Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hearing Their Voice

Hearing Their Voice
One of the things I miss about teaching is reading what children have written. My sister teaches some brilliant eleven year olds who fill that void for me. It was time to help evaluate their sea life reports.
Among the many instructions given to the students before writing their papers was to be sure to use your own words. “Let me hear your voice.” My sister also told them that I would be reading them and that I am a writer.
I took notes while reading their work, and I shall share their gems of wisdom with you.

“The gray whale needs your help to continue to be the amazing creature that it is by calling the cops when you see one getting killed.”(I'll keep this in mind.)
“A leatherback sea turtle burns calories even while sitting. One time a leatherback swam all the way from Indonesia to California just to eat jellyfish. The kids mostly spend their time in the tropics.” (Imagine! Burning calories just floating around in the tropics!)

“When a mother sea turtle lays her eggs, she will just leave them and go off and live her own life instead of trying to stay with her babies somehow.”

“Humans catch sword fish for only two reasons; to cook them or to stuff them and put them on their walls.”

“Cuttlefish are so good at camouflage that they can be a male and dress up as a female and mate with other males. They aren't very pretty but they are well protected. They do not stay in one place for too long.” (I think I can understand why.)

Bottle nose dolphins have a way of keeping their reproductive organs on the inside of their bodies until they need them so they won't slow them down when they swim. (Ahem.)

“Bat rays pile on top of each other during mating season. They can tell who has already mated, who is ready to mate and who isn't mature yet.” (I did not find out exactly how they tell.)

“The male hammerhead shark bites the female until she finally agrees to mate with him. The scalloped hammerhead is a slammer with a hammer.” (It is a wonder this species has prevailed with such an impolite courting method.)

“Barracuda rarely attack humans. If they do it is because they are wearing shiny jewelry.” (I am going to assume that it is not the barracuda wearing the jewelry.)

Salmon can smell over a continent away. That's how they find their river. They have a special salt gland that allows them to live in both oceans and rivers.”

The common dolphin sleeps with only half of his brain at a time. The awake side keeps watch and makes sure he doesn't drown.” (I believe human mothers share this amazing skill.)

“You can tell the age of a walrus by the number of rings in his tusks. They can grow as long as three feet! The longer the tusk, the more important they are to the group.” (Can we do this? Well, the tusks would be cumbersome, but think of the importance for some of us.)

“Bottle nose dolphins have bigger brains than humans do. Can you visualize how smart they'd be with the proper schooling?”

“Skates suck up food from the ocean floor and if they suck in a vegetable, they spit it out quickly. They lay their eggs in little mermaid purses.” (Little mermaid purses!)

“The great white shark grows and regrows a thousand teeth a year. It will taste test anything that looks like it might be food.” (So try not to look like a sea turtle when you are swimming in the ocean.)

While reading their papers, I learned that the shallow open ocean waters are called the neritic waters, the giant squid is red and his eyes are a foot in diameter, and there is an interesting crab called the “decorator crab.”

Decorator crab? Now that's something! After discovering, at an early age that my astrological sign is a crab, I have avoided taking part in all things associated with the positions of the orbs in the cosmos and their resulting effect upon my personality. Well! Now I discover that there is a crab that accessorizes herself with tidbits she finds on the ocean floor. OK. I'll “be” a crab if I can be a decorator crab. I love the things I learn from children.

When the children's papers were returned to them, they asked eagerly, “Did your sister hear our voice?”

Yes. Yes I did. I heard the voice of a promising future.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Halleluja It's Christmas

    I am sure that everyone on the planet has seen that flash mob internet video    of people in a food court somewhere singing the Hallelujah Chorus.  I wish I had been there!  My alto part of the Chorus is as familiar to me as the sound of my breath going in and out of my lungs.

    Every year in December I participated in a community production of The Messiah for all of the years I was “forming,” in Ada, Oklahoma.  The singers included the high school  and the college choirs, and various church choirs, along with anyone else who wanted to participate.  The orchestra was filled with people from similar talented groups around the small town. 

    Year after year we would begin practicing before Thanksgiving and by the time we performed we were a melodious and powerful group.  It stunned the standing room only audience almost as much as it awed those of us singing.  To me, it was the beginning of the magic that was Christmas.  Ada, Oklahoma was a great place to spend one's formative years.

