Monthly Archives: July 2007

NYT Article on Family Leave

I am so digging Eyal Press! It seems when I begin reading an interesting, well-researched and well-written article, it is often by Eyal Press. I have previously posted about his book Absolute Convictions. Today I was reading his NYT article on family leave discrimination. Check it out.


Friday Catblogging

It’s that time!  The following photos are typical poses for cats right after they finish breakfast.  The feel the need to check out what’s going on in the backyard.  The get in this semi-standing pose to lord over their domain.  Their number one enemy:  squirrels.dsc00642.jpg


Friday Mantisblogging

Some of you may know about my fascination with the praying mantis.  Well, in early June while I was gardening, I saw a baby mantis, and just the other day, Lara and I saw a young mantis on the back deck.  The very next day, I saw a mantis on our welcome mat on the deck — perhaps even the same mantis.  I will name him Sven.  Here is Sven:dsc00658.jpg 


I began this summer with lots of home improvement high hopes.  I tend to be “domestically challenged,” and I use that term in a broad sense.  I’m not the best cook, I’m not the best cleaner or organizer (for myself), and I’m not even close to the best at home improvement projects.  Alas, I wanted to feel like I accomplished something this summer.   I had this vague plan that I would systematically attack each room in the house, cleaning, painting, decorating.  Somehow “systematic” and I just do not bond well.  I have yet to paint inside the house, though I have high hopes that this is still to come.  Sujal, having started his new job, does not have much time to help me with the summer home improvement activities.  

Some of my smaller accomplishments — I bought curtains for our dining room and hung them on existing curtain rods (although even as I write this, I have ideas about how I can improve their “look,” as the curtain rods are a bit tacky).  My mother-in-law gave us curtains for our bedroom for our shower, over a year ago.  I decided to put them up.  In the midst of trying, I recalled that I had tried this once before, but the rods we had in our bedroom were too big for the opening of the curtains, so I needed to buy curtain rods.  

This led to a stressful trip to Ikea, where I fretted over the right rods and the right curtains for other windows in the house.  I only bought the rods.When I came home to install them, Sujal told me I’d need to use the drill, and that scared me a little, so Sujal said he’d do it.  Knowing he’d have little time, I tackled the project myself, only to find partway through that I really needed Sujal to show me how to use the drill.  He ended up doing the drilling, because I was having a hard time.  I ironed the curtains and scarves to go over the curtains — about 2 hours of ironing (and anyone who knows me knows I do not iron).  When I put them up, they looked pretty good — though I didn’t feel 100% accomplishment because Sujal helped me with the drilling.

Backtracking a bit, At the beginning of the summer I decided to refinish the back deck.  It seemed like a do-able job, like something I could do while Sujal was at work, and I’d feel like I really accomplished something.   I honestly though I could knock it off in about two or three afternoons.  I looked up online how to go about refinishing it, and I got myself set up to scrub the deck.  I did not take “before” pictures, but there was a lot of green on the deck to say the least.  As I begain handscrubbing the railings and all the individual slats under the railings, I realized I could not finish scrubbing in one day.

It became a daily ritual for me to get up early, go out and scrub for about 2-3 hours (it’s exhausting grinding a brush into a deck), maybe scrub for abother 2-3 hours in the evening, and repeat the process the next day.  Two weeks into it, I was only about halfway done.  That’s when a friend of Sujal’s lent us his pressure washer.  Sujal helped me with some of the pressure washing — about six to seven hours in itself.  Then I sanded the deck, and finally, I’ve been waiting for a few dry days to stain it.  Frankly, I was getting ready to throw in the towel — “To heck with the deck!” I muttered in my sleep. Then my friend Lara came to hang out with me for an afternoon, and she offered to help me.  When I began this project, I really thought the deck would untimately look amazing — brand new even.  I thought I’d stain it with with a rich transparent cedar tone, and it would be beautiful.  Alas, the previous owners put a grey deck stain on it before.  Even though everyone assured me that it could not be grey deck stain, that it was mere weathering of the wood, after completely scrubbing and pressure washing it, it was obviously grey deck stain.  So as Lara and I got ready to stain with my fancy stain, we did a test spot, and of course you could still see some of the grey spots.  Ugh.

