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The Right to Smite August 8, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Food for Thought.
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Hmmm. It's so tempting. Who's been naughty?

As a supporter of  “No on Prop. 8,” or as I like to think of it, “No on H8,” no one was happier than me to see the ban on gay marriage in California declared unconstitutional this week by the 9th District  Federal Court.

Having been married for 33 years to the same man, I’m not concerned that gay marriage makes my marriage less than sacred.  Geez, I’m surprised in this day in age that anyone wants to make a life-long commitment to each other.  People complain that gays are promiscuous, yet when they want to settle down and get married, some people get their undies in a bunch. Talk about a double double standard!

So in the wake of recent uplifting news (Hey, gays can now get married in Argentina and Mexico City!), I received a forward on Facebook entitled a Letter to Dr. Laura (Schlessinger) that had me LOL. Leave it to those snoops at Snopes to get the skinny on this letter, which it turns out has been floating around since 2000.  It’s a hilarious read and “best read as an essay offering a counter to the “homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says so” argument.  It takes the bull by the horns, but explains why you shouldn’t cook the bull.   I strongly suggest you read it, or I might just have to smite you!

Letter to Dr. Laura

Photo Credit:  Free Canuckistan

Reading The Girl Who Played with Fire July 19, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Entertainment.
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Book #2 in Larsson's Millenium Trilogy, all of which were published after his death.

Holy crap! What a ride! Although I loved Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first 100 pages read like an annual report. Larsson’s second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, puts you in a chokehold on Page One.

I’ve entered Day Five of being consumed by this book, which I literally haven’t been able to put down. Okay on Day One I took it to Children’s Court, but tucked it inside How to Improve Children’s Reading, so as not to tip my hand. It seemed downright wrong to be reading this book with so many children about. My husband pointed out that the movie is now out and got great reviews, but any bibliophile knows it’s not the same. So now I’m looking at another late night.

It’s not that I’m a slow reader, but there are so many twists and turns that I can only read a couple of chapters till I’m flat out exhausted. Then there’s the matter of IKEA. When Lisbeth Salander furnishes her new apartment, every item she buys at IKEA is listed, so it’s like I’ve been inside her apartment. Hey, I’ve got those BILLY shelves too!

Speaking of things that begin with “B.” I’m beginning to think half the surnames in Sweden start with a B, which makes it a challenge to remember who’s who. Blomkvist, the yin to Salander’s yang from the first book is easy to remember along with Berger, his long-time lover, and her husband Beckman. Then there’s Bjurman, Lizbeth’s guardian, and now in this book, detective Bublanski (Good Cop), and Bjorck (Bad Cop) and Bohman (Former Cop). I was half-expecting Bjork to make a cameo appearance.

And what’s with the characters grabbing a bite to eat at a 7-11? Or McDonalds for that matter? Something must be missing in translation as the last place I’d pick up pasta is 7-11. That’s where you go for the bladder-buster-sized soda or some lotto tickets, or to make some quick cash. No not Lotto – robbery!

Lisbeth’s obsession for Billy’s (there’s that “B” again) Pan Pizza got me to wondering, so I googled it. Who would have known?  To learn more about the best pizza you’ve never tried, you can go to Billy’s Pan Pizza – Comfort Food for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Gotta go. Chapter 26 awaits. But if you’d like to read more about the series and Stieg Larsson’s untimely death, check out  Steig Larsson.com.

Post Mortem – I finished the book yesterday and came up for air. Whew, my heartbeat has returned to normal. Book 3, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is now out in hardcover, but I’m biding my time. My husband’s friend couldn’t wait, but didn’t want to shell out the big bucks. His solution?  He went to Borders for three days in a row and stood and read the new book. He says it’s a slam dunk. I can wait, but I am feeling the need to go to IKEA. UPDATE: The Borders Option is no longer available.

Rats! June 28, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Home Front.
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Okay, while rats is the operative word, it’s a metaphor for so much more… Rats leaving a sinking ship, as in eleven, count’em, Thank You cards lined up to sign for colleagues who received a RIF notice.  Rats! Some of the best teachers ever are being put out to sea, while the sinking ship that is education takes on more water (aka students).

To add insult to injury, as the teachers struggled to pack up last Friday, the fire alarms went off at one-minute intervals – for five hours (okay, they took a break for lunch).  My son, who was helping me pack up my room, looked stricken.  I said, “Can you see how this could drive you crazy?” as we wandered in circles looking for the one roll of masking tape we needed to cover all the bookshelves with paper.  Especially, if you’re already crazy to begin with,” he shot back, but I’m immune to his caustic comments. I don’t know why the military engages in waterboarding, when the most effective form of torture I can think of is having you pack up a filthy classroom with fire alarms blaring.  Think about it.

I checked out of the school by 1 p.m.  My husband was late joining us for lunch.  He’d been at home waiting for “Johnny Rat,” the pest control specialist, to check out our growing rat problem.  (Yes, that’s how his name is printed on the card.) Think tiny claws in the walls at night and palm fronds that suddenly collapse with tell-tale nibble marks.  We’ve been in denial about “the rat problem” for years.

When I wrote I Smell a Rat, we were talking about ONE rat.  Now we’re talking about legions.  Think of the movie 300 only with rats in the starring roles.