    The first Christmas I spent as a married lady in Southern California, I waited for the Christmas magic to appear.  It was balmy,   but there were Christmas decorations in the stores.  There was no Messiah.  We were a struggling young couple.  I realized I had to make Christmas happen in our little apartment.  I remember sitting at the kitchen table making dough ornaments to hang on the tree that the elementary school where Richard worked, had given us.  I sang my heart out.  “All we like sheep...”  “...and he shall reign for ever and ever..Hallelujah!”  Alto part only. Oh, and with a smidgen of soprano thrown in now and then.

    The thing about religions is they have some beautiful music.
    The thing about apartments is they have some thin walls.

    My new California neighbors smiled strangely at me.

Left and Right Ramblings

    I am one of those people who just don't instinctively know their left and right.  My sister and I share this affliction. 
    When we give one another driving directions – we employ the “Your Window, My Window Method” Turn left at the corner just won't work with us.
    For example when instructing one another in which direction to turn.  It's like this,  “Just go your window at the next light and then go, quick, my window.” 
    It is a mild form of aphasia. We have learned to compensate, using the sister code.  When there is someone else giving the directions it can get ugly.  I stuck a little R and a little L on the appropriate sides of the speedometer of my Mustang.  That helped, but I had to take a bit of teasing for it from my non directionally-challenged colleagues.

    The Hokey Pokey?  A chore.

    Oh, and that little trick of making an “L” with your left hand? Well my right hand makes an “L” too.  It's backwards, but my mind doesn't immediately see it as backwards.  I can also read upside down, and in mirrors, which came in handy when I taught kindergarten.

    When I was in School Teacher School, (which is what I called that year I spent learning educational jargon after I had my BA,) we saw a film about this very thing.  I remember one part of the film very well.
It was filmed with the fish-eye lens to make it scary.

    There was a child pretending to be the teacher, and he had a tea cup.  He held the cup up to the teacher, who was playing the child and asked, “What is this?”
The Teacher/child answered, “It's a tea cup.”
Then the Child/teacher turned it upside down and again asked what it was.
The Teacher/child said, “A teacup?”
The Child/teacher said, “NO! Now it's something else!”

    Next he turned it around so the handle was on the other side, and the frustrated Teacher/child meekly said, “A teacup?” 
“NO!” Bellowed the Child/teacher.

    Suddenly, I understood what children went through learning to decipher the sticks and balls of the printed word.
I suppose I had learned to read in a less precise way, as I taught myself to read by deciphering the Sunday comics, before I went to kindergarten. I probably used the “Right Brain Method.”  (I probably just made that up.)

    People who are dominated by the left hemisphere are practical, linear, detailed, and orderly. They process things from part to whole.  They see all the details when they enter a room.  They are the engineers and the scientists of the world. They also make excellent proofreaders.

    Those of us who are right brained dominate are artistic and impulsive. We see the whole room.  Furthermore we get a feeling from it.  Color and music are always involved. We read what the writer meant instead of the actual letters and words.

    Needless to say the well balanced person taps into both hemispheres. The school district that employed me gave all of us a test to discover whether we were right or left brain dominated and I came out almost totally RIGHT.  Was anyone surprised?

    They found that almost all of the teachers tend to be either evenly situated between the corpus callosum and if they were dominate on one side it was definitely to the left.  Well.  That explains a lot of things. 
Like my desk, for instance.
And why I was always having my students perform.

    So here's my question.  How did people who see everything black and white in politics become associated with the musical, interior decorating, mural-painting, tap-dancing side of the brain?
    How is it that the Don't Tell Me What To Do In My Private Life political party is in any way connected with the stoic, calculating, reasoning, “if-this-then-that” lineaar hemisphere?

My left hemisphere Googled this subject, because I am the curious type.  It has nothing to do with today.  It came to be back in the 1700's in France, during the revolution. People who were conservatives sat to the right of the king and the people who were more liberal sat to the left of the throne.

That's it in a nutshell.  We are carrying on a French tradition.  Ces't la vie.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Day Everybody Turned Nice (Too Bad It Didn't Last)

On the day school started in 2001, Richard, myself, and another retired couple of educators drove by our schools to honk good-bye in a “Ha ha, you’re back in school and we aren’t,” sort of way.
We were headed for Vegas, then Yellowstone and on to the Black Hills to see the Presidential Heads on a Mountain.  We were having a great time enjoying our newfound freedom.  
 On September 11, we were in Cody, Wyoming.  We awoke to the terrible sights on television, along with everyone else in the nation.
      Our plan had been to visit Mt. Rushmore that day.  Instead we sat in our hotel rooms watching the horror with our eyes wide with fear and our hands over our mouths. I remember my skin feeling prickly and my breathing was shallow.

