Thursday, September 29, 2005

Middle School Moments 

So I'm out for a day attending a surprisingly useful conference for newbie yearbook advisors (Why, yes, I am insane). When I return, there's a detailed report from the sub in my mailbox, telling me that the kids have gone so far ahead in their projects -- despite instructions to keep them doing the research -- that it's going to be hell to get them to think about the rhetoric of a good oral presentation with powerpoint now.

In addition, the report notes that "the kids in the back" of my last class were a disaster. No names were taken.

So I ask them, in all innocence: how was the sub? And do they tell me about her pedagogy? Her leadership? Her kind and gentle nature? Her effectiveness (or obvious lack thereof) in guiding them through an activity which I both wrote out clearly for her and went over for twenty minutes with them the day before?

Of course not. Instead, they say: Oh, Mr. F, that sub was hot!

In other news, someone stole all the mouse balls in both my labs while I was gone. Imagine standing up in front of a class of middle school kids and announcing that a) your balls are missing, and b) whoever stole your balls better give them back right now, and you've got a good sense of how my day is going.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:32 AM | 26 comments

Sunday, September 25, 2005

In The Meantime... 

Discovered Terry Pratchett; am slowly recovering the book-a-night habit. Hoorah for libraries, the best bastion of the broke and nomadic, though why is it that most public booklenders all carry the same two-of-twenty from the Discworld series? Also good: Nick Hornby’s new book A Long Way Down.

See my comment on previous message for why backing up data is a luxury. Comment was in response to oldfriend Shaw suggesting that the loss of my iPod contents was due entirely to my own lack of backup; my case is that backing up can’t be done without serious stability and dough (and time, and space), which we haven’t had for a long, long time. I’d be interested in counterarguments, if you’ve got any, but not if you’re merely going to point me to free storage spaces, because access TO those spaces isn’t possible with no computer. Try plugging your iPod into a public library computer, see what happens, eh?

Speaking of poverty, an oddness in Jonathan Alter’s otherwise excellent analysis of Katrina social factors in this week’s Newsweek seems to suggest that, in addition to multiple televisions and an old car with over 100k miles on it, poverty “luxuries” which contribute to keeping people poor include a refrigerator and a washer/dryer. Excuse me? Having lived at various times without car, washer/dryer, and fridge, I’d suggest that not having these contributes significantly to the eternal loop of poverty; for example, doing laundry “out” means not being able to multitask at home at the same time, thus leaving less time for work, and not having a fridge means having to spend more cash on pre-cooked meals, thus keeping one from being able to accrue the cash that makes for savings, etc. I’d provide the direct link, but I’m on dial-up again.

And speaking of dial-up speed, the everperfect spouse mentions that she has already ordered DSL for the newhouse (even before we have an actual computer). It’s cheap for a reason: reported speed is 150 bps under low-traffic conditions, and do we want them to upgrade our house when they eventually get around to the neighborhood? According to the phone rep, they have to ask, but everyone says yes.

Three days to homeownership. The past ten days have become an exercise in math for the three year old, and anticipation for the rest of us. You mean this many fingers, daddy? Indeed.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:53 AM | 6 comments

Saturday, September 24, 2005


But Now I'm Found

20 gigs of music carefully culled from entirely legal sources, from artist download sites to iTunes to a voluminious CD collection.

Rarities now unrecoverable, from Sebadoh's cover of Cold as Ice to hand-recorded live versions of Manic Depression from Gillian Welch at last year's Green River Festival.

As yet unposted audioblogs and podcast drafts.

Digital product -- word documents, powerpoint presentations, photoshopped images, code and more -- representing the entirety of seven years of professional work.

The older child singing Happy Birthday to me on my thirty third.

My smallest daughter's first cry, recorded less than a half hour after her birth.

Gone like the wind.

Yesterday in the wee hours of the morning my iPod was stolen from our car behind the borrowed condo, and with it sundry other car contents: glovebox candy supplies, scattered CDs, an ancient Palm Pilot.

The week before, the thief took a folder containing the only copy of our newhome inspection report, and our last remaining checkbook.

The loss of stuff sucks, surely. But it’s the loss of content -- every file, every single-copy casualty to our no-back-up, no-computer nomadic lifestyle – that really hurt.

But not for long.

Last year at this time such a loss would have been a personal disaster. I'd have stormed off, tucked it inside, seethed for days, anger seeping out the seams.

