Monday, December 27, 2010

Jingle Bells

Meredith had a Christmas Party and we played pass the parcel. The forfeit that I got was to sing a Christmas carol and accompany myself of guitar. I don't play guitar...but it's cool! I came up with a morose version of Jingle Bells and started playing it over and over again (don't I sound like fun to have at a party??) Dave whipped out his computer, recorded the song, and added a bunch of effects to it.

Not very secretly I *like* the result.

I still haven't figured out how to put just audio tracks up on this blog, but I can put up videos. So here are some pictures of wee 'airy ginger coos from Scotland last year with Sarah and Desh. Accompanied by the saddest/creepiest version of Jingle Bells I think I've ever sung....


video

Saxophone

I just played my first reed instrument! I'm up in Penrith for Christmas with Ella and her family. Her mother, Jilly, is a workshop leader, jazz musician, and all around cool lady. We've been having sing alongs with the piano and lots of harmonies (not so much me, I try to stay on the melody and that is hard enough with everyone else wandering off to different parts of the chord) and today, because there is a surplus of instruments lying around the house, I got to try out the tenor saxophone!

For Christmas Ella, who just got back from New York, bought everyone these ridiculous adult-sized footy pajamas. So please envision me in this giant fleece monstrosity, covered in rubber ducklings, trying desperately to play the saxophone....

The air kept shooting up through my top lip and I couldn't see where my fingers were going and my whole head buzzed and goodness that was fun! Jilly got out her accordion, and once I figured out how to play 3 notes semi consistently, we had a little jam around G.

Turns out that you can make quite a nice vibrato by giggling uncontrollably.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Food.

My food habits are getting weird.  (Again.)

I just had 9 clementines for dinner. Last night I had too many salted peanuts and a packet of blueberries (which are out of season! What were they doing in the shop??). On Sunday (or was it Saturday?) I had ice cream.

Which isn't to say that I haven't been cooking or eating well. Geoff and I made a delicately spiced, creamy parsnip soup. Last night I made a marinated turkey steak sandwich and some red cabbage Asian style coleslaw.

It's just that I don't eat that food for dinner. I pack those for lunch and go back to having my fruit and junk food at night.

That's balanced, right?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tykes To Catch Up On! (Again)

The tykes are still tyking along. But this time it isn't just random tyking around, this time we have direction. Namely towards our Christmas show on Thursday!

Here, let me tell you about it:
1. The Nursery Tykes are singing songs about Stars.

For some reason this year for both halves of the show (Nursery and Reception) I managed to decide that there should be PROPS. A LOT OF PROPS. Not really sure why it turned out that way. (No, I know why. It was because between props and actions or learning lines, I decided props and actions would be easier. Not sure if that is accurate or not yet.) Right. STARS. Prop-wise for Nursery we've got four fishing poles (bamboo garden stakes) with stars hanging off the end for Fishing For Stars, and five giant stars (think 2.5' wide) for Five Little Stars. Oh, and every class is making festive hats and wands with stars and practically silent jingle bells.

All of these props have been decorated by the tykes, so what that means is that they are all covered in not particularly well glued on glitter. Which means that now the entire school is also covered in glitter. Anywhere I walk while carrying the props is now covered in glitter. All of my work clothes are covered in glitter. My hair is covered in glitter. My trousers are covered in glitter. The glitter is covered in glitter.

Glitter, glitter, glitter.

And that's not even taking into account Reception's props. (Really only the Silver fish which are, of course, decorated with glitter...)

2. Last Thursday we had our first full rehearsal with the Nursery and the Reception tykes all together in one place. It turned out that due to some miscommunication between me, the head of Early Years, and the kitchen staff that instead of an hour in the hall, we had 20 minutes. But that's okay! We'd make it work! Because the tables were also already set up for lunch, we also had a lot less space than I was expecting which meant that when we actually got around to starting I was completely encircled by roughly 100 tykes.

On Thursdays I work as a nursery assistant, which is nice because I get to spend more time with that class of tykes, but is also kind of frustrating because I don't always know what is going on and because it is not *my* class, if things are dragging I don't feel like I can say "Right, we're doing this now" because that would be stepping on the head teacher's toes. Basically I am still adjusting to working for someone else, so it was with great relief and joy that I was able to be in charge of that rehearsal.

Everyone rocked their songs. We ploughed through them and they kept quiet when it wasn't their turn to sing and they sang loudly when it was their turn to sing and they all followed me when I got their attention by patting my knees and I had all of them doing the vocal warm up together and applauding and oh! I felt like I was being lifted up on a cloud made of endorphins and awesome.

3. I feel a bit bad about how many props and bits and bobs I've been handing off to the teachers to figure out how to make, but may I just say that they have come through with flying colours?! The nursery tykes all have different seasonally related hats- one class has gold reindeer antlers made from cut out hand prints, one class has felt Santa and elf hats, and the last class has 3D Christmas trees held together with sparkly pipe cleaners. The whole effect is adorable and awesome. The reception tykes all have their animal hats, and while people have been thinking that the polar bears are mice (I would object by asking what on *Earth* mice have to do with Christmas and winter except that the other two classes are fish and ducklings respectively so I suspect that I wouldn't have a leg to stand on with that argument) they all look fantastic.

Things To Catch Up On! (Again)

I've been neglecting you! I'm so sorry! Things have been happening!

Here, let me tell you about some of them:

1. *Ages* ago we had our second impro show! And it went really, really, really well! The group that we had this term managed to gel in an excellent sort of way that meant that for our show we were all on it and all managed to elevate everyone's performances.

It was particularly exciting for me because I had my first ever monologue. I got a comment after the show telling me that I had looked completely relaxed while I had been performing by myself. I thought about it and yes, I had been completely relaxed, but also? I've got something like 16 years worth of performance experience. Yeah, sure, it's music performance and not acting- but I don't get nervous or shaky while I'm on stage. (Afterwards? Yes. My whole body collapses and starts quivering as soon as the show is over...I think that's weird.)

Four of us ended up at the end of the show with perfect scores (and everyone else had been trailing us only very slightly- seriously, it was an amazing show) and so as a tie breaker the directors had us do impressions...Yeah. I'm not good at that. (I'm not actually good at acting- I only have one character and she is me.) So I turned to Alistair who was sat next to me and asked if he'd be willing to do an impression with me. Nick was up first with an excellent Gordon Brown, Guy was next with a dead on Tony Blair, and then Alistair and I followed as a pair of rocks...Alistair ended up going up against Nick's Gordon Brown for the championship due to his stronger commitment to the Rock-ness of his rock. Mine was undergoing a "gentle earthquake" due to the fact that I couldn't stop giggling....

Our group was so strong and so good together that we've decided to keep meeting outside of the classes to continue working together over the winter. We had our first meeting last week and it was excellent. Only 5 of us made it in the end, but the space we have to work in is awesome and seriously, I love that group of people.

