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Continental Thrift April 25, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Teaching.
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2 comments

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I’m still working on my epic post about teaching Sex Ed, but wanted to put up a new post just to show off  share the cool map my students made. They cranked it out in a day for our school’s upcoming International Day, and in case you’re geographically challenged, it’s South America.

I gave my students a pile of what I thought were G-rated magazines (Really, how racy could Family Circle be?) While I individually tested students’ reading fluency, the rest of the class sat out in the hallway tearing out pictures to match the colors on a physical map of South America in the atlas. (The finished map is 3′ x 6′.)  

One boy took me aside to let me know he saw something “nasty” in one of the magazines. I asked him if he could be a little more specific. (I’m big on asking kids to be specific – that’s probably why one kid thought it was called the “Specific Ocean.”) The boy mumbled something about a naked woman. I told him it was probably health related and hoped I was right. But, in third grade, kids are easily grossed out. I was more grossed out by all the pharmaceutical ads.  

That red strip is the Andes. I thought about sharing the story of Survived! with my students (a want vs. a need), but didn’t want to broach the subject of plane crashes and cannibalism – at least not before lunch.

Speaking of continents, (How’s that for a whiplash-inducing segue?) I found a rhyme that helps students remember the names of the continents.

                      The 7 Continents

North America, South America, joined in the West  
Europe meets with Asia, and on Africa they rest.
Australia stands alone, floating down below
And Antarctica is the loneliest, where no one want to go.

The best part is acting it out.  Ask for seven volunteers and assign each one a continent.  Have the “continents” line up (left to right): North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Antarctica sits in front of the group.

When we say “North America,” the child who is South America drops to one knee and the continents join by locking arms.  When we say “Europe,” the child who is Africa drops to a cross-legged position. “Europe” and “Asia” shake hands above Africa, then lean over and place an elbow (gently!) on each of “Africa’s” shoulders.

“Australia” drifts off to the right and pretends they’re floating. (All teachers have a kid who’s a natural Australia.) Antarctica crosses their arms and shivers. The audience loves to get in on the shivering action too.  

At the end of the year, I give students the rhyme, and they can fill in the names of the continents.  Of course, then there’s the issue of spelling. Cue shivering.

The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #1 April 18, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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101 comments

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I never could have imagined that so many people would read my 3-part series Close Encounter with a Narcissist. Or imagined how many people would leave comments detailing their own often heart-wrenching “close encounters.”

When I check my blog stats (something us bloggers obsessively do), I like to check the “search engine terms” people typed in before they were electronically dropped off at my blog’s doorstep.

In this new series, The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism, I’ll use a “search term” I’ve come across as a jumping off point for a discussion. (Please read the Close Encounter with a Narcissist series first, or it’s like walking in after the movie’s started. Shhhh!)  Here goes.

“Will a narcissist ever idealize you again?”

A close friend, who also had a friendship with a man with NPD, wrote eloquently about the idealization phase and gave me permission to share her thoughts. The following is an excerpt (with identifying details omitted).

“During the initial idealization phase, the Narcissist shines a laser beam of attention on us. We blossom in its unusual warmth. Most people don’t pay that kind of attention to us. We find we like it, need it, maybe even deserve it.

Then when the Narcissist realizes we actually like them, they think we must be worthless, because they themselves feel worthless inside and unlikeable. The beam of light shuts off. Then they shoot a death ray to ward us away. They don’t want an emotional relationship. It’s a tug of war between them needing attention and not wanting any emotional involvement, until we’re smart enough to let go of the rope. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor?)

Narcissists just seem to be much better at the initial burst of showering attention. And most people are starved for some kind of acknowledgement. I know I was. When I met “William,” he acted as if I was the greatest thing at first. And he was certainly a busy, interesting person. Yes, I was smitten. Yet, when I look back we never really even had conversations. After our initial meeting, they were mostly combat. Abuser/user.

You know what they say about alcohol and alcoholics. The first drink is the best high, and you spend the rest of your life chasing it, but it’s never the same. Later, all you get is sick. But you keep hoping, you’ll have that nice warm feeling again. But alcohol doesn’t care about you! Now, though, when I see him, I don’t feel anything, but I do remember how I used to feel.”

