Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ent war

On one of the days when it wasn't raining, we went for our annual hike in Beebe Woods.  I left the trail map home so we just winged it, and it worked out fine -- a gorgeous hike (unintentionally) to the Ice House pond first, then skirting Peterson Farm over to the Punch Bowl and back to the Conservatory.  The path by Peterson Farm was particularly gorgeous, we were walking through boughs of raspberries on all sides.
Sorry for the blur. Must've been crud on the lens.

I thought it was mountain laurel, but a quick look at an online field guide contradicted that.  After some digging (way too much, actually -- should've known this one), it turns out to be some kind of raspberry.  Wish I could be there for the harvest.

It was nice to walk through all those flowers and see the lush marshlands just beyond them, because this particular stretch of Beebe Woods has seen much better days.   There's always the usual plant-on-plant destruction, with creepers and vines growing up the tallest trees and eventually bringing them down with their weight.  But this year we saw evidence of what looked some kind of brown fungal disease eating away several oaks, as well as an abundance of a light green spindly moss-type stuff absolutely coating many trees (same by my mother's house, sadly).  The infected trees are putting out many fewer leaves.  I think the moss or whatever it is is sucking out the trees' nutrients so they can't support as many leaves.

These changes were relatively subtle, though, and you could ignore them if you just wanted a nice walk in the woods.  But there was no way to ignore the number of broken and felled trees, almost from the moment we got in.  It was shocking.

Our first indication that something was wrong was this slim tree in the path.  What was weird about it was I couldn't see the bottom part of the tree.  In other words, it didn't just snap off and fall over.  It was broken off and thrown clear from its trunk and roots.

Another example, more violent than the first, because this was a substantially larger tree with much broader branches. 

And another.  These three were not the only ones we saw, and my nephew even made some attempt, as a good scout, to clear the trail when he could.  Most of the downed trees were off the trail, and there were many.

It is a mystery, but I think it must be hurricane related.  Hurricane Sandy was not the only big storm to hit here last winter, and Beebe Woods is on unprotected high ground.  Snow-laden and semi-frozen trees could break easily in high winds, or even bare trees could break if they were weakened by fungus, moss infections, or choked by vines.

That's one theory, anyway.

Other theories involve a negative and aggressive reaction from the native Ents, wood elves and dryads to the invasion of faeries at the nearby Highfield Gardens.
Everyone knows those twee little folk are nothing but trouble makers.


When I was in high school, I had this huge poster -- one of many, actually -- up in my room.  I remember I bought it at the Strawberry's record store in Kenmore Square in Boston, probably my sophomore or junior year -- that would've been about 1978 or 1979.  At the time I had just become enamored of Yes, and prog rock, and everything that went along with it.

Rodney Matthew's Tanelorn

Given yet-another cloudy and cool day, I loaded the kids up into the car and we took off to Hyannis to Spinnaker Records.   DS1 loves prowling through used records stores and finding obscure stuff.  DD loves it, too, although what she comes up with tends to be less obscure.  At any rate, Spinnaker has a huge collection of 1970s and 80s rock posters and album art and all kinds of cool stuff that was fun to look at, but none of the stuff that I actually owned myself back then.

So given nothing better to do, I decided to see if I could track down that poster I had always thought of as "that huge cool Roger Dean poster I gave to Joe when I went to college and he enlisted in the army."  

Except it turns out not to be a Roger Dean poster at all, and I feel like I owe an apology to Rodney Matthews, who has probably been dealing with that confusion his entire career (which has been and continues to be, quite productive).  

It also has a name, which is Tanelorn, the Eternal City from Michael Morcook's multiverse. I have never heard of Tanelorn before today, although of course I'd heard of Morcock and his Eternal Champion, Elric.  I had good friends (the aforementioned Joe was most certainly among them) who were reading this stuff (in between D&D sessions), along with Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series.  I never read any of it, sticking more with science fiction (Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Herbert), although I did get more into fantasy later (McAffrey, Zimmer Bradley, LeGuin).  Of course everyone read Tolkein, then.  

