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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Memories I Never Knew

My grandfather on my father's side passed away recently and we have spent the past few months cleaning out his condo to get it ready to sell. It's been a daunting task- three floors of every piece of paper, every book, and every gift my grandfather ever got. The hardest part though has been digging through a life I was never a part of.

When my parents got married my father's mother made it clear she didn't care for my mother. In fact she made my parents miserable to the point where my father decided to sever ties with his family including his father and three brothers. Throughout my childhood I was aware that normal kids were supposed to have two sets of grandparents but I assumed that since I generally had such a nontraditional childhood that it was just the way things were for me.

One day when I was about 9 or so we were in church and my mother nudged me. She pointed to an older couple a few rows in front of us and said, "Those are your other grandparents. Your father's parents." And I stared at them for a moment, flabbergasted at the realization that yes, my father had his own mother and father, he wasn't hatched or formed out of primordial ooze. I looked back to my mother and asked, "Will they know who I am?"

"No," she said. "They've never seen you before."

As I grew older my parents began to tell me more stories about the other side of my family. My father's maternal grandparents were natives of Italy who came to the United States and settled in New York. A few of them were rumored to be in the mob which thrilled me no end. The idea of being related to mobsters was fascinating to me. He told me stories about his Uncle Gino and his dog Tiny. His father once owned a store that sold televisions, then took up professional baking for a time. He even made my parents' wedding cake.

Though most of my father's stories were fairly lighthearted, I knew that there was little happiness and kindness felt about his family. I knew that his mother was not a very nice person, nor had she been kind to my mother. Fast forward to 1999, the end of my freshman year of college. My grandmother on my mother's side to whom I was incredibly close had recently passed away. She was the woman for whom I was named and I essentially grew up in her house in historic Forest Park. A month or so after we buried her, my father's mother called. When I picked up the phone she asked if I knew who was calling. I told her coldly that I did indeed know who she was.

"Yes, this is your grammy."

"That's a neat trick. Seeing as how my grammy just died." (My newfound ability to be bitingly sarcastic reached new heights with this conversation by the way.)

"Yes well. Could you please tell your father I called?"

"Probably not." Click.

Of course I did tell my father she had called because it was his mother and I didn't feel right not telling him. She had called to tell him she was ill and the doctors didn't think she had long and she wanted to see us. All three of us. I met my grandparents for the first time a few months after that first phone call. My grandmother passed shortly after that, one of the hardest things I have ever watched my father go through.

After she passed, my father took over caring for my grandfather. His three brothers had moved to all points across the US which made it impossible for them to step in so it fell to him to visit my grandfather once a week, help him with his finances, and monitor his health which we suspected was also not in top condition. I visited occasionally as well but it was difficult to bring myself to forgive 19 years of silence and ostracism.

So the hardest part of helping my father clean out my grandfather's condo has been going through photos. There were at least 20 photo albums and 4 boxes worth of framed photos stashed in multiple rooms of the condo. My grandfather loved photography and as mentioned, never parted with anything. As I flipped through the albums, I realized I was flipping through a life I was never a part of. There were no photos of me, no photos of my parents. I was conspicuously absent from family holiday gatherings, summer picnics, and birthday parties. I barely recognized half the people in the photos though I knew many of them were my cousins.

Then I came to the photos my grandfather had taken on various trips to Europe. I was floored as I flipped, page by page through albums that my grandmother painstakingly arranged when they got back from their vacations. As I studied the technique, the composition, the lighting, I realized I was looking at the roots of my own photographic style. Many of the photos he took of architectural elements, city scenes, and landscapes looked frighteningly like my own.

And so with this post comes a photo my grandfather took in London in 1978 of a man walking up a hill. The photo was faded and slightly damaged so I scanned it into my own computer and restored it in PhotoShop. I have found memories I never knew I had as I learn a little more about myself while learning more about my grandfather.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

No Rest for the Wicked

Artichoke- I've decided to amp up my Special Ed Cred and get my Doctorate in SPED. I'm really looking forward to it and hoping to God I get accepted so keep your fingers crossed for me!

