating. Her mission is to hit book sales to replenish school copies of texts, but also to create book floods in schools. She's on to something. I could have bought a class set of Life of Pi or The Kite Runner if I wanted. Instead, I bought books that I knew I would most likely offer as gifts in the next few months. I'll be honest, I stuffed a box under a table in hopes I might return tomorrow when the prices aren't double (just because I am that cheap).

Either way, exhausted but enthused, the visit to the book sale was worth it. I think I may have found a new hobby.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Celebrating My Co-Director, Julie

For all of us experiencing summer institutes under the National Writing Project model, this post may resonate. The best sessions are run through tag-teaming with a stellar co-director. In my case, it is Julie Roneson of Bridgeport City Schools. I first met Julie through her writing on The Connecticut Post and once meeting her, I realized she was absolutely spectacular. Still waters run deep and she balances out my zany, whacky, and divergent thought processes to bring us back to earth, to remind us of the brilliance of teaching, and the power of believing in writing, thinking, speaking, and reading processes. I couldn't be happier about co-working with Julie this summer.

The photograph is from a workshop led by Nicole Williams of New Haven School District. As part of the workshop, we all were instructed to write commercials about a prop we were handed. When I saw the feathered mask, I knew this prop needed to be Julie's. It matched her writing pal/pail! As the true sport of our institute, she catered to my need to snap a photograph.

Every yang has its ying, and ying its yang. I am thrilled to have an instructional sidekick like Julie and feel very thankful that her wisdom has been with us all summer.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thinking about Connecticut Ants

Not really, but yes. I was getting ready for bed last night when a series of ants walked up my leg and onto the keyboard. My guess, they were on a mission and they had work to do. They weren't bothered that I was writing and they went on their merry way. Wait. We're inside? What are they doing?

They're working of course.

I think this is important. Not that my house has ants, but that ants share a common mission, divide tasks, and build community as a result. I am sure my inside ants were seeking food (or new territories) to support the colony.

Our individualistic society may not be so kind. It's man against man, woman against woman, school against school, or is it? I ask this question because this summer I am relearning the importance of sharing, collaborating, exploring, and growing together. Teachers are working with other teachers to res-establish their expertise, their passions, they abilities, and their strengths. Current teaching environments have stolen this from them and, like Dementors, sucked the life and energy out of their work. In the summer institute, as my colleague said to me this afternoon, "we're treated and respected as professionals."

Last I checked, that is exactly what teachers are. I share the frustration that they are currently being treated otherwise. There is not a school without a teacher. They are central and, quite frankly, I'm fed up with the fact that they are being ignored. That is why I'm loving my job. This summer, I am becoming stronger because I'm growing more intellectually from them.  It is not the lone ant who succeeds, but the collective.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I learned something new about grocery stores in Connecticut

Last night, my administrative assistant and I went to Big Y to stock up on lunch supplies for tomorrow and to prepare for another round of pizza on Friday. I enjoyed the experience and her nephew was stellar helping me load the cart. That is...until he wanted candy and then to ride the cart he wanted.

No, he was not as hilarious as this young man, but he was pretty fun. In ripping my hands from the handle, he pushed my hand into his eye which made the scenario more entertaining. And then Lois, like my sister Cynde, and my sister, Casey, turned it on me as if I was the reason the shopping experience was a little stressful. "You bring it on, Bryan," I was told, "Because you are a big kid yourself."

True dat. Yet, I'm also Willy Wonka. I'm all about giving presents and sweets to the kid that doesn't ask. And I returned home to silence, SILENCE, where I was able to work quietly. For this, I can understand why it's my fault. I do have an escape.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Welcome to CWP at Fairfield, Brynn Mandel

I first met Brynn Mandel when she was enrolled in a Developmental Reading course at Fairfield University. As a journalist and new mom, she often discussed the changing world of journalism, her future as a writer and reporter, and the changing technologies her field is experiencing. I knew her story was worthy of teachers attending our summer Invitational Summer Institute and, as a writer, she had much to offer about processes, audiences, following a story, and developing sustained thought for publication.

