My Computer’s Broken

broken photo

Today my computer broke. We are issued MacBook Pro computers at work. Each teacher and student receives the same device, with the exception of sixth graders, who are participating in an iPad pilot program this year. I have had my computer about eight months. We are issued replacements every three years. I hadn’t had any problems with it until today.

I closed my laptop to walk across campus, and when I opened it to take some notes, all my apps were unresponsive. I couldn’t even get to a point where I could force-quit them. So I shut the computer down using the power button—a last resort. When I tried to boot it up again, the progress bar got about halfway and then quit. It happened again. When I tried to boot it up in safe mode, same deal. Twice. So I decided not to try to troubleshoot it anymore. Last time I did that, I lost all the data on my hard drive. I took it to our tech office. My own most recent backup was a bit too long ago to try to restore from, and to be honest, I’m not sure how to do it when the computer won’t even boot up.

Sure enough, our technician had the same results trying to start my computer. He believes there is something wrong with the operating system, so he is backing up my data and doing a clean OS install. I borrowed the computer I’m currently using to make this post, but I don’t have access to any of my documents or other files. Our technician is very good at fixing these types of problems, so it’s not likely I’ll lose anything, but I’m still frustrated.

If you’re like me, perhaps your life is on your device, too. I know where everything is on my laptop. Navigating this temporary computer is a bit like the learning curve I’m experiencing learning to drive my new car. This morning, for instance, I learned I had been driving my car in S-mode, which is really more used for slippery conditions. Oh well. Wish me luck with the computer. I would hate to lose my data.

Aside from that issue, it was a good first day back after break. The students will return tomorrow. I’ll be glad to see them.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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Spring Break Recap

spring photo

I’m feeling spring. I changed my browser theme to cherry blossoms, which are my favorite harbinger of spring after living near Macon, GA, for so many years. Washington, DC gets a lot of press for their cherry blossoms, but Macon has its own Cherry Blossom Festival and a number of gorgeous Yoshino cherry trees as well.

Tomorrow I go back to school after a two-week spring break. We didn’t do any traveling. We usually don’t, as my children’s spring break doesn’t coincide with my own, but that’s okay. I read three books and finished one I had been working on before the break. You can read my reviews on my book blog if you like:

I was lazy. I kept up with this writing challenge. I bought a new car—the first time I’ve bought a car in, oh, I forget how many years, but it’s got to be nearly ten if not more than ten, and the first new car I’ve owned since the Saturn I bought in 1999 (I think—or 1998).

My new car

It has been a lot of fun having a zippy, brand new car. I’ve got 98 miles on it now, in case you are interested.

Today was, of course, Easter. When my sister and I were little, my mom used to make beautiful, elaborate Easter baskets for us. She loves making Easter baskets. We probably got baskets each year until we moved out. I am not going to lie; I always saw creating Easter baskets as a huge, expensive burden. I have not kept up the tradition, at least not the last couple of years, and my kids seem okay with that. They are probably the least acquisitive kids you’d ever meet. I’m lucky.

My sister and I also dyed and hunted Easter eggs, though I’m sure we stopped doing that before we got too old. My own children haven’t wanted to hide eggs in years, and we haven’t dyed them in a while.

When we were little girls, especially, my grandmother used to make us Easter dresses every year. It was more a tradition than a necessity. We rarely had occasion to dress up much, but I think it made my grandmother happy to make us pretty dresses. I hunted through my pictures today to see if I could find one of my sister and me in our new Easter dresses, but I must not have any.

I had a terrific, relaxing break with a little bit of excitement. I was able to do some much needed unplugging from work. I had a lovely little taste of summer. I’m really excited to see what we can do this summer now that we can travel a little. I really looking forward to the summer.

I will be happy to see my students again and hear about their break adventures.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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On Storytelling

writing photo
Photo by Damian Gadal

I am reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. It’s been on my to-read list for a very long time, and I picked it up on a whim last night. These passages out of “Spin” caught my attention this afternoon:

You take your material where you can find it, which is your life, at the intersection of past and present. The memory-traffic feeds into a rotary up on your head, where it goes in circles for a while, then pretty soon imagination flows in and the traffic merges and shoots off down a thousand different streets. As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come at you. That’s the real obsession. All those stories. 34-35

Later in the same chapter/story, O’Brien writes:

Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story. (38)

These passages really resonated with me because I consider myself a bit of an ambassador for storytelling. I am the family historian. I captured some of the stories of my grandparents and their own grandparents as told to them. I’ve tried to capture a few of my own stories, too. I don’t have anything like serving in the Vietnam War in my background, like Tim O’Brien does, but I do have stories. All of us do, and even though O’Brien is writing stories about the war, I have the sense he’d agree with me.

