Four and Forty-Two

 

Today – on Day Four of “The Plan” – I am honored to say that I have my first official convert. Joan of “Just Joan 42 – Poetry and Stories about Life, the Universe and Everything” fame (or simply “42” as I call her, since she calls me “227”) has recognized the awesome simplicity and feasibility of the plan and has gotten with the program. (Although . . . I am not sure that she truly grasps the spirit of it all – but more on that later . . .)

In honor of this development, I am making 42 the next Blog Friend of the Day to catch up with. I also figure she will be as funny and inspirational as usual.  There has been a poem or two flowing from my fingertips over these past years in an attempt to try out some new form she introduced us readers to. And she is the one that got me to try black-out poetry, resulting in this first try (of which I am quite proud). It is Twump’s inaugural tirade:

But as I said, now the tables are turned – the master and apprentice have traded places. Despite her enthusiasm, there are some . . . shall we say “deficiencies”? . . . in her initial attempts. Firstly, being retired, she seems to think that three columns are sufficient. So, no “Work” requirement. This trend continues. Is “making a comment” enough to fulfill one’s blogging duties? Does “chasing the cat” qualify as exercise? And as for her house project . . . “changing the sheets”? Seriously??

I’ll tell you what a house project is! A house project is turning laundry day into a complete closet cleaning and reorganization, including a quest to find, wash and pair up every single loose sock under the roof and then banish permanently those who remain single. Now everyone knows the mystery of magically disappearing socks. I was determined to solve it. I checked every clothes drawer; I looked in the corners of fitted sheets. I checked boots and shoes and pant legs. And still there were so many lonely socks!

Later, my cleaning fit led me to pull all the storage boxes out from under my bed with the idea of dusting and vacuuming under there. And . . . wahlah! There they were. About 15 runaway sock partners in a dusty row on the floor, running from headboard to foot under the middle of the bed. All of them had been pushed back by a storage bin unnoticed. Mystery solved.

So, 42, I hope you are getting the picture. If not, Lesson#2 will begin promptly after I post this (and may spill over into tomorrow.) It’s pretty late and I am getting tired. It’s the socks’ fault.

 

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Day (of) Two and Ly

The plan is working out pretty well. I checked off not one but two (!) things from the first three columns today and am now off to catch up on the last four months of posts by my very first blog friend . . .

(And by the way – “Ly” is pronounced like “Lou” so my title today rhymes.)

 

Grape Silver Candle

It is officially summer vacation. In fact, it is . . .

Summer Vacation – Day One

. . . and I am NOT (!) on the couch with the pukey bowl, a glass of water, aspirin and the remote control, suffering through a post-traumatic system collapse. No, instead I am feeling energetic. I have done some laundry and took care of our animals and chauffeured my daughter and talked to my sister for an hour and a half on the phone, and had coffee with a great friend and honed my plan for the summer and am now writing the Post of the Day . . .

Wait! Back up a sec! What was that about honing a plan?

Oh yes. I have a one. And it is deceptively simple.

I took a piece of paper and drew three vertical lines. In Column One I listed the few work-related things I still have to finish up. Column Two is a list of household projects I have been wanting to get to. Column Three is a list of healthy activities – anything from “bike ride” to “eat a vegetable”. Column Four is a list of my favorite blog people whom I want to catch up with.

Here’s the plan: between now and the arrival of my sister two weeks from now, I will cross off at least one thing from each column every day.

And then I will post about some part of it. Whatever inspires me.

Today, the work thing (Column One) was deleting emails. It may not sound like much, but when you have allowed your Inbox to grow to 2000 mails with 600+ of them still marked “Unread” – it is something of task. The house project (C2) was the first three of what will likely be about 16 loads of laundry. In Column Four, I did not start with my first/ur- blog friend, Ly (she will be tomorrow), but with Quirkyone – because I learned what mistakes to avoid when devising a plan from her hysterically over-ambitious New Year’s Resolutions. That leaves Column Three. What I did today for my mental health was call my sister. What I did for my physical health was taking my Black Cohosh tablet.

Black Cohosh. Aka “snakeroot”. Aka “bugbane”. Genus “actaea racemose” or “cumicifuga racemose”. In German, called both “Wanzenkraut” or “Traubensilberkerze” which, translated literally, is grape silver candle.

Now I am emphatically not advising anyone to take it, but I will tell you that after five years of hot flashes and bizarre anxieties and, lately, insomnia, I finally decided a few months ago that “powering through” menopause was not a good plan. Being a hater of pharmaceuticals, I started trying all sorts of natural remedies. This bugbane, this snakeroot, this “Traubensilberkerze” was the first thing that has worked. It might just be a post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc thing (meaning: the symptoms were about to go away anyway – the timing was merely coincidental), but if it is . . . I don’t care.

