Monday, March 31, 2008

Happy Anniversary!

Today is my wife's and my eighth wedding anniversary. We're not doing anything special today; we agreed last week to forgo the usual gifts and ceremony in order to return to the scene of the crime next week for spring break: Gulf Shores, Alabama.

My wife is the kindest, smartest, and most considerate and beautiful person I know. She is not only a wonderful wife, but a true friend to me and a fantastic mother to our daughter. She has made a life and a home for me that I never would have thought possible.

Before we married, I was hopeless. Literally. I had gone through a divorce, was living in a terrible apartment, and was driving a beat up old car. Okay, I'm still driving that same car, so I wasn't a total loser, but I didn't see a bright future ahead for myself. Now, over eight years later, I look forward to coming home to a nice house, sitting down to dinner with my family, and sharing my day with someone who understands the profession and can share similar experiences.

We make a great team in other ways, too. She cooks and I grill. Her cooking dominates the winter, and my grilling becomes the norm in the summer. When we got together, she took it upon herself to educate me on food and to develop my palate. I learned that cheese came in other varieties than what you buy in individually wrapped slices in the grocery store. I taught her her the wonders of the Mexican Fiesta Omelet. We even watch the Food Network together!

I love baseball, and she loves musicals; but we both support each other's interests and truly enjoy them. She knows what the infield fly rule is; do you? We both love movies and watch the Oscars with interest every year to see what we missed. We are both readers and enjoy some of the same books, and that's really a nice thing to have for a couple. It's like having a micro-book club.

We really get into "Lost." It's a high point of my week to watch that show together so we can talk about it during the commercial breaks to figure out what's going on.

What I enjoy the most about our marriage and my wife is that we are true partners. We make decisions together and talk everything out and if one of us gets sick, the other can take over everything. I can count on one hand the number of times we have raised our voices to one another.

Happy anniversary, Sweetie. I would be lost without you.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Change of Heart

I wrote three posts that were reminiscences of our trip to China last year, but I deleted them today. Have you ever written something from your memory only to find that your writing of the memory changes the essence of the memory itself? I have that problem sometimes. I will reread something that I have written and the description somehow taints the memory. That's one of the main reasons I haven't written that much about my childhood. I don't want my writings of that experience to alter the way I remember it. It's too important and so is the way I met my daughter.

It's funny how it's not the same for reading my wife's blog. When I go back and read her descriptions of the trip, I remember it with more clarity, if anything. I suppose when I'm reading her writing I am looking at it critically, comparing it to my own recollections. But when I am trying to pull up a thought of my own to transcribe, the images undergo a process that changes the way I see them in my mind. It's weird, but it's the way my brain works.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Beach Boys

When my niece Theresa was very young, about two, I remember my mother playing the Beach Boys for her and she just plain rocked out. She especially liked "Barbara Ann."

Sera has been home from day care for the past two days. She had a fever on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and the day care rules say that a child has to be fever-free for 24 hours before they return. Magi stayed home with her yesterday, and today was my turn. She hasn't had a fever since yesterday afternoon, so she's been feeling pretty good. I haven't had what either of them had yet, so I'm feeling good too. So naturally, we went to Eddie's Steak Shed for breakfast. We were enjoying our normal repast, when over the restaurant's speakers came a Beach Boys song. As far as I know, Sera's never heard one before. Her arms start moving, her head started swaying back and forth, and she was acting just like Theresa used to. Then it came to me: Sera is about to turn two as well! As soon as the song ended, replaced by Michael Jackson's "Wanna be Starting Somethin'," which did nothing for Sera. She started asking for more, more, more, and even signing more, which is something she hasn't done in a while now. She pointed vigorously at the speakers on the ceiling and repeated "More," over and over.

So after breakfast, we headed over to Borders and picked up The Beach Boys Greatest Hits, Vol. 1. As soon as I put it in the minivan's CD player, she was in heaven. When we got home, she didn't want to get out, because she was enjoying the music so much. Every song is her new favorite. I just put her down for her nap and put the CD in her DVD player to put her to sleep, and that might have been a mistake, because I can see her on the monitor, rocking out.

I have to say, it sure beats The Wiggles.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a White...Easter?

Look at this mess! Baseball's opening day is a week away, the first day of spring is two days gone and we have snow on the ground. Disgusting! Ordinarily I love snow and winter and the seasons and all that, but come on! I want to go outside. I want to see a ballgame. I want to fire up my grill and grunt like Tim Allen. Enough already!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

News to Me, Part II

I was showing my advanced class how to graph the quadratic function y = x^2. I had just plotted several points and drawn the parabola:

Suddenly, one of my students blurted out, "That's that uterus thing!"

