Monday, September 01, 2014

Working On Labor Day

Happy Labor Day!

For some, this means an all-out rest from the daily rat race, and I am happy to honor that. However, I'll be working today--only a little, but still. I have a few lesson plans to write up, some paperwork I want to get done, and frankly, it's nice to know I can sip hot tea and work in my pajamas, taking frequent breaks to cuddle with Millie. I figure if I put in a couple of hours today, it will free up time in my week for something I hold even more dear: unionized hours.

See, I'm a union worker (I know, I know, we're dreadful), meaning I have a group that looks out for my best interests. My union would probably frown on me taking time on Labor Day to get some work done, but one reason I do it is so tomorrow, after school, I can leave promptly at 3:00.

Side note: school gets out at 2:35, and I'm pretty sure teachers are obligated to stay 'til 3:00 but even if we're not, no one wants to try getting out of the parking lot one minute sooner than 3:00, and even that is inviting all kinds of road rage. 3:15 is better. 

My job takes up way more time than my paid hours give. Teachers take work home--that's never been a secret. I'm actually pretty lucky in that I don't do a ton of work at home, but then, I don't have quite as much grading to do as say, an English teacher. My job is more endless planning/paperwork for tour, field trips, concerts, etc., most of which is best accomplished at school because of facilities. So, while I'm a part-time employee, I usually show up a good two hours before my first class of the day to allow time for email (which I only check at home under special circumstances and generally ignore on weekends), random paperwork, getting my room ready for the day's lesson, score study, piano practicing, etc.

So if spending some time on paperwork today (need to make a new seating plan for my piano class) allows me to come home at decent times this week, I'm all for it. Hey, I love my job and don't mind all of the attendant paperwork and planning that comes with it. But that doesn't mean I want to be there for hours after school lets out, when I can come home, be with my family, in comfy clothes. It's about finding balance, and I'm thankful, every day, for the union that protects that balance for me.

Happy Labor Day!


Sunday, August 31, 2014

My Week in Instagram (Week #92)

Getting over a cold meant I wasn't all that picture-happy.

Sunday:

My Niners finally started showing some "go" out there.

I spent some time reading. Canna put these down.
Monday:

Going all Outlander with a bracelet I bought in Scotland
in 1999. 

A colleague did this with books in her room, so I copied the
idea with songs.

Maayan sent me books 4 & 5 for my birthday!

Back at the Large Suburban High School for Back To
School Night...night school was in session for the geese.
Tuesday:

Spent my prep on Tuesday recording parts for my kids.
Wednesday:

Buying lunch (protein plate and a yogurt) at St. Arbuck's.

Colorful

Sunset
Thursday:

Even though I emailed the files to my kids, I also made
CDs for backup.

Hanging out in the piano lab after school. The kids are great
about covering up the pianos when they leave.

"MOMMY YOU'RE HOME AND I AM SO HAPPY!!!
PURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR"

"Now I will sit on your lap and purr and lick you and drive
you crazy because I LOVE YOU SO MUCH."

Fake cat in the garden.

Real cat in the garden. She LOVES garden time.
Friday:

Some light reading on the bike at the gym.

Friday was Pay Day, so I went shopping. And I fell in love.
Because OF COURSE I did. They're gorgeous.
 Saturday:

Running out of room in my closet, I decided to put all
workout stuff--hand wraps for kickboxing, swim gear,
hydration belt, resistance bands, etc. etc. in a box. The
kettlebell stays in the garage.

Time for a punch to the hair color.

Black Cherry by Garnier. In person it looks more "grape,"
but I like it, and it will mellow after a week or so.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Techno-no-no...Waitaminute

So I recently lamented that I was having Internet Issues, and pleaded for advice of anyone who knows more about computers than I do...which is about everyone. Advice came back, mostly in the form of, "sounds like a hardware issue," which had me banging my head on my desk and seeing a massive bill in my near future.

Then the most amazing thing happened.

I fixed it.

