Monday, September 15, 2014

Dream World

I am the type who rarely remembers any dreams I might have while sleeping, though I have had some doozies over the years. I can still all-too-vividly recall a few details of a nightmare I had in high school about finding murdered people all over my bedroom. Two years ago, before a job interview after a long spell of unemployment, I had a dream that all of my teeth started falling out.

I woke up from that one running my tongue over my teeth--which had been faithfully flossed before bed.

And this weekend, I had another bizarre dream, but this one has me laughing. Mostly.

It's evaluation season. I'm in my second year as a probationary teacher at the Large Suburban High School, and I've made no secret of the fact that I love it there and I want to stay. This year, I happen to have a new boss...and she happens to be the person who started the choir program at LSHS. There have been two other teachers between us, and she in no way views it as being hers anymore, but in our conversations, I've learned that she knows a lot about running a choir program, and going to her for advice is not only flattering to her, but beneficial to me.

I like her. She's fair, but she doesn't take any flak from anyone. She will evaluate me fairly and let me run my program in the Meg way, even while offering me occasional advice. I'm fine with that. A good admin helps her teachers continue on their path to excellence.

Anyway, it's evaluation season. And while I'm certainly convinced--in waking hours--that she'll be fair, my subconscious still worries and twists the memories of past experiences around in my brain. And so, on Sunday, I woke up about 15 minutes before my alarm clock (yes, I set an alarm on Sunday, so I can run before it's twelve hundred degrees outside), reeling from a dream in which Mrs. Principal came into my choir room...and chaos ensued.

For starters, there were tons of kids in there who weren't supposed to be in there...and they were awful. Not listening, no respect, just generally doing what they wanted to do. This is not the case in my choir. My kids are awesome, and it's pretty easy to get them from silly to serious when I need to. But in the dream, it was mayhem, and my confidence was plummeting.

So I handed out a song. And Mrs. Principal, in my dream, looked at this song and said, "You can't do this song! This isn't a good song for them!" Flustered, I tried to defend no avail. Then I woke up.

The real Mrs. Principal will not do that. She is not one to publicly humiliate a teacher in front of kids, but I have had one of those, a principal who stood in my doorway glaring at me like I was a dog turd she had to clean up. I know this current principal will treat me with professional courtesy, and I can't tell you how glad I am for that. My subconscious, however, deals with the memories of previous bosses, and has to somehow sort it all out.

I have to laugh. I certainly don't expect that every single moment of my lesson on Thursday will be perfect--teaching just isn't. But I know it will be fairly evaluated. Maybe I can finally lay some of the bad memories truly to rest. I've got a program to grow.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dog Tags

It's no secret that I had a hard time when I was teaching high school choir in Antioch. My phone calls to Mom and Dad were routinely full of angst, as I dealt with the ups and downs I experienced there. I know it was hard for them, knowing I was having such a hard time but not being able to really do anything about it.

One afternoon, after another dismal day, I came home from work and stopped by the mailboxes to get my bills and junk mail. But that day, there was also an envelope from home, addressed to me in Dad's familiar scrawl. There was something jangling around in it. Curious, I opened it up to find one of Dad's old military dog tags and a military-issue can opener on a key ring, attached to an index card, on which Dad had written something about how he never got shot down while wearing the tag in the skies over Southeast Asia. "Hopefully, they'll protect you from the slings and barbs."

Of course, I started crying then and there, in front of an open mailbox. Sentimental gestures are not common for my dad (though he shows me, in actions, how much he loves me all the time), so when he makes one, I know it's truly meant. I walked back to my apartment with a smile on my face, clutching the tag in my hand and sniffling. Once home, I attached it to the lanyard ID I wore at school every day. More than once over the next year, I would softly clutch that tag (and the can opener) in my hand at rough moments. 

When I left Antioch, the DV lanyard was discarded, traded in for a Stockton school lanyard. The tag was attached to a new set of school keys, and clutched in my hand every awful time I had to go into my principal's office in 2009-2010. 