I feel better.

So on this Day One of summer vacation, I say thanks to Grape Silver Candle and Quirkyone and Whirlpool and Thunderbird.

See y’all tomorrow.

 

The Final Four (Times Four)

1

If you live anywhere in the world outside of the United States, then the Number One thing on your mind is probably not the pwesident’s latest outrage; it is the world soccer championship. It’s all anyone talks about around here. I would love to dive into that wonderful distraction, but, unfortunately, I don’t give a flying (insert your word of choice) about soccer. All I know is that there are four rounds of finales and we are halfway through the first of those. In German it’s the “Achtelfinale” – in English, it is the one that comes before the quarter-finals. (The translator tells me that is “the final 16” – i.e. the final 4 x 4).

2

I have also just finished the “Final Four” weeks of the teaching year, during which all non-work aspects of a normal life are suspended as one spends 24/7 on school-related activities. In my case, that included helping to organize and execute the sports week, three field trips, the school festival, the graduation ceremony and poster, the year-in-review slideshow, and the practice tests and university exams (written and oral). In the middle of all that I invited my 11 Sekundaria kids to a sleepover at my house, and, oh yeah, I wrote 24 individual “this was your school year” letters – which is our alternative to report cards.

3

So now the students are all set free and I just have the final “Post-readying Week” to get through – four more days and my summer vacation will officially begin!

4

Finally, and tragically, I am now down to the final four of my original chicken flock (of eight). After successfully re-homing my rooster, three of my original hens – the hatching ones – all died on the same day. It took us a while to figure out why. It was mites. Millions of them, infesting our henhouse. We have got it mostly under control now, but I still blame myself for not figuring out that we had a problem sooner.  I no longer call myself a chicken whisperer.

 

But I don’t want to end on a depressing note. So I will add that the number four comes up a fifth time in this post. Starting four days from now, on July 5th, (the same day the school year is over for real) the second half of my fourth year of blogging will officially begin. And I have a plan to find my way back to regular posting and reading.

I have approximately 16 special, loyal blog friends  – the kind where communication goes both ways – or it did until I went on my blog-hiatus. I want to find my way back and part of that is the need and want to catch up on these particular people.

I am going to do one a day. Read everything he or she has written. Do some liking and commenting. Maybe dedicate my own post of the day to this person. With some of the more prolific ones, this might take quite a while (Hi, Kate!). Others will be done quite quickly (Hi, Quirkyone – you really should post more often!) In any case, if I do one a day, I should be done exactly the day before my sister plus hubby arrive for their visit and four days before we all take off for Ireland. Clearly, it is all meant to be.

It feels great to have a life again. And a plan.

And if you happen to be one of those 16 blog friends, I can only shout out a virtual warning . . . prepare for incoming! Or to put it another way . . .

“Fore!!”

Teachers in Arms

 

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, the pwesident manages to find a new level even lower than last week’s rock bottom. I have been shaking my head and waving off comments all day long about his latest idea to arm 20% of every school’s faculty. (In the case of our school, one colleague noted, only one of us would have to start going to the shooting range and taking  lessons. Then they all turned and looked at me . . .)

The thought that I, or any teacher I have ever had, or worked with, or know (and that is a lot of them) could whip out a gun from . . . wherever (a purse? a classroom locker?) and then go out Rambo-style in search of an active school shooter to confront is,

to put it very simply,

ABSURD.

Various Trespasses

 

I had this whole other blog post planned. It was going to be a series of (seemingly!!) Random Thoughts Which Occurred to Me While Administering a Three-Plus-One Hour Exam to My One (And Only) Student. I had already planned out how to sneakily take a picture of him (from behind, of course) in the seminar room, poring over his papers, scribbling away, with me thinking “boy oh boy, if you only knew that you have already passed and all of this here is just for those officious, paper-dependent bureaucrats”.  While he was working, I was going to simultaneously read and write – catching up on all the blog peeps I follow in real time while sneaking in various observations from the past week. For instance, that pretty much all of their blogs are better reads than the book I just finished.  (Mr. Wolf’s billion-copy-selling “Fire and Fury” may be great resistance candy, but it is also really poorly written.) I was going to wax pseudo-philosophically on the euphoria one feels post-pain – after a nauseating battle with the flu is over and the four-day headache dissipates. I was going to end the four hours with a gloriously clear conscience from having made amends and achieving a successful fresh start for my Trek*, all while helping a nice young man get one step closer to his dream of studying at the university.

All that was the plan.

