Rumination : Easy Mac

For lunch today, I took a couple of packets of Easy Mac and an apple. As I poured the powdered “cheese” in to the bowl of microwaved noodles (cheese absolutely has to be in quotes here…let’s be honest, that powder is as much cheese as Putin is pro-Democracy) it occurred to me that the Easy Mac product is an indication of just how far in the wrong direction our society has gone.

Easy Mac. As if the original Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was so difficult? Was boiling water, mixing in milk, butter and a pouch of orange chemical powder such a hassle that they’ve had to reduce it even further? I started to feel guilty! Instead of Easy Mac, shouldn’t it be called, “Wow. You Are Seriously Lazy Mac.” Or, “Are You Really In This Big of a Hurry Mac.”

Is that where I am? I can’t even take the time to prepare myself a proper lunch so I settle for “Look At What You’re Calling Sustenance Mac”. That is not where I want to be. No more Easy Mac for me. I’m done. I’m off of the poison and from here on out, it’s all-natural Central Market peanut butter and homemade jam sandwiches for me.

But who has time to make jam?

There is no Pier One for teachers.

We all enjoy a good oxymoron, don’t we? There are some beauties. Government organization. Act naturally. Jumbo shrimp. The list goes on and on. Faithful readers, I submit for your approval a phrase that must absolutely be considered an oxymoron of gargantuan proportions: Tasteful Classroom Decorations.

As I’ve been preparing my room for students these past few weeks, it’s become very clear to me that teacher supply manufacturers are not only unaware that earth tones exist, but that apparently they are fined if fully 20% of their bulletin board trimmers don’t feature an apple. And writing that looks as if it was scrawled with a piece of chalk, that’s a favorite as well. So in the land of kitties contorting to form all the letters of the alphabet and American flags incorporated in to any design regardless of the appropriateness, a.k.a. “Any Teacher Supply Store in the Country”, you would think that my best bet is just to find a solid color trim and go with it. Right. You would think that and I would think it, too. Except that in addition to avoiding state & local fines by including apples, they must also be abiding by a Federal mandate requiring them to print only fully-saturated colors. “No Tacky Bulletin Board Left Behind”.

So, where is the classroom decor for the rest of us? A Google search for “tastefully decorating your classroom” yields zero – count ’em – zero results. Remove the quotes around the phrase and you get a mild 650 hits that have absolutely nothing to do with rescuing a teacher from neon green-induced insanity.

On the one hand, I can hear the argument that you want the classroom decor to be vibrant and loud. You gotta capture your kids attention and bright colors are what they want to see. Ok, sure. But you know what else? At some point they’ve got to learn that there are color combinations out there that don’t vibrate when you stare at them for at least 6 seconds! But, at present I must confess that my room is a victim of the very thing I’ve been railing against (minus the flags and kittens). The “Getting to Know Famous Artists” bulletin board has an orange backing with the loudest blue trim that has ever existed. It is hideous. On another wall, “Cultural Trimmers” (that’s what the package actually said) frame information side-by-side in a brutal competition for the USF Title. Ugliest Square Foot.

*sigh* C’est la vie. I have taken some steps towards reclaiming my room one display at a time. I’ve created a few custom posters that I had printed out at Kinko’s and as the years go by I hope to amass a collection of moderately tasteful signs that can counteract the typical Teacher Supply Store fodder.

It’s a galactic battle,
A cosmic struggle,
An epic tug of war.

So I’ll fight on,
Until the neon is gone,
From all my classroom decor.

Open your textbooks to page…one.

Well…that’s almost true. While it is the beginning of the school year and we could be turning to page one, we unfortunately don’t have the set of Art textbooks that we reviewed last Spring because there’s a group of people down in Austin not getting their job done. You may have heard of them. And while we’re at it, there’s a great article in the August issue of Texas Monthly called, “Ten Ways to Fix Texas”. You have to be a subscriber to read content online…so that hyperlink is somewhat of tease. Sorry about that one.

Moving on.

