Monday, November 29, 2010

Going out on a limb

I've had this idea for a couple of weeks, and today I just decided to give it a go.

We have a student at school who is, shall we say delicately... edgy.  She's been suspended several times and was out of the building for several months last year - I can't remember exactly why.  She seems to have a hairpin trigger of a temper, and she seems to be very sensitive (as we know, that can also sometimes be a hinderance in life), is easily offended, but is very smart.  Schoolwork comes easily to her when she decides to do it.  Let's call her "Rose." 

Rose is in the grade that the AP I work with is in charge of, so she has been in my office a few times both when she's been in trouble or when she's serving a detention, and we've had some pleasant conversations.  The last time she was in, she told me, "See, I can have a conversation with you, and you give me respect, and I give you respect, so why can't these teachers give me respect?" (I thought, if I tell her I'm actually a teacher, too, will she turn on me like a rabid dog?  I kept that piece of information to myself for the moment.) I tried to explain to her that they weren't meaning to disrespect her, but they are very focused on getting their job done, which is trying to teach her and others, so it's possible that she perceived disrespect when none was intended.  I said that they were trying to get her to do her best work.  I'm not sure she was ready to hear that, but I think my comment got scooped up for possible digestion at a later time.

Since then, I've been thinking, this girl needs to see herself do really well at something.  She needs to take pride in something she's done... see herself in a different role.  I am going to be the set designer for this year's school  play, and it occurred to me that she might be interested in working with me to create my sets.  I've rolled this around in my head for a while...  She might be interested, but then again, she might rank on me and think I'm trying to buy off her good behavior.  (Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained). Worse, she might accept and then behave attrociously when she's under my watch.  The could be a problem, but then, that would be the last day she'd be helping me. 

Today, as typically happens with Rose's freak-outs, I heard her from way down the hall.  Imitating the adults who were trying to talk... cursing like a sailor... refusing to come in the room or sit down. Other kids were in the office at the time, so they finally sent her to sit down and cool off in another location. 

About 15 minutes later, I thought, well, it's not like I'd just LOVE to hang out with her now, but if she has something to look forward to and maintain good behavior for, maybe she'll be able to get herself together.  I proposed my idea to my AP, and he brought Rose over and put the idea to her.  "You know, we want to see you have some positive experiences, be successful at things.  You know my secretary," he gestured to me, and she nodded.  "She knows that you're interested in art, and she wants to know if you want to work with her to make the scenery for the play." She looked stunned.  Almost speechless, actually.  Did I detect some wateryness in her brown eyes?  "I thought you might like to help me.  If you're interested."  I said.  She nodded yes.  "Great!" I said.  This should be a learning experience for both of us. Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Decorating

I hate decorating for Christmas.  When I was a kid, decorating was fun, but now, it seems like such a painful chore. First, there's the lugging of the boxes from all corners of the Earth.  Then there's the rearranging, and the inevitable thoughts of "How did I ever accumulate so much stuff?"  (Don't tell my husband I've had that revelation.)  Next, the unpacking of breakable items, and inevitably, more things get broken.  You can't sweat it, it happens. Someone, maybe an underage someone, grabs some tissue paper and realizes too late that is contains something can just imagine the ornament flying up... and the lunge... both in slow motion, like a collasal spill in Bounty commercial, upsetting but unstoppable.   Of course, if you're lucky, someone will break that ornament that you secretly hate, but feel too guilty to get rid of - YAY! There IS order in the universe.

You can't worry about the broken stuff, though.  I remember my Italian grandparents always had a beautiful tree, but from what my parents told me, they argued every year when they set it up. I loved them dearly, but that must have been the perfectionist in each of them. There's something hyporcritical about fighting while you're putting up a Christmas tree, isn't there? 

This year was pretty painless, though.  The kids assembled the artificial tree (they like the assemble-by-color system), my spouse put the lights on (a stroke of luck for me - I was out drinking Starbucks with my two best buddies) and then the kids put on most of the ornaments.  All I still need to do is put some festive ribbon around it, give it some kind of crowning glory, and then sit and with the family and admire our handiwork.   Ahhhh... that's the best part. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How do I love thee, recorded books? Let me count the ways...

