Girls Should Not Be in the Weight Room

I wanted to be a bodybuilder.  I know, check out the “about me” photo, and you’ll see a pretty scrawny individual who is not even good at cross-country, the one sport where people are morally required to cheer for all participants even if they’re terrible.  But for some reason, in college, I got the idea that I should not only be a bodybuilder, I should compete.

My lifting partner and I met twice a day at the non-varsity gym at 5 AM, no small feat for Rochester, New York. I lived off campus, and it was a mile and a half walk through all sorts of weather to accomplish our morning workout. It usually snows and rains in Rochester about 400 days a year on a leap year–the weather is so crappy, that the suicide rates are higher due to lack of sunshine. The University even built tunnels from building to building so that, like moles, students can burrow along and not emerge until after the thaw in mid-July.

But even with the distance to the gym and my crazy schedule—I worked full-time all crazy hours four miles in the other direction–weight lifting was important.

We started our day with a protein drink and the first half of our split workout somewhere between 5 and 5:30 AM, a time when no college student is awake except for the very few still painfully trying to locate their dorm rooms after whatever they had done the night before.

For a while, our presence in the non-varsity gym was somewhat of a curiosity—the muscle-loving college guys didn’t give us much respect. Girls aren’t supposed to be in the weight room. Well, maybe they can in certain circumstances, like when they’re decorating the sidelines or showing off matching outfits near the five-pound weight section that they might lift after the gossip session. We were very, very different. There were no matching clothes for us—only baggy sweats, lifting gloves, straps and all the grungy equipment a proper weight lifter should have. We were serious.

After our morning workout, we went to the dining hall with a half-dozen zip-lock bags and Tupperware containers.  We ate what we could and packed food for later. I’m not proud—technically, this was against the spirit of “all you can eat,” maybe even crossing the line into theft, but I was flat broke.  Breakfast was the cheapest meal available, so breakfast was the meal I attended.

The way we saw it, it was the best $2.35 shopping trip in town for poor, off campus college kids. It didn’t feel wrong packing take out lunch, because the football team “all you can eated” half the room.  Ergo, I felt I deserved a bag full of apples, some cereal, a couple of bagels, and whatever else didn’t squash in my bag, especially when I factored in the tuition I was paying. This turned out to be a mistake for my lifting partner when she left hard-boiled eggs in her bag and two days later, cleared out the entire section of physics.

After a while, things got socially better for us in the weight room. Some of the guys actually acknowledged our existence. They’d even move away from the weights to let us pass through and let us rotate into sets.  They passed us the real weights, not just the girly-5’s. It was definitely a sign of respect. And one day, someone even gave us the “hey” nod.

But the lines in the sand were still drawn, and the boundaries were clear.  Guys often give lifting pointers to other guys, “Hey, you should try maxing out at ten reps, then doing supersets of (insert exercise here.).”  If a guy performs an exercise incorrectly, another guy is required to correct him, either to help him avoid injury or to attain that girl-scoring chiseled physique.  It’s in the rulebook.

But girls can never correct, help, or spot guys.  It’s not allowed.  When we dared try to helping a scrawny guy about to drop a weight on his face doing an exercise wrong, the entire room stared like we were suffragists a hundred years ago demanding the vote.

Eventually, we broke through the barriers. We knew we had truly made it–become real lifters–one day when a guy took our pointers and nodded a weak thanks.  He cast a furtive look around the room to see if he had been socially emasculated, relegated to the ranks of wimpy guys driving minivans who lost their male card. Noting that he had not—that the gym crowd was treating us as genderless equals–he actually broke a smile.  We were in.

Eventually, even though we were Part of the Crowd, I decided I was not going to be a competition weightlifter, even as a hobby.  First off, no matter how many stolen hard-boiled eggs I ate, I could not gain enough weight to be serious in the sport—yes, “the sport,” for it quickly turns into an addiction.  It starts with enjoying the strength and conditioning, escalates to reading Muscle & Fitness every day, chanting mantras like “Incomplete reps make incomplete body parts,” and finally to glorifying chemical drinks and potions, fake tans, and a diet only an anorexic could love, void of health and balance. I couldn’t do that.

Alas, we were not going to audition for American Gladiators when they came to our area. We would never be ready to take on the ranks of sculpted females who could throw cars and out muscle guys named Sven and Hans in strongman competitions following it up with more one-finger pushups than Bruce Lee.

