Sunday, December 23, 2007

City Sidewalks

This has been a busy week.

On Friday Lauren and I looked at one another and decided that we needed to take it to the streets. She suggested we gather up the kids and shake things up a bit by heading over to see the festivities at Union Square. I chimed in that we could stop in at the Barnes and Noble there to check out the children's books and a plan was born. We scooped up Miss Cheritha and her first grade students and sang and danced our way downtown.

It was a brilliant move. There really is nothing like doing something unexpected and spontaneous. As I looked at the children smiling I thought once again how blessed I am. I am in the right place, doing the right thing.

We arrived at B&N and headed directly to the large second floor children's book section. I was happy to see that my Curious George obsession had rubbed off on the children as they spent a great deal of time rummaging through the many titles in this book series. They were spread out on the floor and lounging on the chairs with various book titles. Each time they discovered a book we had read in class they felt compelled to run to us, book in hand, to loudly announce their find.

Books were being passed about, children were running from shelf to shelf and some took books from one area and returned it to another. This did not score us any points with the staff. Amidst sour looks and raised eyebrows we invited all of the children to join us in the hundred acre wood for a reading of two holiday favorites.

Lauren and I read How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. Me doing my best impersonation of the voice over from the TV special and Lauren signing it in the gorgeous way that only she can. As we read we attracted a few children and adults who probably thought it was a scheduled story time. Our students sat and listened so intently, hanging on every word. I was impressed. It is rather neat to see them out and about in NYC, outside the confines of our classroom.

When this story was finished we read a new book called Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner. If you ever wondered what antics your snowmen get into while you are fast asleep look no further than this book (well you should also check out Snowmen at Night). These books are so much fun - especially at the end of the night when the snowmen are exhausted. Carrots, coal and buttons litter the field. I defy you to read this book and not chuckle.

After the reading we gathered up our belongings and headed towards the escalator. This was when I saw it. A Santa George! I had to have it. Why? I have no idea but every time I see a Curious George dressed up in a different outfit I have to have him. Luckily I am a first grade teacher so no one questions this odd obsession. We all have our weaknesses I suppose.

Back on the street, with Santa George safely secure in my coat pocket, we strolled around Union Square Park. We thought it would be wonderful if we bought all of the kids some hot apple cider and after some drama with the street vendor that is exactly what we did. We sat in the park sipping hot cider as we chatted and gazed.

Unfortunately not all children like hot apple cider. Several of them felt compelled to 'pitch in' and tossed their cups into the nearest trash bin. Oh well. We tried.

With that, our adventure was over. The morning flew by and now we had some rumbling tummies that needed lunch. Oh, New York. It really is a wonderful place to go to school and a wonderful place to teach.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Live Nativity

It is tremendously important for me to feel connections in my life; connections with my family, friends, church and community. I remember watching the movie Steel Magnolias and marveling at the relationships between this strong group of women that operated within an intimate community of support and gossip. At the time I was covetous of this small town with its rituals, customs and traditions. I wanted to be part of a larger group of individuals brought together by some common purpose.

I suppose this is why I thrived in the world of theater. Everyone works together towards accomplishing a common goal. Each person contributes their unique skills to make the show a success. I loved it. In this environment I met some lifelong friends (Joy and Mike to name only two) and I like to think that I added something distinctive as well.

There are many small pockets of our lives where we can feel this spirit and one very important area for me is church. I have been a church going, choir singing lad since I can remember. I have a deep belief system that I often question and challenge but the basics are there. As an adult I have succeeded in finding a church that fosters a feeling of family even as my own family lives further away than I'd like.

If it is true that we are all blessed with unique gifts, mine can be found in performance (or witnessing or preaching or whatever term is appropriate when relating to church). I sing with the choir, I often act as liturgist and recently I even filled in for our pastor by delivering a sermon on 'The Good Samaritan' when she was away at a conference.

The church also does some outreach to the larger community that includes the usual food drives and various walks to support local charities. Each year we host a chicken BBQ providing exceptionally tasty dinners at low prices and every so often during the holiday season we create a live nativity.

I love this.