I got up at the crack of dawn today (ok so maybe it wasn't the crack...) so I could go to Staples for Teacher Appreciation Day. It used to be that on this most holy day you would go to the store and they would hand you a totebag filled with goodies like lesson plan books, pencils, pens, erasers, and so on down the line. Hence why I dragged my ass out of bed when I really wanted to keep dreaming about being on assignment for National Geographic.

The store was supposed to open at 9 so I figured I would get there around 8:30 to beat the crowds and make sure I was in the front of the line. Totally unnecessary as there were only about 30 people there and they supposedly had enough supplies for 100. We all walked in- nice straight line, orderly, no pushing or shoving- where we were greated with a flier from a fitness place and a free sample of Mary Kay hand lotion. A Barbie sized sample of Mary Kay hand lotion. Not a good sign...Then we rounded a corner to get them...the totes. The Holy Grail. The reason I was out of bed and dressed before noon on a Saturday.

People who know me well know that I am a stationery addict. I collect pens, paper, and Post-Its like they're going out of style. If the apocolypse hits and I survive, the cockroaches and I will have a grand time writing sticky notes back and forth in multiple neon colors while the atmosphere around us belches green slime. This is the main reason that the idea of free swag at Staples thrills me no end. I imagine a tote bag full of shiny pens, paper that smells crisp and new, and thumbtacks in various rainbow colors. It makes me sigh with happiness.

Until I reach into my reusable bag that will most likely rip the first time I throw my lesson planner in it. Inside I found a plastic pencil box, a box of the crummiest pencils known to man, ONE mini mechanical pencil, ONE blue highlighter, a box of thumbtacks IN PRIMARY COLORS, and a two pack of eco friendly notepads the size of a postage stamp. I wanted to cry. I wanted to stamp my foot. I wanted to rail at Staples, yelling, "You've deceived me! You don't APPRECIATE me! You gave me CRAP!"

Unfortunately I was too tired for that type of dramatic display so instead I crawled back into my father's minivan with my bag-o-disappointment and drove sadly to my school where I proceeded to spend the next three hours decorating my classroom.

On a happy note, my classroom looks ROCKIN!

Week 1? DONE!

So week one is over and we've had 5 long days of orientation. Today I finally got to move some of my things into my classroom including my JFK poster and a painting from my great uncle.

This morning did not exactly start out well however. I'm not a morning person in any way, shape, or form so getting up and getting going takes a whole lot of effort and I suck at being on time. Therefore I generally plan to be at least 20 minutes early everywhere I go so that if I wind up late, I'm still early. This morning I was running late no matter which way you look at it. I ran out the door with crazy frizzy hair and no makeup, searching for my keys as I stumbled down the front stairs. Every horrible driver in the world was on the road this morning dragging me down even farther. When I finally got to work I went to pull my bags out of the van and knocked my beautiful, expensive camera out of the van and onto my bare toe that was sticking out of my flip flop. I started gushing blood immediately but when I got inside found that I didn't have any BandAids. I managed to get a BandAid from the nurse but my feet were already so sweaty that the BandAid wouldn't stick so I spent the entire day with a bloody foot.

Today was a professional development, prep type day so I went down to the art room with the English department and the art teacher. I had a little time to kill before I had a meeting with the Special Ed consultant so I helped move a few tables. And consequently knocked my purse down where it landed squarely on my blood soaked toe.

That ended my injurious streak for the day thankfully (the hurtin' generally comes in 3's). I sat with the Special Ed consultant for about an hour, wolfed down lunch, and tried to empty my van into my classroom. Not so much. I realized halfway through that I was sweating so bad it was creating rings around my blouse like an oak tree. I also realized that the 3 giant boxes I had packed most of the important stuff in are too heavy for me to get out. Thanks E. for putting the boxes in the van. And not telling me they were super heavy!

I was however incredibly bored by the end of the day since I had no curriculum to plan, nothing more to unpack, and no files to go through. I had also managed to spill an entire container of thumbtacks on the floor and knock down an entire shelf full of books. Thank God it was Friday and tomorrow morning is Teacher Appreciation Day at STAPLES!!! Someone up there loves me!

