Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lot's of people in my neighborhood have their clocks set slightly fast, or they're by now too drunk to care. An amazing number of fireworks are going off, as well as at least one car alarm. I can hear wordless voices raised in celebration or inebriation, or inebriated celebration.

Sounds like a war out there, but a joyful one.

I've come to a chapter break in the book I'm reading, Joe R. Lansdale's Lost Echoes, and written down my New Year's vow (resolution has always sounded a bit wimpy somehow).

I'm ready for the new year.

Willow, as predicted, has been asleep for hours. I hope all the damn fireworks don't wake her up.
In some ways, I feel like I'm limping to the finish line as far as 2008 is concerned. I can feel the strength inside, the kind of strength that helps me eventually overcome trauma, but I still count this as one of the crappiest years in recent memory. I'm hoping that I grow past all of this in 2009, but it's a slow process at best.

That said, I'm optimistic about the coming year. We've finally got somebody who is apparently both sane and intelligent moving into the White House, and if everything goes according to plan, I'll have my teaching credentials and get a job in a classroom this year.

Right now, on New Year's Eve, I'm with Willow. She's sad and missing her mom, who she gets to see even less than she sees me. Her mom is out having her first kid-free New Year's Eve in over a decade. I'm typing away and realizing that I've been spending too much time staring into my computer screen, as if willing it to provide me answers. I've been using Facebook as the socializing tool it is meant to be, and reconnecting with all manner of folks there. This is good, but it still means that I spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the computer. That said, in the past week, I've been out hiking with a friend from the Yosemite Institute, spent time with other old friends, and in general been more socially active that I have in quite awhile. Marriage did tend to cause me to focus on, well.. marriage.

I think in time that all of this will be revealed as necessary. I can sort of see it now. That doesn't mean that it's not sad though. It is sad.

Here's to a wonderful coming year. Willow is determined to stay up until midnight. I'll believe it when I see it.

Be safe. Be well. Tread lightly.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The last couple of the weeks of the year are always kind of strange. Nothing really happens during this period. Many businesses shut down between Christmas and New Year's Day, while others just seem to tread water. Maybe I look at it the way I do because I'm in an industry that truly shuts down during this time. This causes me to forget that a lot of people actually have to go to work this week.

As for me, I took Willow up to the California Academy of Sciences again, meeting an old friend, J, there - J had a museum membership, which meant we got in free. That was really nice of her. The museum was just as crowded as it was the last time Willow and I went, but that didn't stop us from having fun. Willow is small enough to squeeze her way to the front of the crowds in most situations, getting front row seats to watch strangely diurnal bats flutter around, and to watch penguin hijinks (just one out of the multitude of penguins seemed interested in entertaining visitors - the rest just stood up on the rocks and vibrated their hindquarters at us). We'd somehow managed to miss the penguins last time, along with the African hall and its taxidermied specimens. Checking out the African exhibit, we noticed that there was some subtle digital trickery in at least one of the backdrops behind the dioramas - what used to be static savannah had a little herd of elephants marching across it. Hi tech!

Later, I had the perfect mocha. Sometimes it's the little things that help us along the road of life.

Sunday, Willow and I buried my iguana in the garden at work, and Willow handled the process very well, helping dig the hole and pat the claylike soil down afterwards. We talked as we worked, and she seemed to have a pretty good handle on the whole dying thing.

I had figured the iguana would be dead when we went and checked. It had been getting steadily more decrepit over the last year, so it was kind of a blessing that it finally passed on. A quick bit of internet research (which, admittedly, isn't always reliable) showed that it had lived well past the usual expiring point for members of its species. The internet sources I found gave me a big range - anywhere between around 7 and 19 years for iguana life expectancy. My iguana died at 23. Now he will nourish the garden.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Rain is beating down on the roof as I type. Willow is sitting nearby, engrossed in her new Pokemon video. Her new bike awaits its first ride. Maybe the rain will let up later.

This is my first post-marriage Christmas, and it is a bittersweet one. I'm still getting used to things as they stand now. We went to my mom's last night, and opened presents around the tree there. Afterward, I took Willow home and waited for her to go to sleep so "Santa" could get to work. This morning, I sat back and basked in her excitement as she ripped away the wrappings. She gets to do the same thing again at her house later on.

I guess all is well.

Peace be with you.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I feel almost obligated to reflect on the year now that 2008 is days away from becoming history. Sure, there will be the music and event lists, but there will also be personal lists of lessons learned, and maybe some thoughts about what I want to accomplish next year. This year has been tough for me, and I'm not sure what the next year will bring. Of course, the possibilities often outshine the realities, so I will go into 2009 with high expectations and good spirits. Let's hear it for possibilities!

