Monday, August 25, 2008

Two Kinds of Friends

Several recent events have put me in a pensive mood, lately. Or, perhaps I should say a more pensive than usual mood, since I think I am just pensive by nature. At any rate, much of my pensiveness is focused on relationships. Primarily friendships. What makes them? What makes a good friendship? And, why can't I spell friendship? (Thank you spell check.)

It seems that the last couple of months have really brought some highs and lows in the annals of me and friends. Now, I don't want to give you the impression that I am spending time on the phone engaged in some sort of I-don't-believe-he-would-do-that-how-can-I-still-be-his-friend kind of drama. It's really more of the looking back on friends I have had and friends I have in a time of change and, well, just contemplating.

Now, it seems, I have a lot of friends in a lot of places. Who doesn't? But, it wasn't long ago, I thought I would always have the same group of friends who all lived within ten miles of each other. In hindsight, that was a silly notion. And, had my life turned out that way, I most likely would have been the worse off for it.

I was not an Army brat as a child. My parents were not in a witness protection program (if such a thing even exists). My mom or dad never worked in an industry that forced them to relocate often. We stayed put. From my birth until I was thirty, Baltimore was my home. Pulling up stakes in 1999 seemed like the hardest thing I would ever have to do. I was leaving my family. I was leaving my friends. Some of these friends I had known for decades, some I had known for a few years. They all seemed like the best friends I might ever have.

Leaving family was hard, but, I knew I would always maintain my contact with them. I knew I would always come back to see them. Maybe I wouldn't be able to get back as often as I wanted, but, I'd still see them. The friends were another matter.

We all swore we'd keep in touch. We'd write. We'd phone. We'd email. For a while, we did. But, after some time had passed, after they had grown used to me being somewhere else and had busied themselves with their ongoing lives, after I had settled in to CoMo and began to grow a brand new social life, the communication trickled, trickled, and died. I still occasionally keep in contact with a person or two from back in Mobtown, but, for the most part, it's a surprise when I hear from anyone (or when they hear from me). This may seem like a story behind which some Eastern European strings should be playing, minor and slow, but, it's not. This is simply a function of life.

In Missouri, one close friend moved on, leaving a large hole in my life (and Monkey's). However, we stayed in close touch. We see each other regularly (but not often). We are, indeed, still close friends. Even after more years than I care to mention, our friendship seems to have survived a physical separation. Other friends moved on. Some I still connect with (some right here on the ol' Central Standard), while others are simply moving in other spheres, I guess. As my time in Missouri drew to a close, as people left me behind, or I prepared to move on myself, the situation seemed to repeat itself. After a year away, the number of people I stay in regular contact with is small, but, it encompasses the closest of my friends from that most central of central Missouri towns.

And, now, here in Cornopolis, the situation repeats itself, as close friends we have had the chance to meet and quickly grow to love are heading off to greater opportunity. It is a sad, sad feeling, losing friends, but, really, I realize, it is not a loss.

As this school year began, I was introduced to an essay by Jane Howard called, "Families," which appeared several years ago in The Atlantic Monthly. In her essay, Howard uses some terminology from a tribe in Cameroon which identifies two kinds of friends, friends of the road and friends of the heart. Friends of the road are people that you are with by chance: classmates and other people who are somehow in a social group in which you circulate. They are people you like, but, you come to be with them mostly through convenience. On the other hand, friends of the heart are those whom you choose to be in contact with. Those formerly friends of the road who are no longer convenient, yet still draw you to them (and you draw them, too). Reading this essay was definitely a case of the right text at the right time.

I have had many friends of the road, and I am grateful for them and the time we've spent together, but I truly treasure those friends of the heart who have come into my life and stuck there, even when far out of sight, and without the parting, as painful as it is, they don't get to make the jump from the road to the heart. So, I guess I am comforted by the revelation that good friends gone are somehow better friends. The inability to spend more time with them might make one unhappy, but the quality of the relationship grows if the connection is strong enough to transcend distance.

Thanks for listening, friends.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What's In It For Me?

After a full week of school, and five days in a row of bike commuting (not to mention the prior week in which I biked everywhere (except my guitar lesson)), I got to thinking about why I have chosen to do this. It all might just come down to something my grandmother used to say all the time: "As you are now, I once was. As I am now, you someday will be." I know this is a cliche that she probably heard a million times (and probably from her mother), but, it certainly made an impact on me. And the older and weaker she got, the more of an impression that trite turn of phrase made on me.