That knowledge, and the requirements of the real world, ended my weight lifting career.  I still work out—I run, I’ve taught and practiced martial arts, lift for fun, and hustled various sports at school.  I usually lose, but I’m not above saying “Your mama!” in order to rustle up a good game of hoops.

When I think back on my real weightlifting days, I’m horrified by the lack of health, balance, and nutrition we put ourselves through in the name of health and fitness. I apologize to my poor body for this, because it’s growing older every day.  I also apologize to the good people in the dining center for all the eggs I’ve stolen.  Know that when I strike it rich, I’m going to pay them back, but in the mean time, I’ll feed some poor kid who forgot his lunch in their honor.

Yom Kippur–It’s Not Just for Jews


I’m not really Jewish—I’m an honorary Jew.  I got this honor for a couple of reasons, for which I’m grateful because the Jewish holidays are really cool.  Of course, many people prefer the Christian holidays, because who gets gifts on Rosh Hashana, and truly, there’s nothing like a pile of presents under the Christmas tree to show love—Jesus did pretty well when he was born, but Madison Avenue’s Santa really made that holiday special.

As a kid, I wished I could share my holidays.  The Jewish kids always had to come to school with a note to take off their holiday and they had to make up the work afterwards.  No one gave us work to make up on Christmas and Easter. Just a pile of presents and a basket of candy awesomeness.

As a kid, I wouldn’t have liked Yom Kippur–instead of a holiday of candy awesomeness, you get to–let’s see–not eat for a day. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But as an adult, I understand it differently–a holiday to make things right with God and the world.

In fact, one of my best memories of the Jewish holidays was of Yom Kippur.  A colleague of mine handed me a letter and walked away.  He was a real writer—a true intellect prone to bouts of writer’s uniqueness.  I opened the letter.  It was the most beautiful letter ever—several pages of heartfelt words. I have never received such a letter before or since—not from anyone.  I still have that letter—it was a letter of atonement.

The premise of Yom Kippur is that you should work to be a better person.  You must consider the wrongs you have done, and seek forgiveness, and correct them.  At the end of the day of prayer and fasting, you are once again inscribed in the book of life with the Almighty.  It’s like Catholic penance, but it only comes once a year. I used to think that was convenient—we’d be spared the “how many sins could I have committed  in one week at age ten” syndrome.  I used to make up a bunch because I didn’t know what I did wrong, and then at the end I’d apologize for lying to cover the sin of making the up entire confession.  Yom Kippur seemed a little simpler to me–one and done!

This Yom Kippur letter outlined times when my colleague was aloof or unkind to me, and in a heartfelt way he stated that he would have enjoyed hanging out and collaborating; that he should not have acted as he did.  I would have been speechless—except I was too clueless to realize he’d been mean to begin with.  I just thought he had a writer’s disposition.

To realize, “Nope, dummy, I really was awful. You were just too stupid or naïve to realize it” was probably worse than not having received the apology at all. Perhaps being too naïve or stupid would have saved me some pain in the long run. Either way, I granted instant forgiveness—I’m a sucker for heartfelt words and good grammar.  Wish I got them more often.

That Yom Kippur moment was a formative moment in my honorary Jewish life.   We should all take time to think of both kinds of “sins.”  Things we did wrong, things we could have done better, and things we know we should have done.

Officially, I got my honorary Jewish status by working at the Jewish Community Center after I returned from Moscow.  I wanted to retain my Russian language, and the greatest concentration of Russians was at the Jewish Community center.  I learned my holidays, some weak Hebrew, and bonded with some families and friends. I worked with refugees, old ladies, and teens trying desperately to integrate.  And I got to eat—Jews and vegetarians love each other—well, if not love at first sight, at least it’s a mutual respect.  Vegetarians and Jews never mess with anyone’s food—Italians, Irish—they’ll take the sausage out of the soup and tell you it’s vegetarian, but Jews—no way.  The diet is sacrosanct. It forms a strong basis for bonding.