The classroom erupted in laughter. I literally had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. The student who had said it was laughing, too, but she didn't quite get the joke. As it turned out, she only knew what a uterus looked like from a diagram in her health book. A caring student whispered it into her ear and a look of realization washed over her face, followed by a flush of embarrassment. She took it well, though.

Afterward, I graphed a few more points, including (4,16) at which point I said, "This one goes up a bit higher on the the top of the pelvic bone."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Forget what I said here.

I'm still a good teacher. I have a student who is currently in foster care and wants to make a way out for herself. She told me that when she started in my class she wanted to do that. She sits away from the troublemakers, takes notes of what I show them how to do, and does her homework. Surprise, surprise, she gets all of the questions right when we take a post-assessment over the chapter.

My failure in teaching is reaching the troublemakers. I just can't seem to do it. There's no simple formula. It's not a lack of parenting; my exemplary student has no one driving her and she motivates herself.

One of the things I notice is that I cannot penetrate the culture in which some of my students live. Fighting is their favorite topic of conversation. They have pit bulls that they fight against other dogs and they think it's okay. Some of my students are so careless about life that they fully expect to be dead before they have the opportunity to graduate from high school. What kind of carrot do you dangle in front of those kids? Some of my students think that their chances of being professional athletes are better than even. I did a demonstration the other day with flipping two coins and comparing that probability of getting two heads as a result with shooting dice (Craps in official venues) and even after the students flipping the coins lost hundreds of simulated dollars, they still insisted that they "always win with dice." There is simply no sense of reality that I can impose on their world views.

Increasingly I teach in a world where emotion and pride dominate logic, reason, and compassion for others. The slightest insult can escalate into violence in an instant. At the high school level, any fight participants are taken away in handcuffs and arrested, and yet there is no stigma attached. It's simply the way business is done here.

I can't imagine ever being put in handcuffs, and maybe that's my problem.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A New Car

We wanted to wait as long as possible after our PT Cruiser was paid off to buy a new car. Our plan was to trade in my old '93 Geo Tracker for a new minivan. Well, sometimes the best laid know.

Last week I heard a rattling from under the hood of the PT Cruiser, so I took it in to get repaired. I expected a $1000 estimate. It's always $1000. I had the best protection/warranty known to the human race, and the bill always came back $1000. Bumper-to-bumper, everything covered? Great, that will be $1000. Powertrain 100% covered? No problem, that will be $1000. Oh, you have a 10% off coupon from the phone book? $1000.

This time they tricked me! No coverage at all now that your car is paid off? Yeah, we're going to need $4,100. They ticked off a laundry list: Struts, blushings (that had been replaced once already at 52,000 miles), Clutch plate, A/C compressor, new tires (not even a year old, mind you, but the front end alignment we just did? Wasn't right.) They were telling me that the parts alone were going to be $2000, and the squealing belts they didn't fix correctly the last time I took it in? Yeah, that's because of this new problem that apparently was undetectable when they addressed the problem a year ago. This part is hilarious; they blamed whoever installed the last set of struts for the bad work that was done. As I was cleaning the car out Friday night, I found the receipt. Guess who had done the work? Awww, you guessed!

One of the problems I had taken it in for last March was the radio. It was always cutting out when I turned the steering wheel. They ordered a new one and replaced it. As I was driving out of the parking lot, I turned the wheel and it cut out again! This time when I told them about the problem not being fixed the last time when it was still under warranty, they were "unable to reproduce customer complaint." That's funny because if you drive the car for more than 60 seconds and turn the wheel at any time, it will go out. I guess that's not a diagnostic that they perform.

So anyway, this was Gurley-Leep in Mishawaka, Indiana, the service department apparently owned by Scrooge McDuck, because they have a money bin with my money in it that you could swim in.

We took the car to a new dealership after some careful research about minivans and traded it in. So here's our new 2008 Chrysler Town and Country. The Honda Odyssey is the best minivan out there, but it's also $10,000 more, and that took it out of our price range. We have Stow 'n' Go seating, automatic side and rear doors, heated seats, adjustable pedals, all kinds of cool stuff. We got a good deal on it simply because the dealership in Elkhart where we bought it is phasing out its Chrysler products. They're being squeezed by Gurley-Leep, who now sells just about every brand of car in our area. Gurley-Leep just bought out the dealer next door to them.