Luckily, Lara rolls well prepared.  She just happened to have 1/2 a can of opaque brown deck stain in her car, so we used that.  Again, it was great to have help — in fact, I am eternally ecsatic and grateful for her help, but again, I was not accomplishing this on my own.  Once again, I thought I could knock off staining the deck in an afternoon.  We finished the 1/2 can yesterday, and I had to go get more today.  I am presently taking a break from the hot sun, and I’d say I’m almost 1/2 done with the staining.

As I was staining, I began thinking about my feeling like I haven’t accomplished much with this deck.  I began thinking about how in my regular life (teaching), it does not feel like accomplishing much on the day to day basis.  Of course getting through a class is an accomplishment, but not much of one.  Because I do not see accomplishment readily in my day to day work, I was looking for this satisfactuon of being able to see it in refinishing the deck.  It seemed tangible.  Then I started to think about how teaching a kid to write and to write better is actually a pretty amazing accomplishment, even if it does not feel like it on the day to day basis.

I thought of this student I tutored this year, and I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing much with this student.  And then the parents told the advisor the the kid’s grades were improving.  The English teacher told me the writing was improving, particularly the kid’s organization.

I remembered teaching in Ware, when a science colleague told me she could always tell the kids I taught because their writing was so tight and organized.  She said she’d been really impressed.

And then on rare occasions, I’ll get a letter or an email from a student telling me that they really learned to write better because of my class.  It may sound like I am trying to toot my own horn, but I’m not.  I’m just trying to work through this idea of accomplishment.  I started to think that if I’d taken a summer job refinishing decks that I probably would not feel like I accomplished something after each of the decks I’d have finished, because it’s a job.  Teaching is not a “job,” per se, but it isn’t as tangible.  So this summer I felt like I needed to see some tangible accomplishments. I started thinking more about how there are times people remember a teacher who really taught them something — or even more specifically, teachers who taught me something.  I’ve only written one letter (perhaps two) to a teacher who was very inspiring.  I wish I’d have written more, especially while they were still teaching and therefore relatively easy to find.  A letter is tangible evidence of accomplishment.  So reader, let me suggest that you write a letter to a teacher (or two) who inspired you, someone who really taught you something, especially something you value.  Not that teachers are in it for the constant praise (if they are, they are in the wrong profession — just listen to Mitt Romney for two minutes), but they are human.  We all seek some affirmations from time to time.

I’ve also received nice notes or comments from parents.  They are also wonderful to receive, although it is different than words coming from the student him or herself.  Anyway, this was just my thought process as I was staining the deck today.  I’m about to go out and stain some more — and frankly, yes, I am feeling a sense of accomplishment.  I can’t wait until we christen the deck with a BBQ!

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The Real Thing: Friday Catblogging

This first photo is of the two loving stepsisters snuggled up together on our guest bed.


And here is a picture of Cliche on her beloved cat tree. Note that she is having a bad hair day with the tuft of hair sticking up on the top of her head, Alfalfa style.


Wednesday Catblogging

I know it breaks tradition a bit, but I just couldn’t wait till Friday!

Here is Cliche sitting on one of the favored perches in the house — the bay window over our kitchen sink. Since they are not allowed on the counter, we do not know how they get up there. 😉

Cliche by Kitchen Sink

And here’s one of Tillie. I’d been trying to get a close up of her face, because she has beautiful markings, not that I’m biased or anything.

Tillie on Cart

I mentioned to Sujal this morning that it would be funny to do Friday Ratblogging. He said it was disturbing because a) just the concept grossed him out and b) he’d be really freaked out if I could find a rat (esp. in the house) to photograph. So I had to do a quick Google search and there are a lot of ratbloggers out there. Frankly, I was hoping for photos of gutter rats, but what can you do?

