Dear Santa …

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Dear Santa,

I write you a letter every year, even though I’m all grown up. This year was full of challenges, but through it all I am thankful to be surrounded by the warmth of family and friends. I wish had words strong enough to say how much it meant to feel supported and loved when everything seemed to be falling apart. Things are better than they were six months ago and slowly that painful weight of worry and stress is starting to lift. For this reason, my list for Christmas is more gratitude than want.

We miss Grandma, but like she promised she is still with us. Just yesterday, I thought of her while wrapping presents. A ribbon she put on my gift a couple of years ago managed to find it’s way onto a gift I was wrapping for my mother-in-law. Then, while making cookies, I found myself using her mixing bowl and spoon. Her ornaments are on my Christmas tree and her love can be felt wherever I go.

Recently, my furkids both got pretty sick and gave me quite a scare. I remember thinking and wishing for one simple thing – another Christmas with both of them. I like to think you were listening and decided I was a good enough girl to get my wish. Both of my boys are happy, healthy and will be with us on Christmas Day. One wears a scar and the other is slow with age, but their tails are still wagging. Honestly, I consider this the best Christmas gift ever. Thank you.

With Christmas Eve upon us, we are having a family get-together. We didn’t have one last year, because it just didn’t feel right after losing Grandma just two weeks before. This year, however, she is here in spirit and we are ready to celebrate. Here are a few shout-outs to those I hold dear:

  • Husband – We made it through quite a storm, didn’t we? You’re an amazing person and I wish you’d believe that more often. I’m looking forward to your Shepherd’s Pie this year.
  • Mom – You’re probably going to feed my dogs people food when you think I’m not looking. Just remember the little one has no teeth. 😉 And, I think you are an incredible person.
  • Sister – I bought the Christmas pickle gift just for you, so you better find the pickle! On a serious note, I don’t know what I’d do without you.
  • Dan – Try not to smirk at the sections of my DVD shelf that are not alphabetized. I’ve been busy. And the bookshelf is a mess, too. I like it that way.
  • Grandpa – I hope you like our new, comfy couch. I’m so glad you’re coming to celebrate Christmas with us, even though you’d rather be alone.
  • Grandma – We know you’re here and playing Bingo even though we can’t see you.
  • Dad and Sophie – Christmas just isn’t complete without you here. One day, perhaps, we can all celebrate together.
  • Jan and Jerry – You give us more than we deserve and I am so thankful for all your help.
  • Mike – You make my sister so happy, and I can’t thank you enough for that.
  • Baxter – I’ll make sure you get your meds before the party so you can play all night.
  • Winston – I’m making you wear the ugliest sweater ever, but know it will make your mother very happy.
  • Peanut and Bunny – Can you guys get along for just one night? No fighting.

Santa, this year Christmas is all about my home and the people in it. You don’t have to bring a thing. I’m good.

c.b.

p.s. Okay, so maybe a Pink and Pretty Barbie would be pretty cool. I’m still hoping! 😉

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c.b.w. 2013

Contemplation

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Where to end . . .

1 of 3: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn
Ai Weiwei 1995

Do we protect the past? Conserve what was in order to understand what is?

Molded by ancient hands, crafted with skill and powered by expression. Painted with both imagination and rules of design. Created with purpose.

Shall it remain in stasis, revered as a portal to a time and place that no longer exists?

A bold act . . .

2 of 3: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn
Ai Weiwei 1995

Can we let go? Roots reach back and anchor a mindset. This we treasure as lessons learned, but the strings remain attached and grow taut. Are they the warp and weft of a safety net or the threads of a noose?

There is order in boundaries, rules, and ethics. Some mistaken comfort as freedom.

Release the ledger of what has come to pass and leave a blank page of infinite possibilities.

Where to begin . . .

3 of 3: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn
Ai Weiwei 1995

Fragments mark a fragile break. Tradition, filial piety, and honored antiquity lay shattered at the feet of the living. Dust settles in the breath of the present. Not forgotten, just released.

Courageous or cowardly? Expression or defacement?

Innovative? Tragic?

Do we break what has already been broken, establish anew, or redefine as a whole?

– – –

Words by c.b.w. 2013

Photographs captured at an exhibition entitled, “Ai Weiwei: According to What?”

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c.b.w. 2013

Favorite Thing Friday: Feeling Prepared

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When school resumes in August, I’ll be teaching a “new to me” subject, AP Art History. I was pretty much guilted (or suckered) into teaching this course for a few reasons: a) I’ve been teaching World History for 12 years so I have a pretty good handle on the international timeline, b) art is something I enjoy, (though I have never been formally trained in the arts ), and c) I can’t say no to my Department Chair as she has done me numerous favors.

For a couple of months, I held out hope that the powers that be would change their minds about offering the course (and find another way to fulfill the humanities requirement of IB), but alas the schedule for next year still has AP Art History next to my name. This would be all well and fine if I felt remotely qualified to teach the course and if I had the right resources.

One of the books they gave me is best suited for the desk of an art history professor as it is massively huge, has no bolded vocabulary, and is unbelievably boring. The other is a skinny paperback that is meant for people who have a passing interest in the subject and possess some background knowledge. Neither text was appropriate for high school freshman or a nervous teacher.