I'm guessing most of the people who buy their cars take them elsewhere for service.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Best Television Show...Ever?

Okay, "Firefly" just got left behind on my list for the best television show ever. It only lasted 13 episodes anyway.

The winner and new champion is..."Lost." Last night's episode was simply brilliant. If you don't know about "Lost," I'm not going to tell you about it. There's nothing I could tell you in a few thousand words that would do it justice. I've heard people describe it by asking, "Isn't that the show about the plane crash?" Yes, just as the entire history of the world's space programs is about Sputnik.

Today's television shows are almost as predictable as an episode of Scooby Doo, but without the wacky hijinks. Between three Law & Orders, three CSIs (plus an NCIS), and the oh-so-different Cold Case, Without a Trace, Numb3rs, and the like, Lost is a breath of fresh air. Law & Order even gives blurbs about the "Law & Order twist," like it's something unusual. What, the perp is guilty or not guilty? You can flip a coin and be as surprised by the result. "House" is pretty good, but it still boils down to a simple formula. Sick person comes in, House calls everyone idiots, and either cures the person or doesn't. I guess the next closest thing to a good show is "Battlestar Galactica," but I'm pretty sure Galactica jumped the shark last season by revealing that half the main characters were actually Cylons. They had me, then they lost me.

Don't even get me started on "reality" shows. The only one I watch is Major League Baseball.

No, Lost is something else entirely. Each episode reveals a little more about the vast mystery that is The Island, and each revelation opens up a dozen new questions. Between compelling storytelling techniques, complex characters, and true plot twists, Lost is a novel told in episodic form...only better.

Monday, March 10, 2008

News to Me, Part I

First in a multi-part series of statements presented to me as fact by my 8th grade students:

"Did you know that it was the U.S. that blew up the Empire State Building?"

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Jon Sable, Freelance

The excitement I feel over the Watchmen movie got me thinking about other comics that are not for kids. I have issues with the heroes from my childhood being used in adult stories that are inappropriate for kids. I know that it's my own problem, and I accept it. I learned to read from Superboy, and I think that my daughter should have the same opportunity. When Teen Titans is her favorite cartoon, I think the mainstream Teen Titans comic book should be accessible for her.

But I also enjoy comics that are for adults, especially those that were made with adults in mind to begin with. Case in point: Jon Sable, Freelance. In 1983, at the advent of the "independent" publisher, artist Mike Grell (who used to draw Superboy, coincidentally) introduced us to Jon Sable, a former Olympic pentathlete who fell in love and moved to Africa to be with the woman he would eventually marry. They had two children and he became a hunting guide and later a game warden. When the political climate became violent Sable became involved in hunting down terrorists, which led to retribution. His wife and children were gunned down, his house burned to the ground. With nothing left to live for but revenge, Sable wiped the ashes of his homestead of his face in a shape reminiscent of a mask and hunted down the people who wiped out his family. He was then deported from his new home and returned to New York City, where he became a bounty hunter by night and a children's author by day, retelling stories he had written for his children.

This book was a masterpiece in adventure comics as far as I'm concerned. Sable's violence was real, using existing weaponry (for the most part; the jetpack he used once looked like it came from Popular Science) and fighting styles. Sable was involved in everything from kidnappings to rescuing POWs, back when that was in vogue. He would even hunt down Nazis in #2, and there's nothing wrong with that. The writing was solid and the art was spectacular, especially when Grell's tight pencils were enhanced by his own brush in those early days, but the level of his artistry fell off after a few years, and it looked like he was trying to reproduce his work directly from heavy pencils when the technology didn't quite make the transfer successful. Not to worry, though. Now Sable is back, and Mike Grell's work has never looked better! If you click on this link, you'll be taken to the new Sable graphic novel, "Ashes of Eden," as it is published in serial form online. It's currently at 97 pages and every week or so, we get to see a little more of this magnum opus. Warning: it does contain adult content and is not appropriate for children.

In 2007-2008, technology has finally caught up to what Mike Grell wants to accomplish. The art is reproduced from his pencils and colored by Shannon Weaver to fine effect (seen at right). I have to think that if the computer coloring process had been around in the 80s, Grell would have stayed on his best character's book much longer. I'm just happy to see Sable back again in any form, and this story really lives up to the potential that the character has always had!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Who's Going to Watch the Watchmen?

I am! From the Watchmen Production Blog, here's a shot of Nite Owl:

They have posted pictures of the Comedian, Rorschach, Ozymandias, and Silk Spectre too!