Wola! I asked her to do a demonstration to initiate additional conversations about careers in writing, 21st century audiences, making a story work and communicating to readers. Whereas she is in the process of also gaining teaching certification, I wanted to tap into her expertise as a journalist. Her knowledge from Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communication has brought her a career as a feature writer and thinker for central Connecticut.

An example of her writing, The Third Unheard; Pioneering Breaks can be read at the Waterbury Republican and stands as a testimony of her genius. The Common Core State Standards asks teachers to supplement real-world texts with literature (and vice versa) and Brynn's experience as a newspaper writer (in changing times) should offer the selected teachers in our institute additional wisdom about supporting writing processes for tomorrow's writers.

Bravo, Brynn!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Happy 50th, Phantom Tollbooth

I went for a long walk last night and listened to Wait Wait! Don't Tell Me on my iPod. Norton Juster was a guest and he reflected on the 50th anniversary of his children's classic, discussing that editors told him it would never sell, experts preached it was too lofty for children and would never catch their attention, and critics felt it was silly. He has to chuckle because, well, it's celebrating half-century of existence.

One of my favorite students of all times bought me the book when she graduated in 2004. As an artist and woman of imagination, she thought I would enjoy one of her favorite books. I had never heard of it until that year and I responded by sharing The Point with her. It was a year of creativity for both of us.

I am hoping to find my way back into creativity while teaching in Connecticut and tapping into the spunk and funk I had for so long at the Brown School in Louisville, Kentucky. I think I shall pull Juster's book off my shelf in the office and give it another read sometime in the very near future.

And if you haven't read it, you should!!!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Alice Walker's "The Flowers"

The following is a short story by Alice Walker that I began teaching in 2004. It is an awakening story for a young woman, where a season ends and more mature realizations arrive. It is written with precision and, although short, packs a tremendous punch. I read it again this morning in Connecticut.
"The Flowers" by Alice Walker
Reading and Writing about Short Fiction. Ed. Edward Proffitt. NY: Harcourt,
1988. 404-05.
It seemed to Myop as she skipped lightly from hen house to pigpen to smokehouse that the days had never been as beautiful as these. The air held a keenness that made her nose twitch. The harvesting of the corn and cotton, peanuts and squash, made each day a golden surprise that caused excited little tremors to run up her jaws.
Myop carried a short, knobby stick. She struck out at random at chickens she liked, and worked out the beat of a song on the fence around the pigpen. She felt light and good in the warm sun. She was ten, and nothing existed for her but her song, the stick clutched in her dark brown hand, and the tat-de-ta-ta-ta of accompaniment,
Turning her back on the rusty boards of her family's sharecropper cabin, Myop walked along the fence till it ran into the stream made by the spring. Around the spring, where the family got drinking water, silver ferns and wildflowers grew. Along the shallow banks pigs rooted. Myop watched the tiny white bubbles disrupt the thin black scale of soil and the water that silently rose and slid away down the stream.
She had explored the woods behind the house many times. Often, in late autumn, her mother took her to gather nuts among the fallen leaves. Today she made her own path, bouncing this way and that way, vaguely keeping an eye out for snakes. She found, in addition to various common but pretty ferns and leaves, an armful of strange blue flowers with velvety ridges and a sweet suds bush full of the brown, fragrant buds.
By twelve o'clock, her arms laden with sprigs of her findings, she was a mile or more from home. She had often been as far before, but the strangeness of the land made it not as pleasant as her usual haunts. It seemed gloomy in the little cove in which she found herself. The air was damp, the silence close and deep.
Myop began to circle back to the house, back to the peacefulness of the morning. It was then she stepped smack into his eyes. Her heel became lodged in the broken ridge between brow and nose, and she reached down quickly, unafraid, to free herself. It was only when she saw his naked grin that she gave a little yelp of surprise.
He had been a tall man. From feet to neck covered a long space. His head lay beside him. When she pushed back the leaves and layers of earth and debris Myop saw that he'd had large white teeth, all of them cracked or broken, long fingers, and very big bones. All his clothes had rotted away except some threads of blue denim from his overalls. The buckles of the overall had turned green.
Myop gazed around the spot with interest. Very near where she'd stepped into the head was a wild pink rose. As she picked it to add to her bundle she noticed a raised mound, a ring, around the rose's root. It was the rotted remains of a noose, a bit of shredding plowline, now blending benignly into the soil. Around an overhanging limb of a great spreading oak clung another piece. Frayed, rotted, bleached, and frazzled--barely there--but spinning restlessly in the breeze. Myop laid down her flowers.
And the summer was over.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It's all good...

