Balancing Acts

I’ve been captivated the past few nights by the History Channel’s rendition of The Hatfields and McCoys. It’s a pretty good piece of film and Kevin Costner turns in a very fine performance as Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield while Bill Paxton, who plays really good Southern Bumpkins, plays a really good Southern Bumpkin-who happens to be pissed off a lot and good with a rifle.

I suppose it’s important to have a little full disclosure–my wife is a direct descendant of the Hatfields. Her mother’s maiden name is Hatfield and Pat (Eunice Hatfield) was born in West Virginia in the 1930’s. She passed away too young in the early 1990’s, but Sue said that she would, on occasion, share a Hatfield/McCoy story. The feud was long over by the time she was born, but the lore and the history are quite alive and the families have descendants all over the U.S.

And gentle ribbing and teasing of my wife’s illustrious past are always a much needed diversion in the Storer household. Heh…

School draws nigh to closing. We’re done on June 8, which is early this year-but that’s OK. Oh, I know. California is swirling the drain–and yes, I’ve taken pay cuts and will probably take more. I certainly don’t want that to happen–but I’ve got to tell you–I don’t want you, if you live in California, to vote for tax hikes. Let me assure you–it won’t help. The tax-hike will screw us all out of more money and it will also chase people out of California–as it is currently doing already.

Had the kids help me do some spring cleaning today. White boards cleaned, student work displays either sent home or trashed–dusting, book straightening, etc. I actually kind of like doing that. It makes me feel good to get it done. I feel like I can start over next year with a fresh palette. That’s my hope anyway. And next year is a real change. My resignation from the student newspaper has been bittersweet, but it’s a necessary step for me as I need a change in my career and this was just the ticket. I get to do some new things and refresh my own schedule, while being at least somewhat familiar with what I’m doing.

A few new articles of note to which I draw your attention. Here’s a piece on my friend Cyrus Nowrasteh, a screenwriter and director who has made many fine films. He has a new one he’s working on of Anne Rice’s book Christ the Lord-Out of Egypt. I co-wrote it with the editor at Christianity Today, Mark Moring.

Here’s a piece on one of the larger wine and food festival’s to be feted here in Ventura County this weekend.

Thanks for reading.

Onward.

 

 

Memorial Day and Michael Diraimondo

Michael Diraimondo was one of the first students I’ve had the pleasure to teach. A squirrely seventh grader, then eighth grader at Valley View Junior High School in Simi Valley, Mike came from a loving family-all of whom smiled regularly and showered me with the kind of attention that teachers absorb like sunshine.

After 21 years of teaching, I don’t remember every student I’ve had. I wish I did. There are times when people come up to me while I’m shopping or out with my family and talk to me and sometimes, I remember them clearly–others, I have no idea who they are unless they introduce themselves. Because of that, I make it a point to introduce myself to people I’ve met years ago but who may not remember me.

But I remember Mike. Even in eighth grade, he wanted to be a paramedic. He knew when he was young what he wanted and this gave him a quality that I’ll always remember. Or maybe it was just that he had a loving family and never doubted that. He was happy all the time.

Mike joined the Army as a way to achieve his dream of becoming a medic-but he wasn’t satisfied with just any job. He wanted to be part of the elite. He met a member of the 571st Medical Air Ambulance company in Iraq and according to Sergeant First Class David George, set about to join that company.

Rescuing downed pilots, flying in on a Blackhawk to pick up injured soldiers, providing medical evacuation, Michael was in his element and he loved what he did.

On January 8, 2004, my former student was aboard a Blackhawk helicopter near Fallujah when the aircraft was targeted by enemy combatants. The helicopter was hit and crashed outside the city. All aboard were killed, including Michael.

I think about Mike an awful lot. I remember distinctly the day I learned of his death in 2004. My daughter was 3-years old and down for a nap. I called my brother, reaching out because I was beside myself with grief. Michael must not have died in vain.

So, perhaps as William Carlos Williams might have started-this is just to say. Memorial Day means something to me. It’s not a bbq holiday, though we do that-and more to show that we are free to pursue our lives, our dreams and our ambitions–just as Michael did.

And that’s what Memorial Day means to me.

Onward.

Alchemy

Oh, gentles….a long week and a longer week–and even longer days. But enough about me.

There are two weeks of school left in my 21st year of teaching. Harder to believe is that I still rather like it. Sure–I’m kind of broke, but who isn’t?

