Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pot of Gold

We are grateful for the rain that drenched our semi-arid city this week, and for the rainbow we caught on our way to my parents' for Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends.

I am pretty sure this rainbow ends at our little house, where we are lucky to live and have so much to be grateful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Decided to Forgo Orgo (and that has made all the difference)

Today I caught up with a colleague whose daughter is in her first year of medical school. While we watched students throw bowls in the ceramics studio, he shared with me that she was struggling with her anatomy class, and really questioning herself. You may not know this, I told him, but:

Once upon a time I was Pre-Med. I wanted to be a doctor as far back as I can remember. Both of my parents are in the medical profession, and I grew up around hospitals and clinics, with many dinner-table conversations about anatomy and symptoms. And because our father occasionally brought home drug company freebies, my brothers and sisters and I also sported pencil holders, bags, and notepads imprinted with birth control brands and STD treatments.

One of my favorite household books to peruse was a thick purple Pediatrics text. I consulted it when I was curious and when I suffered vague ailments. My use of this tome as a resource for diagnoses from scarlet fever to neurofibromatosis was tiresome to my parents and led my mother to plead with my father to throw out or hide the book forever. I was their favorite hypochondriac. And only a favorite because I was their daughter and they had to love me.

At one point in high school I narrowed my ambition to Neonatologist: I wanted to care for sick and premature infants. A March of Dimes summer internship in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit quickly taught me it was the nurses, not so much the doctors, who bonded with the babies. I filed that observation away.

In high school I was what I would describe a "generalist." I claimed neither the sciences nor the humanities as my true passions; a glimpse at my transcript suggested I was adept in most disciplines except for Typing.

Continuing on my Pre-Medical trajectory, with the only hiccup that I spelled my career intentions "medecine" everywhere on my college early admissions application (causing my father a near conniption fit and my application a heavy dose of Wite-Out), I declared my major Biology and flew across the country to begin my undergraduate odyssey.

I quickly discovered that one needed not be a sciences major to be Pre-Med. One needed only to take Pre-Med courses, including Math, Biology, Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry. Therefore, I was a Biology major for only the summer preceding my matriculation into college, and thereafter Undeclared until second semester of my junior year, when I literally counted the credits I had accrued in each of my favorite subject areas to determine where my major would fall: History, by default. And because I was never a true historian, having treated my college course selection like ordering from a tapas restaurant menu, even my senior thesis was not "historical" enough.

My sense about my Liberal Arts Education was that it was for exploring that which could only be learned there; I wanted to know about Sociology and Political Science and African-American Studies. Pre-Med requirements were just that: requirements. I resented my required math course, a repeat of high school calculus and a waste of precious time I could be spending taking Anthropology, Art History, and Gender Studies courses--disciplines which were non-existent in high school. Chemistry constituted another unenlightening duplication of high school science, save for the labs, marked by anxiety-inducing titrations and laborious write-ups. Our lab T.A. had a long pinkie fingernail on each hand, I remember. Someone suggested it was for scooping cocaine. That I remember, instead of anything much about Chemistry.

Due to credits earned from Advanced Placement exams, I had the option of taking higher level Biology courses in lieu of Intro Bio, so I chose Genetics and Reproductive Biology. I excelled in neither course, happy to sit atop the curve versus beat it, but I loved the learning. I was required to kill some mice for the lab portion (I tried to get fellow students to do my dirty work, but hired assassins were not allowed); my technique was terrible, making the experience all the more traumatic for me and the hapless rodents. Nevertheless, I successfully in-vitro fertilized a mouse. An uncomfortable highlight from Reproductive Biology was viewing film clips of Masters' and Johnson's research on human sexual response. In a lecture hall full of hundreds of peers seated in uncomfortable chairs we watched men and women climax on camera.

By junior year I had knocked out three of four of the year-long course requirements for medical school. I saved the worst for last: The Infamous Organic Chemistry, separator of wheat from chaff, weeder of wimps not fit for physicianhood. I had heard of its horrors: hours of memorization, flash cards, endless formulae, and cramming for exams. There was no part of me that wanted any part of Orgo, except the part of me that wanted to help people, care for people, heal people.

I made it impossible for myself to take Orgo my junior year, as I planned to take second semester off to study abroad in Italy. My moment of truth came that spring: in which courses would I enroll my senior year, with which destination in mind? Having only recently declared my major History, having added some intriguing History of Education classes onto the list of possibilities, and knowing this was my last year of the luxury that is Liberal Arts, Orgo was looking more and more like an intrusion into What I Really Wanted to Be Doing.