Vision.

Sometime during the last four years I began saying, "It's all good," as a personal mantra and for a response to the world as it unravels itself. I'm not sure where this comes from, but I truly believe it. Once upon a time I had an inner Eeyore and Charlie Brown, but somewhere I picked up optimism as a testimony for survival. Good. It all is.

Two of my friends chose optometry as a career and they live their lives looking into eyes of others and fixing their biological viewpoints of the world. I chose education, books, ideas, and words. I guess in this sense, I chose a more spiritual, intellectual optometry. Still, I believe we do similar work. Whereas they opt for the science of optometry, I opt for optimism. It's all good.


Both have to do with vision and I'm drawn to those who have an artful, creative, and hopeful perspective.

I went to Ellynne Plotnick's jazz performance in Stamford last night and  her passion for music, vocality, and performance were inspirational. She's enrolled in the Connecticut Writing Project's summer institute for teachers this summer, but she is so much more than a career in education. Her vision came through song. It was beautiful. I am thinking of a student, Bridgette, who chose visual creations as her livelihood. I am thinking of Alfred Tatum and his vision for Black male youth. I am thinking of my sisters and their visions for fulfilling absolute love for their children, and I am thinking of incredible mentors, including my parents, who envisioned a better future for me.

And I envision the genius that occurs when everyone around me is encouraged to be the beautiful creatures they were born to be. From this, how could I not chant daily, "it's all good." Even when it's not.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Response to a Dialogue: The excess of testing.


I write in response to Stephen Krashen's letter on July 16, 2011 in the New York Times and his "Invitation to a Dialogue"

I am new faculty at Fairfield University and Director of one of three Connecticut Writing Project sites in the state. I have been a classroom teacher and researcher, however, for over 15 years in urban schools. I left New York to do my Masters degree in Kentucky  because I wanted to teach in a state that prepared youth for college and career readiness. At the time, Kentucky was on the radar of the nation for its educational reform. Why? They created a K-12 writing program that encouraged teachers to teach writing in all subject areas. Portfolios in 4th, 7th, and 12th grade were used as part of the state's accountability system and what I loved about them was that youth could showcase a variety of thinking in several genres and were encouraged to take their writing through many drafts, much discussion, and elaborate thought development. Through reading them, you learned a tremendous amount about students and saw that they could stand their ground once they graduated hight school. They were more than a Scan Tron sheet.

Kentucky removed the portfolios in 2007, however, and I left the classroom to pursue more education. I needed to learn how to help others make smarter decisions for educational reform. The removal of portfolios, I thought, was dumb and the replacement of such expectations by the ACT, placing greater emphasis on literary analysis, and providing mandates with less youth awareness was inane. 

In my classroom I stood under a banner that read, "My students are so much more than a test score." 

The problem with the use of standardized tests is they are limited on what they measure. Yet, they are used to destroy teacher morale, to bully teachers and students, and to establish a state of fear in our schools.  The poorer the district the more bullied the teachers. It's disgusting.  In my research where I interviewed refugee youth new to the country,  reading, writing, thinking, and speaking were equated to taking tests. When I asked them, "What is English class like?" they usually responded, "It is having a teacher read to you and answering the questions she gives you."  The university freshmen I currently teach also report that their teachers primarily instructed them for state tests. They were rarely were engaged in intellectual, thought-provoking, and stimulating conversations in high school. They hated these tests but it is all they have ever known. They readily admit that they were taught not to think. Thinking, for them, is new territory. 

The tests have destroyed their minds. 

I'm recalling an observation I made on Facebook this spring  around the time testing was occurring nation wide. Many of my friends who have school aged children were leaving posts like, "My child is in her room crying. She is scared of her tests in the morning." "My child wants to quit school and she's in second grade. She hates to learn". "All my child does in school is take tests."  These were posted by non-educators. My teaching friends are extremely frantic about teaching and many want out (in fact, anyone who knows a teacher might be able to switch the child above with the word "teacher"). These are spectacular individuals who offer passion and fuel to our schools. I love their enthusiasm, but many are writing to me to say that they can no longer take - they're forbidden to teach. They can only test and be reprimanded if they don't. 