I haven't decided to ride my bike to save money, although the timing would indicate (and I may have even claimed) that I am doing it just for that purpose. When gas was $2.50, I drove to work. When gas was $4.00, all of a sudden , I was Mister Two-wheel Commuter. But, how much money am I really saving? Well, a ten-mile round trip every day adds up to 50 miles a week. If my Honda Civic gets 25 MPG (which it about does in the city), that is a grand total of two gallons of gasoline. Grand savings total between seven and nine dollars, depending on prices. Even if you run that out over a year, it's somewhere less than $500. Not a huge savings, but, it's something.

I haven't decided to ride my bike to save the planet. I am certain that someone has a host of statistics to show that my 50 miles of biking prevents the release of x cubic feet of carbon emissions, or what have you. Which is great. I am glad that I may be impacting the planet a little bit less than I have before. I am all about that. I recycle plastics, glass, paper, tin. I reuse my Ziploc sandwich bag, the cottage cheese tubs, the milk jugs. I make garden stakes out of old broom handles and sticks that fall from the maple out back. I compost. I don't water my lawn. I pack out my trash on hikes. I try to keep the climate control in the house at barely comfortable levels. Jimmy Carter would be proud of me. But, I am not pedaling into work every morning, beating my chest and yelling, "I am saving the planet! What are you doing?"

I haven't decided to ride my bike to be cool or unique. There are several people who bike into work everyday. Many have been doing it for a long time. It doesn't make me different. What makes me different is the 25-year old yellow and aqua Giant Iguana that I ride into work. You can see me coming a mile away, and you have to look twice to see if I have on one glove (a la the King of Pop circa "Billie Jean") or leg warmers (a la Jennifer Beals a la Flashdance). But I digress. Besides, I am already as cool as I can be and as unique as I care to be. How could I improve on that?

No, as I firmly entrench myself in the middle years of my time here on Earth(my plan for immortality notwithstanding), I figured it was time to stop thinking about riding and just do it. Enough with the excuses: "I have too much to carry in to work." "I don't know what to do about clothes." "My bike is too old." "It's going to get cold." Well, there are means to carrying things in to work on a bike, and the clothing situation does require some planning and forethought, but not too much to pretty easily pull it off. An old bike can still be a useful bike, with some tuning up. Now, the cold? Well, that's a different story. Yes, it will get cold. That one, we'll have to evaluate as Winter approaches.

But, why am I doing it? Well, one reason, which I didn't really discover until I started doing it, was that I get to see the sun come up, say hello to people, and watch a heron stalk the shores of a small pond everyday. Going a littler slower can put you in touch with your surroundings just a little bit more. But, most of all, I think I do it because, when I think of my grandmother, only in her late sixties, struggling for breath and wheeling a canister of oxygen behind her as she takes a set of steps one riser at a time (a state I don't expect and hope never to find myself in), I think that that is how I "someday will be;" I won't be able to ride. I do it because I can!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Starting Anew

Today was freshman day here in the high schools. Ninth graders attended school without the annoyance of 1500 other sophomores and upperclassmen to interfere with their ability to find their lockers or classrooms, or figure out where the cafeteria is. It is an easy day for me. I don't have any freshmen classes, so I didn't have to be ready for even the super short classes we held today. I was responsible for supervising (along with a dozen other teachers) the class of 2012 as they viewed a presentation in the auditorium, so I did have to do some "student-focused" work today (in addition to the last minute planning, copying, etc.).

This year is leading up much less stressful than last. Obvious reasons for this include the fact that I didn't just move here this summer, so I have a higher comfort level with my surroundings in general. By the same token, I have a higher comfort level with my building, its climate and culture, and my colleagues. As well, I have more prepared from the last two semesters that I can use this year, so planning has been a bit less intense. Finally, so far, commuting by bike is making my day a little bit more fun. Hey, before I go to work, I take a ride--it really seems to lower the stress. The next few weeks will bear out the real truth of this.

Now, all of this does not mean that I am on auto-pilot. As a reflective professional, I am always reviewing and re-envisioning the way I approach the materials I have to teach. It's not a matter of simply running off the same documents I used last year, with the stale script attached, but, having been through the experience before, I obviously have a clearer idea of what I will be doing and where I will be going. This is a marked difference from last year.

Sure, I have some challenges this year: a co-taught class (I've had some good and bad experience with those in the past), a new honors class to prep for, and the ever-present overwhelming desire to improve that causes me to constantly question and try to improve my choices. This last one is an asset, certainly, but it makes for a few sleepless nights and long work days in the course of the year.

