Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Such a Beastly Month is February!

Happy Leap Day!

I enjoy holiday traditions enough to welcome 30 Rock's suggestions for making the most of this rare day:

Although I would suggest that instead of a marathon of their Leap Dave Williams, they really ought to have The Pirates of Penzance on continuous loop today:

That maldecision is probably owing to the agency of an ill-natured fairy. Tsk, tsk.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


The musical is quickly approaching, and I've gathered enough supplies to turn my Advanced Drama class period into a series of simultaneous projects.  The class members are good enough that I can give most of them a task to do and they will do it.  I have a few squirrely boys, so I keep them close by, helping me with a power-tool-based project (I operate the saw.  They measure, steady, and rotate the posts for me).

Here are the tasks my 17 students are currently tackling:

- Cut up 12-foot cardboard tubes to make a fountain
- Paint the set (at least the set pieces we have so far)
- Hem 6 "Napkin" dresses
- Make belts for "Napkins"
- Sort through our fabric storage to find bright colored pieces to liven up the costumes
- Sew the ripped curtains on stage (something I've been wanting to do since I started here.  Our curtains are in pretty bad shape)
- Organize the dressing rooms
- Deconstruct old set pieces for more storage space
- Create and attache fancy cutouts to black masks
- Paint faux-marble on six 12-foot-tall columns
- Find/gather props
- Sewing Duct-taping a flag and a hunting bag
- Sorting fake flowers
- Attach Christmas tree lights to an awful lot of black felt to make the backdrop

and so on.  There's still an awful lot to do, but I'm not stressed about it*.  I've got my class to help me and we still have two weeks to go!  Woot, woot!

* ... despite whatever the rash all over my hands and my persistent tension headache might indicate to the contrary.

*Blink. Blink*

One thing I love about this community where I work is the camaraderie on the road.  Commuting is certainly de rigueur up here, and it was not long after I started here that I learned the polite code among drivers in this bedroom community.

As I was driving home from school after rehearsal today an oncoming car flashed his lights at me.  I slowed down, wondering what was ahead since I had just barely passed a speed trap.  About a mile further I came upon two does standing on shoulder of the road on my right.  One bent down to eat some of the wild grass while the other looked back over her shoulder at a third deer, crossing in the middle of the frozen, snow-covered river that runs alongside the highway and past the school.

I'm glad I saw them, and I'm glad that the other driver warned me.  It's so pretty up here, and it's a pretty good community too.  And, like a good member of the community, I flashed my lights at the cars ahead of me, warning them about the perils up ahead.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Potluck British food (bangers and mash!)
+ Good company
+ A little Jack time
+ The first episode of a new season of Sherlock
+ Magnums for dessert

= A grand Friday night!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Double Duty

This Sunday being the fourth Sunday of the month, it's my turn to teach Relief Society.

Teaching the last week of the month means that my lessons are based on talks from the previous General Conference.  On one hand, being able to go off-manual gives me a lot more liberty.  Even when I teach from the manual I deviate from the prescribed questions, so teaching from a speech gives me the responsibility to select which themes to pursue and which points to emphasize.  I like that.

On the other hand, I frequently find that the talk I am assigned to teach is incredibly simplistic.  Given the spread of the audience for the General Authorities, this is not inappropriate for them.  However, it does not always make for good lesson material.  I've read this month's talk several times, and it is so simple a topic that I am struggling to find questions to ask that will provoke higher-order thinking.  I plan my lessons around the questions I ask when I'm studying the material, and this speech just doesn't invite a lot of deep thought.

I planned on spending time this weekend working out an outline for my lesson, looking for threads in the talk I can follow to hopefully find discussion-generating questions.  However, I just had a call from one of the Sunday School teachers in my ward. 

(To clarify, my church is divided into three "blocks" - Sacrament Meeting, which is the primary worship service; Sunday School, which is a collection of scripture study classes divided by age; and the third block, which is divided by gender ((for teenagers and adults)) and by age.  The third block is where Relief Society occurs.) 

