Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tiara Day

I've been battling the End-of-the-Summer Plague (the doctor says it's a respiratory infection, I still think I'm allergic to the start of school).

It makes me sound less like this:

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And more like this:

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Did you notice what both of those images have in common? Stellar head-wear. Which is convenient because this Friday is Tiara Day on Twitter. A day full of positivity and sparkles that many literary tweople celebrate by displaying a bejeweled avatar. For more details or to enter a Tiara Day contest, see the Sparkle Queen, Susan Adrian's website.

'Cuz, who couldn't use a day of positivity, sparkles and tiaras? On the last Friday before school starts, I know I could.

If you're looking for me on Twitter that day, I'll look like this:

I hope Tiara Day brings you sparkles, good news and a surge of optimism and luck. I also hope it brings back my voice!

Start practicing your royal wave...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why I Cried in my Classroom Today

“Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.” - Dr. Seuss

I was talking to another teacher yesterday and he was telling me he's ready to come back to school. "I hate the end of things – whether it's the school year or the summer – I get impatient to start what's next ."

I hate the end of things too, but for an entirely different reason. I hate endings.

  • I always hesitate before turning the last page of a truly great book – because I'm reluctant to say good-bye to the characters.

  • I've never seen the final episode for Full House, Wonder Years, Dawson's Creek, or Gilmore Girls because if the screenwriters choose to NOT give the characters a happily ever after, I didn't want to see it. I'd prefer the unknown to a resolution that would haunt me.

  • The end of the school year makes me cry – those kiddos will go on to great adventures, but I won't be in their day-to-day lives to see their triumphs.
But there's something particularly awful about the end of summer, because not only does it mark a new beginning, but it requires classroom set-up as well. I am not a visual-spatial person. The idea of setting up a single room so that it's functional for 28 people is beyond my scope. So each year I stand in the chaos of desks and boxes, folders and textbooks and I cry. Every year.

But why? I'm not a crier and even though I never believe it in-that-moment, I know it will all get finished and organized – or at least shoved away somewhere.

So why tears?

It's because of the NEW. I'm not crying for loose-leaf paper or post-it notes. Not even for that last desk that won't fit anywhere or the spelling book that's gone missing over the summer.

I'm crying because I'm worried about the NEW. My tears say: Hey New Kiddos I Don't Know Yet, I want this classroom to be perfect for YOU and I hope you like it and I hope you like me.

I know by late September I'll be able to tell any of these kiddos to find a spot for the index cards or a better way to store the extra copies of Time For Kids. They'll be telling me where they want to sit and how to rearrange the desks.

… but that first day, when we don't know each other yet, I want to offer them perfection.

I feel the same way about writing. I've been dreading and procrastinating about my next writing project. LUCKY MIA'S still on the walls of the NTB – even though I haven't needed those notes in months. I just can't bring myself to erase them yet.

What if I don't love my next project as much as I love this book? What if the characters don't resonate as loudly or keep me up at night with fierce wonderings? My outdated MIA-notes are a literary security blanket, they're a reflection of my endings issues. I don't want to let go.

But it's FEARLESS Summer, so I will. I spent yesterday afternoon making notes on potential next projects. I've got five vying for my attention, clamoring to be noticed. I used my big teacher paper and markers – I'm not ready to commit one to the whiteboard walls yet – and gave each story the chance to say "Pick me!" And they ALL did.

So, baby steps. I've got them on paper… I've hung the paper on the wall in the NTB.

Someday soon I'll be reaching for erasers – both in the classroom and the NTB – and in both instances I'll learn, as I always do, that while new may be scary… it's also so exhilarating too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Virus Scan Wars

You know the moving walkways at airports? And how if you walk against the motor, you make no progress? Welcome to my day.

It started when I tried to open a file. I just wanted to peek at yesterday’s revision. The file wouldn’t open.

So I tried another file I’d work on last night: a friend’s MS that kept me up way-too-late. It wouldn’t open.

I tried everything I could think of, but neither file would cooperate. All my other Word files were fine. Not the end of the world, but it was a waste of a night’s work and a good *nudge* to update my virus software.

Updated. Easy-peasy. Started a scan.

While I was waiting, I figured I’d open the latest version of LUCKY MIA and re-do the chapter numbering since I had two chapter 31’s and no chapter 3.

Only, when I opened the file, it didn’t look like my story. It was a dense mess of text.

All the formatting was gone: Single spaced. No indents. No italics. Nothing centered. Hard returns deleted. Comments gone.