2. The vegetable box continues to be like Christmas every week. This week we got Jerusalem artichokes which I think may be my new favourite root vegetable. Oooh, but parsnips...it's too tough. Don't make me decide.

3. I found a discarded branch from the bottom of a Christmas tree outside of a pub. I rescued it and now have it hanging on our living room wall complete with red ribbons and one lonely Santa Claus ornament. See? I decorated!

4. Christmas plans are continuing apace- I'll be up in Cumbria with Ella and her family for Christmas and then down/over to Newcastle/Durham with Nik for New Years. 50% of the train tickets have been purchased, which means that I'm *almost* on top of these plans. (So close.)

5. This weekend we have a new version of Heist with Fire-Hazard. Heist was my first Fire-Hazard game, so it's kind of exciting to be on the other side of it this time. Instead of a warehouse, for this run we have found an old Police Station that has been turned into artists studios. The cells are still there however, which should add a fun bit of....realism? Eh, fun obstacles to the whole thing. We've got a whole weekend worth of runs for it, I expect to be exhausted at the end.

Friday, December 3, 2010

London is a Snow Globe

We've been having a bunch of snow fall this week. Each morning I've been checking to see whether transport is running and wondering if we were going to have a snow day. Frankly, I've been hoping against a snow day because A) we need the rehearsal time and B) I, um, really like my job? Anyhow- London has been pulling through with very little delay in transport (particularly for tubes and buses. The trains out to the suburbs have been hit a bit harder, but even with serious delays- the trains have still been running.)

This Thursday, during my incarnation as a nursery assistant, we started out the day with our annual Pantomime show for the early years in the hall. (See previous post.) The tykes *loved* it, screaming their heads off and standing up in order to point out the bad guy and give as much information to the characters about what was happening as they could possibly muster. The show was Jack and the Beanstalk and in the first act when Jack and his mother were talking about being poor and oh, so very broke- one of the front row tykes kept saying "I could give you the money!"

D'Awww.

In the afternoon we usually have games all together with the other nursery classes and I wasn't sure if we were going to or not because the hall was full of people and outside was covered in snow.

Silly me, I shouldn't have worried. We had an EPIC 40 minute long snowball fight and sledding session.

Highlights included
1. Dropping snowballs on to tyke's heads
2. Ganging up on the teachers who took longer to get out of the classroom. And by "ganging up" let's please be clear that I mean "ambushing."
3. Squealing tykes
4. Squealing teachers
5. Sliding tykes down a small hill while using plastic building blocks as sleds
6. Our PE teaching marvelling aloud that we get paid to do this...Sometimes I'm amazed at how lucky I am. (All the time. All the time I'm amazed at how lucky I am.)

Englishness, Quintessential

There are some aspects of Englishness that I am still picking up, like while grocery shopping today I realized that my list contained the term "kitchen foil" rather than "aluminum" (though I guess here it would have to be "aluminium" anyway and I'm just not ever going to say that). But there are some things that will always, no matter how long I stay here, mark me out as a foreigner. (My inability to pronounce any words containing the letter 'O' without a diphthong notwithstanding) And one of those things is Christmas Pantomimes.

Seriously. They're weird.

They're also very, very English.

And weird.

Also, I'm never going to think their innuendo laden seaside postcards are funny.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday Tykes

I was thinking Tuesday morning as I was coming in to work that I just really didn't want to be there. You know, waking up early in the morning when I'd prefer to be sleeping, not *entirely* sure what the state of the songs are this week and sort of dreading needing to figure out how to put this Christmas show on. (I made a mistake with the nursery tykes in that I am not excited about the songs that they are singing, but it's too late to change them now and it's important to make sure that they're still having fun and learning the songs. It's a bit of a slog like that.) So...feeling a bit down and cranky.

But then?

Then I got to work and had my performance review meeting where we made a list of things I'm going to be working on this year, all three of which I'm excited about because they're things I actually want to do and that will actually be helpful. (Learning to use solfege through Kodaly training and working with the reception classes on it, making a resource bank of rhythm and instrumental games or exercises for teachers to do when it isn't music specialist time, and creating a progress grid based on national guidelines for tracking how well individual children are doing with music.) I was given a drawing made by one of my nursery tykes for me yesterday (tyke love! Yay!), and spent half an hour making up prototype hats/costumes for the Christmas play. The duck hat is covered in feathers and googly eyes and everyone that I've asked (including some of the most literal people around: nursery tykes) have correctly identified it as a duck! I spent the afternoon working with one of the nursery teachers to organize the stage set up for the show, the running order of the songs, and and figuring out what props we need.

So we're set, and I got to spend my morning doing arts and crafts and singing. So clearly, I'm back to feeling like the luckiest person ever that I get to do what I do.

(Yeah, that's bragging again...sorry)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Religious Education

On Tuesday we had every one's favourite class! RE! I'm beginning to understand that the class that I teach for two hours on Wednesday is, in fact, a handful. And it's not just that I have no clue what I'm doing. (Not "just")

Last week we were learning "right" and "wrong" (For real? Really? That's the lesson plan?) The plan involved brainstorming things that you got complimented or rewarded for (Right) and things that you got in trouble for or shouldn't have done (Wrong) and then writing poems with the examples we brainstormed.

Writing down 'Right' went well enough, but in the same way that I forgot to tell the masters in the slave/masters exercise not to hit their slaves, this time I forgot to tell the class to tell me the things they got in trouble for- not show me. (Smack, whine, interrupt, etc. We actually had someone yanking on a new pupil's pig tails...classic.) (And also Wrong! Stop that!) They were kind of a mess there for a bit.

One of the girls had been particularly annoying. Getting in people's faces and personal space, talking while other's were trying to give answers and whatnot. I ended up giving her a negative house point and crouching down frequently so that I could look her in the eye when she was sitting on the floor. I told her that I thought she was a wonderful girl, but that her behaviour today was not appropriate. As I sent everyone else off to lunch I went back over to where she was still sitting and asked her if she was okay and if she wanted to go down to lunch with the rest of the class. She burst into tears and told me her head hurt. Figuring that something else was going on I asked her if she was sad? Angry? Disappointed? As many different emotion words as I could think of. It turned out that she and her sister had been having a big fight that morning and had been hitting each other. Eventually she was willing to be coaxed down to lunch and arrived in time for seconds of the pasta.

I can sometimes forget how complex an internal life these children have. One of the things that I really enjoy is reading their stories from English class- they're incredibly revealing. And probably I'm looking at this through the lens of having been a lonely and unhappy child, but it sure seems to me like there is a lot of pain at that age.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Excitement and Adventures!