The tag was transferred for a few years to my regular lanyard, on which I keep house keys, mailbox keys, etc. But when I was issued my keys at the Large Suburban High School, the tag found itself on a green lanyard, once again snuggling up to classroom keys. 

I haven't needed a lot of protection from the slings and barbs at LSHS, but it's comforting, nonetheless, to feel that old dog tag in my hand as I carry my keys around. It helps me identify my keys if they're next to someone else's identical lanyard. 

Imagine my distress, then, when I gathered my keys in the teacher's lounge on Friday, to find the dog tag and can opener missing. 

At that point, I had no idea where the loss had occurred. In the office? Somewhere on campus? In my car? Once back at my office, I looked in my purse, but found nothing. I sent an email out to my colleagues, asking them to keep an eye out for this sentimental item...and I opened myself to the possibility that the tag might be gone for good.

But then, yesterday, I sat in Summer's car, cruising around Napa Valley and enjoying a day of relaxation and catch-up with my dear friend. As we drove down a vine-lined highway, I reached into a pocket inside my purse in search of my lip balm. My hand closed around a familiar piece of metal. Interrupting Summer with a small gasp and a, "Oh, wow!!" I pulled the old dog tag out. I can't tell you how happy I was to find it. 

The next thing to do is to find a stronger key ring to keep it on; the current one pulls apart too easily, and I just don't want to risk losing my tags. I can't imagine not having them on my school keys. While I feel very safe in my current gig, I love having that piece of family history with me. A small talisman, perhaps. A reminder that I have two people who love me and support me, who are proud of me. 

Slings and barbs cannot hurt me.

My Week in Instagram (Week #94)

This week was brought to you by the letter P...for pee and potatoes.


Sunday Runday

That's Dad's car, coming to my rescue to get me home
so I wouldn't wet my pants post-run.

Pretty baby.

Touchdown, Niners!

In love with these earrings. 

Sarcasm is so effective sometimes. 

Back to Sac Choral! It was good to be among my people again.

I left for my run while it was still dark out.

Full moon over the Sacramento Valley.

Sun's up!

It was a Take Your Duck To Work kind of day.

Our school has an excellent team of kids who take care of
all computer stuff. 

Having those tables next to each other...? 

The guitar class is learning this. The name made me giggle.

School-issue iPad Mini! It's awesome.


Lunch on Thursday. Ha.

An after school fire alarm (prank pull) found me out
in the stadium.

Heh. I know a lot of musicians become doctors...

Thursday Night Torbie Time.

Feline Yoga

Got to school super-early to get my potatoes cooking.

Turns out that two hours on high is enough.

Washed potatoes, ready for the microwave.

Another teacher brought chili, so I had a chili potato. Yum.

Successful Staff Potluck, and the potato bar idea was all mine!

Summer and I visited Wine Country.

Downtown Sonoma

Morton Warm Springs

Olives, cheese, grapes. chocolate. Wine country picnic! 

The tiny town of Glen Ellen. 

In the hilly part around the valley.

Stopping at the olive oil store in St. Helena.

We drove through Downton Napa to see some of the
damage from the recent earthquake.

The next few weeks promise to be madcap. I've got evaluations, a concert, and a half to prepare for. Bring it on.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Last year, being only 33% of full time at the Large Suburban High School, I found that supplementing my income with private piano and voice lessons was necessary. So I taught at Fusion three nights a week.

I left in June, after a year-and-a-half of working there, and I haven't looked back or regretted my decision once. Sure, I had some nice kids, but for the most part I didn't get a lot of joy from sitting on a hard bench with my back awkwardly shoved against a wall. The majority of my students did not practice with any great regularity, and the no-shows were a drag. Even though I charged them for no-show lessons, sitting there for 30 minutes felt so wasteful. My time is worth more than that.

When word came down, officially, that I would get the piano lab class at LSHS, I was ecstatic. And now that I am actually teaching two periods a day (this may not sound like much but remember, we are a block schedule school, only four periods a day, each one 85 minutes), I find that having my evenings back is a blessing. I get up early to work out, whether at the gym, or running here in my neighborhood, and three days a week, those gym workouts require showering at the gym. It's ten minutes from work; there's no way I'm driving all the way back home and then all the way back to work.