A chaotic block of words.
But not horrible, I figured I’d just open the file from the day before – I resave my MS each day as a separate file.

Clicked on LUCKY MIA 8-11: A chaotic block of words.
*Super-sized PANIC*
And thus began my adventures with online virus scan support, because when I looked in the scan log, it showed the software issuing ‘violation reports’ and ‘denying’ parts of Word*. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found double-spacing so offensive that it should be banned. And while I may overuse italics, that’s hardly a reason to revoke my emphatic privileges.

Off to ‘tech chat’ I went. First I had Jordan, who based on his syntax and creative use of the English language, is probably not really named Jordan Carter.

Jordan was confident he could fix my problems. Until I followed his instructions and they didn’t.

Jordan: Please proceeds by restarting the computer.
Me: Will this fix the problem & restore my formats?
Jordan: I recommend that you restart the computer.
Me: But won’t that end our chat.
Jordan: The chat session will be terminated.
Me: But what if it’s not fixed?
Jordan: (who I imagine is now doing a gleeful dance that he will be rid of me). Please contact online support if you require any more assistance. Refer to chat #844671
Jordan: It was my pleasure to work with you. Have a nice day.

I restarted. It was a mistake. Upon attempting to log-in, Huey-the-laptop informed me that “Unauthorized Changes had been made to Windows.” He then told the changes would “Limit Windows Functionality” which was particularly scary since it had been less than functional before.

Forty minutes and an entire stress-eaten jar of macadamia nuts later, I was logged in. The problem was NOT fixed (darn you, Jordan!). I scurried off to online support again and was paired up with “James.”

“James” has even less understanding of the rules of English, and he also might have been cooking lunch or mowing his lawn or something, because he took for-ev-er to respond to my pleading requestions.

After reading the transcript of chat#844671, James told me to do the same thing Jordan suggested.
Me: I’ve already done that.
James: Re-read my directions. This is for the VirusScan Program not to scan the Microsoft program.
Me: I followed your directions. It takes different steps, but both you and Jordan instructed me to add Word.exe to my exceptions list. It’s there. I checked.
James: Is the problem fixed?
*I visualize a kid in an elevator here – you know the one that repeatedly presses the same button like that will make it travel faster*
Me: No.

James: I will send you instructions. You open up Wordpad or Notepad and copy them incase we get disconnected.
Me: Ready.
…. Long wait while James stirs his soup or clips his toe nails.
Me: All set! James?
James: *directions* including: Press the Firewalls and Security Options button on the left side of the screen.
Me: I don’t have that button.
James: Then do not press it.
Me: Um, done?
James: Please follow the directions to exit the program.
Me: Okay, I’ve exited the program.
James: I will send you direction to exit the program.
Me: It’s okay, I right clicked and exited. I don’t need directions.
James: *sends directions*
James: Let me know when you are ready to proceeds
Me: (wondering if he read my last messages and why James and Jordan both struggle with ‘proceed’ Are they really the same person? If I start a new chat, will I get John or Jacob or Joe?) All set. What next?
James: Does the problems still occur?
Me: *checks… chaotic block of text* YES.
James: The problem is not with our software. Contact Microsoft for assistance.

This is where I went into oh-no-no mode.

James: I recommend you uninstall the virus scan, system restore, reinstall.
Me: Will that fix the problem?
James: I will send you directions.

I uninstall.

Me: It says that I need to restart the system for the changes to take affect. Should I do this?
No answer.
Me: James? Also, last time I restarted, I had real problems logging back in. Will those be fixed?
Loooong pause. Perhaps James is walking his dogs. Maybe he could come walk the puggles, b/c they’re getting a little impatient with my crazed computer staring.
James: Proceeds to uninstall the virus scan.
Me: I did. It’s uninstalled. It says I need to restart.
James: Yes, restart.
Me: But what about the systems restore and reinstall?
James: Restart first. I will send you directions.
Me: So will this fix it?
James: Follow the directions.
Me: After I do the systems restore, it should be fixed, right? So then, when I reinstall, is it going to recreate the problem? Should I ‘exclude’ Word right away.
James: I do not recommend that.
Me: But last time, when I started a virus scan it messed up Word.
James: I recommend you try it first.
Me: And if it recreates the problem, I’d have to uninstall, restore the system, reinstall.
James: I recommend this.
Me: Is it worth the risk?
James: Yes.

Clearly, James is willing to play fast and loose with my files.

I save his directions. And restart…. you may have noticed that James never answered my question about whether or not I’d have problems logging-in. That was an artful dodge my tech-help friend. Crafty.

