Sunday, April 30, 2017

Went INTO THE HEIGHTS Yesterday, & Dang, I Was Impressed

A few weeks ago, my friends Bev & Leo invited me to see a show with them at a cabaret in Bridgeport. I said I was in, but I didn't know what I was seeing or what I was getting into it.

Before the show, and after a morning of writing in my office, I finally made it to Brewport Bridgeport for their pizza and ales, but I still didn't know where we were going or what we were going to see. I simply knew I was going to take the evening off and enjoy myself.

Well, it turns out that we were seeing Into The Heights, in which Lin-Manuel Miranda won his first Tony (he's the lyricist and genius behind Hamilton that is getting a lot of attention). I haven't jumped on either band wagon, and until last night I really didn't pay any mind to to what the celebration was about.

But then, in a cabaret of Bridgeport, I sat through a 3 hour production and was blown away by the lyrics, story, dancing, and multicultural funk that could only be New York and totally U.S.A. I also didn't expect the incredible talent in the Connecticut production or the wonderful staging that we experience. Pam said to me, "You were captivated in this. I could see it in your lack of restlessness." I told my twin sister that I was dreading 3 hours in a theater. Ah, but I was wrong. I was totally blown away.

I now want the score of this show and to learn more about Hamilton. The clever ways musical genres were mixed, American funk was tossed in the musical genre, and a continued hope for the American dream was presented had me hooked. Actually, it wanted me to pick up a pen and begin to write my own show. The words were simply powerful.

And with that, I will leave you with an original performance from the night when it won in 2008. I'm slow. I'm out of touch. I'm the antithesis of hip and pop culture. Ten years later found me in the Delaware and there I was yesterday, getting schooled by an incredible show I wasn't expected. I feel fortunate to have seen the show. I'm inspired.




Saturday, April 29, 2017

@_Mitchellaneous ‏Does @CwpFairfield & @WritingProject Proud Once Again

Last night, I had the privilege of seeing another Shaun Mitchell production at Central High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut, this time a demanding script written by Jon Robin Baitz called Other Desert Cities.

Mr. Mitchell announced that the show was mature and his high school actors could claim to be the first time production at the secondary level. The well-casted ensemble took on a theatrical story of the Wyatt's, a functionally dysfunctional wealthy family radiating out of the Reagan's 80s and into the transition of the late 20th, early 20th century, society: star-struck, over mediated, and highly tabloid. Holding onto the prestige of wealth and privilege (and all it represents) was at the heart of the tensions they faced.


Casted in Other Desert Cities were remarkable performers who radiated the diversity of Bridgeport Public Schools in a total East Coast / West Coast battle of challenging secrets kept in a Hollywood, political family who kept its  deepest secret hidden from the world. The tension, centered around Christmas Eve when middle child Brooke, played superbly by Aislinn Otero, announced her writer's block was over and she scripted a memoir about her depression after her first successful novel, the suicided of her older brother, and the effect of being raised by Republican parents who were aghast by the rebelliousness of hippie youth in the 60s (including the oldest brother).

The roles were tough and the drama was high - intense, in fact. Trip Wyeth, played by Arnold Setiadi, delivered humorous punches throughout the show as he made light of the lies established by the family to hold the facade in place. Similarly, Silvio Graumann, Tyheem Bonner, established deeper histories for the characters in his role as a recovering addict living off the family's wealth (kudos to him for resisting the temptation of bourbon on the stage). Polly Wyeth, the uptight, controlling and mother-dearest mom was played by Aliyah McAllister, who aggressively performed as a socialite who preferred to keep up appearances and to control the reputation the spent her life creating. Lyman Wyeth, her husband, played by Isaac Vargas, has to be acknowledge for his perfect James Dean coiffure and acknowledged - to his credit - for the theatrical death he offered that once made him famous in the films he starred in.

As I left talking with friends and colleagues, I simply said, "These kids should be proud. There's so much going on in the world, their lives, and their futures, yet here they are perfecting a show for their high school Drama teacher and doing so with all they had to give." It was wonderful.

At the helm, and behind the scenes, however, is teacher Shaun Mitchell himself. His leadership, support, innovation, creativity and passion radiated from the young people he works. They delivered.

Congratulations Cast and Crew! You deserved the standing ovation you received.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Small Moments Are What I Cherish Most - @FairfieldU

Yesterday, I wrote about having the wonderful opportunity to attend the Service Learning Appreciation Celebration at Fairfield University, where my undergraduates presented on our partnership with Columbus School K-8 in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

This post is a special shout out to my Service Learning Associate, Ally, who put together the above video on her IPhone and who helped coordinate transitions between Fairfield and Columbus School. Ally is graduating in a few weeks, and immediately entering the 5th year towards her Masters in Elementary Education.

At the end of the event, Ms. Biko from Columbus School, the 5th grade teacher, saw the work of the Fairfield Students and Ally and simply asked, "Is it alright if I hug you?" Ally consented and I was able to capture the moment. It was authentic and real - pride in a wonderful opportunity to do what is best for kids and to push them towards their personal excellence. This excellence was not only for the Columbus School students, but the undergraduates enrolled in the Philosophy of Education course. Ally, as a student leader, was able to capture the magic of the collaboration. Ms. Biko recognized this and the joy radiated the room.

I am reflecting on these past four months wondering how we might build upon it, expand it, develop it, and demonstrate how awesome it is for potential teachers exploring the field of education to interact directly with young people in a K-8 schools. As the teachers attest above in the video, the students of Columbus were able to accomplish a lot.