So Mr. Rat and his sidekick, Nelson, from the Rat Patrol took a look see, and the news wasn’t good.  I think the only reason we don’t have a termite problem is because the rats have crowded them out.  So my first day of summer vacation was spent listening to the ills that could befall of us if we don’t take care of “the rat problem.”

I now know way more than I ever wanted to know about personal lives of these wily rodents (or vermin, depending on your POV).  We were informed that once the rats had all been trapped and new screening installed so they can’t jump from the trees onto the roof and move back into the attic, that a new problem of biblical proportions will emerge.  Rat mites!  Without a delicious rats to feast on, the starving mites will come looking for fresh flesh and blood…us!  Through the walls…through the ceilings. We couldn’t write the check fast enough. This will be an ongoing battle and from an evolutionary standpoint, the rats have an advantage.  We’ve trimmed all of the bushes and trees four feet back from the house. Johhny Rat and Nelson are all that stands between us and these flesh eating mites.

Mr. Rat winced when we introduced him to our son’s two pet rats, Peanut and Brittle.  My husband informed him that rats are smart and make great pets.  Johnny agreed that they are smart as he’s been trying to outsmart them for years.  But the look on his face said it all.  Pet rats!  I think he thought we were crazy.  But then he met the pig and now he knows for sure. Rats!

Que Hora Es? June 20, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Entertainment.
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My friend Cathy sent a link to this hilarious clip on YouTube – a soap opera for people who only had three weeks of Spanish in the Fourth Grade.  I’ve written about my attempts to learn Spanish in My Spanish es Muy Malo. I tried watching Spanish soaps (telenovelas), hoping to learn a thing or dos, but the actors were obviously from the school of eyebrow acting.  But this one I can follow.  Enjoy!

 

Glad to Grad June 14, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal.
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What a long strange trip its been since we started our masters in Educational Administration just a year ago. That was before I even knew what a cohort was. I liked to joke that, “We put the whore in cohort.”

Fourteen Powerpoint presentations is as close to Hell as you can get. Last Thursday was the final night of our final class. Tada! After Powerpoint presentation #6, my FSB (Favorite Study Buddy) Teresa whispered, “I think I’m going to throw up. I mean it.” I told her, first of all, to move away from me, and second, to step outside the room for some fresh air. She did and returned a paler shade of green. “So this is how the world ends,” I thought, “not with a bang, but a whimper.” I think someone else said that, but we all agreed that we’ve become much stupider since entering this program. “I don’t want to sound intelligent or anything” has become our mantra.

If Starbucks stock plummets, it’s because Thelma and Louise (AKA Teresa and Jan) are no longer refueling our engines every Wednesday and Thursday night. Even after a year, I still couldn’t remember the difference between a “large” and a “grande.” And Teresa complained her “CRS” was getting worse. “CRS?” I asked. “Can’t Remember Shit,” she replied. Yes, we teach small children. You should be scared.

I woke up on Saturday and for the first time in a year reveled in not having to write a reflection for a class like “The Machine as a Metaphor the Organization.” It was bad enough that we had to write our Action Research paper using APA format. I can hardly wait to delete Son of Citation Master from my bookmarks. Let’s face it, the person I’m most fond of quoting is myself. And when in doubt, go to Wikipedia.

We still have five weeks to assemble our digital portfolio, but the grunt work is done. My poor husband has been looking at the back of my head for a year as I sat at the computer cranking out paper after paper. “You know, if this was a two-year program, I’d be divorcing you,” he said matter-of-factly. Can you blame him? Not to mention how this program got in the way of my blogging. But “at the end of the day” (accompanied by air quotes), I’m back. I look forward to posting more frequently.

Brain in a Jar clipart is from Discovery School.com

The ABCs of ASL May 23, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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ASL incorporates finger spelling and signing that is as unique as the person doing it.

I took my students on a field trip last week.  The professional storyteller asked how many of the teachers in the room  like to play school when they were growing up.  All hands shot up – except mine. She storyteller was genuinely surprised.  “You’re the first teacher I’ve met who didn’t play school,” she said.  I shrugged, “Teaching is my second career.”  But the damage was done. “One, two three, eyes on me”- the teacher who never played school as a child.

Though I didn’t play school, when I was in the third grade (which just happens to be the grade I teach now), I read Helen Keller’s biography and learned the manual alphabet at the back of the book. My friends and I used it as our secret code in middle school.  I still remember standing my friend’s classroom and signing some message of major import (everything in middle school is of major import). Years later when I was in Idaho, I met one of my husband’s distant relatives who was deaf. My signing was rusty, but I was able to communicate with this woman.  I remember thinking, “This is so COOL!”

I once subbed for a fourth grade class learning to sign “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”  I only knew how to finger spell words, so this was fun. When you sign “used to,” you throw your hand over your shoulder like you’re getting rid of something.  I loved that.  Later when our friend Leszek became a U.S. citizen, I watched as a woman signed the entire swearing in ceremony at the L.A. Convention Center. It was beautiful to watch. But what does this have to do with teaching?

As a teacher, you get tired of hearing the sound of your own voice. And at some point, your students do too.  Signing is a great way to give directions. And I’ve learned that students LOVE to sign. When you sign, students are “all ears.”

Last year I bought two decks of signing cards and a book Signing at School. There’s always several students who spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over this book.  That would have been me in third grade.  Did you know that knowing ASL qualifies as speaking a foreign language?  Just in case you’ve got to get that requirement out of the way.