But, starting tomorrow, "the game is afoot," as a colleague framed it this morning. I say, bring it on!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Plan For Immortality

Some might see this as a problem, but I see it as a way to keep myself alive for as long as possible (I hope this is long range planning, but, who can say?). I have been on Goodreads, a kind of bibliophile website, for a few months shy of a year. On this site, one can list books he/she has read, is reading, and wants to read. It is invaluable to a forgetful reader such as my self in several ways. First, I can, using the review and rating feature, keep some record of my reactions to books, then, in the future, I can refresh my memory if need be about whether I have read a book (I forget sometimes), and whether I enjoyed it or not. In addition, I can share my ratings and reviews and such with friends who care to link up to my page. It's a nice way to keep track of, and get ideas from other readers. You can even comment to others' ratings and reviews, thus, a dialogue is possible, too. Most importantly and most enjoyable for me, however, is the feature by which I can keep track of books I wish to read. I used to try to jot downs books I heard about or read about that I wanted to read, but, often, the scrap of paper, or sticky note, or marginal notation on a piece of other mucilage was lost. I even carried around a little notebook for a while, but, that got buried under some pile of other papers eventually. Now, I can keep them handy on this little website. I can print them off when I go to the library or bookstore, and, thereby, I can, in a more orderly manner, wade through my reading list.

So, you might ask, what is the problem? Well, this tomic accounting has revealed to me something I have known all along, the "to read" list, grows more quickly than the "read" list. By a rate (at the present) of 2 to 1. But, if you'll recall, I said this was not a problem, but a way to ensure longevity. How? Well, as long as I have twice as many books to read as I have read, I will always have a goal. With a goal, I will always have something to live for. After all, who wants to leave this earthly sphere not having read the latest Booker Prize winner?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Playing With Food (Kind Of)

Came across this list of a hundred things that all omnivores should try in their lifetime, compiled by Andrew Wheeler at Very Good Taste. This comes from a British website, so, some of the names might be unfamiliar to you (they were to me). If you care to, follow his instructions, which I have also pasted here. If you don't have a blog, or whatever, feel free to respond in some way in the comments section. I know you can do it!

Anything that you think should be on this list?

Here’s what I want you to do:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Fifty-five of this hundred for your Central Standard omnivore, and, I can honestly say, I would probably try everything on this list given the chance. Even the ones with names that I have never heard of. Except maybe the chitterlings...and the insects...and the horse. Then again, make me an offer.

Friday, August 15, 2008

So, I Got That Going For Me (Which Is Nice)

After three harrowing days of being back to work, I find that there is at least one thing that perhaps all laborers might agree with. There is nothing like a work week to make one appreciate the weekend. Since June 2, I have watched the calendar roll along with little regard for where I was in the flow of the week. What is Sunday, after all, when Monday is an off day? Is there an intrinsic difference between Friday and Wednesday that gives it a different feeling? For me, the answer is, not when you're off the clock!

But, perhaps, after a period of time, this blissful temporal ignorance loses its bliss. Maybe, after nine weeks of waking up and thinking, "What day is this?" one feels as if something is missing. This, as I may have mentioned before, has been an awesome summer, so, I don't really feel like I am overly vacationed. I could go on for a few more weeks, maybe. However, the beginnings of that ennui was raising its head. I was sensing an inkling of impending blah-ness.

Yet, here I am, after just three days of work, genuinely excited for the newly arrived weekend! Now, I don't expect any sympathy for my "predicament." I don't deserve any. I know many of you would love to be in my shoes from June through August (but maybe wouldn't dig the September to May part, but that is a-whole-nother story (as they used to say back home)). But, it's nice to feel that "Friday high" again. Stay tuned for an upcoming entry on the "Sunday crash."

Spotted a great blue heron on the shores of the pond near the YMCA this fine, cool morning, along with about a dozen geese that are laying waste to the trail. It's nice to see the geese, I just wish they'd keep their business in the grass. The friendly morning people theory is still being successfully tested. Come on Afternooners! I hope you're not the kind of stupid people who eat monkeys.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Week in the Saddle

Well, after one week of dedicated bike riding, I am still going strong. We've been back to work since Wednesday, and so far, I am two for two on commutes! Tomorrow should make it three days in a row! As a matter of fact, the only driving I have done all week was yesterday. It was a short drive, and I really thought about biking, but, I had a guitar lesson at 6:30 followed by an outdoor basketball game at 7:00. I didn't want to leave my guitar out on the grass near the court, so, I stashed it in the trunk. That kind of out-of-sight security just doesn't come with a bike.