Being Jewish is a complex thing.  It’s not cut and dry like being Buddhist or Catholic or Baptist.  Being Jewish isn’t only a religion—I know plenty of Jews who are entirely secular.  Being Jewish is more than that.  It’s an identity, a tradition, something you carry with you through generations of family members who have been kicked around Europe and the Middle East,discriminated against since the earliest days of Christianity.  In Europe, there were  witch hunts called Blood Libel where Jews were accused horrific acts like murdering children.  St. Simon of Trent was one of these children, killed in 1472, and made a Roman Catholic saint while Jews were the scapegoats.  Jews were persecuted in the Spanish Inquisition and then by both the Russian Tsars and the Soviet Union.

Many of them came here—bringing a rich tradition,  but at what cost—millions of families destroyed, homeless, searching for an identity, not unlike many African-Americans brought here by imperialists extending their empire.

I experienced this in Moscow one day.  I read some anti-semitic graffiti—there was a lot in Moscow. People stared at me.  I didn’t understand.  I asked my friend.  “Oh,” she said, lowering her voice the way people who don’t want to appear prejudiced do when they utter the ethnicity in question, “You look Jewish,” she said.  It was not an utterance of fact so much as the tone of apology that made me sad. Yet most Jewish families have experienced far worse.

And so, on this Yom Kippur, I’m taking the time to appreciate Judaism. I’m making the effort to be better, to seek forgiveness where it is warranted, and find ways to improve the world around me. It’s something we should all do from time to time, even without a great holiday to give us the excuse.


Failing at Music–Succeeding at Life: Part Two


Eastman Theatre

I wanted to be a professional musician, but I did not have the chops. So I began my evil plan.

I had two choices for college. One was an Ivy League college that I didn’t exactly like and, as it turned out, didn’t exactly like me.  The second was the University of Rochester in upstate New York. It was filled with friendly people who let me stay with them for a weekend and drink–much better marketing.  And this school just so happened to have a music school attached to it—the Eastman School of Music.  It was a postern of fate.

Had I told anyone—a single soul—about my plan to attend the Eastman School of Music they’d have committed me on the spot.  Eastman was one of the Big Three. It required some element of musical preparation or training. But I was going to take it completely off guard.

In order to go to the Eastman School of Music, one had to apply, audition, and be accepted, which presumably meant it was necessary to be a master of at least some particular instrument. Those who went to Eastman not only started their training two years prior to conception, they practiced every day for twenty-six hours, forgoing even basic nutrition for music, which they considered sufficient nourishment for the soul.  They talked about Beethoven incessantly and threw birthday parties for Mozart instead of for themselves.  Their idea of a fraternity party was to get together at night and contemplate Brahms some more over a bowl of chips that had grown stale because everyone was too busy discussing Brahms  to actually eat them.

I, on the other hand, could neither read nor hand-write music—and as a result, I spent a great deal of my time cheating my way through like an illiterate person reading road signs.  Every once in a while, you get one very, very wrong.  “Sorry, chief—that said ‘one-way.’”

This wasn’t going to be easy—disguising myself as a musician and getting into what I still did not realize was the premiere classical conservatory in the nation. I would need a loophole, and that’s just what I found.  Rochester students could take music courses at Eastman.  What if I just registered for all the good music courses?  Eastman students were there, and the classes commingled.  I could take almost the same classes with the Future Musicians of America, join bands with them, discuss Brahms with them, scoff at the poor slobs majoring in pre-med, economics, and history, and be musically, intellectually, and socially superior to the entire universe.  And I wouldn’t even have to be properly trained—it was a win-win situation by any stretch of the imagination.

Thus, I registered for classes at the Eastman School of Music through the regular university. Totally legal. I studied all the theory I could muster and passed the exam through rote memorization, because that’s what academic people without “proper musical training” do.  Then—on the day of truth—I showed up for my audition.

I was playing what some would consider a challenging piece—Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.  I couldn’t actually read the score, so I bought a record—the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir George Solti—and read alongside the record—sort of a closed caption for the musically impaired.   I practiced for the entire summer before on my borrowed clarinet, because I was neither good enough nor well-funded enough to own one, and went off to college.

Audition day. Imagine the panel of musical geniuses waiting to hear the next lead of the Boston Philharmonic. Imagine that they have just endured a thousand auditions—the next Yanni, the next Yo Yo Ma, next Chris Botti…and then…there…was me.

