Saturday, July 28, 2007

Snapshots of Mexico

I am what can be identified as a Type A personality; motivated, energetic, on the go, perfectionist, over-achiever and hyper. And I do not normally come down from that easily. When I went to Hawaii back in 1992 (pictured above) it took literally six days for the air, landscape and sun to weave their magic and settle me down. I felt something inside me click off and from that point on I stopped my agendas and schedules and settled in.




This has pretty much been the modus operandi for all of my excursions whether it be backpacking through 17 European countries, revisiting France, exploring Savannah or tooling around Key West or Los Angeles. Go, Go, Go!

Mexico was different.

Perhaps it was because Joy and I had planned on doing nothing, which is still a plan after all.


La Posada del Capitán LaFitte (our Mexican host) is a paradise without much contact to the world outside; no computer, cell phone or TV to distract us from the simple pleasure of just being.




Upon arrival we dropped our bags at the reception area, headed down to check out the beach and then settled in at the poolside bar for a daiquiri or two while they prepared our room.

When it was ready I plopped down on the bed and took a nap. The sounds of the ocean outside our window accompanied by the steady breeze proved too tempting to resist.

Of course, we did get in a few fantastic experiences. Horseback riding on the beach, side trips to Playa del Carmen and the ancient ruins at Tulum (which included a jaunt to a local cenoté).



The time was otherwise spent reading, napping, writing in our journals, getting massages (from a very POWERFUL masseuse named Jasmine), playing pool, swimming, watching the sunset and rise, eating, drinking, chatting, sitting quietly and hanging out with our new, very good looking friends Cal and Cindy from Colorado.

Since my return I have found it difficult to muster up my usual energetic demeanor. Maybe this time the trip worked in reverse. Instead of taking a week to settle down it'll take me a week to get back to my usual pace.

Is this what a true vacation is all about? So, in keeping with my new found 'relaxed state' I shall dismiss a detailed description of this voyage and refer inquisitive readers to Joy's blog where such information can be found.

This is my favorite picture. It seems so intrinsically Mexican --- a blend of architecture, landscape and religion.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Days of Auld Lang Syne

I recently began reading the book Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Donald Zochert. Actually, I read this biography when I was a boy and thought it would be interesting to reread it now that I have a bit more life experience under my belt. It is ever fascinating to examine how our perspectives change as we grow older and the same sentence/paragraph effects us in myriad ways depending on our age or even perhaps our mood.

This book opens with a selection from Little House in the Big Woods. I remember reading these lines 30 years ago and coming upon them again made me realize the influence they have had on my philosophy of life.

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, "What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?"

"They are the days of a long time ago, Laura," Pa said. "Go to sleep, now."

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa's fiddle playing softly and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, "This is now."

She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

For me this underscores the notion of cherishing the small moments in our lives. I can visualize Laura in her bed taking in her surroundings, listening to the comforting melodies issuing forth from Pa's fiddle, the warmth of her bed and the love of her family bringing warmth and safety.

There have been many times in my life where I have purposefully held on to moments such as this. As they unfold I consciously take inventory of each aspect.
I remember lying in the snow at twilight on a frigid March evening several years ago. The world around me was in turmoil due to the escalating terror threat color changes from the Department of Homeland Security and I went out with my oldest niece for a sleigh ride. We discovered a small ramp at the bottom of a hill and if one of us positioned ourselves carefully, the other could careen down the hill and jump over the prone body of the other. Oddly fun, potentially dangerous and utterly amusing. As I sprawled out on the cold surface waiting for her giggles to approach I took a moment. I saw the fading sun and the slow steady changes of light that comes with daylight's fading. I felt the frigid air change and warm as I breathed in through my nose and out from my mouth. I heard her heavy trudge up the hill as she pulled the sled behind her. I gazed upwards. Safe for the moment from the worries of terrorism and death.

I thought "This is now". And now could never be a long time ago.