Right now, I'm hanging out with all four of the kids. The girls are making a hot chocolate mess, and the boys are parked on the couch playing a video game. I can understand the hot chocolate more than I can understand the video game. Hot chocolate is more real. But then again, I've been biased against video games my entire adult life. I almost said "always", but then I remembered I used to play Asteroids and other similar games when I was a kid. Of course, I had to go to the local 7-ll and use quarters to do it (or, I might say "quarter", because at some point we discovered the trick of taping a string to a coin and fishing it back out again).

Anyway, Christmas descends in a couple of days. Willow is spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with me, and the other kids are going to be at their dad's.

Willow is calling me. Time to go...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Happy Solstice! At 12:04 AM (or so), the light starts to return. I envision a pendulum reaching the end of its great solar arc, and smoothly reversing direction. Sure, I know that it's the tilt of Earth's axis, coupled with our revolution around the sun, that causes it, but sometimes I just feel like telling stories. Stories have been with us forever, and before there was science, stories were all we had.

May whatever story you happen to subscribe to bring you peace and goodwill this season. The Great Mystery knows we need more of that around here.

Currently listening to Bohren & der Club of Gore "Midnight Radio".

Friday, December 19, 2008

I've worked my last night for the year. The kids were only up at camp for four days, which meant only three nights of work for me. It has been unseasonably cold all week, with the snow (!) and frost giving way to rain as things wound down.

Of course, not being one to actually relax, I agreed to supervise the weekend work crew on both Saturday and Sunday. I haven't done this in awhile, but it's a pretty easy job as long as nothing goes wrong. The weekend work crew consists of people who made poor choices (DUI, etc.) and are working it off. It sure beats going to jail. I think they generally prefer working at our site to picking up trash on the freeway. When you work away from the freeway, there's less chance of getting hit by somebody with a similar lack of judgement. Wouldn't it be ironic though, to be doing community service because of a DUI conviction and get hit by a drunk driver? I'm sure it has happened at least once.

Today, I'm hanging out with the boys, who are both sick, and watching movies. Movies can be healing.

I'm loving the rainy weather too. It looks like it's going to rain on Christmas this year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In the camp office, homesick kids clustered together in little groups of misery last night. I wonder if the fact that they're away from home only a week before Christmas had anything to do with it. Then again, it could be because they're fifth graders instead of sixth.

It snowed during the day at camp yesterday. Overnight, it was really cold, and the night air covered everything with a rime of frost. In the morning, there were two ravens, looking somewhat bedraggled, perched close together at the apex of the lodge roof. I watched them for awhile as they groomed each other.

They flew away when I went to get my camera.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I'm simultaneously reading a book of ghost stories and a book on Buddhist mindfulness practice. OK, I'm not reading them at exactly the same time - that is beyond my limited ability to multitask, but I'm trading off as my mood changes. The ghost stories appeal to me aesthetically, and the Buddhist book is interesting in a spiritual way. I especially like the point that our suffering is caused by craving (are yearning and craving the same thing? - these are the kinds of questions I ask). It also has a lot to say about being really here - being in the present. Or, you could say, being present in the present. This is the time of year to be thinking about presents, after all... except presently, I'm a little short on cash. Oops. My mind is wandering again. This reminds me of something a psychic coworker once said to me long ago - "sometimes you're just not there."

This is true. I must work on being here. It's harder than it sounds. My mind often slides sideways into elsewhere. Maybe it's a defense mechanism. Who knows?

Monday, December 15, 2008

At the Station

At the Station, originally uploaded by Corbie.

What do you get when you take a 106-year-old train, dress it up with holiday lights, load it up with holiday characters, a guitarist playing Christmas songs, songbooks so the passengers can sing along, and a guy giving away free hot cider?

You get fun. Willow could hardly contain herself. She hassled Santa, sang songs, jumped up and down, rang bells, excitedly pointed at the (fake) snow swirling around outside, and generally wore herself out. I had fun just watching her, although I think I would have had fun anyway, because it was really cool to take a ride on an old-fashioned train through the rainy streets of Santa Cruz. I guess I never really noticed the train tracks there before. I had forgotten, for instance, that there were tracks right in front of the Boardwalk.

The city was ablaze with holiday lights, and the rain-slick rails and streets mirrored them. We had the option of being inside enclosed train cars, or out in the tarp and vinyl enclosed cars. I think we spent more time outside, under the swaying holiday lights, taking in the crisp night air.

We also played miniature golf, and Willow sat on Santa's lap. She's been feeling shy lately though, so it was hard for Santa to get any information out of her. I guess she'd make a good secret agent.