Some observations after one week of biking (and two real days of commuting):

The mornings have been magnificent here. Clear, cool, almost fall-like. I don't work myself up too much on my way to work, so, I arrive at the end of my 20-25 minute commute relatively perspiration-free. I also have been taking a change of clothes with me, but, I think once the weather turns for the season, I may be able to just ride in my work clothes. However, I may still keep that step, simply for the routine of it.

I find that people are friendlier in the morning than the afternoon. This could be a function of the weather (it is warmer in the afternoon, but it's not miserable), but, after two days of unscientific surveying, far more folks respond to my waves, nods, and greetings in the AM portion of my commute than do during the PM. Go figure.

As a relatively fit individual, I didn't think that I would feel any different biking, but I do feel a bit more energized (at least until lunch) than I remember being. I am hoping that the rides to and from school will help me alleviate stress and make my reactions to stressor at work even more low-key.

I am already shopping for a new bike. Any recommendations?

(FULL DISCLOSURE: The video is my brother.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

I've Heard That Song Before

Well, friends and neighbors, it's that time of year, again. That time when I complain about having to go to so many mandated workshops and seminars that tell me things I already know. Today, I had to attend a workshop for second year teachers, since, in this district, I am entering my second year. So, we spent the day going over a great deal of very useful information...for SECOND YEAR TEACHERS. I am not a second year teacher. Hell, I have a Master's degree. I hope I know how to set objectives and use good questioning strategies.

Of course, as a silver lining searcher, I'll tell you that it is always good to be reminded of the best practices involved in doing your job, no matter how basic. After all, Ted Williams didn't hit .344 lifetime with 521 home runs by forgetting about the basics of hitting. I am sure he practiced the rudiments of his craft more than anyone, even after he hit .406 in 1941. Mastering the basics is the first step to becoming a master.

I just wish I didn't have to spend all day on the last Friday before we went back to work, twisting in my chair over boredom. On the plus side, I knew the presenters, they were engaging and entertaining, and we got out an hour early!

In other news, the Great Biking Experiment of 2008 has begun. I know that I have vowed to bike to work every year since I started this blog, but, this is the year that it sticks. I biked to basketball on Wednesday evening, I biked to school and the grocery store on Thursday, and I biked to my workshop today. I haven't driven my car for three days, and Paul Dorn has become my new guru! The mornings have been cool, making for a pleasant ride, and I have figured out that I can make it to work in about twenty minutes with a modicum of effort. I can arrive to work only ten minutes later than had I driven, and, if I don't pedal like a banshee, I am not a funked-up mess. So, I've always heard that after three days, something becomes a habit. Let's hope so.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

My Genetically Modified Cow Can Kick Your Genetically Modified Cow's Ass!

It says here that global destroyer Monsanto is giving up the pussy milk trade (as in: milk with puss in it, not...oh, never mind). It seems that they are tired of fighting over semantics with farmers and milk producers who don't think it is a good idea to alter the natural hormonal make up of dairy cows in order to "curb global warming by requiring fewer dairy cows." If that ain't slapping lipstick on a pig, I don't know what is.

Unfortunately, the profit-driven yahoos at Monsanto are still going full-steam ahead in the genetically modified seed business. It's only a matter of time before the doodoo hits the fan with this one, too. It is a common event to have some crop or tree or plant be attacked by the latest disease or bug. Most often, these epidemics (or pandemics) are the result of human behaviors, a poor schedule of crop rotation, an accidental introduction of a pest through some other human-devised plan, what have you. Is it not a too-far-fetched possibility that genetic modification of the things we eat will result in either further decimation of "normal" crops, or some more detrimental effect on the consumers of genetically modified product (be they human or animal).

I guess I am just old fashioned, but, I prefer a smaller tomato with a couple of spots on it that was grown by me (or someone I know) to a plump, seemingly perfect creation of some ag-scientist whose boss just wants to see the company stock go up.

Of course, it might be that that stock just ain't gonna go up. It says here that maybe that genetically modified stuff ain't all it's cracked up to be. Gee, that's too bad.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Evidence to Support Saving the Monkeys (and A Small Bit of Bird Business)

Okay, so, I found a link to this on basically, photos of people doing stupid things. I post the link here for two reasons.