Instead, I post this sorry picture with the statement “Forgive me blog friends, for I have . . . trespassed” (the Presbyterian word for “sinned”.) It has been . . . fifty-three years since my first and last confession. While killing an hour at the train station and deciding where to go for my daily bread, I led myself into temptation and delivered myself to evil. As I ate it, I wondered if there was a single food item anywhere at the station that was less healthy or more ecologically and socially damaging per calorie consumed. To make matters even worse, I couldn’t finish my fries so I threw them away. Now, hours later, back at home, sitting here with a big undigested McLump in my stomach (and still somehow hungry), I wonder at how quickly things can change.

My poor (as it turned out, non-)student had the same experience today. He showed up to the exam with a blue envelope ( = registered letter) in his hand – still unopened. It had arrived just under the wire – right before he left for the university; he assumed (and hoped) that it was his admission letter to the program (which he needs to be able to sign up for and take exams). I watched him open it and then stare in confusion. His hands started shaking a bit. “Oh no!” I thought, “He’s been rejected!” I asked if I could look at it and was surprised to see “Admission” written largely at the top. What was the problem? And then I skimmed down to the list of the five exams he had to pass before he could start his regular studies. English was not one of them.

He had no idea how this could have happened! Everyone had told him he would need English! He apologized profusely for my coming all the way to Graz for nothing. We sat and talked for a while till he calmed down. We hatched a plan for how he could deal with this situation.

It was during that conversation that a different mystery got cleared up. My (non-)student told me that he had originally wanted to study Business, but had been rejected for that field and so reapplied with a different major. It turns out, he wasn’t alone. Apparently, every single applicant who wanted to study Business this year was rejected – all by the same professor. When that fact became generally known, an official complaint was lodged, the job of reviewing applications was handed over to a different professor, and all the rejected applicants were contacted and allowed to reapply. All of this happened just last week. It goes a long way in explaining why I had no students this year.

Anyway, instead of giving the written and oral exams for four hours, I headed back to the train station to go home. I wasn’t even that irritated because learning that new information was well worth a trip to Graz. If only I hadn’t blown it by going to McDonald’s!

Once back home, I wondered how I could get back on track . . . how I could repair the damage, repent, restore the Karma, (and hopefully lose the McLump) . . .

I remembered an essay on the topic of McDonalds some student had handed in way back at the start of my university career. I had found it so inane at the time with all its sweepingly prejudicial and empty statements interspersed with pretty phrases (“it goes without saying that . . .”,  “it may well be that . . . “, “at first sight we might believe that . . . but on closer view. . .”). I had it hanging on my bulletin board for years and later it landed in a keepsake box. I actually found the thing. I held it in my hand and thought . . . maybe I could post it (here) on my blog, and confess that, maybe just maybe, this student had a point and I had been unfair.  I read the text again and . . . and . . .

Naaahh. It really is an awful essay. Beyond redemption. A trespass against us that cannot be forgiven.

Incredible as this may seem, it is perfectly true.

Judge for yourself.

 

Country Mice, City Rats

 

(My Years of Montessori – Part 40)

 

A few blog reading friends have expressed concern about my slow countrification as evidenced in recent posts. In the last few months it has been all checking chickens, migrating mice, and hoeing hedgehogs. I even got a short-lived crush on a donkey. But never fear! In a cosmically orchestrated twist, I get to reverse this recent trend and relate my adventures in the big city (Vienna) with 24 young country bumpkins (Hummingbird School kids) in tow.

While planning the trip with my three fellow teachers, we concentrated on things like Schönbrunn or Belvedere? Technical or natural history museum? Lunch packets from the hostel or supermarket stops?  What we didn’t think so much about was:

  • how do you get 28 people on and off a crowded city bus or tram in one go?
  • do our kids know the rules of city sidewalks?
  • do our kids know how to walk in pairs for more than 30 seconds?
  • will they be capable of standing still long enough for us to get a headcount?
  • will our more free-wheeling kids take our statements as instructions or mere suggestions?

Our first inkling that these things would be issues came when we changed trains on our way there. All twenty-four kids made it on to the connecting train, but only twenty-two of the suitcases did too. Mark grabbed the abandoned bags and tossed them inside before getting on himself. It took the guilty parties almost a half hour to realize what they had done.  The next sign that we were in for some troubles came during the walk from the train station to the hostel. Our kids walked in packs of five or six, taking up the entire sidewalk, practically plowing down other perplexed and/or peeved pedestrians. And not only that – they kept jostling around, shoving or trying to trip one another. They were excited and laughing loudly in the way pubescent kids do when nothing is truly funny. They were oblivious to the sights and sounds around them.  Despite having no idea where they were going, they just took off in any old direction with inexplicable confidence.

