Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas and such…

I just read a mammoth post from Jen about all their travel and doings and I’m tempted to respond in kind. I don’t know that we’ve really done all that much – mainly I’ve rested. I slept almost fourteen hours on Saturday and then we went to Kim and Rob’s party in the evening. We had a very good time meeting lots of Truman grads, and Kim’s coworkers, one of whom used to work for Mary at the radio station (KTRM?).

Jes met the curator of the Edwards art collection (soon to be the Wachovia collection) and got an interesting perspective on the merger. Jes’ father Gary worked for Edwards and his wife Sue still does, so we maintain an interest in all things related to the recent deal - where the family owned Edwards has become a dissolving subsidiary – dissolving into the giant Wachovia.

Elliot was a star party guest and had zero fussy moments as he was passed around to the friends and family there. We want to have a social and tolerant baby who doesn’t go into hysterics the moment his parents are out of sight. He may have some genetic predispositions to the social as that gene is… prominent on my side.

Jes and her mom were busy baking hundreds of cookies over Saturday and Sunday. We will be in sugar and carbs for some time to come. Perhaps they will vanish at our holiday parties. We’re having a New Year’s Eve party and a party for my work department a few days later. I’ve started on some of my break to-do list by cleaning out the garage and unpacking a few essentials that we haven’t seen since we moved in back in July. I still can’t find my sander; it’s a Black and Decker Mouse. Did you borrow it? I want to refinish our coffee table.

Monday afternoon / evening we went to Pontoon Beach/Granite City for Jack and Bonnie’s party. Santa made an appearance and so we have a video of Elliot’s first visit with the pagan deity. Our headlights on the Forenza have gone out, so we made the return trip with our brights on –eek! I replaced the fuse for the headlights yesterday, but got nowhere with that, so we’re taking the car into the dealer tomorrow. It smells of ozone, so they will have to track down the short for us.

Christmas Tuesday had us back in Illinois for a turkey dinner at Gary and Sue’s followed by a return to St. Louis and another turkey dinner at Mira and David’s. We did a few gift exchanges – Elliot made out well – but having gotten a house and a baby this year… Jes and I don’t really need much else. We got a little money towards a new computer and one of those digital picture frames to load all our hundreds of baby pictures on to. We set up a slide show yesterday. Jes did a photo shoot on Monday of Elliot in front of the tree with all of his Christmas apparel, so that is all cute and will be up on flickr soon.

Today has been task filled. We did some plumbing and got our wet bar in the basement operational for the coming parties. I had to cut out the old metal drain with a Dremel, going through three blades and getting a few spark burns in the process. I was glad of the safety glasses and Jes’ heavy metals ventilator – she uses it when mixing glazes. Elliot is wiggling in the Pack N’ Play to my right. He has started doing frog kicks while giggling and it is very cute. Jes and her mom are out running errands, spending the gift certificate to the yarn store that I got Jes, no doubt.

That’s about it – taking it easy – getting a few things done – enjoying time off with wife and child.

The Shoot

The Shot

The Shudder (with the cute)

Ajax moves in on the fake snow


Friday, December 21, 2007

Winding down:

I could/should be grading papers right now in a mad rush to have my vacation be just a vacation; that would be my old rabbit approach to life. Instead, I am in turtle mode, shuffling through my work predecessor’s papers to get ideas for next term. I am working, but at a much slower pace. I am burnt out and need to recover a bit before I can grade their final projects.

Actually, my new friend the Scantron machine graded all my freshman finals yesterday, so I am ahead of the game there. I’ve even already entered all of those into my grade book. What remains for those kids is all of the late work that I foolishly accepted and a small stack of workbook pages that I simply hadn’t gotten to yet.

I gave my last final exam yesterday. I still have two days of contract time where I am required to be “on campus”. I don’t really plan on doing much, besides winding down and packing some things for me to look at over break. I have a full sixteen days off for Christmas.