       After some discussion and several emotional phone calls home, (Home!  Suddenly we just wanted to be home!), we decided to proceed to our destination.  We couldn’t help but think of the teachers we left behind and the children in their classes.  What were they saying to them?  How could they explain this?  I remember how emotional it was in our classrooms the day the Challenger exploded.  This was of a far greater scope. 

With our car radio tuned to the unfolding news, we crossed into South Dakota.
The sky was eerily empty.

We called our loved ones again.  Daughter Martie had decided to keep our granddaughter home from school.  No one seemed to know what would happen next.

     As we came upon the area of Mt. Rushmore, there were armed guards at the access road.   (We took their picture from afar.)  Upon learning that all of the monuments across the United States had been closed down, we spent the next twenty-four hours alternately planning to go on home and waiting to see what happened next. 
     When Mt. Rushmore re-opened we walked around the plaza there and then attended the evening show.  I’m sure that the production is always wonderful, but that night!  Oh my!    It was emotionally charged with that surge of ultra-patriotism that everyone had suddenly come to enjoy.  Tears washed the faces of everyone in the audience as we sang, “America,” “ The Star Spangled Banner,” and “God Bless America.”

    We stayed on the road for the next week, visiting Glacier Park, Coeur d’Alene, and Seattle.  There was a different feel out there.  Flags popped up on cars, of course, but the people were different.  There was a change in humanity. People were more gentle and friendly.  Strangers were acting like old friends.  Everyone was open and raw.  There was a feeling of “us-ness.”
Turned out to be a good time to travel.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Grammies 2010

Grammies 2010
…or as Steven Colbert called it,
“The show where performers exercise their most precious right; the right to congratulate each other.”

Sunday night’s show was the best Grammy show I have seen in years.  (ie, not much rap displays, and lots of Agreeing With Me.)

Mr. Colbert announced the Song of the Year, (Single Ladies) by reading it from his iPad, which he pulled from inside his jacket.  I have been amused by parodies of Beyonce’s video of Single Ladies, most notably by Justin Timberlake who, along with two members of the SNL cast, dressed in black tights and four-inch heels and did the Single Ladies dance. Hilarious.

Beyonce put on a Show with a capital “S!”  She had about forty dancing storm troopers, and great, elaborate costumes.  She sang, If I Were a Boy and then slipped in a bit of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” (or as we call it in my family, “The Cross-eyed Bear Song.”) It may be the angriest song ever performed.

As an old (-er) lady, I could be Pink’s oldest fan.  I also like Lady GaGa.  They showed their awesome talent Sunday night.

Pink performed soaking wet acrobatics in the air, while singing, I might add! 

Lady GaGa can sing!  She can play the piano and sing at the same time, which never ceases to amaze me.  She performed with another one of my favorite divas, Elton John, and they brought out the best in each other.

Both Pink and Lady GaGa make Cher look conservative.  That’s not easy to do.

My favorite songwriter, Leonard Cohen, won a Lifetime Achievement Award.  So did Loretta Lynn.  I never thought I’d mention these two people in the same paragraph.

Zac Brown won the best new artist.  I hadn’t heard of any of the other people they were up against.  (The “Ting Tings?”)

The Black Eyed Peas performed.  They do the best work out songs.  Put them on your ipod and go work out.  Work out for me, too, because I am busy.  Other good workout tunes are Blame it on the A-A-Alcohol, Footloose, and Use Somebody.  (I am good at choosing work out songs, just not at working out.)

There were great performances by Lady Antebellum, The Kings of Leon, Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks, Andre Bocelli and Mary J. Blige.  Every performance was great, but the best of the best was the Michael Jackson 3-D performance, and I didn’t even have any 3-D glasses.  If you missed it, you must Google it!  I don’t care what Michael (did with the Jesus Juice,) (may or may not have done,) (was accused of doing) he knew how to put on a show.  That boy could sing and dance!

Stevie Nicks was not the only old rocker featured on Sunday night’s show.  We got to see Jon Bon Jovi, Neil Young, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, and Leon Russell. Anyone remember Mad Dogs and Englishmen?  Leon lived across the street from our friends in Tulsa.  What a partier!

The entire show was impressively grandiose. I loved every minute of it, even the rap performances.  (Did I just write those words?)