Schönbrunn Palace and the technical museum were planned for the arrival day. Halfway through the palace gardens, Mark and David were already prepared to start sending this or that kid home early. By the time we left the museum, I, too, had the first name on my own mental list of potential early departers.  (Lucy of “Power Girls and Hoodies” fame. Panting, sweating and with a face flushed red, she declared that I was unfair for accusing her of running through the museum – right before tearing off again.) Later, back in the hostel, as the kids played “Spin the Bottle”, argued the superiority of their respective hostel rooms, and planned their nighttime visits, we four teachers began a second list: “Things We Will Do Better the Next Time We Plan a Vienna Trip”. Not only were the questions above on the list, but also some new issues including:

  • should we confiscate the energy drinks (to be returned) or just toss them?
  • what should we do about kids with way more money than agreed on (or worse yet, ATM cards) and who were already starting to make loans to others?
  • should we teach them how to put sheets on a bed in advance? (as most of them have clearly never had to do this before)
  • what do we do about the kids with unlimited internet access on their cell phones?

 

Had Day 2 gone similarly to Day 1, we may very well have ended the trip early. But, as kids often tend to do, they surprised us the next morning by suddenly behaving themselves. Our system of forming groups of 8 for bus and tram rides worked almost flawlessly. On approaching a bus stop, seven of my eight magically appeared around me. They started calling me their “Vienna Mama”. (The eighth kid was Moritz of “Hummingbird Report Cards” fame.) He kept wandering off and joining other groups. “Where is Moritz?” became a mantra of our group. They watched out for him along with me. When Moritz got off the tram one stop early on our last ride, the entire group screamed his name. He heard, turned, and got back on the tram at the last second.

Back to Day Two.  The vast majority of the kids were attentive and interested during our inner city tour (thanks to a fabulous guide who adapted her content for a 12-13 year old audience). They did surprisingly little complaining about the fact that it was really cold, and when they did get a bit tired and cranky, it turned out that the cure was a playground in the City Park where they ran around like wildlings until they were no longer tired.

Memorial to Maria Christina in the Augustinian Chapel in Hofburg:
In the park:

 

The final stop on Day Two was Time Travel Vienna which is an attraction like the London Dungeon – an entertaining introduction to the history of the city. The kids were generally enthused, but also pretty sophisticated in their critiques of the experience. (Some of it really was a bit cheesy.) Only our autistic Katy had major problems dealing with this part of our trip. She couldn’t handle the 3D film and didn’t know enough to simply close her eyes (which I did half of the time).  In one part we saw rats running through medieval streets and then puffs of air blew around our feet in the theater, making it seem like rats were running past us. Poor Katy kept talking about it for hours afterward – with tears running down her eyes; it was real for her. She was so afraid we were all going to come down with the Plague . . .

Another point for our mental list of what to do better next time:

  • consider what activities are okay for our spectrum kids.

 

Day Three had only one activity – the kids could decide between the natural history and the art history museums. A week earlier at school, two thirds decided for art, but as we were standing there between them, the “Dogs and Cats” exhibit sign on the natural history museum made many kids change their minds. I ended up taking only five of them with me through the art history one.

It was probably for the best.

The Egyptian mummies and hieroglyphs held their attention for about fifteen minutes, but from then on they spent most of the time giggling and taking cell phone pics of historic breasts and butts and penises. 2000 years’ worth of them. But even that got old. At one point we sat in front of a huge painting of Prometheus having his liver ripped out by a bird and I told them the myth. I was surprised when one of them asked me if it was a true story.

I suddenly saw the masterpieces in this museum through the eyes of a 13 year old country bumpkin. When Moritz proclaimed on leaving the museum that people in the past were “sick in the head and disgusting”, I couldn’t really disagree. At least by modern standards. It was a nice reminder that, despite all the trouble in the world right now, there has never been a better time to live in than now. I mean . . . there is no Camelot time in the past when people – generally – had it better than we do. The best lesson of most history is reminding us of how lucky we are to be beyond it.

 

While standing outside the museums again, waiting for the final stragglers to return from the bathrooms so that we could make our way back to the train station and home, Mark fell into conversation with another teacher in charge of a nearby school group. He had only about 15 kids with him and all of them were 8th Graders. He had noticed how we had so many kids and of mixed ages  (the oldest 14 and the youngest 10). He asked us how we managed them all.

What we learned from that conversation is that “Vienna Week” is a staple of the Austrian junior high school curriculum. In most cases, schools all over the country simply apply to the Education Ministry and get their excursion to Vienna organized and implemented for them by professional guides. A few teachers go along for the ride, but don’t have a lot of responsibility. The costs are minimal.

Go figure.

Should we decide to do this again, I’m not sure we are going to need our mental list about “What to Do Better Next Time”. Or maybe that will be the only list we need. We will deal with the energy drinks and the spectrum kids; someone else will deal with the Lucies and Moritzes.