Monday, October 28, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


In the past week I...

- sliced open my thumb on a picture of Chuck Bass,
- cut both of my wrists,
- burned my hand,
- sliced a three inch gash in my thigh that was deep enough to make me think "Do I need stitches?"  and then think "Nah, I'll just put a gauze on it." Then, when I bleed through that piece of gauze, I cover it with another piece of gauze.  Then, when I bleed through that, I get a newer, bigger piece of gauze and a lot of medical tape and also some Neosporin and then I congratulate myself on knowing first aid.
- Two days later, the bandages gave me a rash four times the size of the gash.

Old age is dangerous.

Monday, October 21, 2013


When I hear the news of yet another school shooting, I wonder about my choice of a profession.  They didn't cover how to defend yourself against a kid with a gun in Teacher College; let alone how to make the choice to be the last line of defense, to put yourself between the shooter and the rest of your students.  It's a demoralizing, scary, horrific situation to consider while cleaning up after another day in a classroom.

But then my speechers come in with a big bag of chocolates and orange flowers and a card signed by the entire team because they all wanted to wish me a happy birthday, and they linger, and we sit on desks and chat about New York and musicals and their AP classes.

These are the kids I teach.

P.S. This.

A Birthday

Now we are 34.

When I decided that I didn't want to spend my birthday riding to Alamosa and back on a school bus, I emailed some of my favorite people in the Denver metro area to see if they wanted to celebrate my birthday with me.  My invitation ran along the lines of "Please come eat good food and watch British men and help alleviate the guilt I feel for not wanting to ride to Alamosa and back on a school bus!"

To my delight, they all quite cheerfully accepted!  This may or may not be because I attached this video to the invitation to tempt them away from their families:

(Dear Makers of the Temple Movie,

Please cast Tom Hiddleston as Satan in the next version.  Benedict Cumberbatch would be fine as well.  Basically, British baritones with good cheekbones = many happy viewings.

Swooningly yours,

So after a lovely day spent doing delightfully mundane things (Sleeping in!  Working out!  Grocery shopping!  Oil painting!), my four favorite local ladies joined me at Vesta's Dipping Grill for dinner at the ridiculous hour of 5:00 because now I am old.  (I pause for a moment to think about the reaction Spaniards would have to our eating dinner at 5:00, but then I imagine they would just assume it's lunchtime and shrug it off.)

Vesta is one of my favorite places to go to splurge on a dinner in Denver - delicious food, hipster vibe, and they take reservations.  Awesome.

Here are mah peeps:

Tammy, Fara, Chuck, Rachel, myself, and Lisa

(Pro tip:  The advantage to eating at a hipster restaurant is when you ask your waiter-with-a-curly-mustache to take a group photo on your iPhone, he will announce that he's taking one without a flash and one with a flash and then proceed to do so WITHOUT NEEDING INSTRUCTIONS!) (Framing, naturally, will remain an issue.)

And here's the food:

A vegetarian chili amuse-bouche

Bread with roasted garlic

Roasted beet salad with pine nuts and camembert brulee 

Flatbread with assorted sauces selected by our waiter

Tagliatelle with mushrooms, shallots, and butternut squash

Venison kielbasa with assorted mustards
(which we dove into because I remembered to take a photo)

Not pictured:  Watercress and spinach salad with pear jam en croute.
It looked delicious, trust me.

My fondness for these ladies was confirmed when they
1) ordered appetizers and
2) immediately passed their appetizers around for everyone else to try.

We did not share our main courses because...

... we all ordered the exact same thing.

Ribeye steak with asparagus, spring peas, house-made bacon, cherry tomato risotto, and sweet corn soubise.
Cherry tomato risotto!  How could any one of us pass that up?

We did each order a variety of sauces and were quick to pass them around the table for all to try.

My selection: Pineapple peddy marmalade, basil emulsion, and miso buerre blanc

Great company, good conversation, and delicious food - it was everything I hoped it would be.  In fact, the ladies went above and beyond and, to my surprise, brought gifts.  Fara's is perfectly literary; Lisa's is delicious; Rachel's, in proper sisterly fashion, references a joke from our high school days; and Tammy's... well, Tammy's is the one that makes me giggle every time I look at it.

