Sunday, March 29, 2009

NYC, Missing Out & The Rubber Chicken

As promised, here is the much ballyhooed accounting of our little excursion to the Big Apple. You know it’s bad when, in all honesty, I have to report that the Rubber Chicken had a better time than I did. I spent at least 24 hours puking my guts out. Now before you get all excited and think it had something to do with St. Patrick’s Day, think again. Jeez Louise, remember the nine children? Remember I’m 52 years old? Remember we were there for a high school journalism convention for crying out loud.

No, apparently it either had something to do with some virus I picked up or that Linguine Vongole I ate. Either way I didn’t feel better until after I puked all night long, crawled into a cab and then threw up again in front of the nice little doctor’s office by Central Park, got a shot, drank some Gatorade and slept another 12 hours.

In the meantime, everyone else got to go to the Wall Street Journal, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park. Oh, and let’s not forget the three course dinner at the 21 Club and the orchestra section seats for the Mary Poppins Broadway show. Or let’s not forget the shopping or running willy-nilly through Times Square.

No siree, missy. I got to do none of that. Nope. Instead, I got to do things like see the Naked Cowboy on Times Square. Yeah, now that was some kind of fun.

So you can see how the Chicken enjoyed his little visit more than I did. Not only did he get to do all those fun-filled things. Hails bails, he even got to have his picture made with the pilot on our return flight home. Not that I’m complaining, but all I ever get on my airplane rides is a smile or two and an occasional packet of pseudo Chex mix. Yeah, that’s how I roll.

I didn’t even get to attend the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s awards ceremony to watch the kids collect their first ever national award—a Silver Crown. Nor did I get to teach my session on blogging where I intended to not only impart what little wisdom I possess, but I also intended to do a little bit of shameless blog self-promotion. I even made my own cute little business cards. Yep about 100 of them.

And yep, I still have 100 of them.

Probably the biggest disappointment, though, was that I didn’t get to spend much time with my little DIs (darling inspirations), so I don’t have much fun-filled fodder to report. I mean there were the regular things like getting on the wrong subway, someone falling down while trying to slide into the elevator, someone else accidentally opening the door to the airplane bathroom while someone was in there. You know, the regular stuff that occurs when traveling with teens. Still, I do have a few things to report.

Richie’s Top 5 Noteworthy Incidents
From Our NYC Trip

Incident #1…At the Museum of Modern Art…
Staffer… “Where’s the Mona Lisa”
Me… “In Paris”
Staffer… “Oh…I thought van Gogh did it.
Me… “Let’s institute the 10 second rule.”
Staffer… “Huh?”
Me… “Don’t say anything else without counting to 10 first, OK?”

Incident #2…Also about the Museum of Modern Art…
My newspaper editor…“Did you see the lint on the floor? How is that art? I could get my dog to chew something up and hack it back up on my carpet and call that art.”

Incident #3… Walking around the streets of New York…
One of the sports editors every time he came across a ventilation grate would stomp and yell, “Wake up Ninja Turtles!”

Incident #4… Waiting to board the plane…
Me…Why aren’t you boarding?
Staffer…“Oh, are they boarding?”
Me… “Yes. That’s why everyone is getting on. Jeez.”
Staffer…“I guess we’re on the short plane.”
I guess if Obama can make politically incorrect statements about special education so can the DIs.”

Incident #5… After my daughter chaperoned the DIs…
My daughter (who is the final stages of completing her student teaching in elementary education–she just loves teaching those little ones–and who thankfully stepped in to watch my big kiddos while I hovered near death in my fancy schmancy Times Square hotel room) returned from an outing with the children and said, “Mom, I don’t know how you do it. I could never teach high school.”

Hmmm, interesting. I’m not quite sure how I do it either.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One More Lesson To Learn

(Writer’s note…I am suspending my usual posts to comment about the recent death of my father. This piece was originally posted at BlogCritics magazine. Next week I’ll update you on my New York City trip, and yes, I will post our photos of the Rubber Chicken in New York City at that time.)

For months, my father battled cancer, a disease that left him dying in pieces. I made at least half a dozen trips to Colorado in as many months. With each visit, I found a little bit less of him.

On St. Patrick’s Day I found myself on another plane, but this time this plane was headed in the opposite direction, nose pointed to New York City. I was with nine of my newspaper students traveling to a journalism convention and awards ceremony where we collected our first ever national award --a Silver Crown.

My father would have wanted it that way.

Life, my parents always told me, is for the living. Do not let death drive your decisions. Now, traveling back to Texas, the phone call came.

Dad was gone.

