Tuesday, July 28, 2009

First day of class

When I was going into the 3rd or 4th grade, I got on the wrong yellow bus home. It was the first day of school, and they had added a route; I was confused about which I should take (my old one or the new one) and an administrator suggested I must be on the new one - surely I wouldn't be going to "that" neighborhood.

It didn't take me long to realize I'd gotten on the wrong bus. But rather than tell the driver (too scared!), I got off at the first stop and began walking. Eventually I ended up at a business where I called my mom.

That first day was a relatively good one.

Every first day brings me feelings of anxiety; being the teacher is even harder for me, because I cannot be passive. I can't hide in the back of the class and observe. The past few days I've been dreaming of showing up late, unprepared, of not being listened to. I've felt sick and anxious from my head to my toes.

Luckily, my "first day" usually ends with me feeling rejuvenated. I love the enthusiasm of each new group of students. I just need to work on keeping it. A couple students confided after class was over that they're not scared about anatomy and physiology - they're scared about English. I need to improve in many aspects, but one area I succeed in is dispelling those fears throughout the quarter. At least, I hope I make students feel more comfortable and confident in their writing.

We shall see. I get so down on myself that I forget that I do know a thing or two.

Edited to fix some gnarly grammar!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Quote of the Day (Lao Tzu):

~ "Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love."

New Monday, new quarter, new opportunites to do things better.

Shallow thoughts...

For some people, it's their eyes. For others, it's their smile.

The only visible evidence of my accident today is a right eye that blinks a little less frequently than the left and that doesn't open quite as wide when I'm tired. And I certainly could have benefited from braces back in junior high.

No, for me, my best physical trait is my smallness. My thinness. When I realized that, or at least gave voice to that thought in my head, I shrunk a little more: my best physical trait is the lack of something; the absence of something.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Last Night's Five After Five (7/24/09)

I found myself passing on a lot of food yesterday: wrong textures, wrong flavors, wrong animals.

Station 1
  • Primobacio Moscato d'Asti - this sparkling white wine was probably my favorite of the night, although it was rather sweet.
  • Smoked Plum Soup - I passed. The others couldn't decided if they hated it or liked it.
Station 2
  • Barone Fini Pinot Grigio - I enjoyed this white also. It wasn't as sweet as most Pinot Grigios.
  • Grilled Caprese Skewer - Cheese, onion, tomato on a stick: I ate the cheese but wasn't too impressed. The others liked it though.
Station 3
  • Torres Corones - A light red from Spain.
  • Shrimp & Olive Tapenade - these got thumbs up, but I skipped.
Station 4
  • Geyser Peak Cabernet - This was a richer red from California
  • Gyro Sliders - I nibbled around the edges of this ground lamb in a hot dog bun.
Station 5
  • Bonterra Rose - this was a little light for a final station, but it had an appealing taste.
  • Fromage a Trois: Vella Dry Jack, Montasio, & Estivo - all winners.
Afterwards, dinner at J. Alexanders, where I ate some delicious macaroni and cheese and drank Great Lakes beer.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Paris - Day 4

Wednesday morning, I had it all planned out: plane departs at 12:15 pm, get to airport by 10:15, get on train by 9:30, be on subway by 9:00. I had woken up before 8am and paid for the previous three nights (Zach and Summer were staying for another night, so I didn't check out completely). They walked me to the metro station; we stopped on the way for one last cafe au lait and pain au chocolat.

When I got to the train station (Gare du Nord), I found each car stuffed with travelers. I stood back, eager to wait for the next one, because I was about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. But I heard an announcement (and the subsequent English translation confirmed it) that there was some electrical problem. The train would be delayed "25-30 minutes."

Given how crowded it already was, I decided to go outside and catch a taxi. Of course by now there's a whole queue of people with luggage waiting for taxis. Cabs frequently appeared, but they seemed to stop at random; sometimes they'd pass by, no passengers. At some point (as often happens when people are sharing the same frustrations) we started talking with the people near us in line. I was standing next to a young couple from Norway; they had an 11:20 flight and had reason to be upset - but they were nice and friendly all the same. We decided that we'd share a cab when it was finally our turn. And when the driver told us it was a flat 35 euro rate, we looked at each other in awe (the couple and I each contributed 25, so he got a nice tip).