But this was no minor decision: Forgoing Orgo was about changing my identity. I was for so many years, to myself at the very least, She Who Would Become a Doctor. Without that, I was She Who Would Wonder...What the Hell She Would Become. I reassured myself that I could take Organic Chemistry somewhere else, some other time, if being a doctor was truly my goal, after all.

I think in the back of my mind, however, I knew I was giving myself permission to consider other options. So throughout my senior year of college, besides throwing the proverbial caution to the wind in Oh So Many Ways, I reflected on who I was and what I had been doing.

I was a Freshman Counselor (and not a perfect one, mind you!). I was the big sister to four younger siblings. I was a Big Sister to a local girl suffering from leukemia. I had volunteered in a school for pregnant teens and in the emergency room. I had joined a Children's Theatre Troupe.

Truths emerged: I enjoyed relationships. I enjoyed mentoring others. I didn't relish lab research, nor research in general. I didn't like competing with my peers for grades. I had a passion for learning that was about discovery and sharing versus delving deeper on my own.

My parents, doctor and nurse, weren't fazed by hints that I might veer from my pre-medical track. They had never pressured me to follow their career paths; looking back, I am not sure they ever explicitly persuaded or dissuaded me from that goal. They consistently demonstrated faith in my ability to lead myself in the right direction.

By the winter of my senior year, it had become clear to me that I was redefining myself. And I will never forget the relief and excitement expressed by my mother when I mentioned that I might try teaching.

I applied for Teach for America and was accepted, despite my inability to explain how airplanes fly during the interview ("Something to do with thrust?" I suggested. Now, I will never forget Bernoulli's Principle). In an ironic twist of fate, my Pre-Med adventure minus Orgo deemed me "qualified" in the eyes of TFA to teach middle or high school science. So my first teaching assignment was 7th Grade Science Teacher at Abraham Lincoln Multicultural Middle School in Washington, D.C.

In essence, I have never looked back. I am a teacher; I am an educator, and that has always felt right, even when I have been called a "Chicken-Legged White Bitch," even when my students have hated me, even when I have floundered. That is not to say that the smell of hospitals doesn't get to me in a visceral, familiar, where-I-belong kind of way. That watching ER doesn't make me wonder What If?

I have rationalized my choice of education over medicine as being, to a certain extent, about lifestyle. But it's not lost on me that I now know women who are doctors, who work part-time, who have more money AND more time with their children while they are helping people and improving the world.

Nevertheless, it's the relationships I grow daily in my career that sustain me and justify my choice to work with young adults and other people who believe that teaching is art as well as science, that teaching is a verb not always attached to subject matter as indirect object. I teach. Every day, in every context.

It's clear, to a certain extent, that I don't know what I will do next.

But being an educator? Well, that's just become non-negotiable.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Survey Says! (Surveys are Silly)

In the past two weeks I've received several versions of the emailed personal survey. You know, the "2008 Version of Getting to Know Your Family and Friends" (I was thinking that was called, "How are you voting in November?").

I am always mystified by the questions. Who makes these things up? For example, new to the 2008 version: the blue cheese query (below). And, c'mon, some of the questions are just dumb or boring.

But as a tribute to the inherent narcissism of such surveys and of blogging itself, I've copied and pasted one survey (the 44-question one that's going around), appended parts of another...and then I've added and answered my own questions.

Enjoy! Or be terribly bored. You get to decide where I'm lying.