Oh and P. S..... I'm finally getting off my ass and applying for my doctorate. Yeah, pound it...

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air!

As many of you know today was my first day of orientation at the new charter school. About halfway through my day I emailed Phoenix Ryzing and told him he needs to move across the state and come work at this school. And frankly my dear, I don't give a damn if you teach preschool! Just kidding. But as you can see from my enthusiastic attempt at recruiting a fellow teacher and photographer into my own twisted little world, I was greatly impressed by my first day. Strangely I am the veteran teacher on the staff with 10 years under my belt. Most of the people I am working with are "newbies", this being their first year in a classroom. Many of the others have taught elsewhere for a year or two but this is their first time at a charter school.

Now, the thing that solidly won me over... DEAR. For those of you who don't know what DEAR is, it stands for "Drop Everything and Read". During homeroom teachers are supposed to yell "Drop everything and read!" (yeah, I'm going to wind up yelling "Stop Drop and Roll!" or something to that effect) and the kids are supposed to stop what they're doing and pick up a book of their choice. The main goal is to start encouraging students to love reading. What I really love about it is that the teachers are required to model. In other words, we too are supposed to kick back with a good book for 25 minutes every morning. Can you possibly think of a better way to start your day than with a cup of coffee and a good book with your class? Didn't think so!

My room is adorable. It's about half the size of the regular classrooms but in this particular building that's still fairly large. I have one wall that is a giant bulletin board and one wall that is all glass, looking out into the hallway. I'm directly across the hall from the art teacher who is an absolute darling! Sorry my dear art teacher, but I'm going to be in your classroom constantly! (Ah if only I could recruit Brazen!) Anyway, there is plenty of wall space to hang my photos and my vintage poster of JFK (yes, I'm THAT much of a nerd) but strangely there is also a standing display case in my room. I'm actually hoping that I get to keep it so that I can display some of the odder things I have collected over the years that may very well be of interest to some of my students.

On to some of my other favorite things that I learned today. The kids are required to wear uniforms. There are no words to describe how much it thrills me to know I will no longer have to endure 12 year olds in booty shorts. Our day is 8 to 5 which includes an hour after school of clubs and tutoring. Everything in the school is done on a database which means all lesson plans, grades, and discipline records are available online. Plans have to be done a week in advance (YAY!) so no more chasing teachers to find out what they're doing for the week so we won't have NO SURPRISES! The school has a major focus on technology so we're expected to be computer savvy as well as familiar with technological gadgets, to which I am hopelessly addicted. It's wonderful to feel at home pulling out my BlackBerry or my ITouch to check my calendar or send an email!

On top of that, there is also a strong emphasis on the arts. I had a wonderful time chatting with the art teacher about plans for an after school photography club (YAY AGAIN!) as well as expandeing the kids' horizons with other art forms that aren't typically visited in a public school curriculum.

I could go on and on but it was only the first day and there's so much more to come. So Day 1 down and so far the score is Charter School: 10. Public School: ZIP!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Benchley...Or Else!

To answer your question Mom, this will be my first time in a charter school and I have to say, I'm hoping to answer that question fairly quickly. I've heard from many that the special education services at charter schools are drastically different due to the differences in philosophies toward education. Now obviously I'm not exactly pro-public school after this last experience so I'm looking forward to seeing a different side of special ed.

What strikes me most about the principal of this particular school is that he believes in "college prep for all". The school is obviously centered on a high caliber education that will direct its students to good colleges but it's a breath of fresh air to have a principal who feels this should also apply to students on IEP's. He also believes that the ultimate goal is to tailor IEP's to the point where it either fits the student perfectly and allows them to succeed regardless of the environment OR the student succeeds to the point where the IEP is no longer necessary. Sounds perfect doesn't it?