The thing about teaching is that one is never really away from work. Thus, sixteen days without students is not really sixteen days off. Any conversation or random thought could become part of a lesson plan. Also, I am also a slow grader. My final grades for the current session aren’t due until January seventh. Several of my sixteen days will be spent leisurely pushing paper and numbers around our dining room table. Still, this is a welcome break from the rigors of instruction and discipline.

Elliot update – another clean bill of health and a series of vaccinations came from Monday’s pediatrician visit. I liken holding him after work each day to watching the volume slowly get turned up on a stereo – each day there is more person and personality there looking back at me and the world. He has started to make pre-vocal noises that are the earliest precursors of speech – he burbles and coos like a kettle on the boil. He is thirteen point four pounds now. All of his birth length is gaining girth. His favorite album is Paul Simon’s Graceland.

Jes has continued to regularly update her flickr page, so if you are in need of recent baby pictures I would direct you there.

Time Jump –

It’s Friday night now and I am just up from my post-work nap. I have it in mind to make a to-do list for the break, but initially my to-do list says only “rest”. I really crashed when I got home and woke up in one of those stupors where you forget both who and where you are. It’ll take me a bit to sort it out.

Tomorrow Jes and her mom are planning to make cookies while I keep child and dog occupied in the basement. We have a holiday Party at Kim’s to attend and my nephews are showing up at some point as well. It’ll take me a bit to come down from the end of the term’s mad grading rush. Jes has put Elliot on my shoulder and is calling him my imp. Elliot, in imp-like fashion, is pulling my hair. She is reading The Bartimaeus Trilogy, in which imps figure prominently. I finished the series a few weeks back.

I am debriefing myself over the term just past, thinking on my successes and failures. Halfway through my second year of teaching high school, I was struck today by an overheard conversation in which a thirteen year veteran described our work as the easiest and most difficult way that there is to make a living: easy in that we access our passions through instruction, and most difficult in the myriad roles we must play from parent to psychologist. I have both earned and require the next two weeks “off” to recover from and rest up for this best and worst of jobs.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Simpson Avatar

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


Saturday, December 15, 2007

I’ve managed to pick up a winter head cold. I’m hoping it doesn’t mutate into something ugly or transfer to wife and child. Even with the cold, which I’ve had for a few days, it’s been a good week. The light at the end of the tunnel – a two week Christmas vacation – is just days away now. I give my last final on Wednesday. I will still have to work over the break, grading all those final exams, but I can do what I have to do from home sans 150 crazy kids.

I’ve found out that I’ll have fewer students next semester, which means less grading, and I have also discovered the magic of the Scantron machine. I graded a test yesterday in three minutes that would have otherwise taken me four to five hours to grade manually. God bless you Scantron, you’ve added years to my life.

Elliot is in his playpen to my right, amusing himself by pulling one of his baby mirrors over onto his head; it’s a soft toy with animals and rattles on it that he got from Paul and Caroline. Elliot is only nine weeks old this Sunday and isn’t supposed to be playing like this for another month (smart baby). He’s actually worn himself out and is now in full crash mode. We’ve got a pediatrician visit next week and are taking bets on his current weight. My guess is just under twelve pounds.

We are in the middle of a snow event. There are three inches on the ground and another six expected. Jen is flying back in today from Connecticut, so we are on storm/flight watch. I imagine she’ll stay with us again tonight, though I know she’s anxious to get back to Derek and the kids. The main thing is of course getting home safely.

Otherwise we are doing well, and looking forward to time with friends and family over the break.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Christmas Tips...

How much do you tip your mailman?

How much do you tip your milkman?

If you've moved and you had a great mail-woman last year, do you go back and tip her (since you don't far from where you used to live)?


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Schedules… my nine p.m. is your midnight. Thus, my 4:27 a.m. is your 7:30, which is still too early to be awake on a Sunday. I fell asleep during the Mizzou game last night and was thankfully not awake for much of the blowout. I have several coworkers who are Mizzou alum and I imagine that there will be much weeping in Mudville come Monday.