I'd argue, however, that although the Service Learning course was originated at Fairfield University, the true service was provided by the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classrooms on Fairfield students. Youth brought knowledge to the University that made the theories come to life.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Happy Service-Learning Day! @FairfieldU Celebrating Partnerships

First off, I must acknowledge that I have a tremendous cohort of undergraduates this semester and, to top it all off, I have Ally - the super service-learning associate that was assigned to my Philosophy of Education course. Ally has not only helped coordinate the community art piece we will give to our Columbus School partners, but she put together a wonderful short film of all our students making declarations from their philosophical statements.

Today is Service-Learning Day at Fairfield University and I'm so happy I went through the orientation, workshops, discussions, and coaching with Melissa Quann and Dr. Jocelyn Boryczka a few years ago. Although I didn't design a course for undergraduates (or philosophy), I worked on graduate courses and the summer teacher institute. With their support, I began to move our success with Ubuntu Academy during the summer into course collaborations in the fall and spring. Specifically, William King at Bassick High School and his students have been working with graduate students in writing and reading courses. It has been remarkable.

Over the last year and a half, however, I've also been reaching out to K-8 schools with service learning opportunities, finally finding a wonderful match with Columbus (with support from a Commissioner Turn-Around grant from the state). This year, while Fairfield students went to the Columbus school to assist instruction, Columbus students also came to campus to participate in a series of workshops. I didn't know how 5th-8th grade students would do in a 2.5 hour turbo-course, but we had 100% response that the work flew by (and the teachers were amazed at what the young people produced in this time).

For me, the audience was vast. In my design of on-campus lessons I had to (a) model a lesson for the teachers, (b) meet course objectives for my students and (c) keep the middle schoolers engaged while pushing them towards grade-level expectations. What worked in my favor - well, everyone's favor - was that my undergraduates stepped up and in to participate with the young writers (even when we did science activities). I have to say, too, that the young people from Columbus stepped up and in, too (alerting teachers to behaviors they reported they've never seen before).

Today, I'm applauding the Office of Service Learning, their faculty and staff, and the community partnerships we share in pursuit of who we are together. It's a great day for the work we do!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I Just Own The Best Umbrella! @NCTE @WritingProject

There's a quote,
I didn't invent the rain; I just own the best umbrella,
that I was thinking about all day yesterday. In fact, I knew they were calling for 48 hours of rain, so I stopped at the store to purchase cocktail umbrellas for my graduate students (so they would remember to protect themselves at this time of the semester when we're all ready to be washed down the drain). We're simply drenched from the semester. Northeast issues after the snow melted away.

Then, while the one-and-only Michael LoMonico (of NCTE and Folger's Library fame) was presenting a once-in-a-lifetime workshop on developmental readings on Shakespeare, an alert came over my computer.  I glanced at the laptop and saw, Congratulations! Several workshops that colleagues and CWP-Fairfield teacher leaders were proposed were accepted for the 2017 National Council of Teachers of English Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.

I wasn't expecting decisions until late May or June!

This is phenomenal news for the CWP-Fairfield family. Many have collaborated to make tremendous literacy contributions in Connecticut and now their hard work will be shared at the national level. I'm proud to be part of these teaching teams and will be involved with the following presentations as I celebrate, applaud, share, and learn with teachers across the nation.

  • Of Wishes and Walls - Reclaiming Voices of Refugee and Immigrant Youth
  • Urban Literacies in Middle School: Giving Students Voice and Agency Inside and Outside of School
  • The Little Lab for Big Imaginations: A 3rd - 6th Grade Summer Writing Institute
  • NWP Promising Practices in Urban Spaces: Learning Together While Teaching, Engaging, and Involving Student Voices in the World,
  • "You Gotta Write! Aright?" - Young Adult Literacy Labs at Fairfield University
  • The Intersection of Literacy, Sport, Culture, and Society
I'm also excited that a couple of book projects were accepted for the conference and that teachers, who have chapters in these texts, will be part of the program, as well. 

The most amazing part, however, is that these presentations represent the community of writers CWP-Fairfield has set out to building: youth workers, educators, advocates, and change-agents embracing the diversity of Connecticut to provide equitable, creative, and innovating programs. 

It may be pouring rain outside and somewhat miserable right now, but I'm feeling dry with the good ol' cocktail umbrella. I am thinking of a 4-year old's wisdom, too, "You can't hate rain. Rain brings flowers." (His dad will be one of the presenters!)

Yesterday, everything bloomed all at the same time! Looking forward to #NCTE2017 and @NWPAM17. The CWP-Fairfield entourage is coming!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What's More Fun Than edTPA Training? Dinner with Michael LoMonico

The week kicked off with a 14-hour Monday that began with training for edTPA by a Pearson representative (for all my educator friends you know what that means, why it means as it does, and why I'm restraining any commentary on this post) and was followed by dinner with Dr. Shannon Kelley, from the English department, two students from my graduate course, Jim Fitzgerald, Vice President at Fairfield University, and the one and only Michael LoMonico: English teacher, Shakespeare enthusiast, author, and presenter.

I received an email last week inquiring if I was interested in having Michael speak in my courses and I said, "Sure! But how are we going to get him here?" It turns out the Office of Student Affairs was bringing him and that he's a Fairfield University grad! Long story short, he will be speaking to my Developmental Reading course tonight and last night I had the fortune of hearing about his career over burgers and bourbon. What a treat to have him with us (and to envision possible collaborations in the future).