I am substituting for one of the Sunday School teachers next Sunday while she's out of town.  The lesson is one of the trickier ones - it is about the passages of Isaiah that are quoted in the Book of Mormon.  The poetic nature of Isaiah's writings (Metaphors!  Allegories!  Archaic language!) can be daunting.  It's also why I've always enjoyed Isaiah - I like the scriptures that take some mental muscle to understand.  Because the Sunday School class tends to be more scholarly than Relief Society, I planned on spending a good chunk of time working on that lesson next weekend.

Then the other Sunday School teacher called me.  He had a family emergency, and asked (with a great deal of prefacing wariness/apologies) whether I would be willing to switch weeks with him and teach the Isaiah lesson this Sunday.

I said I was happy to, of course.  I'm glad to have the chance to help someone out, and I want to do what I can to fight the church's malodorous tradition of being "scared" of teaching/public speaking (#1 of my personal ten commandments:  Thou shalt not begin thy talk by apologizing for thy talk).

Ah, but now I have quite the task ahead of me.  Somehow there's a difference between preparing for two lessons this Sunday and my professional preparations for four classes a day (seven, if I hearken back to my DPJH days).

By golly, though, I am going to stick to my rules of teaching at church:

- Prepare questions, not statements.
- Don't run away from the questions you don't have answers to - ask the class for answers.
- The class must talk more than you do.
- Word/sentence strips are superfluous.
- Respect every comment, but
- Be prepared to steer the discussion where it needs to go (or from where it shouldn't).
- Don't cry.
- Move the centerpieces lest you accidentally knock the flowers over and instinctively cry out, "Oh, flowers!" then you accidentally knock the picture of the Savior over and instinctively cry out, "Oh, Christ!"  Plus, they block the board.
- Do not cover the entire chapter in the lesson manual.  They're not written to be covered in entirety.
- Do not go over time.  No matter how life-changing your story is, no one will listen after the class is supposed to end.
- Leave enough time between the end of your lesson and the end of the class for the traditional closing activities.
- Always, always, always base it in the scriptures and bring it back to the scriptures,

and, most importantly,

- Thou shalt not begin thy lesson by apologizing for thy lesson.


Changed My Mind!

The 80 MPH winds blew in a snowstorm overnight.  It was one of those weird storms where the metro area was hit harder than up here in the mountains - many schools down the hill are delayed or closed today.  We are neither delayed nor closed, even though many students and several teachers were late because of the road conditions.

The teachers who were late are all the ones who live down the mountain.

Me?  I left at my normal time and arrived about 3 minutes later than usual.

I am so, so glad that I'm staying up here this week!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A General Update

1.  My Adv. Drama class performed their show last week.  I told them they could do two plays this term (their second one is in early May) on the conditions that the first play be
     a) short,
     b) cheap,
     c) require no set construction or prop making, and
     d) only use costumes that already exist.

They picked out a show that fit the bill, and it was...easy.  Beyond the Great Plastic Fish Hunt, it really was a simple show to do.  They memorized their lines, I directed them, we put together a set out of existing pieces, and the costumes all came either from their closets or from storage.  There was, as always, the business of show week - there's no avoiding all the crazy.  But overall it was easy.

I attribute that to a couple of things:
     i) I've lowered my standards (at least for the class shows),
     ii) The students are getting good enough training that the advanced class truly is advanced,
     iii) I'm getting better at drawing lines in the sand that protect my sanity (see conditions listed above)

The scripts for their second show and the Intro to Drama class play should be arriving in the early part of next week.  We'll do auditions and such soon, but I already told this class that we're not really starting on their second play until after the musical.  We'll be using the class time between now and then to
     A) Study musical theater history (Yay for the PBS B'Way documentary!  Yay for "Every Little Step"!  Yay for my DVD collecion!)
     B) Do prep work for the musical (tomorrow - napkin costumes!  Later - set painting!)

Just two more plays and the musical before the year's out.  I'm looking forward to a break from production.