I took part in it for the first time last year. Basically, you sign up to portray a character (I play Joseph - earthly father of Jesus) and stand outside, in the cold, for the enjoyment of onlookers in passing cars. People are encouraged to stop in for some soup, salad, desert and fellowship.

It all sounds so holy and right minded, no? But aside from the fellowship and community building there is a sweetly wicked side that I wouldn't miss. Little details that go unnoticed by most folk.

Like the infant Jesus lying in the manger in swaddling clothing (pictured left). I do not know who chose this particular doll to represent our Lord and savior but I applaud the creativity involved. This looks like a young Carol Channing and if we are all supposed to be created in this image no wonder we have issues.

This baby Jesus also has a pretty ribbon in his hair. This brought about comments related to letting him be who he is and not censoring his true nature. Well, there is a nice lesson in tolerance and acceptance so perhaps we were on to something after all.

We also had two goats on hand last night who added a bit of spontaneity to the proceedings. Keeping a couple of randy goats in line for two and a half hours was entertaining enough, not to mention the occasional gifts they were compelled to leave the newborn king. But being that our three teenage wise men decided to bail after 45 minutes to make like The Rockettes for approaching traffic we were happy someone was making an effort.

Tomorrow morning I am once again playing Joseph. This time in our Christmas pageant which I am sure will be a wonderful fiasco, at least judging from our 'rehearsal' this afternoon. I could not be more satisfied.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Flat Stanley

The First and Second grade children at our school went to see The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley at the Tribecca Performing Arts Center yesterday morning. The show is based on the endearing children's book series by Jeff Brown. In the books Stanley Lambchop is flattened one evening when the large bulletin board that hangs over his bed becomes unhinged and falls on him. He is discovered in the morning by his younger brother Arthur. Mr. and Mrs. Lambchop are unable to fix their son but have a refreshing 'oh, well' attitude and get on with life.

Being flat (he is only a 1/2 inch think) has its advantages. Stanley is able to mail himself to California in a large envelope to visit his friend Thomas and can fly like a kite. He even saves the day at least once in each book. The stories are imaginative, clever and just plain fun.

So when I saw that Intramusic Theatricals had included a stop on their current tour only a short bus ride away from our school, I knew we had to go. Tickets were only $5.00 per student and teachers/chaperons were granted free admission. I did have some drama trying to acquire a script to give to the sign language interpreters but eventually everything worked out wonderfully.

The great surprise was just how wonderfully. This was a great production. I was so impressed. The cast, headed by the gifted and charming John Ambrosino as Flat Stanley, were obviously enjoying themselves. I could not get over John's beautiful singing voice. I don't know what I expected exactly but I didn't expect the show to be this professional. Every detail was perfection. The students loved it. I was watching them watch the show as it unfolded. Their excitement made Lauren and I smile. If the tour comes close to your area I strongly recommend that you get tickets.

Jamieson Lindenburg, Ashley Eileen Bucknam, John Ambrosino, Nanci Zoppi and Rebecca Kutz

There is a whole Flat Stanley curriculum out there that includes links with geography, mathematics, language arts and science. It has become very popular for children to create their own drawings of Flat Stanley to mail to other classes or individual children. As Stanley travels from one class to another or one child to another, children share the adventures he had on his visit with them in letters to one another.

I can see this as being a motivating way to encourage children to write but I can't seem to get on board with this one. Maybe a class somewhere really cool like Paris or Australia would help me change my mind. Maybe then I would stick myself in an envelope and join him.

Monday, December 3, 2007


On Friday night I met my blogging friend Steve for the first time at a bar called The Mad Hatter in New York City. This is the third blogger I have shared a drink with after getting knowing them first through the written word. In person Steve, Reya and Ched were pretty much as they portrayed themselves to be on their blogs - but even more charming, fascinating and interesting. Steve and I spoke briefly about the possibility that the persona someone chooses to put forth through a series of blog posts could be altogether misleading but the essence or 'stink of them' (to paraphrase Boy George) generally shines through.

And I think this can be said for the many roles we 'play' in our daily lives. In a sociolinguistics class I took recently we discussed the fact that each of us takes on a different societal role depending on the circumstances of our surroundings. We have rules of behavior or codes of conduct that determine how we interact in a business meeting as opposed to hanging out with mom and dad. But this is only a surface level manifestation of required etiquette. The character of the person underneath all of this determines how a conversation will play out or an interaction will unfold.