     I want to say a few words about my love of… recorded books.  “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?  Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May…” alright, alright.
     But seriously, before you go thinking, “only old, blind, or people who have a 2 hour commute listen to recorded books,” think again, my friend!  I’m a recent convert to the recorded book arena, but I was an instant addict. There were looooong stretches of my weekdays (my weekdays... yes) in which I was listening to the radio.  I very quickly got sick of the top 40 rotation.  I tried other stations, but to no avail.  I even tried NPR (INTERESTING, mixed with long stretches of BOOOOORRRIIING!!!)  I started listening to my CD collection, but even that became old very quickly.  One day in the library, I had a “eureka” moment.  I saw a shelf marked "Playaways."  These little digital recordings take AA batteries (as I quickly discovered, because EVERY time I borrow one from the library, the batteries are dead), and your own pair of headphones or ear buds.  I liked the idea – they were cute, easy to operate, and best of all, inconspicuous!  
     I started with The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  I was immediately hooked on Playaways (and by the way, the book was great, engaging and beautifully written, if I little gut-wrenching).  I can’t think of anything bad to say about Playaways, except, there just aren’t enough of them. I can’t afford to buy these things so I borrow them from the library, and there’s just one scant shelf of Playaways in my rather large local library.  But hey, there are books on CD, and those are great too.  Their only real drawbacks are sometimes scratched CDs and the more obvious fact that when you listen to them, everyone can hear what you’re hearing.  "Duh!" you're thinking.  Well, give some consideration to the fact that since everyone in the room can hear what you're "reading." You might not want to have your narrator reading an R rated paragraph while a G rated audience is in the room with you, so if you don't want to limit yourself to G-rated books, keep the volume faily low and position yourself within easy reach of the volume and pause buttons.  
     There are still times when an actual printed book can be indispensible, such as when I was learning the French names of the characters in The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  I had to replay the first chapter of the book about 4 times before I got the important details of the main characters.  Once I had it straight, though, it was easy listening.  I've given up (for now) on the recorded versions of The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask because of those French names.  I may start each of them at home with the actual books as well as the recordings, just until I get the characters straight. 
     I had no such issues with these books, though: Angels and Demons, and Deception Point, by Dan Brown, Frankenstein by Mary Shelly, World Without End by Ken Follett, Helen of Troy by Margaret George, Atonement by Ian McEwan.   Pride and Prejudice, Lady Susan, and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin may have been a bit difficult if I hadn’t read two of the three of them in the more traditional way years before (and seen the movies, too).  Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt was hysterical at points, even though his poverty was harrowing.  And I just LOVED that Frank McCourt was the narrator.  I loved his oft repeated line, “they didn’t give the steam of their piss,” especially when I heard it in Mr. McCourt’s wonderful Irish accent.  The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns was also narrated by its author, Khaled Hosseini, and his accent lends a certain authenticity to the descriptions of places that held no appeal for me whatsoever until I listened to these two books.   Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey was fun, easily digestible fluff, as was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austin Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler.
     I just borrowed two more recorded books (on CD) and I’m already well into the first one.  They make boring chores like folding laundry and cooking dinner much more tolerable, and sitting in traffic is almost a pleasure.  Almost. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Halloween Idiot

I am what you might call, a Halloween Idiot.  I invented the term approximately a week and a half ago, as I was frantically arranging my schedule to accommodate trips to the fabric store and to block out time on the sewing machine.  This year we were invited to a Halloween party, and as I was madly sewing one night, I thought, “I’m going through all this crazy effort to sew the PERFECT costume, and everyone else at the party is just going to buy theirs. What’s wrong with me?  I’m a Halloween idiot.”
I blame the start of this costume obsession on my mother because when I was a kid and all of my peers were wearing ugly plastic jumper costumes with plastic face masks and emblems on the chest of what you were supposed to be, my mother sewed us homemade costumes.  We’d walk up to each door and wow the neighbors. 
My costume obsession was cemented as soon as I learned to sew.  First, I was a mermaid (revisited with gusto and success a few years later), Cleopatra, Catwoman (a little risqué I must admit, even though I was completely covered), a Wild Thing (from the children’s book - complete with paper mache head), a medieval lady, Miss Spider (another children’s book and another paper mache head) which won me a gift certificate to dinner, by the way, and most recently before this year, 5 members of the cast of Jimmy Neutron, each with his or her own very large paper mache head.  What can I say?  I like to sculpt, and my medium is paper mache.
So this year, when we were invited to this Halloween party, I was kind of excited to flex my costume-making muscle.  But I don’t have a lot of time (this writing is subtracting from my snooze time, for example).  My dear spouse suggested we be Sonny and Cher, and I said,
“No way, I’m not going to be Sonny.”
Why do I think like that? 
I decided to be a pirate.  It could be a nice mixture of creativity and found items.  But of course, I tend to get obsessed with costumes.  I found a jacket in the thrift store and sewed lots of pirate-like trim on it.  I cut down some velour sweatpants so they would show my boots (I really liked that sweatsuit, but you know, sacrifices had to be made).  I made two necklaces, and then I made the lace-up vest from scratch, which came out great (thank you dad, for helping me with those grommets!) but was a pain in the ass with boning and lining and 3 broken sewing machine needles.  And here’s a secret that hints at my obsessiveness… I truly considered making the sword out of wood, then sanding and painting the blade silver and gluing large rhinestones on the hilt… wouldn’t that have been AWESOME?  But ultimately, I’m just not THAT nuts.

So in the end, the costume really did come out great.  Lots of people said so.  I hate those times when you have to explain what you are…  I always want it to be PAINFULLY OBVIOUS what I am.  The irony is, in my pride and glory I drank ONE nice, large Cosmo and had to be taken home by my husband after only about two hours.  Some pirate, eh?  I am truly a Halloween Idiot.