Charles de Gaulle Airport seemed to have many more security checkpoints than Cincinnati's airport, but really I think it must be the same; they just have far more mobile officers, checking your things in stages, rather than doing everything at one or two different stations. Still, given how long it took me to get to my gate, I fear that my Norwegian friends missed their flight.

I was flying standby again, so I wasn't sure of my seat until a half-hour before boarding. I've gotten spoiled these past few trips, getting first-class seats because of the buddy pass. I sat up front on the way there, and for the first time, I actually slept a decent amount on a plane. But coming home, I had an economy seat. I became reacquainted with screaming children, cramped leg room, bad food, and annoyed flight attendants. A little boy, three rows ahead of me, kept jumping up on his seat, turning around, and waving at his sister in the row in front of me. Two hours into the flight, the guy sitting next to him managed to get the boy the seat next to his mother.

I was in the middle section, and immediately across the aisle was another little boy and his mother. She fell asleep somewhere over Iceland and the little boy started getting antsy. The flight attendants were "nice" and gave him little packages of Tobelerone. He climbed out of his seat and began swinging in the aisle. Flight attendants passed him but didn't say anything. Mom kept sleeping. I finally pulled out my journal and tour out a blank page; I handed this to the boy, along with a pen, and asked if he wanted to draw something. He looked at me and said, "Why?" I took it back, drew a silly face, and gave it back to him. He began drawing intently on both sides of the paper and then gave it back to me. "Here," he said; it was for me. I asked him his name and would he write it on the paper? He spelled out "Andre" in random spots on the page (an "A" here in one corner, an "n" near the top, etc.)

His mom woke and saw what we were doing. She said, "That's the best thing ever" and whispered something to Andre. He then gave me one of his Tobelerone packages (one of the best things ever, I thought). We exchanged more pictures and I gathered some more information. Andre must have been about three years old, given the letters and scribbles he made. He was also bilingual in Spanish and English and was very happy when one of the flight attendants, Diego, conversed with him. He was a very sweet and intelligent child, but I can see why his mom would fall into a deep sleep.

Later, back in Cincinnati (Northern Kentucky, technically), as I waited in line at customs, I saw Andre being led around by a woman in uniform. They appeared to be searching for his mother, but Andre looked happy as a clam: they walked out of the room towards where we'd come from and then Andre came back later, with a man in uniform, toward the front of the non-residents line: I can only assume they found his mother.

Anyway, short, good trip. I'm still reflecting on things, but I needed to get everything down before I sort the pieces. And as it's almost 6:30am in France, I suppose I should go to bed :)

Paris - Day 3

There are so many things I should be doing right now: organizing materials for next quarter; leaving comments on my graded papers that I have to return next week; cleaning. But I'd much rather finish my recaps while the memory is fresh...

I woke up early again and took advantage by sneaking out to drink coffee and read. I've been reading Nicole Krauss's "A Man Walks into a Room." I stayed reading, sipping my latte, for an hour. I really enjoyed the first half of the book, but it's slowed down, and the plot's taken a turn that holds no interest for me.

We got to Versailles, about a half-hour train ride southwest of Paris, around eleven. By then it was hot, sticky, and full of tourists. But like so many things in and around Paris, the image of the Chateau de Versailles was striking, even behind the sea of cars.
Everything about the Chateau was ostentacious. The gold trim, the paintings, the carpet. It was extremely crowded, but the rooms were very well-organized, with descriptions in French, English, and Italian.

Like I said, Versailles was thorough. But this Chateau is fascinating not just for its showiness. It's the history of it, with Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. I was partly hoping for a mock guillotine!

Later that night we decided we'd climb the Eiffel Tower. It was only 4.50 euros to walk the stairs, and so we skipped the long line for the elevators and mounted the 700 steps to the second level. Here are some pictures taken along the way and from the second platform (we started after 7pm and were still up there after dark, around 10:30pm):

And one more shot of the Eiffel Tower, from the ground after we'd climbed it:

Later: my adventures trying to fly home and keep my sanity.