Twenty years later, I am truly remorseful for the sorrow I inflicted on these men and I include them in my daily prayers.  I ask the Lord for forgiveness and to make their lives better in some subtle way.  If I were Jewish, I’d track them all down on Yom Kippur and beg them to accept my apology outright, because after hearing me, they were never quite the same.  I’m convinced that I took a little piece of music from each and every one of their souls and trampled on it like Marilyn Manson at a Boston Pops concert.

At the end of what they must have thought was a Candid Camera prank or a CIA torture training mission (miraculously cut short because God Himself sped down into that hallowed hall, and broke my clarinet in half), all the men could do was look straight ahead, pause, and say, “So, you like Sir George Solti.”

I steeped myself in everything Eastman. I laughed at the Beethoven jokes; I walked laps around the Gilded-Age auditorium. I went to concerts.  I breathed in the stale air of the practice rooms.  Even though it took me a 45 minute ride on the blue bus, I took a work-study job at the Sibley Music Library, where I began cataloguing music scores for less money than I would have made in a prison laundry, getting highly indignant—alongside the other Brahms lovers—when people misalphabetized the Russian version of Shostakovich  and put Von Weber under “w.”

After that, it took me exactly two weeks to flunk entirely out of the music program, which I still did not realize was the best program in the nation.  I called my former band director who had inspired me to tell him I was struggling at Eastman and I feared I most probably would not succeed.

“YOU DID WHAT?” He didn’t sound impressed.  And so I came clean. I divulged the whole story—of my sneaking onto the “Eastman” rosters under cover of darkness, of my torturing the great musicians on the panel taking musical years off their lives. How I got a 40 on my first assignment, major scales, and a 20 on minor scales, and that was only because the infinitely good Dr. Harrison said, “You didn’t earn that 20—but I can see that you tried really hard.”

In the end, the stress got me sick.  I was sick for a solid month. I shuffled back and forth to health services.  I commiserated with my yet-to-be-premed friends, with whom I now spoke since Brahms was giving me the cold shoulder, and I plugged through the rest of first semester before finally admitting I was not musician material.

The discipline of “proper training” made music seem more like another aspect of calculus than the soul and essence of life.  It became a self-torture I couldn’t stop—a train wreck—the part of a mountain climb where it seems that the summit is right around the corner, but when you pass the next tree, you see the ridgeline open up and reveal it to be so far in the distance that you’re not sure you want to press on.  When you ultimately decide to continue and you arrive at the next point where you thought the summit would be, it turns out to be an illusion once again.  I was left with the sinking feeling of defeat and disappointment, where the thing I thought I loved—the passion in my soul, turned out to be one giant red herring.

I didn’t even get into the lowest of piano courses—the one everyone takes.  My audition turned out to be surprisingly similar to my clarinet audition.  The professor said, “Very good,” when I played the Mozart, and then, “Read this,” handing me some Chopin that looked like Chinese Braille.  Game over.

I was forced to finish that semester in clarinet.  I continued to travel over to Eastman to study with my personal graduate student, Michelle, who was undoubtedly in trouble for something and had to redeem herself by teaching me.  I sincerely hope she is not working in a sub-par elementary music program soon to be cut.  She was an angel.  She made me feel good.

I played one semester in the River Campus Symphonic Wind Ensemble, being too ignorant to know that it was an entire year commitment until my conductor found me and said, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”  By that time I supposed the loss of one more third clarinet was probably a blessing to everyone.

I sang Gospel during the rest of my tenure at school—one of two white people in that group.  Gospel I could handle—no music reading, a history of musical improvisation, and fun group of people with a conductor, Dr. Alvin Parris, who demonstrated that music was a gift from heaven channeled through people regardless of “proper training.”  In this group, I learned some technical skills, and had the experience of being the only person of another race in a large overpowering majority—I experienced the smallest sampling of the struggles with which my choir members lived constantly, the subtle infusion of racism that permeated their very existence, from which I could escape but they could not.  That was a gift I carry with me to this day.

I left music behind with a better understanding of the timeless cliché, “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.”

Today, music has returned to my life. I see the beauty, joy, and patterns in nature.  I pick up my guitar and write, sing, and play on my terms.  I write satire, folk, and other pieces of no particular consequence that will never be produced for the betterment of humanity.  I have sung a roast or two, and I freestyle with my students when directly challenged. I always win.

And I am grateful for my failure. I am happy with my music.  Once again, it brings me great joy.