But if seven months on the road with two kids and little else to show for it have taught me anything, it's that the best things in life aren't things. The bank can stop checks. My head contains all the music I've ever wanted. The thoughts will continue unabated, blogged or unblogged. I will have another birthday, another song sung. The baby will cry again. We lost her first voice, but we'll have her forever.

So while Darcie hung up hopeful signage round the neighborhood -- $100 and no questions asked for the return of the contents only -- I walked it off with baby Cassia. The gleeful looks we get in town cheered me up to no end. And the nuzzled fuzzyhead under my nose, redhaired and sweetsmelling, cleared my brain.

And as we walked back homeward, away from the chattering crowds and the headturning roar of motorcycles, for the first time in ages, she fell asleep in my arms, on my watch, as if she really trusted me.

I'll miss those nightly walks through town, the baby snug against my chest facing outward, passersby cooing and smiling like the world is a wonder. I'll miss the gasless access to supplies and cheap windowshopping entertainment, and the possibility, however unrealized, of hitting bars and musichalls afterhours.

But I no longer wish to live in Northampton.

You can have your smalltown. I'll take the woods, and gladly, as long as my family feels safe. And that's what counts, innit?

And so this Wednesday, we'll close on the house. The movers come Saturday. We’ll have bedrooms set up anon; our event horizon grows near.

My wife, my life, my daughters, my newly minted soul. My sense of priorities, my newfound center. For all these things, God, we give thanks. Especially the reminder that for all our strife and striving, all our desperation and distraught hours, I'm better than I used to be. Yes, thank you, O Lord, for even this loss, just in time. No matter how the world howls at us, this will always be the year I grew up.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:20 AM | 52 comments

Friday, September 23, 2005

Friday Five 

What I've Been Up To...
  1. getting out of chaperoning the middle school dance this afternoon (yes, I said afternoon. You'd avoid that, too, eh?).

  2. Caring for three sick family members in turn, including a half-day home to cover for a spouse suddenly turned into a human barometer (see, when the weather changes and hits the inner ear...)

  3. making this blog for work (please don't leave comments yet, it will only confuse the masses).

  4. My ears in work...

  5. 72 ounces of coffee before noon each day and counting!

Oy. Happily, we close on the newhouse Wednesday...keep yer fingers crossed for us, folks!

posted by boyhowdy | 12:49 PM | 1 comments

Monday, September 19, 2005

TalkTeach Like A Pirate Day 

Parents night went swimmingly (the trick: talk enough to ensure that parents get a good sense of your teaching style but have no time to ask how little Mary is doing). This afternoon's teacher-wide GradeQuick training is ready to go. I've fallen behind a bit on grading, but the kids are rarin' at the bit for content, so ahead we go with reserach projects for 7th and 8th, which will get us through everything from Inspiration to Access, Publisher and PowerPoint.

Good: found a sneakaround to access gmail at work, so no more once-a-week. Especially useful, since the in-law dial-up was dead over the weekend (hence the bloglessness).

Better: T'was our penultimate weekend at the in-laws, as we've ten days to houseclosing! Woohoo!

Better still: the newschool practices Talk (and Dress) Like A Pirate Day, charging kids two bucks a head for circumventing the dress code; cash goes to Katrina victims, specifically the family of a kid in my homeroom. Arrrrr! This damn eyepatch makes me walk into walls!

Oh, and I've decided to take on yearbook advising. It'll pay for just under half of our heating oil this winter. Yarrr!

posted by boyhowdy | 8:40 AM | 6 comments

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Small Morning Poem 

I grow accustomed to the dawn,
fond of the sunrise, the way the fog
lifts slowly, whirls around the light
traffic on the turnpike, the sun
like an orange low on the hills
larger than life above the truckbeds.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:35 AM | 5 comments

Monday, September 12, 2005

On The Fly 

Parent visiting night coming up Thursday, my own parents coming up tomorrow, plenty of grading to do in the intervening evening, and our temporarily local library is open 'til 9:00 tonight, so everclever I chose procrastination over the two-hour screaming fiasco that has become our children's bedtime ritual. To be fair, it was my wonderwife's sggestion that we each take a night off this week. Pity I left the iPod at home.

Surely the girls are glad to get me out of their hair. Monday it may be, and the scholday short, but I've been coming home drained, still struggling to ration the adrenaline as the job comes together. Where other teachers teach four classes, broken up by a full-period prep and a full lunch, I teach thre of my own, two of someone else's, and in the tween hours flit throughout the building, planing for more to come, laying board in front, building the bridge as I cross it.

