Thursday, May 27, 2010

Something Incredible is Waiting to Be Known

Over the course of a year, our students, visual arts staff, and a talented alumna mosaicist have been working on a large-scale mosaic installation on the quad of our high school campus. I have watched this work evolve from its conceptual stages to the tedium of the daily placing of tiny tiles, hour after hour.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine was telling me about her daughter’s elementary school in Los Angeles. She explained that it was old, a special place with lots of history. Around the drinking fountains, for example, are remarkable mosaics that were installed by the Works Project Administration.

The Works Project Administration was established to provide jobs and infrastructure in the wake of the Depression. Bas reliefs on the outside of one of our high school buildings are examples of the public art people were paid to complete during the 40s. When we renovated our campus five years ago, we carefully protected those works, which are spaces of beauty on our functional buildings for everyone to enjoy.

Nowadays, such ambitious projects, meant purely to decorate, delight, and inspire, are rare. We live in a time of impermanence, when our treasured objects—computers and such—are replaceable and disposable. Architectural and decorative details are expensive and time consuming, while money and time are hard to find.

Therefore, the planets need to truly align for a gift of the magnitude and consequence of this modern-day mosaic project to materialize. There need to be people with vision. People who say “yes.” An artist who makes these projects her career—an artist who gives freely of her time and patience. There need to be teachers who invest in and inspire their students to such work as well as dedicate their own weekends and weeknights.

There need to be students who delay gratification. Who seek no individual recognition. Students who desire to be the parts whose sum is in fact greater than the whole.

We couldn't afford to pay the hands and hearts for their labor on this endeavor, which is only one reason it is priceless.
This art is, in my estimation, the work of cathedrals and pyramids: a gift to ourselves and our community and a lasting impression for generations. The students and staff who dedicated time, blood, and fingernails to 'The Cosmos' have more than its product to take away: they carry with them the experience of working together and the relationships and stories which unfolded under and above the archway to our school.

The rest of us, and those incredible students waiting to be known, will forever find a piece of ourselves in their universe.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Overweight But Also Sort Of In Shape

It's been scientifically proven that Bad Hair Days affect not only how you feel about your tresses, but also your sense of your own capability.

If hair influences self esteem, then one can only imagine the effect of thighs, buttocks, and tummies on one's general outlook.

In short, I've been having some Bad Body Days. But as I've argued before, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I think I am the most important beholder of my beauty.

Conveniently, I am pretty forgiving.

Anyway, bad body days are my fault: I've been hitting the cheese, tossing back the chocolate, helping myself to seconds and thirds, and slathering it all with Ranch.

And then putting another outfit in the When I Am Ten Pounds Lighter pile.

I am a firm believer in finding kind ways to give myself a break from self criticism, and maintaining my weekly run helps my sense of my own capability.

It's like eating better and exercising more is too much to accomplish right now, so I am swapping adverbs: I'm eating more and exercising better. Because I count adding 20 lunges to the end of my weekly run "better."

I maintain that strong is better than skinny. I care more about what my body can do and what it feels like with me inside it than how it looks from the outside. When I run I feel good.

When I eat well I feel good, too, but darn that job: there's something about work that makes me hungry--or at least makes me think about food--in ways that days off don't. Forays for snacks provide needed downtime, perhaps. The day is charted by feedings: bell rings for nutrition break; bell rings for lunch.

I know that today I not only vowed to eat better, but actually wanted to, and wasn't even craving our cafeteria's breakfast sandwich by 8:30 AM. Instead, a colleague with whom I fed the homeless yesterday rewarded me this morning with a cupcake-sized, still-warm peanut-butter-and-chocolate lava cake on my desk. I put that bad boy away by 7:45.

Summer is almost upon us, and I am confident that I will fall back into the routine of feeding the child within me when she's actually hungry. I'll add chasing my kids around the yard and beach to that weekly run. My life will feel healthier, and so will I. I can hardly wait.

Until then, I am content to haul my heavier self around the 'hood in running shoes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Inspire Me to Expound, Please

Call it a failure to launch.

