Thursday, May 31, 2007

ancient history and cheese pizza...

I only had three bucks left. After a 14 hour train ride followed by a 4-day jaunt around Italy's capital, I was down to my last American dollars. The train back to Vienna didn't leave for another seven hours, and I was stuck my with two girlfriends, a backpack, and no money (this was before ATM's.)

We decided to wait out our final hours in Rome on the steps of the famed Colosseum, where we hoped to find some cheap food and cheap entertainment by doing some quality people and pigeon watching.

The tourists were thick and the pigeons were thicker; the tourists were flocking to vendors selling paintings and other "Colosseum" riff-raff, and the pigeons were flocking to tourists leaving behind crumbs from baguette sandwiches at outdoor cafe tables.

We sat watching the collage of events unfold as the crowds grew through the afternoon. Kids were enjoying gelato, families found picnic spots, and old men sat on park benches feeding the passing birds. All this eating made our mouths water...and we realized we were starving. But what were poor girls to do?

Choosing our prey wisely, we sweet-talked one of the food vendors who graced the plaza into three hearty slices of pizza. His Italian hospitality gave us a slice each, along with a coke AND an apple for road. And our American ideals took them without reservation...:)...but we did give him all the Lira we had...which to my recollection, wasn't enough to pay for our delicious dinner. But genuine smiles and pouty lips do wonders for half-starved American girls begging for food.

I had a greasy, cheesy slice that spilled over my paper plate and I was ready to eat it. The three of us walked rather awkwardly, toting our large packs on our backs, our pizza, drink and apple nestled in and under arms. We found an open spot in the sun on the main gate steps of the Colosseum, sans pigeons, and prepared to enjoy our last meal for the next 14 hours. I tried to carefully place my coke on the ground (note my pack was heavy and nearly knocked me over every time I bent forward) before I took my pack off.

But carefully didn't work for me that day. When I leaned forward, my plate tilted as well, and in slow motion... while time stopped and the plaza sat still, my pizza followed the force of gravity and landed, cheese side down, on the steps of the ancient building.

I know I screamed. I KNOW I cried. And I knew I had no choice but to pick up the pizza from the grime and dirt of thousands of gladiators, and animals, and Romans, and tourists and eat it with a smile. It was delicious.

Friday, May 25, 2007

summer stay longer...

It's not officially summer...and it's not the end of summer...but I want all of my summer days to be like today. On my first official day off, I enjoyed my morning coffee on my deck (I did have to run into work for 10 minutes..and I took four work related phone calls throughout the day.), and wrote a plan in my mind of things I wanted to do.

You see, I needed to sweep and mop my floor, wash the windows, vacuum the carpet, do the dishes, wash the laundry, hang up clothes, clean out the spare bedroom, wash the pool deck, clean out the sun room, plant my tomatoes, re-pot my schefflera, tend to all my plants, start the water garden back up, unload my car, clean off the kitchen table, sweep out the garage....and the list goes on and on.

These are all things I haven't done since 1987. So, I'm telling you, filth. :)

And some of them I accomplished...all with Dad's help. It's so nice to get things you need to get done when someone else is helping. Dad prepped the pool for the new pool liner, measured the pool deck, put together my new adirondack patio chairs (backwards the first time), hauled off junk from the garage, and ate a hearty lunch of homemade tacos followed up with an afternoon bowl of strawberry ice cream.

Such a sweet summer day!

Monday, May 21, 2007

where will they go from here?...

A milestone for 63 young lives has been reached at Willow Springs High School for the Class of 2007. Only 13 years ago, these seniors entered the new and exciting world of kindergarten. A world full of swing sets and merry-go-rounds. Kool aid, cookies, numbers, and letters. Secrets, mischief, scraped knees, and band-aids. A world where a helping hand wasn’t far away and a shoulder to lay your head on was nearby. A world where tadpoles and puppies made everyone smile, and fishing with daddy on hot summer afternoons at the river made long days go fast. In this world, curiosity reigned, imagination grew, and exploration began.

Today, seniors, you again enter a new and exciting world. Today’s world is a ride down the information superhighway, a step into new technology, and a jump into the unknown. And with this leap, a nauseous anxiety comes with closing a chapter in your life and beginning a new one.

Physically, life is much different. Metaphorically, life is the same. In this world, again, curiosity reigns:
Can I become a doctor? A lawyer? A teacher? The president? Could I graduate from college? Will I pursue happiness? What is life like in China? India? Europe?

And imagination still grows:
What if I added these lyrics to this measure of music? How can I paint Frankenstein as American Gothic? What types of dance express my freedom and my personality?

And finally, exploration is just beginning:
Where do I go from here? What challenges will I face and which will I conquer? How can I revolutionize the next 10 years? What changes can I make to the music industry? The arts? The medical field? The scientific world? The political stage? How will I affect my family? My community? My nation? My world?