From the website celebrating his contributions to English Education:

Michael LoMonico shows his passion for Shakespeare by writing, speaking, and leading workshops whenever and wherever he can. 
It is his goal to change the way that Shakespeare is taught in this country, and so far he has taught Shakespeare courses and workshops for teachers and students in 38 states as well as in Canada and England. 
Michael is the Senior Consultant on National Education for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. Since 1986, he has worked at the Teaching Shakespeare Institute at the Folger as the Institute Director and Master Teacher and. He has organized and directed two-day and week-long Folger Institutes across the U.S.  He also serves as Secretary for the Shakespeare Theater Association.  
Michael is the author of a novel, That Shakespeare Kid  and the reference book, Shakespeare 101, published by Random House. He recently published the Second Edition of The Shakespeare Book of Lists.  He was the founder and editor of Shakespeare magazine, published by Cambridge University Press and Georgetown University. He was an assistant to the editor for the curriculum section of all three volumes of the Folger’s Shakespeare Set Free series, published by Washington Square Press. He was also the technical editor to The Complete Idiots Guide to Shakespeare. 
He was the guest editor for September 2009 "Teaching Shakespeare" edition of the English Journaland was also the guest editor for the CEA Critic, a publication of the College English Association. 
Michael taught high school English on Long Island for 33 years and English Methods at Stony Brook University.
It's been a long while since I was knee-deep in bard-talk, but my time studying at Binghamton, Louisville, Broadloaf, and Cambridge always brought me back to teaching plays and sonnets. I remember, too, spending the semester in London with Carol Boyce Davies during the Literature of Exile and the Black British Experience course. For me, teaching Shakespeare has always gone hand in hand with urban education.

I'm looking forward to everything to come tonight (and am using it to calm down about the edTPA stuff coming ahead - oh, how we educators unite when we fight for what is best for kids and how our strength doesn't stand a chance against Pearson and their way of assessing everything for profit. So, bad taste was replaced with good taste rather quickly.

Tuesday looks like it will have a cherry on top. What a fortunate coincidence!

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Problem with the Sun Is It Beckons Us Outdoors

Truth be told, I didn't make it outside until 1 pm, because I was inside writing after I had my coffee. Then I went outside to work on the yard, especially the lawn which has become infiltrated with crab grass. I am convinced that I bought a bag of crabgrass seed last year rather than regular grass seed, because it is abundant this year. I was so frustrated.

Ah, but I remembered that I found lupine earlier in the week when I go soil and mulch. I put her in the garden and now hope she'll take off like the purple ones I had planted at my home on Eastman in Cicero. That is one flowering plant I was never able to get to grow in Kentucky (and it was too expensive to keep trying).

I got a run in, too, but then I realized I needed to get back indoors to continue grading and to set up the week. My morning writing project wasn't completed as I hoped it would be and I'm feeling rather guilty. There's simply too much on the plate at the end of a semester, especially in the spring when every evening is taken celebrating this student or that faculty member (which is more important, anyway) (and it doesn't help that I'm on Faculty Salary Committee, which at this time of year become vomit-inducing, especially as games get played over and over again).

And today, I have training. The state has moved to a new accountability system for student teachers and we need to know as much as possible to help assist our students. In the end, it will be on them and as bureaucracies change, our support system needs to help where we can.

Nothing ever sits still (I hope, especially for the lupine seeds).

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Last of the Birthday Socks Arrived! Thanks, Cynderballz

It is a bittersweet post today, because my last package of birthday socks arrived from the once-a-month sock club that Cynde signed me up for. This pair? Cactus? Cow skulls, and sunshine. I modeled the pair with my hands, but moved them quickly to my feet before going out for Indian food.

Um, Indian food. So delicious, but my stomach is on fire. It burns and I feel like there's a chimney in my stomach aligned with red peppers and acid. I knew while eating I was going to regret it later on.

I am regretting it now, because it is later on.

These birthday socks are great, however, because they arrived each month in a gray baggie and when you open it up, there's a gift-wrapped bundle of socks. The excitement of what's too appear is totally awesome and I was stoked to get this final pair.

I've said for some time that someone needed to go into business to get funkier pairs of socks for men, and I am so glad someone is cashing in on this idea. It is totally brilliant and I'm 100% happy about my sister's present.

If Mike didn't spoil the sender in February, I would have found out today because there was a note in there that said, these socks were given to you by Cynde Isgar! That was a bonus, too.

So much love...so much love.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Walking Down Memory Lane. Utica, New York. Poor Casey.

Not only do I love this commercial (the music makes me pretend I'm an opera singer on Mt. Pleasant), but I absolute adore this kid's mischievous evil faces as he gives haircuts to the stuffed animals. I can related to his sadistic, criminal intentions, reflecting fondly on the time I gave my little sister a haircut so I could have a little brother. I remember vividly the safety scissors I used in Clarks Mills and vaguely that my parents were upset.

I believe their are photos of this haircut with Santa at the North Pole, too.

That kids face. Too much.

But this commercial kills me. The mother in her heels seems excited to swiffer up the threads of fur that fell to the floor. Sorry, no one enjoys this. They especially don't love to clean in dress closes. Crap, I hate cleaning even when I'm pretending to be Tom Cruise in Risky Business sliding across my hardwood floors while listening to old time rock and roll. Nonsense. I call, "foul."

That kids face, though. It's brilliant. I find myself making similar faces thinking of his mischief and spasmodic glee in his deeds. It is simply hilarious...

...although I don't think my little sister would laugh as much as I am.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Yesterday Was 4/20, So I Honored The Holiday With Grass (Seed)

Oh, home ownership. I've been sitting in my house overwhelmed that I have this space and yard, but I'm the only one residing here right now. It is weird to feel so small in such a house, minuscule because it seems so empty. But, it's all good.