I'm never really sure what to call my catch up posts- the ones where I realize that tons of things have been happening, but I've forgotten to write about all of them. So here's a list for you anyway of recent exciting things and adventures. (In no particular order)

1. Ella and I are getting an organic vegetable box delivered now. It's like Christmas! And so tasty! And decently priced! We have this *massive* bag of kale, the most delicious (though odd looking) carrots I've ever eaten, huge parsnips that scare me with their massiveness, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, a whole slew of tasty leeks, broccoli, and a loaf of chewy crusty olive bread that I've been slathering in butter and devouring. Mmmmm. The things I'm excited about in next week's box are the cherry tomatoes, butternut squash, and (because they're clearly loading on the deals currently so that we keep ordering from them) a free bottle of milk.

2. On Tuesday my bag almost got stolen. I was sitting with my friend Nik on a bench in St. James's park chatting away and not paying the most attention ever when a middle aged man on the path hollered "Excuse me, is that your bag?" I didn't really understand what was going on, but turned around and saw a man in sunglasses walking off with my stuff. Thief guy said "Sorry, mate" as though he'd just accidentally picked up the wrong satchel, set the bag down on the ground, and then ambled off....It was the weirdest, most chill almost-robbery ever.

I kept the strap looped around my foot after that, and thanked the man on the path as sincerely as I could.

3. I will eventually stop posting about Charity, probably when she stops being fascinating. (Meaning, never.) I'm not sure that that link will work but it should at least get you to CNN.com video and if you look under Health, Charity should currently be one of the first videos listed. (She continues to make me cry.) (In a really good way, just to make that clear.)

4. I went to a game testing event last night! It was super duper fun and it felt good to be back. I can't tell you much about what we did because I signed a non-disclosure agreement. But suffice to say they're on to a fabulous idea and we were given pizza and beer for our "trouble. " (Like any of us felt anything other than absolutely privileged to get to be there.) Also, I love that I'd met about 50% of the group before at other gaming events.

5. Happy Bonfire night! Sarah and Meredith and I are celebrating in the not-at-all-time-honoured fashion of having a girl's night and making minestrone soup. Not sure yet if fireworks will be involved, we wouldn't want to make this too typical...

Future excitement and adventures include some potential new workshopping gigs, my friend Jo's art installation at the Barbican, and my next Maestro improv show on Sunday.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Tykes are BACK!

Or rather, I am back with the tykes. In any case half term is over and we're together again at school. Christmas preparations are in full swing! The tiniest of the tykes are doing a medley of songs focusing on the theme of Stars! Because...that's Christmassy. Right?

Did you guys all know that in the UK jumping jacks are called star jumps? I totally called on that knowledge to create an impromptu bit of choreography for the tiniest tykes when they were getting super restless during my class. We had two other songs to learn, but they clearly needed to move, so I ended up standing them all up and then doing star jumps through the first two lines of Twinkle Twinkle. Then, emboldened by that, made the little hand actions into full body actions and called it a dance. Which we're now totally going to do during the show. (I love being in charge!)

On Tuesday I woke up at 5, decided I had another hour to sleep before my alarm went off, and then woke up again at 8. Since I'm meant to be *at* work by a quarter after 8, that was kind of a problem. After scurrying through some of the fastest day preparations I've ever done I managed to make it to school only an hour late. At which point I used 5 minutes to craft the wonkiest star puppets ever. (I love that I have to get to work on time in order to cut paper and stick things on to Popsicle sticks.) We used the puppets in "Five Little Stars," another one of our star themed songs for the show.

Today there was a tube strike (again) so I was late (again). It took over two hours to get from my house to school. Not to worry, I hit the ground running and started the bigger tykes off on their Christmas show tunes! All was going well through the first class- the songs have a super peppy backing track that meant that the tykes were like "Again! Again! Miss Casey, we want to sing it again!!!" Which, really, is all you could ever dare to dream of for a tyke's music class. So I was feeling nicely set up for the other two classes. However, when I sat down to start the second class I found that somewhere between the bottom of the stairs and the top of the stairs- the CD had broken in half.

Er...

I have no clue how that possibly could have happened given the fact that it was in. a. case. But oh well. I winged it. (To less acclaim than I was hoping for, but you do what you can.) So we're puttering along. The show is the first week of December (or maybe it works out to the second week of December...single digits anyway.) So we have our work cut out for us.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween!

Marissa, Meredith, Ella, Geoff and I had an impromptu pumpkin carving party last week. We bought pumpkins and some 50p paring knives, ate some curry, covered the floor in newspaper, and squeezed into the kitchen to get to work.

Pretty sweet, huh?

Geoff did the face, Meredith did the awesome phoenix flying out of the flames, Ella did the classic jack-o-lantern, I did the ghost saying "boo", and Marissa made the cat with the moon.

Chichester, West Dean College

My friend Abby is now on a Post Grad course at West Dean College near Chichester. Since it is half term and since I haven't seen her since a year and a half ago when she came to interview at the school, I went to go visit. Oh my gosh you guys, I kept giggling the entire time I was there because it was so stunningly beautiful everywhere you turned that giggling was the only reaction I could have. It was either that or go light headed from gasping so much. May I suggest that you head over to her flickr site as soon as possible? Amazing photographs of gorgeousness.

Go.

Shoo.

This post will still be here when you come back.

Abby is there to study book conservation, but other people study ceramics, clocks, instruments, metals, furniture, and tapestries. It was like a post grad, English Interlochen. A tiny, gorgeous environment populated with creative, passionate people that you divide according to their majors. ("See that guy? Bet'ya he's ceramics...") Most of them live on campus in this idyllic country estate.

I went for a couple of walks (first by myself because Abby was in class) I wandered through sheep fields, alcoves made from trees, and corridors of autumn leaves. I took a short nap on a bench with the sun shining on my face and chortled to myself whenever I startled the pheasants. (Which was constantly as they are both abundant and easily startled.) Abby took me through the Victorian kitchen gardens and I kept delightedly clapping my hands and grinning. We ate apples from the orchard, went on an epic tromp to the trundle, ate delicious food (even if Abby's classmates complain that the cheeseboard has the same cheese every night. Whatever, the Stilton was lovely.) And fell asleep gossiping. The next morning I was allowed to watch their book binding class and was fascinated. What a delightful visit.

As a quick aside- West Dean College was founded by the estate of Edward James, who worked with Salvador Dali. When Abby took me on a quick tour through the main building we kept turning around innocuous corners and running into, you know, just random things. Like two of the lobster phones. And the original watercolour of the artichoke house. You know. Just things. (!)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Friend Bragging

I have trouble not crying whenever I read about my friend Charity. At the very least I get covered in goosebumps. I can't wait to actually watch her speech!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Links and Stories and falderol

Remember my friend Charity? Yeah, she's speaking at TEDmed. That's how cool she is.

I am less cool, but still have an Internet presence- so check this out.