See, Tammy and I both indulge in watching the glamorous and ridiculous (xoxo) Gossip Girl.  Upon discovering our mutual lamentable taste, we bonded over the bad acting, the appalling writing, the fabulous clothes, and the villain who has perfected the art of smoldering - Chuck Bass.  Ed Westwick really does a remarkable job at being such a deplorable hottie, and Tammy and I both want to see the new version of Romeo and Juliet 20% because we're Shakespeare fans and 80% because Chuck Bass is Tybalt.

Hence her gift:

Seriously.  Giggles.  Every time.  Chuck Bass now smolders at me (while quoting Shakespeare!) from my desk at school.

From dinner we headed to Rachel's house for Phase II of the evening.  In her cushy movie theater basement we enjoyed fruit tart, gelato, and an evening of Stephen Fry.

Rachel pointed out that when I promised British men, Stephen Fry is not who came to mind.  I argued that, age and sexual preferences aside, Stephen Fry is a sexy British man.  I mean, have you heard him talk about language?  How does his pronunciation of "enjoy" not make your knees melt?

Rachel retaliated with this:

Okay, she has a point.  Still, we all very much enjoyed watching one of the latest episodes of QI, a few scenes from the version of Twelfth Night that's now in New York, and an episode of Jeeves and Wooster.

All in all, it was a perfect way to herald my start of another year on the earth.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Fort

"What do you have for us today, Waterhouse?" my assistants ask, throwing their backpacks into a corner as they arrive in my room for third period.

"Guys, I think it's time to tackle the office."  I have several boxes of miscellaneous things stored in the office I share with the custodians.  Files of short stories and poems from my days of teaching English, fabric donations, props, scripts, speech team stuff - it's a hodge-podge of items that I haven't had time to sort through.  But I have two highly energetic boys for my assistants that period, and I warned them on the first day that this would be one of the main items on their to-do list for the term.

They groan, fulfilling their teenage obligation to at least appear to resent anything I ask them to do; but they listen as I go over my recommended strategy for sorting and organizing things.  I know I only have about 30 seconds of their attention when it comes to instructions, so I talk fast.  Sure enough, they cut me off before I'm done; exclaiming "We got this!" as they run into my office.

I shake my head and go back to grading.  My planning period at the end of each quarter is densely-packed and highly valuable, so I congratulate myself for finding a way to keep my assistants meaningfully occupied without being distracted myself by their all-too-entertaining chatter.

About ten minutes and 35 worksheets later, I hear my name.  "Waterhouse!" they call from the office.  "Come see what we did!"

Oh, dear.

I leaned against the doorjamb.  "What's this?"

"We made a fort!" they exclaim proudly.

"I can see that.  You also found my practice swords?"

"Yeah!  These are awesome!"

"I know.  They were a birthday gift from my grandfather a few years ago."

"Your grandfather's awesome!"

"Yes.  You do know that I need to have access to the mini-fridge back there, right?"  I indicate the corner under the cabinets.

"Oh, we thought of that.  See?"  One of them drops to his knees and crawls inside the fort.  "We built it so you can still open the door and everything.  Like this."  I hear the muffled sound of the door opening underneath the layers of cardboard.  "And you can close it too."  The door scrapes against the cardboard.  "Wait, hold on."  I hear him try again.  "Okay, it worked a second ago."  The entire structure shudders as he tries to slam the door over and over again.

"Yes, well, I don't think the janitors will be too keen on having to crawl into a fort to get their lunches,"  I point out as he makes his way out.

"No, I'm pretty sure they'll think it's awesome," they tell me.

"Sorry, guys," I say, smiling.  "I need access to that fridge."  I turn to go, then think better of it.  "And the sink, the microwave, the desks, and my phone."

I leave them looking at their fort, one of them scratching his head with the hilt of a sword.

Midway through my next pile of assignments, I hear a shout, a crash, and a bought of laughter.

"We found a better place to build!" they say, squirming out from under the collapsed pile of boxes.  "We just need to make it more structurally sound."

I do that teacher thing where I close my eyes and exhale through my nose.  They know this gesture well.

"We'll clean it up, Waterhouse," they assure me.  "Don't worry!"

Just then the bell rang.

"Tomorrow!" they shout, grabbing their backpacks and dashing out the door to their lunches and their girlfriends.

I turn back to look at my office:

I wonder what the janitors will think when they show up for their evening shifts.

The next few days are filled with tasks for all three of us as we prepare for the speech meet that weekend.  The custodians are patient with me, accustomed as they are to finding all kinds of strange messes around show time, so the office moves to the bottom of our collective to-do lists.