The first three days of school have been outstanding! Granted, we are three days in to a one hundred and eighty day haul; but already, I feel so much more prepared and organized. Last year, I felt like I was drowning in district and campus initiatives and surprise paperwork from the second day of in-service. But so far, it’s just been like, “Oh, right. Need to get that taken care of aaaaaaand…done.” Well, maybe not quite that breezy, but I think you get what I’m saying. The challenge will be to maintain control over everything that last year was the punk-er and is currently the punk-ee.

Surprisingly, there haven’t been many funny stories to come out of these twenty-four or so hours in the classroom. The great moments of hilarity, irony and leathal awkwardness will come after the kids are comfortable being at school again. They’re still getting their feet wet right now. My classroom is as quiet as a sanctuary on a Friday night and every single kid is working harder than a commission-only car salesman. It’s nice. But this isn’t the real them. Give them a couple of weeks and then they’ll start doin’ what they really wanna be doin'; and sayin’ what they’re really thinkin’. It’s a bittersweet pill because as frustrating as getting to know the real them can be, it is also hands-down the best part of my job.

These first days of school (listen to me…talking like I’m such the Veteran) have been so scripted and sterile. As much as I know there will be days that I regret even thinking this: I’m ready for some junk, I’m ready for the randomness, and I’m ready for something unpredictable to happen. That’s what makes a great day or a great moment feel authentic, when it comes immediately after feeling like you’ve had the wind knocked out of you. I’m not complaining about how easy this week has been. No sir ma’am. But I’ll trade it in for the real deal. For being called an Fing racist one day and seeing the same girl’s face light up a couple weeks later when I tell her she would be an incredible graphic designer. Or, for being completely humbled/humiliated when a French girl who doesn’t speak a word of English looks at me like I’m a total idiot for trying to explain to her that Paris is in Texas. These things don’t happen in quiet classrooms. And they don’t happen during the first week of school.

Aidan brings home the bacon!

Our nephew (my brother’s son) Aidan, also commonly referred to as Ace or Hoss, won First Place in The Paris News’ Most Beautiful Baby contest in the 1 year-old division! When I called the proud father to confirm and congratulate, Larr’s response was a nice and solid, “Yeahhhhhhhhhh buddy” that even Hank Hill would approve of. Continuing in that vein, here’s a pitcher of ol’ boi.

Swasko / Zan Wedding

We’ve got a new brother and Kristi Leigh’s got a husband! Eric Reese Zan (rhymes with man)! Welcome to the fam, Eric!

This weekend was so crammed with activity and fun that I’m not even sure where to start. Actually, I do. I’m going to approach the past seven days chronologically hitting some highlights along the way. That’s logical enough, right? “I’m not sure where to start.” That’s a silly phrase when you really stop to think about it. Tangent.

We left Coppell for Paris on Wednesday night and stayed with Paul and Betty (Laura’s parents). Thursday morning Uncle Dave, Aunt Trish and their daughter, Abbey, joined us. If you ask Paul, Dave is his older brother, but on planet Earth, Dave is younger. Dave and Trish met while serving in the Peace Corps, which pretty well rocks in and of itself. But in order to see each other, Dave would have to walk several hours up a mountain to the village that Trish was stationed in. That’s a Nicholas Sparks novel just begging to be written! The Uncle Dave contingent came in from Wisconsin and as far as we know, they didn’t Mess With Texas.

Later that evening, we joined up with the Wolfs: Uncle Tim, Aunt Jane or Janey (Paul’s sister…also younger…also not according to Pablo) and their two sons Michael and Bobby who were a combined seventeen and a half feet shorter when we saw them in Chicago two years ago. They hail from Salt Lake City, Utah and will from time to time say, “yous guys”.

Shoot. I just realized that the sprinkler has been on in the backyard for about two hours. I’ll be right back.

Well, I can think of about six-thousand things I would rather have spent those three dollars on. Water: not one of them.

Below is a picture of us all after dinner with the Clarks. It was very “Thanksgivingy”. All the parents sat at a table in the kitchen while the cousins ate in a different room. It was during dinner that Abbey, Michael and Bobby proved their good taste and maturity by laughing at my jokes.

Front row, left to right: Abbey, Aunt Jane, Kristi, Laura, Mary Clark; Back row, left to right: Betty, Michael, Bobby, Paul, Uncle Tim, Eric, Me, Uncle Dave and Trish.