I find accepting the idea that all of us have stories is one of the biggest hurdles to writing. Many students—and for that matter, many adults—think they don’t have anything interesting worth sharing.  I think we have a skewed idea of what constitutes interesting. In many cases, if we’ve lived it, we can’t see the potential it might have to intrigue someone else. And then we might be daunted by what we perceive as our inability to tell the story.

Tell it anyway. That is what revision is for. The important thing is to get it down, record it, get it out there. And then share it. The important thing is just to tell your stories. There are lots of ways to do it. If you are more of a writer, write them down. If you’re more of an oral storyteller, record yourself. Video editing software, podcasting software, and services like StoryCorps with their storytelling apps make it easy to capture your stories or those of others. Lest anyone ever in a million years think they don’t have a story, they should listen to the beautiful and wonderful story of Danny and Annie, one of the most popular stories of all time on StoryCorps:

Since I’m thinking of Tim O’Brien, now seems like a good time to share this video I created when I interviewed my grandfather about his war experiences.

Go tell your stories.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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I Didn’t Even Open My Pencil Case

“I didn’t even open my pencil case,” she said waving it at me a little bit at the end of class. It was an indictment. I can’t really remember what we did in class that day anymore. I just remember her response. Clearly, class time was not used well if she didn’t have to write down something at least once. She was tough. She used to watch me in class, and her eyes seemed to say, “Go on, then.” It was a challenge. She was skeptical that I would meet it. After all, her experiences in school had been very different until she came to America to study. She was from Vietnam.

She was one of a larger number of international students at my school. They are brave students. They come to America, many thousands of miles away from home, live on campus and study in a second language. This girl in particular was one grade above most of the students in my English class. The year before, she had been in our English language learner classes, and her teachers thought she would benefit from a full year in World Literature II rather than going directly into American Studies in Literature, which eleventh graders typically took. She wasn’t very happy about being in my class. Not at first.

It’s funny how a few years on, some of the details are so fuzzy, but I remember she found an assignment particularly challenging, and for some reason or other, she didn’t do as well as she wanted to do on it. I can’t remember why anymore, but I didn’t want her to re-do it or revise it. She was pretty upset. There were a few tears. But after that happened, she started visiting me in my workspace. Sometimes she came to work in the library, which is where my workspace was at the time. Sometimes, though, she wasn’t there to work in the library. She would sit down at the table next to me and work on homework. Sometimes she asked questions. Sometimes she just worked in silence. Sometimes she asked me questions about Americans. She was completely flummoxed by capitalism, and we talked about it quite a bit.

Her favorite book that year was Things Fall Apart. It wasn’t a typical favorite. Most students enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye most of the books we studied. But she was thoughtful, and she saw interesting things in that book that the other students didn’t see. Her classmates will never forget during a Socratic seminar discussion of Ikemefuna’s death, that she connected the issue to a problem she said is a fairly substantial one in her home country—that if you hit a pedestrian with your car, you are responsible for their medical bills, which can stretch to a life-long responsibility. She has heard horror stories of drivers backing up and hitting the pedestrian again to ensure they are dead to avoid the responsibility. However, this story appears to be mainly urban legend, and it’s likely something that she heard from family and friends who wanted her to be watchful and safe when she was out walking in Hanoi. Still, it left an impression on the other students in class, as you might imagine.

Towards the end of the year, we were friends. She had worked very hard in my class, and I recommended that she try to take an AP English class for her senior year. She did take the class, and she excelled. She used to visit me to run her practice SAT essays by me. She had a real gift for attacking those types of prompts. I remember one essay was about following your dreams versus practicality, or a similar subject, and she wrote eloquently about her dream of becoming a chef, even though her family didn’t see it as a practical occupation. I said, “I didn’t know you wanted to be a chef.” I was very surprised to learn of her passion for cooking. She looked me dead in the eye and said, “I don’t. I just wrote about it for the essay.” Her ability to bluff her way through those SAT prompts with fake personal examples was unlike anything I’ve seen. She could thoroughly convince a reader of her passion for just about anything.I have to confess, it made me wonder what she really thought about, well, anything.

