A place for family and friends to see what I'm up to. Visitors welcome here.

Hail Guest, we ask not what thou art.
If Friend, we greet thee, hand and heart.
If Stranger, such no longer be.
If Foe, our love will conquer thee.
-Old Welsh Door Verse

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Genius Hour Tears

For the better part of this school year I've had my 8th grade students involved in Genius Hour (also called 20% time).  They had class time every Friday to pull together a presentation on whatever they wanted.  My only hard-and-fast criterion was that they had to show how their chosen topic (from cupcakes to surfing to how The Hunger Games is reflected in today's political climate to common traits of American Nobel Peace Prize winners to animal abuse to cheerleading as a sport to landfills and the Pacific gyre to Fender guitars and on and on) related to the United States Federal government.    The medium was student's choice.  They had access to a Chromebook for the period and most students chose a Google slides presentation for their project.

By far my favorite was a Google slides presentation called "Thinknoodles."  Thinknoodles is a youtuber, and one of my students is a huge fan.

His presentation - and what happened with it - brought me to tears.

You, see, this wonderful young man has Cerebral Palsy.  He has a one-on-one aide to do his writing for him to help him keep up with the daily classwork.  He walks with a walker, unless he gets too tired or is ill, and then he will reluctantly use the wheelchair his aide has with her at all times.  He sits at his own large table at the side of the classroom because it's easier to drag himself in and out of the walker and into the chair.  He is intelligent, funny and when he is fully grown is going to be movie star handsome.   He goes to the school dances, wears his Renaissance shirt with pride and insists on doing everything that the other kids do in class.  It is difficult for him to speak clearly (although a true listener has no trouble understanding him). 

Over the years I've had many special education students in my history class.  Too many of them have been trained to use their disability to slack off.  Usually in a presentation like this they (followed by their SPED caseworker and parents)  ask to give a presentation to me alone during lunch. 

Not this kid.

I was thrilled, but not surprised, when he chose to drag himself in his walker to the front of classroom and narrate his slide show.  Himself.   In front of a full class of middle school peers.

The presentations were to be 3-5 minutes long, but students who wanted more time simply told me what they needed and I programmed the days accordingly.  I allotted ten minutes for my brave young student.   Sadly, our district bandwidth wasn't sufficient to really pull this off smoothly. The Chromebooks took longer to load each presentation than the presentations lasted. And with this student's disabilities, the loading and reloading of his show caused it to run over by about 15 minutes.

Into the lunch period.

On Renaissance pizza reward day.

On pizza reward day, the students getting the pizza form a separate line from the usual lunch line.  The school never really knows how many kids will actually eat the pizza that day.  When they run out of kids in the line, the people handing out the pizza pack up the leftovers and leave them in the staff room.

When the lunch bell first rang, nobody twitched. They stayed to watch the end of the presentation. But five minutes later, worried that they might miss their chance to get their pizza,  I interrupted the presentation and invited the kids to go get their lunch if they wanted to.

Not one kid left.

Not one.

A few minutes later I asked one of the speaker's instructional aides to go tell the folks distributing the pizza to wait for the class. When she returned she said she had told the principal, who started to cry.
When the presentation was over, the class filed out, gifted the speaker with high fives and "great presentation!"

As the last four girls headed toward the door, I lost it and started to cry.  They were immediately concerned and asked if I was all right.  I grabbed the closest one for a hug.  All I could say was, "You guys just don't know what you just did.  You just don't know."

And I was so glad they didn't.  This is just how they are.

As the girls left, the principal flew into my classroom still in shock.  Days later, the speaker's mom told me her son had been on Cloud Nine ever since.  The SPED staff that works with him tell me he is still telling the story to anyone who will listen.

And now he plans to walk graduation.  And I know the students will all wait with pride for their friend to take his diploma with them.

Do not fear our future.

The kids are great.


Love Wins. Again.

Equality won in Ireland yesterday.  It didn't eek by.  It was a landslide.