Paris - Day 2

I learned the last time I was in France that museums are closed on either Monday or Tuesday. I brought a handy index card listing which we could go to on each day. In retrospect, it was fortunate that we went to the Louvre on Monday - I'm not sure our feet could have handled it the next day.

The museum's Egyptian collection is quite impressive. From statues, parts of tombs, and hyroglyphics, to jewelry and tools, it was amazing to imagine these items, 5,000 years old, being used.

The building itself is quite impressive also, dating back about 800 years. When construction started, it was only to build a fortress along the Seine. It later became a royal residence (holding collections of art, including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, for private viewing) until the court left Paris for Versailles (more on Versailles on "Day 3") in 1682. During the revolution in the 1790s, a state museum opened at the Louvre. The building underwent significant renovations in the 1980s, including the contruction of the glass pyramid, in order to accommodate a large number of visitors.

After the Louvre, we headed south toward the Catacombs only to discover that they're closed on Mondays. To make use of our two-day museum passes, we then found our way to the Centre Pompidou, a museum of modern and contemporary art built in the 1970s. It held a lot of interactive video art. It cost extra money to go to its temporary Kandinsky exhibit and so we stayed mainly on one floor and looked at a great collection of Alexander Calder's work.

From there we headed to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. A creepy guy commented that Summer looked like Amy Winehouse - she doesn't, at all, except that both are caucasian and both have tattoos. Tattoos were far less prevalent among Parisians than they are here, even among young people.

Finally, we got carry out from Pizza Hut (yes, Pizza Hut) and sat and ate on steps near the Seine, near Les Invalides, and got some great pictures of the City of Lights.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Paris - Day 1

It's Wednesday, 6:17pm, although my body thinks it's midnight. I returned a couple hours ago from a very successful trip to Paris. It was short and sweet: I loved being able to show my brother and his girlfriend some of my favorite sites while also exploring some new ones.

Day One

Instead of taking the subway to our hotel we decided to get off in the middle of the city (next to la Cathedrale Notre dame) and walk.

On the way to the hotel, we passed the Louvre, the Tuileries, and Les Invalides ("The Invalids!" Zach would say). In this next picture, our hotel is on the right, and - what's that in the near distance? Yeah! It's the Eiffel Tower! I only took 30 or so shots of it...

Walking through Paris, I found myself paying more attention to the people: who are the tourists? How are the men and women dressed, and how are they relating to each other? Can I understand what they're saying? Part of me loves the anonymity of big cities. Hiding in the shuffle, participating when I want to.

Later that night, we headed across the river toward the Champs Elysees. We pushed through that crowded street as quickly as possible to get to the Arc de Triomphe. Inside and from the top were some spectacular views.

We ended the day by going out for dessert (I got chocolate mousse and a cafe au lait - mmm) and then back to our favorite spot, the Eiffel Tower. More pictures and recaps to come.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Last Night's Five After Five

A couple hours before I leave. Backpack packed, money withdrawn. In the mean time, I'm catching up on episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on hulu. No one points out the absurdity of our media and policians better than they do.

Last night's "Five After Five" was very successful. I tried everything from all five stations, and I got to introduce a dear friend from college to the joy of drinking wine in a grocery store.

Here's the menu:

Station One
  • Vinum Cellars Chenin/Vio - this white wine wasn't overly sweet, and it tasted great with the food sample.
  • Chilled Black Bean Soup w/ Black Bean Salsa - this had great flavor but a grainy texture.
Station Two
  • Pacific Rim Og Riesling - this white wine was really sweet and grapy. Fine for a sample, but I wouldn't want a whole glass.
  • Old school mac 'n cheese with a habenera aoli sauce. Yum!
Station Three
  • Escudo Rojo - this red wine from Chile was fine; we called it "church wine" (non-descript, been sitting around for a day or so...)
  • Vegan Jambalaya - Delicious!
Station Four
  • Luzon Monastrell - Red wine from Spain. It was kind of fruity.
  • Southern Cornbread, Hot Slaw, and Pulled Pork BBQ - very nice, although I scraped of the hot slaw.
Station Five
  • Rutherford Hill Merlot - my favorite wine of the night, this comes from the Napa Valley.
  • Fromage a Trois:
- Mahon Reserva
- Quicke's English Farmhouse Cheddar
- Amadeus: this cheese was smooth and less flavorful than the other two, but it was my favorite of the bunch. It would be good for melting.