It actually made me a remember a time in my life when I lived in a crappy little apartment in Minneapolis with my friend Roger. We had a lot of pets at the time — most of them 6 legged that ran when you turned the light on. But one day I came home from work to find Roger in the most foul mood ever. He’d seen a large rat in the apartment, and he had had enough. We were just about to leave for a stint of house sitting at a MUCH nicer place than ours. Several days later, he informed me that it must have been a Norwegian Rat, which made me laugh endlessly, because suddenly Roger was a rat aficionado. Thus completes my rat experience. If I’d had a photo of that Norwegian rat, I’d post it.

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Reaching for the Brass Ring

As I previously mentioned, my mother vsited for about a week. Among the many planned activities, I slipped in a visit to The Carousel at Bushnell Park in Hartford. She’d been wanting to see the Capitol building, and the park is right there.

It also happened to be the carousel’s 92nd birthday, so they had a mini-celebration by giving free rides. As the music started on the band organ, and I know this is crazy, I almost teared up. Here is a good site that has samples from the Wurlitzer 153 band organ that is part of the Hartford carousel. The tinny sounding music has an out of tune, eerie feel, and yet it easily summoned up nostalgia for me — like a cheap shot in a Lifetime, Television for Women movie. I also wish I had a picture of the Wuritzer that plays the music, but this will have to suffice. It’s a pretty amazing series of instruments — lots of pipes, drums, etc. I wish I could bring it to you, so you could hear the dissonant pinging, the low strikes on the drums, the slight whistles — it’s a mix of strange nostalgia and something stale that one does not quite understand how it has survived this long. And to see the instrument, it’s antiquey-looking — but intricate and beautiful as well.

As I mentioned before, it was the carousel’s birthday, and so they also had free cake for everyone. I, of course, can never pass up cake, so I waited in line for this yummy cake with the other Hartfordians — kids and adults. There were also quite a number of what seemed to be homeless people in line. Of course this makes sense, but there was a weird, multi-layered irony to it. It had a ring of Marie Antoinette’s alleged words, “Let them eat cake.” My friend Lara has more recently jokingly accused me of taking cake out of the mouths of the homeless. How is it that people come to be humiliated to the point where they stand in line for free cake because it is food? Let me add to this, and bear with me as I make my second point about the irony.

When we were on the carousel, I looked up for the brass rings — or the gold rings, as Holden Caulfield calls them — and I saw no brass rings. One hears about reaching for the brass ring on a carousel. Metaphorically, of course, it is meant to convey the idea of striving for something that seems just out of reach. It even has a sort of capitalist feel to it — that if you work really hard, strive to succeed, yes, you too can become rich, or in this case, grab the brass ring. I see this as the big lie of capitalism, because that belief system is not true. Timing, privilege, and access have a lot to do with whether or no one will succeed. Yes, hard work helps pave that way, but it is wrong to say that alone will bring success in the capitalist society in large part because a capitalist society relies on a large working class — a hard-working class. Keep ’em wanting more, and you’ll get more out of ’em. So here the carousel stands, the brass ring metaphor hanging in the air, and those who obviously have not benefitted from capitalism are waiting in line for cake.

On another note regarding the brass ring and Catcher in the Rye, I looked for the literal ring and didn’t see any. I have always been a bit confused about it and could never quite picture it. I know that expression comes from carousels, but I still can’t visualize it. Anyway, here’s an explanation of the term brass ring.

Finally, to round out our carousel experience, my mother and I spent two days in New York city. We strolled through Central Park, looking for The Central Park Carousel. Our rides on this carousel were $1.50 each, not a bad price for a lovely ride. The one had a Wurlitzer 150, and frankly it did not sound as out of tune. I think this one might have been a bit faster than the one in Hartford, but the one in Hartford had real horse hair tails.

Don’t worry. I don’t think I’ll become a carousel guru (or freak), but it was interesting to ride these two carousels. If you are around either of them, check them out.

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More Summer Movies!