1. Do you like blue cheese?
Yes, I do. Especially with a wedge of iceberg lettuce and caramelized onions.
2. Have you been ever drunk?
Is this a serious (sober) question?
3. Do you own a gun?
No way. Super scared of guns. Moreover, though I've never been seriously suicidal, it's seems like having a gun available when you're in the abyss stacks the deck against you.
4. What flavor Kool Aid was your favorite?
I used to like Crystal Light. Before that, I was a Hawaiian Punch fan. Now I drink water, when I am not drinking ___ (question #16)
5. Do you get nervous before doctor's appointments?
Actually, I do. And I tend to feel like I am on the verge of tears. I think it's because I've realized people younger than I am ARE old enough to be doctors.
6. What do you think of hot dogs?
At a ball game? Required.
7. Favorite Christmas movie?
Miracle on 34th Street. My parents made me watch it to prove to me that Santa was real. I still find the argument compelling.
8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning?
Coffee, with milk.
9. Can you do push ups?
I used to do them daily, and now I won't even try.
10. What's your favorite piece of jewelry?
I have three: my engagement ring, which was my great aunt's; a vintage butterfly necklace which used to be my grandmother's, and the daisy/diamond earrings my dad gave me right before I walked down the aisle.
11. Favorite hobby?
12. Do you have A.D.D.?
No, but I multitask when I am supposed to be paying attention...
13. What's your weight?
Currently more than I would like it to be.
14. Middle name?
Catherine. I knew it was Catherine before I could read or spell. So I wrote it "Catheren" and was seriously irritated when my mom told me it wasn't spelled that way.
15. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment??
My almost-three year old is pesky!...I ate too much dinner...why is it so hot in November?
16. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink?
Let's see, what did my daughter once tell her preschool teacher? Wine, beer, and coffee.
17. Current worry?
Our house's foundation is sinking.
18. Current hate right now?
That Proposition 8 passed.
19. Favorite place to be?
Snuggling my daughters. Especially when we're sleeping.
20. How did you bring in the New Year?
Drinking pomegranate martinis and helping daughter recover from STING procedure.
21. Where would you like to go?
Back to Africa, this time with my family.
22. Name three people who will complete this.
I do not like this question.
23. Do you own slippers?
Yes, two pairs, and I wear them primarily in the winter. I come home from work and put them on and I become That Dorky Lady Wearing Slippers (proudly).
24. What color shirt are you wearing right now?
You know, as I started to describe my shirt, I realized this is a boring question, too.
25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets?
I don't think I ever have, and I don't think I want to.
26. Can you whistle?
Not very well. (Umm, who cares?)
27. Favorite color??
Purple. But I believe in Appropriate Use of Purple.
28. Would you be a pirate?
No, but in my younger years I could have probably fallen for one....
29. What songs do you sing in the shower?
I sing while I run. I think about the work day ahead in the shower.
30. Favorite girl's name?
I am going to say Ruby or Tula. Two names I liked that were never going to be my daughters' names.
31. Favorite boy's name?
Zephyr (could also be girl's name)...and another one I won't say for my unconceived, unborn, unlikely son.
32. What's in your pocket?
A receipt for a trashcan I returned. Yes, even some trashcans are not good enough for me.
33. Last thing that made you laugh?
My daughter, on our way to my brother and sister-in-law's wine, cheese, and Chargers' game party: "I don't want to drink wine. I don't want to eat cheese either. I don't want to watch the Chargers' game. What the heck am I going to do there?"
34. Worst injury you've ever had as a child?
Injury? Lucky me: a mere tire swing hitting my already skinned-up knee. Illness? Meningitis in the 6th grade.
36. Do you love where you live?
I believe we live in one of the best neighborhoods in America.
37. How many TVs do you have in the house?
Two, one with cable in the living room and one in our bedroom for videos on Mama's bed.
38. Who is your loudest friend?
I have a few of these...with volume dependent on volume of vino consumed.
39. How many dogs do you have?
One awesome, faithful, sweet doggie.
40. Does someone have a crush on you?
Our almost-three-year-old is a Mama's Girl.
41. What is your favorite book?
Tough one--there are so many...I wrote about Franny and Zooey for a college essay, and I still love it. A personal favorite: Goodbye Without Leaving, by the late Laurie Colwin.
42. What is your favorite candy?
Dove dark chocolate.
44. What song do you want played at your funeral?
I have an iTunes playlist for this very occasion, entitled "She Goes On."

Here are some more or less intriguing questions from another email survey:

What is your occupation right now?
High School Vice Principal.
What are you listening to right now?
A Fraggle Rock episode.
What was the last thing that you ate?
Homemade pizza.
Can you drive a stick shift?
Yes. Well, I could. I don't really relish the opportunity now.
Last person you spoke to on the phone?
I accidentally sent a text message to a new friend's landline. Does that count?
What is your favorite sport to watch on TV?
Survivor challenges.
What is your favorite drink?
Strong coffee in the morning. A nice glass of red in the evening.
Favorite food?
What is the last movie you watched?
Last one I can remember? A Mighty Heart.
Favorite day of the year?
How do you vent anger?
By running...and by venting.
What was your favorite toy as a child?
Dolls. Dollhouse my grandpa made. Legos.
When was the last time you cried?
Oh, I cry often. It's just Who I Am. Ask my dad. Ask my boss!
What did you do last night?
Ditched the Homecoming Dance.
What are you most afraid of?
Losing people I love. And falling.
Plain, cheese, or spicy hamburgers?
What is a spicy hamburger? Please! I prefer turkey burgers.
Favorite dog breed?
I have favorite dogs. This is like, "What's your favorite breed of man?"
Favorite day of the week?
Thursday, in the evenings: there's hope, people; there's hope!
How many states have you lived in?
Four states: Hawaii, Connecticut, California, Louisiana. One non-state: Washington, D.C. Three countries: U.S., Italy, Africa.
What is your favorite flower?
Gerber daisies are my wedding flower. Tuberose smell wicked good on my desk.