Whatever was to happen, whatever was to come, I had this moment. Of course, time does pass. But I like to think that cherishing these glimpses of immortality or perfection give great purpose to our daily routines. As the song Seasons of Love from the Broadway musical Rent questions "how do you measure a year in the life? How about love?"
By now I have amassed quite a few such moments that sustain me when I feel overwhelmed. Most of them involve the time I spend with children, the true teachers. I am grateful.

I highly recommend the Little House book series. Give it a read!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Corona in Paradise

Sit back and relax...



Listen to the waves gently crash upon the sugary sands of a Mexican beach...



Oh yeah, you are on vacation!


Actually, I am just back and could not resist taking some commercial shots of my last Corona in paradise. Getting back also means catching up on mail, grading papers and most importantly digging into the new Harry Potter. I will post more pics when I get them but for now, just wanted to check back with my blog buddies.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Adonde Voy


Nunca hubo tristezas

Ni llanto ni quejas

Sólo mucho amor

Amor y amor en plenitud


Never any sadness

Nor tears or complaints

Only much love

Love, plenty of love


I am off to Mexico early tomorrow morning for a week long stay (returning to the blogosphere on July 25th) and shall force myself to simply relax, without computers, telephones or TV/radio. I will be sitting on the porch of my little casa (pictured above) overlooking the beach. I plan to ride horseback on the beach with the sunrise, quiet walks, lots of conversation with Joy, writing in my journal, reading, napping, a massage, perhaps a day trip to Tulum or Chichen Itza and staring off into the distance -- just sitting. Lovely.


Thanks Joy for the pictures and thank you Maria for your help with the Spanish/English translation of the song Cuando Me Quérias Tú (When You Loved Me).

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Happy Birthday Linda!

If there was a soundtrack to my life it would be the music of Linda Ronstadt.

She is 61 years old today. It is truly impossible to express all that her music has meant to me as I've journeyed through this life, but I'll try...

My infatuation began with It's So Easy which a guest vocalist sang to a bunch of prepubescent adolescents at a special assembly when I was in Junior High School. I did not know the song but the scary opinionated girl behind me sure did. She had evidently heard it before and was none too thrilled with the vocal stylings of the young lady performing on stage. In a thick Long Island accent I overheard her balk to her friend that she "didn't want to listen to no skank f--k up her favorite song". Being a civilized and timid youth I was quite taken aback by her remark but I proceeded to become lost in the guttural sounds the singer on stage was producing.

When I got home I told my mom about the assembly and the girl who sang some cool song by someone named Linda Ronstadt.

That Saturday while I was expressing my creativity in ceramics class my mom and little sister did some shopping. When they picked me up my smiling mom surprised me by handing me a small gift in a Sam Goody's bag. It was a 45 by Linda Ronstadt! I remember this moment very clearly, standing in the parking lot, the look of the record label, my little sister trying to contain her enthusiasm until I opened the bag. The song was Blue Bayou. I remember being so excited and all I wanted to do was run home to my record player and listen to it. When we finally did arrive home and listen I quickly realized that it was not the same song I had heard at school. But, I really liked it. So the following weekend I trekked on down to Two Guys department store to purchase Simple Dreams.

I was hooked.

All of the events of my life can be linked to a Linda Ronstadt song. The first song I ever sang in public at a bar when I was 18 years old was Birds from the album entitled Linda Ronstadt.

I listened to Somewhere Out There in my first apartment in New York City while I wrapped a stuffed Fievel for my nephew.

I roller skated to How Do I Make You and struggled through the lean years at NYU with Linda and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra.

I fell in love during Don't Know Much and had my heart broken to Frenesí.

As luck would have it, my years of obsession finally paid off. I was at work one morning (this was before my teaching days) and there was a contest on the radio. They were asking listeners to identify 10 Linda Ronstadt songs in 10 seconds. The winner would get front row tickets to see Linda at Radio City Music Hall for the Feels Like Home tour. OOH, I could do this. Bring it on! They played the 10 second clip and I knew them all. I called in and rattled off my list. I was promptly asked to hold because they wanted to put me on the air. When they did I repeated my song list although I am afraid that I came across as a bit too manic with my persistent question:

"DO I GET TO MEET HER???"