So it turns out that I’m rather short. Why didn’t anybody tell me? You know those little stools that people with pre-schoolers keep in their bathrooms so their kid can reach the toilet? I’m going to start carrying one of those around for group photos.

On Friday, a large portion of the day was passed with decorating the Heritage Hall for the reception as well as an insane game of 6 on 6 (and sometimes more!) water volleyball at Pablo y Bettitas. Laura also gave a brief display of her diving board versatility by executing a pool-emptying cannonball followed immediately by a splashless toe-touch dive.

Friday also brought us Phil and Paula Swasko and their kids Rachel and Chris. Uncle Phil is another one of Paul’s younger brothers and he can make Paul laugh harder than I’ve ever seen him laugh before. Aunt Paula is teaching middle school this year, so she is immediately awesome in my book. They flew in from the Chicago suberb of Cicero and live right down the street from Frank Lloyd Wright’s house.

This is a picture from the reception of the Cicero Swaskos…

Left to right: Chris, Rachel, Abbey, Aunt Paula, Uncle Phil and Aunt Trish up front.

The rehearsal and rehearsal dinner were Friday night and both went extremely well. It makes me sad that rehearsal dinner-type events don’t happen more often because they are so boldly full of emotion and sincerity. A rehearsal dinner is several hundred cubic feet of Utopia sitting right in the middle of millions of cubic feet of a world that routinely misses the Point. A room of people with a common bond, meeting together in a typical and common way – sharing a buffet – but with a special and extraordinary purpose, to celebrate something beautiful that has occured among them. People stand up and fight back tears, burst with laughter or usually both as they share their stories, profess their love and wish nothing but happiness for the two people who have given reason for this group of people to share this room for these couple of hours.

Laura used Windows Movie Maker to create a very touching slide show that went over with the crowd really well. I made mention of it a couple posts back and all that hard work paid off because it came out great. You can download it here, it’s about 3.5Mb and is a pretty small image. But, it had to be otherwise it would’ve been a really big file. Also, it’s a WMV file so make sure you have a program that will play that before you spend a bunch of time downloading it.

We also finally got to see the Uncle Bill and Aunt Susan (Birdwell, Betty’s brother and wife) at the rehearsal. You remember Uncle Bill from the post about the dentist. They had brought along with them a childhood friend of Bill and Betty’s, Mr. Joe Hanover. Joe posseses more devotion, more loyalty and more tenderness in one finger than most ever will in their lifetime. He is one of the most honorable men I have ever been fortunate enough to meet.

On Saturday, the big day, I spent the morning with Chris, Michael, Bobby, Eric and all of his groomsmen playing basketball and football. I was on a team with the cousins vs. Eric and the groomsmen and we pretty much wiped the floor with them. The final score was 15-13 and if that’s not total domination, sir, then I’d like to see your definition. Thank you.

While the girls were busy sipping tea, exchanging gifts and getting their hair done; Eric and I were busy nearly breaking each others legs on the football field. A pass went up to my back left and at the peak of my jump as I fully extended I felt a collision and knew immediately that it was Eric who was leaping up and forward for the ball. As our arms and legs become entangled and we started for the ground completely out of control with no input whatsoever as to how, or on what we were about to land, an entire conversation raced through my brain in less than a tenth of a second. It’s amazing how fast your brain really is.

“Oh wow…this is going to be bad. Yeah, your right leg is definitely in a bad position, that knee is a goner. I can’t believe this, I’m about to break something. But what about Eric! Think about Eric! This is his wedding day and you’re about to be responsible for sending him to the hospital with a broken leg and all because you wanted to intercept a stupid football! Man! What were you thinking? Poor Eric. Poor Kristi! Oh my gosh, poor Kristi! Sweet fancy Moses! What have you done now, boy? You’ve ruined their wedding day and n- wait! Who cares about them and their wedding?! This is your body speaking and you’re about to blow out my knee so stop thinking and just fix this!!”

It was quite impressive really. We both managed to land in a manner brutal enough so as to illicit the maximum amount of respect and admiration from the assembly without actually injuring ourselves in the process. Truth be told, it’s what every athlete hopes for in a collision.