This year, I have a class heavy on girls, so that means one thing – girl drama. I had to laugh when the other day when the girls were having a go at each other, one of the boys looked at me and signed “Girl Drama!”

I learned to sign “Girl Drama on ASLPro.  You can search for a word or phrase and see it signed.  My only complaint is that some of the signing is a little fast.  I need it in s-l-o-w  m-o-t-i-o-n.

I’ve slowly been trying to build my signing vocabulary.  I began with “Sit” “See you later”  and ” I love you.” I’ve graduated to “Follow me” “boys” (which is signed using the motion for the brim of a baseball hat) and “girls” (which mimics a girl tying her bonnet). I teach a cluster of English Language learners, but they love using ASL.

I’ve actually found that watching songs helps because of the repetition of signs.  Recently, through my blog’s Tag Surfer feature, I came across  middle schoolers signing Justin Timberlake’s Apologize on Youtube.  While on Youtube, I stumbled across Apologize signed by ICSTARS, who is hearing. It’s probably the most expressive signing I’ve seen. His signing shows how ASL is not just communication, but art.

Finally, ASL Tutor On-Line is a site where if you have SKYPE, you can be personally be tutored in signing for only $15 an hour.  I’m seriously thinking of expanding my signing vocabulary this summer using this feature. With the projected class size increase next year, I need to know how to sign “You’re standing on my last nerve!”

Testing, Testing, Testy May 10, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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We start standardized testing tomorrow. This is a BIG deal. Your ABCs aren’t nearly as important as you API. I suspect Fisher-Price already has Baby’s First Scantron in development. What a great way to teach kids A,B,C, and D!

Don’t get me wrong. I do take testing seriously, but really, “is that all there is?” In Third Grade, we did 20 days of test prep on top of the unit testing for Open Court. One reading comprehension story involved a boy with a paper route.

Now I don’t know about you, but my newspaper (which we now only have delivered Thursday through Sunday) is delivered by a grown man named Jorge who drives an old Toyota and is left curbside at 6 a.m. I used to worry when the paper was missing that it had been stolen, until my husband reminded me that no one reads the paper any more. I hate it when he’s right.

So why are they asking my students, all whom were born post millennium, about a paper route. Most of their families don’t even read the newspaper!

Then there was a question about where you’d look to find more information if you were writing a report about kangaroos. The choices were a) the index b) the glossary  c) an encyclopedia, or d) the bibliography. One by one, my students raised their hands to signal they needed help. “I don’t get it, ” they whispered, “Where’s Google?”  Can you blame them?

I’ve recently trained my third graders on how to refine their search engine terms, so Wikipedia is the closest they’ll every come to the Encyclopedia. The other day, I took them on a trip down Memory Lane to the reference section of our library, so at least they know what an encyclopedia looks like. We only have one because it’s just so special.   If only we had a card catalog to complete their education in 20th century information hunting and gathering.

So we start standardized testing tomorrow. I have my fingers crossed. If only they could choose A,B,C, or G (for Google).

Photo Credit:  Paperboy from Google Images

May Means Mother’s Day Cards May 1, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Teaching.
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April showers bring May flowers, STAR testing, and, what’s that other one? Oh yeah, Mother’s Day. This year Mother’s Day falls on May 9th, the day before STAR testing begins. So this week my third graders will be cranking out Mother’s Day cards. Actually it’s a great way to remind them that both “Mother’s” and “Day” need to be capitalized, as there’s always a question like that on the test.

Last year I finally got around to making five templates, so students can take turns tracing MOM. (Taking turns – a valuable skill NOT on the test.) When folded, the card is around 5×6.  I actually have them use card stock, so they can color it in with markers. (I’m notoriously stingy when it comes to letting students use markers.)  They color in the positive space and then the negative using a variety of lines, and geometric and organic shapes.

When they’re done, I have them flip over the card, so they can see it says, “WOW.”  They think this is way cool. I explain that both MOM and WOW are palindromes and give them several other examples. (One year I conveniently had a Hannah in my class!)  So this week my students will walk out of class with a cool card for “dear ole” and some more esoteric information that will NEVER appear on the STAR test.  LOL.

Playing Musical Chairs April 18, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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Student art in the style of Miro. I believe the girl really did poke her eye out! Or maybe it was just her annoying neighbor.

It’s that time of year.   With all the yakking and smacking (gum, rubber bands, and pencils that is), I need to move some kids around. But my students sit at tables for two, so anytime I move one kid, it has a domino effect.

It’s also that time of year when students learn to write a persuasive letter. So if a student wants to switch seats, they have to persuade me. Over Spring Break, I ran across letters students had written in years past, which cracked me up. I gave them a few tips on how to be tactful, and was pleasantly surprised at the results. Please bear in mind some are English Language Learners. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Dear Ms. M,

May I change seats please? Because Ricardo steal my pen and every day Ricardo say “Can I have your pencil?” and “Can I use your sharpener?” I want seats by Anthony.  Because Anthony he can help me, and I can ask to him. Most important Anthony has own pencil.

Dear Ms. M,

I would like to change seats please.  The person next to me talk to much and they are very bossy. That is why I want to move. The person is N and she tells people to do this and do that.  She’s telling me what to do write now. If you move me then I will work harder and help people in need.

Dear Ms. M,

May I change seats please.  The person sitting next to me talks all the time so it is hard for me to focus when you are talking about all the really important stuff.  He is also a big boy so he takes up a lot of leg room.