That's it for links, here's the stories:
This weekend I was being project manager extraordinaire for the Continuing Professional Development weekends at GSMD. This was the first of the new school year, so there were a few hiccups, but mostly things went well. Amongst the hiccups was the fact that the entire stash of tea and lunch supplies had gone on walkabouts. I had a little bit of a panic about that because TEA IS VERY IMPORTANT to English people. Fortunately the new bar manager thought it would be just fine to let me loose in the little-used commercial kitchen in the basement of the dormitory. So we used proper plates and tea cups and I got to use the DISHWASHER!

The dishwasher was very exciting, I'm not really sure why- but I got a big kick out of it. I would suppose that it is a fairly standard commercial dishwasher- you put things on trays, slide them into the machine, and then pull the handle down and wait for it to stop steaming before opening it again. But the mugs! They come out warm! And that was enough to keep me happy. Though I will say that is was a bit creepy hanging out in a deserted kitchen by myself with very few lights on. (Fortunately I had the dishwasher to keep me company...)

On Sunday I had a run-in with another electrical appliance- in this case it was an electric lock on a set of doors. I'm not really sure why this door has an electric lock, but in order to get in to the performance space in the basement (which is where the workshop is held) you have to get this tiny little key that will release this intense lock at the top of the doors. What I know NOW is that once you have unlocked the doors, you have to push them in and hold them there for a bit, because if you don't the doors shut and lock themselves again. Since I didn't know that I blithely let them shut behind me while I went to the far side of the room to turn the lights on. When I tried to come back I realized I was stuck, looked around for some sort of lock release inside the room (unfathomably, there isn't one), then grabbed a chair and proceeded to wait until someone showed up. (Who gets locked inside a room??) It was Sunday morning in a student bar, so I wasn't at all sure how long I would have to wait, but I was lucky and only stuck for about 15 minutes. Jose showed up with a bunch of equipment for another project and I slid the key under the door so that he could let me out once he was done laughing.

Falderol:
A month ago or so I was walking home from work via the long, long, long route and ended up at an art gallery near the OXO tour that was having some sort of exhibit about eco-art and recycled materials. There was a small handful of people sitting on the floor on the ornate canvas floor covering doing little handicrafts so I wandered in and when they asked if I'd like to make anything I said "yes!" and learned how to appliqué. This is what I came up with- it is an old green sports T-shirt appliquéd with sari fabric and a yellow fleece blanket. It took me about 2 hours, during which I didn't get any of my work done and my back started hurting from all of that hunching over- but I was so pleased with myself by the end and much calmer than I had been. I love London so hard.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Kids are Gross. Seriously.

I'm about to share two graphic, gross stories. I think they're funny, but if you're easily grossed out and have never been around children before ever: they may offend your sensibilities.

1. In English class this week one student ripped out his tooth. His front tooth had clearly been loose for a while and it was bleeding a bit so I sent him to the bathroom to get some water and some paper towels. When he came back I took a look to see how loose it was, and while half of it was clearly off, the other half of it was still hanging in there. It was clearly going to pop out that day, but wasn't quite ready yet. I thought about offering to yank it out for him but figured that if there wasn't already an official school policy about tearing children's teeth out of their mouths, that if I did help him out with it- there soon would be. I sent him off to the bathroom again to get more paper towels and when he eventually came back it was with with a distinct air of triumph, a bloody stump, and a front tooth in the palm of his hand.

This, of course, derailed the next five minutes of the lesson.

2. On Thursday during my incarnation as a nursery assistant I heard rather a lot of chattering coming from the tyke's toilets and so went to investigate what the party was all about. I couldn't get past the door because the stench was so strong that I had to turn around and gag. Two of them had simultaneously done the foulest poos ever and were then just sort of hanging out there for a while.

"Miss Casey? Will you wipe me?"

No.

No I will not.

If you're old enough to pour your own water, put your own shoes on, and dress yourself- you are old enough to wipe your own butt.

So I gave a little tutorial from the door (turning my head to breathe and gag again) and congratulated them as sincerely as I could when they held up their used toilet paper for me to inspect. "Well done girls. Now, for the love of god, will you please put those in the toilet and flush?"

The next tutorial I gave was how to properly and thoroughly wash your hands.

Bouncy Castle Goodness or I need a new camera

I finally had my birthday party! It ended up being a joint birthday with my friends Lyn and Jon, and I would post pictures so you could see how cool it was...but none were taken. Sorry.

FORTUNATELY

I can still tell you all about it.

The party was sort of epic. We hired out two tunnels at T47 which is an indoor football (soccer) pitch underneath London Bridge Station. Fire-Hazard runs Survivor Sports there, which is how I knew about it. The neat thing about T47 is not only do they have space to let us run fun games, they also have a bouncy castle that they rent out. So in one tunnel we ran glow in the dark tag, dodge ball, red light/green light, and a game wherein you have 1 minute to throw as many glowing objects on to the other team's side as possible. In the other tunnel we had music, food, general chatting, and a massive bouncy castle.

I think about 28 people showed up. Everyone was really helpful (if a little confused when I made them all put on glow stick bracelets. Had I not explained that part before? Oops.) We ran a bunch of the games from Survivor Sports, though in a less focused way. We didn't run Riot Ball (a.k.a. indoor glow in the dark Circle Rules Football) because people were so wiped out from the bouncy castle. Instead we improved on Red light/green light/grandmother's footsteps/night stalker: usually it is played in a small area that is difficult to get as dark as the main pitch and with only half the group while the other half is tearing each other up in Riot Ball. This time we had the whole group playing at the very back of the pitch where it is the darkest. And because we couldn't find a laser that worked (in order to let people know they'd been seen moving) we used a flash light. So the combination of being periodically blinded by the flash light (torch, whatever) combined with the fact that if you were It the only thing you could see was an ever encroaching line of disembodied coloured lights, meant that the whole game was a lot creepier. In a good way.

In running these games I discovered that while I love talking to players after the fact, getting feedback, thinking about long term strategy for the organization, and the general planning-ness of game running- what I don't love is being the figure head/spear head/main leader. I can do it, but I tend to forget half the rules, ignore the back story, and fail to consistently referee. I'll get to know you as a player and improve the running of the games, but I don't want to be the head zombie unless I have to.

FORTUNATELY

I have friends who like ref-ing, so we were set. Then at the end we played a big game of pass the parcel which was nice to get everyone together. I think I had 8 different social groups represented and then with Lyn and Jon that bumped things up to about 11 different groups (if not more) and everyone got along! It was really lovely. We were only supposed to have the space until 9, but I left with a group to go get some supper just before 10 and the bouncy castle was still going strong and they hadn't kicked us out. Thanks, T47!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gender roles at Garden Time

In the playground my floaty, thin scarf was liberated by one of the tykes. She ran around with it over her face (it was see through) haunting people as a ghost. A little boy lifted up the side of it to poke his head under as well. She yanked the scarf away and ran off to haunt some others, and since neither child seemed put out I didn't say anything about sharing.
 