I literally wrote out and had to erase: I have no desire to read epic fantasy ever again, but then I realized I'm still curious to see how GRRM is going to untangle the multiple knotted plot threads in his massive A Song of Fire and Ice series, popularly known as Game of Thrones.  I've got a bit of wait on that front, with a possible publication of volume six in 2014 and then who knows how long for the final book.

So I haven't really lost my taste for fantasy, and this image still tugs at my heart. The thing I love about it is that you can't tell whether it's a city or an impossibly huge ship, able to slip away at will  -- exactly the kind of thing Tanelorn can do.  Kudos, Mr. Matthews.

Friday, June 21, 2013

capsule reviews

Have inexplicably seen a lot of movies lately.  Perhaps not so inexplicably, really: finally there was something that we wanted to see.  Generally we manage to go to a matinee (at home, the first show of the day is only $5!) because going out to the movies at night is not that important to us.  At any rate, here are my quick impressions of what we've seen recently:

Oblivion: the previews were highly deceptive, as is typical.  Loved it.  Very smart, tight science fiction film that speaks to what makes us human, and keeps us that way.  I'm sure some people hated it, but thinking back I can't find one thing I'd criticize.  Would love to see this again.

Star Trek: Into Darkness: brilliant, just brilliant.  Loved it. I loved JJ Abrams' original reboot anyway, and this is a more-than-worthy successor.  Same players, different game.  Well, mostly the same players -- fatherless Jim Kirk vs Jim Kirk, the stack of books with legs at Starfleet Academy.  Motherless, homeless Spock vs supremely stable Spock. More, I won't say, but McCoy and Scotty and all the rest are just a joy to watch, and the way this one played out took my heart out of my chest and stomped on it, then picked it up, brushed it off, and put it back in so it could keep on beating. 

Man of Steel: Not as brilliant, but I really enjoyed it.  The fight scenes went on for too long (I've seen a well-reasoned argument that it's realistic for two super-beings to fight that way, and while that may be true, it still doesn't necessarily make for a compelling movie.)  Other than that, I loved all the Kents (Costner was fantastic), Henry Cavill has the look and the sound and the bearing completely down, and Amy Adams' was terrific as Lois Lane.  I do think that Russell Crowe kinda phoned it in as Jor-El but how emotional can a hologram really get?  I'm hearing a lot of complaining about certain parts of this film that make me think that people really aren't paying attention to what's on screen.  One of my favorite scenes? Two words: crucified truck. 

Monsters University: Saw this today with my brother and nephew, before they headed back up to Boston.  It was delightful.  First off, of course it was gorgeous, but the character work (not the drawing, the acting) was really spectacular as we've come to expect in Pixar films.  I saw a capsule review in my Mom's paper that essentially panned this, and again, I wonder, what was that guy watching?  Helen Mirren is just so scary and Nathan Fillion plays the frat boy jerk character perfectly.  Speaking of perfectly, there are at least three places in the story where you think something's going to happen, you just know it, having seen so many of these movies and knowing where Mike & Sully end up, but then... it doesn't.I love this movie for what didn't happen, as much as for what did.   Now I want to go back and watch the original again.  The accompanying short, The Blue Umbrella, was wordless but nonetheless packed with emotion and suspense expertly built and then released, and simply lovely.

All in all, a good run.  Coming up: The Lone Ranger, and Despicable Me 2.  We're on the fence about World War Z, good reviews not withstanding.  We're looking at good weather for the next long stretch so who knows.

Saturday, June 08, 2013


Doctor's office called and asked for a call back.  It's always a concern when they do that, because if everything was fine, they'd just leave an automated message.  So when I called back I was put on hold interminably, but then got the briefest report: CA125 is 'normal' (how suspicious I am of that term), but the ultrasound shows a cyst on my right ovary.  I need a follow-up ultrasound in 8 weeks.

This, I can manage.