All by myself.

Last Saturday, I was battling a nasty cold, and not feeling up for much of anything besides lounging in bed with a book or sitting at my desk listlessly surfing the Internet. I decided to use this for good, and got on the Dell support page to see if I could chat with someone. A few months ago, a Dell rep remotely helped me fix the sound driver on my computer after all sound stopped working (horrors!). And though my last foray into online chat help wasn't so helpful (he uninstalled Google Chrome and reinstalled it), I figured I'd have a better chance this time.

Only...the technical support chat is not available on Saturday. What?!

I started poking around the support pages, putting my computer's number into the box to determine what might be going on. There were some recommended downloads--free ones--that had me raising an eyebrow, but one mentioned wi-fi and Bluetooth, so I figured, well, what the hell. I either fix this issue or not, and I can always uninstall it later.

So I downloaded. My computer whirred and hummed for a few minutes and I rolled my eyes, thinking, "Oh God, I'm making it worse and now I can't go back." But lo and behold, when the download was complete, and the computer restarted...my Internet worked again. No weird freezes. No Dino of Doom


tormenting me and making me want to throw my laptop out the nearest window (which is approximately six inches away from my left shoulder).

It has stayed that way. I fixed my own damned Internet. ME. The lady who still hasn't figured out how to connect the ancient TV in my classroom to the new DVD player. I'll get there. I mean, hey, I downloaded some doohickey to miraculously fix my Internet. Before you know it, I'll be landing people on the moon.

Well, maybe not.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Well, Then

Today, I filled in for an algebra teacher's first period class. Following the lesson he'd left to a "t," I walked the students through a problem on solving for absolute values. This, of course, after a quick flip through the chapter while thinking to myself, "Oh, crap, what's an absolute value?!" It's been a long time since high school algebra. (For the record: an absolute value is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It's basically the distance of an integer from zero on the number line. So the absolute value of 2 is 2. The absolute value of -2 is also 2. Etc.)

I wrote an answer to one particular problem, and was met with a raised hand and an inquiring, "How is the answer negative five, and not seven?"

I looked at her, then at the book. "Hmm."

Then I smiled at her. "The book says so?"

This elicited a grin from her in return. I added, sheepishly, "It's been over 20 years since I took algebra." The kids understood.

Later, in an email to my colleague, I wrote, "You might want to review a few points with them tomorrow..."

When lunch rolled around, I had an officer meeting with four choir girls who are my officers and Teacher Interns. We didn't have a lot to discuss today, so we quickly just started to chat. They're darling kids--bright, enthusiastic, awesome in so many ways. I found myself telling them about my adventures in algebra this morning, and they laughed with me.

"Look," joked one of them. "I know that the Pythagorean Theorem works. I don't care how it works, and I don't see why I have to prove it!"

This got me talking about the four semester of music theory I took in college, and how so much of it has been forgotten because I simply never use it. I suppose if I were a composer, I'd use more, but as a teacher, so much of the higher-level theory I learned really isn't useful.

"For example, I know what a secondary dominant chord is, but it isn't important to teaching choir." Sure, some of our songs may use that type of harmony, but that doesn't necessarily mean my kids need to know about it, and most of them certainly don't have the capacity to truly understand it.

These girls, however, all play piano.

"What is a secondary dominant?" asked one. She was echoed by the others. So I launched into the quickest explanation I could make, using solfege.

"Okay, when you play a simple song in C Major, you will play the I chord, the IV chord, and the V chord." I explained which ones those are in terms of fingerings and note names. They all got that. "Now, say that the piece of music throws a D Major chord in--that has an F-sharp. C Major does not have an F-sharp. How do we label that chord in a song that's in C Major?"

I started showing them the chords on the piano.

"Well, turns out the D Major chord is the V chord of G Major, which is the V chord of C Major. It's the five-of-five chord. As the fifth note of a scale is the 'dominant,' this is a secondary dominant chord."