I kept an eye on her to make sure my scarf didn't end up in one of the mud puddles and eventually the scarf morphed (as all good dress up items do) from being protoplasm to being a princess skirt. She pranced around with it held tightly around her waist, dancing about the garden. The same little boy came over and lifted up the side of it to poke his head under...and this time? Was it okay? It's still a scarf. But since it was representing a skirt,and since he was a boy, and since she clearly didn't want him to put his head under her skirt...do I put a stop to it? Or is that just me projecting adult thoughts and motivations onto a pair of three year olds? (I suspect the latter) At the same time, at what point do we start teaching boys that when a girl says no, she means no. At what point do you go beyond saying "be nice to everyone and respect every one's space" and into "but particularly girls' because there is a massive history there that you don't yet understand."
 
I wouldn't have been that bothered by it, only giving that encounter a passing thought, except that I kept watching her the whole garden time (I really didn't want my scarf getting muddy) ("why didn't you take it back?" you may ask. I don't know. I just didn't.) And later on when the reception tykes rushed onto the field one of the bigger boys came over and grabbed her, wrestled her and kissed her. Is that still okay? Is that still rough housing? Or is that something where I should step in and say not okay. She fended him off just fine, and maybe I wasn't paying attention to other combinations of children where one is fending off another, maybe it is fine and this is just part of what happens. But should it be? She can take care of herself, but should she already have to?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

EAL English as an Additional Language

There are tons of EAL students at school. Last Thursday I was practicing my nearly non-existent Russian with a tyke who doesn't have any English. Even just saying "good" or admonishing her to say "please" and "thank you" in her own language allowed us to make more of a connection.

We recently had an in-set (teacher training doo-dad) about working with EAL students. I was fascinated. What I really took away from the training is that their home language is incredibly important. The workshop leader used a graphic of an iceberg to illustrate that what you see of their newer language is supported by everything they know and understand about how language works from their first language. Also that you need to be careful about what you are testing, if you're working in a maths class- does the student understand the concept in their own language? Is the language creating a barrier rather than the material being presented?

In my Year 3 class we have on boy whose English is nearly non-existent. Fortunately there are many many French speaking students in the classroom so mostly we can get by, but it is clearly frustrating for him to never understand what is going on and frequently he is off doing his own (disruptive/destructive) thing, like poking holes into all of the erasers with his pencil. I feel bad because it becomes necessary for me to pull him away or  discipline him in order to get the rest of the class to focus on their work instead of his antics, and I really really don't want his only interactions with me to be negative.

So it was with great relief that I realized that in our English lessons, I could have him write in French. Yeah, okay, they are English lessons, but really we're learning about how to build sentences and paragraphs and write stories and such like, so it doesn't matter what language you learn how to do that in. That week we were writing a story about a Seagull named Sydney ('cause why not, right?) and they were meant to get Sydney in some sort of trouble and then get him out again (fascinating to read their solutions, it's amazing how much of themselves they put into their writing. "Ah, so that's what you're thinking about!"). I had our French boy describe the seagull, and write a paragraph in French about what the character of Sydney was like. He did such a good job! And because he actually had a task to do that he understood he didn't distract other people and destroy school supplies! It was pretty much the best thing ever. I just kept grinning at him when he brought me his workbook to show off what he had done.

Tykes Odds and Ends

Last week during a lesson in one of the nursery rooms I managed to use a hula hoop to knock over a bunch of test tubes containing coloured water. (Isn't that a wonderful set up for something? It seems like all of those things together would be the beginning of a fabulous surreal story, but really it was just a watery mess.) I felt bad that I had just spilled water everywhere including all over the Montessori materials on the shelves- but all of the tykes kept saying "It's okay, Miss Casey!" in that particular voice that you use to console a three year old when they've made a mess in a clearly accidental way. Like wetting themselves or something like that.

Good to know they've been listening and taking it in.

I know it's only October, but we're already moving in to working on the Christmas show. This year we're getting ambitious and having the show on a proper stage at an away venue instead of just in the hall/cafeteria at school. Also, (because I think they can do it) both the Reception Tykes AND the Nursery Tykes will be doing their own Nativity plays. I use the term "nativity" very loosely: one is about a kind scarecrow and his animal friends and involves Mr and Mrs. Claus; while the other does mention baby Jesus but is mostly about a bunch of stars.

I know I'm talking about religion a bunch on this blog- but it comes up fairly often at school. It's a religiously diverse school and I'm still not used to the fact that there isn't a separation of church and state in this country. Fine lines to tread and all that.

I wanted to make sure that all of the classroom teachers were on board with the Christmas show plans and I wanted to make sure that if there were any concerns that I heard them now, in October, rather than learning about them in December or, even worse, not hearing about them at all and just frustrating/angering some of them. So I've been running the scripts and songs by the teachers and getting feedback. Most of the teachers are keen to try something a bit more challenging, but it is interesting what sort of traditions people hold on to in a school where the longest serving teacher amongst the Early Years staff has only been here for 5 years. (I guess that is plenty long to make a tradition.) Fortunately at this point we've still got enough time to change the plans pretty drastically if we need to.

Halloween? Pssht. Thanksgiving? Whatever. It's jingle bells on rotate here! (Side note: I have, legitimately, had Good King Wenceslas stuck in my head for the better part of this past month. I have no idea why.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Religious Education, or "well, this is fun"

Two weeks of Year 3 Religious Education (and English) in, and I'm having a ball. The first week RE went great and English was a disaster. The second week RE was a mess and English was spectacular. So we're doing what we can.

In RE the curriculum currently has us talking about Judaism and specifically Moses. (Can I just say how much I love following lesson plans that I haven't written? It takes out 99.9% of the stress of teaching for me.) We covered The Exodus first and so I grouped them into pairs. Partner one became the slave while partner two became the master for a couple of minutes.

Foolishly, I failed to put in a clause saying "DON'T HIT YOUR SLAVE!"

I know better now.

We then had a group discussion about what it felt like to be a slave (using the interactive white board! Those things are fun.) and what it felt like to be the master. We then talked about how the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and how even today there are slaves around the world and how sometimes it can be because of totally arbitrary things like religion or race or whatever. I don't remember what we did next but I do know that I enjoy working with 8 and 9 year olds. They're just old enough to have their own opinions and actually have something interesting to say with fascinating links and ties to other subjects.

The first week they let me get away with answering "It's a Bible Story" when they asked "is this TRUE?" The second week they wised up, "Yes, but is the Bible true??"

Um.

Um.

....

"Yes, it's true! It really happened." 
"Nu-uh! It didn't! It's just a story!" 


Um.