As she was preparing to graduate, she brought me a gift. “From my country,” she said.

Dana in Traditional Vietnamese HatMy dad was in Vietnam when I was born. He missed about the first six months of my life while he was stationed in Cam Ranh Bay.

She and I might have been unlikely friends, but I think we were friends, despite her ability to bluff her way through SAT prompts (and perhaps a lot of other things). She might not have had to open up her pencil case in my class as often as she thought she should, but eventually, after a little while, I think she opened up her mind and her heart.

We all have students we will never forget for one reason or another. She’s one of mine.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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A Little Adventure

worcester photo
Photo by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

After I got the kids off the bus this afternoon, we drove up to the car dealership. Our sales associate had called to let me know the registration for our new car was ready, and I could come down and get the sticker inspection.

I haven’t driven a lot around Worcester because I detested driving our old car. It was gripping-the-steering-wheel-anxious-hoping-not-to-be-stuck-on-the-side-of-the-road-again kind of hatred. As a result, despite the fact that I’ve lived in Worcester for almost four years, I don’t know my way around all that well. I managed to get to the dealership just fine with our GPS navigator. However, driving back, I got off on the wrong exit and continually found myself turning the wrong way and getting confused. I eventually found myself near my school. I can’t say I was ever really lost, just not able to get going in the right direction. Dylan was in the backseat telling me, “You’re going the wrong way!” We managed to get home fine despite my inability to follow the GPS directions, but it was a little adventure.

My new car has Bluetooth, so I can connect it to my iPhone. I love this feature. I have been listening to my iTunes music in the car. I was playing my U2 playlist on this trip. U2 is one of my all-time favorite bands. “Where the Streets Have No Name” came on, and lo and behold, my fifteen-year-old daughter Maggie was singing along! Who knew she was familiar with that song. Of course, she does tend to like 80’s music, which is as “vintage” to her, I guess, as 60’s music was to me. So it comes full circle.

We had a fun little adventure on the ride home, and quite possibly were in the car long enough to hear this song together when we might have arrived home before it came up on my playlist. Not quite driving around where the streets have no name, but we managed to get a little bit lost and found anyway. I’m looking forward to more adventures in the new car.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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Don’t Go to Jail

My husband is currently on a train to New York to participate in some publicity around his book, which will be released on April 5. Don’t Go to Jail is a tie-in to the TV show Better Call Saul, itself a spinoff of Breaking Bad.

I watched Steve write this book. If you had seen Steve’s start as a professional writer, like I did, you might not necessarily have expected a book like this to be his first. I often thought he would write a true crime book first. He was friends with Ann Rule, who was one of the most famous true crime writers before she passed away. Steve used to write about true crime stories online in various places, some for pay and others not. I have to confess to not being able to follow much of what he wrote because it was too disturbing to me to think about the most horrific parts of human nature. I don’t know how he did it. However, the things he learned writing about true crime did come in handy when he wrote this book.

Steve also became a true fan of the show. He watches it every time it’s on and streamed all the last season as he prepared to write the book. I usually try to watch it with him. It’s a really good show. I don’t watch much TV. I often have it on in the background, but the only shows I make an effort to try to catch are quite few indeed, and most of them have short seasons (Downton Abbey before it ended, Outlander, Doctor Who). I guess I just don’t find much on TV that I like anymore, for whatever reason, and I really do like this show.

I watched him write this book in the space of about a month while he was also doing a permalance (more or less permanent freelance) writing assignment for Maxim online. He has now been writing for Maxim since last September or October. He was writing pretty much nonstop from the time he awoke to the time he slept. It wasn’t easy, but we all understood he needed to get the work done.

Watching Steve build his career as a freelance writer has not always been easy. It’s feast or famine, seems like. However, last year, with this book, it felt like he turned a corner. He has his foot firmly in the door, as they say. It’s not easy to get started as a writer, and I understand why many writers never get to a place where they can make it a full-time job.

I just want to say how proud I am of my husband. He had a dream, and he worked hard to achieve it. There were times I wished myself that he would give up, but I have had so many reasons to be grateful he stuck with it. I will miss him tonight as he is enjoying his time in New York, but I couldn’t be happier for him.

P. S. If you enjoy the TV show Better Call Saul, you might enjoy his book.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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New Car

The last time I purchased a brand new car was probably 1998 or 1999. It was a Saturn. I loved the fact that I was first person to own that car.

