Sunday, January 28, 2007


I had hoped to finish my grad school applications yesterday. Did that happen? No. Was is procrastination, my old nemesis? No, it was illness, my secondary nemesis. What I had thought was allergies turned out to be a Mack Truck of a cold that knocked me flat. As I don't have time for a drawn out illness and recovery, I put on a full-on assault.

I stayed in bed most of the day. I drank more water than I thought possible, ate two oranges and drank two glasses of orange juice, ate carbs and took acidophilus so the citric acid wouldn't hurt my tummy, took vitamins, used Zicam, took some decongestants, gargled salt water, gargled hydrogen peroxide and used some ear drops. I blew my way through half a box of tissues and repeatedly applied antibiotic ointment to my Rudolfesque schnoz.

Today...I'm not perfect, but I feel so much better! My nose is only slightly pink. I'm using significantly fewer tissues-per-hour. I'm hocking up fewer loogies. I'm continuing my health regimine, but I now have the energy to get some work done, too. Yay!

In happier news, I'm going to visit my grandparents in Arizona for midwinter break. Spending five February days in Arizona sounds heavenly. More importantly, it will give me some quality time with my grandparents and Aunt Sandy. Yay! This will also be a chance to interview my Staker grandparents (I've already interviewed the Kileys and the Gilbaughs.)

So today's to-do list: Cure cold. Finish grad school apps. Finish grading students. Plan lessons. Dishes. Prepare lunch for tomorrow. Piece of cake, right? Hee.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Poetry Portfolio

To facilitate my MFA application process, I've created a blog for my poetry ( It's a work in progress. Right now I've got one entry per poem for the 17 pieces currently in my portfolio. Then I've listed a bunch of alternates all in one entry.

Here's how it works: if you love me, tell me honestly which of the poems in the portfolios should go, which ones should stay, and which alternates should be promoted to the portfolio. Thanks, and happy reading!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The good, the bad and the artsy.

I've been complaining about my job lately. My bosses still seem to be out to get me sometimes. The forced me to teach nothing but test prep exercise books for more than three months, which was miserable. The kids were bored to death and acted out. This made me more miserable.

As we got closer to the big statewide test (that test which determines whether the child will go to the next grade, whether our school will receive more funds or be "restructured," and whether my boss will rip me a new one for not raising scores enough), I thought, "Surely the kids will buckle down and get serious." On the contrary. As they got closer to the test, perhaps in a fit of nerves, they shut me out more. Just when I was convinced they all hated me, though, Abena gave me this drawing. It's even better in real life (my scanner didn't pick up all the subtle shading). Abena's only 12. Isn't she talented? After class, I've been helping her a little with perspective in her drawings, and I think this was sort of a thank you gift.

The three-day weekend was great. Friday Jan. 12 night Tom and I went to dinner, then a movie. Casino Royale was probably the best Bond movie I've ever seen: sexy but rough around the edges. It lacked the comic-book silliness of some of the other Bond flicks. Saturday Tom and I watched Arrested Development and he made me spaghetti with homemade meat sauce. Then we went to hear Laura's boyfriend Ryan's band, Who By Fire, play at Lit. That was fun. We hung out Sunday and Monday, too, though I don't remember what we did, exactly. I know there was a lot of fooling around involved.

One morning we brunched at Gravy, a restaurant which had a jazz combo with a great guitarist and an amazing upright bass player. I love a good bassline to accompany my biscuits and gravy. At one point, Tom and I listed to an interesting program on National Public Radio where one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s lawyers/speechwriters reminisced about Dr. King and how the reverend got him to join the cause. It was a funny story, and didn't make Dr King seem perfect. I liked how human it made him seem -- human, but influential and focused on what needed to be done for the civil rights movement.

Tuesday and Wednesday were the big test all morning and Finding Forrester in the afternoon. I knew the kids would be too stressed for "real" lessons those days, so I had them make KWL charts (What did you Know about the characters, setting and plot at the beginning of the movie? What did you Want to know? At the end of the movie, what did you Learn?) and showed them an inspiring movie about a cool kid from The Bronx who is smarter than he likes to let on. He loves to write and meets someone who helps him become a better writer and share his writing with others. We're getting back the the real writing in my class, so I hope this will inspire them. Friday a Ramp-up coordinator came. I'm supposed to start teaching Ramp-up, but my school's not providing all the necessary supplies. I'm supposed to buy the stuff, and if I don't, they suggest I don't care enough about my students. Yep, the fact that I'm trying to pay off all my bills and live within my means shows I don't care about the kids I work so hard to teach 180 days a year.