Young people need to be accountable and to have a tremendous skill set for the 21st century (which includes writing in a variety of genres for multiple purposes). Still, the testing regime encourages on-demand quick writing that is not realistic. It's contrived and bizarre, yet more and more prevalent in our schools. I am so thankful that brilliant teachers and scholars have put volumes of knowledge into the field to counter what these tests are doing. I'm angry that politicians have not listened to such expertise and have made ignorant decisions through the reforms they've mandated.

Although it is difficult to correlate, it might be the testing itself that causes the deficits in skills that we are trying to "fix". I am horrified by what I see being done to teachers and students. They are not allowed to be innovative, creative, inquisitive, or interested. Diversity in viewpoints and originality in thought are being squashed. Robotic, monstrous dictations are forced upon them. I am shaking my head thinking, "I'm glad I went to school when I did and had the wonderful teaching experiences in Kentucky while the State encouraged  portfolios and the power of believing in youth." George Hillocks wrote in 2002 that the choices made by states in their reforms also create the testing traps placed on teachers and students. The Common Core State Standards aren't bad....but I fear the testing that will come with them.

The rhetoric needs to move toward action. More of us need to unite to push this madness out of our schools.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Textbooks. Seriously? Are they Best Practice For Improving Adolescent Literacy?

This summer at the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield teachers are presenting mini-histories and exploring their textual lineage (Tatum, 2007). In a nutshell, they present to others how they came to be as readers and writers and coming to a better understanding of how their stories have intertwined with lived experiences, textual experiences, and the literate world around them. In the stories these teachers tell over and over and over again they NEVER mention (did I say NEVER) that they became more literate through reading, writing, and answering questions out of a textbook. Instead, they express the personal relationships they've had with books that resulted from their parents who read, stellar teachers, comfortable spaces to think, having a variety of reading opportunities, and the power of choice to find books that work for them throughout their lives. I have speculated from our discussions that textbooks used in English classrooms deterred their reading rather making them better readers.

Today, I had a textbook delivered to my desk and was asked, "What do you think?" First of all, the desk beside me  could not hold the weight of the book and it fell over. Being optimistic by nature, I immediately went to the table of contents. WONDERFUL choices. BRILLIANT scholars contributed. PHENOMENAL connection to new Common Core State Standards. LOGICAL organization. Everything I would do as a teacher is in the book accept two things: (1) flexibility and (2) attention to loftiness

I will address each.

(1) flexibility. There are no two classes a day that are the same. Every classroom in the United States has a variety of learners with multiple perspectives, needs and experiences. As a result, no one collection of literature will suffice to meet the heterogeneous classrooms of the 21st century. A colleague who saw me reading the text commented, "Jesus, that is one enormous training manual." I responded, "Actually, that is what it is. It should be used occasionally as a training tool to teach a specific skill at a particular time and then put back on the shelf so young people can enjoy their experiences with words." Teachers should put books in the hands of students that are most relevant to the lives of youth. For these reasons, textbooks are okay, but teachers should be supported to use them with immense flexibility.

(2) loftiness. I now listen to books on my iPod. I also read often online. Even so, I cherish the days I can curl up on a beach, at my house, on a train, or in bed to read a book. No matter how hard I try to imagine it, I cannot envision textbook reading to be a pleasant experience. It is unfriendly, overwhelming, and excessive. It is also enabling. It enables others to be lazy about their thinking because everything has been packaged together for them. This doesn't mean that the content of an English Literature textbook is bad. No, it's actually quite good and it would be perfect if teachers also had "collections" of students who robotically were ready for particular lessons in particular order for particular purposes without daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly interruptions. If only classrooms were as neat and tidy as a table of contents.

I'm not sure if research can measure what is more effective; perhaps the very fact few changes have occurred in NAEP data are because too many schools push textbook instruction on students and it doesn't work. I'm all for reading. I'm definitely for writing. And thinking is a beautiful thing. I wonder, though...do textbooks hinder or benefit the skills needed for 21st century reading, writing, speaking and thinking? My fifteen+ years of work with the National Writing, research in schools, and learning from young people has be believing the opposite. Perhaps it is just me....