Well. Look, guys. Here's the thing about religion; some things that some religions believe to be true and factually correct other don't believe to be true. So, yes, for many people in the world they believe that this is true. Many others don't.


"Yes, but did it really happen?


Right. So these are the 10 commandments, everyone look at the board please? 


Here's where RE completely fell apart the second week: I made groups of 4 to collaboratively write 5 commandments for living life well and then make a poster. A few of the groups worked just fine, but the group I had working in French was alternating between giggling maniacally and crying and the group across from them decided that *all* of their commandments would be about who not to fart on. There was so much hooting and hollering going on that I tried 4 different ways of simmering them down and getting their attention: clapping a pattern to clap back, turning the lights off, shouting over them (oops), and quietly saying "if you're listening and paying attention you'll put your finger on your nose" which worked just fine for the groups who were working well already but failed massively with the two groups that were already out of control.

I talked with their teacher afterwards and we mutually decided that the way in which I'd built the groups was...not ideal. So I now have a much better plan for which kids to combine with which kids. Learning, it's all about learning.

Here's the other place it went wrong with the Ten Commandments

Thou Shalt Not Kill


But Miss Casey? What about all the Egyptians that got drownded? 
No, no, it's okay to kill Egyptians.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Interviews

Last week I was interviewed for the Evening Standard about "circle rules football" and this weekend I was interviewed by the BBC about the Pope saying that paedophilia was a disease. Do I have any reason to have any opinion on either of those things? No. But hey! I'm willing to talk on record!

I walked into the BBC interview by being near the Westminster Cathedral when they wanted some word on the street opinions. I don't really know what I said but it was something equivocal due mainly to my not following the subject and not being willing to have a defined opinion on something I know nothing about. I was enticed into it by the video camera...I have no excuse.

Circle Rules Football, however, I have the article in front of me right now. I got a call from Gwyn, who runs Fire Hazard, the games company I work with. He said, "hey, this guy is looking for some quotes about this game that riot ball is based on. You should call him." Riot ball is basically an amalgam of every ball sport you can think of, but played in the dark with glow sticks and a giant inflatable yoga ball. It's very silly and the lynch pin of "Survivor Sports" the indoor, glow-in-the-dark sports night Fire-Hazard runs fairly frequently.

"One player is Casey Middaugh, (side note: have I ever played circle rules football? No. But I *have* played and run Riot ball, which is loosely related...) a freelance music teacher from Clapton. Casey, 26, never really played team sports, preferring rock-climbing and yoga. (where on earth did I get rock-climbing from? I mean, yeah, I've done it a few times and enjoyed it but honestly? That combination is a straight quote from Princess Diaries. I'm so embarrassed...yoga I will own up to, however.) She was attracted to Circle Rules Football (no I wasn't.) because of the creative way in which it's played. "You can dribble the ball, kick or toss it. The only thing you can't do is hold on to it," she says. "So I think it is funnier because it is so obviously ridiculous that there's no pressure. I don't want to play a team sport with people who've been playing football since they were little and are super intense about it." 

Blah blah blah someone else's quote

"Most players stumble upon Circle Rules Football by word of mouth- a manner very much in keeping with the laid-back philosophy of the game."Don't get me wrong, they get competitive," says Casey. "But competitive in a silly way. It's very tongue-in-cheek." (would I voluntarily use the phrase 'tongue-in-cheek?' no. It was fed to me. But sure, I'll go along with that. It is a game played with a yoga ball after all.)  

If you Bing me this shows up. It's kind of fun and kind of silly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Work Hours and Whatnot

Here's what I started writing last week:
"My hours are all up in the air currently which makes me feel anxious, but I've done what I can about it and at this point all I can do is sit and wait- secure in the knowledge that my direct superiors are crossing their fingers to have me around for two days and at this point it is up to...um...other people. (Not really sure who to be perfectly honest.) I continue to have a lot of faith in the new Head Mistress, she's got her head on straight and I feel like we're on pretty much the same page about what sort of hours I'm hoping for. (And on the same page about how that probably isn't going to happen.)"
This week our new headmistress has worked genius miracles and it looks like I will be getting a day and a half. In order to fill out some of those hours what I will be doing is taking two hours of lessons away from one of the year 3 teachers who is also the head of Key Stage 2 (years 3 through 6) so that she has time to do the administrative portion of her job.

Since I don't have any formal education training this will be a provisional arrangement until everyone is satisfied that I can do the work effectively (or, you know, not.) I'm quite pleased with how this is working out and though none of it is set in stone, I'm feeling cautiously excited.

Want to know what I will be teaching this group of 8 and 9 year olds? (The lesson plans and curriculum are written, all I have to do is follow them.)

Religious Education.

(and English.)

Composition Club

This club is my baby.

I love this club.

I have been wanting to do this club for ages and would (shh, it's a secret!) totally do it for free.

It's a group composition club with 9 year olds, and the whole thing warms my heart so much that I bounce up and down when I think about it. Or talk about it. Or type about it.

Want to hear what we did the first week?
I have this book that I bought with Mical last year from the remainders section at the U. Bookstore in Seattle. I would link to it, but I totally don't remember the title. Suffice to say it matches up paintings with tracks from famous and evocative pieces of music. So for instance flight of the bumble bee with a Japanese print of dahlias and a bee. Or Vivaldi's "Winter" with a landscape painting from the 1700's of Flemish ice skaters.

I wanted to write a piece our first week of club so that we really jumped in head first and got right in to the making of things. I figured that building a soundscape would be the easiest way in and I knew that we could build something fairly quickly. We started by looking at 4 of the paintings in the book and discussing what we expected the music to sound like based on the paintings. This aquarium scene is underwater and has a lot of fish. Do you suppose the music will be legato or staccato? Do you think it's going to be loud or quiet? What sort of instruments would you use for this scene? Based on this painting do you expect the music to be scary? happy? authoritative? calm? angry? Something else?

We only had two girls the first week, so I left them lying on their bellies on the carpet, waving their feet gently back and forth in the air while they flipped through the pictures and listened to the pieces in order to guess which one they were listening to.

Having discussed all four of the chosen pictures I was only going to play one piece for them to guess and sort out, but they were enjoying themselves so much that they asked if they could do all of them. You bet you can!

Once we'd finished looking at the book and they'd correctly deduced all four pieces (we even had a bit of a knights' duel during the march) it started to rain very, very heavily. This was *perfect* as it meant that when I brought up making a soundscape, the first thing they wanted to make it about was the rain. (How ideal.)

We went out into the hallway where the instrument store closet is and picked out some percussion that we thought might be useful including two rain sticks, some bongos, a slit drum, a thunder drum, and a clacker thing that probably has a proper name but if it does I don't know what it is.

