Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Last week I was part of a team of school district staff on a field trip to our local recycling facility. I love learning how things work and where stuff goes and comes from (but not enough to submit myself to the Master Cleanse, mind you) and this was just such an opportunity, kind of like last spring when I got to go on a submarine and it even submerged and left port. But that's another story, in which I admit that I was surprised submarines had absolutely no windows, not even those little portholes like on the ride at Disneyland.

If the aim of this trip was for us to come back with renewed vigor and vision for our schools' recycling programs, it totally worked. I came away with a stomachache just thinking about even one plastic bottle sitting forever in a landfill. Word to the people is: when in doubt, recycle; at the plant they'll sort the trash out of the recycling, but there's no sorting at the landfill.

Now about that sorting. I truly had no idea how it worked, imagining all this time that our recyclables were simply dumped into some huge metal centrifuges, and, with effective "spinning" technologies, materials were divided by weight and density. And I didn't give a whole lot of thought to what happened to all that stuff next.

Perhaps my most significant observation at the recycling center was how both simple and complex is the process of sorting our plastics, cans, bottles, and papers. The first thing that happens, for example, is that trucks carrying recycling dump everything into huge piles in a big room. Then a crazy system of conveyor belts carries the materials up and through the building past real human beings who first pull out stuff that shouldn't be there, like potatoes (I saw a lot of potatoes! Who are these people putting perfectly good potatoes in recycling?) and engine blocks, which the owner pointed out would really "muck up our operation." Hand sorting is followed by some very cool and high-tech (European) "optical" sorting which I will describe in layman's terms: mixed materials pass under a light/mirror thingy which is meant to reflect off of metal recyclables. When the reflection occurs, a puff of air is activated from below, which tosses the metal materials up into the air and into a separate area. That gizmo was fun to watch.

As you ascend higher up through the building, the sorting becomes more precise, with colors of glass separated into different bins and opaque and clear plastics distinguished from one another.

As you may imagine, it's a messy, noisy, smelly operation. A fine layer of material fragments including glass covers all walkways, stairs, and floors, crunching underfoot. The air is cloudy with particulates. I'll admit, I experienced one gagworthy whiff that relegated me to some mouth breathing. It's a dangerous job, too--but the company boasts full healthcare for all its employees AND their dependents.

I confirmed that we don't need to sort our own recylables--the trucks will still commingle the materials until they reach the plant. Cleaning and/or rinsing items isn't necessary either, and in Southern California, there's a good argument for conserving the water you'd use. FYI: You shouldn't put the plastic caps back on the bottles you recycle, even if you smush them--they do some bionic smushing of all the plastic into tight cubic bales, and caps on bottles prevent optimal smushage.

All our recycling, once it's sorted into like materials, is sold and shipped, mainly abroad. Cardboard goes to Asia; paper to Mexico...some glass goes to California vineyards with which the company has contracts. Some of the buyers reuse the materials, others recycle them.

Watching all that waste--albeit recyclable--made me want to Reduce My Use. I found myself taking some accountability for the byproducts of my daily life. It feels good to recycle, but we're still consuming a ton of stuff and throwing it away at alarming rates, where it has to be driven somewhere and dealt with.

I don't know what to tell you if you're not even using your potatoes, though. Reduce them to french fries, at least!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Report from the Front

This just in from the Homecoming Dance on Saturday night: Freak Dancing is still happening. The Los Angeles Times and are reporting on this issue today, coincidentally.

My take? It's all fun and games until someone feels violated. And that could be me, just watching it.

Chaperoning this situation? It's like sweeping water uphill. Or whacking moles.

If you haven't hit the dance floor in a long while, here's an instructional video (demonstrating that after 9 minutes and 33 seconds, even freaky dancing can be boring). Note: Most kids I know skip the directions and go straight to the "back-to-front" step, adding a little "bend over" with "hands on knees."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parents, Lying like a Rug

Oh gosh, isn't it satisfying for the American Public to watch a kiddo sell out his lying parents, as Balloon Boy did on National TV? Indeed it is!

Umm, that is, unless it's you, American Public, and we all know you're a bunch of liars, too.

Of course, kids lie. My own kids have been known for fabrications, and then there are the lying students I'm hired to catch as high school vice principal. I've learned that it's not so hard to tell when someone's lying; what's hard is figuring out what to do next.

But it's those darned parents that have been teaching innocent kids to fib. Parents like you and me. Maybe you're not constructing balloons and elaborate hoaxes which implicate your own children, but I know firsthand that you're calling your child in sick to school as your flight leaves for family vacation in Mexico. And I know this because your sophomore told his Algebra teacher he needed to know which assignments were due while he was in Cancun.


The problem isn't that parents aren't trustworthy. It's that those darned kids can't be trusted to Keep The Story Straight. They lie, and then like Balloon Boy, they throw up from the stress.

But according to research, we're lying to our offspring about everything from Santa Claus to what happens when people don't brush their teeth. We are both premeditated and spontaneous liars. And all the while we proclaim that lying is unacceptable.

Apparently, I am guilty of a classic parenting lie: The Police Threat. This untruth is best employed when your child is in the throes of a hair-curling tantrum. "If you don't stop screaming," you warn, "the police will come." See, the thing about this scenario is that there has been many a time I believed I was telling The Truth. Not only because we have a Sheriff living behind us. Once, my daughter actually yelled for the police, who, allaying my fears in this instance, didn't come.

Another version of The Police Threat comes in handy when your child is attempting to get out her carseat mid-freeway.

This weekend, though, my hollow threats came back to haunt.