Dinner afterward at P.F. Chang's. Good times.

A Bientot

This evening I'll try again to leave the country. Flight loads are much lower than last time, and so there's a much better chance that we'll make it on (or, at the least, dart over to Atlanta and hop on from there). I'm finally catching my breath, having double-checked my numbers and turned in final grades; I can put this quarter behind me and look forward to the next (and I may see a few of the same students back again...)

I can't add much to the retrospectives on Walter Cronkite, who passed away last night; he was a part of another generation. The Onion's headline put it best: "Most, Last Trusted Man in America Dies." Today's media are so loud, dissonant voices competing for attention. The noisiest come out on top, not the best. When I think of Cronkite, I think of his voice: it carried authority and demanded respect not because it was loudest but because it told the truth.

The new faces of journalism aren't Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson. The evening news serves a purpose, but today when the news is changing 24/7 and that change is being broadcast on cnn, msnbc, Fox, not to mention the internet all of those hours, that purpose is diminishing. No, the new faces of journalism are those of people like Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall, and countless others who pursue truth and try to communicate it to the public.

So off I go. I have a few hours to pick out what books to take and what journals.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Better Phrase than "Tightly Wound"?

I don't mean to use this blog as a diary, really. I don't treat it like my journal, which is far sillier and more insecure. I use it to keep in the practice of writing for a "public" audience. I use it to reflect and explore ideas and see what I think.

But I've been so tightly wound lately. I don't remember the last time I felt relaxed and at peace. I'm tense and anxious in that annoyingly vague way.

I'll go for a run - that should help. It's been over a week, and that can't be helping my situation.

Monday, July 13, 2009

An Empowerment Project

The summer quarter is drawing to a close, and I have many issues that I need to consider before the next one starts: policies, procedures, and pedagogy are all on the table for tinkering. But my great excitement lately comes from helping with my dad's project. I'm not able and willing to leave everything and travel to Kenya for an extended length of time--maybe in the future--but I can certainly donate my time and interest in writing and social media to help his worthy cause.

My dad has been working on various project in Kenya for over two years, first at the village in Kitui with Nyumbani, and now with the Masai Women's Empowerment Project (MWEP). But the scope of his vision has grown such that it became necessary to establish an official foundation and board here in Ohio and Kentucky. The members include people my dad has worked with, parents of students that had him as principal, life-long friends, and then quiet me. I'm so impressed by each member's dedication and know-how when it comes to non-profits, fundraising, and organization.

My responsibilities include helping craft a newsletter but also establishing a social media presence both on twitter and facebook. I look forward to the challenge.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Yesterday's Menu

At station one, we started off with a white wine, Manifesto Sauvignon Blanc. It was light and sweet. The first food, a vegan summer slaw, I skipped.

Station two was a very yummy white, Kinkead Ridge Viognier. It's from a winery in Ripley, Ohio. The food, a carmelized peach tart with cider vinegar gastrique, was good (although I picked off the peach - not sure it still counts).

Station three was BV Napa Valley Chardonnay. It was very complex for a white and had an oaky after-taste (in a good way)

Station four was Galasso Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. It was a nice Italian red. The food, Chicken Scaloppini with Spaghetti Squash & Brown Butter, was quite good too.

Finally, the cheese station: Pecorino Toscano DOP, Delice de France Camembert, and Point Reves Original Blue. All good, but my favorite was Point Reves - softest and most flavorful. The wine was a sparkling red, Emeri Pink Moscato. It was tasty but not very interesting - almost like a punch.

I'm a little tired this morning, hence all the sentences beginning with "it was" - I much prefer active verbs, but they're still sleeping.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Critical Thinking

Half my life ago, I was in the hospital recovering from brain injuries. After coming out of a coma, I found myself unable to walk, talk, or put together logical strings of thought. The doctors anticipated that I would be in the hospital for another three months and, even then, with limited capacity (to walk, to talk, or to put together thoughts).

