Friday, November 30, 2007

Throw It Out

Tuesday night I decided to put the Thanksgiving leftovers to good use, so I made a quiche.

Three hours later, I was laying on my bathroom floor, cursing quiches and their kin.

At 3:00 am, I called in for a substitute. At 6:00 am, I dragged my laptop into the bathroom so I could email sub plans to Janelle in between bouts.

As the symptoms increased in include body aches and a fever, I began to suspect that my cooking was not at fault. Since I'm home now for the third day in a row, still not trusting myself to be more than seconds away from a toilet, I've decided that I've fallen victim to the flu. Unfortunately, I still can't imagine eating quiche again anytime soon.

The biggest problem is the auditions. First of all, I love being at school this week - watching so many kids talk about them, seeing the dance being practiced in the hallway, hearing the same 16 bars sung over and over again. The excitement is tangible, and I miss it.

I have been dragging myself to school for the auditions themselves. There's not much I can do about that. Fortunately, because of busy evenings this week (orchestra concert Wednesday, Kelley's dance class Thursday), we spread out the auditions over three days rather than one or two really long nights. The three of us sit near each other in the fourth row, surrounded by student information papers and contracts, each with our own clipboard of audition notes. The past two days, I've added to the picture by being huddled up in as close to a fetal position as I can manage in a theater seat.

The students come in in groups of four, always looking freaked out. They bring us their papers first, then line up on stage. Each one sings a few bars from "Opening For a Princess", then reads one of six scenes I selected. Then, the group performs a bit of "The Spanish Panic".

We've seen maybe half of the auditioners so far, mostly kids who are new to our musicals. We've got about 30 on our call back list so far (we'll whittle out some of the "maybes" today after the rest of the auditions). It feels good to be doing this again - I love working with Janelle and Kelley. And those of you who have done school musicals know how strange that is.

So, it's the best of weeks and it's the worst of weeks. I tried real food yesterday (chicken soup), but that didn't take so well. Instead, I'm trying bananas, applesauce, and toast. Yay for the BRAT diet!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Young Blood

I'm sorry, dear friends, that the last real entry I left up here for so long was rather pessimistic. Especially since that was a very passing mood. Things have been pleasant, although busy as always, for the past week or so. Here's an update:

The Play

"Robin Hood" went happily. Both casts had rockier first performances - messed up lines, missed cues, a few forgotten props, etc. One of my leads was so nervous he just plain froze up during his first scene. He couldn't remember any of his lines, even with the Town's Girl heroically prompting him with decreasing subtlety ("Robin, weren't you going to tell us that you think the Sheriff of Nottingham is a little, slimy worm?")

Once he stumbled his way into the scene with the Sheriff and Marian, those two actors did such a smooth job that he pulled it together and the rest of the play went fairly well. I talked to him later and found out that not only was it his very first performance ever, his "real dad" had flown here from Portland for the day just to see his performance. No wonder the poor kid was nervous.

That cast (4A, by the way) let their shaky first show push them beautifully and their second performance couldn't have been better. We even had the drama club from the nearby elementary school come to that show, and the cast and I stayed behind a bit to do a Q&A with those eager little thespians. It was fun to see my kids being admired, and it did them good to be the authorities and answer questions about acting. The cast bonded in ways that still amaze me, even though I watch it happen every time.

The other cast (period 4B) had smoother shows. I both loved and hated some of their between-shows behaviors. I was really curious to see how the two classes would respond to each other. I required each class to see the other's evening show, stressing that there was absolutely no competition between them. The 4B cast were in the audience first, and I couldn't be prouder of them - they cheered and laughed and brought such a positive energy to the entire show that they made the audience one of the best. Essentially, they did my director's-laugh-in-the-audience job, but times 30.

Which is why I was disappointed when some of the 4A class came to me the next day. A few of the other class members had been making fun of their stumbling performance, even going so far as to mock Robin Hood to his face for messing up the first scene. No, disappointed is the wrong word for my emotions when I heard that - I was shocked and livid. I asked the 4A cast to
1) be the better people (pointing out that it would be a far better revenge anyway than any insult they could come up with),
2) let any anger or hurt push them to a better performance, and
3) know that the other cast was far from perfect, and I would be talking sternly with them.