Thus, began my search for reference materials that would help me organize the curriculum and help my future students grasp a complicated subject matter. Oh, and every resource had to be incredibly cheap. No easy feat to say the least.

After months of hunting, I’m relieved to have three solid resources:

History of Art: Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, Graphics, Technics by Parragon Books

Contains historical timelines for each era, key artistic terms, and colorful visuals. It’s more of a picture book than anything else and I plan on using it as such. However, the art terminology at the beginning of each chapter is invaluable!

Found it on the bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble: $10

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A Basic History of Western Art (7th Edition) by Anthony F Janson

A fantastic textbook geared for undergraduates, but simplified enough for advanced high school students. Filled with visuals and bolded vocabulary, this ties art and history together in an easy-to-understand format. A great resource for the analytical elements of art history, while also providing inspiration for critical thinking activities.

Found it at Half-Price Books: $8

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Art History For Dummies by Jesse Bryant Wilder

The old standby for many teachers, the Dummies series does a great job of breaking down detailed subjects into  smaller pieces. Casual language, humor, and simplified outlines makes this an ideal resource for curriculum mapping and creating presentations my students can easily understand.

Found it through the amazon marketplace: $17

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With these reference materials I feel like I can finally start the planning process! This is a huge relief and I’m actually excited to dig in and create lesson plans. It’s amazing how feeling prepared can lead to a surge in confidence.

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What is your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2013

The Year of Letting Go

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On Friday of last week, I closed out my twelfth year of teaching. After teaching for more than a decade, I still find the profession highly rewarding, but also very challenging.

At the end of every school year, I have a ritual where I stand in my classroom with the lights off. I take a few minutes to reflect on the year as a whole, considering everything from failures to victories. While the walls can boast many days of laughter, I can’t deny it was a tough year. After a few moments of contemplation I realized this was the year of letting go.

In the space of nine months, my life has irrevocably changed. I am still the same optimistic and happy person, but I’ll be honest in admitting it has been a struggle to hang onto the parts of my personality that matter the most to me. The changes around me range from deep personal losses to trivial, stupid things that are simply gone. Either way, where I started in August is very different from I where I am in May.

A number of things have changed both personally and professionally, some of which are so new I’m still trying to wrap my mind around them. There are, however, five things that have sunk in and I’ve figured out how to let them go in different ways.

1) Grandma.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to say goodbye to her as I still feel her presence. She left us back in December, but in many ways it’s like she’s still whispering in my ear. I treasure that feeling, but Friday nights just aren’t the same without seeing my Grandma across the craft table. I haven’t made a card or scrapbook page since she passed and I think it will be a long time before I pick up another rubber stamp.   On the bright side, I swear she’s right by my side as I knit. She was a master knitter and whenever I get stuck, I always seem to find the answer and I like to think it’s from her.

2) Nearly Perfect Attendance.

From my first day on the job, I hardly ever missed a day of work. I’ll take a personal day or two around my birthday, but that’s it. This year I missed a ridiculous amount of work due to health issues, a funeral, and family emergencies. Perhaps, it’s my  tendency towards perfectionism, but I felt incredibly guilty for missing 9 days of work. It’s a matter of personal pride to do the very best work I can and to be present for a job I am paid to do. Letting go of that pride was hard to do this year, but I also realize I didn’t have much of a choice. Sometimes there are things beyond my control.

3) MacBook

Five years ago, my school switched over to Apple for all teacher issued laptops. I was skeptical at first, but within a week I was a total convert. My transition was so complete, I turned off my PC at home and just used my work computer for everything. My MacBook traveled all over the country with me to workshops, vacations, and writing retreats, (including London). I wrote my first novel and part of my second on that laptop. This year, they gave us new computers and I had to return my faithful old friend. Call me crazy, but I had a relationship with that laptop and the break-up hurt. Luckily, I now have my own non-work related MacBook Pro, but our relationship is still pretty new, (my weird sense of humor is part of this list item, in case you haven’t noticed).

4) The Office and Twilight

This is going to sound crazy, but just roll with me on this one. Back in 2005, I started watching a little show called The Office. After a couple of episodes, I was obsessed. Obsessed to the point of going to the 2007 Office Convention in Scranton. For me this was more than just a show as it got me writing again after a 5 year hiatus. I wrote analytical posts about each episode and gained a strong reader base, which gave me the encouragement to keep writing. I am still writing today because of what The Office gave me: Inspiration and Confidence. The Office came to an end on May 16 and yes, I cried. That being said, my work keys are still securely fastened to a Dunder Mifflin lanyard, (I will always be an Office fan).

Twilight also came to an end with the released of Breaking Dawn: Part 2 back in November. For five years, I fawned over the books and movies, drooled over Edward and idolized Stephenie Meyer’s courage to re-imagine  vampire lore. Beyond the fandom, my foray into novel writing began on the night of Twilight’s movie release. I think I’m still in denial that all things Twilight have come to an end, but I did pack away all my Twilight posters. Next year, I have no idea what posters will hang on my “fun wall” in my classroom. Superheroes, maybe?