A chorus of "Ohhh," arose, so I guess they got it. What I love is that they're curious, that they humor their music nerd of a choir director when she gets on her music theory tangents.

Teaching is fun. :)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Letter To Myself, Ten Years Ago

Dear Meg,

Oh my God!! The day is here!

Today, you are leaving for England, and you are nervous, excited, oh, hell, you're bloody terrified. And you don't use "bloody" in your vocabulary yet, as it's not a word you really picked up in London Semester. But you will, even ten years from now as you write yourself a letter on the Little Pink Blog.

You don't call it the Little Pink Blog yet; you just started it last month, as a place to document your stories as you move to England. You're actually moving to England!

It's going to be a crazy year. Crazy-good, crazy-bad. Your students will give you fits, and the management of the school will leave you baffled. But you will fall in love with Burnham-on-Crouch, with the whole country. It's going to be hard to leave...and yes, you're going to leave.

You see, you're going to find that adventure is grand, but there's no place like home...and it's going to take a while to determine where this "home" is, exactly. You're going to Washington next year--yes, I said Washington--and that, too, will be a fun adventure. And then you're going to land back in California. Sorry, hon, I know you said you will never come back, that you are sooo over California...but you will be back. And guess what? You're going to fall in love with your home state, and come to find that it's exactly where you're meant to be.

This year, in England, you're not going to meet the British man of your dreams (but you will meet Kevin Spacey and make him chuckle, so dine out on that for a while!). You'll kiss a boy or two, you'll make some nice friends. You'll see Ireland, Paris, the D-Day beaches. You'll finally visit York, as you intended to on Spring Break in 1999. It's nice.

And you will agonize over your decision to stay or go. Burnham will beg you to stay, with its calming river and it's quaint streets, with your adorable (and, sadly, married) colleague and the familiar, lovely places that will become your favorites. It will break your heart, a little, to leave this town that hasn't quite caught up with modern England. It will break your heart to fly away from London, even though you'll be excited to explore a new part of the world in Washington.

This year in England is really where your adult life is going to begin, Young Meg. You're going to learn a lot about yourself, and you're going to take that knowledge with you through the ups and downs of the next ten years. You're going to have some failures...it's inevitable. And you're going to have some successes. I guarantee you, the Meg who boards a London-bound 747 today is not the same Meg who is writing this letter ten years later.

(And guess what, girl? You look fabulous in ten years.)

I know it's odd to you, to think that eventually you'll be back in California. To think that you'll get that high school choir job...and hate it. Then later, get another high school choir job, and know it's exactly where you're meant to be. It's weird, but you're going to become a runner. A runner! You're going to try running one night in Burnham, but it's not going to last long. And then, ten years from now, you'll be a 10K finisher, a regular runner, with muscles and good eating habits. Life is strange, Young Meg. Life is very strange.

And don't worry, Millie's going to be okay. She'll miss you, and some days, you'll sob into your pillow, wishing you could just cuddle her, and not one of the wonderful cats your landlady has on hand. But Millie is fine, and when you see her again, she'll pout a little, but then be so happy her mama is home, she won't leave you alone. You won't leave her again, and ten years from today, she's a happy, feisty old lady, almost 15 years old.

Your parents will never stop telling people that their daughter taught in England, and neither will you. New friends will be intrigued, potential employers will be impressed. It shows that you are willing to take big chances, that you are not satisfied with the status quo, you want to better yourself at every opportunity. I know, though, that right at this moment, you're wondering just how you'll survive all this craziness. You'll survive, hon. More than survive.

Go load your suitcases in the car, Young Meg, and give Millie a last tearful cuddle. Yes, it hurts to leave, but you've got a life to live, an adventure to have. A Wild and Absolutely True Adventure, and it's going to shape your world view forever. Great things are coming, Young Meg.

Just get on that airplane.

Love,

You...in ten years.