I asked for the reports to be mailed to me so I can see for myself what's going on.  I wasn't surprised to hear that I have a cyst on the right side now, even though it's the left that's been bothering me for the past 2 months.  These past few nights I can't sleep if I'm lying on my side, either side. 

So if it goes as it usually does with me, by the time of the follow-up they'll be nothing at all to see, again.

Maybe I should have them out, just to spare myself all this foolishness.  The NP I see at the office suggested it, last go round, but I won't go under the knife again unless I must. I've had worse  pain.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

more break downs

Having whined at length about my career, I can move on to the periodic physical health update.

I developed another ovarian cyst mid-April and, since it still hasn't resolved, went to the gynecologist, got the referral, and had the ultrasound.  It's amazing how easy it is to schedule procedures and tests when I'm not having to work around a school calendar.  I was able to get all of that done (including another CA-125 test) in just two days.  But now I have to wait and see what it says.  I've had so many of these that at this point, it's just a routine, I'm not expecting anything.  Except of course there is that tiny nagging doubt that maybe this time, there really is something going on.

That thought creeps in and I promptly ignore it.  I'll jump off that bridge when I get to it.


I'm going to be fifty years old in two months.  In all that time, I've had my hair colored (highlighted, I guess) exactly once.  Still never had a manicure (or a pedicure - too ticklish).

But yesterday, I had a laser procedure to try to reduce the nasty-looking appearance of the vein extending from a scar I have on my left leg.  It was very quick and while not exactly painless, I wouldn't call it painful, either.  A series of tiny pin-jabs.  The technician thought the results would be good, but it will take some time to see.  It wasn't that expensive, but I'm still kind of embarrassed about spending money on something so purely cosmetic, plus something that probably no one else ever noticed.  The scar itself is barely visible, but the vein was really noticeable (to me).

I'm noticing more gray hairs this year.  Generally I leave them alone but there are a few that stick straight up and out (they always seem to be more wiry), and those I pluck.  I don't want to be one of those women that's trying to stop the clock, but I also don't want to look like one of those ladies with the crazy hair.

And let's not even talk about clothes.  The return of 70s and 80s fashion is killing me; we're surrounded by ugly clothes, or clothes that only look good on stick figures, again.  And if I see something cute or nice, odds are it's designed for someone around my daughter's age.  It does make retail therapy difficult, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  There's always shoes.


Aside from the ovarian cyst, the health issues I was struggling with last year at this time are, I could say, in remission.  I think that's valid because I have this sense that they're just biding their time, waiting to get me, but they're not bothering me now.

My acid reflux/GERD is well-controlled (I can sing!),  and my arthritis/fibromyalgia only kick up when I'm very bad on my diet or I have a very strenuous day, like the last day of school  - slicing up six huge watermelons put a bruise on my hand, it's not easy with a plastic knife.  Mopping, sweeping, and moving a lot of furniture didn't help, either.

My weight fluctuates between 137 and 142.  I can live with it, although I have this ideal of settling around 130-133.  I can't let it get any higher because then none of my new pants for work will fit.  I can eat tortilla chips or potato chips or popcorn occasionally; carbs in general don't seem to cause problems for me, but wheat in particular does.  It's harder to be strictly low carb now since I have to avoid dairy, and I can't live on cheese anymore.  I'm grateful for almond milk.

My ultrasound technician on Monday was a talker, as they often are, to try and distract their really-need-to-pee patients from their discomforts.  I wasn't surprised to hear her say something I've thought myself, which is that about every seven years, our bodies go through some sort of realignment or change.  I'm 49, and this was a year of change for me; 49 was definitely better than 48.   I have a sense of figuring out a lot of what's been going on with me, my whole life, and how to manage better, now.  Shame it took nearly 50 years to figure it all out though.

break down

No car today.  The starter was showing signs of giving out and then it actually did yesterday, on literally the last stop before I was going to bring it over to the shop to have it looked at.

So now I'm stuck in the house all day, which I suppose is good because I have better odds now of actually cleaning out those closets.