Sound familiar? When I first read it, I couldn’t help but say, “Yes!”  The Idealization phase is just that – a phase, and there’s no real way to extend it, unless you go into serious game-playing mode, renounce your humanity, and just play hard to get. It’s the chase that excites the Narcissist. But that’s not a relationship – that’s high school! So once you show genuine interest in a Narcissist, the exit sign quickly comes into view.

There’s no way around this. This is a script with a beginning (Idealization), a middle (Devaluation), and an end (Discard). I do think that people in long-term relationships with Narcissists (and so many who’ve written comments were married 25-35 years), live in a perpetual Twilight Zone of D&D. Even though they are not “physically” discarded, they are “emotionally” discarded early on. How can they get back into the Narcissist’s good graces? It’s simple. They can’t.

But what if…?  Those who’ve had a short-term “close encounter” often believe it’s possible to recapture that “magic.”  To call for a “do-over” – this time with a different result. What they don’t understand is that all magic is about illusion. Smoke and mirrors, as in it’s all an act. Any contact with the Narcissist after the initial D&D is just a sequel to the original show. And how many sequels to you know that are better than the original (The Godfather excluded)?

Think of the NS (Narcissistic Supply) a Narcissist derives from a victim, who repeatedly returns for more. Inside, the Narcissist feels worthless and unlovable, so he/she views any person who continues to be drawn to him/her as inferior, or to put it bluntly – a loser. All the more reason to kick that person to the curb – yet again. Elisse Stuart wrote about this in “Narcissistic Curtain Calls.”  A Narcissist might reel you back in one more time, not because they idealize you or miss you, but just to prove to themselves they can. Then the D&D begins anew. It’s the sinister human equivalent to the fisherman’s catch and release.

So the answer to the question, “Will a narcissist ever idealize you again?” is NO. I reached this conclusion in my head, long before I reached it in my heart. It’s an emotional tug of war, and you can only win when you let go of the rope.

Read The Mirror Talks – Reflections on Narcissism #2

Photo Credit:  Jan Marshall

The Zen of Gardening April 13, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Gardening, Hobbies.
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6 comments

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Growing up, my gardening experience was limited to weeding one very small strawberry patch, which was also our dog Holly’s favorite pooping spot.  To this day, I always wash strawberries one more time – just in case.

In the suburbs, people didn’t actually garden as they were too busy slavishly maintaining The Lawn.  One of my enduring memories is of driving past our neighbor’s house and seeing him sitting out in the front yard after dinner every night with a bucket, methodically digging up dandelions. Night…after night… after night.  What a monumental waste of time, I thought.  You go to work all day in a cubicle (though cubicles had yet to be invented and popularized by Dilbert) and come home to THIS.  But I was young, so what did I know?

In 1996, we bought our first house and the pipeline of “Better Homes & Gardens” began flowing (Thanks Mom).  I realized that I actually liked getting my hands dirty and watching the bugs and worms scuttle off when I overturned a rock. (See Bugs Don’t Bug Me.)  Rabid do-it-yourselfers, my husband and I broke out the concrete patio, then meticulously reset the broken pieces of concrete in a bed of mortar with a scattering of polished black stream stones.

In the middle of our new and improved patio, we planted two queen palm trees inside a 3-foot high circular concrete planter.  My husband and I personally hand-mixed 42 bags of concrete to pull this off in a day (with only one emergency trip to Home Depot to buy MORE concrete). When I look at the planter now, the only logical explanation for undertaking such a project is demonic possession.

We planted a variety of plants around the base of the palms.  Strawberries for our pig (above dog pooping level), some bulbs, a succulent, and ivy so it cascades over the top of the planter, which is outlined in bricks.

One night my husband noticed I was hovering over the planter, which I’d come to do more often than not. Night…after night…after night.  I fussed over every incursion by a weed and meticulously clipped away any leaf that dared to go brown on the tip.  What was happening to me?