Log-in screen: “Unauthorized Changes have been Made to Windows”

Thus commenced a 45 minutes of a loop where I put in my password, it give me this message & restarted. Since I was out of macadamia nuts, I ate blueberries by the handful and paced. The puggles trailed me in my stress-induced game of follow the leader.

To switch things up, Huey began warning me that my version of Office may be counterfeit. No. It’s not. It’s the same version I had last night. The same version I’ve had for 2 years. Unless sneaky software bandits crept into my house between the hours of 3AM and 6AM, it’s authentic.

Finally! Success. And Word works too! Only, Huey tells me he has updates he needs to install and he wants me to restart…

40 more minutes of me pleading… really, it is authentic, I haven’t made unauthorized changes, I love you Huey, work with me… I’ll try not to abuse italics, I’ll use those special screen wipes you like… Sleep mode? You’ve got it!

Six and a half hours later, I’m back where I started: the same two files still don’t work. And my virus scan is now, not only out of date, but uninstalled.

I could reinstall it like James recommended… but then I’d have to restart.

*I do not want to identify the company for fear that they will send me ALL of their viruses, since surely they have plenty.

6) Braids are the ideal river hairstyle

6) Just because it’s camping and there aren’t bubble baths doesn’t mean I couldn’t bring the pampering. Not only did I do my own hair, but I coerced the other girls into letting me French braid theirs in all sorts of ways. I owe them all a big THANK YOU, for letting me treat them like Barbie dolls - I think that playing beauty parlor was my way of bringing a piece of Tiffany to an entirely non-Tiffany environment.

I don't have any pictures of my own hair (see #5) but here's a great one of J-bean and Capt. D. Awww, adorable! See, you'd totally never guess that she hadn't showered in four days!

The twists and loops are great at hiding the hasn’t-been-washedness. How do I know? I got complimented in the airport on Wednesday, when I hadn’t touched shampoo since the previous Friday. I might’ve given that woman a strange look along with a thank you.

Return to Lessons from the River...

4) When things go wrong on the river, they go wrong fast and they go really wrong.

4) When things go wrong on the river, they go wrong fast and they go really wrong.

This is an unedited excerpt from a hasty entry in my waterproof notepads on day 2 - it's a 'lil bit melodramatic, but it a scary moment:

Fearless? Not so much. Shaking. Quite a bit. This isn’t Disney World. This ride isn’t automated or carefully controlled like Epcot’s Maelstrom. And unlike scary movies, you can’t shut my eyes when things get tough or frightening. You need to face the fears: eyes open, danger ready.

Because when things go wrong on the river, they go wrong fast and they go seriously wrong.

Today we did Hell’s Half Mile rapids – these were the ones discussed around the campfire last night and over breakfast this morning. We only had 90 minutes of rafting time today, but these would be intense. I’d been warned.

But before we got to ½ Mile, in the smaller rapids just before – Triplet – things went wrong. Fast and Serious.
A boat flipped.

The passengers were okay and Capt. D eddied out, then went back on foot to assist with the recovery.

J-bean, Matt and I had a moment’s quiet panic, before we were sent back into the main channel in case a swimmer – or as happened, the upside down boat – needed to be caught.

It couldn’t have been long, but it was a blur of in and out our raft, catching the overturned rafted as it floated pasted, tying, untying, heaving people back in the boat and screamed commands. Fast and serious.

J-bean told me to tie us off – once we’d secured the overturned raft. I climbed to the side and asked, “Now?”

Her hollered response of “No!” sounded like an echo to me so I splashed overboard and proceeded to break the first rules I’d been taught: Never position yourself against a rock. Never try and stand up in the current. *

My out-of-the-moment commentary: At the time when I wrote this, I was trembling so hard my cursive was barely legible, but I think it was also the most FEARLESS moment of the trip. Because I scrawled this down after Hell’s Half Mile rapids.

And after Triplet and the flip, when we got out of the boats to scout the trickier rapids, I didn’t want to get back in. I wanted to sit and drip on a safe, dry, flat surface. I didn’t want to hear about a rock named Lucifer or passages that needed to be avoided. I wanted to stop trembling and re-learn how to work my lungs.

But when Capt D said, “Let’s go.” I did. FEARLESS

*I was lucky. I ended up with teensy scrapes and some rather large bruises. It could’ve been so much worse and I’ve learned my lesson. We used “Red light” and “Green light” instead of No/Now for the rest of the trip.