A bit later, the stage manager for the 4A cast came to me and said the actors didn't feel like I needed to say anything to the other cast - they had decided that they didn't really care what they said, since they knew their second performance had gone so well. I assured her that, while I admired their charity, the 4B cast still needed to hear what I was going to say.

So I had a talk with the 4B cast. They knew they had acted badly, but what I think finally drove the point home to them was when I reminded them that I was the director of both shows, so when they insulted the other performance, they insulted me, and it hurt my feelings.

(I think I really am getting better about sharing my feelings with students since the Shakespeare Institute. No crying or anything like that, but I do try to remind them that I'm human. I think they respect me more for it.)

Anyway, aside from that incident, I really am pleased with how it all turned out. Numerically, by the way, we paid off the costs of the show the first night, which means a 100% profit. So, whoo-hoo!


For some reason, the school board was generous with their calendaring this year, and we had Wednesday off school. It was a wonderful start to the holiday weekend, since it gave me a day to get things done before the family time started. I went to the dentist, the bank, two grocery stores, got a haircut, did two loads of laundry, cleaned my bathroom, and shopped with Janelle before meeting my parents for dinner.

We feasted on Thursday, went to see the silly "Enchanted" all together, played board games, shopped, and hung out. Oh! We also met my grandmother's suitor, Dick. He's been lurking in her conversations for several months now, but we hadn't actually met him, due to deliberate avoidance on her part. I was a little disappointed to find out that he was real after all - the idea that she had an actual was far more interesting.

Aside from missing my sister (Rachel and Ben went to Maine instead this year), it was a fun weekend. I even got in quite a bit of obsessive reading; finally giving in to the suggestions of my cousins and my female students by reading Stephenie Meyer's teenage-vampire-love trilogy. Yes, it sound ridiculous. And it was. But it was also 1800+ pages of compelling story telling (in between all of the "Edward can't possibly love me as much as I love him!" and "His absolute physical perfection stunned me again!" and "Breath, Bella!" romanticism over and over again). She even got enough Shakespeare in the second book to make me decide to work it into an essay question for the Romeo and Juliet unit next semester. As with Harry Potter, I'm grateful for any decent book that gets kids reading as obsessively as I do. I just wish there were more books like that out in the world.

The Musical

With just two school days and a five-day weekend to rest, auditions for the spring musical began today. Yes, it's five weeks earlier - with Janelle's pregnancy coming to term in early April, we had to move up the performance dates, which lead to scheduling the auditions around all of the concerts that herald the month of December at school. I'm both excited to be doing it again, and a little sad knowing that it's probably the last show the three of us will do together. I'm well aware of how extraordinarily lucky I am to get to direct with two ladies who are talented, creative, passionate, dedicated, and my friends. Really, it's too good to last.

In any case, we had 169 students come to the auditions today, and the excitement is tasty. We also had about 10 alumni show up from the high school to help out, which is always pleasant. They asked for the microphone at one point, and when I passed it over, they cautioned the prospective cast, "Don't piss off the directors - they're scary when they're angry."

I will, of course, keep you posted on how the auditions go!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Birdhouse in Your Soul

Little something-to-do, anticipated movie, excellent book.

(And, yes, I cheated by using a non-showtune song title, but it fit so well!)

Monday, November 12, 2007


This will probably be an entry of complaints. Just to give you fair warning.

So I had a marvelous weekend in New Orleans. Great food, fun town, interesting tours, fantastic music. There are two kitties who seem to frequent Preservation Hall. Did you know that?

Did you also know that when the people around you are tapping their feet to the music, it feels like Preservation Hall has a heartbeat that's also keeping time? It was a happy sensory moment for me.

So I came back from a fun little trip to the hell that is Show Week. Specifically, I landed, got luggage, got Gma Cook off on the right parking stop, got dinner, and then spent the evening finding and editing the sound effects for the show.

This morning I got up early and headed to school for what I knew would be a crazy day. It was one of those days where I didn't even have time to go to the bathroom, let alone handle things patiently and rationally. Between sewing last-minute tunics, setting light cues, fixing broken microphones, printing the program, emailing teachers who are bringing their elementary school classes to see the show on Wednesday, making last-minute props, striking the set for the symphony tomorrow, meeting with Howard and the wrestling coach to smooth things over, racing out to a nearby high school to find thrones, answering hundreds of little questions, and, oh yeah, teaching, my patience was non-existent today.