I like to get to school in the 8:45-9:15 range, giving me a solid two hours of prep time to set up for choir (starts at 11:05), go through email, make copies, and get through all the myriad stuff that needs to be done. I was doing all of this last year, so adding full evenings of lessons meant that I had a lot of twelve-hour days.

This year, those are few. Once a month, I have a very long Wednesday. Because of a required department meeting during collaboration time on Wednesdays, I have to be at school at 7:30 that day, so I get to the gym at 6:00. Yes. I do it. I use the three hours I have between that meeting and choir to get a lot of stuff done, then teach three hours' worth of music, with a lunch break between. On Wednesdays, I take breakfast and lunch to school with me. After school, I meet the two private students I've kept at their house (they live five minutes away from the school) and do an hour of lessons there. Most weeks, it's then off to home, comfortably showered, pajama'd and drinking tea by 5:00. But once a month, I go back to school and hang out a few hours 'til the 7:00 Choir Booster meeting.

But most days, I'm home by 4:00, happily drinking tea, playing on the computer, or reading. I chat with Mom and Dad. I prepare lunch for the next day, pack my gym bag. I go to bed at a decent time, and have time to read a bit before passing out by about 9:30. I am absolutely loving having a better work-life balance this year.

That balance is crucial. One of my biggest failings in Antioch all those years ago was in not allowing myself that balance, feeling I'd piss everyone off if I didn't get everything done right away. (Mostly because there were people who would get pissed off if I didn't get everything done right away, even though my learning curve was huge.)  So I stayed late, checked email at home, fielded phone calls from students who had my cell phone number--no, I will NOT come to school on a Sunday, unlock the gate, unlock the theater, disarm the alarm for that whole building, let you into the choir room to get the dress you forgot to take for a carol gig this weekend, then reverse that whole process. Give me a bloody break.

My kids who went on tour last year have my cell phone number. I've had one text so far this school year, asking me how much the choir sweatshirt was so she could have her dad make out a check. That, I can handle.

I don't mind the occasional evening given up to my job--I'm a choir teacher. We have concerts. But getting my evenings back has been wonderful...and life is good.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


Between my new-found obsession with the Outlander books and TV show, and my recently taking notice of Scotland's upcoming election to determine whether they will go for independence (here's a great link about why you should care), I have Scotland on the brain.

When I was seven, I had a dream one night that I went to Scotland. Of course, I knew nothing of the place, except that there was some sort of Loch Ness Monster there, and bagpipes. In my dream, it looked pretty much like my own neighborhood. When I woke up, however, I was determined to someday see the place.

I got my opportunity in 1999, as a 20-year-old college student spending a semester in London. While my cohorts went to Amsterdam for the "culture," I headed north on BritRail to the land of 1/4 of my ancestors, most notably John Savage Cooper, my great-great-grandfather.

Scotland is a beautiful place, and I've always felt so lucky I got to see it--twice! Once in March 1999, and again in May that year, when I took my parents to see it at the end of London Semester. I did not go back in 2004-2005, and sometimes I regret that I didn't. I'm convinced, however, that I will go back someday.

My pictures were taken on film back then, of course, but I once scanned a few, and tonight I dragged out my London Semester scrapbook and took some pictures of pictures with my iPhone.

A Heelan Coo (Highland Cow) post card.

Holyroodhouse, which features prominently in the 2nd
Outlander book.

Dad and I at Edinburgh Castle

Scottish ducks!

Mom and Dad on a boat on Loch Ness.

Some scans:

The Caledonian Canal at the Fort Augustus end of Loch Ness.

Fort Augustus

This apparently didn't scan well, but that's Inverness. 

Castle Urquhart (ruins) on Loch Ness.

Loch Ness

Twenty-year-old Meg by the ruins of Castle Urquhart.

Whatever happens with the independence vote, Scotland will always be a special, beautiful place.