I’d started teaching, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that my first three years of teaching, I had horrible classes.  Horrible.  I’d often come home feeling overwhelmed and then have to start calling parents about what their little darling had done that day.  It was incredibly stressful.

That’s when it hit me.  So much of my life was out of control, and the one thing I felt I could control was a little patch of dirt.  Suddenly, my heart went out for that neighbor from my childhood.  After a day at a mind numbing job, he was out picking dandelions most likely for the same reason I was hovering over my “garden” with manicure scissors.  To keep his sanity. To keep his head from exploding a la Scanners.

What better place to clear your head, but in the garden, where you can lapse into the rhythms of nature and use your hands to do something besides double click.  I can’t think of anything more zen than whiling away quality time in the garden, allowing your soul to feast on the beauty of the natural world.

I’m feeling settled as a teacher these days, and my newfound serendipity shows in my gardening, which is sporadic and in spurts. My husband likes to say there’s nothing I like better to do than sit out in the dirt.  It’s true, I’ve no need for those high tech knee pads, as I just plunk myself down and get to work.  I’m a Taurus and that IS an earth sign.  I wonder.

Not long ago, my husband wandered out back looking for me.  Not seeing me, he stood still for a moment until he could hear me.  I was sitting in the dirt behind a giant perennial, pruning.  Clip.  Clip.  Clip.  My jeans were encrusted with dirt, as was my face.  He took in the view. “You know, back in the pioneer days,” he said, “If you’d been kidnapped by Indians, you would have SO gone native.”

You know, I think that’s one of the nicest compliments my husband has ever paid me.

Kvetching About Testing April 11, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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3 comments
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My favorite book about high stakes testing. The cafeteria serves students salmon because it's good for their brains. Available on Amazon.

Spring has sprung, and as teachers know, April showers bring May flowers testing. Yes, it will soon be time for The TEST.  For students in California, it’s the CST.  High stakes testing that will determine our school’s API (Academic Performance Index), an academic Scarlet Letter that we’ll have to wear in public for an entire year.  Public stoning is a possibility, though for most of us, it’s more about self-flagellation.  Yes, it’s “No Child Left Behind” (or only a few children and hopefully one of them is not yours).  

All of the learning and teachable moments that I’ve shared with my students since September pale in comparison with their performance on The Test.  It is the ultimate trump card and though I’ve taught my students every test-taking strategy on the planet (at least on mine), in the end they’re flying solo.  Unlike in Second Grade, where teachers can read the directions aloud, in Third Grade, students read the directions by themselves.  (Despite all my admonitions, I cross my fingers that they’ll bother to read the directions!)

We have only three more weeks to “prepare” our students for testing.  On our first day back from Spring Break, we’re spending part of our Professional Development day making motivational posters to inspire students.  This is the closest I’ll ever come to being a cheerleader.  Rah rah. 

I don’t believe for a minute that all this emphasis on testing is a reliable indicator of what children have actually learned or are capable of.  Yes, testing provides a measure of accountability, which is necessary, but really! Even my principal, at a recent staff meeting, worried out loud that all this emphasis on test results could lead to “unethical behavior,” or as one teacher shouted out, “You mean, teachers might cheat!”  

The temptation to cheat is a legitimate concern.  Especially with talk about putting students’ test scores in a teacher’s record (as in, “This will go down on your permanent record.”)  Then there’s that talk about financially rewarding teachers based on their students’ test scores. If that were the case, who’d want to teach my class? (Many students who are chronically playing “catch up” because they’re learning English.)

My students have come so far since September, but like a proud mother, I might be a tad biased. Our school librarian still laughs every time she remembers how my new boy from Korea turned to me when checking out a book and asked, “What’s my last name?”  Should I be worried?  Hell, yes! It might say “Miracle Worker” on my coffee cup, but it’s my students who move in mysterious ways (which might explain why they so frequently fall out of their chairs).

A week of testing awaits in May, and once the “offices” (manilla folders stapled together to discourage wandering eyes) go up, I can only cross my fingers, and look to the heavens.  I’m still hoping that April showers WILL bring May flowers.  


