Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eater

I work in a high school and have been particularly disturbed by the prevalence of cheating. It seems as if it is the norm rather than a last minute "I forgot my homework" decision. What has become of our culture that the end product has become more important than the learning process? Look at our assessment practices, today we test for answers rather than the creative or learning process. Students are trained to fill in bubbles rather than come up with creative solutions to problems. Teachers are boxed in, required to teach to a test rather than teach for growth. And teacher's pay and evaluations are based on these tests. The whole system is geared to create a cookie cutter workforce that does not think for itself. This culture of cheating plays right into a system that values scores rather than learning. Dewey would turn over in his grave if he could. I am sometimes paralyzed by sadness as I watch papers being exchanged, answers being found online, or Google translate popping up on a phone screen. It is a moral dilemma. How does one teach students the process of good decision making if they are learning how to fill in bubbles? As I sit here writing this post two students just walked by my seat in the library. One said, "it's cheating," the other said, "it's being smart." In my day if one were a cheater cheater pumpkin eater, one was ostracized  Today it is smart. Who knew. Guess we get what we give. I will go back to being sad now and hope that our future generations will work toward the abolishment of standardized testing.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Habits and Procedures

A wise man once said there is a group of habits and procedures he does regardless of the way he feels on a daily basis. For him, "I don't feel like it" was no excuse. This I am hoping to make a part of my life. So far I have been eliminating substances which aren't good for me...meat, cigarettes, alcohol, diet soda and recently, dairy. I have also been adding in things that bring order to my life: making my bed, doing the dishes every morning before work and flossing. All good steps, but I must remember they are steps, and I must add or eliminate gradually. I know for sure that I am setting myself up for failure if I try to incorporate many healthy activities into my life at the same time. I will soon become overwhelmed and conveniently forget what I am trying to achieve.  In the book Thriveauthor Brendan Brazier suggests adding healthy habits gradually into one's life. He wrote that too much of a good thing creates stress on the body, just as toxins and bad habits stress out our fragile organisms. I have been heeding his advice. It has been almost ten months since I have adopted a vegan diet, the cheese was the last to go (I have been a vegetarian for at least ten years now). I am already feeling lighter and more energetic. Next up? I have to find a way to decrease clutter. Any suggestions of gradual life changing decluttering techniques would be appreciated. I have taken care of the body, it is now time to turn to the spirit. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bucket Lists

Creating a bucket list... I worked this summer with teens in a leadership program. We did different exercises on setting goals and even made bucket lists. The kids were amazing, some knew exactly what they wanted to accomplish, but others didn't and had to put effort into creating a list of future endeavors. Sitting here today on a Saturday afternoon with a YA novel in hand I realize that I do not have a list of goals myself. I spent the last few years working on my degrees both Bachelor and Master's. I am in the process of job hunting so that seems to be my focus. But what about other areas in my life? Sure I have signed up for another half marathon but it is something I can do and have done. What are my other goals, dreams etc. A student asked me what I like to do in free time the other day. It was hard to think of anything beside read. Or running. What are my heart's desires? To find gainful fulfilling creative employment, yes. But work only accounts for a certain number of hours per week. As I sit here on a Saturday afternoon I know that I need more, more to work for or towards. That is who I am. Yes I know that it is nice to sit and be, be aware of the present moment and all it has to offer. Yet I am a goal setter, a planner. I can sit but I also need to move. Today I will begin a list: dogsledding in Vermont, run another marathon or maybe a tough mudder, learn how to cook tofu well, travel to Florence get my Ph.D in medieval studies, learn and speak Italian fluently, hike the Cinque Terre. It is a start. Time to open my eyes and see what the world has to offer.

Monday, September 2, 2013

After The Storm

Sitting here after a rainstorm, the water is loud and falls from the mountain behind my house. Usually there is a small trickle but today the recent storm has turned this quiet section of woods into a powerful sight. I am sitting on a rock in the middle, wondering why I am so sad. There are obvious reasons, the school year has started, and I am still an unemployed English teacher, Sallie Mae has been calling and I am unsure what the future will bring. I watch students go back, teachers go back, and I would love to join them. But also I think it is a time of transition, the season is changing, bits of red and yellow dot the landscape now, summer is winding down and I am about to go into my first autumn without textbooks to buy; my first year without a degree to pursue. My son has made his way to his junior year of college on his own and I feel as if I don't have a direction, I don't have a clear cut goal. So I am sitting in the middle of a crazy directionless waterfall, its water spilling haphazardly over numerous rocks, unable to form a single path because of the sheer amount of water. The water makes its own path. Maybe I have choices; I don't have to just teach high school English, although I enjoy that. I am a teacher and a writer. I need to teach and I need to write, but maybe the form of my employment will be different than what is pictured in my head. The water is making its own path, maybe I should be as well. The answers are here in my church, in the power and strength of the falls, in the slippery rocks and the crazy act of climbing to get a better view (coming down was scary). I have made it this far, maybe what is around the bend will surprise me. Once I reached the "top" of these falls I saw they went higher than I had previously thought. I just don't know, and that is ok. The Universe knows, and that should be enough for today. All it takes is a step up or a step forward, hold on to a branch and hopefully enjoy the view. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Life's a Beach