We brought the instruments back into the room, had a bit of time to experiment, and then discussed and tried playing the story that our soundscape would be structured on. We begin with people walking around slowly (bongos), then the rain starts (rain sticks) and the people hurry away. When the thunder starts (thunder drum) the people knock urgently on doors in order to be let inside (slit drum top and sides to make two different sounds). Then, since we are doing this from the storm's point of view- there is a thunder drum solo accompanied by the rain sticks. The thunder dies away and the first brave souls venture out again (bongos). Then the rain stops and all you hear are footsteps.

Our piece is called "The Big Storm."

We wrote it all down, stuck our written text score on a music stand, and rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. I was willing to quit way before the girls wanted to stop. We even performed it for one of the Year 3 teachers who happened to be walking by. I had the girls initial and date the score and gave them each photo copies to take home with them.

Excellent.

This week we started by analyzing three more paintings, welcoming our 3rd club member, and reviewing last week's piece. Our newest member learned/was taught two different parts (the rain sticks and the slit drum) which we rehearsed extensively before recording. (They're each going to get a CD of their work at the end of the term.) That took up so much time that we only had 15 minutes to make a start on our next piece.

Apparently this club is half music and half art appreciation (with a bit of Earth Sciences thrown in: for some reason we had a big conversation about the Pacific rim of fire before club got started today). The next piece we're working on uses as its starting point rhythm and pitch instead of location and environment. Rhythm and pitch are the two most basic building blocks of music and maybe a sculpture or picture of neat architecture would have been better to look at- but the first thing that came to mind was Piet Mondrian with his lines and colours. Shapes and colours? Pitch and rhythm. Let's work it.

So that's where we're at right now. (Just wait 'til we start using poetry as a starting point!) This club makes me so. so. SO happy.

Tykes Music Club

I'm teaching two music clubs on Wednesdays now, which is a great deal of fun. I'm continuing the tykes' music club and then following that I have a new Key Stage 2 (8-11 year olds) composition club. And OH! I'm excited about that one. But lets talk tykes first....

I have nine of them in the club. They are squirrelly as tykes are wont to be, so maybe this wasn't the most brilliant idea ever? (Or maybe it was genius. I'll reserve judgement until I have them again next week.) What happened was this: I was digging around in the resource bookshelf in the music room and found a book called A Sackful of Songs by Jane Newberry. It has some delightful songs in it and I thought "wonderful! I won't be recycling material that these tykes have already seen before!" before choosing a gem called "Scary Monster!" (exclamation point helpfully included.)

This song, like many songs for tykes, involves changing actions. Always a good thing since that gives them an opportunity to control the song and get creative with it. The song is about a scary green monster roaring. Or laughing. Or crying or jumping or you get the point.

So we roared for a bit and that went fine. A couple of tykes were really in to the roaring and a few more were staring off into the distance. It seemed like it was time to move on to another action. So we stomped for a bit and then the song turned out to be about dinosaurs and then dragons and then back to monsters again before little C. piped up with: "I want the monster to eat me."

Very matter of factly like that.
(Exclamation point helpfully not included.)

So I "ate" C. by tickling her belly and then oooh did the floodgates open.

"Me! Me! Eat MEeee!!!" 


The tykes scattered all over the room and cowered gleefully under the tables. I said I wouldn't eat any of them unless they all sang- so they all sang with gusto while I crawled menacingly around on the floor tickling each of them in turn whenever I could reach them.

I feel certain I wasn't meant to do that, but I can't actually think of a good reason why except for the whole running in the classroom thing and the fact that I have now set a precedent. (I think it is really the precedent that is going to bite me in the butt.) On the other hand I got them to sing the song enough times so that they all have a handle on the tune and the words and I did that without bashing it repetitively into their skulls while they sat down in a circle. Six of one, half a dozen of the other?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

This is a PROMISE

There will be blogs soon. There will be posts, as in- multiples. But currently? Currently I have to sleep. So please be patient and accept my sincerest apologies for the delay in blogging. Suffice to say things are good and trucking along. And I love you all very much. Thanks.

Monday, September 6, 2010

First Day of School Jitters

I have a cold. It woke me up twice last night and is mixing and stewing with my new-school-year anxiety nicely. I think it might be making some sort of horrible jam. Or jelly.

Last Friday I went in to school for a staff meeting with the new Head Mistress. The topic was "excellence" and there was a lot of potential for it to be cheesy, but it wasn't. We were put into small groups and given time to talk about some event in our lives that was excellent. My table had trouble coming up with things because we didn't want to brag, we weren't allowed to use an example that was school related, and also- sharing? With people that you don't really know? Not always the easiest thing. We eventually ended up with some cool stories though. It's always nice to learn more about your co-workers beyond "they teach Year 1."

We were then given large pieces of paper and time to come up with a list of 5 things that are excellent about the school. Selling points, really. After that all the staff got up and looked at all of the lists. They were very similar- there were only about 10 unique points out of the 8 tables worth of lists. It was unifying in a way to realize that we all appreciated the same things within the institution.

Next came the list of things that could be improved...there were many more points on this but still a remarkable amount of unity. It felt good to know that even in terms of things we wish could change- by and large we were on the same page. (Can I also say how nice it was as an adjunct teacher to be able to participate in this? I felt included.)

Finally we were re-grouped from our small groups into our working groups (i.e., early years together, key stage 1 together, and key stage 2 together) to discuss which of the "things to be improved" WE could actually do something about. What is actually within our power to change. I just love team brainstorming like this. So much fun.

I was impressed with the new Head Mistress. She seems capable, competent, and like she will actually do what she says she will. It also seems like it will be much more difficult to...um,... finesse the system. Which is probably a good thing. She is also clear that the school is a business, which makes for fascinating comments about how the school is advertised and also the charge to consider what it is that each of us, individually and uniquely, brings to the school.

I still have the same jobs as last Autumn, both the tykes and the French school- but the scheduling and timing has been splayed out across the week so now I have an hour on Monday, half a day in the morning followed by an hour in the late afternoon on Tuesdays, and *hopefully* a whole day on Wednesday though currently there is a pesky three and a half hour gap in the afternoon that would be frustrating not to get paid for since clearly I'll still be in school and doing work during that time.

In any case my classes kick off tomorrow morning with the littlest of the tykes getting their first music lesson of the year. I'm nervous. Not that I'm unclear about what to teach them, but because I am worried about starting off in a good manner so as to encourage good behaviour during my class throughout the year and also so as to not frighten the new ones. Some of the smallest tykes will only have been in school for 2 days at this point and may be as young as two-and-a-half.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

London is Fab.

This afternoon after school I was wandering around all over central London during my customary walk and ended up in the West End where I realized that HAIR was closing in three days and if I didn't see it today, I never would. So I went to check and see if there were any tickets... why on earth do they all randomly get naked right before the intermission? There is no narrative reason whatsoever for that to happen. To be fair, there is barely any narrative anyway...