2) The musical is hitting that unavoidable crazy time.  With the help of the Home Depot website, two textbooks about set construction, and a lot of online reading, I put together a materials requisition list for our school secretary.  We're buying a lot of lumber, but I have at least one parent who will put it all together for us in a professional way and at the end of this I will have five more platforms that will come in very handy for future sets.  Plus some flats, if I don't screw up that construction.  Those I'll need to build myself.

I miss Mark's expertise back at DPJH.  It's pretty tricky to figure out how to make decent sets when there's no woodshop at the school, let alone any tools other than a few screwdrivers and a hammer.  I've bought a few tools personally out of necessity, but I wish, wish, wish we had the means in place to put together a couple of flats.  And some lights.  We really could use those too.

We blocked the Mob Song today.  Tomorrow I tackle the Battle Scene, then Friday I'm blocking the ending with Belle, the Beast, and Gaston.  I still have no idea how we're going to kill Gaston.  But, like most of my blocking, we'll figure it out when we come to it.

I'm looking forward to wrapping this show up.  I do like the music and I like our cast, but it just sucks up so much of my time.  I keep thinking that next year we need to do an easy musical.  I don't know if there is such a thing, but it would really be nice to have a simple show without special effects or tons of sets or a giant singing candlestick.

3) Humanities is going well.  We're still in Ancient Greece, doing a crash course on philosophy right now.  The students have had their minds blown repeatedly, first by this, then by this, then by a Greek food sampler I brought in to class yesterday (they had never had Greek food before.  Mountain kids!),  and now they're trying to wrap their heads around Plato's Theory of Ideas.  I really enjoy this class, and I love it even more when most of the students in it are gifted.

4) I feel like I should acknowledge life outside of school in this summation, but there isn't much of one right now.  I've been living up in Mountain Town during the workweek for the last two weeks, and it looks like I'm here to stay on weeknights until the musical is over.  Don't get me wrong - I know I'm incredibly lucky to have a place to crash near work that I) saves me the commute and II) has wifi.  I've saved over $150 in gas alone by staying up here, not to mention all the extra sleep I'm getting.  I really don't think I'd be able to do this job without this option.  Still, it's like living in a hotel.  It's comfortable, but it's not quite home.

Three more weeks and the musical will be up.  I've got an awful lot to do between now and then, but, boy, am I looking forward to the other side!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the Train at the Mall

Jack on the Train

20 months old and he's already chewing the scenery?

This is a kid after my own heart.

The Greatest Dance Show in the World

I have been feeling a little jealous of Jason's myriad of awesome dance shows he's attended lately. ("Myriad" doesn't sound right. What would be the collective noun for dance concerts?)

Fortunately, Rachel's birthday weekend and my parents' visit provided the opportunity for us to see The Greatest Dance Show in the World.  And we know that it is The Greatest Dance Show in the World because they told us so in a pre-curtain announcement.  That right there is the mark of a good show.

Another mark of a good show is when they understand the importance of branding.  First of all, you need to make sure your name the title of the show appears in the show itself several times.  How else will you convince the audience to buy the feather-brimmed pink light-up cowboy hats with your name the show's title blinking on the front?  Fortunately, you have an innovative set design that uses several video projection screens, so you can project your name the title right onto those at all the important moments.  But that might not be enough.  After all, the audience will be watching the dancing, not the sets.  I know!  You should also print your name the name of the show on the belt of the main character!  And make it an obscenely big belt!  And then make that belt a key prop in the show!  Yes!

That's good.  That's very good.  Now everyone knows your name the title of the show.  But we need to make sure tickets sell.  Sure, the dancing's good, and people like Ireland, blah, blah, blah.  But you know what I've heard sells?  Sex!  So what if the girls rip off their traditional Irish dresses and finish the number in black sparkly panties and bras?!  That would be awesome!  And then we can project an animated version of those mudflap ladies gyrating on the video screens! We'll totally win over the straight guys in the audience with that!