Failing at Music–Succeeding at Life: Part One


Bacon Academy band performs under the leadership of Tom Kessler

This past summer I attended a concert in honor of a person who profoundly influenced my life—my high school band director, Tom Kessler.  He was the kind of teacher who educated the “whole student,” and though I suspect he originally planned to stay a few years on his way to another gig, he’s there today, inspiring students just like me, which is good for every kid who passes through that door.

He transformed the band program from a couple of classes into an institution. Everyone who was anyone in that town had something to do with the high school music program, and it became the very definition of “cool.”

I, however, was not cool.  I was a walking anachronism.  I floated around the 80’s in Jim Morrison flowered dresses listening to Bob Dylan and Loudon Wainwright III, playing Peter, Paul, and Mary, Simon & Garfunkel and The Who.  I portaged my guitar up and down the hills to and from school so I could crack it open for a few moments before and after school—more for show than for the musical benefit of my audience—playing “meaningful” coffeehouse tunes like a self-proclaimed Joan Baez.

On a cheery day, I’d break out the Phil Ochs and play serious protest music, never minding that Ochs himself never really beat The Man.  My favorite leftist socialist revolutionary went crazy, became homeless, and hanged himself in a fit of bipolar angst.  I hoped I could be more effective than that in changing the world.

I wanted to be a musician, but there was one problem.  I sucked. I was completely untrained, and I was not in a fiscal position to aspire to such training.  Out of kindness, Kessler, who commanded one name, like Cher or Madonna, gave me an instrument—a bassoon. After a couple of days of my practicing El Condor Pasa, someone called the Department of Environmental Management to report a disturbance in the local moose population, so I switched to clarinet.

I was Third Chair Third Clarinet, only because lesser-skilled fourth and fifth clarinets do not exist. I worked hard. Most third clarinetist I met did not work hard or practice. That is how they remained third clarinets. In our group, they were routinely slumping over eating Doritos or passing notes instead of taking home their music to practice.

I, however, was different. I was not an uninspired Dorito-eating note-passing nonpracticer.  I played, I suffered, worked hard, and toiled. I went on band trips, where I was repeatedly ditched by the girl who channeled the inner mean in crowds otherwise destined to be nonchalant or even kind to the socially less fortunate.  And I became stronger. I was determined to be cooler, better, and more famous than these people, despite the fact they had been “properly trained.”  I would march in bands, I would write songs proclaiming my own greatness at the expense of the People I Didn’t Like, and I would use my music to achieve world peace.  Arabs and Israelis would hug while listening to me, and the Cold War would end.  I would walk around in all my folk musician glory, playing guitars with flowered straps, wearing my Salvation Army India cotton tunics, regrowing my straight chestnut Joni Mitchell hair from the Age of Aquarius perm I had suffered while trying desperately to fit in.

No longer would I merely fit in. I would transcend. And someday, in their lives of quiet desperation, The People I Didn’t Like would in fact, rue the day they ignored my greatness.  And so…I determined…I…must become famous.  Not because I cared about fame. I didn’t.  By definition, self-proclaimed folk musicians are compelled to remain aloof and unapproachable.  Fame is only acceptable as a public soapbox to deflect ones’ inner angst at the injustices of the world, or as an interlude to drinking oneself half to death while being unable to solve problems that never affected us to begin with.  I was going to correct the greatest social injustice of all by leaving my detractors in the dust.

In many ways, I have done so, and have passed those lessons on to the students I now teach.  Yesterday, as a matter of fact, I wedged myself in on a roundtable discussion on the topic of “She’s a ho,” getting to essence of high school life with five very great kids, looking for some better solutions.  We talked and uncovered reasons for high school drama, and for a brief moment, I was able to travel in my time machine back and forth to my own high school failures and oppression being a human illustration of “It Gets Better.”  For all of us.  Because our failures “back then” are a drop in the bucket of the universe, inconsequential except for the lessons they provide us, lessons on how to succeed later on.

It took me decades to laugh at some of those lessons, and now that I had passed them on, they had fulfilled their destiny.  But at the time, I had no knowledge of any of this. I just wanted to be a musician.  And I was determined to carry on… (to be continued).