And here are Fer's Contributions:

A) Three things you don't understand:
1. Most technology: how does the internet work?
2. What's up with death threats? Do people really take time out of their days to make those calls?
3. The brain. It looks like mush. And it invented the internet.

B) Body part(s) you'd fix if you weren't too poor or down-to-earth for plastic surgery:
My webbed neck, and my drooping eyelids.
c) Some memorable acts of kindness bestowed upon you:
1. While I was studying abroad: A man in Italy went way out of his way to walk me from the bus stop to the hotel where I would meet my visiting parents, late at night.
2. Friends Mark and Carol, waiting for us on the curb with a six-pack of Pacifico on the day we drove up and opened our newly-purchased first home.
3. A homeless man changed the flat tire I discovered when I returned to my parked car downtown, even after I tried to convince him I was a Tough Broad who could do it herself. And wouldn't accept any money from me.

D) Something you witnessed or experienced that you still can't explain:
It was 6:30 AM, and I was walking the dog with my then-boyfriend. A guy with a U-Haul, which was parked along a red curb, asked me to get in and move the truck ten feet forward to a legal parking spot "before the cops arrived." He said he wasn't licensed, and the driver wouldn't be back soon enough to move it--he was stuck; could I help? Something was fishy; I am sure it was a con of some sort, so I said no...but I still wonder about it.
E) Something you've given up?
Scuba diving. Turns out I don't like anything that messes with my ability to breathe.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ignoring Friend Requests (Kind Of)

I joined Facebook. I succumbed to Facebook.

Peer pressure and curiosity won out. I joined, late Friday night, and went to bed with a little pit in my stomach. I already exist in enough public arenas, and here I was willingly subjecting myself to more scrutiny. Tweeting and blogging are anonymous enough, but FACEbook? The idea is to post your FACE, and Your Real Name. Egads.

Just last week I was suggesting to a colleague that our students' social lives, it seems, never sleep.

Back in The Day, we had one-on-one phone time (unless you had or knew how to use a Party Line) and notes that we folded up and passed during or between classes. Sure, such missives were confiscated, dropped, and their contents divulged. But what kids do today, between texting and MySpaceing and Facebooking and LiveJournaling, amounts to continual live broadcasting, through class, through the night, with rumors and love declarations and disses delivered en masse and at warp speed.

It's got to be stressful.

Of course, the thirty-somethings I know are jumping on the social network bandwagon with enthusiasm. Somehow, though, I am guessing the stakes are not the same. No one (including Myself) could ruin me on Facebook now, I hope? My blog won't get me fired, right? Please?

Perhaps the good news is that I can't access Facebook at work, because of our Filter. That makes me the Only Person at work who can't access Facebook at work, because I know for a fact that students have found proxy servers and other beyond-me ways around our school district's security features. Last year I asked the Tech Department for temporary access to MySpace so I could use my dummy page to verify that a particular student had changed her rather inappropriate profile photo, only to find a) she was still there, in flagrante, and b) she was ((ONLINE NOW!)), during 4th period.

I'm a little scared. I do not want to beFriend students. I want to ignore Friend Requests from people I genuinely do not know, even IF we have three friends in common. Is that rude? I know how to not be rude in Real Life, but I'm not sure what signals I send out on Facebook.

[And dammit, I just added a Friend I do not know by accidentally clicking on the Confirmation. I am so not in control of my Facebook Peer Group].

So far, Facebook is proving to be a source of endless Amusement, Bemusement and Consternation. There's the "nudging" and "poking" (give me a break). My sister and her Friend keep accepting "Fresh Lumpia" and "Adobo" from each other "via Filipino Food." One of my Friends just joined the Group, "Bitch Please...I am From Poland." And I just learned that I can add "Pieces of Flair" to my Facebook Page, a la Office Space. You're kidding, right?

I am in way over my head.

Meanwhile, coincidentally, something moved my daughter to make her very own Facebook page equivalent yesterday, a list of "Pepl I Like." There were only three "pepl" on this list, including her sister, under the category of "Kind Of" (spelled "ciav") and her cousin and a classmate, under the category of "Really" ("rile").

Facebook allows no such distinctions, which is why I am Really Friends with a guy I do not even Kind Of know. *Sigh*

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Year of Blah Blah Blogging

It's been a year since my first freakin' post on this blog.

During the last twelve months, I began(and contemplated) my third year as a High School Vice Principal. I watched one woman run for Democratic Presidential Nominee and another woman vie for Vice President, confirming that leadership can be a bitch.