I’ve had some deadlines this week, the biggest one dealing with some seriously fine folks called the Murillo family. Dr. Murillo and his family make tequila. And it’s not just tequila. It’s organic and sustainable tequila grown on the family’s ranch in Arandas, Jalisco.

Now, again-I’m writing this article for Ventana Magazine, so I can’t reveal the whole story here. But of all the spirits I’ve tasted, I cannot think of a better one. I’ve done scotch tastings, tequila tastings, limoncello tastings and a couple of others–I’ve probably tasted something like 20-30 different tequilas and none of them, not Don Julio 1942, not Patron-none of them–come close to what Dr. Murillo has accomplished. It’s simply the very finest tequila I’ve ever had and I imagine it will be for you as well if it’s your thing.

Liquid gold. That’s what Dr. Murillo wanted to produce and he seems to have pretty well accomplished that. What really warms my heart is that he’s done it by thinking about what’s best for the ranch, his employees and his customers. This wasn’t a question of wanting to make a buck–though I assure you, he will do that. It was more about continuing a family tradition of farming with the land and using the ranch that was left in Dr. Murillo’s family to do something that would honor that legacy while being beneficial for all involved.

It’s a great story and I was honored to be able to tell it. I hope I did it justice–and when it is published early next month, I hope you’ll read it at the link I provide.

Like Dr. Murillo, I’ve a second career, too-and like the good Dr., I’ve been able to connect both of my careers. They’re not separate entities, but parts of a whole and different expressions of a unified idea. That’s the kind of alchemy that isn’t luck or fortune. It’s created-and worked for. I feel like I’ve learned that in the past few years. I suppose I wish I’d learned it earlier, but then one cannot rush the fine chemical balance that makes things work.

Or something like that.

Onward.

 

 

Saturday Morning Post

Shannon home and back into the swing after a great trip to El Capitan State Beach where she and 60 of her closest friends (well…56) spent four days and three nights away from home discovering the wild and themselves and each other and learning to be independent. That wasn’t the stated goal, of course. But that’s what happened…

We’re hard-wired for this. It’s a shame that politics has become what it has. It’s a shame we fight about education–and I say that as someone who is the most liberal person in very conservative rooms and the most conservative person in very liberal rooms when it comes to education. I’m not liberal in that I think the government should be involved–but apparently, I’ve been told my conservative friends, that my belief in whole-child education, my disdain for quantitative and standardized tests, my abhorrence of No Child Left Behind (I’m in good conservative company there by the way–George Will doesn’t like it either) and–this one absolutely floors me and lends credence to my theory that education is, in fact, not easily defined politically–my belief that, especially in the high school years, kids need to be allowed to fail, allowed to accept the consequences of their actions and allowed not to learn if that is their choice–is too left leaning. Wow-now that’s a run-on sentence.

I have this utopian vision in my head of schools as temples, if you will. They are places where both teacher and student alike want to be there, share in the art and the craft of learning together and provide each other with challenges, ideas, research and work in concert to learn for the purpose of learning.

I believe in education. I even believe in higher education as the college experience I had was very much the experience above. I swear to you, I didn’t become a teacher because of my high school experience. That was lackluster and mostly forgettable. I became a teacher because of my college experience. I probably should have gotten a Ph.D. and gone to teach there, but I don’t really want to do that. I’ve been back to college many times–and even in the small, private college I attended, political correctness is everywhere.

No-I’m in the right place. And I’m sorry that the public face of what I do is the teacher’s union. This is an angry group of people, for the most part. If you’ll allow me to point out–I don’t think I know one teacher who would say that the union positively speaks for them. Yes, we have to pay dues (it’s a closed shop. That’s dumb. But there it is) and involve ourselves in collective bargaining. Part of me is thankful for that. But the fact is, the public perception is that we teachers are an entitled bunch who sit on our asses and take taxpayers’ money, demanding it in fact, while reading the newspaper and handing out tests.

Let me assure you-that’s not the case. I make about 77K a year as a teacher. Yes-the work schedule I have puts me at 180 work days a year. I get a lot of time off. It’s actually one of the reasons I became a teacher. I can agree with you if you say that the school year needs to be longer. But, as a tax payer, you’ll have to pay for that. Teaching isn’t really easy. I don’t get paid for the time I’m not at work. My salary is predicated on the time I do work. If I am to work 200 or more days a year (and let’s be honest, I do sort of anyway by grading papers at 11 PM and writing lesson plans on Sundays and going to events with kids in the evening, etc), then I’ll need to be compensated for that. Not demanding–just saying that I’ve got a specialized skill, a couple of graduate degrees and to be frank, I’m not going to work harder for less if I can avoid it. Makes sense….who would?