All three students got to change seats. But then they got to learn an English idiom – The grass is always greener.

When Your Relative is a Pig April 10, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal.
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In her Easter bonnet...

My sister-in-law Jane called from Idaho to tell how her seven year-old twins, Izzy and Kate, told their teacher they didn’t eat pork. When their teacher asked why, they replied, “Because our cousin Maisie is a pig.”  The teacher thought this was so imaginative, she shared it with Jane, who looked at her and with a straight face and replied, “Their cousin IS a pig.”

Of course, Jane then asked if we could dress Maisie up in some clothes and send a picture so the twins could take it for Show and Tell.  Yes, an outfit for a pig.  I added that to my very long “To Do” list.

By chance, our friend Nora was visiting from Chicago.  She’s hopelessly artsy and prone to flights of fancy. When she heard this story, I swear I saw her ears prick up.  “Maisie needs a hat,” Nora announced, as though this was the most sensible idea in the world.

With all the frills upon it.

The next day, Nora was “on it” though she returned home midday to measure the distance between Maisie’s ears.  Two days later, I found her sitting outside fashioning a hat from crepe paper and all the trimmings she’d purchased at Zinnia. There was a chill in the air, but compared to the the weather back in Chicago, it was downright balmy. While Nora fussed over the details, Maisie snoozed in the sun nearby. Every artist needs a muse.

Last week, I finally decided we had to get a shot of Maisie wearing THE hat. Working with a Plus Size model with an attitude is no walk in the park, but Maisie sees Project Runway in her future.  And I finally got to cross THAT off my “To Do” list.

Ultimately, this “project” made me thankful for all the crazy creative people in my life.  Those people, who without hesitation said,  “Their cousin IS a pig!” and “Maisie needs a hat.”  My hat’s off to them.

Comedy Traffic School – Not! March 15, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal.
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I was speeding.  I admit it.  But the time should fit the crime.  What on earth possessed me to sign up for online Comedy Traffic School?  “I don’t hear you laughing,” my husband called to me from the next room during what turned out to be a 7-hour ordeal.  On a Saturday.

It didnt help that I’d spent so much on time on the computer in the past three weeks that my husband accused me of hooking up with terrorists in a chat room and planning to kill the Swedish cartoonist who made the mistake of putting Mohammed’s head on the body of a dog.  I assured him that as a die-hard Pearls Before Swine fan, that was too lightweight to even register on my radar.  By the way, did you know that “Radar spelled backwards is radar?”

Just to make sure you don’t go straight to the questions, you’re warned that odd sentences are planted in the text.  You need to be able to recall these to prove you read EVERY word of the California Vehicle Code.  So one minute you’re reading about how high the fog lights, er I mean lamps, need to be off the ground, and then you suddenly bump smack into a clunker like, “My favorite fern is my best frond.”  or “Jacques Cousteau’s fingertips were always ‘pruney’.”

Just to provide some levity, there’s some side splitting jokes like the Five Things NOT To Say To a Police Officer.  The first one was, “Sorry officer, but I was reaching for my bag of crack when my gun fell off my lap and wedged between the accelerator and brake pedal forcing my car to go out of control.” Or, “Excuse me, but which one of the Village People are you?” It only got worse.

Did you know, “a Toyota” spelled backwards is “a Toyota?”  Just wanted to make sure you’re still paying attention.  More important is that you pay attention while you are driving, or you too could spend a Saturday afternoon in front of the computer with no prospect of a trip to Sweden.  “Ancient Egyptians shaved their eyebrows to mourn the death of their cats.”  Hey, you passed!

Do – Dough – D’oh! March 2, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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A reader provided a link to this incredibly clever video featuring students in the South Pasadena School District lamenting the loss of school funds.  If education is as important as everyone says it is, how come we can’t find the money to fund it?  I’m afraid Californians are going to wake up in the not too distant future only to realize, “D’oh! We forgot to educate the kids!”

Running on Empty February 7, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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Getting my masters degree has seriously gotten in the way of the really important things in my life – like blogging.  For my my regular readers, I do have a lot of posts “in the works.”  There’s The Scarlet Letter – A is for Autism, The Narcissist as Nobody and the confessional tell-all,  I was a Difficult Parent.  I’ve also been working on a post on foot fetishism, which I became interested in when I saw the search engine terms people used to reach my Why is Horniness Coming from My Mom’s Feet post.  Actually, I just want an excuse to get a pedicure so I can use own feet in the preferred “fan pose” for the graphic.

I just passed the halfway point in my program.  If I can hang in there until June, I’m home free.  But in the meantime, I’m running on empty.

For all the teachers in my life, the clipart is from Discovery Education.

Dead Fly on the Wall January 26, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Art.
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I was scrambling to finish my final five report cards when my friend Nancy emailed me pictures of  “dead fly art.”  According to the email all you need to do is get a dead fly (or moth), let it sit for an hour, and then let your imagination run wild.  Hey, I’m good at that.

Those who know me know I’ve got a thing for bugs, even dead ones, so of course I put the report cards on hold and googled “dead fly art.”  I found lots of links, most which featured really annoying ads.  (And you thought I was going to say ads that “bug me,” but I’m not THAT obvious!) The “dead fly art” has been featured on several sites in the UK. Some of the original photos have what looks like German Swedish writing on them.  Who is the genius behind these?  (I’ve since learned it’s Swedish photographer Magnus Mohr.)  I’m now thinking of a really cool art project for Open House.  After all, our current unit is Imagination, and Picasso is so old school.  I hope the parents have a sense of humor.  Now, back to those report cards.