What is it, Class of 2007, that will make you rise to new occasions? To continue your curiosity and imagination? To explore like the historians and travelers of our past and find new frontiers? As graduates in the 21st Century, I encourage you take a leap into the unknown world and write your symphony along the way. How will you make a difference? And what will you accomplish?

As a final assignment in my English class, students write a valedictory farewell speech and share it with their classmates. Through the emotional goodbyes and sincere thank you's, students also take the opportunity to say final thoughts about themselves or their lives. One graduating senior bravely spoke for what I think many felt: “There’s more to me,” he calmly said, “than what I let on.”

What more does the Class of 2007 have to offer? How deep does your surface go? Where will your intellect take you and how will you use the opportunities you have presented to yourself through your hard work and dedication to your education?

You have a lifetime to answer that.

Learning is like breathing...

“Learning is like breathing.” I tell my students this on Thursday, April 26, 2007, just hours before they are to begin one, if not the, biggest academic nights of their high school career. In what I like to think is my own little pep talk before the big game, I lead students through a relaxing breathing exercise and discuss how very similar breathing is to learning. All academic school year our Willow Springs High School seniors are inhaling—through research, reading, writing, and creating—and “at some point,” I tell them, “if you don’t exhale, you will explode.” Smiles creep along their faces, but most understand the metaphor. After a year of taking in, students enter Senior Project Night accomplished and prepared to share knowledge they deem important. “It’s your time,” I explain, “to exhale.”

Senior Project Night gives our students the forum to display work completed through the year. The Senior Showcase jumpstarted the evening’s activities in Grimes Auditorium, a display of all projects and products were on hand for parents and community members to observe, and students were present to discuss their projects with those who attended the event. “I’m so impressed with the passion our students have about their products,” noted School Board President Chris Rutledge as he walked through the maze of student work. “What’s happening is our students are intimidated with the magnitude of the project and find themselves honing in and focusing on something they are interested in…and when you pour hours and hours of research and time into something, we begin to recognize it as passion.”

Following the Showcase, the evening continued when formal presentations began at 5:20 p.m. at the high school. Sixty-two seniors presented on a variety of topics, from training coon hounds to tanning leather, from writing scripts to writing novels, from building hot rods to dancing the fox trot. And the beauty of this? Students didn’t just tell their audience about their topics, they showed their audience their hard work by bringing in products they created from and through previous research. Although I tried to relax students before it all began, it wasn’t long before the halls and classrooms of the high school were buzzing with excitement and energy. Willow Springs High School was swarmed with over 200 community members and students who came together to pull off another successful Senior Project Night.
Although students do extraordinary work, the event would not be the same without help from over 150 judges, 25 volunteers, and 30 student volunteers.

I would like to thank all who participated in some way to make the night a fabulous success for our students and our community. “Thanks for the opportunity to be involved as a judge this year,” said Faron Adamson, a board member for the Hartville School District and professor for Webster University, “The entire experience is an experience for a lifetime for these students. What a significant and real world project, no matter whether students attend college or head to the work force, these are necessary skills for any 21st Century job.”

One of my favorite quotes comes from Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister from 1979-1990. She reminds us to look at a day when we are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around and do nothing, it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it.

Back in September, our students saw only that they had “everything” to do, but at the end, I hope they are supremely satisfied. Senior Lindsey McElyea said , “Now that it’s over, I’m so glad for this opportunity. I grew mentally, and I stretched myself academically, but most importantly, I had a chance to do something for myself and to give back to my community and to families in need, and that means a lot of me.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

"it's all for cancer..."

I have cancer survivors in my family. So when it's time for Relay for Life fundraisers and activities, I find the checkbook and sign up.

When Jordan (Chili) walked in to ask me a favor last week, I thought I was going to be coerced into a sweet tea run at McDonald's. But I wasn't. Instead, I was coerced into playing a game in which I have zero talent. She needed a tennis partner for the high school Relay for Life team tennis tournament. Little did she know how bad I was...but of course, the beautiful weather, the outdoors, the camaraderie with friends and students at the tennis courts, I jumped at the chance. (Little did I know how bad she was!)

Barely making the start time, (I had to borrow a racquet) Chili and I were first up to play a couple of tennis pros (aka, the tennis coach AND a player from the team!) Realizing right away we were doomed, we decided to have a great day. Our theme became "It's all for cancer," and on good shots, bad shots, great shots, and absolutely downright pathetic shots, we'd high five and quote, "It's all for cancer."

We lost every game in the first match. We lost every game in the second match. And, improving our skills, we finally won 3 games in the final match....securing our 10th and last place finish.

The day couldn't have been more perfect. As much of a competitor as I am, I enjoyed my time losing with Chili. And although Ms. Lindsey, aka Tournament Director, officially warned us for obnoxious behavior, (not really, she was just trying to exert power she didn't have over us), no one could get our spirits down. We were thankful for the day and for the life, cancer-free so far, we've been granted.