No, that was not included. Here is where years of watching I Love Lucy paid off as I devised a plan to finagle my way backstage one way or another. The night before the show I tossed and turned in bed wondering what I should say to this woman whose music meant so much to me. I was sure that I would figure out a way to meet her.

The next night I waltzed up to the front row feeling nervous and expectant. Of course, I had already purchased tickets to this show but when I won the radio contest I gave them to a friend. So I was feeling the love of the audience myself. I was seated beside a young woman and her mother who had also won a radio contest. They had a better prize; front row seats, Linda's entire music catalog (as if I needed that) AND backstage passes!!!!

She became my new best friend.

I turned on the charm full blast and by the time a Radio City employee came to escort her backstage after the show there was no way I was going to be left out. I followed them upstairs to a crowded dressing room full of 'meet and greet' folks. My eyes darting around the room, my hands shaking, my heart pounding so fast you could see it. After several years of waiting in this cavernous room an elevator opened and out stepped Linda Ronstadt.
Me...in...the...same...room...with...Linda. What do I do now? She was walking towards me and I didn't know what to do. She tried to get around me but when she stepped to the side so did I and we proceeded to do a little dance, back and forth until by some miracle she made it past.

I stepped back into the hangers and waited for my turn. What will I say?

Then...

"Hi Linda. You know I was in bed last night thinking that I have loved you for more than half my life!"

Awkward smile. Forced small talk. Pose for a picture. Get an autograph. Breathe.

Notice my manic expression, the crazy eyes, the tremendous JOY.
Then, take a look at Linda thinking "When is this over?"

Now I can check that off of my list of things to do. I regret that she and I will probably never become friends (I say probably because one never knows what the future may bring). I do not really like to call myself a fan - it belittles our relationship. Okay, I do realize that makes me sound like a crazy person but I would like to have an opportunity to meet her on equal terms. Not as some gushing, crazed, starstruck lunatic but as a person she would be interested in meeting. If I meet her again I hope to retain a shred of dignity. Still, I am happy that I can get so worked up about things. It speaks of a capacity for undying passion and an openness that I am glad to possess.

Happy Birthday Linda! Thanks for the memories.



Instead of including the familiar tunes I chose a song that she never recorded for your viewing pleasure. Ain't she purdy?

If you are not familiar with her music may I suggest downloading the following: Blue Bayou, You're No Good, Still Within the Sound of my Voice, Walk Away Renee, Ooh Baby Baby, Different Drum, Try Me Again, Long, Long Time, What'll I Do, Love Has No Pride, Lose Again or any of the aforementioned tunes.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Summer Reading


I am not sure of the exact statics but I do know that during the summer months the reading levels of most children drop because they are out playing in the sprinklers rather than sitting with a book. This is a generalization however because I was one of those children who preferred to sit under a tree in the shade reading Carolyn Haywood or Laura Ingalls Wilder books while my two brothers ran around with a kite. They would tease me by chanting "reading is fun for mentals" which was a clever (or not so clever) spin on the RIF motto "reading is fundamental".


Nowadays children have more opportunities to interact with print in varied and fun ways. They are not limited to just printed materials. Computers offer an interactive spin on what some children find the tedious task of reading. It has been well documented that children who like to read, read. This increases their vocabulary, world knowledge and fluency. The simple act of reading leads to more reading.
However, children who do not read generally find reading to be a tiresome task. They have a more limited vocabulary which in turn perpetuates the cycle of non-reading. This is called The Matthew Effect - the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

I have found that you can indeed 'trick' these non-readers into reading by having them utilize free interactive websites targeted for this purpose. In addition to the RIF website (which I recently discovered) another website that just keeps getting better and better is:



At Starfall the philosophy is a developmental approach to reading and it provides structured lessons beginning with phonological awareness activities; phonics, rhyming, letter names and then moves towards reading stories for fluency and comprehension.

I introduced my students to this program and they really enjoyed it. There is also information for parents and teachers, downloadable materials, supplemental information and educational implications.