Then, finally, it was the weekend again. Laura and Carolina and I met at La'Annam for Vietnamese, including the world's yummiest scallion pancakes with peanut dipping sauce. We then went to Solas for a drink. Saturday I cleaned my room and Val helped me polish my poetry portfolio. That evening I met up with Tom for Brazilian food at Cocotero, followed by brilliant long-form improv by a group called Mother at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater. They used music people brought with them (on cds and iPods) to inspire the scenes. Today I spent mostly on chores and working on grad school stuff again...some more. I've got to make it happen. Okay, bed time. God bless you all.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Oprah's Controversial Comments

Okay, a while back I said I wanted to blog on the Oprah controversy, so here it is. Oprah worked her butt off to rise from poverty and sexual abuse to become a powerful woman at the top of her field. People obsessed about her weight and speculated about her personal life. Even so, she managed to keep it together and earn a BILLION dollars! ($1.5 billion, actually.) Once upon a time, she promised Nelson Mandela that she would help Africa. She recently did so, opening a $40 million boarding school for poor girls in South Africa.

In an interview with USA Today Weekend, Winfrey said, "I perhaps will get criticism about, 'Why didn't you do this for children in America?'" She replied: "Because we have a school system in America ... There's no 12-year-old girl in America that you're going to find crying because this is the last year for her education because nobody can afford to send her to school. You want to give the gift to the person who's going to love it the most."

Oprah also expressed her frustration with trying to help needy kids in the U.S.: "I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn't there," she said. "If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don't ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school."

Oprah, to you I say, “AMEN!” I think before I taught in the South Bronx, I might have been one of Oprah’s harshest critics on this matter. I always wondered why America goes around meddling in other countries’ problems when we have so many that need solving here. But I’ve seen what Oprah is talking about. When I mentioned the quote above to my students, one replied, “Oh, they only saying they want books an uniforms, but once Oprah's gone, they going to sell them on eBay.” Most of my students refuse to believe there are people who are desperate to learn.

Most (not all, of course, but most) of my students consider school, studying, reading and intelligence uncool. I’m not saying rich white kids consider those things cool. The thing is, rich white kids grow up in text-rich environments, hearing academic grammar. They don’t have to work as hard to play catch-up. What’s more, rich white kids have connections and don’t have to overcome the stereotypes of admissions officers or human resource managers. They also don't have such a soaring high school drop-out rate.

Time and again I see it: students who care more about their iPods and sneakers than their educations and futures. Many of them are in the free lunch program, yet manage to wear designer jeans and have the newest style of Jordanson their feet every month. (Why work hard to overcome your poverty if your poverty is...cushy? Sure the neighborhood is dangerous, but your styles are fresh!)

When money comes into the house it is spent. Maybe you won’t have enough money left to pay the bills. The phone will get shut off, but who cares? If the phone is shut off, those annoying teachers can’t call to tell you about the problems your child is having at school. But at least everyone in the neighborhood can tell, just by looking at your child, that you provide for him or her better than your parents ever provided for you. Let the teachers provide every last drop of their education. That’s what they’re paid for. As a parent, making them read or checking their homework is not in the job description.

Like Oprah, I’ve been asked for sneakers and iPods. The thing that keeps me sane, though, is I also have students who’ve begged me for books: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Diary of Anne Frank and many more. Oprah’s never been around long enough to hear those requests, because for some reason those things are harder for the kids to ask for. That being said, Oprah made that money, and it’s hers to spend however she likes. She’s said some harsh things about America’s youth and education, and many people don’t want to hear it, but you know the old saying: “The first step is admitting you have a problem.”

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Nothing to report.

What's happened in the last week? Four days of work. Mexican food with the girls on Friday, followed by a date with Tom. Saturday I rested. Sunday I researched grad schools. Monday work was terrible, so Tom cheered me up with an impromptu date to Rack & Soul Chicken & Ribs. It was awesome. You know what made my day more tolerable today? Leftover ribs, potatoes and green beans for lunch. YUM!

Three days of work until the three day weekend. Hooray!

I plan to blog on the following topic soon: the Oprah faux pas.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

I wrote wrote a whole entry and it got erased. Now I don't have time to re-write it, but I figured I'd at least get up some photos and captions.

Laura, Carolina and me at my New Year's Eve pre-party party.

Tom and I decked out and ready for his friends' formal New Year's Eve party in Brooklyn.

Counting down and watching the ball drop in Time Square via the Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve Special, which we followed with the traditional champagne toast and smooching.

We then went to the back yard where we were surprised by a silly string attack.

Then we celebrated with sparklers, although I declined because I don't think it's a good idea to play with fire when I'm drunk.

Tori: inappropriate, yet hilarious.

Happy New Year, everyone!