Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Freezin' Cabreezin'


It’s definitely winter here on the North Coast of the United States. Lots of blowing lots of cold. Here are some chilly pics – talk to ya after the holiday.

Merry Christmas.

jack frost on the window

out the front door

The driveway

Center Street in Mentor, Oh

Rt 2 Traffic jam due to accident

Better to stay home and knit.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Brake me off a piece of that...

At least the car didn’t fall on me.

I’ve been a part of enough workshops, panels and brainstorming conglomerations in my day to have participated in a myriad of ice breaking activities. From the simple” let’s go around the room and take turns telling everyone your name and why you’re here” to “who was the first major band you ever saw live, or tell something about yourself that nobody would guess” these little games are meant to put the folks in the room at ease and to build a bit of camaraderie.

With the latter I usually answer that I was once a barrel racer. Barrel racing is a rather cowboy kinda event. One races around three barrels placed in a ring some good distance apart (makes sense so far right) in a cloverleaf pattern – sometimes the event is called cloverleaf barrel racing – cowboys like to get to the point. Well, at least most cowboys I have met are taciturn that is except for the exceptions – cowboy poets – they can be quite long winded and rhymy to boot (no pun intended) – but that would be another post in which my friend and cowboy poet expert Jim Blasingame would have to make a ten gallon and spurred appearance.

Nope, this post is about brake jobs – that’s my second double secret talent – I am capable of performing maintenance to the part of an automobile that keeps you from plowing into a crowded Walgreens pinning some assistant manager against the photo developing kiosk.

This may seem an unlikely aptitude for a poet to possess, mechanical ability – and I do know my share of verse slingers who have an aversion to physical labor but there are also those bards who swing stanzas like a blacksmith’s hammer. Now I’m not talking the drum circle Robert Bly Mythopoetic ™ embrace your maleness new aged hoo-haw that staled a decade or two ago. I am thinking more along the lines of Carl Sandburg, Gary Gildner or Wendell Berry – those “guys who take showers after work” as Senator Chris Dodd has been expounding on as of late.

Anyway – once you’ve done a brake job or two you’ll have a basic working knowledge of what is going on and should be able to figure your way through changing pads and rotors on most vehicles. An easy way to visualize the set up is to imagine a CD spinning and you stopping it by pinching the spinning disc with your forefinger and thumb (another way to look at it would be a giant red lobster pincing a roulette wheel, not certain why one would want to – but ya could.) The CD is the rotor attached to your axle and your fingers would be the brake pads - pretty basic concept.

Of course, different manufacturers like to throw in little obstacles like the need of a special wrench or impossible to remove Phillips headed screws so no brake job is without its unforeseen impediment, usually accompanied by rust. The nuts, bolts and screws associated with brake assemblies are by design impossible to get at, requiring creative combinations of various hand tools accompanied by muscle taxing contortions of the human body. And, since brake jobs are generally only needed every couple years these fasteners have ample time to corrode into single units. Did I mention skinned knuckles? Expect them – and if you are lucky enough as I was to be doing these repairs in an unheated garage when the temperature is below freezing you understand the exquisiteness of the time delayed pain of flesh scraped off on a rusted bolt head when a wrench has slipped.

Even so, there are few satisfactions comparable to stepping on a brake pedal and having your automobile stop with the knowledge that you’ve just saved yourself a couple hundred bucks in the process. Of course, this talent is best kept hidden because much as the person who owns a pickup truck is so very popular amongst friends looking to move large objects so too can the mechanically competent be pressed into service. Therefore, when participating in these ice breaking activities I will continue to list barrel racing as my hidden talent – one doesn’t get many requests to help a friend because the barrel racing light is on in their car.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My mummy done told me...

Swung by
Bay Village Middle School today to give a presentation on Ancient egypt. The kids are in the middle of their Ancient Worlds unit and one of their teachers is my daughter in law and I just recently got back from Egypt - well, you do the math.

I had a good time, the kids were attentive and it was fun putting together the powerpoint show and wearing the galabia (the long shirt thing) and turban I bought in Cairo.

I think the kids enjoyed it as well - well all of them except maybe that one there behind me who seems to have passed out.

So now, I have a presentation, and a costume - anyone need a hour talk on ancient Egypt as entertaininment at your holiday party?

the reviews are in:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Those who can do?...

Contrary to popular belief:

being a teaching artist is not all about entertaining. Sure you can get away with being amusing and fun, have the kids write an acrostic poem or two, or ride an invisible horse while shouting the verses to the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. But sooner or later you are going to have to do your homework if you want to get anywhere in this business beyond an opportunity for a teacher to grade papers in the back of the classroom.

One of my favorite lines re: working with kids comes from the insanely prolific and successful children’s author Jane Yolen. When she is asked if she ever thinks she’ll graduate to writing for adults she questions back – “Would you ask a pediatrician if they someday hope to treat adults?”

There is a perception out there that working with kids doesn’t require a whole lot of grounding (or at least not as much as working with adults) both by some of the people bringing in teaching artists and more dangerously even some of those actually presenting to young folks. All good teachers know that this assessment is wrong.

As teaching artists our job is to assist the classroom teacher in furthering their curriculum. Our job is not to try and look cool in front of the students or to simply put in our day rehashing some dog eared exercises that the kids probably have already done seven times in their academic career. We have a responsibility to keep up with pedagogy and policy. Our job should be to go out and find the stuff that works. The stuff that classroom teachers increasingly do not have the time to dig up because they are – well, teaching five days a week, grading papers seven days a week, possibly coaching some sport or another, mentoring, tutoring, running the snack stand at the cross country meet etc. etc.

Every time I speak at a conference I attend the keynotes and also take a couple sessions. While most teachers are lucky if they can get to one or two professional development opportunities a year I have the luxury of attending dozens of these events annually. I would be remiss to pass up these occasions to gather new ideas. I read texts on teaching and educational theory suggested to me by folk way smarter than me. My first question to a teacher when I enter their classroom is “What would you like to see happen?”

Like any good artist, a teaching artist should be able to hide their work, embed strong strategies and best practices within their instruction so that is remains accessible to the student. Like a sketch underneath an oil painting, all the big ideas need to be there – just not necessarily over top of everything else. The best abstract painters are grounded in realistic technique and theory. Similarly, the best teaching artists take the time to learn good teaching skills.

I’m hoping that with the coming of the new administration in Washington that we will be seeing more use of teaching artists in the classroom. President elect Obama has stated the need for more professional development in education on several occasions. I am also hoping that those providing this instruction take their roles seriously because there could be a real paradigm shift in the next decade. There is a lot of work that needs to be done and I think teaching artist could be a profession that helps get this job done.

Monday, December 1, 2008

New Book

Received an advance copy of my new book from the publishers today.

I don't know - though - when it'll hit the streets.
Probably not in time to be a stocking stuffer - but still it's exciting to have it in my hands - and it looks pretty good too.
Now we wait for reviews.