We have choices. We make choices all the time.

In education the choices we make can determine if we are part of the problem or part of the solution. And what 'they' say is true. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

The sad truth of the situation is that everyone loves to blame everyone else for failures in education (and in life it seems) while crediting themselves with any successes. In my experience, it is those who point fingers who tend to be the most insecure, unmotivated and dangerous individuals around. The real person underneath is not so charming, fascinating or interesting.

Today we have a situation wherein our president blames teachers for the failure of schools even when it is his doctrines that have brought about the mad testing that keeps learning from happening. The No Child Left Behind legislation seems to be based on money. The testing companies are run by Bush cronies who are raking in the dough. And I naively believed at one point that the heart of NCLB was pure. What an idiot I was.

In Boston the average sixth grade student has only 53 days (out of 180 school days) where they are not being tested in one way or another.

In NYC upper elementary grade students have 24 full days of testing. This means that a whole unit of study is out the window. Teachers may have to put aside a study of poetry because the students are required to fill in little bubbles. Not to mention the time that is necessary to prepare the students for taking the tests. Teaching to the test instead of teaching to the child has become sadly commonplace. And the worst part is that these assessments are not given to plan instruction. They are given to label children and schools.

The blame game is not only reserved for the president. It is also evident on a smaller scale. In schools the third grade teacher blames the second grade teacher, who blames the first grade teacher, who blames the kindergarten teacher, who blames the parents, who blame the doctor, who blames the fetus, who kicks the dog. Oh, wait I got my wires crossed but you know what I mean. In this climate it is no surprise that the weakest teachers would feel threatened and point fingers before someone notices that they are not doing all they could.

Is it human nature to point fingers and shun responsibility?

I think perhaps it is. But I also think that it is the easy way out. And there are many folks who choose to work a little harder, give a little more and take a minute to ask "what can I do to make this better?"

So I remain hopeful even when I am a little disgusted.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Super Reader vs. Super 'Bad' Reader

This is "Super-Reader!"

SuperReader uses many different strategies for figuring out unknown words and making meaning while reading. SuperReader prepares for reading by looking at the cover and title of a book, reading the blurb on the back and taking a picture walk. SuperReader reads many books, shares them with a reading partner and builds his reading muscles every day. SuperReader is gentle with books and understands how precious they are.

SuperReader is cool! Unlike....

Super 'Bad' Reader!

Super 'Bad' Reader likes to destroy books. Super 'Bad' Reader is not gentle with them. In fact Super 'Bad' Reader rips, throws and eats books. Super 'Bad' Reader pulls them away from SuperReaders who are allowing their imaginations to whisk them away to fantastic places while reading. Super 'Bad' Reader gives up when there are difficult words or phrases and does not try any strategy for figuring out tricky words. Super 'Bad' Reader reads words without thinking of their meaning or visualizing the images the author is describing. Super 'Bad' Reader makes young children cry. Super 'Bad' Reader needs a patient and loving teacher.

The above characters were created by my first grade students. They thought of the names (Lauren and I were not so keen on the term "BAD" because as you teachers and parents is not the child who is bad, it is the action. If a child hits another child it is that action that is wrong - it is not a reflection on the character of the child. But, kids aren't so PC and insisted on the name. So we let it slide.) The students chose the colors, the costume, the attitude, the entire look. They are wearing masks because you are not supposed to know if they are male or female. Lauren took the rough sketches we created together as a class and crafted the final versions pictured here.

The evolution of SuperReader and Super 'Bad' Reader is an interesting one.

I have been fortunate in my teaching career to work with a principal and vice principal whose educational philosophy meshes with my own. I have rarely been asked to do anything that I found to be a waste of time or that was in opposition with my stance on education. This seems to be rare in my field. When teachers get together to bitch about their schools I am the odd man out because I am without horror stories to share.

But recently Lauren and I were asked to create rubrics for our students. They would provide the students with clear expectations for work in all academic areas. I didn't really understand what this would look like for first graders. I am quite comfortable creating rubrics and guidelines for the college course I teach but I was really at a loss when it came to doing this for 5 and 6 year old children.