So, that's how the weekend ended. It began with a trip up to my work so Nathan could gather some plants to make Ohlone tea with. He's in the fourth grade, so they're doing Native American projects, which of course triggered his memory of making Ohlone tea with me at summer camp. Six kids ended up coming along - the usual four, plus the boys' friend C, and a friend of Willow's from her class. After we gathered the plants, I showed them the Rattlesnake hiding under a board near camp (where it will probably be all winter), and got them all back in the van. We were treated to another, unplanned, wildlife sighting on the way back to town - a Bobcat crossed the road in front of us, and we slowed down to watch it vanish up the hill. This was pretty exciting, because of the animals I've actually seen in this area, this is one of the less common ones. I'm still waiting to have a Mountain Lion sighting, but I'm sure it will happen sooner or later.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

There's a storm moving in from the north today. It rained last night, with more slated to follow. The air is biting cold, and the leaves are leaving the trees in massive flurries. Willow and I ran around the park earlier, grabbing up big handfuls of leaves and watching them whip away in the wind. We could see them forming drifts against the houses across the street.

It feels good to be outside. It cleans out the cobwebs that form when I sit in front of the computer for too long.

Speaking of which, I'll end this post here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Today started with the perfect moonset. I watched the full moon sink slowly down beyond the distant, tree covered hills. The golden moonlight illuminated the valley-bound mist as the moon sank. As the silhouettes of trees eclipsed the golden globe, a raven's cry echoed through the valley.
As the sky lightened, the mist lost its definition, spreading outwards and upwards.

You've gotta love a day that starts this way.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Willow is currently playing with the Land of the Dinosaurs Prehistoric Play Set that she saw in a little vintage toy/memorabilia store last week. The lady working the register didn't know the price then, and the guy who knew was onstage with his band at the time, so we just had her put it aside until today.

I have fond memories of playing with the same set when I was a kid. The thing is old enough to have a Brontosaurus in it. Of course, it also has cavemen. At least there's a little "scientific" note inside reporting that cavemen and dinosaurs never coexisted. Let's hear it for imagination! Right now I'm enjoying reliving my childhood through Willow. It's hard to put into words the sense of nostalgia that washed through me as we pulled the little plastic dinosaurs, cave, plants, and cavemen out of the original box and spread them out on the floor. Maybe she'll have that same feeling some day...

And on an unrelated note:

Earlier, Willow and Sophie were introduced to a couple of whippets, who had listening vocabulary that included words like "squirrel", "rat", and "bird". All the nearby squirrels had the good sense to make themselves scarce for awhile.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

There is a gap between how I handle certain situations, and how I'd like to be able to handle them. For the time being, I guess I'm going to live with that. We are who we are, after all.

Don't get me wrong. I love myself. I just have to work on showing that love in a way that doesn't involve buying myself presents.

I'll just keep in mind that it's our flaws that make us interesting.
I'm feeling restless and dissatisfied today, but temporarily powerless to do anything about it.

Outside, the Autumn leaves seem to shine with their own light. The air is crisp and tinged with the smell of smoke.

I think part of the problem is that I've finished all of my schoolwork for the term, and the apartment is clean. I've run out of busywork, and I've run low on money. I feel like a retiree, cast out of a comfortable job.

I know this mood is temporary, but it's still strange to feel this way. The next term, and the next paycheck, will come soon enough. The strangeness will pass.

I've got to plan for times like this. Or maybe I should just relax and enjoy the downtime. I used to be able to do that.

I think I'm spending too much time on the computer too. That's what happens when you have a new laptop, I guess... It's just so damn convenient to use.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I'm having a memory of a dream I had some time ago, back when Jen and I still lived under the same roof. In the dream, I was living in an apartment. We had split up.

Now, that dream is reality, and I'm not sure if I ever really dreamed it, or if it's a false memory - kind of a dream deja-vu. But not.

Still, the situation I'm currently in doesn't always seem quite real to me. Not even after several months have gone by. On the other hand, it's hard to remember what things were like before I moved out. Part of the reason that it's hard to remember is because I try not to think too much about it.

Outside, dogs are barking. I almost sounds rhythmic, like one of those Christmas carols sung by canines. There's no melody though. Just insistent barking.

Inside, it's quiet. The apartment is clean. The cd I was listening to just finished. I think I'll go get Willow. I miss her.
I've finished all of my school work for term 3 now. One more term to go. It sure has gone quickly. That said, things only speed up from here...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

I just got back from taking the RICA (that's the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment), and I think I did pretty well.

Nothing like sitting in a room with a number two pencil for nearly four hours on a Saturday!

I got taken out to dinner at a nice little Japanese restaurant last night for my birthday. Had the tofu steak, followed by fried ice cream. Plus singing of the birthday song. Gotta love that.

The camp week ended with more vomit. No more poop though, fortunately. For some reason, I'd much rather clean up vomit.

As I was showing the remaining lost and found items to the assembled kids on Friday morning, I held up a shirt that I thought read, "life is good", basing this thought on the fact that there's a whole line of similarly emblazoned positive apparel out there on the market. As I read it out loud to the group, I had to do a sort of verbal double-take.