Chitunga informed me that when you Google Map the house you can see my Hulk-mobile, but the backyard looks terrible compared to the neighbors. Well, they pay for people to come in and spray their landscape so they have the perfect green lawns. I am Butch's son, and I want to be proud of my own lawn - one I wasn't prepared for in CT, with its rocky soil, crab grass, and Long Island sound wildflowers. I envy those that don't have the whacky grass issues.

Last night, I cashed in my Home Depot credit card points and purchased a $100 worth of soil and grass seed. Here I am thinking, "Did I just spend that much money to compete with my neighbors?" Um, I did. Landscaping. I want more and more green. I want to be like my neighbors who have plush lawns like my father's. We'll see if this works.

The weatherman, well Al Roker, says that it will be a washout today and that was my quest, to rake, scrape, scrub, and shovel as much as I could. Around 8 p.m. I finished putting down the grass seed to address the dirt canals that have been caused by the competitive breeds of greens that grow in this part of the United States. I hope I am successful, because what those "green" companies charge, just seems ridiculous. At this point I can't justify it, but I might give in - these parts call for it.

The good news? It's raining. I have a day to retreat behind my computer to grade and write before an important Faculty meeting in the afternoon. I met my goal. I got the seed and dirt now...let's hope it works.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Waffled on a Wednesday, and Weally Upset At My Dog. For Real

After two twelve hour days, I came home to begin grading and to think about what's to come on Thursday. Around 8, I realized I was hungry and I looked up from my computer to find Glamis licking my ankles. I said, "I fed you an hour ago, why haven't you fed me?"

That's when I realized my dog and I do not have a balanced relationship. She chews socks, chases balls, sleeps all day, goes for walks, and whines when she has to pee. I asked her, "Why don't you make me something to eat for a change?"

She dropped a sock, licked her crotch, and went back to her a sock.

I guessed it was my time to cook again, so I ended up with a pile of waffle fries. That was bachelor-pad easy, but I think I'm on to something.

There needs to be cooking classes for dogs. I'm serious. Dogs should spend their days training to be chefs, BBQ artists, gardeners, and bakers. There's no reason that they should be allowed to lie around all day doing nothing, so that working people come home to feed them. They should learn to cook so that their owners come home to a full meal: vegetables, fruits, salads, meats, and other stuff. Seriously. It would make life so much easier knowing that my dog, Super Glamis, spent her days beyond shedding, passing gas, and lying in the window sill for retirees to admire. I want her to have dinner ready for me. It would make everything so much easier.

But nope. She's a dog. And I must feed myself (which is the first thing to go on extreme days of over commitment).

So, I ate waffle fries - the kind you buy bulk at BJs. They were good, although I ran out of ketchup. All it took was preheating the oven and waiting 25 minutes and I had food.

Fancy eating, I tell you. This is the reality of the world that I live.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Blooming Trees Mean a Blooming Head. 9 pm Bedtime, Too

I was up at 6 a.m. due to a whining dog who wanted to come into my room and lick my face (it's a competition between here and the house sparrows that sing outside my window craving spring nookie). I took it as a sign to get up and to get to work, which I did...

...straight through to 8 p.m. when I finally made it home and realized that my brain was mush and I simply need to get to sleep.

Easter candy was 80% off, so I ought a few bags of Mini-Twix, which I strategically used for mini-lessons in Developmental Reading. I love my crew of graduate students this semester and enjoy the eclectic mixture of intellect, experiences, language-use, and passions. One of the greatest treats each week is how engaged they become with whatever tasks I put them on (whether reading Alice Walker's Flowers or de-wording young adult novels like Nick does in Kwame Alexander's Booked. We jumped from structuralist theory to lesson plans, to deconstructing text, to word-play, to sharing, back to the mission of the course - which is to develop middle and secondary school readers.

I always drive home spinning the lessons, the contributions, the wonders, the curiosities, and the connections (wondering, "did they get everything I intended for the evening?"). We all agree that the two hours goes way too fast and I always feel like I need another 60-minutes.

And the morning went well, too. A few community partners and I presented to a foundation who is considering the work of Ubuntu Academy and relocated youth literacies. We only had an hour to present and having a new audience made the work we're accomplishing that much exciting. No one ever knows what is to become of any of it.

Except a good night sleep. That's one thing that is for sure. Zzzzzzzzzz.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Is This All an Art (Or an Obsession) or Both?

The brilliance of Dalton Ghetti
A few years ago, Bridgeport artist Dalton Ghetti visited with students in the Connecticut Writing Project to discuss his pencil-tip chiseled artistry and his obsession of making beauty out of the smallest of spaces. His work is remarkable on numerous levels, but he didn't share much insight on why this? Why pencil tips? He just did what he did the way he does it and the rest falls into place.

Yesterday, after a 14 hour day (or was it 18 - it all blurs together) I began thinking about his obsession. Why this? Why would someone dedicate his life to creating beauty out of the tiniest of points - something familiar but so impossible to work with.

Then it hit me rather hard. This is sort of what I do - this is what teachers who have dedicated their lives to working with K-12 public schools, especially in urban settings, have been obsessed with their entire life. It is a calling. It is an art. It is possession and an obsession. The materials they are given to work with are almost impossible, but still we try to find beauty in it. We sculpt. We create. We look for the metaphors. We keep at it.

It is love.