To see more “Dead Fly Art,”  go to The Chive Photo Blog.

My Keyboard is Toast January 10, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Worth Knowing.
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The last time I tried to clean my computer keyboard, I popped off a few keys only to realize that they didn’t snap back on like Legos.  Oops!  My husband Richard aka Tech Support wasn’t amused. He ordered a new keyboard for my trusty Mac Powerbook on eBay, but when it arrived the keys moved in slow motion.  Richard cleaned it with canned air and discovered the problem. The keyboard was filled with cat hair.  Achoo!  But it worked.

My husband upgraded his Mac not long ago, which means I got his hand-me-down.  I’m not complaining.  Macs are like Volvos.  You can get a lot of mileage out of one.  My old new computer arrived with a letter to me from the computer itself.  The computer asked that I take good care of it – no toast crumbs or spilled Coke on the keyboard from my breakfast.  (See Coke for Breakfast.)  I thought this was thoughtful on the computer’s part and fully intended to clean up my act.  I even started putting my toast on a plate before I ate it (visualize crumbs spewing) over the keyboard.

Today the “m” key started sticking.  I called Tech Support, currently camped in the Silicon Valley. I got The Lecture.   “Just tell me what to do!” I pleaded.

I had to shut down my computer and turn it on its side. I gave it a couple of good shakes (sort of like burping a baby). Then I got the can of compressed air and shot it under the keys until the can was too cold to hold.  A lot of grit came out that did bear a passing resemblance to toast crumbs. But what I noticed most was the amount of hair.  There were a few long strands of red hair (mine), but the rest of it was dog fur, more precisely, fur from our dog Petey.  I’ve often likened his shedding to a snow blower, but really!

Curious, I googled “how to clean a laptop keyboard.”  I stumbled upon the site Howtocleanstuff.net, where you can find how to get rid of blood stains (one person swears you can get rid of menstrual stains on underwear using meat tenderizer!), how to clean Barbie hair, and even how to clean bronzed baby shoes.  You can find out how to clean old cat poop from carpet (the person who sold us that keyboard could probably use that one).  There was even a woman whose husband had begun working at a dairy farm and wanted to know how to remove that “farm smell” from her man.  If your man’s scent is “Moo,” you’ll definitely want to check this out!

Adopting a Family for Christmas December 19, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays.
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This year I adopted a family for the holidays at my school. Staff and parent volunteers worked tirelessly to deliver baskets to 80-plus families.

In the spirit of recycling, I came across the first story I ever had published and thought I’d reprint it.  Operation Santa Claus was appeared in Parents in December 1993.  When I reread the article, what jumped out was how my writing has evolved.  I’m inserting some original commentary in italics that was edited out.  My original piece wasn’t so saccharine. WARNING:  Reading this could induce a diabetic coma.  Always, Jan

Operation Santa Claus

Last year, as Christmas approached, I started wondering if this would be my son Taylor’s last Christmas as a believer.  After all, he was eight, and as a native new Yorker, he’s a born skeptic.

But my husband, Richard, and I had perpetuated the myth of Santa very well. Taylor and his five-year-old brother, Ian, wholeheartedly believed that a man who had a belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly parked his team of flying reindeer on the roof of our ten-story apartment building and popped down our chimney to deliver presents to us.  Each Christmas Eve, Santa wrote the boys a long letter in flowing script.  Each Christmas morning, the boys found the fireplace screen pushed aside and  large boot print in the soot, irrefutable proof that Santa did indeed exist.

I wanted to help Taylor – who spent hours working on his list for Santa, even attaching coupons in case there was a Toys “R” Us near the North Pole – begin to understand the joy of giving before he discovered the truth.  But how?

That’s when I heard about Operation Santa Claus.  Sixty-plus years ago, clerks at the New York City General Post Office knew that the letters addressed to Santa that they received would go unanswered.  So they dug into their own pockets to buy food and toys for the children. Eventually the public was invited to respond to the letters, and today many cities have similar programs.  I decided to enlist Taylor’s help.

I wandered around the crowded post office lobby until I found Santa’s official post-office box: a cardboard cutout of jolly old Saint Nick, and two long festively decorated tables that were laden with boxes of letters labeled “New York State” “New Jersey” and “Foreign,” as well as one box for each New York City borough.  I joined a dozen or so people who were busily sifting through the piles of letters.

There were many poignant stories.  One was from a needy mother asking for food and clothes for her children.  Another was from a special education teacher who asked for class supplies. After several minutes, I found the letter that touched my heart.  It was written by a child who lived in a New York City public housing project and began, “Dear Santa, I believe in you.”  I read on.

“I hope you and Mrs. Claus are fine and healthy.  I’ve been sick with asthma and that feels so bad.  My name is Maria, and I am almost 11 years old.  I have three brothers – Juan, age 16, Jose, age 15, and Carlos, age 9.  Carlos is handicapped, but I say to everyone that he is handicapable.

This year we all have been through a lot of scares and crying, including Mom, because Carlos has been very sick and in and out of the hospital.  He has a brain tumor and gets seizures. Our wish is for Carlos to get cured and to be able to walk, talk, and be normal.”