And I hate that. I wish I could be the calm type, getting things done early and smoothly with no last-minute rush. And while I know I'm getting better at my job, I'm far from where I want to be.

When I ran out to the high school today I was surprised that 1) I felt short (no, really. I forget that students can be taller than me) and 2) the neediness doesn't change. And while a lot of students are needy and that's exhausting and all; my kids are also totally inexperienced and messy and forgetful and selfish and they just don't think about the consequences of their behavior for anyone else. Like the wrestlers who, while running laps through the halls, pulled down 15 of our show posters and left them on the floor. I know it wasn't malicious, but it was incredibly inconsiderate. That's probably the most frustrating part of dealing with this age every day.

So, yeah, I'm stressed and I feel like a bad teacher and I'm trying really hard to stop caring that neither cast has their lines fully memorized. It's out of my hand, really, but that's probably a big part of my stress. I like to be in control, if you haven't noticed. And really, I'm disappoint right now because I know this isn't going to be my best show yet and I really don't like falling short of my standards.

I really do believe that doing theater is good for these kids. How healthy is it for me, though? I hate that I didn't even have time to listen to my stage manager when she told me that the sub they had on Friday said some really inappropriate things to the class. I have no idea when the sub said, since my stage manager told me this in the midst of a blizzard of demands for my attention. I did promise her that I was not blowing it off and I really, truly did want to hear about it. I just couldn't do it then. When I can't even stop long enough to go to the bathroom all day, I don't know how to stop long enough to listen to her. Tomorrow I will, though.

I should be going to bed, since I have to be on my way to school by 6:30 tomorrow to set up for the symphony, but I'm having a hard time clearing out my head and heart enough to sleep. I wonder if it would be different if I had someone to talk to about all of this when I get home. Part of me is glad that I don't have someone, because I'm sure this side of me is far from attractive, let alone pleasant. Then again, I'm all knotted up with frustration over so many different strings that I don't know if I can untangle them without someone to actually talk to in those precious moments between school and bed.

It'll pass. It always does.

Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Books - an encore

Sometimes the best lessons are the ones I come up with at the last minute.

With the show next week and all of the craziness, I had no idea - absolutely, literally no idea - what to do with my AVID class today. For my other classes, we're either in the middle of projects or I've got enough stock lesson plans that I could come up with worthwhile activities for the 80 minutes I have to prep for each class. But AVID? Nothing.

So last night I was heading for bed, figuring that I would just have to come with something when I got to school in the morning, and I stepped into my library to enjoy the room. I was admiring my fine alphabetizing when I recalled the assignment I had given the AVID kids last time.

You see, the more I teach, the more I believe that the foundation to educational success is a love of reading. I did a poll with this class and found that out of 30 kids, about 6 of them read for pleasure. How sad is that? So I told them that they each needed to get a book (age-appropriate, at least 200 pages long) and read it by winter break. Not too hard, right?

I recalled that assignment as I enjoyed my own biblioholism last night, and suddenly I started pulling out books from the shelf. I went through my collection and soon had a pile of about 40 books that meet the assignment's needs - roughly appropriate for 8th and 9th graders, and all over 200 pages long.

I began the class by spreading the books out on the floor in the middle of my room. They were immediately curious. Then I walked them through these steps:

1. Look, but no touchie - Based only on the front cover, which book would you pick to read and why?
2. Select a book, one book per student. Read the back cover and any inside flaps. Write down a summary of what the book is about and what kind of book it is.
3. Read the first chapter OR the first ten pages (whichever comes first). Describe what's happened so far in the book, and what characters you've met.
4. Would you continue reading this book? Why or why not?

And badda-boom, a 75 minute lesson. But here's the magical part - they were way into it. They wanted to touch the books, look through the books. They were fighting over who got to pick which book. And I'm not sure if you will understand the significance of this, but when it came time for them to read the first part of their books - they all did. Silently. I mean, I even stepped out of the room for a moment to get something, and when I came back they were all still reading quietly.

I though to myself, "Holy crap, it's a literary miracle!"

At the end I asked how many of them would like to keep reading the books they had picked - two-thirds of them raised their hands. And I know some of the others didn't because another student had nabbed the books they wanted to see.