Don’t NECAP me, I’m SLO


I’m having writer’s block–It’s ironic to make that statement as I’m writing, but I’m sitting here looking at a copy of the Common Core State Standards for inspiration.  That, in and of itself is a problem. You see, I need to come up with some SLOs in order to keep my job teaching.  For all those who are not teachers, I’ll explain.  SLOs, or Student Learning Objectives, are a key part of the new teacher evaluation system. If I can’t measure “student growth” using these SLOs, I will be asking if you want fries with that. The NECAP is the old test we used to use to measure growth, but now we’re going to have a new one now, the PARCC.  As in, “It’s a walk in the…”

I’m still trying to understand all the acronyms.  I’ve formally studied five languages and can swear in two or three more.  Still, I’m having a tough time keeping up. In addition, I have an advanced education. One would think I’d be intelligent enough to comprehend. It appears not. I’m staring at these walls of data and acronyms that were surely created by The Daily Show–come on, what educator wants to hear “SLO” in the same sentence with “student?”  I want “quick” at the minimum. And NECAP is what my Irish ancestors did to people they didn’t like during the Troubles. PARCC is where I want to go to drink a beverage until I can wrap my head around some of the elements of ed reform.

At heart is the issue of “rigor.”  In the Old Days, I had to take three masters’ classes to prove I was smart and continuing to learn. Learning was the measure of the professionalism we had to exhibit as teachers.  I had to have a masters’ degree, then I had to learn more. It was expensive, but I love learning. So, I learned and learned.

But teachers with advanced degrees are expensive, so someone found a study that said that advanced degrees might not correlate with educational success and they found another way to measure me.

It was decided that we should be able to design our own plans, that they should be individualized. The problem was that nobody would commit to what actually counted on that plan when I called for help, so I did twice the amount of hours required and finished a year and a half early. I guess it wasn’t “rigorous” enough. As luck would have it, it was determined that that whole system was, in fact, not “rigorous” and it was defeated like every bad guy who dares to oppose Chuck Norris.  Mine didn’t count. It is currently being used as a doorstop because I’m afraid to throw it away.

I asked the question, “So, you’re saying that for exceeding expectations set by my bosses, and by coming in far in advance of the deadline, my work is not going to count? That doesn’t make sense. I should get a reward.”  What makes sense doesn’t matter, because once it has been established that rigor is missing, rigor must be found. End of subject.

Now, we have a new system.  On the surface, it looks okay–a million evaluations and conferences a year–like a picnic with a rubric.  I was  looking forward to seeing my evaluator get a new pair of track shoes and run marathons, because that’s the distance that would be mathematically necessary to finish that number of evals.  And since the new system barely gives him time to eat Easy Mac, I think the running might do him good.  In either case there are so many rubrics and matrices that my mind is exploding.

I’m looking forward to honest feedback from an evaluator I truly trust–that part’s exciting, but I’m still having writer’s block when it comes to translating the 101 paged instructional manual into documentation.

In the mean time, I’m witnessing the following unintended consequences in the field of education:

1. Inconsistencies.  On one hand, I have to do a ton to be evaluated and certified, but other pathways like Teach For America can bring educators along a different path with far fewer hours of regulations. It’s creating a lot of hard feelings systemically.

2. Resentment. Good people are leaving the field and taking advantage of other opportunities.  Many who have options, because they are good, are taking those options. We are losing good teachers.

3. Difficulty training new teachers. Student teachers report teacher reluctant to accept them because teachers are afraid a student teacher will ruin “their numbers.”  This is a real fear–the numbers effect evaluations.  “Reluctantly” is no way to train the next generation of teachers.

4. People deciding against teaching. One new teacher reported to me that four of her original cohort of a dozen or so decided not to teach because they “didn’t like the bureaucracy.”  Again–we are losing good teachers. These people had other options.

5. Out of touch programs.  An excellent potential teacher was released from a teacher prep program for his essay response to “What is your philosophy of teaching?” He said that his philosophy was not important until the basic needs of the student were met. It was a brilliant, albeit political essay about meeting the needs of the underserved in society first. Once that is done, we can teach. I wished I had written that essay myself. He’ll be a rock star IF he can get through the red tape.  And certainly once he learns to write SLOs.

6. Gaming the system and grade inflation. People are choosing easier goals. They are inflating tests for SLOs, saying. There are all sorts of tricks.