It's my kind of work, to be sure: a wide mandate, free reign to fulfil it as I see fit, supportive and trusting supervisors on each of the myriad weblines that radiate out from my frenetic center. I've made a name for myself as a solver of long-standing cultural stagnation, a creator of situations, a pitter of problems against problems where'er possible. The Math teacher I partnered with today and tomorrow asked for my instructional support in part because "the kids think you're so much fun" -- not a bad commendation for a metateacher and co-conspirator less than ten days into the job.

They care, too. The principal asks me to please keep myself from burning out, though I'm just geting started, and love the hot flame, the tapdance on the edge of sanity. My assigned mentor suggests that I keep my ear open for mention of "tacos," this institution's cultural code (every business has one) for drinks after work, perhaps at the Ground Round, where our hardworking faculty are known for closing the bar. The administrators offer me coffe, though I haven't joined the club.

And as go the supervisors, so go the served. Teachers wait patiently, ask questions, adapt to my new rules about library lab sign-ups with little resistance. The kids bug me about the nicotene gum (but really, I remind them, would you want me to be the kind of teacher who follows the rules to the letter, and in doing so keep them on my side for one more hilarious rendition of "FAQ is not an obscenity."). The janitors board up the broken shelves without a work request just because "you looked like you deserved it."

It's my kind of work, to be sure: my throat burns at the end of the day and I love it.

Walking into a mass of ready-to-drop blood-of-my-blood, undismissable and often cranky, can be a tough end, especially when I walk in the door squeezed dry, a full day's energy expended before the shadows stretch even past the classroom perimeter.

But it's great, too, to come back at day's end to a grinning infant sprouting new red hair like her daddy; a thre-year-old in her underwear runing to the door for a hug; a calm and centered wonderwife reading furniture catalogs at the center of the whirlwind.

Though the tiny nest we've borrowed chafes at our psyche, the cool wooded end is near. Soon, my family, the whirlwind will cease, the balance will be struck, the home will be a haven. Peace is on the tip of our tongues, our horizons, or Christmas stockings. I can feel it in the air, as sure as Indian Summer.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:23 PM | 13 comments

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Lost Blogs 

Still struggling to return to the daily blog. It'll be a while, I think: no time at work, and no net access in the borrowed skinny-traincar condo I return to each afternoon to find my wife and children just about to go stir crazy. I save my email for the weekend, wonder who's still out there following our long gypsy walkabout.

In the meantime, the brain still percolates oblogatory. Each early morning as I drive the L of first on highway, then another, through the sunrise and fog, the words and phrases that once became the daily blogentry jostle in my head.

Backed-up entries now too stale to write properly will forever exist as small fragments penned on paper scraps against the steering wheel. At night before my increasingly early bedtime, I empty my pockets of the prompts of a universe not yet settled, the cues of an actor who never takes the stage.

Recent lost blogsubjects, each sure to be beautiful in their own way if given proper time and attention but now lost to the ages, include:
  • The curious and somehow sinister coincidence of Willow's new tendency to cringe from me when she is tired or fighting "because I don't want you to hit me" (I have never hit her and hope always to contain the beast inside me that constantly threatens to override my conviction as parent and human), and my immediate reaction to the huge bruise she sports from falling out of the bathtub. To wit: as a teacher, I KNOW this is how kids get taken away from their parents, seeing bruises and hearing however-unfounded concerns or abuse, and can a parent do anything about it?

  • Some sort of 9/11 reflection in the context of Katrina, starting with the reminder that there is no hierarchy of disaster.

  • How much we enjoy living in the smalltown downtown bustle of Northampton, just around the corner from everything, and the irony of doing so en route to a new home in the middle of absolutely beautiful rural nowhere.

  • How damn good I am at both fulfilling and interweaving all the sundry parts of this seen-as-impossible new job, especially in setting one problem against another to solve them both with little fuss but much amazement; how nice it is to be recognized daily for the work, and how wonderful it is to be exhausted from it all.

We'll settle soon. Yesterday's inspection of the new house turned up little but a few easily sprayed-for carpenter bees and a few loose wires in the basemenet. The homeowners have signed the official paperwork; the loan has come through. We'll close by the end of the month, move in over the weekend, find furniture through October. And then, oh, then, almost ten months after we began to plan our gypsy life, we'll be settled again.