It is my annual trek to the beach, such a strange custom. Everyone has their own temporary space. We get to see just how many of us have beer bellies and stretch marks. We get to see how our own bodies will look when we age and how they looked twenty years ago. We get to watch children either get back up or cry after being knocked down by a wave. Our creations are demolished when the tide turns. We sleep, we eat, we play and swim...soaking up the rays of the sun. We know it is  harmful, uv rays, jellyfish even a shark or two. But we flock here and watch the waves, feel the breeze and soak up the warmth of the sun. I like to listen to conversations around me, they are handy ideas for plots or characters for short stories. Today my neighbors speak Russian and I can turn off my curious brain and enjoy the sound of the waves. I will miss this when I go home, but the Berkshire hills will beckon me and gently envelop me in her arms...home. But for today I will soak in the rays, watch people of all shapes and sizes, read a trashy novel and return to myself, someone who has been neglected with the busyness of school and work. My space on this beach is temporary, someone will inhabit it tomorrow, there will be new people to watch, new waves to gently lull my tired body to sleep. Until then...

Monday, April 15, 2013


The recent (today) explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line has had a deep effect on me. Not only as a runner, but as someone who has completed a marathon, who knows that if I work hard, I too can someday qualify for Boston. Today I ran a little over 6 miles, I have a half coming up in June, the 13.1 a perfect race for a full time student / student teacher. Training for a marathon takes months, and ends with long 20 + mile runs. In order to run Boston you must complete a qualifying marathon within a certain time. I think of the finish line at the race today, at all those people who weren't able to cross because someone wanted to hurt people. I think of the hope a runner feels passing thousands of strangers, cheering her on, playing music, spraying her with a hose on a hot day. I think of the good will of humanity that is spotlighted at races, the volunteers who help, handing out water, and running along side you (thank you lady in Hartford, I wasn't sure I could do it.) And I am sad, I am sad for the spectators who were injured or killed, I am sad for the runners who worked toward this goal, to have a dream dashed by an individual who wished to incite fear and cause pain. I am sad because a little of my bubble has burst, my "people" have been affected, my fellow runners, people who I smile at when running by, people who know how hard it is to get out of the house on a cold day, people who know how much pain comes the day after a race. Tomorrow I will run with my friend, we will pass sheep and geese, an occasional car or two. I will run for those affected today, I will run for my "people."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Just Words

It has been a while, a long while. I have been student teaching and finishing up my Master's degree. One of the courses I am teaching this semester is Advanced English Projects. Each of the students has their own blog, a list of these can be found on my teacher site, Twelfth Site. That said, I haven't been writing. I haven't felt like writing, until last night. We went to see Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite writers, at Bard College in New York. He read some of his work, in Neil Gaiman style, the stories filled with humor and unique characters. He spoke of setting a goal to write 8 short stories in 8 hours. It made me want to write. I haven't allowed myself the time to sit down and write something other than a paper for my degree, or a lesson plan for my student teaching. This coming week my words will be transformed into music, after collaborating with a local composer, in a piece titled "Wu Xing," in concert with a local group Crescendo. So my words are out there, but what happens after the piece is played, after the last note sung? Have I shut off the spigot, or has the flow of words just gotten stuck behind a clog? The only way to find out is to sit down and type, to see what appears on the paper or screen. What characters are inside, waiting to come and play? Will I take the time from life's busyness to allow myself the simple pleasure of writing?  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Going Vegan

My 200th post! It has been awhile since I have last written, I have been busy working my way through a Master's program, and it has been intense. But I am enjoying every minute and I am grateful.

Approximately fifteen years ago I attended a vegan dinner at a local Indian Restaurant with my father. The food was delicious and I left the meal feeling energized rather than the usual sluggish. I was volunteering at a local shelter working with animals, and I made the decision that night to stop eating meat. I have been a vegetarian since that dinner. I made the choice for ethical as well as health reasons. I lost weight and felt better about my food choices.

Recently I have taken another step, I am attempting to remove all animal products from my diet, including some of my favorites, cheese and ice cream. I haven't had milk since I was a child (with the exception of coffee at restaurants) but dairy products comprised a significant part of my daily protein intake. The ice cream was fairly easy (shocker) with products such as Tofutti frozen dessert and SoDelicious coconut milk products. The cheese was a wee bit harder. I did finally buy vegan cheese and made myself a batch of mac and cheese, melting the shredded "cheese" with Silk creamer and vegan butter. The dish was surprisingly yummy (my twenty year old man child even ate an entire batch.) And for the past few weeks I have actually made myself meals. For anyone who knows me, this might be considered a miracle greater than the whole turning water into wine act.  I have been a prepackaged food gal ever since I can remember. I don't enjoy cooking (it involves cleaning...) But I now have three meals that I have mastered out of Nava Atlas's Vegan Express cookbook. The recipes are fast with few ingredients and super yummy. I have read that for every person who eats a vegan diet, 900 animals are saved. I am not perfect yet, and I still eat cheese whenever there aren't options for me when I am out and about, but so far I haven't purchased any animal products for a few months now. I feel better about my choices, have lost a little more weight and have in the end learned how to be a little more compassionate with myself. Taking care of my body in these ways, eliminating high cholesterol products, and cooking foods that contain real ingredients, is a step in the right direction. This journey is a spiritual one, my connection with the planet has only been amplified. Next step... my shoe obsession. Wish me luck and a vegan shoe store...