Friends who have been reading this blog for a while might recall I have had a car for many years that was just about on its last legs. Driving it or even riding in it for longer than a few minutes’ commute made me very anxious—to the point that if any alerts went off, and mysterious alerts often did—I would have a full-blown panic attack. It was scary and embarrassing. It affected everything. We weren’t able to go places, at least not places that were very far.

The car had a host of mechanical issues, or possibly electrical issues, that we were never really able to diagnose and fix. For instance, some years ago when we drove it to Salem, MA, for a vacation, it broke down in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. We were sidelined for five hours, spending money we didn’t have to spend on repairs. The car simply overheated. After that, for years, the heat gauge would mysteriously rise if we sat in traffic. Then it stopped doing that, but other issues arose. For instance, the flashing oil light when it had been driven a bit more than average. It would only flash while we were stopped. Lately, the airbag light has been coming on.

Well, I’m so excited because today, I BOUGHT A NEW CAR!

My new carIt’s a 2016 Toyota RAV4, which is just what I wanted.
And look at the odometer.

RAV 4 Odometer, 3/22/16Even my brand new Saturn all those years ago had at least 30 miles on it before I owned it. How exciting is this?

My New CarDon’t mind my hair sticking up there. I had to take the obligatory new car picture.

New Car SelfieI tried to take a selfie, but it turned out terrible, so you get this strange picture my husband Steve took of me taking my new car selfie.

I am not naive enough to assume that my anxiety will vanish now that one of its triggers is gone from my life. That’s not how anxiety works. However, I can now at least get in the car without a lot of drama and drive farther than five miles or so. It’s a great feeling.

Of course, the first thing I did was make a mental list of all the places I want to go. Because now, I can.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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I’m Happy You’re Here

Today’s post is inspired by a tweet from Science Leadership Academy Principal Chris Lehmann:

Another good question: do you tell the students how much you enjoy having them in your school?

Students at my school are polite. They often hold doors, offer to help, and greet people politely when they meet others campus. One thing they often do as they pack up their things and leave class is say “Thank you.”

And I say “thank you,” too.

It’s important that students know that they are the reason you are there. And it’s important that parents feel you are happy their children are in school.

I worry sometimes that we send a different message. I know we have all had teachers or known teachers who inspire the question “Why are you teaching?” They seem to dislike students. They seem to dislike their colleagues. They don’t want to do the work of teaching. All of us have bad days, but I’m talking about people who spend years like this.

I will never forget this one guy I worked with in my first year. He taught history. We earned one sick/personal day per month, and he took his as soon as he earned it, like clockwork. He hated the school, he hated the kids, and he hated many of the people he worked with. I’m not sure why he was putting himself (and everyone else) through such a miserable experience.

If we are in a teaching situation in which we genuinely feel that level of unhappiness, we owe it to ourselves and to the students to get out and find something else. It may just be the school. I speak from the experience of having stayed in teaching jobs in which I was unhappy. There was always something I could find to enjoy about each of these jobs, but ultimately, if you are not happy, you won’t be able to make the students feel like you’re happy they’re in your class or your school.

Maya Angelou

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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Places

colo iowa photo
Photo by cwwycoff1

I lived in Winder, Georgia in 1996-1997 when I was finishing up my undergraduate degree. I was married, and my daughter was a toddler. There was a house on Center Street in Winder that was blue with red trim, and it had a porch I fell in love with. I was one of those large Victorians with great big shady wraparound porches. I have a goal of living in a house like that, some day. I think if I could find a place like that, with a nice swing, I could really be at home.

Moving around was hard. It was not easy being the new kid, especially since I was what we called shy. Now it’s considered more or less normal, and we call it introverted. I have lived in a lot of places, but it’s hard to call most of them “home.” That’s not to say that I have not liked and even loved some of the places I’ve lived. They just didn’t stir some deep place inside of me that felt like home.

One place that did feel like home was Athens, Georgia. When I went away to college—and I should write a post this month about how I chose my college—at the University of Georgia, I lived on campus. I felt so at home in Athens. There was a spot on North Campus with a small fountain. It didn’t get a lot of foot traffic. I used to love to walk over there and sit on a wrought iron bench and read or study. One of my fondest memories is hearing the trains at night. I have always loved living where I can hear the trains at night. I also used to love to wander as far as I could go up Prince Avenue. It’s hard to explain the pull that Athens had on me, particularly some places in Athens. It is a college town, and a pretty typical one. The first night we drove around downtown when my parents were dropping me off to school, it was like I fell in love. Some time later, I discovered that my family used to live near Athens. As much as it was not the same Athens that existed when they might have ridden into town to do one thing or another, it was there, and some parts of it would have been familiar to them—the parts I loved best, anyway.