So, we brainstormed and came up with a way to visually represent the expectations for our students as readers. We found a way to take a task which was initally confusing and turn it into an amazing source of information. It makes me think of one of my favorite childhood sayings...

I am still not sure if SuperReader and Super 'Bad' Reader satisfy the requirement but it has been such a cool experience. The characters have sparked interest in the children and have given them a motivating goal that is at once understandable and relatable. It is winning challenges like this that makes teaching that much sweeter...or should I say SUPER!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dare to be Happy

Yesterday I went to pick up my new 2008 Gecko Green VW Convertible Beetle! And although I should have been a good boy sitting indoors all day studying Verbal Protocols of Reading by Pressley & Afflerbach, the call of my new baby proved mightier by far. We went for a little outing to the park and got to know one another.

Ever since I can remember I have wanted...
  • a green car (I have only had blue, red, or black ones)

  • a convertible (this is my first)

  • to say "Load it up!"

The day has come! I put my order in for this three months ago and have been waiting ever so patiently for it to arrive. Say hello to _________. I don't generally name my cars but if you have any ideas let me know. Maybe something will stick.

It has everything I could think of and even more that I haven't figured out. Leave it to German ingenuity to create a Tiptronic transmission that is an "automatic that offers the option to drive with the race car feel of a manual". You can choose, not that I know what this really means but it is exciting. As the brochure states - It's all about freedom. It has heated this and automatic that. And the convertible boasts a 10 speaker sound system with satellite digital radio service, CD player and MP3 hook-up.

When I was through signing all of the paperwork and finally alone with my car I felt very nervous. Suddenly I was surrounded by bad drivers and menacing pedestrians who were ready to either slam into me or key the car at the next traffic light. To soothe my manic spirit I popped We Ran by Linda Ronstadt into my new system and sang along to Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues. By mile 13 I was over the nerves and looking forward to pulling over to put the top down. Forget about the fact that it was 30 degrees outside - I got me a convertible.

Another aspect of The New Beetle which complements my sensibilities is the whole 'flower power' philosophy Volkswagen promotes with this car. Did you know that they have conducted quantifiable studies which showed that New Beetle drivers "tend to reach out to those around them more than other drivers do?" Well, evidently they have. Or that they also tend to be "really cool, good people who are very connected to the world around them?" The implication is that VW Beetle drivers dare to be happy. What a concept. Me likey.

It is also eco-friendly and heaps better for the environment than the 1996 Chevy Blazer I had been driving. You can see it over my shoulder in the picture below.

As if all of this weren't enough I got a message from Mona today who wrote a tribute to me in her Friday Flash 55 Fiction #2 (Thanks Mona!). I guess the folks at Volkswagen know what they are talking about. I've only had the car one day and already I can feel the love.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Everything is Beautiful

Thursday night I was a V.I.P at the New York City Ballet for the 2007 opening night gala. My V.I.P status was not generally recognized by anyone associated with Lincoln Center but to the parents of the 11 year old boy who invited me, I was indeed special. This boy was a former student I taught in both Kindergarten and First Grade. His mom (Heli) and dad (Jonathan) have always been demonstrative in their appreciation of the "great start I provided" for their son - even though he would have blossomed under the tutelage of any teacher. Over the years I have become friendly with them; going out to dinner every so often and attending some special events in the lives of their children. So when they called me with this latest invitation I was not surprised, but as always I was touched and honored by their offer.

Their son has been taking classes with The School of American Ballet for about five years now and he is becoming quite the dancer. His dad told me that the school provides these classes free of charge for boys (girls pay about $4,000 a year) and they study under some of the big names in dance. They are holding auditions for children 6-10 years of age in May 2008 for classes beginning in September 2008. Some of these children are selected to perform with the New York City Ballet in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker as well as in productions like the one I attended. Here we have yet another fantastic and unique opportunity for young children living in New York City. Click the above link or call 212-769-6600 for more information.