These are scary trends. I love teaching, but I don’t like the constant reinforcement of my  friends saying, “Why are YOU teaching?  You could be so successful.” Because by the definition of society, I must not be successful, since I teach.  Heck, I had one person ask me if I had proper university credentials and another say I probably taught at some charter school teaching my students to march in lock step and pass rote tests because I dared to refer to my kids as my “scholars.”  No wonder we can’t reform education.  We have a bunch of SLO people NECAPing each other.

So, I’ll go PARCC myself on the couch for a bit longer and see if I can come up with something I can spend the year measuring.  This will determine whether I will be asking all of you if you want fries with that.  Follow me on Twitter, and I’ll be able to tell you which register I’ll be on when the time comes.  Maybe I’ll supersize that for you.

The Legacy of Lindsay Ann Burke

Lindsay Anne Burke is gone.  Seven years ago today, she was murdered by someone who “loved” her.  This happened two miles from my house–the story broke as I was eating dinner.  I thought to myself, “Oh my god, that poor family.” Then I realized it was Lindsay.

Lindsay was the beautiful, intelligent, and kind daughter of my colleague and friend. She was the type of person who always took action to help others, and whom others loved.

We see these stories in the news all too often. Let me take a moment to remember her, and the life she left behind.

Lindsay was twenty-three years old when her life ended.  She was a graduate of Rhode Island College, looking forward to a career in elementary and special education–ready to change lives.  At Lindsay’s college graduation, no one would have predicted the way she would be changing lives in the future–the many people she would, indeed, save.  No one would have wished for it to have worked this way.  If Lindsay were here today, her students might have been entering high school. Maybe one of them would have been in my class with me discussing ways we can change the world.  Looking forward to a bright future…

Lindsay’s future is her legacy.  Through their grief, her parents, Chris and Ann, have done great things.  Things no parent should have to do. They have started the Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Fund in order to promote awareness of the relationship abuse that often starts in high school and ends in tragedy.  They have been summoned to share their story with Vice President and Dr. Biden, who supported them in their mission to promote domestic abuse awareness and education.  Through their family, many people have been saved.  This I know.  Because domestic abuse is a cycle, and cycles are not easily broken without intensive intervention.  Domestic abuse affects men and women, high school boys and girls, parents and children. It is about control, manipulation, isolation, and violence. And the ending—whether it ends in death of a human being or death of a spirit, is always a tragedy.

Sadly, Lindsay’s story is not the only I have seen. I have seen other women who were not able to break the cycle of abuse. I have seen their children live through this being inducted into the cycle. I have seen domestic abuse affect men–men who would not report the issue for fear of embarrassment, because of gender expectations that men remain strong, or because the courts were not willing to support men on this issue. Thankfully, due in no small part to Lindsay’s courageous parents, the courts are starting to take these issues seriously for both men and women alike.

Lindsay came from a family of educators who worked with thousands of students–saw thousands of relationships bloom before their eyes. And yet it happened to Lindsay. And I have seen it happen to others. The Lindsay Ann Burke story is that relationship violence can happen to anyone. It is never acceptable. It is a cycle. It must be broken. In order to do so, we must be educated and aware.  This is the legacy of Lindsay Ann Burke.

Chris and Ann Burke have chosen to save the daughters and sons of others by taking action in Lindsay’s name.  Their foundation provides materials, advertisements, workshops, and support for teens, families, parents, teachers, and friends. For this, they are among my heroes.  For this, they deserve our awareness, attention, and respect.  Maybe together, we can break the cycle in domestic and relationship abuse.  If it saves one family from having to say goodbye to a beloved child, it will have been worthwhile.

How to survive on flax seeds

As I sit here with my third cup of coffee in all its cream and sugar glory, I feel guilty.

I’m usually healthy—in fact, my goal is to get rid of all processed foods and reduce myself to the lowest common denominator—the freezer foods which I’ve put up myself and a bunch of mason jars.  Jars filled with raw ingredients, things I’ve canned, ingredients rescued their plastic bulk jail cells waiting to be chosen for culinary showcasing.  In most respects, this is healthy living. But I think I can do more.

For some time, now, I’ve tried without success to grow my own food on my ten-thousand square foot piece of (sub)urban paradise under the watchful eye of the airplanes flying so low overhead that I pick guests up from the airport before they arrive and wave recommendations for beer nuts to the businessman in the third row window. While others mow and chemical their lawns, I reduce the grass space in my yard every time my poor lawn-ranger of a husband dares to go to work.