So I realized a few things.
1. I should never hide or undermine my own passion. I think it's the reverance and excitement that I can't suppress when I talk about books that sold them on this project to begin with.
2. One of the greatest things my parents did for me was take me to the library regularly. I talked with Janelle about it, and she told me that going to the library is still anxiety-ridden for her, since her family never did that. It's just overwhelming, so she doesn't go. No wonder these kids of mine don't read - their parents don't either. That's why
3. I have to teach them how to pick up a book. It's so intuitive for me now, but it's not for them. But, hopefully, it's not too late for them to learn it.

I hope this project works. I need to hunt down more books for them, though. Especially books with Hispanic main characters - "Sister Chicas" was one of the most popular choices.

If you have any suggestions for my kids to read, feel free to post a comment!

The List

Here are the books I took for my students, as best as I can recall without looking at the stack since I left them at school:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arther Conan Doyle)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
All Creatures Great and Small (James Herriot)
The Amulet of Samarkand (Jonathan Stroud)
Artimus Fowl (Eoin Colfer)
Birdwing (Rafe Martin)
Burning City (Ariel Dorfman and Joaquin Dorfman)
The Blue Sword (Robin McKinley)
The City of Ember (Jeanne DuPrau)
The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
Dealing With Dragons (Patricia Wrede)
Dune (Frank Herbert)
Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
The Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkein)
Finding Miracles (Julia Alvarez)
The Freedom Writers' Diaries (Erin Gruwell)
The Golden Compass (Phillip Pullman)
The Goose Girl (Shannon Hale)
Hero's Song (Edith Pattou)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
Holes (Louis Sacher)
Hoot (Carl Hiaasen)
The Legend of Holly Claus (Brittany Ryan and Laurel Long)
The Lightening Thief (Rick Riordan)
Magyk (Angie Sage and Mark Zug)
The Merchant of Death (D.J. MacHale)
The Outlaws of Sherwood (Robin McKinley)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
Redwall (Brain Jacques)
A Ring of Endless Light (Madeline L'Engle)
Sister Chicas (Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal, and Jane Alberdeston Coralin)
The Thief Lord (Cornelia Funke)
Uglies (Scott Westerfeld)
Walk Two Moons (Sharon Creech)
Warriors (Erin Hunter and Gary Chalk)
The Wind Singer (William Nicholson)

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Rather than sewing costumes, as I was supposed to do today, I spent the afternoon and evening putting together my new bookcase from Ikea.

If you give a girl a bookcase, she's going to put it together.
Once she puts it together, she'll want to put it up.
Once she puts it up, she'll decide it looks better on the other side of the room.
Once she decides that, she has to put all of her books in the hall so she can move the other bookcases around, too.
Once she moves the other bookcases around, she will decide that the chair from the living room belongs in the library.
Once she puts the chair in the library, she has to move the bookcases around even more to decide where they go.
Once she decides where they go, she will have to put all her books back.
But those books have to go into categories
and then they have to be alphabetized
and then they have to be shelved.
And once she gets her books all shelved,
she'll look around the library and say,
"I think I'd like another bookcase."

Actually, I jest. For once, I think I'm actually good on shelf space. I even moved the second taller bookcase into the living room, and I'm debating which books belong out there.

I wonder, though, if I have just cinched the true ownership of the second bedroom. Nash already claims it during the day, and now that I've put her favorite scratching post/napping spot/fur-collector (i.e. my reading chair) in there, I might need to change this door sign:

to read "Natasha's Room".

Here's a few more pics of the rearrangement:

Hopefully I'll have time this week to hang those pictures up, although between the usual week-before-a-show stress and a trip to New Orleans next weekend, they may have to wait until after "Robin Hood" is over. Sigh.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Photos from Portland

I ran away last weekend, and it was marvelous! I flew up to Portland, Oregon Saturday morning, and spent a wonderful two days there walking, reading, exploring, shopping, and just enjoying a new city.

Brace yourself and your server for a lot of photos.

The Japanese Gardens:

There, I attended an Ikebana demonstration:

The International Rose Test Garden (In late October... imagine it in June!)

There were a lot of dogs out with their people. These two are staring at a Starbucks.

Where I stayed:

The sign speaks the truth:

Reading three books, buying a dozen or so more while sipping white chocolate-steamed milk, watching "The Darjeeling Limited", eavesdropping on three French sisters, chatting with a gal from Bath, enjoying great public transportation, and walking around a Bobo's paradise, it was a delightful 52 hours away from home.