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Dog Bless You! March 13, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Worth Knowing.
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Dog is God spelled backwards – or maybe it’s the other way around. So when I read about Dog Bless You and filmmaker and philanthropist Charles Weingarten’s Facebook challenge to raise funds and send search and rescue dogs to Japan, I was in. Click.

While our recently rescued pit bull pup from the Pasadena Humane Society, Layla, is busy teething on my shoes, there are dogs out there who have a Day Job saving lives. All you have to do is go onto the website and click Like, and you’ve done your good deed for the day.

Speaking of working dogs, I couldn’t sleep the other night and found myself in front of my computer reading, with tears running down my face, about the incredible bond between Scottish soldier Liam Tasker and his dog Theo, who both died the same day in Afghanistan. Lance Corporal Tasker’s parents said their son told them he’d found his calling – working with dogs. Theo was cremated and his ashes returned home with his master’s body. The funeral route was lined with people and their dogs.

In this undated image, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker trains with his military working dog, Theo, in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Tasker, who served the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, was killed in a firefight with insurgents in Helmand Province. Theo, his bomb-sniffing springer spaniel, suffered a fatal seizure hours after Tasker died.

Surviving Christmas and the Zombie Apocalypse December 7, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Entertainment, Worth Knowing.
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Shaun of the Dead t-shirt available on Amazon.

As I watched the movie Rec 2 the other night I found myself making a mental list of  “must have” items to fend off the undead.  I hinted to my husband that Santa might want to leave a Swiss Army knife in my stocking. As the movie unfolded, I ticked off other items.  I added a cross as you never know when someone has a drop of vampire in them.

I got a Swiss Army knife one Christmas when I was in college. I opened it and the blade promptly snapped shut and sliced my finger. I’m confident now though that I could use it to disembowel a zombie. This comes from religiously watching Dexter and teaching Third Grade for five years. Nothing grosses me out anymore. Today school ended at 1:30. At precisely 1:29 one of my students stood up and began vomiting a lake about the size of Lake Erie. I know how to calculate area, so this is no exaggeration. I’m afraid the only tool I had was a plastic bag. Too little too late. I wiped the spittle of his face and then handed him a piece of cherry-flavored hard candy to freshen his breath. Where were my night vision goggles when I needed them?

I’m not sure where my new-found interest in survival comes from. I could have cared less when there was all that hoopla about Y2K. I believe it’s possibly a variation of, “We’re not prepared for the Big One.” I had a flashlight hanging next to the bed. The key word is “had.” I’ve taken to putting on pajamas in the middle of the night for fear that if I run out of the house butt naked, I’ll scare my sons. I’d also be cold.

I had to laugh when my friend Cathy’s son-in-law Ryan published a link on Facebook to Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse. Who knew there were entire lists of items recommended to buy on Amazon?  I’m still wondering about that duct tape that’s available new or used. Another “must have” item is an iPod. I guess if you’re in “End of the World” mode you’d want a little theme music. What was funny was that people who commented were concerned about how long their batteries would last.  My husband has assured me that there is now a solar battery that you can use to recharge you iPod.  Whew!

I’m not sure what this obsession with zombies is all about.  How scared can you be of creatures you can outrun?  But I noticed in Dead Set the zombies move a lot faster and seem to be caffeinated.  That’s not a good combination.

There’s a few items that aren’t on the list that should be. If you’re going to be doing battle with the undead, you’re definitely going to need some caffeine so you can outrun them. So add an espresso machine to that list. Personally, I’s also need some Coke Classic to keep me in zombie-killing mode. If you have had the pleasure of surviving the movie The Road, you know how good the Real Thing can be. Finally, a little chocolate to boost the serotonin levels when the Prozac runs out would keep my spirits up. Fighting the undead looks to be hard work – kinda like teaching 28 third graders.

Last night we ventured off the couch to see 127 Hours. Whoa!  That Swiss Army knife is definitely at the top of my list.  If no zombies appear or I don’t have to cut off my arm, I can at least open a bottle of red wine. Cheers!