“Carlos and I share a room, and because he’s so sick, he still sleeps in a crib. So for Carlos, I wish a beautiful crib set – one with sheets and a pillow and curtains to match and a quilt.  He loves Mickey Mouse.”

“I would like an American Beauty Queen Barbie.  Juan and Jose would like some presents too. And can you also bring my mommy something?  She always gives to us and she never gets anything for herself.

“Thank you Santa.  I love you, Maria.”

A postal worker sitting behind the table smiled at me and said, “Did you find a letter?”  I nodded, and she handed me a form to sign.  I tucked Maria’s letter in my pocket and hummed Christmas musical all the way home.

Later that night, reality set in.  How could I afford gifts for other children when I could hardly afford them for my own?  (I have to admit, I wondered if maybe the letter was a scam – really, a brother with a brain tumor?) I considered returning the letter but instead let it sit in a drawer for several days.  Still ambivalent, I took a chance and shared it with Taylor.

He was shocked.  “How did you get Santa’s mail?” he queried.  I told him about Operation Santa Claus, but he still didn’t understand.  “Santa will bring Maria the presents she wants,” he said with conviction.

I took a deep breath but was surprised at how easily the words came out. “Making children happy at Christmas is too big a job for just one person to do, even Santa Claus,” I blurted. “Santa needs all the help he can get.”

Taylor went for the lure.  It was as though Santa himself had asked Taylor to be one of his elves.  We resolved that we would answer the letter.  But Christmas was only ten days away, and we had our work cut out for us.  We made a list of Maria’s requests.

The next day I went shopping for a Mickey Mouse crib set.  But even at a discount store, the set cost $45, well beyond our budget.  I called all my friends, but was unsuccessful in locating a used crib set.  I started to get discouraged.

Maria had included her phone number in her letter, so I nervously called her mom.  “You don’t know me,” I said, “But I’m a friend of Santa’s, and I’m calling about Maria’s letter to Santa Claus.”

There was a long silence.  Then Maria’s mom made the connection.  I was relieved to find her warm and friendly.

I was honest with Maria’s mom about our financial situation.  “Of all the people who could have picked your daughter’s letter, I’m afraid you’re stuck with us,” I apologized.  Maria’s mom assured me that any gift, no matter how small, would mean a great deal to Maria.

Sadly, Maria’s mom confirmed that Carlos had a brain tumor and she told me that he didn’t have long to live.  She also told me that Carlos loved to watch cartoons and that Maria had a tape player and liked music, which gave me some ideas.  Maria’s mom and I set a time on Christmas Eve for the package to be delivered.

The big day was only a week away, and Taylor stopped working on his “want” list to join me in a last-minute scavenger hunt.  This is what we found:

•  At the Salvation Army: a just-like-new Mickey Mouse T-shirt.  Paired with some bright red leggings, we had a pair of pajamas for Carlos.

• At home: two never-worn boys’ shirts, a Sesame Street book, and a video of classic Mickey Mouse cartoons.

• From Ian’s kindergarten teacher: an extra copy of a book-and-tape set called Las Navidades, which featured Christmas songs from Puerto Rico (where Maria’s family was from).

• From holiday visitors:  a large store-bought Italian cake, festively wrapped and decorated with Santa stickers, and homemade bread shaped like teddy bears.

• Finally I splurged and paid ten dollars for a video cassette tape of Home Alone.  I also bought some Christmas candy.  Behind the cash register was an enticing display of giant brass jingle bells dangling on red satin strings. “I’ll take four of those too,” I heard myself say.

The day before Christmas Eve, we needed one more item: a Barbie doll for Maria.  I was surprised when Taylor, who gags at the mere sight of a Barbie commercial, announced that he would help me choose one.  Our budget limited us to buying a special-edition Barbie made exclusively for a discount department store.

On the morning of December 24, we found an old corrugated plastic postal carton on the sidewalk in front of our apartment.  It looked very official, so we carried it inside and washed it in the bathtub.  Then we stenciled “To Maria” on one side and “From the North Pole” on the other.  We wrapped the loot in Christmas paper and tied it up with a red ribbon.

Midafternoon, I sat down to write Maria a letter.  I explained that I was fortunate to be one of Santa’s friends.  I told her that I wished with all my heart that Carlos would be better, but sometimes all the love, money, and prayers in the world couldn’t change what was destined to happen.  I also told her that Carlos was lucky to have such a loving sister, for there is no greater gift than love.  I remember crying as I signed the letter “Merry Christmas, Maria. From one of Santa’s many helpers.”

The sun was starting to sink low in the sky when we pulled on our coats. (The housing project was on the Lower East Side, and to be honest, I wanted to get in and out of that neighborhood before dark.) “Wait a minute,” yelled Taylor. “What about snow?  If a package came from the North Pole, it would have snow on it!” Needless to say, there was not an inch of snow in New York City.  So we made some by chiseling ice out of the freezer. We packed several large “snowballs” into a cup.  Finally we were ready.

Richard, Ian, Taylor, and I donned our jingle-bell necklaces and then raced out of our apartment building and down the subway steps.  As people heard us jingling, they turned their heads and smiled at us.

A short while later, we found Maria’s building – a drab institutional high-rise. Richard and Ian held the elevator door while Taylor and I tiptoed over to Maria’s front door and set the box down.  Taylor sprinkled “snow” on the package, and then he took off his necklace and hung it around the top of the package.  “She’ll love this,” he whispered.