As I sat in my seat gazing at the opulence and grandeur of the State Theater I became a bit sad that I didn't have the chance to perform in such an incredible space when I was growing up. I couldn't help but wonder what my 20s and 30s would have been like if I had the advantage of such discipline and teaching early on. Would I have been hoofing it in a Broadway musical at 22? But, everything works out for the best. If I had become a dancer I may not have heard the call to teach or subsequently found my bliss.

I had an hour to kill before the show so I went browsing at The Shops at Columbus Circle. This gave me a chance to take some pictures with the new digital camera my BFF Joy gave me for my birthday.

Even though Thanksgiving was days away I could hear the Christmas music playing, feel the excitement of tourists and the vibe of holiday anticipation. All of this made me feel happy - so I bought a cashmere sweater, talked with Joy on my cell and clicked away. It was a beautiful evening but after all isn't everything beautiful at the ballet?

And...Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Enjoy the turkey (or lasagna - J.J, or egg rolls - Mark, or tofu - Joy) and remember to give thanks.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Linguistics: American Sign Language

My early experiences in learning my second language, American Sign Language (ASL), came with the acquisition dilemmas of vocabulary and structure. It is one thing to scribble down hand movements in a notebook during class to try to decipher later thinking "how did that sign go again?" and it is another to tap into the grammatical structure of ASL. I think many eager young students want to amass a copious store of signs without delving into the linguistics of ASL. I was fortunate to do an in depth study of this as part of my course work at Columbia University when I was working on my Master's Degree.

ASL is a true, living language with its own phonology, morphology and syntax. Phonology in spoken languages is concerned with speech sounds which then branches off into smaller, more specific realms. In ASL phonology consists of aspects of a sign; namely location, handshape, movement, orientation and nonmanual signals (facial expression). But phonology only looks at these contrastive parts of language devoid of meaning. Meaning is studied by linguists of all languages under morphology.

One of my favorite oft repeated phrases in linguistics is that languages have a finite set of rules that allows us to create an infinite number of sentences. We can mix up the words in our language any way we want, to say anything we want, but we gotta play by the rules. The rules are called syntax. We may not know the rules explicitly but they are implicit to us. How many times have you said "that doesn't sound right but I don't know why?"

When all of these elements are orchestrated to create language in use we do not necessarily separate out each of these essentials. One way these play out in ASL can be seen with the five basic sentence types; questions, negations, commands, topicalizations and conditionals. The focus of this post rests with questions.

The types of questions most asked are either Wh-questions or Yes-No questions. The former engages the use of words like who, what, when, why and where. In spoken English we indicate a question by using a falling inflection at the end of our sentences. Give it a try by saying out loud now "what time is it?". It would feel strange to us if our voice were to rise at the end of that question. So too in ASL when asking Wh-questions there is a correct grammar and 'feel'. The nonmanual features of phonology along with syntax and meaning necessitate the employment of the eyebrows. For Wh-questions the eyebrows lower much like the voice would. When I was first learning this it was like patting my head and rubbing my belly but it does become ingrained eventually, better to learn this early on in your studies.

Yes-No questions in American Sign Language also carry nonmanual features that are evident on the face of the signer. In spoken English when asking a yes-no question such as "Did you like that book?" our ending inflection goes up. In ASL this translates to raised eyebrows (and other nonmaual features like leaning forward and widening the eyes).

Lauren and I have put together another short video explaining all of this again but this time watch Lauren as she signs the 'wh' words. This is followed by a series of questions that are either wh-questions or yes-no questions. Can you notice the differences?After the video I wrote out the questions and answers so you can check out how you did.

If you had a keen eye you would have noticed that I asked all of the Yes-No questions and Lauren asked the Wh-questions.

Gary: Are we friends?

Lauren: Yes. What is your name?

Gary: Gary. Do you like that book?

Lauren: Yes. Where are you from?

Gary: Long Island. Do you like ice cream?

Lauren: No. When is your birthday.

Gary: It just passed, November 4th.

Lauren: Happy Birthday

So there you have a mix of vocabulary and structure. For more on the linguistics of American Sign Language check out Linguistics: A Resource Text for ASL Users of American Sign Language by Valli and Lucas now in its 4th Edition. It contains detailed information on basic ASL concepts, phonology, morphology, syntax and language in use. It's everything you always wanted to know about ASL but were afraid to ask.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Mingling the Muses with the Graces

I shall not stop

mingling the Muses with the Graces -

sweetest of connections.