And so, after 52 years, I found myself orphaned. My age, however, in no way mitigates my sadness or heaviness of heart as I search for the words to describe the loss. It’s the loss of the future, of sharing life’s moments with my Dad. It’s the phone call not made. The card not mailed. The email not sent.

I know millions have gone before me, trekking through life in various stages of aloneness. Still, that does little to mitigate my sadness.

I lost my mother a little over two years ago. She, too, died in pieces as we witnessed her losing battle with lung cancer. Both of my parents would have preferred to die like the two characters in the movie Secondhand Lions -- “with their boots on.”

At that time, I did what any self-respecting Italian would do. I cooked and tried to make sense of this mess we call life.

To me, it came down to a bowl of chili for my mom, and now two years later, a bowl of chicken soup for my dad to save me from my failure - my failure of trying to say goodbye. Even though both of my parents were close to 80-years-old when they died, the knock of death just never seems to be an easy door to answer.

I guess it’s just that I don’t know how you really say goodbye.

Yes, I told my father how much I appreciated all the wonderful memories he gave me, and the lessons he taught me. All that chatter was done on a cold March day over several cups of my homemade soup. We reminisced about going to the opera (because everyone should go at least once) and President Kennedy’s funeral (because everyone should witness history). Then there were the little things, like Dad showing my sisters and I how to cook baked potatoes in a campfire and how to catch blue-shelled crabs with just a string and piece of raw chicken. But of all the lessons he taught, the best was that it was okay just to be yourself.

On this airplane with 150 or so souls aboard, I wonder if all of that was enough, or if perhaps there were some other words I should have said, something else I should have done.

All I have left now are prayers and memories to fill the empty spaces in my heart. I look at my two daughters sitting beside me and wonder what memories they’ll cling to when I die.

I guess my father left me one final lesson after all: Even though we may die in pieces, our memories make us whole.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My blogging absence

Fans of this blog may have noticed the absence of recent posts. Part of this was due to spring break and my New York City trip. And, yes, we will post photos of the Rubber Chicken in New York as well as bring you up to speed on some of the funfilled things that occurred including conversations at the Museum of Modern Art that went something like this…

staffer… “Richie, how come some of that stuff is in here? Did you see those photographs?"

me…“Yes, dear.”

staffer… “Why are they in the museum? I took better photographs for your photography class than that but you gave me a bad grade…”

me… “Yes dear… I’m just mean…”

But all of that funfilled extravaganza will have to wait. On my way back from NYC, I received word that my father–a true patriot and family man–had lost his battle with cancer. Even though expected, knowing never dulls the ache of the loss. I have much more to say about this and will post more later. I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated the thoughts and prayers of friends who knew. May God bless all of you.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Carnival of Education & Other Odds & Ends

The Carnival of Education has been up and running over at the Right Wing Nation. My post “Teens, Trips & the Rubber Chicken” was included, but you don’t have to go there to read it here.

But you know the drill. If you want to know what’s buzzing around the EduSphere, you really need to go there and see what everyone else is saying.

Fans of this blog know that next week is spring break, and I’ll be in NYC with nine DIs (Darling Inspirations) for the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s national journalism convention where we will claim our first ever national award. (Can we get a big WOO-HOO?!).

So chance are, I won’t be posting for a week or so. If that makes you have some sort of withdrawals, you can hop over to Blog Critics and read another post I have over there by going here. I would love to see your comments there.

But before I go, I’d like to leave you with a little something that occurred on Friday as we tried to get everything ready for our NYC trip. The kids couldn’t decide whether they wanted to try and do the standing-out-in-front-of-the-Today-Show thing yet, so I told someone to call and get all the information. One of the sports editors called and got the location, but not the time. He didn’t want to call back.

Me…“Why not? We’ll never see these people.”

No response…so Mikey the extraordinaire volunteered to call again. It went like this…

Mikey…“Hi. What time do I have to get there to stand outside in the morning and act like an idiot?…OK. Thanks.”

Me…“I can’t believe you said that…”

Mike…“Why? You're the one who said we’d never see those people.”

Yeah, this trip is going to be some kind of fun.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Teens, Trips & the Rubber Chicken

Ah, it’s the week before Spring Break. Normally, this would be the time that we throw the final pages of our 304-page yearbook together to meet our final deadline and lock in our ship date.

Instead, I will be traveling with nine newspaper kids–let’s count them one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine–to New York City to attend the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s spring convention and collect our school’s first ever national award for its newspaper.

Pretty exciting stuff.

Pretty scary stuff.

Teenagers and trips.