Summer vacation, for the kids, means staying up late and sleeping in.  Its' 10:42 and I haven't heard a peep from any of them, but that's OK because we're not doing anything these days.  I may wake them up, I may let them sleep.  I think DS2 has grown three inches in the past month (an exaggeration, but he does seem huge now), and he certainly needs the sleep. 

For me, so far, vacation has meant a lot of running around.  My Mom would say "like a chicken with its head cut off," and that's sort of how I feel.  I don't know what I'm doing.  My school year ended on a significant up note (my students' AIMS scores improved, third year in a row!), but the changes planned for my campus and the behavior of  one cohort of my students remain concerns. 

The plan for next year is for me to teach seventh grade (mostly earth science) and biology (probably 9th graders).  While I am excited to teach biology, I'm not excited about having to develop an entirely new curriculum.  I'm not starting from scratch but in reality, I am, because while I have the last bio teacher's curriculum map, etc, I'm not sure how useful that's going to be.  Our administration is leaning heavily on us to have more hands-on, experiential learning, and I honestly don't know how to do that with many of the concepts I'm dealing with.  

I'm also sad that my 8th grade curriculum, which has shown good results the last 3 years, is being shelved.  I hadn't really thought about that when the new teaching assignment was proposed to me, but I really love that curriculum and I really loved teaching it.  I hope that I will grow to love biology just as much if not more (that was my first area of certification, after all), but I've invested three years there and it makes me sad to just see it set aside. 

So the plan for me involves a huge change.  There are also huge changes planned for the administration (existing principal moving to another school in our charter district, two different "principals" sharing duties on different days at our campus...) that it's hard to imagine how they will be implemented so that they actually work.  One of our biggest challenges in the past three years has been absentee administration. As in, you call or go up to the office, and there's literally no one there to help you with whatever you need help with, for students or for teachers.  So while we're going to have a full-time vice principal and a full-time dean of students, I have concerns about having two part-time principals.  It seems as if there isn't any one person in charge, and therefore responsible, ever.  I'm trying to reign in my negativity with minimal success.

One of the reasons it's hard for me to remain positive about these plans is my last group of seventh graders.  I've been complaining consistently about them, documenting their classroom behaviors and putting them into the discipline system all year long, and a significant number of them have made absolutely no progress.  Back in August, these students would rip little pieces of pencil erasers off and then throw them at each other whenever my back was turned.  OK, that was the beginning of the year, and they were essentially glorified 6th graders.  But a whole school year has passed, and during our last project of the year (model an ecosystem), these same students were breaking crayons and throwing them around the room at each other. 

Worst of all?  On the last day of school, my "thing" is to bring in watermelon for all my classes.  I have now served watermelon to 21 different classes over 3 years at this school, and only in my last class of the day this year have I ever seen students throwing watermelon at each other. It wasn't just one or two pieces, it was all over the place, smashed on the walls and in the corners.  I was so disturbed by their behavior, it still upsets me to think about it, a week later.  I told them, "If I don't come back next year, it's because of you."

And I have been looking. I'm well aware that the grass is always greener.... I'm comparing commuting times, and so far there are jobs out there I could do, but I haven't applied.  I probably won't because I'm lazy and because at least where I am I know what I'll be dealing with, but I feel so beaten down right now.  I am grateful that my eighth graders made so much progress, but my seventh graders were so difficult that any positive feelings about last year are easily outweighed by the negatives.

The thing is, I don't even know if that's a valid perspective, or if I'm just over-reacting.  I can't help beating myself up over this -- what could I have done differently?  What did I do or not do that allowed all this to continue?  I have no way to assess how much responsibility to take, but my starting point is, I'm responsible for what goes on in my classroom.  I believe that, but is it really true when I've got a dozen sociopaths to manage and no administrative support?

About a third of new teachers leave the profession after three years, and by five years, more than half will have left.  I'm in that zone now.  I don't have any doubts about teaching, but I do have doubts about teaching where I am.  I thought it would be getting easier by now.  In many ways, and for my eighth graders, it was.  But as for the rest? It's hard to see any relief.