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tuesday's Wipeout...Inspired by Lopez Lomong?

This wipeout is not as bad as the time I flew off a mountain bike in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and found myself falling through pine trees to the bottom of a forest floor. Or the time in college when I lost my balanced coming down a hill and slid, face first, down a steep hill. No, This is a skinned knee.

I tripped while running a 5K after work and flew, Superman-style,  across the pavement in Stratford, CT. I stood back up, picked the rocks out of my knees and elbows, and continued to keep a 40-year old body paced and moving ahead.  I am older. I run slower. I lose energy. And I carry middle-aged weight more than ever before. Still, I run, like I write, for my life.

And that is why I'm posting about Lopez Lomong's memoir again. The key to anything is perseverance, dedication, hope (Hoops4Hope - thanks Cousin Mark), and faith in the great whatever. Everything evolves at exactly the right time. I'm using Lomong's words (and his life story) to keep fighting forward with the journey and to seize every day for all its possibilities. I will continue a good pace (scabs and all) with daily runs and journals, and most definitely cheer for Lopez's Didinga-American representation in the London Olympics. His memoir keeps blinking on my radar and I continue to think about them in relation to  David Eggers' What is the What, John Dau's When God Grew Tired of Us, John Dau's and Mary Akech's Lost Boy, Lost Girl, Felicia McMahon's Not Just Child's Play, and Linda Sue Park's Long Walk For Water. Lopez's story fits beautifully with Warren St. John's Outcasts United, too, and the admirable work of Luma Mufleh and the Fugees Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. Sports. Writing. Hope.

The hoops are coming full circle.  @lopezlomong @fugeesacademy @writing project @hoops4hopeUSA

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Look At Me! Look At Me! Look At Me!

*I knew in 9th grade when I woke up with alcohol poisoning that I needed to change my life.


*The only flaw with Oprah is she never writes back.


*Not every high school senior has $15,000 in a tin can under their bed from selling women's shoes.


*I think Roseanne Barr is hot.


*My grandmother often swims in her bra and panties with butterflies; she drinks wine with the winds and trees.

I was asked yesterday to do a college application essay  workshop for an immersion program at Fairfield University. Across the hall the Invitational Summer Institute was moving full force. The Young Writers  left a little before to enjoy their Connecticut afternoons. "In 500 words or less, describe why you belong at our college" - that's a single-spaced page and a writer has to catch the attention of readers quick. Give it a try. How would you hook the attention of exhausted academic officers.

To make my case, I had the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs dress in a blonde wig and pink glasses and asked her dance to a song by Outkast. Why? I wanted students to see how she stood out and stated the task at hand was to get readers to look, if only for a short while, at them with a sense of flair and pizazz. College essays are where one brags slightly while highlighting voice and personality immensely. We read several stellar models together from Teen Ink and several others from online sources. The students brainstormed how to get the attention of others quickly, but not in an overly precocious way. And we shared. We shared one-liners that hooked a reader to want more. The above five were the ones I wrote. Would you like to read more?

But 500 words. Yikes. What a fun and exhilarating task!

Monday, July 16, 2012

I-scream, U-scream

Yesterday was National Ice Cream Day.

How many of you visited a local parlor so you could support dairy farmers of America? I know I did. In fact, I'm most likely to support them several more times this summer.

Earlier this summer I loaded my refrigerator with healthy ice cream alternatives so I would beat my summer cravings. After a dish of sugar free vanilla, though, I gave up on my attempt to be healthy. It's not the same as the awesomeness of a good, creamy, milky, and flavorful scoop in a waffle cone on summer nights.

I was not thrilled by Carvel or their customer service, though. In fact, I will be writing a letter to them very soon. One of my greatest pet peeves is when they use the same scooper for all the tubs. My cookies and cream had streaks of orange sherbet, mint-chocolate chip, and pistachio. If I wanted those flavors I would have asked for them. Not too sure I will ever return to their store again. The high school servers were miserable, too, and the counters and floors didn't appear to have been cleaned in days.