When Sujal and I first met, he told me that he didn’t like going out to the movies — to see them in the theater. If I recall correctly, he said it was because he did not like to support the big movie corporate culture. I could respect that (through, ironically, he has the largest DVD collection I’ve seen), but I’ve always enjoyed going to the movie theater. He patiently explains the difference of seeing an action film with lots of special affects on the big screen VS a romantic comedy chick flic that loses nothing when transfered to the smaller screen of our home TV. Gee, that’s a shocking male/female point of view… Nonetheless, I have always liked sitting in the theater, with lots of strangers, the smell of popcorn surrounding us, much like the surround sound, watching a movie — be it a blockbuster or an indie flic. Over the years, Sujal has begun to embrace going to the movies as it is a great “date night” activity.

Thus, we have seen A LOT of movies lately. As I previously mentioned, we began our movie run with Ratatouille — a movie I highly recommend. It was really fun and cute. Obviously, don’t go see this if you are trying to change the world, unless, of course, you are trying to take a little break.

Next we went to see Sicko, and I wrote a post about it below.

My mother came to visit, and she wanted to see Ocean’s 13. Sujal and I had been a little curious, so we went to see it. It was quite disappointing. I know I saw Ocean’s 12, but I remember nothing about it, so it clearly was not memorable. This mvie suffers the same fate. We tried to figure out why we liked Ocean’s 11 so much more than these other two. First of all, the music in the first one just captured the zeitgeist of Vegas better. There was also more of an emotional draw into the plot and better character development — of both the “good” guys and “bad”guys. Anyway, don’t waste your time or $$ on this flic.

Finally, we went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on opening night, because Sujal is a huge HP fan. He reads the books the day they come out. In fact, when we first started dating, he watched the first HP movie on a daily basis, a fact that almost ended our relationship. While I attempted to read the first book and just could not continue, I have seen all of the movies. I don’t love them, but they are decent. Sujal was frustrated by some of the plot changes and lack of development in the film. He raves about Rowling’s development in the novels, so he was disappointed that the film glossed over so many details. As a mere movie viewer and not a novel reader (Harry Potter novels, that is — otherwise I’d be a REALLY crappy English teacher if I didn’t read novels 😉 ), I thought the movie was fine. There were a few confusing parts, but it seemed a similar caliber of the previous movies. I was enertained.

Next on our list is You Kill Me. It’s about a Polish alcoholic hit man from Buffalo, NY. I have to see it for the obvious connections to me. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

I’m sure we’ll see more movies as the summer continues. Oh — Sujal went to see Transformers with a friend. There was no way I was going to see that. Anyway, stay tuned for more movie thoughts.

A Night at the Movies

While I wanted to see Sicko on opening night, we went to see Ratatouille instead. So tonight, we finally went to see Sicko, even though I pledged on MoveOn.Org that I would see it Saturday evening — Sorry, MoveOn. My first reaction when I left the theater was — I really want to feel empowered and inspired, yet I feel a sense of despair and powerlessness. It seems the lobbies in this country are magnanimously strong. But I’d like to try to get beyond an initial feeling of powerlessness.

Ironically — or not ironically, I suppose — the movie was not playing at one of the major cinemas in our area. We saw Fahrenheit 911 at the cinema in Plainville, and I was going to get tickets to see Sicko there on Friday afternoon, yet it was only playing at one of the Hartford “arts” cinemas (and a mall cinema that is fairly far from us). I was surprised it wasn’t at Plainville, and Sujal told me his theory that it might have something to do with the fact that Hartford is the insurance capital. Makes sense…

Take the time to look at Michael Moore’s website, as it has lots of info and resources.

Here’s an interesting YouTube link in which Moore responds to potential attacks on 911 rescue workers.

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Finally, at the end of the film, it lists this site, Hook-A-Canuck, a dating site for Americans to find a Canadian mate so the American can get free healthcare — though it is not serious, of course.

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I truly hope this does open a national healthcare debate and movement. It is high time!