The shirt actually read, "life is crap!"

A sweet-looking little girl divorced herself from the throng and stepped up to retrieve it. She was smiling.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I turned 41 today, which in some ways means nothing. I'm still the same person I was yesterday, and the same person I will be tomorrow. Despite this, I'm sometimes tempted to impose temporal boundaries on my existence. I note the passing of birthdays, and the changing of one calendar year to the next, even though the changing seasons, with their attendant equinoxes and solstices, are important on a deeper level.

Still, it's my birthday, and I'm glad. I spent the first few minutes of it cleaning up vomit, and several hours later, being overwhelmed by the stinky mess glopping up the floor in the boys' bathroom. This was followed by a sweet moment when the whole camp sang "hoppy birdy" to me (that would be the science camp version of "happy birthday", in case you hadn't figured it out). Later, the second graders I student teach sang the more traditional version.

Since then, I've been alone at home, being kept company by an influx of birthday wishes via Facebook. A bit different from past birthdays, to be sure, but this year has been all about change, so I must embrace it and look forward to another year during which more changes will happen.

Still, I'm glad to put this year of my existence behind me, and I'll be equally glad when the calendar year changes. Sometimes I need arbitrariness to help adjust my attitude. It helps somehow.

Currently listening to Last FM again, on shuffle.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

It's cold at night now, and wonderfully foggy in the mornings. This morning, the freeway was wreathed in fog, but as I drove home, I could see the sun shining through up ahead, creating an almost mystical "move towards the light" moment. My first instinct was to paw through my backpack for my camera, but the moment passed too quickly, and I knew that my camera wouldn't have done it justice anyway.

I moved into the light and then back into the comforting dimness of the next patch of fog.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Let's not forget the boy who woke up at 12:30 AM this morning covered in vomit. It is reported that his first words upon awakening were, "I woke up and found this in my bed!"

Don't mess with the Vomit Fairy.

I have one last week of studying and finishing up before this school term grinds to a halt. This weekend, I take the RICA (Reading Instruction Competence Assessment) test, so I've been studying over the last few weeks (this counts as a study break). Then, I have roughly a month off before things start up again. When they do start up, they start up with a vengeance. I'll be in a different classroom (as yet undetermined, but probably a fifth grade classroom), and there will be an increased load of work. I've been trying to find a way to get paid for my classroom time, but apparently I haven't been trying hard enough because it hasn't happened yet. We'll just have to wait and see...

Today, as I walked out of the classroom I'm currently teaching in, my Master Teacher (that's what they call the teacher one student teaches under) commented on this year's class:

"They have no personality. They're flat."

She was mainly referring to their writing efforts, which show no inventiveness. This teacher is constantly exposing the class to literature, in all of its forms. The kids in the class, for the most part, seem to appear at school each day in a state of tabula rasa, as if their minds were wiped clean by the previous evening's TV watching and video game playing, or whatever else it is that they do. Nor do they make connections across the curriculum. For example, today during a math lesson, a girl apparently figured that since it was Math, and not Language Arts, capitalization was not required.

As we walked, we talked about how she has seen a downward trend in the capabilities of the students who move through her classroom every year. This is worrying. I wonder if this is something that is happening everywhere. I've heard other teachers report similar trends, but haven't, as of yet, seen any scientific studies on the phenomenon.

The kids definitely do have personality. I really like them, and enjoy hanging out with them, but they definitely can't translate this personality into academic work. That said, if this is indeed a trend, the future scares me. That's why I'm becoming a teacher.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Willow and Nils Contemplating A Drive

After the semi-traditional Thanksgiving dinner at my mom's place, my brother and I, with Willow in tow, went up to Cloverdale to participate in a "leftover" Thanksgiving feast. The whole idea was that everybody was supposed to bring their leftovers. Having none, we brought fudge and drinks.

For the record, Cloverdale is approximately 50 are-we-there-yets away.

Our friends' new place is a house set amongst the vinyards, with its own adjoining vinyard. They have a new baby to keep them company there, and this house, like the other ones they've lived in, has taken on the character of its residents, which in this case means old-timey and interesting, with drifts of literature, music, and musical instruments vying for space with sculpture, bones, lichen, and other natural items gathered from the wild areas beyond. Through the afternoon and evening, many more people showed up with leftovers. Fortunately, at least one family showed up with another kid. Willow and the other kid, a little boy, played the "hide behind dad" game for awhile before overcoming that sweet little-kid shyness and playing. A bunch of us went for a walk too, climbing a hill and bushwacking our way back down as the sky darkened.

We stayed until Willow threatened to turn into a pumpkin. Once in her car seat, she stayed awake just long enough to take in the glittering starscape above, and glimpse the Grey Fox darting out of headlight range ahead.

I needed that.