Just the mere thought can make a teacher call the pension office and ask how much it will cost to buy additional years in order to qualify for retirement by tomorrow. When you say “teenagers and trips,” you might as well include the word “terror.” Just like Dorothy wandering through the forest in the Wizard of Oz chanting, “Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my,” substitute an old, fat, bitter teacher blubbering, “teenagers, trips and terror, oh my.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, some of my best memories have involved trips with my students. However, trips are where everything can suddenly spin out of control, things can and will go wrong, and when the dust settles, there you are, the last person standing, and all fingers are pointing at you—and not in a good way either.

You might as well walk out of a bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe. Whatever happens, you will get the blame even though you had about as much ability to intervene as you do at stopping Mount St. Helens from spewing again.

Horror stories across the nation abound. I’ve known teachers who tape the outside of doors to see who busts curfew (Isn’t that sort of like closing the barn doors after all the cows/horses/whatever have run off?). I’m not sure how that all helps.

Veteran teachers check into hotels with specific orders to the hotel staff: “Turn off the phones. Turn off the adult movie channels. Don’t provide room service.” Still, disaster strikes.

We lecture our students. I tell mine: “No sex, drugs, and only a little bit of rock‘n’ roll is permissible. No talking to strangers. No going anywhere with strangers, and just remember, don’t do anything you wouldn’t want God or your Mama to see. That’s the test. If you wouldn’t want God or your Mama to see it, don’t do it.”

Despite the chill down my spine, I think I’m almost ready for the thrill of this trip.

We’ve already decided to bring the rubber chicken. (He’s never been before.) We also decided to photograph our rubber chicken like the elementary kids do with their flat Stanleys.

So you’re probably wondering about those yearbook pages, my page proofs, the new batches of photography projects to grade, and all that important paper work exponentially reproducing on my desk.

Well, as they say in New York, “furgetaboutit.”

I’m leaving the work and taking the chicken. You'll find us on top of the Empire State Building.

You know, I think this little excursion is going to be fun after all.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Carnival of Education

Woo-hoo! Get your Carny face on and head on over to the Carnival of Education. It's up an running at Core Knowledge. It’s the only way to be in the know if you want to know what’s going on the EduSphere. Lots of good posts are there. My post “My Birthday, Crying Over Spilled Coffee & Rocky Mountain Angst” was included, but you don’t have to go there to read it here. Still, you need to go there so you’re not a Know-Nothing Ninny.

Btw, thanks to everyone for their birthday well wishing! Also, I’ve started contributing (just a small bit) at BlogCritics Magazine. I expanded my post on the demise Rocky Mountain News in case you’re interested. You can go here to read it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Birthday, Crying Over Spilled Coffee & Rocky Mountain Angst

Friday, February 27th marked my 52rd birthday.

Let’s just say on the Birthday Meter, this one registered about a minus three.

Such is my life…and it started out with such great promise. My birthday present from my BFF arrived containing a nifty shirt, pencils and books from the Newseum as well as another emergency chocolate bar to replace the one I ate earlier this month. (You can read about that crisis here.)

So Friday, I donned my nifty new “Got freedom?” Newseum t-shirt, sharpened my Newseum pencils and stashed them in my pocket and drove on to school. I even zipped through Starbucks to purchase a grande non-fat, three raw sugar latte in celebration of my birthday.

It pretty much went downhill after that. Here’s my list…

Top 5 Reasons My Birthday Sucked

Item #5… Right before first period started, I promptly spilled my grande non-fat, three raw sugar birthday latte all over the floor by my classroom. (On a positive note, my hallway smelled like Starbucks for the rest of the day. On a sad note, the smell was a constant reminder of my missing grande non-fat, three raw sugar birthday latte.)

Item #4…I left my emergency chocolate bar at home (which, of course, I needed after spilling my grande non-fat, three raw sugar birthday latte all over the floor by my classroom).

Item #3…I discovered that my new yoga instructor was actually my yearbook editor a gajillion years ago and that her daughter will soon be attending my high school and will probably sign up for yearbook. That little ditty all translates into one of two things: Numero Uno– I’m really getting old because I’m moving into teaching a second generation, or Numero Two-oh–my former yearbook editor must have started having children when she was like 10 years old. I think I’m going with Numero Two-oh. I don’t care what you say.

Item #2a…I discovered that my yearbook staff forgot about six pages. “Forgot?” you ask. Yes siree, Missy. Forgot as in…Hmmmm… never created…never assigned… Nothing. Nadda. Zilch. Zippo. Well, you get the picture. And, of course, this little fact was exacerbated by Item #4.

Item #2b…I didn’t leave school until after 5 p.m. on my birthday. And the yearbook staff? Why they were nowhere in sight, and neither was Item #4.

And, drum roll pah-leese…
The No. 1 reason my birthday sucked…After 149 years and 311 days, the Rocky Mountain News folded on my birthday. People who know me would understand why this would be a source of angst. Read about my despair by going here.