Some characters featured at Starfall

So if you are looking for a way 'in' to reading for your child please give Starfall and RIF a try, especially during the summer months. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tips From My Mom #2

Lately I have been wondering about the art of raising children. Is it an art or a crap shoot? For the past several days (beginning with an in-depth kitchen conversation with my sister, her husband and his parents) I have discussed the dynamics of the parent/child relationship. How is it possible to give birth to helpless, loving babies and raise them into secure, happy, confident, contributing members of society?

Conversely, how is it possible to give birth to a helpless, loving baby and when all is said and done the adult they become is mean, hateful and generally disagreeable?

Is it something in us at birth that determines the person we will become in spite of surrounding influences. I do not mean a nature/nurture debate per se because I think it is something more than genetic or primal. I wonder if it is something spiritual or karmic speaking to one's essence.

My parents always said that I was their 'happy baby' and I can say that that general mood has prevailed. I feel it to my bones; a gratitude for my family, my friends, the opportunities that have unfolded.

I see this in the children I teach. The inner core of the person they will become is already evident.

Of course outside influences play a huge factor. Our families, culture, society, opportunities, etc. all mingle together to support or eat away at our developing personas. And this brings me back to the point of all of this: How do parents foster positive relationships with their children and in what ways can they ensure that their children will grow into well adjusted, happy adults?

Let's take a look towards my mom for this one.

Never one to push her views on anyone she quietly teaches by example. She exemplifies what it means to be a model others can emulate. Here I am in my 40s and her subtle messages are still unfolding.
  1. Do not judge. As with any family there comes a time when disagreements arise between a parent and a child. When I dyed my hair blond and it came out orange my mom smiled and said "Isn't that interesting". When I decided that I wanted to go to New York University to study acting she (and you too dad) dug in her heels and did everything possible to make my dream a reality. No words about it being a difficult career or perhaps I should go in another direction. Just "what do you need and how can we make it happen".

  2. Let them do what they want. Here is where that ol' lovely demon pops in...guilt. My mother has never, never made any of us feel guilty about choosing to spend time with our friends over her, for not staying home, for not calling. So what did we do? We brought our friends over to hang out, we stayed in, we called. Well, not always but her understanding went a long way towards building positive life-long friendships with each of us.

  3. Acceptance and Understanding. And if there were things she couldn't understand she at least accepted them until she could. What more could you ask? And in return we did the same thing.

  4. Let them see that you are human too. Parents are like Gods to young children, at least mine were. As children grow older that changes. Sometimes drastically. But sharing emotions, thoughts and caring in open conversations allowed us to see the person behind the role of parent. Of course, I never went through a rebellious period but I see that having an open door policy in terms of communication can keep some situations from spinning out of control.

  5. Love them!
So there you have it.

Lead by example.

Simple and utterly complex. Hopefully one day I will get to try this system out for myself from the other side of the looking glass. Until then, I remain ever watchful.
Oh, and keep lots of cookies in the cookie jar!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Small Moments of Bliss


Summer vacations!

They are another truly wonderful thing about being a teacher but one that I did not experience in the first nine years I taught. However, all work and no play made Gary a dull and cranky boy so last year I decided that I simply had to 'get selfish' and took some time to regroup. I walked away from teaching summer school and spent the summer riding my bike, reading, napping, working out and enjoying my family and friends. No regrets surrounded that decision. In fact, I plan to do the same this summer.

On Friday night I drove out to the land of my childhood, Long Island, to see my four-year-old niece in her first dance recital. Every time I visit I am reminded of how fast time flies and think back to the person I was, wide eyed and full of dreams. I find it hard to fathom that more than 20 years have passed since I called it home. I like the skinny, curly haired, innocent boy I was back then but it seems SO long ago. I am no longer any of those things.

As I drive I make mental plans to see my old friends; as if they are all still there waiting for my call. I think about the things I used to do...

Sitting on the hood of my brothers 1968 Pontiac Firebird under the streetlight at two o'clock in the morning writing poetry on my unicorn stationary...

Walking barefoot through the quiet neighborhood streets singing a lyric from I Ain't Always Been Faithful from Linda Ronstadt's self titled album that goes "Have you ever walked the empty streets until the break of dawn, just to hear some lonesome sparrow sing a lonesome song"...