Either way, I post this  to plant a craving in your mind so that you might treat yourself to a cone if you missed the national celebration yesterday. If you are attempt to be good like I was then you are free to take the pints in my fridge - they have little to no flavor and, take it first hand, they won't satisfy the taste of the real thing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Momma looks beautiful

Mom is envious that dad received a Connecticut post yesterday...so much so that she flooded my inbox of pictures of her before heading to a neighbor's wedding. Those of us in our family know that we spend years and years of photographing my mother and we never can get a good shot. Sometimes her bottom lip rests on her shoulder with drool and other times one eye will be closed as if she has drank 17 gin and tonics. But in this photograph she looks stupendous.

I love, too, that she is wearing beads made hand woven by Sudanese women and that her attire actually went for a good cause - to help woman victimized by the wars in Sudan.

I spent the day by a pool yesterday and am sorry that I missed the bells for Jill Altier and her new husband. Even so, I am thankful that my CNY family sent me greetings in Connecticut so I can still be a part of the festivities. Any time a family member wears AnERip lavenders, a smile crosses my face.

Congratulations dad. Looks like you actually got a good shot of mom!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Son of a Butch (part ???)

I was talking to my mother the other day when my father said in the background, "Tell him I don't understand Connecticut Crandall and that the shit he writes doesn't make any sense to me."

Knowing he came late to the computer world and my mother and I have vivid memories of the three-week training conducted to teach him how to use a mouse, I am very impressed that he has discovered my blog and that he has become one of my regular readers.

With this said, it made me think how I might compose a post so he would have more familiarity with my Connecticut musings.

#1. If my father was to ever visit me in Stratford, CT, and he was to smoke a cigarette every three minutes, he could smoke 90 Lucky Strikes.

#2. If my father was to visit me in Stratford, CT, he would be a five-hour drive closer to visit Karl in Florida. Just 20 more hours he would have to travel..

#3. According to Yahoo, there are 10 bars in walking distance from my home so we can get a beer. Yet, I've walked around. I think we will need to drive.

#4. Home Depot is 3.2 miles away from my house. We would need to buy a grill.

#5. I have cable television, although I don't use it. The remote would need to be oiled.

#6. Perhaps we can get UCONN/Syracuse basketball tickets (although I doubt it)

#7. All Butch needs to do to visit his brother in Amagansett and the ashes of his parents in the Hamptons is to take a Ferry across the Long Island Sound.

#8. $#$!#@$#!%!%^!$^$^$  - These are words I say, too, while driving in Connecticut Traffic. These are words he would most likely say, as well.

#9. I can entertain mom. He can sleep.

#10. I have two toilets - no stress there.

I hope this was an easier post to read. Most likely I will go back to my silly randomness tomorrow.

Friday, July 13, 2012

New Friends in Connecticut

This fall, the City of Bridgeport will relocate 50 young men from Eritrea, a nation that borders Sudan and sits north of Ethiopia on the red sea. Artificial borders drawn from Italy's imperial and colonial rules in the late 19th and 20th centuries are often ignored by those who have inhabited the land. When Word War II saw most European nations retreat, indigenous peoples disputed what territories belonged to which people. Many dictators were supported by the USSR and US created additional conflicts. 

Ethiopia is interested in the shoreline of Eritrea and relies on the water source to transport goods. When Eritrea went to its own currency, Ethiopia moved in with its military. Both nations have been accused of monstrous human rights violations. The recruitment of child soldiers has been a norm as has violence. Youth who were disrupted fled to varying refugee camps for safety and a few are being offered refuge in the U.S.

The International Institute of Connecticut contacted me to see if I would mentor one Eritrean man who has been in the U.S. for over a year. Because his English is good and he is enrolled in a community college, I will volunteer to work with him on his speaking and writing. When more men relocate this fall, he will be able to help them settle, broker language, and contend with the post traumatic stress they will most likely experience.

Teame, the man I met today, hopes to one day be a social worker and to be able to find a way to bring his sister and her two children to the U.S.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Celebration of Ellyne Plotnick

I'm proud to present a track from Ellyne Plotnick's newly released album "I Will." Ellyne is enrolled in the Connecticut Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute and is a middle school teacher in Stamford, Connecticut. This afternoon, she discovered a piano in a classroom down the hall and letting her fingers find amusement she returned to our class to explode her enthusiasm for jazz music, musical composition, and juggling the pressures of teaching English with the energy to continue a musical career. I feel fortunate she shared her work with our group and hope to learn more from her about writing lyrics and offering them vocal accompaniment.