On Sunday I took my daughters and a friend to Sea World. We were all pretty exhausted at the end of our excursion, in part because we walked around in circles in the parking lot for what felt like an hour before we found the minivan. As we loaded up, my weary arms didn't properly slam shut the back hatch of the van, and I noticed the "open door" light only after we had exited the parking lot. So I pulled over on the shoulder of a busy road, hazard lights on, and scurried to the rear of the van to secure the door. By the time I got back in the driver's seat, a police car had pulled up behind me.

I thought it was bad form to flash the "all okay" sign and drive merrily away from the cop without explanation, so I stayed put and rolled my window down as my passengers fell eerily silent. I explained to the helpful policeman why I pulled over, and we both went on our ways.

"Whew," I heard my daughter whisper to her friend as we merged into traffic. "That was scary. I TOTALLY thought my mom was going to get arrested."

Aww, honey, I was tempted to interject, Getting arrested is what happens when you LIE!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Glad Game

Last night our daughters snuggled up in Mama's bed for an old-school Sunday night movie: Pollyanna. I could recall few details from the film except that Pollyanna was a super happy young lady and something bad happened to her.

As the term "Pollyanna" has come to have such a negative (because of its excessively positive?) connotation, I was curious to see if the title character was getting a bad rap or if her good cheer was genuinely annoying. So I cozied up with my girls for a little nostalgic walk down Buena Vista lane.

My analysis: If you're a Hayley Mills fan, an optimist, or planning to name your baby "Pollyanna," I'm pleased to tell you that the protagonist, known for "pestering people all over town with her sunshine and happiness," is a worthy hero.

Sure, she can put a dubiously positive spin on the most dreary of drags, but she's also a sort of Ass Kicker of Crankpots. In a key scene in the movie, Pollyanna takes off her white gloves and tells off a hypochondriac old biddy: "You could be GLAD you don't need this horrid old coffin! You could forget about dying and be glad you're LIVING!"

And you know, it's hard not to feel your fist pump a bit in solidarity, for haven't we all wanted to implore a Grump Grouch to lighten up, already? SHEESH!

Pollyanna teaches the citizens of her town The Glad Game, which she learned after some missionaries sent her a pair of crutches instead of the doll she coveted. "We could be glad you don't need them," her father helpfully suggests to his disappointed daughter, thereby establishing a new cheery way of looking at life's lemons.

But then her dad dies. And later Pollyanna falls out of a tree and her legs are paralyzed. So, yup, in an ironic twist, those crutches suddenly become useful. Well, that is, if she's lucky and the surgery works. The movie ends and we're left wondering. (Oh, and by the way? Six-year-olds are troubled by unresolved endings. Very troubled! You could be glad you don't have to worry about your six-year-old worrying about Pollyanna if you don't have a six-year-old!)

But anyways, the real point here is, in these tough times, what with Global Warming and The Recession and Swine Flu and Afghanistan and your own Personal Troubles and then Obama trying to give us all Health Care and winning the Peace Prize, we could all use a little daily glad, dontcha think? Perhaps somewhere between Chicken Little ("The sky is falling!") and Voltaire's Pangloss ("It's all for the best!") is the appropriate mix of doom and hope.

Now, admonishments to "buck up, little camper" are more easily swallowed when they are delivered by a perky little girl than from a well-intending neighbor reminding one that, "Hey, at least your whole house didn't burn down!" Which is why it's best if we all simply play an internal form of The Glad Game. Unless, of course, you're hanging on a cross and can muster up a rousing chorus of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

So, if your inner Eeyore is getting the best of you, make like Pollyanna, who suggested to those looking for something about Sunday to be glad about (I guess Sunday sucked in the olden days) that "we could be glad that the next Sunday is six whole days away!"

Flash a peace sign at that road rager in the next lane; smile sweetly at those who cluck disapprovingly at you and yours; express sincere gratitude to those who serve begrudgingly.

Tinge your cynicism with humor, laugh at your minor misfortunes, and remind yourself, Hey! I could be glad it's not worse!

Monday, October 5, 2009

List: Nickel and Dime

At my first Administrative Cabinet meeting as a new vice principal in our district, I remember the superintendent asking principals to submit a weekly "5/10." The exact concept of the 5/10 I do not remember, but I think it was something to the effect of "write the five most important events or reflections of the week, and don't take more than ten minutes to do it." The brief summary was a simple way for the superintendent to stay in touch with what was happening at each school site.

That first week of school as an administrator, I wasn't required to turn in a 5/10, but I created my own modified version and sent it to my principal. My rule: summarize the week in five things that made you go "hmmm" (or, "grrrr...") and ten things that made you smile. The 5/10 became a weekly routine for us, thereby creating a record of our first year's notable events, hilarious episodes, and poignant moments.

This last week has been a rough one at work and a good one at home, with no appropriate story on the tip of my tongue. So instead, I summarize it below in a 5/10.


1. The untimely passing of a colleague and friend
2. Swastikas
3. 9th Grade Girl Drama
4. Mutual Combat
5. Hair dye allergy


1. Post-dinner Family Walks
2. Husband and I coaching Micro Soccer
3. Mid-week extended-family dinner at Mammom's and Bampa's house: swimming and soup and the best part of our day
4. 1st grade Homework Journal
5. Saturday Night Padres' Game with our girls: ice cream, peanuts, fried calamari, and the Frankenfriar
6. The California Ballet's Alice in Wonderland
7. Super Hero capes
8. Seven Daughters red wine
9. Halloween decorations
10. A friend's gift: new mix CD playing in the car