I could not live without music,

I could not be without crowns of praise.

Yes I am old

but I'll sing forth Memory,

sing forth Herakles' beautiful victory

with wine and lyres and flutes and song -

I will not stop singing

the Muses who set me dancing.

from Euripides' Herakles as translated by Ann Carson

Last Tuesday we visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art to explore the intriguing stories of Greek Mythology through sculpture, tapestry, artifact and painting. After the last fiasco and an email from our guide, asking if we would perhaps prefer the Exploring Art tour instead, I was very leery. Would this be another lazy, unfocused wandering through history?

My reservations were happily dashed when we arrived at the newly completed Ruth and Harold Uris Center for Education. They celebrated the opening only a week before and it is wonderful. This place is highly organized. We were greeted by our two docents, a sign language interpreter and the museum/school coordinator and after a few do's and dont's were on our way.

As we walked through the labyrinth of statues the children pointed and giggled at the naked men and women carved out of marble and stone. This happens every year and to be honest I have to chuckle at their reactions. At this point our guide usually explains that long ago clothes weren't the fashion and that the body was considered a thing of beauty which keeps the giggles to a minimum, somewhat.

My memories can't help but take me back to my last first grade class and how they simply devoured the stories from Greek mythology. As we began this tour I felt the loss of those kids and their unbridled enthusiasm. My present class in general is very young (sweet, naive) and my initial feeling was that these stories, with their tales of murder, temptation and revenge, would be too much for them to handle. But as the tour progressed I got the sense that these little darlings had a taste for dramatic encounters with beasts and otherworldly shenanigans.

The big draw this time was the story of Hercules with his many trials and near impossible tasks to complete. Our guide was most impressed with her young charges - the connections they made, their capacity to remember all that she explained and their on target questions.

This continued as she spun the tale of Diana and Actaeon from the late 17th-early 18th century wool and silk tapestry, and molded the story of Perseus, Medusa and Andromeda through the glorious sculptures. It was these stories that captured the imaginations of our students last year and it seems to have done the trick again with my wide eyed students. I was somewhat jealous that they were getting to hear these stories for the first time, with all the inherent magic and awe inspiring details.

As our tour reached its conclusion our tour guide, Ina, once again congratulated the students on their enthusiasm and focus and bid us goodbye. And we were off to the playground at 84th and Fifth to eat lunch and run around.

Several days later I got a call from the office that we had a visitor - someone from the museum. Lauren and I were at a loss as to who this could be. As we were pondering this, our guide Ina came around the corner smiling and carrying a large envelope. We welcomed her into our classroom and introduced her once again to the children. She had come to give us some materials about interesting programs at the museum. This was so sweet as she had already given us a book on Greek Mythology and free family passes for every student. She also gave me a postcard showing the "Leon Levy and Shelby White Court with statue of youthful Hercules" and a handwritten note...

We have another tour scheduled for January 8, 2008 and I am hoping that Ina will once again show us around. On our next visit we will 'Explore Art' and sketch a variety of objects in the museum. For more information go to and scroll down to "Read All About It!" to view and print out family guides before you visit.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

"Are you One? Are you Two?..."

This past week has been jam packed and fun fulled - beginning with Joy's Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) party, a class trip to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Halloween, an Off-Broadway show and culminating with my birthday celebrations which took place in school, around town and at home.

Normally at this time of year I take stock of my accomplishments by listing in my journal all of the wonderful and new things I have accomplished in the past year like others do. Although I have always enjoyed this style of reflection, this year I am thinking along different lines. Yes, I have obviously had new experiences but for the most part I am in the middle of things. No big changes, no life altering revelations, just an ongoing enjoyment of the life I have worked so hard to create. It seems fitting to be in the middle - a little more than half way through my doctoral studies, a little less than half way through my teaching career - since at 44 I am probably at the half way point in my life (I have decided that I will hang out here in this body until I am 91). This is comforting and wonderful.

I am at peace with so many things and the notion of following your bliss keeps coming back to me.

If you follow your bliss, you will always have your bliss,
money or not.