I have a photograph of Dalton Ghetti's artwork on my office door (the entire alphabet chiseled on the tips of pencils) but I've never stopped to contemplate the master too deeply. Last night, however, as I was putting finishing touches on a presentation that will be given at 4:55 pm after a morning with a potential granter at 8 a.m., a meeting at noon, and at 1, and at 3, and at 4, I started thinking - "Phew! What is this profession that never seems to end?"

Then it hit me. It's not a profession. It's an obsession. And I love every second of it, even when I'm complaining the most.

To the artist, a pencil tip matters. To me, the success of every student matters, too. That's the challenge and the calling.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sad To Leave the CNY Family, But a Great Easter Break For Sure

Mom thinks that it's because the people being entertained have become bigger, but Dad doesn't remember ever having so many people in the dining room for a holiday feast. I simply remember the kid's table, but I remember it being packed. I know the ritual continues: squash, creamed potatoes, ham, green bean casserole, roles (and peas for Mike...which Chitunga also ate).

Regardless, we managed to fit and the feast was delicious. I love knowing that Mom and Dad are at the head of the table with the glow behind them. They made this possible - they made this happen (even though I'm sure my mom is cursing this morning saying, "I know there was a reason I gave up hosting years ago. It's too much).

And the Barnwells weren't even there this Easter because they are vacationing in S. Carolina. They were missed.

The April feast-fest ended, and it's time to finish out the Fairfield semester. I am totally feeling fulfilled by the visit with family and feel thankful to have some time to spend together. The weather was unseasonably warm, so we got to spend some of the togetherness outside - which is a teaser to everything I will miss this summer when the BBQ season begins and they are in 'Cuse and I'm in 'Ford.

Abu asked, "When are you guys leaving?" referring to Chitunga and me, and I had to remind him, "He's with you now, remember? He's a Syracuse kid."

I'm now kicking myself, too. Cynde asked, "Do you want to bring cheesecake back with you?" I said, "No, I don't want the temptation." Mom asked, "You want to bring some of these easter candies back with you?" I responded, "No, because I will eat them." I should have taken them up on the offer (and I left two weeks of creamed potatoes with them, too).

10...15...20...30...40 years ago, a photograph like this could never have been predicted. I guess that is the beauty of getting older, of aging, of watching family evolve as it does.

Love is love is love, and I'm so thankful there's so much of it for us to pass around.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Now You See It, Now You Don't. Spring Fever, I Guess

The beard. Gone.

I shaved.

I decided after a late night shower that I had it with the greasy, hairy face, so I went to town with my father's Gillette razor and some Brut shaving cream I found in his cabinet (circa 1967). I feel good, but without facial hair, I look like I'm 12.

Akech Malaul gave me genetic reasons why my facial hair comes in all white (that's a med-school brain, I tell you), but I didn't retain a word of what he told me. I enjoyed catching up with him and Edem at my parents house during the afternoon, although the DNA conversation was way over my head.

It was a beautiful morning for running, that turned into a rainy afternoon (which Tunga experienced on his own run...that's what you get for sleeping in).

I was up early. I did a car wash, Wegmans, and even Home Depot before heading south with Dad to get rolls for Easter dinner (and finding half-moon cookies and molasses hermits, as well).

Ah, today, though, is about ham and creamed potatoes. Easter has been my holiday to host but no one wanted to come to Connecticut this year so I drove back to Syracuse to be with them. I purchased my block of sharp cheddar cheese for the creamed potatoes and I will do my part with the ham before heading back to Stratford tomorrow night on a full stomach.

In the meantime, my Mom is waking up after having vivid dreams of giving birth to a giraffe. She was obsessed with April's birth-giving yesterday: the labor pains and afterbirth gestation, the moans, groans, and maternal instinctual connectivity that I got to experience over my a.m. cup of coffee.

It was a long wait and a lot of pushing, but my mother (and April) successfully delivered a baby male giraffe (and you can imagine the grunts, growls, and encouraging shouts of support that came from Amalfi Drive while my mother watched on her IPad).

Yes, a chick hatched (not from the rotten eggs my mom tried to hard boil), but from April's umbilical chord. Now, my mom will dream of having hooves arrive from her nether-regions, and I'm sure I'll be entertained at breakfast as she shares.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Feeling Unproductively Productive in an Productive Unproductive Way

Good Friday was yesterday...let's recap whether or not it was good or not.

I awoke, started digital projects and made some headway. Chitunga had an interview downtown and we had a lunch date in Liverpool at 1:30 (an awesome Salmon, ginger, walnut, mandarin orange salad if I do say so myself). It was also awesome to see Rhiannon and to catch up with her. Of course, I did a 5K before even thinking about seeing her, simply because she's training for a triathlon. It's the least I could do.

Tunga and I had another project we needed to get atop of - upgrading our phones and getting on a more economical plan. I've been loyal to Spring for 12 years and I use the same store in Cicero to do all my work. I've tried to work with Connecticut branches, but the agents are rude, obnoxious and out of touch. I prefer my CNY peeps on phone service and they continued to be great. Sprint, on the other hand, tried to trip me up. I hate to get belligerent but when the time comes, it comes. Long story short, we now have upgraded our phones and are on the same plan (he in Syracuse and me in Stratford).

We also did a CNY Friday night fish fry on Good Friday. We weren't alone, as the line outside of Sal's fish fry went for miles, but Cynde and I persevered and we got out fish for the family.

But then, Friday night, I realized the next few weeks ahead and I went into a panic. I know today needs to be a work day: hopefully start with a Wegman's run for mom, then quite a few hours behind the screen (maybe the entire day), and then much optimism for Easter Sunday. Everything needs to be lined up for the return (taking a mini-break makes me realize how 24/7 the work I do actually is - feeling a little panicked and behind). It will get done.