Before third period starts on the Monday after the meet, I make my customary to-do list for them on the board.

"What're we doing today?" they enter asking with the usual bag-toss.  

I point to my one-item list.  "The office," I say.  "Make it better."

They grin, salute, and run off.  Forty somewhat-suspiciously quiet minutes later, I look up from my computer to see them standing side by side in the entrance to my room, grinning.

"Come see our fort," they say.

They give me a tour with the pride of new homeowners.  "This is the clipboard where visitors have to sign in.  This is the weapon storage.  This is the doorway, and this is the animal hide for people to wipe their feet on.  And see?  You can still get to your phone!"

I decide not to complain about the giant paper banner I have to duck under to answer my phone and not to point out that I no longer have access to my filing cabinet.  I won't need the stuff in there for another few weeks anyway.  In fact, I am surprised, both by their creativity and by the sight of so many random artifacts of my 12 years of teaching displayed in front of me.

"And look!" they beckon for me to come inside.  Apparently as the landowner I do not have to sign in.  "Here's the weird green viney-curtain thing we found...

"...and here's our magnetic poetry wall with the Message of the Day!"  They point to the side of my filing cabinet where my long-forgotten Magnetic Poetry Kit: Great Literature Edition was now arranged.

"This is the letter that Shakespeare lost in Guillver's fish in 1984
Well; first it was Tarzan from Wonderland who was my lover.  Stranger journeys
are great alone.  I love Les Miserables and taking Finnegan's aunt to a Slaughterhouse.
That's the end of time."

"Isn't it awesome?!"

"Yes, guys," I have to admit.  "This is an awesome fort."

They spent the rest of the period and the first part of lunch giving tours to the other assistants.  I return to my desk, listening to the exclamations of their friends as they show off my office as I work.

The next day, I hand them a stack of review packets to grade.

"Can we grade them in the fort?" they ask.

"Sure," I say.

"Whoo-hoo!"  They snatch the papers from my hands and run off to my office.  I pick up the answer key they dropped in their haste.  By the time I walk it to them in my office they're sitting against the wall under the paper banner next to an iPod playing Imagine Dragons.

They do a great job grading, as always.  They're smart, reliable boys, and they keep me entertained while doing what I need them to do; which is why they had a surprise waiting for them in the fort this morning:

The Fort Fairy (whose form references this video, a favorite of one of the boys and an ongoing joke between us) rewards good assistants with their favorite kind of food -

synthetic, neon-colored, and so spicy it's in the Mexican section of the grocery store. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Feast or Famine

There's a golden six weeks or so each year - a time when the balance between work and non-work is just right.

This isn't that time.

I've been quieter on my blog because, as is so often the case, I'm busy.  I'm busy, and the topics I keep wanting to write about are the kind that require more than a photo update or a 5-minute write up.

So, I shall attempt to summarize all of my thoughts of the past month in a 5-minute write up:

I went to a theater teacher's convention here in Denver. 

Notable occurrences include:

- It was like a marvelous dream to have a day where going to work meant getting up at 7, taking public transportation, having a glorious 45 minutes to get lunch, and being able to associate with adults all day.

- I love DCTC.  It's one of my Hogwarts, and has been ever since I first saw a play there on a field trip way back when I was in high school, oh so long ago.  I don't get to live there, but I do get to visit a few times a year.

- I learned (again) that when I panic about comparative credentials, I'm usually ahead of the crowd.

- It turns out that two of my fellow Smoky Hill High School Theater alums are theater teachers in the Denver metro area.  We discovered each other mid-sessions; and while it was fun to see them, I was reminded why I don't want to go to any high school reunions.

- I've also given a lot of thought to my own high school drama experiences.  I was a part of a tight-knit circle of super-dedicated theater kids.  We were writing plays, designing sets, going to see plays, and creating our own shows year-round, usually with little or no involvement from our teacher.

My students are nowhere near this level.  I have been assuming that it's my fault - that I'm failing as a teacher to instill similar passion and independence in my students.  Now I wonder whether I was just a part of a really unusual group of kids - one of those freak classes that come through once or twice in a career.

Again, here I am learning that I am not the norm.

I miss having time to work out.
I went to the gym 5, 6, 7 times a week this summer and at the beginning of the school year.  Not so much anymore.  I can sacrifice TV or reading or even Christmas gift crafting for gym time, but not work or necessary household tasks or work or proper sleep or work.  Sigh.

It's getting colder:

I took my students to see Death of a Salesman at the DCTC.