Equal rights in marriage for my gay friends and relatives.

Early in this movement, a young gay friend complained that in his eyes, this was an insignificant concern in a world filled with more important, more tragic issues for all humanity.

I didn't agree, but I couldn't communicate why because I couldn't quite interpret what I was feeling.  I can do better now.

This has been an important movement, an important issue because it has brought out the love in so many.  I'm mostly referring to straight people, not acquainted with the hate thrown at our homosexual community mainly because we were unaware of it.  The Marriage Equality movement brings our gay brothers and sisters into our point of view.  And for a majority, the image is one of "What's the big deal?  If two people love each other enough to commit to the challenges of creating a LIFE together, why shouldn't that be encouraged?"

Hence, the enormous shift in a very short amount of time from rejection to acceptance to celebration.

As a historian, a student of civil rights and in some ways an observer of a historical shift in a belief system, it has been a thrill to watch a group targeted for hate and discrimination rather quickly work closer and closer to true equality in our communities.

As someone lucky enough to have gay friends and family, it has been a thrill to experience with them the relief of knowing they are not only NOT universally hated, but are more and more universally accepted and, by many, loved for all of who they are rather than for the masks they feel safe to show.

Comhghairdeas (and man, I hope I'm using that correctly).  Thank you for letting us celebrate with you, and thank you for setting the world on the right path.

Monday, May 18, 2015


A special birthday.

I was a fan of a musician.  So was my mom.  I wanted to buy her an album of his music, so went searching the internet.  In the process of hunting an album I found he had a website, and through his website learned about the gift of the Masteryear.

He credited the concept to his best friend, a comedienne named Lotus Weinstock.  I was completely taken by the idea and a little sad that I hadn't learned of it before.

As I understand it, when you reach a birthday of double digits (11, 22, 33...) you take the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate all you have learned, matured into, developed, adopted, enjoyed.

You embrace the whole wonderful package of you and have a blow-out year where you put all of that in action to achieve.  Something?  I guess I'll learn the fine points when I launch my own.  I have a couple of years yet.

But today my sister steps into one of hers.  She's already done some of the preparation.  And is thrilled to be started this year.


Kind of jealous.

Wouldn't it have been wonderful to have been able to help my boys in their first Masteryear, and then watched them launch their own?

What a genius concept.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


To trust just one person in your life like this.  What a gift that would be.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Lovely Mother's Day present.

Mom is home again from the hospital.

20 pounds lighter.  Able to walk easily and converse without getting winded.  In good spirits.

And minus 2.8 gallons of excess fluid.

The family is transmogrifying into bullies.   We give no quarter.

I have no memories of her parents, my grandma and grandpa.  Grandma was 51 when she died (of "toxic hypertension") and Grandpa had a stroke and died six months later at 58.   Nobody - especially my mom - expected her to live to 83 and beyond.

We're kind of selfish about her.  Like, we will do what it takes to keep her around as long as possible.  Horrible tortures like kale and smoothies and foods made with things like cumin and turmeric instead of salt.

And we are bullies about her taking her diuretics.  Unbelievably, she tried to weasel out of taking one just three hours after getting home this afternoon.

This might not be pretty.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Mom's in the Hospital

She's been in heart failure for a couple of years.

Now the fluid build up is drowning her.  They seem optimistic that a couple of days of diuretic therapy will empty all that out.

I choose to be hopeful.

I took her to Disneyland Saturday.  It was a rough day for her in some ways, joyful in others.  We heard that the suits were in from Orlando and EVERY entertainer was at the top of their form.  After we had seen everyone (she even wanted to stay for multiple piano sets at the Coke Corner, and she doesn't particularly like that piano player) I asked if she was ready to go home and she said no.  So we wandered the Emporium for a long time - aimlessly.  I couldn't figure out why she was stalling our leaving.

Until the next day.

I think she was seeing it as our last visit.


So, I choose to be hopeful.

We have a 60th anniversary to celebrate.