Of course, now I need to figure out a new phone, and I wasn't thinking that I'd have to redo passwords, access, photos, etc. to get back into the rhythm and flow of my IPhone 5s. I skipped a generation, I believe, and now at in the 7th generation. We shall see.

Ah, but the dogs are happy. In fact, they're sleeping like babies from all the play. Happy for them and wishing them another day of such energy. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

This. Just This. Milestones and Memories in the Journey. This.

It is not the location I remember, yet it is. The infrastructure is there (sort of) and the landscape looks the same. The color is close, too, but a little more red than maroon than it used to be. Yet the sky...the sky and water, this is the same. This is the memory.

Mom, Chitunga and I took a one-day road trip to Hamilton, Sherburne, and Lebanon Reservoir yesterday to visit locations where my mom and dad grew up (and where my grandparents are buried).

But this was camp. This was our Saturday and Sunday get away: the fishing, the diving board, the walks to the candy store, the flies, the thunderstorms, the fireworks, the dam cars, the fire pit, the neighbors, the water-skier bets, the Pitch tournaments, the two channels that the antennae was able to grab, the allergies and inability to breathe, and the bathing stars that came every morning after a night of twinkling in the skies.

Loch Lebanon.

It's still there. It's just that it isn't. "I see the trees, and the trees see me."

The hardest part of the whole day was standing at the gravesite, however. As mom said, "They're not here, and I never felt they were." Still, it's where their namesakes are buried and, for me, it is a location of centrality. It is a reentering of the universe.

24 Milford Street, too. Such a core. Such a beautiful foundation and center.

And eating at Ozzie's in Sherburne. Okay. It was a great day - one that can only come with the power it had once or twice in a lifetime.

So thankful. So thankful, indeed.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Little Event, Then a Nice Spring Drive All The Way Home

During the years I lived in Kentucky, American Idol debuted and and for a little while, it became part of the pulse of a nation - the way the country flowed with the rhythm of week to week routines. Years passed, it continued, and in 2015, Nick Fradiani was America's Next American Idol.

Yesterday, he was a colleague and judge for the 6th Annual Voices of Hill Central Poetry Slam. This is the 5th year I've participated as a judge and mentor and each, and every year, it gets bigger, better, and greater.

The success of Hill Central is historical and it has taken the passion of many to make it the special place that it is today: administrators, youth, parents, staff, and a little special sauce (cough cough, Nick Fradiani is really special sauce) has made the location one of a kind in Connecticut Schools. It was a true honor to be part of the program yesterday, before voyaging to Syracuse for a short break before finishing out the semester.

This is a special school - there is no other location quite like it. I feel blessed that I've been able to be part of its journey!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

As I Learned In the Hallways of a Bridgeport School. #Promise

Don't tell anyone, but yesterday I was desperate and I stopped at Burger King. I ran from last minute revisions, to meetings, to advising, to meetings, to advising, to another meeting and before I knew it I was at 7 p.m. I was hungry and there was fast food.

I stopped fast. I ordered fast. I waited fast. And I ate fast.

Then the regret came.

Today, however, is full of possibilities. I am picking up Akbar Niyonkuru and meeting Attallah Sheppard at Hill Central Academy for their Annual Poetry Slam. There, 19 middle school poets will compete as they pour their hearts out in verse and performance. Upon my return, I will pack up for a short trip to Syracuse to enjoy spring and the Easter holiday with family (while prepping for frantic days on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday when I return. Actually, the rest of the semester is frantic.

But this, too, will pass, because Today is full of possibilities.

I am reminded of this every time I visit a school and work with youth and their teachers. Whenever I lose hope in the world, I'm reminded by them that everything is possible.

The guilt from the food also plagued my head that my house needed a cleaning. I hate returning to a pig sty, so did my best to make it presentable for my return.

Too much, but I love every second of it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Weren't We Just Partying Like It Was 1999? @BPEFInc

Every spring break, I have the honor of working with the College Access Program, part of the Bridgeport Public Education Fund led by Executive Director, Marge Hiller. We share many similarities - a zest for Bridgeport youth, Drum Corp International, and a willingness to give up a spring break to advocate for the young people we believe in. Yesterday was no exception, and although the days were cut to an hour workshop, I was still able to entertain/teach/think/explore with 40 Bridgeport Public School Seniors as they embark on last months of their high school careers and their future as college students.

They are the class of 2021. Yes. That is the truth. They were born, too, after I saw my first generation of high school graduates cross the stage in Louisville, Kentucky.

Zip. Zap. Zoom. It's just like that.

It is always amazing to work with the BPEF CAP seniors because they are always the most thirsty, engaged, ready, and willing adolescents in the city. Yes, they are nervous about what is to come, but they are also enthusiastic about their futures, getting away from home, and proving themselves as budding academics.

I realized yesterday while working with them how important programs like BPEF CAP are to young people attending schools like those in Bridgeport. They desire everything that will come their way and I had to laugh that many of them - those at Harding High School - recognize Chitunga as a youth tutor when he spent one semester working with them in their schools.

It's Spring Break, yet these kids got up like it was a regular day and joined presenters at Housatonic Community College for workshops on the college experience. 60-minutes is a tight wad of time, but I packed in as much as I could, dangling the intellectual carrot their way and offering advice on what they need to think about as first-year writers (after they successfully graduate from their schools this spring).

This is a shout out to them, BPEF, and all the youth advocates in their school, who work daily to support their achievement.