At long last, the wedding night. Aunt Jane and I were readers and so were able to sit in the choir area. The wedding was in an Episcopal church so when I say “choir area” I’m sure I’m failing to use a beautiful word with Latin roots that when literally translated means, “And their voices shalt exhalt the Lord our God”. But, I was raised Baptist, so to me, it’s the choir area. Anyway, it was up on the stage (again, back to the thing about a Latin definition) so Aunt Jane and I had excellent seats! The ceremony itself was just amazing and Eric’s and Kristi’s vows were as sincere as anyone could possibly imagine.

The reception that followed featured a lot of dancing and some of the best wedding food in the history of this planet or any other (including parallel universes…universeese…universeseseses…universii…). Other highlights of the reception include a traditional Indian wedding dance (which I learned the name of but have now forgotten), Chris doing the most spot-on impression of Elaine Benes’ “full body dry heave set to music” that I have ever seen, and Rachel showing us some truly awesome moves such as, “Shoppin’ for Groceries” and “Mowin’ the Lawn”.

We spent the next couple of days at the lakehouse playing Balderdash, throwing horseshoes (at stakes…not just throwing them for the sake of it) and going tubing. Actually, many of the Swaskos and Wolfs remain but I have returned to Coppell because Carrollton-Farmers Branch teachers officially returned to work today which leaves me with a feeling that epitomizes the term, “bittersweet”.

Enjoy the other pictures and we hope to hear from or see you all very soon.

Spamming the Spammers

I’m taking a break from a painting that I’m working on and I thought I’d share a (read in cockney accent) “brilliant li’il scheme” that one of our friends let us in on. This is truly a gem.

I’ll intro by slipping in to Info-mercial mode for a moment. Don’t be alarmed, I’m just going to ask some questions that have painfully obvious answers in a very enthusiastic voice. Your job is to look exaserbated and nod your head vehemently. Alternately, you can do the, “shrug your shoulders dramatically and point your palms to the sky” move. Ok. Here we go.

Are you tired of getting junk mail?

*You’re On!*

Is your mailbox crammed full of pre-approved credit card applications that you never asked for?

*Show me the drama!*

Do you wish there was something you could do to get back at them?

*Last time!*

Well today we have a solution!

*Audience erupts in hysterics*

Ok, I’m going to shutdown the Info-mercial bit and we’ll just talk like regular human beings who don’t make their living off selling any and everything that’s made from a material originally developed by NASA. On with the brilliant little scheme. I have to admit up front that honestly, this isn’t all that likely to actually decrease the amount of junk mail you receive. However, you will (or, I do at least) return from the mailbox with a sense of satisfaction and you can almost hear William Wallace in the background shouting about freedom.

So you know how along with the pre-approved card and application form these companies send, they also include the No Postage Necessary envelope? What you do is put all the little junk flyers and brochures in that envelope, seal it and pop it in the mail! Make sure you don’t include any documents that have your name on it. It may have only cost them a couple of cents to send you the original mailer, but it’ll cost them thirty-nine to get their own junk sent right back to them! *Siiiigh*. Baseball, apple pie and stickin’ it to the Man.

After some Googling, I found this. Check it out if you’d like.

We hope you’re all doing well and thanks for checking out our blog!

Is it already August?

The summer is officially nearly officially over. Today and tomorrow we have full days of in-service where a woman is speaking to us about “A Framework for Understanding Poverty”. The test scores for schools that have adopted the practices in the book are pretty encouraging, so I hope that we’re able to see those sorts of improvements at Polk over the next couple of years.

On Wednesday night we’re heading to Paris in anticipation of Kristi and Eric’s wedding on Saturday which is the perfect bookend for a great summer that began with Kari and Josiah’s wedding! Many a Swasko will be in from out-of-town so we’re going to spend Sunday and Monday at the lake house (which still doesn’t have a nickname) before returning to Dallas. Actually, I’m coming back on Monday night because teachers have to be back at work on Tuesday morning (the officially official end of the summer) and Laura is going to remain for a few more days.

I’m still anxiously watching the yard for signs of successful germination of the bermuda seeds I put down 8 days ago. I swear, if I spent $451 worth of water keeping those things moist with nothing to show for it I’m going to commission Wendell Berry himself to drive down here from Kentucky to get this lawn whipped in to shape.