A Gymbo's Rant

Monday is Kettlebell Day. I wake up early and drag my trusty 25-pound weight to the gym with me, where I do that month's set of exercises. I love having my own kettlebell--they're really effective, and they can be used for a lot of great exercises. The gym locks up their kettlebells so they don't disappear. I've borrowed one from my friend Matt a time or two...but it's just easier for me to have my own.

Last week, I hauled my kettlebell into the locker room for a few minutes so I could lock my purse and gym bag up before heading out to get sweaty. I set it on a bench while I popped in to use the bathroom. When I came out again, a lady I see almost every time I'm at the gym was there. We have chatted a little in the past, so I smiled and said hello.

Then she opened her mouth.

"You know...you really want to be careful with that," she said, in response to my chipper greeting.

"Hmmm...yes, definitely," I said with a wee bit of an edge to my smile. Please, I thought. Let this be the end of this one.

Nope.

She went on to tell me she had seen me doing kettlebell swings the week before, and how she is worried about my back.

"Ahh," I said, in that way I have of responding to people when my immediate instinct is to use rude words.

Apparently, she wasn't ready to stop, as she told me all about my arched back and improper form as I stood there wondering if it would be rude to push past her with my kettlebell in both hands. My smile was still frozen on my face as I nodded and said, "Mmm" and "Oh, of course I don't want to hurt myself" in a tone that clearly implied, "I'm not fucking hurting myself, lady. Go away."

She apologized for butting in, "but I just would hate to see you get hurt! You should try looking at yourself in the mirror when you do swings, and...[blah, blah, blah]."

"I understand!" I chirped, reaching for my kettlebell and slowly backing away. I was able to escape the locker room, and I headed out to the Stair Master, feeling chagrined.

And here's the thing: I kind of started to believe her. I mean, why would she say anything like that if there wasn't some basis of fact in it? So I spent ten minutes warming up on the Stair Master, noticing her on a treadmill nearby, and thinking, "Well, hell, am I doing this machine right?" When I finally got started on my kettlebell exercises, I felt self-conscious, as though everyone was starting at me, pitying me for trying to look like I know what I'm doing, dragging a damned kettlebell to the gym every Monday, then doing my exercises all wrong. I kept a wary eye out for my "helpful friend," but she never came my way again that morning.

Then I got mad again. As I focused on my swings, I felt my body's movement. It's an exercise that Matt taught me a couple of years ago, so I've been doing them for a while now. My back was straight, and my hips thrust forward, driving the kettlebell up high without any real work from my arms--as it's supposed to be.

Well, if I've learned anything, it's that if I'm in doubt, I can ask Matt. So I did.

"Who said that?"

"Not a trainer."

The look on his face spoke volumes.

"She said you arch your back? Not hunch?"

"Yeah, she said arch."

Another *look* from Matt.

"I've seen you do your swings, and they're fine."

And that is something I trust--Matt has never hesitated to correct me if he sees a form issue.

"I suppose what she thought was an arched back was my rear end sticking out." Matt nodded at this. "I mean, I do have a booty." Bless the man, he's far too professional to comment on that one out loud.

"I was starting to feel really self-conscious. I hate that."

This prompted a smile from Mr. Reasonable. He reached one hand up to his shoulder and slowly brushed it off.

"Brush it off?"

"Yep!"

So I did.


Still, one thing bugged me. When I'm at the gym, I'm largely in my zone, especially when I'm actually exercising.  I don't really pay a ton of attention to other people beyond the expected courtesies of staying out of someone's way when they're working out, and being respectful about sharing equipment. Of course I notice people in that general, "Ooh, he's hot" or "Yikes how does she stand wearing her hair down as she works out?!" way. And I do, on occasion, notice people doing things in a way I might not.

Who am I to say they're wrong? I'm not a trainer. I'm fairly experienced at working out, because I had a couple of really great trainers teach me how to--especially Matt, who insisted on safety and form above all else. Yet I still don't believe I am qualified to walk up to anyone at the gym to correct them. I suppose if I saw someone trying to lift a heavy weight with their back rather than their knees, I might go to the nearest available trainer and whisper something, so they could handle it. I figure most people will be more receptive to a red trainer shirt telling them their form is wrong, than me, no matter how nice my intentions.