We shook our jingle bells and banged on Maria’s door.  As soon as we heard footsteps, we ran for the elevator.  The apartment door opened, and Maria’s mother called out, “Thank you! Merry Christmas!”

Once outside, Taylor was ecstatic  We’d pulled it off! Maria would never expect.  “Next year,” announced Taylor, “I want to answer three letters!”

That night at home, we sat around a roaring fire and drank hot cocoa. Taylor and Ian carefully laid out nine carrots, one for each of Santa’s reindeer. Once the boys were asleep, Santa filled their stockings and placed the presents under the tree.

On Christmas morning, Taylor and Ian awoke to find the carrots gone and the fireplace screen pushed aside.  The same child who had sprinkled snow on Maria’s package carefully examined the boot print in the soot and proclaimed that it was, indeed, Santa’s.

I’m no longer worried about Taylor’s finding out the truth.  Whether he realized it or not, he already knows the biggest truth of the season.  It is better to give than to receive. I think he is going to make a terrific Santa.

Turkeys in Disguise November 29, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Art.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
4 comments

Did someone say, “Insufferably Cute?” After my last conference (yes, I went to school in my zombified state), I was on my way out the door and saw these. Those First Grade teachers are ruthlessly cutesy.

Students had to “disguise” their turkey, so it could escape the carving knife. There were lots of ballerinas and princesses. That one on the end said, “I’m a black hairy monster. My father is Big Foot. If you try to eat me, I’ll eat you first!” Be on the lookout for these turkeys in disguise!

Here is the Turkey Template:

Last Zombie Standing November 14, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Teaching.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

Zombie-walk-kids.JPG

I’m pumping that hand sanitizer like a lab rat desperate for a reward.  So far, so good.  I feel like I’m the only person who hasn’t come down with IT. Whatever IT might be.  So far I don’t think anyone’s been diagnosed with H1N1 at my school.  Just the usual prelude to Thanksgiving flu and chronic bronchitis that dogs you when you’re a teacher and never get to rest your voice. (It’s true – There is no rest for the wicked.)

My husband and son went to see Zombieland the other night.  I passed, since I work in Zombieland.  Just when one kid comes back to school, another goes down.  Pump, pump – More hand sanitizer.  I’ve taken to slathering it on my neck and arms. One boy came back after a week out and promptly announced he felt like throwing up.  I tossed him a plastic bag along with a pass to the nurse.  I have my students trained. I told that straight out, “If you think you’re going to get sick, don’t come to me, cause I’ll run from you.” They laughed, but I was dead serious.  I just don’t want to be undead. Seriously.

The school nurse donned her face mask on Friday when she had a roomful of germ factories sick children all complaining of being “hot.”  The school librarian told me she’s glad she’s already had IT.  “I got it over with early, ” she said, though she said she’d paid dearly for her immunity.  I mumbled something about how quickly viruses mutate, to take that smile off of her face.

November is always a tough month for teachers, what with report cards and all those parent teacher conferences.  I’ve just got to make it to Thanksgiving.

When I wrote my post Time Zone Zombie – Asleep at 30,000 Feet, about the world’s longest trip over the Atlantic Ocean, I was looking for a picture of a zombie.  Who knew there were thousands of them on Flickr from Zombie Walks around the world?  Here’s an activity the whole family can do together.  The cool thing is that I wouldn’t even need make-up to play a zombie.  I can just crawl out of bed.  As a big fan of Shaun of the Dead, I’d be up for the zombie pub crawl myself.  That is, if I make it to Thanksgiving.

POST MORTEM:  Officially zombified on Nov. 18th.  Tried to pass as human for two days, but finally succumbed.

Photo Credit:  Zombified Children from Wikipedia’s Zombie Walks

How Did You Get Your Name? November 8, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
11 comments

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I could have been named Susan or Barbara, but the relatives in California nabbed those first. So, I was named Janet. When I got married my husband started calling me Jan. I was fine with that. Because I was such a happy child, my nickname was “Jan-ny Gay.” But that was back before…oh, you know.

When I was in LAUSD’s District Intern Program, (but that was back when there was one), one Saturday morning, our class was asked to stand in a circle and tell how we got our name. It was fascinating exercise, as it was a diverse group.

There were two people whose parents had taken their names from rock ‘n roll songs. Several others had been named after a character in a book or movie. There were the usual biblical names, the juniors, and family names. One man had been named after his father’s best friend who had died.

Several Asians had decided their names were too hard to pronounce, so they chose an “American” name. I’m afraid my Susan, Barbara, Janet story seemed pretty lame in comparison. Why couldn’t my parents have been more creative? Years later when I was a sub in San Gabriel, I smiled whenever I met Elvis Wong (and there were FOUR of them). It reminded me of the book The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. The main character’s American name is Shirley Temple Wong.

Any teacher can recite an exotic list of names of the students they’ve taught over the years. There were twin boys, D’wayne and D’won, and twin girls, Eunique and Especial. Klinsmann.  Toshiba. Cinnamon Jade. I could go on and on. Maybe it’s an urban legend, but teachers always swear they’ve heard of a girl named Chlamydia.

Several teacher friends are hoping to get pregnant. They want to do so before every name carries with it the image of a child they’ve already taught.