What I am Thinking About but Not Writing (More) About (Yet):

1. Bullying
2. Face Painting
3. Bible Stories and My Children
4. People Retiring
5. Marijuana and Its Possible Legalization
6. Being Overweight but Also Sort Of In Shape
7. What It Is Too Late To Do and What It Is Not Too Late For
8. Dress Code
9. Sensory Integration
10. Summer Camp for Adults

Feel free to nudge me in the direction of your curiosity.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Those Who Can, Teach

It wasn't very long ago that I was a teacher myself, both appreciating and teaching alongside my past instructors, having worked at my own former middle and high schools. I even had to get used to calling my formidable middle school P.E. teacher Mr. D by his first name, "Jack."

Now the mother of a first grader and in the role of assistant principal, I appreciate teachers in wholly new but still personal ways. Teachers who love your child and bring out the very best and uncharted territories within her character: what can you say about them? You want to marry them. They help make your child even more wonderful. They tell you your child is wonderful in ways you haven't yet glimpsed. And they help fix the parts of them that aren't so wonderful.

Ask any administrator what it's like to watch amazing teachers ignite the minds of children and she will describe the familiar ache for what I have characterized as a most meaningful calling: tapping into the potential of young minds and souls, and broadening their visions of our world.

The gift of being a school administrator is having myriad opportunities and license to walk into classrooms and capture those teacher and student moments of beauty, day in and day out, (bureaucratic and emergent parts of being an administrator notwithstanding). In other words, I am capable of being inspired every day. It never grows old to watch a teacher groove on students' ideas, and to see students lunge across desks to share their views with peers, or witness their heads nod with deep understanding and approval at the wisdom bouncing off the walls of their learning space.

Teachers mold and fortify young minds, bolster egos and confidence, swell hearts with pride and massage them for openness. They send young people out into the world to be our future waitresses, doctors, mechanics, commentators and critics, leaders, employees, teachers, pastors, counselors, neighbors, and presidents.

But teachers can undo positive edification in an instant, and I defy you to find someone who can't name a teacher who has torn a limb off the tree of their personal faith in themselves.

So we honor teachers for the potential they have to be so huge in our lives. Besides parents, who spends more time with our children than those educators whose every pimple, weight loss and gain, slip of the tongue, bad hair day, new blouse, poor mood, error and character flaw is examined daily by a cast of dozens?

All the while, these folks try their best to transfer passions for their subjects while connecting content to current events, sharing personal triumphs and defeats, and humbling themselves before a critical and savvy audience.

They face the same pressures as Tiger Woods to be role models without the seven-figure salary.

Some of the sweetest, most hilarious, most significant and most oft-recounted moments of my life occurred in classrooms or the places my teachers took me.

Here are a few of my most memorable instructors. I am fortunate to call many of them my friends today:

Mrs. N, my kindergarten teacher, about whom I have few specific memories, but the rosy glow around that year is all that really matters: my first year of public school was a good one.

Ferg, my 9th grade geography teacher, 12th grade Modern History teacher, and Leadership advisor, who taught me about drumlins, Robert's Rules of Order, and what's worth taking seriously.

Mrs. McC, 5th grade teacher who named her green car "Cecil" after "Beany and Cecil," for whom I had no cultural reference but which my parents appreciated. She was strong and beautiful and made me feel smart in all the right ways.

Mr. M, intimidating AP Lit and Theory of Knowledge teacher whose lessons on Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now blew my mind and which I borrowed when I taught the very same class in the room next door, more than a decade later.

Mrs. C, whose grace and generosity and kindness made middle school manageable and even glorious for brief shining moments. She loved my first poems. My role model in 8th grade.

Mr. S, who taught me physics for two years but who also sent me subtle signals that I was better than the relationship I chose with a popular senior who ultimately dissed me. Mr. S wanted me to honor myself.

Mr. F, who was colorblind and organized his closet around coordinated polyester-pants-shirts-and-tie combos. He convinced me in 6th grade that I was a math genius and I believed it and proved him true for as long as it was important.

Mrs. P and Mrs. U, who both nurtured the artist in me. I often wonder how dimensionally disabled I would be without them.

Ms. H, who made middle school P.E. less awkward and let her tender heart show to insecure sixth graders who desperately needed to know we were worthy.

Those folks, and others, patted me on the back, and more. They gave me half my gumption, enough facts to blurt out some satisfyingly right-on answers on Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit, and a sense that I would change the world.