It’s The End of the World As We Know It April 4, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal, Teaching, Worth Knowing.
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A lot of my third graders have asked me if it’s true that the world is going to end in 2012.  I tell them, “The world will end when I say it will.”  They seem relieved.  To them I’m the Oracle of Delphi.  I tell my students that the world was supposed going to end so many times in my lifetime that I’ve lost track. “And I’m still here!” I announce, almost giddily.

To think that all this hubbub about the world ending is because those wacky ancient Mayans were too shortsighted to carve a calendar past the year 2012.  Sort of like my husband and I not planning for our financial future when we were having so much fun back in NYC during the ’80s.

The above map is from USGS shows just how fractured the Earth is.  Imagine if it took into account the global economic climate?  Yikes!

Several weeks ago we had an earthquake drill at school.  An announcement came over the PA informing us that, “the earthquake has begun.”  My students dutifully ducked and covered under their desks stifling giggles. Someone always farts. More giggles.  Then we marched single file out onto the field. If only Mother Nature would actually announce upcoming attractions over the school PA.  Sigh.  Hey, I take this stuff seriously.

My husband and I moved back to California just in time to experience the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. We scrambled out of bed and ran for the doorway.  I stood there in the dark screaming for my sons, who swear that they would have slept through the entire ordeal if my screaming hadn’t awakened them. We lived in a second floor apartment in a masonry building built in the 1920s. As we stood there listening to the sound of glass breaking, I could feel a wave roll under the hardwood floor as though we were riding a giant ocean wave. Never have I felt such power. Never have I felt so scared.

As soon as the shaking stopped, we ran outside and went across the street to an open field in front of Beverly Hills High School. People were drawn by the safety of a large open space. After a few minutes, I realized we weren’t going to back to bed anytime soon.  I told my husband as long as he was running back into our apartment to get a radio, he might as well get me my morning Coke. I’ve got my priorities straight.

We stood there with our bewildered neighbors, in various stages of undress, trying to guess the magnitude. On the horizon, huge explosions of blue light pierced the night sky as tranformers around the city blew out. It was surreal. My husband returned with my Coke.  While he was in our apartment, my parents had called from Omaha. They were watching CNN.  We learned the magnitude was close to a 7.  (Later it was downgraded to a 6.6.)

We were lucky. The living room plaster cracked and the TV was tossed ten feet across the room. It left dents in the wood floor where it landed.  It could have been so much worse. We invested in straps for the bookshelves and wax that held everything in place, so you could just dust around it. Two weeks after the earthquake, we were still all sleeping in one bed. I wore my clothes to bed and slept with my glasses on. That’s how big of an impression the earthquake left on me.

Time passed. We bought a house and paid to bolt the foundation with a cash advance on our credit card. Our house is made of wood. If this was a story about the Three Little Pigs, the smart pig would be the one living in a house made of wood – that’s the way to go in Earthquake Country. We didn’t bolt the bookshelves because they were built-ins.  We told ourselves that our house, which was built in 1910, had weathered almost a century of earthquakes. The chimney is in perfect condition. We lost the earthquake wax. This was a period of inactivity on our part accompanied by seismic inactivity on Mother Nature’s. The earthquakes in Haiti and Chili have been a clarion call. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Today I was doing report cards online when my desk began swaying.  A slow gentle rocking that made everything in the room seem like it needed to be screwed in tighter. A creaky boat kind of feeling. I ran outside where my neighbor and my husband were talking.  They hadn’t felt it, but our neighbor told me to google the USGS.  I learned the swaying I felt was from a 7.2 earthquake in Calexico. In case you didn’t live in California or on the Ring of Fire, that’s definitely a Mama Bear-size quake. I’ve already double checked to make sure the flashlight is next to the bed.

I’m counting down the days until Spring Break, but not until 2012. I’m more inclined to think that it’s more likely that the Earth “as we know it” will end. And to be honest, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Hard times have already forced people to focus on what’s really important in life.  And it sure isn’t more stuff that you can’t even move now on eBay.  Just a thought. Enjoy Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire and REM’s It’s the End of the World as We Know It. Two of my all-time favorite songs.

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!

Five Ways Facebook Can Get You Fired November 3, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Worth Knowing.
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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.