Oh, and let's throw in some guys in black capes holding flaming torches for tradition, a couple of violin-playing blondes in spike-heeled boots and short skirts in front of video projections of running horses for culture, and a sparkly jester for the kids.

Yes! That's it!  That will guarantee us a show that will run for over 16 years, becoming the biggest grossing tour in entertainment history* and a 3D movie.

We went hoping for cheese.  We were not disappointed.  From the flaming skulls and the Ninja Turtle-like costumes for the bad guys to the alien invasion (complete with 1950's-style UFO!) at the end, this show was everything Rachel was hoping for in a birthday weekend cultural experience.  As a bonus, the dancing itself was actually very good.

So you can brag about your Alvin Ailey viewings all you want, Jason.  I've seen Lord of the Dance.

Stop That!

I can't stop thinking about a paragraph, nay, a sentence I should have included in my application essay to the London thing.

I guess it's a good thing - this way I have something very, very specific to blame my non-acceptance on, should that be the case.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Where, Oh, Where?

I mailed off my application to a summer program today.

I am applying for a spot at a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar.  The program is to study Chaucer's Canterbury Tales!  In the original Middle English!  In LONDON!

There's only 16 slots, and preference is given to those who have not received grants before (the NEH grants, my long-time readers may recall, is how I went to my beloved Camp Shakespeare six ((six!)) years ago).  I'm trying so very, very hard not to get my hopes up.

And then I see the news that Stephen Fry has been cast as Malvolio in an all-male version of Twelfth Night at the Globe this summer.  Oh, do I want to see that!  Oh, do I love Stephen Fry! I mean, not quite as much as her, but still!

Down, hopes!  Down I say!

Really, the chances are quite small.  I'll find out on April 2.  After that I can finally solidify my summer plans, wherever they may lead me.

Although, speaking of travel and theater, I was absolutely delighted to hear today that the Lookingglass Theater Company is kicking off it's 25th season with Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses.  Given that
A) I have flown to Chicago not once, but twice solely to see productions at the Lookingglass Theater,
B) This production is the one that went to Broadway and received so much critical acclaim,
C) It's about Greek mythology (Greek Mythology!  I'm such a geek for Greek mythology that I insisted we travel to Crete simply because it's the home of Daedalus' fabled labyrinth!),
I will definitely be seeing this show.  Fortunately, the same production is moving to DC's Arena Stage after it's Chicago run, so even if I cannot get to it in Chicago this fall, I will certainly go to DC next winter to see it.

Or perhaps I'll see it twice.  A girl can dream, can't she?

Yes.  Yes, she can.  But not about London.  Down, hopes!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I woke up this morning feeling worse than before, but I was downright determined to go to work today.  Unable to fight with white blood cells and/or antibodies, I have decided to fight this cold through sheer willpower alone. 

Yes, my stubbornness Pioneer Spirit is in abundance!  My symptoms may be getting worse, my ability to keep the children from beating each other with large plastic fish may be deteriorating, my infectious levels may be rising at alarming rates; but by golly I will not lose another day to this illness.  No cold should keep me feeling this miserable for four days in a row without signs of my assured and inevitable victory.  I refuse to believe it.  I am strong!  I am invincible!  I am going to bed now!

(climbs up the stairs in white nightgown appropriate for both Pioneer Women and Gothic Heroines, singing)
"'Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive-
(grabs bannister in a fit of coughing)
All is wellAll is well."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Not Your Average Cold

This is not your average cold.  No, this is a kick-you-in-the-back-until-you-fall-down-then-sit-on-your-chest kind-of cold.

It's a very good thing I called in sick today, since I am still running a fever.  I slept in, then packed my sweaty-and-shivering-self in the car to run some unavoidable errands.  Happily, in the course of those errands I found a large fake plastic fish.