"How horrible!" people say, now. "That must have been scary."

Yes and no: Yes in that I wouldn't wish an extended stay in the hospital on anyone; no in that there are benefits to confinement, to a reduction in choices. Lift your leg. Bend your elbow. Hold my hand. TV on or off? I could handle these kinds of commands and decisions. I did what I was told, and I did what I had to do to get better without overthinking or overanalyzing. Never once did I ask myself, "Yes, ok, but what does this mean? What is the signficance of the balance beam and my inability to walk across it right now?"

That lack of self-awareness allowed me to give up control for a bit. I was able to put myself and my fate in the hands of people I trust.

The question now is, could I do that again without being knocked unconscious first?

Sunday, July 5, 2009


In stories as in life, characters are revealed both directly and indirectly. An author characterizes directly by telling the reader about a person in the story. Is she lying? Is he evil? Is she genuine? The author tells the reader what to think and how to feel about particular characters. But those same characters are also revealed indirectly by what they say and do, and by what others say about (and do to) them. It's up to the reader to determine, based on those statements and actions, each character's true nature. There are often contradictions between what the character says and does (and what the author says about that character), but hopefully the reader has enough information to form an opinion.

Contemporary authors generally stay out of the way of their characters. The characters' words and actions speak for themselves, and authors are unwilling to step in and impose a narrative.

My dream superpower is invisibility: I want to go in and out of rooms without notice; I want to sit in that empty chair and listen to conversations, filing away details for future use; and I want to be able to disappear from sight when my energy has disappeared. Although I have to say, this certainly isn't the healthiest superpower. There have been times when I've felt invisible, as if I were haunting without notice: I've felt physically and emotionally slight. These were not good times. I was weak and not powerful. And yet that inclination is still there.

Anyway, I was thinking about the fact that a little self-deception goes a long way. When I first started working with the public, I followed the creed, "fake it 'til you make it." By acting friendly and happy, soon I would feel friendly and happy. At some point I started telling myself and others that I "love" meetings - the coming together of minds in order to discuss and reflect on the status of things. Goals, visions, etc. Of course I didn't love meetings. Who does? But somewhere and somehow, this idea that meetings and training sessions are positive has crept into my mind and stayed there.

The same thing goes for weddings. I absolutely dreaded the social nature of them. So many people, so much small talk: I despise small talk, I resent it with a burning passion! Trifles! And eating in front of people; that's never comfortable... Then there's the dancing... But again, somewhere I started telling myself that I loved weddings. I looked forward to them. From picking out a dress to google-mapping the directions, I enjoy each and every part of the wedding-guest process.

This past wedding was special for a number of reasons. My roommate from college, all four years, was marrying a man of whom I approve. For better or for worse, I'm not one of those people who likes everyone - I can see the good in everyone, I can appreciate each person's quirks, but I don't like or approve of a person without good reason. I need time to observe that character, to see if his actions match his words, to see how others treat him and think of him. And the groom has passed with flying colors. This couple represents to me what marriage is and should be: two partners in life, supporting and loving each other with humor and compassion; two people who bring out the best in each other.

The reception was on a boat; it was rainy and gray. While not the ideal wedding conditions, the rain was far less severe than originally forecast, and by the end of the night, the rain had stopped and we got an excellent view of various firework shows along both sides of the river.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mainly Rain

This July looks to be a strange month. At this moment, my mom is on a plane to Spain, my dad is in New Mexico, and my brother is in Montana. In a couple weeks (provided we're able to get a seat this time), my other brother and I will be in France. We're a close but quiet family, and we've benefited from growing up in one place.

Yesterday was another Friday; our numbers were down because of the holiday weekend, but Five after Five is always destined to succeed because it ends with great cheese and then coffee and dessert. If I find my menu, I'll edit it in.

A wedding tonight. Despite my misgivings (discomfort?) about marriage as an institution, I couldn't be happier for my friends who are marrying. My fingers and toes are crossed that the rain isn't as bad as the forecasters suggest.