I chose to work with the National Writing Project because it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for teachers. I guessed that if I ran a site, I could have those one-of-a-kind experiences every summer. This summer in Connecticut, year two, is once again proving the magic of the job I chose.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

As a Follow-up to Sweating in Connecticut


Today, teachers at the Connecticut Writing Project were talking about Yoga, eating healthy and organic foods. To sound politically correct, I discussed how my roommate from China drinks soy milk and that on occasion I've used it on my cereal. Edith looked at me and laughed, "You have to be careful. Soymilk is loaded with estrogen and it will give you enormous man boobs." 

Well, the great whatever already gave me a hairy set of those in anticipation I might one day star in an ape movie, and I now need to be wary of drinking my roommates milk.

The news came at 8:30 a.m. and I therefore could give up on all learning very early on. I had my nugget of Connecticut wisdom for the day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I'm a teaching schlep

First day of summer institutes.

I arrive at 7 a.m. and lock my keys and wallet in the classroom. It closes and locks. I have no way to get into my car, the class, or my office. I begin to sprint to find anyone on campus who can help me. Did I mention that my heart was already racing because it was day one and I wanted to do a good job? Or that I rearranged a class of furniture by myself before I locked my keys in the room?

An hour goes by and still I can't get in. I'm drenched in sweat at this point and know it won't stop because my anxieties are high.

Students start to arrive and so do teachers. I look like I was caught in a rain shower - I was soaked. That's my body. I tell everyone I am like John from Allie McBeal, the lawyer whose nose whistles whenever he tries to be normal. I want to be normal and successful, too, but the more I try, the more I sweat. I am far far away from a proper anti-perspirant commercial. I look more like a wet t-shirt contest when these things happen.

My brain was racing so fast on how to stop sweating and how to stay on top of the first day events that I simply just moved along as I do stating, "Welcome. Welcome. Welcome."

Bottom line. I know I am a freak. Now, let's move on.

And we did. By the end of the day I was dry.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Good to see Dr. Covell is still counting in Kentucky



For the many years I worked with the Louisville Nature Center in Kentucky, I always looked forward to attending programs led by Dr. Charlie Covell (contributor to most field guides in the United States for butterflies, insects, moths, and the buggy world). Charlie often stopped by the Nature Center to visit Barbie Bruker-Corwin and many times he would ask me, "Want to go for a hike?" - which we would.

I laugh thinking about this memory because a hike with Charlie was usually ten to twelve steps. He was mesmerized by the world of little creatures and often he'd turn over one leaf when he would start reciting latin names of the insects he was seeing. On a good day, we would hike by, at most, seven or eight plants in the Beargrass Creek Nature Preserve.

The clip above (featured in the Courier Journal yesterday) made me realize how much I miss the nature work I once did, especially learning from entomologists, biologists, climatologists, zoologists, and ornithologists. I also am thinking of Barbie with a tremendous smile. I was 22 when I began that work - first steps into a tremendous world of teaching (and that was 18 years ago).

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Must have channeled Japan, 01/14/04

I am not sure where or why this was written, but when I was filing in my office last week, I found the following haiku chiseled onto a maroon folder. I must have been distracted at a professional development or inservice. In black marker with the title, "Today, as I peed" I wrote:


Bladder inflated
caffeinated overdose
adrenaline pain
yapping yuppiness
gathered as gurus of gonk:
poetic nightmares
Blah Blah Blah white sheep
line dancing to overdose rules
be free, poetry
Explode dictionaries
lick language, love lucidity
weave the world with words
Quit hibernation 
Go outside, please, and walk free
taste delicious air
Fallen maple leaves
slick & sandy like beaches
A hawk’s scream - scary
Snowflakes taste windy -
whiplashed whipperwills waiting -
why are we so blind?
Language crack addicts
intoxicated by life:
marker…pen…pencil
Dig, daily doodles
diarrhea of day dreams
deep speculations
The Color Purple,
Alice, walking in my soul,
Do you, Celie, see?
Just returned from loo
releasing pent up anger
finally relieved.