After a grocery store stop to get more juice, I packed up for the week and headed back up to Mountain Town.  Fever or not, I need to go back to school tomorrow.  I've got a show this week and there is nothing worthwhile I can leave for a sub to do with my Humanities class.  That's one of the less-mentioned downsides to teaching classes without textbooks - it's next to impossible to come up with plans at the last minute that a substitute can execute.  Can I trust just anybody to teach my students about Hellenism?  I think not!

What I didn't buy but should have is a giant bottle of Lysol spray.  I need to disinfect all of the props.  There's too many sick people about this time of year, and the cast is sharing (and fake-drinking from) 75 plastic mugs.  Ew.

On the plus side, the sight of my blanched, shivering, hacking self at rehearsal tomorrow should add credence to the lecture I gave the cast about not making out with each other.  As I said, there's too many sick people about.

P.S.  Does that imply that I'm involved in the making out?  Because no.  Really, really, really, no.  Ew.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Small Accomplishments

I am not getting very much done at all this weekend.  It's annoying, but unavoidable given the state of this cold.  I called in sick tomorrow - Rachel warned me that this is at least a three-day cold, and I'm not feeling much better than I did last night.  Happily, tomorrow is actually a day that I can miss - two of my three classes had lesson plans that someone else can execute (a rare thing with the subjects I teach) and rehearsal was supposed to be a music review day anyway.  Hopefully Jesse will be able to take that on without me.

I emailed my sub plans to our school secretary and wrapped up in blankets to have some dinner.  I decided to branch out from the orange juice and yogurt I've been living on and have some pureed sweet potatoes.  Very exciting, yes?

I'm annoyed at the lack of productivity, but at the very least the sleep I've been getting should be beneficial in the long run.  So this weekend's not a total loss, right?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Turn

Given the number of students and family members who have been sick lately, it was only a matter of time. I started coughing on the way to a show last night, and am now wrapped up in several layers of clothes and blankets trying desperately to get warm. I keep having Peru flashbacks, except this time I'm freezing under the influence of a gas fireplace and an electric blanket.

After a long work week (two nights of conferences and an after-hours field trip to see The Importance of Being Earnest at the Arvada Center), I met Paula for breakfast at the truck stop cafe in Mountain Town to take care of a few business items and to catch up, then drove down the mountain leaving the cat behind in the condo.  I'm planning on heading back up the mountain tomorrow afternoon, but I needed to come down to get groceries, do laundry, and run errands.

As the day wore on and I grew sicker and sicker (and, in the process, walked slower and slower and became more and more worried about driving anywhere), I eliminated errands from my To-Do list one by one. Once again I noted what a strange job I have when the highest priority thing for me to accomplish today is to buy a large plastic fish. I was not successful.

I came home from Wal-Mart (which my students had claimed had said large plastic fish. They did not), pulled on more clothes, and crawled into bed. I'm annoyed that I'm not getting anything done today, but even just sitting up to type this blog entry is making me dizzy, making me cough, and making my fingers turn numb.

I'm going back to bed. If any of you know how I can get a large plastic fish by Wednesday without having to drive too far, please let me know.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


Do you know how awkward it is to be expected to give parenting advice to parents when you yourself are so very much not a parent?

It's Parent-Teacher Conferences this week; that time of year when I am asked to call upon the lessons I've learned from my ten years of being around teenagers and my own personal experience of being raised by two competent, capable adults (Thanks again, Mom and Dad!) in order to explain to grown-ups older than myself what they should do to be better parents.

Believe me, I try to avoid that type of advice-giving. But what can I do when they look me in the eye and say they're frustrated; they don't know what to do; please, please tell them what to do?

And so, over and over again, I talk about setting boundaries; creating enforceable consequences and then following through on those consequences; asking specific questions; discussing what they learned at school; taking away the cell phone/xBox if they stay up until 3:00 AM texting/playing video games; and so on.