If you follow money, you may lose it, and you will have

Joseph Campbell

I have a deep appreciation of the fact that I have found my bliss as a teacher and this colors all aspects of my life. I feel blessed by my amazing family, friends and co-workers. Thanks!

After I blew out the candles on my birthday cake at school the kids started chanting "are you one, are you two, are you three?" and I stopped them because by the time they hit 44 they would have become exhausted. They laughed - I love when they get my dry, witty, subtle, sometimes sarcastic, often borscht belt, humor. Then they surprised me with their cards.

Here are a few...

"Happy birthday Gary. I hope that you have a good birthday"

"You are so funny. I wish you and Ms. Cheritha can be my teacher! Are you going to be 2nd grade soon? I like you very much." This was written by a student in the other first grade class.

"Dear Gary, Happy birthday. I love Gary. I fun to Gary play. I love Gary. You are a fun man."

And my favorite....

"Happy Birthday Gary. He the KING of the school." This child is very wise and will receive high marks on his report card next week. (see above: Humor)

But the most precious card came from my parents.

I can hear my mother's voice in these words although they were obviously written by someone else (click on image to enlarge). It is perhaps my greatest joy in life to have this unconditional love from my parents and their undying support. With such a foundation how could I have not grown up to find my bliss? Or know happiness?

It has been a spectacular life thus far.

I look forward to the second half!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is a most excellent celebration. It combines fantasy, fun and giving in one scrumptious package that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. And let's face it - who does not enjoy dressing up in a costume? Be it scary, dignified or wildly imaginative it feels good to assume a character and it is giddy fun to see our friends do the same. One of my precious students created the artwork on the left of me as 'The Man with the Yellow Hat' from the Curious George book series. My love of that little monkey is no secret so this was not a great leap for me. I did try to talk Lauren into dressing up as Curious George so our costumes would be in sync, as they were last year when we were both cheerleaders. At the time we led the school in an original cheer complete with choreographed leaps and manly lifts which brought hoots and hollers from the students and staff alike. But this year, she politely demurred, opting instead for the quiet elegance of a ballerina.

My costume though was a big hit. When I stepped into the courtyard I had so many children run up to hug me that I was honestly afraid that someone would get hurt or that I would tumble backwards and squash a few of them. So I just stood very still and tried to keep my balance. Unfortunately the costume was one of those one size fits all, over the clothes deals, which means that in every picture I have of me in it I look dumpy and out of shape. My tenuous vanity will not allow for posting of such pictures so they shall remain locked in the vaults to haunt me at a later date. I did take one of the my big floppy hat and George that I can share. Isn't he the cutest?

The anticipation, which begins on the first of October, is another aspect of Halloween that is inescapable. Children share costume ideas and chat wildly with one another about their grand plans - the trips to the party store, goody bags, parties. As in years past superheroes continued to be the ticket with the young set.

We had two black Spider-Man costumes...

Captain America...

and an incredible artist rendering of said Captain...

A Blue Power Ranger, Bat Girl. a transformer. an angel, a princess and variations on these.

We asked our students to write a 'scary, spooky Halloween story' to share and I have included some of these below.

This one says "Two little girls went into a haunted house". Take a careful look on the roof of the house and you will find Dracula waiting for them with outstretched arms by the light of a crescent moon.

This one reads "This is a scary house and there are witches in the air". This witch is flying on a carpet instead of the usual broom. It does seem more comfortable.

This one is my favorite "This little boys name is Billy. He can never take his costume off. His dad told him a scary story." It reminds me of a an episode of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Everyone became the character they were dressed up as, meaning that the slayer became a damsel in distress who got knocked about until the spell was reversed. Buffy had some good Halloween episodes.

By far the scariest, spookiest story we read this year was Tell me a Scary Story...but not too Scary by Carl Reiner. We told this one with the lights out, sitting on the floor with lots of drama. The kids were laughing and screaming and generally enjoying being six years old at Halloween.

For those of us in the room who were a little older than six it was a time to ponder the magic of childhood, fantasy and sheer 'in the momentness'. How wonderful for me that I get to experience all of this, in one way or another, everyday!

The above is from The Hallo-Weiner by Dav Pilkey. A Halloween favorite.


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