As for SwingGate, I suppose this lady meant well, and really thought she knew best in this one. However, it's none of her business, and if she talks to me again in future, I will never trust anything she says.

My Week in Instagram (Week #91)

I started off with so much energy, and ended the week sprawled on my bed, feeling sorry for myself with a cold.

Sunday:

Post-run lounging (butt up against a picnic table). My
Brooks are treating me well. 

Ten miles, still smiling!

Drove into Lincoln on and errand and got up close
and personal with a train.

Mom is working on this gorgeous afghan. 

Monday:

Mom bought me the first piece of orange clothing I can
remember owning in my life. I got a lot of compliments. 

I made a rubric for piano lab tests. Exciting...

My birthday flowers from Lindsay, a week later. The roses
were done, but everything else looked good!
Tuesday:

Tuesday tea stains.

I was AHEAD of the game with my lessons this week.

This is how we fix pianos. 

Thanks to copious amounts of hairspray, my bun lasted
all day.
Wednesday:

This is what it looks like when I go to the gym at 6:00 and get
to work by 7:15--no blow dry.

I live my life via Post-It Notes.

A colleague started this and I so want to copy her with
songs. 

I had to stay late for a choir booster meeting, so book and
peanut butter cups on my beanbag seemed appropriate.
Thursday:

On Thursday I wore the necklace a choir kid gave me last
year. It's so cute!

Friday:

Friday selfie showing off how red my hair looks in the sun.
I felt a little run-down, but not too horrid.

Busy Friday.

Saturday:

Saturday, 6:30...I was at Safeway for Mucinex.

Mom planted another barrel in the garden. 

Perfect sunflower.

Potato vine.


Finally made myself lie down with my book (can't put these
down!!), a box of tissue for the endless snot, and my
Cuddle Bug.
Another busy week awaits. Back to School Night, dinner with a friend, and other adventures. At least this cold seems to be on its way out.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Respect

When I taught high school in Antioch, I was following in the footsteps of a beloved choir teacher--never and easy prospect. My students did not want her to leave and resented me for taking over. I, in turn, was young, naive, and really not ready to take over a high school choral program. I knew about singing, and music...I did not know about teenagers, or running a machine like that one.

When I think back on those days, the memories that stick out are the number of times my students questioned my musical knowledge, as though I was an idiot. Nevermind my degree in music, the years I had already spent studying piano, clarinet, singing, theory. I wasn't Mrs. H., and therefore, I couldn't possibly know anything. In hindsight, I know they would have behaved this way towards any person who had the audacity to take Mrs. H.'s place. At the time, it sliced deep.

Fast-forward six years, and perhaps I know a thing or two more than I did when I fled Antioch. In those five years I worked in a part of Stockton, California that would make a less intrepid person's hair stand on end. I got fired. I lost 90 pounds. I became a runner. In other words, I survived, and even more important, I grew up a lot.

So by the time I took over at my Large Suburban High School last year, I was able to put aside any doubts students might have about my abilities and ready to remind them--every day if need be--that I know what I'm talking about. I put my Chico diploma on proud display in my office so anyone in there could see the piece of paper that represents years of work.

But the most amazing thing happened. Everyone just assumed I know what I'm doing. There was never any cry of, "You are so wrong!! I've been taking voice lessons since I was three years old and no one has ever told me to breathe like that!!" (Yes, I got that one in Antioch. That student lasted one semester as a music major at Sac State.) My colleague, Lynn, from the start, respected my opinions and even asked me, one morning, to listen to her jazz band and give some feedback. When I said, "Not enough bass--can't hear you!" she turned to him and said, "Turn up your amp!!"