Grading Science Reports

For my first good deed of 2011, I helped my sister grade her ocean life reports.  First, I suggested we just give them all A's  and go shopping, but she is a stickler for going by the rubric.  She teaches middle school science and math.  Let us have a moment of silence in her honor right now.

I sort of like helping her with this chore now and then because I always learn something new, plus middle school kids write some pretty funny stuff!

I learned two new things that I didn't know before and my sister verified to be true.  For one thing I learned that the green sea turtle has non-retractible limbs.  I should have known this because I happen to be somewhat of a sea turtle expert.  I have stood in the sand, not three feet from a gigantic turtle as she laid and subsequently buried her eggs.  Then I walked beside her as she lumbered back into the sea.  It was a life changing experience.

Also, new to my vocabulary, due to the report grading event, is the grouping word “smack.”  If one needs to speak of a group of jellyfish, they are called a smack.  If you should ever stumble into a smack of jellyfish, believe me you will speak of the experience.

The following “facts” were taken straight from the reports. They may need to be verified, as I am not sure of their authenticity.

“The gray whale visits many different places, but the view under water doesn't change much.”

“An angler fish mates for eight days and then the male just attaches himself to the female until his whole body is absorbed by her.  Now that's what I call a close relationship.”

“The hammerhead shark doesn't have much of a family life.”

“Sea lions sniff poop to see if it is their baby.”

“Sea anemones will close up its tentacles if you touch it and then it will starve to death, so if you see one you should resist the urge to touch it with your hand.  Just use one or two fingers.”

“Once a bottle-nose dolphin saved a baby humpback whale and took it back to its mother.”

“A killer whale eats warm blooded animals to feel warm on the inside.”

“The crown of thorns starfish eats mollusks, which is gross to us but good to them.  Also, the female gets up on her tippy-toes on a rock to lay her eggs.”

“If you are in the middle of a pod of narwal whales you will get deaf because they are so loud.”

“Male chimeras have retractable sexual appendages on their foreheads.  You can give a man a fish and he might eat it for a meal, but if you show him a raw chimera, he may never eat fish for real!”

“If a shark accidentally bites down on a rock and breaks off all of his teeth they will soon grow back again.”

“Usually, reproducing is all a penguin thinks about.”

“A baby hammerhead can't swim when it is born because it's a sack.”

“Seahorses meet each morning to do the tango – seahorse style!”

Now that's something I'd like to see.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Flat Jack

Flat Stanley is a children’s book by Jeff Brown, which has been around for a long time.  If you have ever taught elementary school you know all about Stanley.  Seems a bulletin board fell on him and flattened him.  After poor Stanley adjusts to his new flat self, he discovers that it isn’t all that bad to be flat.  He can do things that a full-bodied kid can’t do.  It isn’t long before he comes up with a little scheme to mail himself to exciting places.  These circumstances make for a great plot line.  Children love to think of being able to sneak into places covertly. 
When my grandson, Jack was in the second grade, his teacher used this book to make a writing assignment interesting and had the children make a flat version of themselves.  After they admired one another’s flat alter egos they mailed themselves to another city hoping that they would have a wonderful adventure to write about and ultimately make their own little books.
Jack mailed Flat Jack to San Francisco to visit Uncle Rob.  It wasn’t long before I got a frantic phone call.  “Mom!  We lost Flat Jack!  We can’t find him anywhere!”  I spoke to Jack’s teacher, who happens to be a friend and an ex colleague.  She said that she’d have him make another to add to the project when the pictures of the adventure were returned to school.   Since time was short, Rob quickly fashioned a new Flat Jack, using a photograph of Jack’s face for the head.  Now Flat Jack looked quite real.  Flat, but real.
They took him for an airplane ride.  They strapped him in the front seat of their plane, took his picture, and took off.  Flat Jack got to fly over and take pictures of The Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge, and other wonderful San Francisco landmarks.
Then suddenly, horror of horrors, Flat Jack got air sick.  Some disgusting paper green stuff spewed forth from his flat little mouth!  (Let me tell you here that green stuff spewing from someone’s mouth is prime second grade humor.) The green stuff ended the flight. 
They landed and went back to Uncle Rob’s house.  There, Flat Jack played with Rob’s puppies, Mellie and Butler.  Puppies, being puppies, chewed poor Flat Jack to pieces.  The last photo was taken of these pieces scattered all over the floor with the dogs in the background; thus documenting the demise of poor Flat Jack.
His book was a hit, because not only do second graders like to be grossed out by barf, it appears they also enjoy canine dismemberment.