I don't tell them what I really want to tell them - that you need to be home when your children are home, at least some of the time. That eating dinner together as a family makes all the difference in the world. That you shouldn't use your kids as pawns in your petty divorce games or make promises you don't keep or expect your kids to stand up to your ex-spouse's flakiness because he/she might be your ex, but he/she is still your kid's parent and your kid really, really misses them. That your kid isn't your best friend and you should never, ever call them in "sick" because you're lonely and want them to hang out with you all day. That you need to let your kid solve their own problems, even if it means they fall down a little on the way. That even tall, grown-up-looking teenagers are still kids and they need bedtimes and healthy meals and rules and time to play and an awful lot of reassurances that they are good, they are smart, they are loved. That you are the grown-up, whether you feel ready to be or not, and you need to act like one.

Some schools try to be more inclusive in calling them "Parent-Teacher-Student Conferences." I appreciate the honesty as well as the brevity of the title "Parent-Teacher Conferences."

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Quiet Productiveness

The snow day could not have happened at a better time - it came at the end of a very difficult week (and so was very much welcomed) on a Teacher Inservice Day (so no lesson plans/musical rehearsals/class plays/speech practices were affected). Denver apparently broke its record by getting 12.5 inches of snow in 24 hours. It fell steadily and thickly all day Friday, but they were quick about clearing the roads and driving up to Rachel's last night was fine.

At the end of my surprisingly-long weekend, I am pleased with what I accomplished. I did my taxes and other banking, wrote an application essay, made flight and hotel reservations for spring break, did some housekeeping, baked muffins, and baby-sat Jack. I don't feel ready for school yet; it was too nice to have a normal sleep schedule and time to get things done. But I feel like I had the chance to catch my breath before diving back in.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


My phone rang again!  Snow Day confirmed!  Yay, Snow!  Yay, Superintendent!

Now I'm off to bed to sleep until I am done sleeping. Yay!!!

Oh, Come On!

I was just looking at the weather report, noting that they have increased the forecasted snow for Mountain Town:

Just as I clicked off that page, my phone rang.

"Yes!" I thought. "Snow day!"

I looked at the screen, which identified the caller as Mountain Town High School.

"Yes!!" I said. "Snow day!!"

The automatic-calling system clicked on after I picked up: "This is an automatic message from [Mountain Town] School District. We are notifying all staff that the phone system in the district has been compromised. Outgoing calls are not possible at this time. We are working to resolve the problem, but it is not likely to be resolved before the Teacher Inservice Day tomorrow. Please be aware that you may not be able to accomplish the tasks you are assigned to do tomorrow."

"Oh, come on!" I exclaimed.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


Just a quick update -

Today is a better, happier day; despite the primary crazy parents switching to tag-team-yelling-by-email attacks.  My principal is 100% supportive of me; he has offered good, sensible advice and when the digital-yelling kept coming, told me that I no longer need to communicate with these parents if I don't want to.  Illustrative Example no. 148 for why the commute to MTHS is made completely worthwhile by my principal.

My formal observation was this afternoon, and the class went smoothly.  It was Humanities, and we had a terrific discussion about the Epic Hero Cycle.  When split into small groups to brainstorm their own modern-day examples, one group even proved how Back to the Future follows Campbell's structure.

The students also all insisted the principal Check In along with the class since he joined us mid-process.  I love their insistence at that because it shows a) how much the students like and value Checking In and b) their awareness of outsiders, their eagerness to include the outsiders, and their knowledge of what process exists to include them typifies the kind of community I work to have in my classes.  When they passed it to him, he Checked In without hesitation.  (Illustrative Example no. 149.)

Musical rehearsal was low-key and fun, I got a good email I'd been hoping for, and then I got to go out to dinner with two women from my ward.  The good company and terrific hummus completed the uptick in my day and my mood.  Things are definitely brighter than yesterday, thank goodness.

I'm looking up weather forecasts now before going to bed.  Another storm's coming in tomorrow night with 4-10 inches of snow for Mountain Town.  What I'm wondering is whether they are more or less likely to cancel school on Friday given that it's a Teacher Inservice Day.  Sure, you don't have to worry about the children.  But will someone clutch their pearls and beg the superintendent to "think of the teachers"?