I really didn't like this play when I first read it in high school, and I was unsurprised to find my opinion hasn't changed.  However, this was a solid production, in the round no less, and I was surprised to see how much my students responded to the themes and characters of the play.  It's depressing, sure, but it also addresses issues of family loyalty, parental expectations, and measures of success in ways that are still relevant even when door-to-door salesmen aren't just dead, they've been buried for 60 years.

Speaking of the DCTC
I arranged for a Teaching Artist from the DCTC to come to my school to teach playwriting workshops for seven of our classes (two of mine and five English classes):

The fellow in the blue shirt on the left is David, their Educational Director.  He contacted me about this opportunity when his department first won the grant that funds it, specifically citing the great rapport I've built between their programs and my students over the last four years.  That was nice to hear, and the workshops went beautifully.

The First Speech Meet of the Year
I headed up the mountains and through stunning fall foliage to Vail with 24 students this weekend for our first meet.  Happily, we came home with a ton of awards.  Even happier, there were no medical issues on this trip!  (Not that there have been many in the past, but I had to be trained in some especially squeemish emergency procedures for one kiddo on this trip.  I was quite happy to turn said kiddo over to the parents Saturday night without having to use the issued rubber gloves.)

Dwindling Meets
Sadly, this meet brought news of yet another future meet being canceled.  This coupled with the cancelation earlier in the week means our already-lean season is getting harder and harder to fill.  It's not good for the kids to go three weeks or more without competing, and yet there are no competitions to which we can go.  I spent part of my day today cobbling together an alternate plan of running a semi-and-largely-informal meet at our school and then taking the team to an improv show in order to make up for yet another lost competition.  It's far from ideal, but with budgets (and therefore teams) being slashed all around, it's getting harder and harder to maintain a full season.

A Family Visit
Andy, Jenn, and my parents all came out to Denver this weekend.  The primary purpose was to visit the baby, of course, but there was a secondary goal of celebrating my and Andy's birthdays.  As previously mentioned, I missed hanging out with them Friday and Saturday, but I did get to join them Sunday for Sam's blessing and joint early-present-opening at the Mason's.  After Mom and Dad took off Sunday afternoon and we gave the Masons a bit of peace and quiet, I got to catch up with Andy and Jenn a bit more over dinner.  At the surprisingly-tasty Bonefish Grill we discussed family relationships and noted how as adults you have to make the choice to be friends with your siblings.  I made that choice quite deliberately in my post-college years, and I am always glad to rediscover how much I love hanging out with my siblings, both natural and by marriage.

Okay, that was more than 5 minutes, but I feel somewhat purged in my narrative build-up.  At least enough so to turn back to work:

It's the end of the quarter, grading awaits.  And so, good night!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

The End of the Beginning

Today was my last free Saturday until February 1.  Oy.

Our first speech meet is next weekend, an overnighter in Vail.  The kids are psyched, and I'm ready to move into the next phase of coaching.  After a month of after-school practices, it's time for them to put their pieces to the test.

Following that meet are nine more spread out over four months.  Add in a birthday celebration, a trip to New York, the class play, and a couple of holidays and *Poof!* - there go my weekends.  Granted, many of those are ideal ways to spend time, but there is still something psychologically daunting about seeing so many dots on my mobile calendar.

In preparation, I have been doing what I can to get ready.  Last Saturday was primarily spent getting my car fixed (I figured brakes would be a good thing what with the 6000-foot daily altitude change and winter and all).  I also ran errands, picking up supplies for a couple of Christmas crafts, and met up with a friend for a bit.

Today started off with a much-needed haircut, then I ran up to Rachel and Ben's to babysit the boys.  Sam slept, ate, and slept some more while Jack played on my tablet, ate lunch, and discussed Daniel Tiger's teeth with me.

After a trip to the grocery store, a few loads of laundry, and a quick dinner from WhichWich; I launched into full cleaning mode, scrubbing down my kitchen and both bathrooms, dusting, vacuuming, polishing my floors.  I even washed the newly-discovered spider webs out of the wreath on my door, despite their potential for DIY Halloween decor.

I'm excited to sleep in a bit tomorrow, thanks to Conference weekend.  My plan is to work on the previously-mentioned Christmas projects and to meet up with Rachel to talk shop for this year's musical.  It's hard to believe that it's already that time of year, but we announce the show in less than a month and auditions are right after Thanksgiving, so we both need to get cracking!