Reading Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire while the house slept...

Laughing over Benny Hill with my brothers and eating Bachmans Butter Twist pretzels.


While I drove it hit me that these were small moments of bliss. Moments that perfectly captured my essence, my happiness and my connections to the fundamental elements that inspire me.

Time stands still and passes quickly when one is lost in reminisces. Next thing I knew it was 2:00 AM and I had arrived. My (amazing and beautiful) sister J.J. and her (equally amazing) husband Mike bought the house I grew up in from my parents and now live there with their three children; aged 16, 8 and 4. The kids were sleeping but J.J. and Mike were still sorta awake. We said hello and chatted a bit before heading off to slumber.
Somewhere in the night my niece woke up and I went to tend to her. Actually, she seemed to be wandering and I swept her up in my arms where she promptly fell asleep. She was a bit hot and sweaty, getting heavier as her body went progressively limp and I thought "what do I do with her now?". I ended up putting her down where I was sleeping because I couldn't see through the darkness of her room. When she was settled I tried to sleep again but little kids move around quite a bit and one never knows when a sharp movement can result in a slap to the face. However the morning found its way to us and I awoke to the smells of Belgian waffles wafting up from the kitchen.

A leisurely breakfast was followed by 'getting ready' which can be a messy, chaotic process when children are involved. My niece smiled and posed for me in her stunning costume. She and five other little girls were dancing to "Build me up Buttercup" by The Foundations.


A-D-O-R-A-B-L-E.


After the show I spent the rest of the day playing with her and gaining insight into the world from her perspective. As I threw a baseball towards her to swing at with a mini 'hitter thing' (bat) on the front lawn, memories came flooding back to when I used to lie on the same grass and look up at the clouds to see the pictures they created. I shared these thoughts with her and she was instantly on her back gazing up at the clouds.



I was not sure if she was going to get this little activity but the minute she looked up she rattled off an impressive array of objects; a train, a dragon, a man, a sword, a castle, a face. As I was trying to locate the face my sister came out and joined us, then her husband. So the four of us were taking a moment to look at clouds. And it hit me...another small moment of bliss in the making.


AH! SUN-FLOWER
Ah Sun-flower! weary of time
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime,
Where the travellers journey is done.


Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my sun-flower wishes to go.



William Blake - Songs of Experience

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

ED-OPOLY

There is just too much to write and I am a bit stumped but here goes...

While cleaning out my mailbox on the last day of school I came across a July 19th New York Times article by Jennifer Medina entitled Schools Plan to Pay Cash for Marks that someone had copied and placed in the employee mailboxes. The article details a 'broad incentive program for families' good habits'.

It seems that billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided to play a game with education and his Community Chest cards read something like this:

Receive for Services - $25 for attending parent-teacher conferences.

You are rewarded for test taking:

$5 per fourth grader
$10 per seventh grader
Perfect score on standardized tests, you get $25

Advance to eighth grade with perfect test scores (Collect $500)


Of course we are not talking Monopoly money, this is the real thing raised privately and earmarked to 'improve the performance of black and Hispanic students' because it is only money that is keeping them from achieving in school. It could not possibly be the egocentric, elitist system that continually ignores diversity and promotes a deficit model of education which blames the child (or family) and not itself. Yes, throwing money around indiscriminately will fix everything.

Although I applaud the acknowledgement that something needs to be done, this is perhaps not the best solution. Education is not a game. It is a right. Waving a five dollar bill in front of a ten-year-old is not going to correct the underlying problem. Wouldn't it be wonderful if those folks with political power and the clout to raise $53 million to fund this effort took a moment to look inwardly. To honestly ask themselves if they are part of the problem. If they'd decide to go out and get to know the schools, the students, the families and then formulate a plan to dismantle the injustices of No Child Left Behind and the relentless pressure of high stakes testing. All of this testing is taking away from the learning. Promoting knowledge that is here today and gone tomorrow. Currently, we have schools and teachers who feel pressured to teach to the tests.

Perhaps not the best way to Advance To Go!

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