On another note, everyone knows by now that I'm the biggest book nerd in the world. By the time I was done packing I had managed to fill 17 climate controlled boxes with books, not counting all the ones I managed to bring home with me and the ones still in the back of my father's minivan waiting to move into their new home at the charter school. Anyway, I picked up a biography of Dorothy Parker the other day, given that she is one of my favorite authors. I've flown through the first half of the book and decided it was time to pick up a few books by those who were her closest friends. Therefore I decided to check out Robert Benchley's book, "Benchley...Or Else". It's a collection of Benchley's short stories, some of which were originally published in the New Yorker when it was in its infancy. The very first story is about Benchley's hatred of pigeons in which he suggests he would like the opportunity to punch the daylights out of a pigeon. Much like Mrs. Parker, Benchley has an off beat, often self-depricating sense of humor that makes for easy reading and a few good giggles! I recommend you read both Benchley and Mrs. Parker. You'll quickly see where I get my penchant for literary lunacy!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The J O B

Ok Ms. Mom! Here are the gritty details... I got hired on at a charter school that just completed its planning year so this will be the first year that the school is actually up and running which means no cliques, no preconceived notions, and fewer barriers to break down (I hope!). I'll be the only special ed person for grades 6 through 9 which is my favorite age span given that 6th grade is about the time that most students start to really develop a solid self image and decide how they feel about education.

I got to see the building where the school is going to be which, coincidentally is where my other half attended high school which is a neat connection. The principal has promised to teach me Russian (I learned how to read and write it but can't speak it to save my life) and he plans to take the staff on an international field trip at the end of the year.

Otherwise, this new job is a great big unknown quantity given that the school is brand new. So for all I know it could be nothing but darkness and maybe a few dragons but I'm hoping that's not the case!

On another note, since I start work on the 17th (two weeks of orientation before the first day of school) I have decided to spend my last week of freedom taking the most out of every day! I know, I sound like a convicted killer off to death row but my nights of going out until 3 am are quickly coming to an end since I'm old and can't function on less than 9 hours of sleep. This evening we decided to drive down to Connecticut to see what was going on with the car scene. It was my first time going to this particular strip and I was in awe almost the moment we made it down there. There were cars everywhere, taking up almost every parking lot of every fast food joint, gas station, and strip mall. Hot rods, muscle cars, giant trucks. There was even a firebird jacked up on 42" tires.

In the parking lot of a small strip mall, all the import cars were gathered, turbo engines screaming every time they spooled, blowoff valves spitting air as guys blew by in their mortgages on wheels. We decided to give them a little show and took off to drift the 240 around the light poles in the empty half of the parking lot. It was crazy to see the crowd that gathered to watch while the tires billowed smoke and the front bumper of the car rode just inches away from the pole, pulling into a perfect circle.

Of course, this inspired some of the other clowns who got their licenses from a Cracker Jack box to attempt to show us up. (Cue ominous music.) The first MENSA candidate to try pulled into the empty parking lot in a brand new, $90,000 car. He kicks the car into gear, starts to slide sideways, then totally loses his shit. The car goes crazy and the kid can't seem to get it under control. Five seconds later he's pulling back out of the parking lot after damned near wrecking the most expensive vehicle in the parking lot. Needless to say, he didn't come back after that.

The next up was a brand new Corvette Z06 who also managed to hook the car sideways, made it halfway around the light pole, then lost control and went careening towards the center island. Near accident number 2!

The only car that came close was a beautifully built Subaru Impreza Sti. Being an all wheel drive car, the Sti can't drift but it certainly made a great show of doing donuts in place, looking like it was floating in circles on a cloud of smoke.

Then the cops came. Whoops. See what we started?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Back in the 413

Yes folks, the epic move of the century is finally over and guess how many book boxes it took to contain my overflowing collection? SEVENTEEN! And that's not counting the 5 shelf bookcase I shoved into my childhood bedroom and the giant pile of magazines sitting on my floor that have yet to find a home.

All in all I'm happy to be home. While I dearly miss my independence already, I realize I missed my parents, my neighborhood, and my roots more. So while I continue to sweat my ass off putting stuff away, I have some good news!

I found myself a new job. Now I know I ranted and raved about not wanting to teach anymore after my last horrid experience, but it was all talk. I can't ever leave teaching, even if I was offered the most fantastic, dream-like photography job in the world. I love teaching. And this time around, I'll be at a brand new school with brand new kids who have actively chosen this school because they want an outstanding education. Maybe this time I'll get my wish and actually get to teach! I'll keep you posted!