I did a fair amount of freaking out. I wondered what the heck I was doing. I pondered the possibility of a third child, while some people thought I was already pregnant.

My fits were only upstaged by my daughters' tantrums, over walking around the block, over Polly Pockets, over medication, over math, and over suppositories (okay, fair enough). There were enough of these episodes for us to fear that our neighbors might call the police.

Our youngest daughter conquered the pacifier and a fungus and demonstrated she likes to say butts; she cannot lie. Actually, yes she can. So can her elder sister, but at least our kindergartener found her conscience, and also God.

Thankfully, our firstborn's kidney issues were resolved, after inaptly named procedures and surgery.

We welcomed frogs and chickens into our home but certainly not the ants and bees.

We were saddened by personal, political and global events.

But all in all, it has been a year of rather simple pleasures and good times. We went skiing in California mountains and hiking in Colorado , in the company of great friends. We chased pigs at the County Fair. I bought myself some snazzy kicks, paid my annual homage to the Indigo Girls, whirled with my girls at a Drum Circle, was inspired by students and my husband, and wrote some limericks.

I've got a lot to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to.

Happy New (blog)Year! Here's to 2009.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Our country appears to be leaning blue, at 7:45 PM PST (do some of you go to bed on the East Coast with our nation somewhere on the spectrum between lilac and magenta?).

But before I sound a "barbaric yawp" of celebration...

This morning, all I knew was that Change was a Sure Thang, and I was in charge of providing Snack for our Staff Snack Club. We take our snacking seriously. Sometimes it's the highlight of Tuesday.

Below, find my "recipe" for Bipartisan Snack, as well as our high school's Snack Club Manifesto (it's goofy, I know--written by me The English Teacher, several years ago, when CLEARLY I had tons of essays to grade).

Bipartisan Snack

· Blue Corn Chips with Red Salsa and Black Bean Dip

· Red Peppers and Tomatoes with Blue Cheese Dressing

· Blueberries and Red Raspberries and Strawberries with (Majority or Minority) Whip Cream

· Lollipops: Red and Blue (But they’re all Dum Dums)

Served on Purple Battleground State Plates

The Snack Club Manifesto

Snack Club Time shall consist of:
a) converging upon the Library
b) on Tuesdays
c) during the period of our High School’s “Nutrition Break”
d) to eat Snack.

Membership of Snack Club is to be determined by one or more of the following:
a) consistently loitering in the general area,
b) being of age older than 18
c) contributing Snack (by rotation, on the calendar)

Leadership and Procedures:
The leadership of Snack Club generally resides in the hands of the bossiest, most controlling member.

Conditions of Snack Club Membership

Snack Club members must adhere to the following rules (or see consequences below):
a) consistently show up for Snack, asking who made it and what is it
b) provide Snack at appropriate date and time
c) participate in Baby-Jesus-Cake-Epiphany Event (Your chances of getting the Baby Jesus increase exponentially if you don’t show up on time that day in January…we’ll save you a piece of cake!)
d) eat Snack.

Nature of Snack

Snack must have the following characteristics:
a) be food-like in appearance
b) be abundant in quantity
c) be homemade, store-bought, salvaged or borrowed
d) be sweet or savory or both
e) be healthy or unhealthy; fat-laden or fat-free***
f) be delicious or not-quite-so; we’ve even been known to eat just-plain-not-so-good.
Note: Snack need not be holiday-, season-, or time-of-day-appropriate.

If You Wish to Remain in Snack Club, Please Refrain from the Following:
a) forgetting Snack when it is your turn
b) unilaterally canceling Snack Club Time(s)
c) insulting Snack Provider
d) failing to appear at Snack

Consequences of Infractions

Failure to appear at designated Snack Time, to provide Snack, or any of the above, will result in:

a) First infraction: disdainful talk about you in your absence, jokes at your expense (if in your presence, it is appropriate to place blame elsewhere or otherwise manufacture a scapegoat for your oversight)****
b) Second infraction: Snack Probation. We are not sure what this means. It is marked mainly by heightened disdainful talk, more jokes.
c) Third infraction: It is our experience that members of Snack who go this far to distance themselves from Snack opt out of the Club voluntarily, which is wise, due to the potential for mob mentality and security concerns.*****

*day of week and time of Snack subject to change according to needs of membership and unforeseen schedule changes.
***Perhaps not our first choice.
****It is not OUR fault YOU forgot Snack! Quit sniveling about the abuse you’ve suffered as a consequence and resolve to do better next time! Or else!
*****Once you are in Snack Club, it is VERY HARD to get out without being subjected to deprogramming procedures.