Monday, April 10, 2017

I Hate It When I Misplace Items That I Need. Ugh!

I had an extremely productive day yesterday, meeting all of my goals, worked in my office, did yard work, walked the dog, and prepped for the week. That is when I realized I couldn't find my wallet. I have looked everywhere and tore everything apart...my car, my house, my office, everything. I know I had it on Saturday night because I remember it sitting to my left on the couch. Typically, before I go to sleep, I relocate it to a position in the kitchen so I will remember to grab it in the morning.

Nope. No luck.

I could have sworn it was with me in my office today, but when I went back, I didn't find it. I have a bad habit of putting it on this shelf or that ledge, within this pocket or that crevice while I'm doing other things. Usually with a couple swipes around where I've been, I find it.

Not last night, and I'm feeling naked without it.

Yuck on Monday already. Hand to face, indeed. Woke up with zero to no sleep, so I never really woke up at all. I just laid in bed worrying.

Got up at 6 a.m. to drink coffee and head to do presentations at Housatonic. Just as I had my first sip, I get the following text message from Pam. "Look what Jakey brought me this morning. Is it yours?"

Oh. Jake.

You are my hero today.

I feel so much better now.

Thank you for not eating it.

You should be proud.

I see it in your face.

Now I can head out into the world feeling good that life can go on as it should.

I would hate to know that this had to be pumped from your stomach.

So appreciative.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Even Educated Fleas Are Doing This Spring Thing

I'm trying to be ready for a departure to Syracuse mid-week, so I've had myself locked behind the laptop, getting on top of presentations on Monday and Tuesday, the poetry slam on Wednesday, and then the drive to Central New York.

I took Glamis for a walk later in the afternoon yesterday, and although I still had to dress warm, I realized the buds have got it in gear and are popping on the trees. The birds, too, are back at it. They wake me up at 4 a.m. singing outside my window, and even while I went for a walk, I realized, "It's that time of year."

It's bird pornography, actually. They are on the streets, fluttering at my head, and even in the bushes doing what it takes to make eggs before they launch themselves on this or that tree (or in the eaves of my house). They have no shame, as Alice and Charlie used to say about the $#@#*&% doves that used to be on their front porch.

With the longer days and warmer weather, it is also easier to imagine outdoor activities. I was excited that my credit card points were cashed in last week and Home Depot cards arrived yesterday in the mail. My lawn needs work and I want to continue to build an outdoor garden for the bugs and hummingbirds. I may even paint the porch so it is ready for barbecue and cookouts (which will be here before I know it).

They are calling for temperatures in the 80s by Tuesday, and I am hoping to find time to enjoy it, if only slightly given the busy schedule.

I love my walks with Glamis. It is so much better than watching black text fly across the piano keyboard that is typically my life. I need to find a way to type while moving parts other than my fingers.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

This Is What Happens When I Procrastinate From Grading

For a few years now, I've wondered how friends quickly made themselves into cartoon emojis that they quickly dashed into a text message or Tweet. I didn't realize it, but at some point I went online looking for a way to replicate such craziness, and when cleaning up my phone yesterday I found the App I downloaded and quickly got distracted making heads (like I was about to play Wii or something - I don't even own a Wii).

I know it is silly to be playing such games given the complex realities of an ever-changing globe,
but that is what I ended up doing in between assessing this or that product from my undergraduate and graduate courses. Yes, cartooning the world is a nice distraction for the end of the week.

Seriously, though, how cool is it that a free download can bring so much entertainment so quickly. Cynde, Casey, Abu, Lossine, Chitunga, and even Mom became fodder for distracting my brain in-between academic meandering and textual readings.

This is us. The world. The crazy reality that has become my life as a mid-life moron teaching courses and looking for a way to relax on a Friday night in Connecticut, while everyone else is in Syracuse (and dealing with snow - ugh).

It's pretty amazing that such play exists technologically, and for a short while, I was entertained. And now it is here to be captured for ever in the Crazy Crandall way that has become my life. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Man, Did I Smell That Bad? I Mean, I Eventually Showered.

It continues to rain in Southern Connecticut, but I did get the sump pump fixed and a new hot water heater, so I was finally able to shower. I went to work earlier this week and even my own stench made me gasp, even though everyone said that they didn't notice.

But then, yesterday, one of the schools I work at most sent their kids home early because, as the news reported, a toxic smell was making several kids sick. In fact, a few kids were hospitalized.

I had to contact many to say, "No, that wasn't me. Yes, I smelled, but I wasn't the cause of the shutdown. I cleaned myself up and it's nowhere near as bad as it was.

Seriously, though, I'm feeling for my teaching friends and their students who had to spend a day yesterday with an odor in their school that caused for evacuation. I can only imagine the chaos that created at the school, and the drama that will follow in days to come when kids will have flashbacks to whatever it was that created the turbulence in the first place.

But it wasn't me. I checked. I checked each pit. I'm good to go.

Finally, rumor is we have about two more hours of rain this afternoon, and then the sun is coming back. We need it to dry up all this moisture. There's nowhere else for it to go except into basements (and that paranoia has me sleepless).

Thursday, April 6, 2017

It's April. With Showers (and Flooded Basements) Comes Reflections!

It's always a strange phenomenon when one realized that all the pace, the sleeplessness, the grading, the planning, the teaching, and the organization is turning a corner. Now, it is time for student to pull their learning together for final projects and culminating insight. It comes quickly - this corner - but it does happen and suddenly an educator realizes, "I poured what I could into the semester, and now it's time to find out if it made any difference at all."