I’ve been thinking a lot of late about the tortoise and the hare. I’ve lived my life like the hare, I race through things and then wait for the world to catch up; inevitably, the steady pace of the world always passes me by. I have resolved to be more tortoise-like, but habituated behavior is a tough nut to crack.

I used to refer to my procrastination/ dynamism under pressure as a kind of punctuated equilibrium; the term comes from geology and describes how plate tectonics work: you have a gradual build up of pressure and then a radical event like an earthquake, resulting in a great deal of geologic change. There are several problems that result from living one’s life like this, and the “earthquakes” aren’t the worst part. The stress that I accumulate, and then live under the pressure of, is far worse than any geologic shifting might be. Our “earthquakes” (marriage, child, work) have meant good changes in our lives, but I haven’t been honest with myself about how those stressors (together with all of our mutual everyday concerns) have affected me and my health. My weight and blood pressure are both higher than I would like.

I know that many people feel that their lives have become too complicated and that the pace of modern life is too much. When I moved back to St. Louis from Kirksville I felt like it took me six months or more to adjust to the shift in pace. I had to relearn city driving, incorporating increased travel and traffic time into every plan; that’s old news, in my current phase I notice things like the magazines that I subscribe to rarely get read, I don’t have time to cook like I like to, and some of my high-maintenance plants are dying from lack of regular attention. As Linda Loman oft observed, attention must be paid (Death of a Salesman-Miller).

Children can’t be raised well by hares, they need tortoises. Plate tectonics: my priorities are shifting.

I was listening to NPR the other day and there was a story about a youngish physicist surfer who has come up with a new universal theory that accounts for how everything works, including gravity, “better” than string theory. More than the theory, the interesting part of the coverage to me was the discussion of intellectual creativity involved in coming up with the theory; they repeatedly made the point that relaxing is necessary for creative intellectual growth. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Relaxed creativity promoting intellectual growth is what I want for Christmas. How do I create the space for that while still meeting my responsibilities?

I couldn’t tell you when the last time I was truly relaxed was. Jes woke me from a dream yesterday in which I was writing up a discipline report for a student who had misbehaved in my dream classroom. I said to her, “It’s not fair that even in my dreams I have to do paperwork.” The stress of having to not only educate, but to discipline and parent the children I teach is unbelievable and impossible to leave at work. I wear it.

I am prevented by FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) from discussing much of what I am vaguely alluding to, but I’m sure you can infer from films you’ve seen what it is like to teach the population that I teach. In their essays I read what they live. Teaching is a profession in crises as a direct result of the social crises in our cities. Everyday as I work I am unsettled by the thought that our current approach to education in America is somehow fundamentally flawed. The architecture of it is all wrong.

It’s a truism that the primary goal of any institution, no matter what other idealistic flags are flown, is the self perpetuation of that institution. High schools, educational institutions in general, have perpetuated themselves in innumerable ways that haven’t kept pace with the changes in our society. Everyone points to technology, but the real crises points are far more basic and have to do with identity.

Perhaps with some relaxed creativity I could come up with some solutions – but most educators know that substantive solutions need to be applied not just to schools, but to other social institutions over which we teachers have no control. Schools are failing because families are failing. I am not a neo-con with a narrow definition of family, but I do feel that no matter who is filling the role of parent, parenting must occur for the culture to work.

That word “work” is key to the problem, because even parents who try to parent are often prevented from really being a part of their children’s lives by sixty hour work weeks. Children who haven’t been parented suffer from a lack of respect for self and other, combined with a bizarre pairing of apathy and entitlement – it’s the do nothing, get everything conditioning of a television dominated culture. There’s something to that, beyond a general finger pointing at lowbrow culture, in that television promotes a kind of isolated passivity. Theoretically, the interactive nature of computing should be revolutionizing the passive nature of entertainment, but there is linearity of narrative and an ethic of the reset/off button that are still fundamentally passive and consequence free. The technology won’t blossom until the mindsets that produce it shift.