They're responsible for my poetry and prose, my paintings, and my pursuit of a career in education.

My teachers called me on my bullshit, too: Mr. F phoned my mom when my best friend and I learned enough sign language to talk silently throughout 6th grade math class; Ferg cried foul when I let my grade in second-semester senior history drop after I was accepted into college; Mr. S wrote me my first and only referral for asking him if he was as dumb as he looked.

Teacher Appreciation Week is almost over, but it's never too late: Let your teachers know what they taught you. Let them know you remember. Let them know you've made something of yourself, just like they knew you would.

And honor those who are teaching you and yours today.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Calling All Fairies

Our daughters scored some fairy dust in sweet little pill boxes at a birthday party this weekend, and I saw opportunity knocking in the form of tiny, fluttering, otherworldly wings:

"Guess what," I suggested. "If we put the fairy dust in the backyard (i.e., put that glitter OUTSIDE), fairies will know that our backyard is a fairy home, and will come and live here..."

Big Sis had a pair of scissors in her hand and was headed out the back door before I could say "Tinkerbell." She used her pruning shears to snip petals and leaves, creating a Gardenscape meant to attract fairies to our humble abode:

Little C followed suit, designing her own fairy nest (and learning how to properly run with scissors along the way):

At dinner Big Sis swore she heard some fairy laughter as she worked. Little C grew wide-eyed and made me promise I would lock the back door; fairies are all fine and good outside, but inside? No way, sister.

After dinner Big Sis added a fairy-sized note, wrapped in a petal, to her collection of fairy bait: "I think fairies are awesome! I would really like to talk to you..."

This morning our daughters found a letter tied up in nasturtium vine and some treasures in their fairy sanctuaries:

Thank you so much for making your backyard
Fairy Friendly.
We are so excited to move in.
We love the flowers and fruits and vegetables.
This will be a very fun place for us to visit!
Let us introduce ourselves.
We are sisters.
I am the oldest, and my name is Fiona, or Fifi, the Feather Fairy.
I love finding feathers. If you find any, will you save them for me?
My little sister is Piri, the Petal Fairy.
She looks for beautiful flower petals.
We are Tuesday fairies, which means we will come visit you on Tuesdays,
And if you leave us a message—or feathers or petals—we’ll leave something
For you, too!

Let the magic begin. It will be a summer of fairies!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mother's Day Mix

Happy Mother's Day, moms!

1. "Mary," by Patty Griffin
2. "Apron Strings" by Everything but the Girl
3. "Good Mother," Jann Arden
4. "Mother," Tori Amos
5. "Sand and Water," Beth Nielsen Chapman
6. "If I Needed You," Townes Van Zandt (Emmylou Harris version)
7. "Downpour," Brandi Carlile
8. "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash
9. "Take Your Mama," Scissor Sisters
10. "Parents are People," Free to Be You and Me Soundtrack
11. "Children and All That Jazz," Joan Baez
12. "Daughters," John Mayer
13. "Blood from a Stone," Jonatha Brooke
14. "It Was You, Mama" Jude
15. "Peaches," Kristen Hall
16. "Pearls" by Sade

Monday, May 3, 2010

April Showers Bring May Flowers

Sunday evening we were still stuffed full of a late lunch but with room enough for an early evening appetizer: artichokes fresh from our garden.

Five! And only one earwig discovered inside.

We invited Auntie T over and each enjoyed our own; how decadent.

Our daughters are more evolved than we were at that age: T and I recalled our fathers delighting in scavenging our leftover artichoke hearts--as kids, we only liked the leaves. Big Sis and Little C eat the whole darned 'choke, even the hairy parts.

Our garden is bursting with growth, and we are reaping what Mother Nature sows, with recent and regular rains so atypical here. We pick lemons, limes, and artichokes and await our volunteer zucchini to grow just a bit more robust.

There's a certain reassurance in enjoying the success of what we didn't have to try hard to grow, as our lives are consumed by tending carefully to the living beings in our care. The neglected fish doesn't fare as well as the overlooked artichokes, alas. Our kids? Thriving, for now. So far.

A secret we know: one of the greatest pleasures in life is to grow something; eat it. Share. Pass it on.