5) Chalkboards

During the last week of school, I found out the district made an executive decision to replace all chalkboards with whiteboards. I am devastated by this as my chalkboard is something I really loved in my classroom. The dark green keeps the room warm and cozy (instead of white and sterile).  Next year, I am stuck using stinky markers and I have to figure out how to keep those boards clean (which is by all accounts impossible). Never mind the glare.  The one silver lining? I think I remember seeing dry erase crayons at Target. That could be fun.

– – –

Instead of fixating on what has changed, I’m choosing to be curious of what lies ahead. I am so thankful for my family and my home. More changes are on the horizon, but my anchors remain firmly in place. Letting go is a natural part of life and makes way for new paths.

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c.b.w. 2013

The Lost Art Of Coffee House Etiquette

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As a writer, I spend a lot of time in coffee houses. Tall Café Mochas serve as my muse juice, free internet keeps me connected, and the cozy atmosphere is free of irritating distractions. Although, I’m starting to question the integrity of that last part. My usual writing spot has increasingly become more a like a zoo than a civilized place for people to read, drink coffee, or engage in conversation.

Of late, I’m starting to think there is a shortage of people who truly know how to behave in a coffee house. I’ve been an avid coffee house dweller for many years and I’ve covered a lot of ground both in the States and abroad. Either I’m getting old and less tolerant or there has been a steady degradation in acceptable behavior for what used to be a relaxing public space.

Ranting usually isn’t my style, but sometimes I hit my limit and can no longer remain silent. At the same time, I’m an organized and civilized ranter that decided to create a list of rules that I believe are essential to coffee house etiquette.

Five Simple Rules of Coffee House Etiquette

The Globe (bookshop and coffee house), Prague Czech Republic
Photo by: c.b.w. 2008

1) Wait in line patiently.

A coffee house is not the place to go if you are in a hurry. Hit the Starbucks drive-thru or a fast food joint if you want your coffee in one minute flat. Standing a millimeter away from the person in front of you and guffawing about how long it’s taking for the lone barista to make a latte does not create a comfortable atmosphere, nor does it make your coffee appear any faster. Good coffee is worth the wait, anyway.

2) Keep conversations personal.

A quiet coffee shop is always nice, but the energy of socializing is acceptable as well. However, there is a difference between intimate conversations that stay within the confines of personal space and those that spread out to everyone within earshot and beyond. Obnoxious drabble and attention-seeking hollers have no place in a coffee house. It’s about showing a little respect for yourself and those around you who did not ask for a shot of your personal life with their espresso.

3) Keep electronic devices silent.

In the age of technology, we are increasingly dependent on cell phones, laptops, tablets, and music players. I fully admit that I am a gadget junkie, but I’m also aware of the fact that it’s polite to make sure they don’t disrupt others. In a coffee house, there is no reason to listen to music or watch a movie with the speakers blaring for everyone to hear. Earbuds were created so you and only you can listen to whatever you want anywhere you want without disrupting other people. Use them.

The same goes for cell phones. Take the time to put your phone on silent or vibrate. Most coffee house goers are not amused that your ringtone sounds like the latest dance club mix. Furthermore, if you have to answer the call, do so following Rule #2 or take the call outside. For some reason, people talk on the phone with a voice that is considerably louder than when speaking face to face to another person.  Nobody wants to hear half of a conversation that breaks the sound barrier while trying to enjoy a cup of coffee.

4) Don’t leave children unattended.

I tread lightly with this rule because I know kids have a right to be out in public. All I’m saying is a little on-site training in proper behavior wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps I’m a prude who is way out of line, but I personally don’t go to a coffee house to listen to children scream or teenagers test how many times they can use the F-word before their Venti Chai Tea is gone. Too many times I’ve watched a gaggle of twelve-year-olds commandeer a table with their “grown up” drinks without having the slightest idea on how to conduct themselves.  So, instead of a coffee house they decide they’re on the playground. Maybe it would help to have someone show them some etiquette instead of dumping them off at a café like it’s a sort of babysitting service.

(Sorry, I might be ranting a little too much here. Parents can’t totally be blamed for this as children are going to do things beyond Mom and Dad’s control. However, Society as a whole can help by refusing to accept inappropriate behavior.)

 5) Clean up after yourself.

Coffee houses are not the same as restaurants. They don’t have waiters assigned to certain tables to come and take your order and clean up your dirty dishes. Granted in some coffee houses, there is someone who swoops by to clear the table, but more often than not the dishes sit there until the barista has a second to step away from the coffee bar. Is it part of their job? Yes. But consider the fact that someone who has just walked in needs a place to sit. Would you ask them to sit with your dirty dishes? I hope not. It only takes a few seconds to throw away your paper cup or set a plate on the counter.

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I may be perched on a soapbox at the moment, but I’m not above apologizing for having broken at least three of these rules at one time or another in my early years.  After more than a few cups of coffee, I’ve learned how important it is to respect the space of others and be mindful of the reality that I am not the center of the universe and neither is anyone else. Especially, in a coffee house.

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c.b.w. 2013