Recently, I did an art lesson on lines for my third graders using their names. This must be something that third graders have done since the dawn of time, because I remember doing it when I was in third grade. The pharmacist had typed my name as “Janette” on a prescription label. (That was back when the pharmacist typed.) I thought “Janette” was was way cooler than “Janet,” so that’s how I wrote my name. My teacher was surprised. My mother was not happy. And me?  I reminded that I was just Janet.

For the “Names” art lesson, students first draw a border the width of their ruler on 8×10 paper. Next, they write their names and color them in with black marker. They use a variety of lines to fill in the background. Diagonal. Wavy. Zigzag. Organic. Have them fill in the lines with colored pencils, as using markers is overkill and you don’t get all of those cool details and colors.

This year, I decided to take the project a step further. We’d just finished reading Angel Child, Dragon Child about a little girl who comes to the U.S. from Vietnam. It was hard, at first, for the students to pronounce the Vietnamese names in the story, but they got better. I always tell children that it’s a sign of respect when you call someone by their given name.

My students’ homework was to find out how they got their name. I wasn’t concerned about the origin of their name. I just wanted students to talk to their parent/s about why they chose that name for their child. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, ” Your parents spent a lot of time choosing your name, so you can at least write it on your paper!”)

The form I sent home is below. I was surprised that every child actually talked to a parent (this year every child is living with a parent) and returned the form the next day. Okay, one girl told me her name meant “African princess with chocolate colored skin.” She was so busted!  But by the time I called home the next day, she was in the midst of a conversation with her mother about how she really did get her name. It’s a fun project. If only I had that girl Chlamydia in my class this year!

How I Got My Name

Last week we read “Angel Child, Dragon Child.” The main character was a girl named Ut, who was from Vietnam. We learned that “Ut” was her “at home name,” or nickname. We also learned that in Vietnam, people say their surname, or last name, first.

How did you get your first name? You need to talk to a parent and find out why they chose this special name for you. They had thousands of names to choose from!

1. Were you named after someone in your family?

2.  Were you named after someone famous?

3.  Does your name mean something special?

4. Or, did your parents just like the sound of your name?

Find out how you got your name and write about it below. Do you an “American” name or a nickname? Use the back if you need to.

Photo Credit:  Mark Shaver for The Times

Five Ways Facebook Can Get You Fired November 3, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Worth Knowing.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

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I spent most of the weekend writing a paper for my masters program about an ethics violation related to education. I took a break to sit on the front porch to hand out candy to 300+ trick-or-treaters.  I only observed a few ethics violations there.  A couple of kids circled around thinking I wouldn’t notice they were double dipping. What they don’t know is I have a smooth slight of hand move.  The best part of the evening was when a little girl handed us a handwritten note that said, “Thanks for the great candy!” Pig Maisie, in her witch’s hat, almost flew off the porch.

But back to Facebook.  When we were given the assignment to locate an “ethics violation,” my study buddy Teresa, (or FSB as she likes to refer to herself) found that googling “Teachers fired for…”  yielded a treasure trove of examples.  She settled on the high school art teacher who was fired for making “butt art” (paintings made using his butt and other parts south of the equator) that he put on YouTube.  The artist changed his last name and wore a mask, but still ended up as the butt of jokes and was ultimately fired. (Before you roll paint on your backside, you might want to check out his print, Tulip Butts for inspiration.)

I ran across a story about a teacher in North Carolina who listed on her Facebook profile that one of her “Interests” was, “Teaching the chitlins in the most ghetto school in Charlotte.”  Ouch!  Her attorney cited the school’s demographics as proof that she WAS teaching in a “ghetto” and was just telling the truth.  He was mum on the “chitlins” comment though. It was unclear if her privacy settings were in place.  She was fired two weeks later.

The unnamed teacher and four other teachers in the district were “outed” when the local TV station trolled through Facebook looking for anyone with a connection to the school district.  That alone should send shivers up your spine.

As teachers, we’re held to a higher standard because we’re supposed to be role models for children.  That said, teachers are people.  We have opinions. But we’re living in an era where the line between a teacher’s professional life and private life is often blurred with help from social networking sites like Facebook and My Space.  Just like I tell my third graders, don’t put anything in writing that you don’t want your mother to read or to have read in front of the whole class.  It seems like common sense, but there seems to be a shortage of that going around.

I came across Five Ways Facebook Can Get You Fired.  It should be mandatory reading for anyone on Facebook or My Space (actually anyone who owns a computer).   It gives five examples of how people lost their jobs because of Facebook.  Stuff you’d never think about, but stuff you need to know.

The site lists 5 Commandments for keeping your job:

1. Thou Shall Not Reveal – embarrassing details in your status update (or Twitter, or anywhere else for that matter!)
2. Thou Shall Not Post Photos – that in anyway could be construed as being credibility damaging in any way.
3.  Thou Shall Not Be Negative – Overly negative, hateful sentiments towards any issue, no matter how strong you feel about it, will certainly rub someone in the wrong way.
4.  Thou Shall Not Think You Are Protected – under the First Amendment you have the right to say what you believe via blogs and social networks, but your employer is free to fire you for just about any reason.
5.  Thou Shall Not Think They Are Not Listening  – Big Brother is most likely watching you as 66% of bosses monitor employees’ Internet connections.

We’re living in a highly connected world, so you need to be careful what you say on-line.  It could literally come back to bite you in the butt.

Photo Credit: The Figure 5 by Robert Indiana.

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