First, if you click on the link for photo #2, you discover this act of stupidity takes place in Hammond, IN, a little town just southeast of Chicago, IL, and formerly the home of Phil Smidt's, one of the best restaurants I have ever patronized. Unfortunately, they closed last October after almost 100 years of fried lake perch and frog legs. Sad. Otherwise, I would have recommended a visit. We're running out of time for road trips (but, we'll watch for railroad crossings, I promise)!

Second, and most importantly, these stupid people doing stupid things obviously support the worldwide halt to consumption of monkeys. These people obviously eat monkeys, and they are obviously stupid. How do I know they are stupid? Well, look at what they are doing (especially the ones with the extension cord in the pool): they are stupid. How do I know they eat monkeys? Well, here is where my expert training as a logician serves me best.

I do not eat monkeys. I am not in the pictures of people doing stupid things. The people in the pictures are doing stupid things, UNLIKE ME. The people in the pictures are unlike me, ERGO (how ya like that?) they do not NOT eat monkeys. Thus, they eat monkeys AND thus, eating monkeys (either) makes you stupid or is stupid.

Stop eating monkeys, stupid people!

On an unrelated note, check out Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg in Scientific American. Isn't this why people want to be rock 'n' roll stars? To get into august publications like Scientific American?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gorillas Evade Census Takers, But Monkeys Are Not So Lucky

Somehow, 125,000 western lowland gorillas evaded census takers for the International Union for Conservation when last they counted up the apes five years ago. This is great news for western lowland gorillas. If I'm not mistaken, I think it means they will receive a 63% increase in foreign aid over the next twenty years. They will also be invited to become at-large members of the United Nations. Representatives for the western lowland gorillas were engaged in grooming and were unavailable for comment.

Of course, the good news for the gorillas is as usual tempered by bad news for about half of the other primate species that seem to be checking out from Planet Earth at a highly worrisome rate. Forest destruction and human consumption (yup, that's what it says) are the primary culprits. Really, dudes, stop eating the monkeys. It just is not cool.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Inexorable March of Time

On this past Friday, a dreadfully awaited email appeared in my inbox from my department head informing all that we had 13 days left before we had to get back to work. This was a horrific moment, but, we all knew it was coming. The summer is coming to an end.

I've tried to do some work over the course of the past several weeks. Immediately after our return from Italy, I wrote half of a required six-plus-page document that I need to have finished before the end of first semester. During those couple of weeks, I also did some reflecting on the previous year, and considered some changes to put into effect this coming semester, but, there is, as always, much that I wished to do that I have not. Thus, I will attempt to get some things squared away in the next week.

I have a workshop that I am required to attend as a second year teacher in the district (even though I am NOT a second year teacher, but, whatever) on Friday, Then, it's a few free days until the thirteenth. Like most school years, I look forward to getting started, meeting the new kiddos, teaching and learning; but, I really had an awesome summer, and I sort of don't want it to end. That feeling is stronger this year than ever before. I hope next summer is as awesome, but, it has a lot to live up to.

While I am considering the start of a new school year, there are some other things happening in the next few weeks that I may be looking forward to with a little less sadness. In short, three up coming area shows that I have circled on my calendar.

The first, a blast from the past, the BoDeans (w/Ha Ha Tonka) come to Omaha on Sunday. The odds of my actually going to this show are slim, but, it's an intriguing show. I had no idea these guys were still together until I read about this show. They'd been broken up for ten years before they got back together to record a new album, Resolution (none of which I've heard). Roots-style rock and roll since 1986, I imagine the new stuff is just as BoDeansian as the old stuff. Again, intriguing from a nostalgia point of view, but, I am not committed.

The second, on September 10, is Centro-matic and Broken West, also in Omaha. This is a must-see for me, since I missed Centro-matic last time they were in Lincoln (oddly enough, on August 10). I am not a huge Broken West fan. They are okay, but Centro-matic? I love those guys. I think Will Johnson is an awesome songwriter--His solo stuff is great, too . And I am not going to talk myself out of this show (which I sometimes do) just because it's a weekday or because there is another show that must be seen in Omaha that Saturday, as....

Okkervil River comes to Slowdown. I have seen this band three times in the last few years, and each time I see them is better than the time before. My last experience with them, at the Waiting Room in Omaha last Fall will be hard to exceed, but, I look forward to Will and the boys giving it their best. (By the way, I think Will Sheff is an excellent songwriter, too. Does it have something to do with the name Will?)

As always, anyone willing to make the trek has a place to stay here in Cornopolis. We'll leave a light on for you.