Every day when he returns, whap, there are three more raised beds full of something, planted haphazardly full of potential veggies (where can I fit that extra carrot??) rather than in nice, home-value-increasing, beautiful rows.

“Don’t you think you’ve got enough?” he says every time.

“Are you eating 100% from the yard?” I reply.  “Is there grass taking space where more food could grow? Do I have CHICKENS?….Then…no.”  There is never enough for those who are obsessed. I’m a sucker for books by homesteaders, extremist foodies or locavores. Even though most true urban homesteads seem to be in California, where God could dump his garbage on land and food would still grow bountifully, I’m trying this in New England.  I loved “The $64 Dollar Tomato” which is pretty much what I’m doing sticking carrots in spare millimeters in my own collection of raised beds fighting Squirrel Qaeda for my food.

If my goal is sustainability, I’m not there yet—more on that later. But if my goal is eating better, I didn’t achieve that either. I might eat fair-trade organic hand-crafted locally sourced stuff, nearly kosher-blessed by three hippies, but the truth is–that still leaves room for a lot of crap. I make my ice cream from scratch—or as “scratch” as going to get the cream and then mixing in the loads of sugar and vanilla can be, but the end result is still a ton of cream in a bowl of locally sourced fat topped off with fair-trade vegan sugar.

I blame Michael Pollan for this. Michael Pollan wrote a great book,  “Food Rules,” in which he gave me permission to eat all the garbage I could, as long as I make it myself.  Although Pollan seeks to solve America’s crisis by encouraging moderation—he states most people won’t really make that many home-made onion rings, ice cream, or candy from scratch–he hasn’t met me. I’m the one who reads old Cooking Light recipes and adds the fat back in. And doubles it, just in case the food editors were trying to pull a quick one on me. I use the food dehydrator to transform the otherwise healthy vegan-coconut dehydrator cookies into pieces of confection that endanger diabetics as they walk by.  But, since I make them myself, they are legal. In mass quantities.

I know this is wrong. The Food Devil on my left shoulder has been whispering Bill-Clintonesque loopholes to the rule for far too long, when I should have been listening to the Alice Waters-Jamie Oliver angels on my right shoulder.  I can cook. I can adapt recipes—it’s a vegetarian skill, and I’m used to being the odd-man out in society.  Vegetarians are like marines, “Adapt and overcome.” And now, in the midst of my jungle of packaged food eating friends, I have two allies. One came to lunch with a mason jar of iced tea–I knew we were soul mates, and another looked at my collection of lunch foods all picked out of my garden with pride, not fear.

I’ve decided it’s time to do better.  I’m going to rededicate myself to healthful eating, at least for a month or so.  I will:

  1. Continue to freakishly make my own food. Nothing out of a box.
  2. Follow the spirit of Michael Pollan. I’m not going to make all the candy, ice cream, and cookies I want. I’m going to put down Ben & Jerry’s double chocolate recipe for a while.
  3. Continue to eat the vast amount of unprocessed fruit and veggies that I always do, while shopping locally.
  4. Cut down on the mayo. Even though I make it myself (see number 2). And the heavy cream.
  5. And…get rid of the processed sugar.  Yes, it’s organic, vegan, fair trade, but if I’m being honest, Jamie Oliver would make me a villain on Food Revolution.

Maybe there’s a diet that will work.

  1. South Beach?  Nope.  Too many boxes filled with processed food. And I don’t need to lose weight—I could stand to gain some, actually.
  2. Vegan? That’s tough. I go back and forth on the amount of dairy I use—Paula Deen is a gift to humanity—but I don’t think I can be completely dairy free.
  3. Paleo? Paleos hate vegetarians by definition.  I need my beans. I could be converted by the recipe for paleo brownies if I could eat them all day, every day. But that would violate the “spirit of Michael Pollan.”
  4. Raw foodism?  I’ll lose about fifty pounds and die. Not a good choice.
  5. The Engine 2 Diet? It has a lot of veggie choices…There is a killer recipe for vegan mac and cheese though.
  6. Macrobiotic?  Now we’re getting somewhere.

This is way too confusing. I think I’ll just go out in the garden and nibble on kale and swiss chard while I drink this last cup of coffee and start my day.



[image: bettiesbookblog.blogspot]