Another place I fell in love with at first sight was Gambier, Ohio, where Kenyon College is. I have said that it’s a shame I didn’t know about that place when I was trying to figure out where to go to school. I would have loved it there. Alas, I’m not sure that I could have afforded it, even if I had managed to get in. Still, the place felt familiar and right. One night as I was walking back to the dorms where I was staying during my workshop, I could hear frogs, and there were fireflies flitting through the trees. I remember thinking, “Oh stop it; no place is this idyllic.” Before I even arrived on campus, I remember as our driver was taking me from the airport in Columbus up to Gambier, we passed through Licking County, which is where my father’s family lived for a while in the nineteenth century before moving to Story County, Iowa. Why did this landscape, just one county over from where my ancestors lived, speak to me?

So then I started wondering, given how much I fell in love with Gambier, do we carry our family’s rootedness and love for a place somewhere? A recent study has shown that we do inherit trauma through our DNA. If that is possible, is it also possible for positive environmental experiences to impact our DNA in the same way? Logically, I admit it doesn’t really make a lot of scientific sense. It’s hard to say what it is that produces the feeling of falling in love with a place. I have been other places where my family lived for some time and not felt a thing one way or the other.

On the other hand, what both of these places have in common is that they are college towns, and both are fairly dependent on the college for their existence. I suspect that I would be equally drawn to many other college towns, recognizing in those places a mix of old and new, interesting architecture, and a focus on academia. Perhaps, after all, that is what I’m really in love with: college. I have said many times to students that when they go to college, yes, they should study, but they should have fun, too. My one regret about college is that I wish I had just done more and had more fun. I can’t get that time back.

Still, I wonder what it is about these two special places, Athens and Gambier, so far apart from each other, but each places near where my family once lived—places they, too, may have visited. What, exactly, is it that makes a place feel like home?

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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Traveling

travel photo
Photo by Moyan_Brenn

I was thinking of traveling today because I have been doing family history research all day, and one feature of the software I’m using allows me to attach geocode tags with longitute and latitude for places that crop up in various family events. It was interesting to see the westward movement of some members of my family. Others remained more or less within the confines of a small area their entire lives. Nowadays, that kind of movement is so much more rapid and frequent. In the 1800’s, when our ancestors traveled west in covered wagons, that was it. You were staying, and you were not going to be able to go back for visits. It takes a matter of hours for me to cover the same ground, and if pressed, I can go there and back in less than a day.

It’s strange, but one of my fondest travel memories is driving from Cape Fear, North Carolina, where I was living at the time, to Aurora, Colorado with my then husband and young daughter to visit my grandparents. We didn’t plan very well and assumed (you know what happens when you do that) we should be able to stop the first night in Tennessee. I think we had planned to stop in Nashville. No room at the inn in the first place we tried. We kept going. No room. We kept going. Finally, I decided to keep going while my husband slept, and then we could trade off. I felt somehow like I was all alone. There were no other cars. The family was sleeping. I was cruising down I-24. My husband woke up when I got on I-57; he felt the vehicle slow down. I think he might have volunteered to drive. We made it through St. Louis in the wee hours and stopped at a rest area on the western side of the city to nap for a little while. I remember crouching in the floor of the car and resting my head on the seat. There’s no way I could sleep like that now. After a little while, we got back on the road and drove across Missouri and Kansas, finally stopping in Goodland, Kansas, not far from the Colorado border. It was probably only 5:00 P. M. Or maybe not even that late, but we were exhausted, and the weather looked threatening. I’m pretty sure it could have produced a tornado if it had wanted to. We drove into Aurora the next day. It was probably only about four or five hours before we were there. It’s funny how indelible and strangely happy that memory is to me now, that feeling of being alone with just my road trip music on in the car, the whole road wide open to me. I couldn’t do it now. I had so much more energy in my 20’s.

Even going 1,800 miles across the country was something I could do, at least when I was in my 20’s, in two days. I know we take this miracle of travel for granted. Certainly, I do. As long as we have a little money for gas and food, we can go virtually anywhere, and we can come back when we’re ready.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

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Issues, ideas, and discussion in English Education and Technology

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