And when that final piece of the puzzle falls in place, and the celebrations are over, I'll be dammed if I don't start blogging daily again. For the daily blog is after all both my meditation and my muse, both symptom and completion of the recentered life we long for.

In the meanwhile, these lost blogs reflect our lives, I suppose: busy but still unsettled, hovering in the eaves of the mind, waiting for the universe to come together like a thousand bees displaced.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:35 AM | 46 comments

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

No Mo' Mail... 

It appears that, as of yesterday, the kind folks at the old prep school have stopped forwarding email from my old address. Because, you know, it took up so much space on their server and everything to leave that tiny automated forward in place. [/sarcasm]

Bad news is anyone still trying to hit my old addy will have no idea they're dropping mail into a black hole. If that's you, PLEASE change your address book entry for yours truly to ASAP.

Good news is I've suddenly stopped getting megaspam sent over from the old address. They can have it -- I've moved on, and gladly.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:57 PM | 2 comments

Monday, September 05, 2005

Keeping Up With Katrina 

If you're like me (and who isn't), the recent disaster in the American South has been preying on your mind, but you're not yet ready to risk your own recently settled life and family to drive a thousand miles to offer help you honestly aren't qualified to give.

But you want to do something, right? So, first, make sure you're getting the facts, so you can spread the word to those who can help more directly. For up to the minute details on the truth you won't see on the nightly news, BoingBoing provides a great snippet of bloggiverse-fodder (check the archives for all of September for a pretty full picture).

From numerous firstperson blogs (ongoing and recently deserted) at Ground Zero N'awlinz to horror stories about military mindsets gone awry to neat stories about how anthropological throwback social systems are emerging in the vacuum created by the lack of the other social structures to ongoing analysis about why and how fixing broken communications infrastructures are vital to a quick turnaround, you'll feel better informed by this evenhanded crosssection of the world's first totally flattened reporting system.

Then, if you can, give cash, goods, and time. Most folks recommend the Red Cross, which has been first on the ground and seems to have a pretty high rate of return for your buck. But geeks who followed the last clause in the previous paragraph might do well to consider one or more of the following:

1. Donate time to tightening up missing person databases so they actually work. This basically means logging on to any of these open-data-source sites (like this one), skimming random entries, and making sure the right info is in the right field. Do it freelance. Do it now.

2. Take your extra phones, blackberries, and other older-but-still-working technology and put in in a big box labeled "for anyone you can think of" and send it South via the usual routes (Red Cross, etc.) Heck, you could even send a pre-paid phone card with your old phone.

3. Donate money directly to those working to bring back the communications infrastructure necessary to coordinate subsequent aid and people-finding.

What are you waiting for? Go help.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:22 PM | 1 comments

On Labor 

Note to international readers: today is Labor Day, a national holiday in the US, one of about a dozen wherein most of us don't work. Causes no end of end-of-summer long weekend holiday traffic, especially up here in the "gateway to Vermont." Brits should note two things: first, that we don't put a "u" in labor (take from that what you will). And second, that labor in the US ain't no party. Now, on with the shortshow.

I've always thought of Labor Day as inherently ironic, a day we celebrate work by not going. But the real backstory turns out to involve Grover Cleveland's attempt to appease Pullman workers on strike, and win back public support after a nasty strikebreak. It didn't work -- Cleveland lost reelection -- but the holiday stuck. And now you know the rest of the story.

Also true: I find myself much more appreciative of labor this year. Joni Mitchell knows you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone; being jobless for so long creates no end of appreciation when the right job finally comes along in the nick of time. But being unionless was also a constant cause for stress at the ol' prep school these last seven years. Five major changes of administration later, and my now left-behind oncepeers still look forward to a workload that grows subtly but surely each year, no way to keep employee benefit payoffs from growing a percentage point each time the calendar turns around, and a pisspoor compensation package to match despite a recent overdue raise.

So this year we're celebrating in style. Off to the Guilford Fair with the munchkins for a smalltown celebration of all things agro-rural; back soon to prep for week two teaching, excel workshops with seventh grade math students, schoolwide teacher training on the new grading software, and the geeky excitement of who knows whatall to come.

And, on my lunch break tomorrow, I'm joining the teacher's union. Any group that can create such a wonderful package of benefits and high pay while maintaining excellent relations with local taxpayers and school administration, especially when most surrounding town teachers are starting the year with no contract at all, is worth my five hundred a year. Never thought I'd say so, but hoorah for the union; may its banner yet wave.