This is not a manifesto. I am perfectly aware what teachers unions have wrought. It’s a serious and real problem that is growing. I don’t think it can go on this way forever. But I do this work every day. I’m in the classroom and I still love it very much. I get paid by a school district, “sipping at the government trough” if you will to do what I do. That’s not in question. But I love teaching. I love working with kids and I love reading and writing. My whole career is predicated on teaching students about it-and doing a lot of it myself. It’s who I am.

I’m also a libertarian-minded soul. I’m a Libertarian by registration. I will indeed put my money where my mouth is: or, perhaps, take it away. If society decides to stop paying me for what I do, I’ll find another way to make a living. I have obligations to my family and I have a need to work and a desire to contribute. Thank God I can do that by doing what I do. I’m not going to picket or strike or yell at people or convince anyone to vote any particular way. I’m going to live my life as a teacher and a writer and I’m going to do that as long as I feel the remuneration for it is worth it to me. I’m also going to, in my small way, continue to advocate for small revolutions in education–whether it’s convincing kids that learning is as natural as breathing or helping kids to master skills that will help them become better people–or just more marketable people–I’m going to do it.

In the profession I’ve chosen, there are a lot of people who think like I do–and a lot who don’t. I imagine that’s true in your careers, too. Because education is a government function (and I agree it should not be, by the way), it is always going to be political and difficult. But I can’t change that by myself.

What I can do–is be a good teacher. And that’s all I really care about anyway.

Onward.

Marking time

Day 2 with Shannon away has ended. She left yesterday morning for outdoor school. Screaming fifth graders on a bus an hour north along the coast and so far, she seems to be having a great time.

It is harder on Sue that it is me-but I confess to missing my daughter a bit. More than a bit–a great deal. But she’s growing up and test number one had to come at some point. So, here it is.

Meanwhile, the ruckus continues along apace as we march toward the end of my 21st year in the classroom. I’ve taken stock of where I am and have chosen now to be content. You know–at the time when the state budget is about to explode and California about to lurch headlong into oblivion. Can’t say it will be fun–but, it is what it is as they say.

Not much tonight, gentles. Miles to go…and all that.

Onward.

For Sue

Mother’s Day is not a day I ever thought I’d be celebrating all that much beyond my own mom and some friends. I never thought I’d be trying to outdo myself every year on a creative gift for Sue, or smiling as our daughter presented gifts to her mom she made herself. No-until about 12 years ago, I never considered it. But then, we got pregnant-and Shannon was born.

Sue loves being a mom. Like so many women in the 21st Century, she has sacrificed a great deal to be a mom–not just a career and a life of dynamism in the medical field as a dietitian, but also her health. The pregnancy was hard on her and since Shannon was born, she has suffered a number of auto-immune issues resulting in asthma, a kind of rheumatoid arthritis and various other things. We’ve spent not a few days–Mother’s Days included, in the hospital or the emergency room or doctor’s offices.

Sue has maintained a positive outlook for the most part through it all. When asked if she would do it all again had she known what would happen to her, she smiles and says, “of course. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for that little girl…”

That little girl is now 11. Tomorrow, she leaves for three nights and four days to outdoor camp with her school and classmates. This is a rite of passage for every fifth grader who wants the opportunity. It’s not cheap, but it is worth the price. The kids go off with teachers and chaperones and spend a few days at a beach camp north of here sleeping in cabins, going on nature hikes, learning the dangers of rattlesnakes and eating bad food. Shannon is both ecstatic and nervous–as I am. As Sue is…

She has planned each day of Shannon’s absence almost to the hour. “I am going to miss her so much and I don’t know what I’ll do in this big empty house,” she says. Of course, I’ll be here and so will the dogs and so will her sister, Aunt Laurie–but Sue didn’t raise us. Sue didn’t sacrifice to have us and to love us.

Too many men have written about how the woman they love was changed by motherhood and it provided a dimension to their marriages and relationships that they never knew they could experience. Count me in on that list. I would rather not share my wife with anyone on some days. I’m possessive and short-sighted. But Shannon’s arrival in the world is daily proof that the more impact Sue has on the world-the better the world becomes. That whole new dimension of love keeps on expanding, like the universe, in ways I never expect.

For that, for all of those reasons-I am so thrilled to be able to again say to my wife, “Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.”

Sick, sick, sick.