I was discussing returning to college level teaching with some of my recent mentors at U.M.S.L., both of whom had done just that for individual reasons. They said that the grass isn’t necessarily greener if you consider all the committee work that college instructors get roped into, but they agreed that the money/time trade off was worth it. Nancy told me that as a high school teacher she realized that she was spending more time with other people’s children than with her own. I don’t want to make that mistake.

Here’s the odd thing, you wouldn’t think that the money and job security would be better teaching high school, but often it is. Jane was telling me that if she’d retired from a Missouri high school rather than U.M.S.L. she’d be taking home 15,000 more a year. I am making significantly more now than I did at Truman. Part of that is age, experience, and additional certifications, but not all of it. If I made a shift to the community college system right now, assuming that I could get a job at one given the competition, I would see a slight raise; but the step raises in my district look like they will greatly outpace the percentile raises at the community college level. On the other hand, what good is a better retirement if I get a stress disorder and I don’t live to retirement age?

If I do shift to a college I can get back all the money I’ve put into retirement already and pay off our credit card debt. That almost sounds like a plan. Now that we have that all sorted out, I guess I’ll make breakfast and pick a spot from which to watch the sun rise.


Saturday, December 01, 2007


It’s amazing what you can get done when you want to avoid grading. Jes and her mother are out Christmas shopping and I am a whirlwind of laundry, dishes, vacuuming, furniture rearranging, etc. I even took the dry cleaning in. I am trying to do all the cleaning that creates noise while they are away today. But enough about me, you want a baby update.

He’s sometimes sleeping through the night. We get these four and a half to five hour stretches some nights, but not all nights. He has his fussy days where we call him little baby fuss-fuss. He’s turning into a chubby little guy with Michelin-Man rolls of skin at all his joints. We are still just breast feeding, so he’s getting a high fat/nutrient rich diet. We had a screaming day the day after Jes had some spicy Indian food and are thus leaning how Jes’ diet affects him. The biggest secret to good breast milk production that we have learned is having Jes eat lots of oatmeal; it helped the milk come in and when she doesn’t eat it she makes less milk.

I just rearranged the living room to make space for a Christmas tree. I’m not sure when we are going to do that, maybe next weekend. I am very much looking forward to the time off. We’ve debated trips to Wisconsin, Florida, Arkansas, and Kirksville, but I’m of a mind to just stay put for the two weeks that I have off and recover from our hectic semester. Over Thanksgiving break I did a lot of cleaning, unpacking, and rearranging. It really felt great to knock out several projects that have been nagging at me.

More about the baby: we have a book that explains what he should be doing developmentally each week; he is several weeks ahead of what he’s supposed to be able to do. He’s starting to have play behavior. The other night he was grasping a ribbon on a toy mirror in his crib and pulling the mirror onto himself and then knocking it off again. He had an accidental speech event, where instead of his usual cooing and gurgling he made the distinct vowel sound “O”. I thought that was pretty cool.

Jes took him to knit-night on Thursday and I met some friends out for Vanessa’s Drinking Liberally club. She is hosting the local chapter of a national organization committed to left-of-center political discussion and awareness. I got to see Melissa and I discovered that one of the regulars used to bartend at the same bar that Beth, Erica, and I worked at. He was there in 2003. I haven’t met friends out at a bar in months, and it was fun to stick a toe in the water that was once much more a part of my life. It was less fun to pay bar prices. We are making a renewed commitment to getting out of debt and that means cutting back on what little eating/going out that we do.

Ah well, I actually have to get up on the roof and repair a rattling vent before I lose the light. The girls will be home soon, and I’d rather have all the big jobs out of the way. On an interesting football note, the last time that Mizzou played Oklahoma, when they lost to them, was the day that we went into the hospital for Elliot’s birth. We watched the game while Jes was in labor. If we win tonight I’ll have to pick him up some Mizzou gear.