We'll be back in netless Northampton as of tonight. More soonest, with union card to prove it.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:50 AM | 2 comments

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Fall Stories 

September's still summer but the nights are like Fall...
- Girlyman, Fall Stories

The best of intentions can get you pretty far when you've got the freedom to direct yourself. Life at the newschool continues to rock in all ways: the kids are high-energy and hilarious as only seventh and eighth graders can be; the teachers are friendly and eager for my integrative interpretation and instructional partnerships; the administration continues to check in primarily to reinforce that I'm doing great and publically visible work, and are you sure you're not in over your head?

Even those areas most vague in their expected implementation seem to be moving along faster than anyone expected, and mostly at my urging. Set up a social bookmark cluster for my co-integrators at other schools to share ideas and resources, and recieved much hurrahs in response for bringing 21st century technology to the service of our 21st century mandate. Looks like I'm in the right place at the right time.

On the other hand, of course, though you can pick your own surfboard and learn to ride with aplomb, no one can manage the waves. Major scare over the past few days as the house-to-be became a house that might not be; it's a long story involving an insane seller's agent and her extraordinarily stupid secretary, but the short version includes a hectic drive to Boston and back through Friday afternoon rush hour traffic on Labor day, and the horrifying realization that, until next Tuesday at the earliest, it is still perfectly legal for the sellers to decide that they'd rather sell the house to someone else.

Similarly, teaching in the only air-conditioned classroom in the building mitigates the low-tech computing inside, but it won't for long -- though my primary goal (teaching about computing's place in student's lives, and ultimately establishing a platform for them to better adapt to newer technologies as yet unrecognized) can be taught with any PC, it's harder to keep the kids on your side when you know, and they know, that the computers you're teaching them on are a bit too old to really support the best of what they could be doing. Teachers cite the lack of projectors and reliable computers as the primary obstacle to integration, and I may not be able to do much about either for a while.

Short-term solution for both constituencies, then, will include teaching them about how far computers have come in the last three decades, and how to identify the standard signals of computing -- title bars, windows, iconography, et. al. -- that will likely remain in place as long as we continue to use visual interfaces. At least they can do better with what they have. Oh, and hoorah for early adopters -- I'll be in all seventh grade math classrooms next week turning a jumping-jack tracking exercize into a lesson on both excel and, more importantly, the various ways to represent date and how to select the best representation for a given data-set and audience.

The horizon holds the potential for Tsunamis as always: politically, a district vote for building a new high school could create an easy excuse to withhold funding for technology growth in the schools, while the usual teacher busy-ness is a perennial stumbling block to my work. The world could end, of course, as it always can. The house could burn.

But life is good. I become the whirlwind once again, and embrace the winds of change whipping around me as best as I am able. The horizon looks sunny and clean, and so we move forward as if the world was eternal; build sand castles, design and build better surfboards, keep our beaches combed.

And I place my trust in God that no real estate agent would be so dumb as to cost her sellers an easy and eager sale just becuse her secretary can't figure out that crossing off all menu items but one in a draft Purchase and Sale agreement means we agree to the one item remaining.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:18 AM | 1 comments

Thursday, September 01, 2005


MAJOR apologies for being offline for so long. We're staying in Northampton weeknights for a while, and there's no computer; no time at work to blog (usually, heh) and gmail is blocked by firewall so I've not even been able to communicate 1:1 with cyberfolks all week. We'll get this ironed out eventually; for now, I've got fifteen minutes 'til my next class shows up, so here's a week's worth of bullets:

1. Housing: Signed paperwork on the loan yesterday and expect to close by end of month once inspections etc. are finished. Happy happy! In the short term, the commmute from Northampton isn't bad, all things considered. Ginny opens her coffee shop early so I can stop in for a much-needed latte on the way in.

2. Work: rocks. Seventh graders are tiny, but they're all bright. We're on day two of defining "computer" right now, which has been instructional for all of us. On the specialist side, teachers are coming in voluntarily -- it helps to have the only air conditioned classroom in the building ('cause computers need 'em, don'cha know). Great stuff to come, great place to be.

3. Family rocks too. Darcie made me lunch today; pre-crawler Cassia and I stayed up late babbling at each other. Willow is a mess from too many moves but has her moments good and bad like the rest of us.

Back in Brattleboro for tomorrow night and through Sun. More then!

posted by boyhowdy | 11:27 AM | 7 comments
coming soon
now listening