Jonathan Winters LOL April 7, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in TV/Film.
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3 comments

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For the last four years, my husband, Richard, has been working on a film about the legendary comedian Jonathan Winters.  This has been one interesting ride.  While Richard schmoozes with Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel, I’m at school on yard duty and confiscating Hot Cheetos.  

Sometimes I do get lucky though and come home to find leftovers from one of Richard’s infamous lunches with Jonathan at Piatti’s in Montecito.   Then I get to forgo Lean Cuisine for a day and chow down on Pappardelle or Pollo Parmigiana.  I also settle for leftover stories about the day’s shoot.  After a long day in the trenches of public education, I can use a good laugh.

I grew up eagerly anticipating The Jonathan Winters Show.  He was the real deal – a total original.  Hand him something – anything, and he could do a shtick with it, and a damn funny one at that. 

Through a chance meeting in Santa Barbara, Richard and his partner, Jim, met Jonathan, who is also an accomplished artist.  What started out as a documentary about Jonathan and his art, evolved into a “mockumentary” with a supporting cast of some of the funniest people I know.  But then I think Ryan Stiles (from The Drew Carey Show) is a poker-faced scene stealer.  

Certifiably Jonathan includes clips of Jonathan’s original comedy routines from his show and from The Jack Paar Show.  I still laugh every time I watch these. You could call it a “heist movie,” as the plot hinges on Jonathan having his sense of humor stolen.  A stellar cast tries to cajole Jonathan and advise him on how to go about regaining one’s sense of humor.  If nothing else, it’s a film for the times we live in.

When I finally met Jonathan, he was wandering though my house wearing a cavalry hat and looked a bit like a long-lost Kamikaze.  The title of the film. Certifiably Jonathan, was inspired by Jonathan’s commitment in a mental institution.  Jonathan, who is bipolar, is candid about how his childhood and this disorder have shaped him as a human, and ultimately as a comedian. They always say that all comedy springs from a dark place, and Jonathan’s been there, done that.  Yet he still has that twinkle in his eye.

It was while making the film that we met Nora Dunn (SNL, Entourage) and her brother Kevin Dunn (Transformers, Samantha Who), people I now count as friends and are way fun to hang with.

What amazed me most was that at the screenings, it was the 20 somethings, many who’d never heard of Jonathan Winters, who laughed the hardest.  The film is brilliantly edited (and no, my husband, the producer and editor, didn’t tell me to write that), and Buddy Judge’s score is perfect AND quirky (Now there’s something I’d wouldn’t mind on my tombstone).  Jonathan is indeed certifiable – as a comic genius who paved the wave for a generation of improvisational comics to follow.  You can see the trailer and find out how to order a DVD on the Official Certifiably Jonathan website.

Dexter Bobblehead April 3, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in TV/Film.
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3 comments

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Whoa!  As one who’s used to straddling the boundary between good taste and – well, fun, I couldn’t help but get excited when my personal trainer, Louis, showed me his Dexter Bobblehead doll tonight. Louis also shares my addiction to all things Dexter (see Why I Love Dexter), so we have lots to talk about besides deltoids. (I think that’s a muscle group, but he could be talking about Altoids for all I know.)

The box says “America’s Favorite Serial Killer” and “Some might say he’s making the world a better place – one murder at a time.” And what’s Dexter holding behind his back? No need for a spoiler alert cause I’ll never tell. This is the OFFICIAL bobblehead produced, no doubt, by hardworking children in China, who are wondering what sport this “Dexter” guy plays.  But as the package warns, this is only for those 18 and older.

To find out more, go to BIFBANGPOW.com   You can also order Dexter’s sister Deb’s bobblehead, or opt for the Dexter action figure instead (duct tape and trash bags sold separately). Call me sick, but it beats those Bratz dolls! At BIFBANGPOW, you’ll also find a sh@tload of pop culture merchandise. Buoy the economy by buying a Rod Serling action figure or check out the Twilight Zone stuff.  (Cue Twilight Zone music).  Wow, I can just picture Rod Serling narrating what’s been happening with the economy. I wonder how this episode will turn out?

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