Yesterday, my students in Philosophy of Education reflected on course readings, experiences, classwork, and conversations to bullet out insight on what they feel are absolutes for teaching. The following is what this cohort of ED 329 came up with (and I'm thankful for my SLA, Student Leader Associate, for typing this up. Thank You, Ally!)

Philosophical Statements from our experiences working with Columbus
 ·      Students open up to you when you open up to them.
·      Take time to listen to your students. Their minds are full of ideas.
·      There is no such thing as a genuinely unmotivated student.
·      Most if not all students want to learn and apply themselves; they just don’t have the support they   need to do so.
·      Inclusion must be followed by individualization.
·      We do so much more than just teaching subject matter for a specific class.
·      Respecting students and showing them that you truly care for them is the best thing you can do for a classroom.
·      Sharing personal stories help the students and their mentors become engaged in the learning and  each other.
·      With personalized help and encouragement, anyone can achieve anything they set their mind to.
·      Every child is extremely smart, intellectual and intelligent—no matter who they are or where they  come from—and it is our job as teachers to get in touch with these strengths.
·      Teachers must be approachable, empathetic and understanding for students to learn
·      It makes me sad to see students try hard in school but struggle because they don’t get the help or 
guidance they deserve.
·      Students are more engaged in learning when they are having fun.
·      Every child has the ability to be the smartest child in the room, they must need the right teacher to interest them.
·      Kids who are excited by one activity may be bored by another. It is about engaging them in what  they interested in and highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.
·      I never understood the real magic of dreams until I met the students at Columbus School.
·      Thinking outside the box to reach at-risk urban classes is a must for the 21st century.
·      The philosophy of togetherness might be one solution for solving pedagogical inequities across the U.S.
·      Every child deserves one-on-one opportunities to be mentored academically and socially.
·      Sometimes teachers take on bad practices because they don’t know how yo solve the myriad of 
     complexities in their classrooms.
·      Literacy matters because, as political acts, it exposes young people.·      In addition to context, a 
   good teacher helps his or her students—in reference to Matt de la Pena—to find beauty in their    
    worlds.




Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Developmental Reading with @akbar_offishio and Others From Ubuntu Academy

Last night's graduate course discussed postcolonial theory in relation to developmental reading (Thanks, Deborah Appleman) and I knew I wanted to highlight four years of reading opportunities through Ubuntu Academy, CWP-Fairfield's summer literacy institute for refugee and immigrant youth. As I put together the lessons over the weekend, I realized it would be so much more powerful to have Akbar, Omar, and Juma speak for themselves and with graduate students as we worked through lessons they experienced as readers.

We highlighted Rick Shaefer's art work, and I did a one-pager T-Chart to carry through a selected reading from Lost Boy, Lost Girl, Home of the Brave, and War Child. We also tied in analysis of Booked and a poem Kwame Alexander writes about a kid coming to the U.S. for opportunity (which is juxtaposed by Nick, who doesn't want to read the story, watching television).

Graduate courses at Fairfield University are only two hours, and I always miss that third hour on evenings like this. I feel like I only laid a base to the conversation, and that there needed to be another hour for more interaction on the in-school reading experiences of these youth.

After the class, I stopped with the kids to get Chipotle, and Akbar said he was nervous to eat new food (but he wasn't nervous flirting with the employee). They are tiny kids, but they packed away the food: rice, beans, guacamole, spices, chicken, steak burritos. I think I will need 48 hours to digest the food.

Meanwhile the rain continues in Connecticut and I get nervous about water issues, because the ground is saturated from the winter thaw and it is trying to find anywhere to go. The sump pump is working overtime, but so did my last one (and look where that got me). Home ownership is not fun when it swipes at one's savings.

Wow, is it hump-day already?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mama Told Me There'd Be Days Like This, But They Don't Phase Glamis

It's not even the dog days of summer. Nope, it's the marsh days of spring, and as I noted yesterday, I knew something wicked this way was coming, because that's the way it always goes. I draw my philosophy from an episode of Seinfeld when Jerry realized that everything balances out in harmony: good matches bad, and bad matches good..

While everything was being redone downstairs and I was on the phone with State Farm (No, those commercials that show there is relief from insurance companies are fantasy when it comes to sump pump - they are not an act of nature, even if flooding is). I will eat the costs, which I'm sort complacent with because I got Federal taxes back and put the money aside for new furniture and a driveway. For now, hot showers are more important.

I love my Mt. Pleasant home and hope she'll take it easy on me for a while. I know these acts of chaos happen, and I hope my share is over for the time being. I know, too, it could be so much worse. I can't even fathom what that is like.

I thanked Henry and we talked about his work and how I hoped he got the majority of the money I paid. He laughed, "Nope. It goes up the ladder." This is the way for most work...they who labor on the ground, hands-on, and in the trenches, always are compensated least. The system is set up this way.

The good news is that I had a day in my house to work on lesson plans and grading. Glamis, of course, laid at my side basking in the sun. Lucky dog. She pays for nothing. She simply lives the life in anticipation of walks, biscuits, squeaky toys, socks, and Purina. In return, I get nose prints on the window, dog hair on everything, the occasional barf-o-rama, insecure hovering, and opportunities to take cute photos like that above.

It's funny. Everyone you sort of whine to about the housing drama seems to relate and have similar, sharable stories. As I told Henry, "I'm simply thankful to have a home to take care of. This is lucky, indeed."

It does make me want to cry, though. Life is frustrating, but knowing such SNAFU is in American context, I can't complain. The struggle, I know, is more difficult than what I whine about here.

Phew.