I cannot tell a lie. I have been sick for over a week. The headache I posted about led to a bad cold (yes, I’ve shared with other members of the family. I’m a giver…) and I have lost my voice nearly entirely. It sounds like I’m talking through sand when I talk at all. It’s awful. I get tired quickly. The headache stuff is mostly gone, but it took some 10 days for that to resolve and it was frustrating. No fever–just sick.

So, really–the posts here are nill. If I were a good blogger, I’d write about something entirely different. Take your minds off me. But I’m too narcissistic. Can’t help it. I’m wrapped up in my own world. OK, well–here’s a thing:

I’ve gotten to know Calif. State Senator Tony Strickland fairly well. He was relating to me this evening that Governor Brown, whom he knows and even likes (the two of them are political junkies), called him out in front of the reporters. Governor Brown said, “And because you won’t vote for these tax hikes, Senator Strickland, teachers are going to lose their jobs…” Or something like that. This is not an exact quote, I’m sure.

So, Senator Strickland-in return–said to him, “Well, Governor. Tell me how many administrators will lose their jobs in those districts? That’s where the problem is…” The Governor, who was supposed to ride on the same elevator with Tony, took a different one and ducked out after the event.

Strickland is right, of course. The unions, of which I am a member, can prattle all they’d like. But our own district is talking about laying off teachers–and yet they’ve hired two or three more new administrators this year–and they won’t get laid off. And here’s the thing: Admin. salaries exceed 100K along with benefits. Teachers don’t go near that number at all. If the districts are laying off teachers and hiring administrators, parents may want to know why….

But, of course, since he’s a Republican, Senator Strickland won’t be lauded by the teacher’s union. He’ll be berated and that’s both sad and wrong.

Well, Senator–here’s one teacher who supports you whole-heartedly. Thank you, sir.

Onward.

Almost Worth Your Time

Wednesday of last week began a spiral that continued for days. Indeed, it’s not quite over yet. I got a little dehydrated and wound up ill–that morphed into a migraine headache that lasted all night and then all day Thursday. It didn’t really respond to the OTC Rite Aid migraine preparation and then it kind of stuck around. It’s mostly gone–but I still get twinges on the left side of my head.

Sigh.

So, while the last was barely worth your time–this one is worth mine. I’m slowly climbing out of the vortex. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I have taken three days off of the walk with Simon. We headed to the dog-parks and he had a blast. I had time to either sit or stand and reflect. OK, not so much reflect as sort of….stare. And do nothing. Interrupted only occasionally by my calling to Simon so he didn’t run into the road.

Saturday was a grand day, a revelation of sorts. There was absolutely nothing on my agenda. I didn’t get an e-mail for hours and the only texts I got were from my brother and my wife when I went to the store. I didn’t even shower until last night and the entire shower/bed-prep./T.V. watching/piddle about the bedroom/look at the ipad affair lasted more than an hour. It was grand. It made me think–I don’t want to write a blog post. I don’t want to search the web. I don’t want to prepare lessons, grade papers, any of it. I just think I’d rather putz around. So I did. And it was beautiful.

And I’m still not in the mood to talk about the insipid French election, nor the American one for that matter. Nor am I in the mood to discuss why education is going down the toilet–and taking the state of California with it. I’m not interested in discussing the family vacation nor the girl drama that occurred last week with my daughter, either. And I don’t want to talk about the movie, Joyful Noise that we watched the other night, which was wonderfully entertaining. I don’t want to discuss the upcoming writing assignments nor the really cool Tequila story I get to do and I don’t want to talk about how my dad and step-mom are coming to visit for the first time in more than a year.

No. I wish not to discuss that as Simon rests his head on my lap while I write. I just wish to sit and enjoy it. And shake this darned headache.

Onward.

Barely worth your time

I am laid up with the beginnings of a migraine. I can feel it starting–so I’ve taken my pills and I’m drinking water to rehydrate which I need to do because….well, short version, because I’m stupid.

Meanwhile, Shannon and I are sitting here watching horse shows because she’s obsessed with horses. She’s created a little girl drama for herself at school with her propensity to get jealous when a friend of hers plays with other kids. It’s hard at this point as a parent because this is one of the first times where we realize our role is to A) disagree with her and B) stand back and let her fix it herself. Can’t make anyone play with her. Can’t fault a kid for wanting to play with other kids–so….

Sigh.

Here we are in May and my 21st year as a teacher is drawing to a close. Can’t come too soon, either. Slow time–and in need of speeding up.

A few deadlines this week–but wish there were more. Tough time to be hanging out and waiting-but that’s where I am now…and that’s why this post was barely worth your time.

Onward.