It's the same with my kids. They trust my judgement, my ears, and my training. They forgive me for not always immediately knowing the answer. "Let me hear you sing that again," I'll say. "I heard a lot of right notes, but there was something--I just don't know what yet--that was off." They do it, without complaint. We fix things. They grow.

I've learned, too, to open it up to them. A fantastic teaching trick is to make kids assess their own performance. "Why did I stop you just now?" I'll ask them, instead of just correcting right away. Answers will come forward. "We didn't do the cut-off right," or "We missed that one note again." This is often followed by, "Can we hear that one more time, please?" Always, dear students. I'm happy to help you.

I admit, I've been a little daunted by my piano lab class. It's crammed full with students ranging from the very first page of the Level 1 book to students who can play Debussy. And each one of them looks to me for guidance and advice--obviously, some more than others. But when an advanced kid asks me a question, and looks to me for an answer, I sense this quiet respect that was so lacking from many of my students in Antioch. It's as though they are confident that all these years I've studied music, all the time and effort and passion I've put into it, are reason enough to trust me.

This week, as I've wandered through my crowded piano class, answering questions, listening to their first play test, discussing music and seeing them respond with smiles, with trust...it's been amazing. I realized, today, that finally, not only do the people around me know that I'm cut out for this job--I know it, too. And that's huge.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Techno-no-no-NO

Okay, help a lady out, here.

I'm having Internet issues. I'll be browsing along, doing my thing, when suddenly, it freezes. Nothing will load, I'll just see the whirly little circle going round and round for a minute or so until the screen gets a dinosaur image.

Shut up, dinosaur. 

It's random. Sometimes it freezes for one minute, sometimes for five minutes. Sometimes only once or twice in an hour, sometimes ten times in an hour (you can imagine how frustrating that is). It strikes, inevitably, right when I play a word in Lexulous, or right as I hit "send" on that important email, or right as I'm trying to list something on eBay or Etsy. It's been like this since I got the laptop in January, but it has gotten worse in the last couple of months.

So I'm asking for suggestions. Before you start, please do not suggest the following:

1. "Delete your cookies/cache/history!" That's the first thing I tried, obviously. I'm a techo-phobe, but I'm not an idiot.

2. "Don't have so many tabs open at once!" That's not the problem, either. My ancient desktop from 2006 did not have this problem when I had email, Facebook, Twitter and my blog open all at once. (What? I like multi-tasking.)

3. "Try Chrome/Firefox/Internet Explorer/Obscure Browser!" I use Chrome. This also happens on Firefox (I tried). Internet Explorer is just crap.

4. "Uninstall and then reinstall your browser!" That's what the very nice young man told me to do in an online help chat a couple of weeks ago. It worked for one evening, and then went right back to being even worse.

5. "Have you tried your computer's Troubleshooter?" Many times. Many. Times.

In the limited amount of information I can glean from various desperate Google searches, I've discovered that it might be the wi-fi card in my computer. No other computer or device has this problem on our wireless internet connection in this house. In fact, I've been known to roll my eyes when the Internet freezes on me, grab my iPhone, and wait it out. Oh, and for what it's worth, when it freezes, there is no yellow or red flag icon next to the internet connection bars.

Never a flag to warn me that my Internet is being a jerk.

I'm really hoping to resolve this soon without sitting through another painfully long help chat with the Dell people (which I then get kicked out of because--you guessed it--my connection freezes). I also don't want to spend a gazillion dollars just on diagnosis, when that money could go towards the cure. I had a sound card issue six weeks ago, and when I took it to Best Buy for a Geek Squad check-up, it worked perfectly. It was only broken at home, apparently. (I think computers hate me.)

So...have at it. Please! I'm open to suggestions for easy at-home fixes that a notorious techno-phobe can handle. (Let me clarify that I just found out today that putting my phone up by my ear while not on a phone call automatically activates Siri. I did not know this and found out in front of a small group of amused teenagers. Sigh. Old people, right? Get off my lawn.)

Leave a comment. Help a lady out!