I probably should have shelled out another 12 pounds to be in the dress circle instead of at the tippy top of the theatre because they spent a lot of the show prancing around on all of the levels but mine, but it was fun anyway. And man do they end on a high note- for the final let the sun shine they invite anyone who can make it down there fast enough on to the stage and everyone is singing away with them and it is very high energy and cool.

Can I just say that I love that I can just decide to go see a West End show? On a whim?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Still Awake!

Unsolicited Jet Lag Update:

It's 2am! And I'm awake! Awake awake awake awake! Really perky!



crap.


On the other hand, here is a great photo that Sarah's mom just posted from the wedding.

Friday, August 27, 2010

America: The Brief Sum Up

24 days, 8 states, my favourite people, and a pile of stories. Pretty good work, I think.

Kansas: I never did tell you about the reception...one of the things that I have noticed is that if I promise you that something "will be coming soon" on the blog: I'm usually lying. Sorry! Here are some key words to attempt to make amends: photo booth, delicious food, bubbles, jazz pianist, snarky 9 year old, dancing so much I shredded the lining of my dress, group singing, group singing in parts, 5 little snowmen, mouth harp, muggy blanket of heat,  peace pipe/cigar, bridesmaid's room for hiding in, A whole new world, 2am. (Missouri and Kansas = 2)

Chicago: So good to see Andy and Nancy! The general consensus is that I hadn't been there in 5 years, which is clearly far too long. I got to see Andy's band perform at CJ Arthur's and they are sounding good. It was fun to see/hear everyone again and also momentarily steal Sandy's rhythm bones. My friend Josh from Garfield was sweet enough to stop by the gig as well so there were more people in the audience! I wandered around a bunch in order to see how much I could still navigate just by memory- the answer? A fair bit. Andy and Nancy had a parade of people through their house while I was there, my favourite of whom was an artisanal garlic farmer. 'Artisinal' is probably the wrong word...but fancy and rare types of garlic in any case. Too brief a visit! (Illinois = 3)


Baltimore/DC: I stayed with my dear friend Daniel, briefly saw Liz, took a short walk with Zane, and spent the day at the National Air and Space museum with Sarah, Desh, Jim, and Guinness McDog. An excellent, excellent visit that reminded me that the "family size" package of food- while cost effective, sometimes means that you end up with a 9"x 11" casserole full of meatloaf... tasty and delicious turkey meatloaf, but still a bit overwhelming in size. Daniel and I went on a trek to find his old 3 storey tree house, but we failed to find an accurate alternate path that didn't have us fording a river. Next time, next time I will see this epic tree house. My final night Daniel and I went to Applebees where we made friends with our waitress who had been having a very tough night, but cheered up at our paper sculptures and mini footballs (we maybe weren't exhibiting the most appropriate restaurant behaviour...) (Maryland and Virginia = 5)

New York:  I took the Bolt Bus to New York and was delighted with it. Free wi-fi! (that was where the epic and multi-linked Air and Space post came from) Lots of leg room! The guy sitting next to me was reading an article about John Cage written by Cornelius Cardew and I though to myself "there is no reason why anyone who was not a fairly extensively trained musician and/or composer would be reading this..." so I introduced myself. It turns out he's a composer- and being a composer, about my age, and traveling from Baltimore to New York we checked out Facebook to see who all we knew in common. Bizarrely the only common contact we had was an Irish opera singer that I had met in Norfolk. Small world, yes, but that's just weird. 


In New York I stayed with my friends Kevin, Sean, and Zach over in Jersey City. We started at lunch with Indian food- which made my mouth burn. Kevin and I visited his office at Meet The Composer, walked through a rainstorm, sat under the highway during a rainstorm, and eventually ended up at a Vietnamese restaurant eating delicious  bánh mì that made me so happy and then made my eyes start watering. (I used to be so good with spicy! Apparently no longer...) A trivia night followed that (our team got second place and $30 with absolutely no input from me. I'm not too up on 1970's pop culture) and so ended my first day in NY.

The next day started with cactus tacos (Mmmmm and not too spicy!) and then consisted of hipster watching in Williamsburg where I amused myself by doing a sociological sartorial study. I had drinks with an editor from Tor (we totally geeked out about graphic novels) and then spent the night in Astoria with my friends Ronni and Noah- you may remember them from the epic wedding posts of last year. They're doing very well and it was fabulous to see them again.

My last day in New York I actually spent in Connecticut visiting Meredith, her town, country club, and house she grew up in. It was great- a tour of Meredith's stories. We went kayaking and, thinking we were being clever, left our extra clothes on the shore. When we got back the tide had come in and Meredith had to fish them out of the water...oops.  (New York and Connecticut = 7)

Boston: The Bolt Bus up to Boston hit rather a lot of traffic so the sun was setting as I arrived at the bus station. I had used the wi-fi on the bus to get a map of the area around Laine's apartment and directions for how to get there and was feeling quite confident about it all until I started to follow the map. The neighbourhood is beautiful; everyone has a garden, there are a couple of parks within walking distance (I got a little lost and happened upon both of them), and the houses are stunning. When I finally found the address that I had I called Laine up. There was no way that was her house and there was a light on and was she sure that I wasn't going to be knocking on some random family's door? Digging through their mailbox to find a key?

Basically what I'm saying here is that Laine has the most beautiful apartment ever. It is about the same size as the house we grew up in, has lovely bones and intricate detailing, stained glass windows, and enough storage space for an army. (Well, a small Spartan army.) And a pantry! And adorable little butler-pantry-nook-thingy.

More Boston and Laine in the next post.
(Massachusetts = 8 states visited! Making the rounds...)

Monday, August 16, 2010

National Air and Space Museum

Yesterday Sarah and Desh took her little brother Jim and me to the National Air and Space Museum at the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles. Now, I need to tell you that in spite of my father swearing UP and DOWN that I loved the Museum of Flight in Seattle as a child; I remember hating that museum. (Except for the flying car, which you really ought to click on because: hilarious) Anyhow, suffice to say that because of my history with museums full of air planes- I was suspicious of the Air and Space Museum.

But! BUT! BUT!!! I was wrong. I was totally wrong. It was *awesome* and ridiculously fun.

We ended up taking a tour and were lucky enough/privileged enough to end up on a lengthy tour with an excellent tour guide and while he was totally upfront about the gaps in his helicopter knowledge was a darling and entertaining speaker. I was utterly riveted for the whole two hours plus. ("Plus" because I kept asking questions and he said that the tour was running over time, but he would be happy to answer those questions for me and whomever wanted to stay on after he was done if I would just please shut up and let him finish! Sheesh.) (That's not verbatim. He was much more polite than that.) (I wouldn't have kept asking questions if he hadn't kept hauling me up to the front when I muttered things under my breath.) (Hmmph.)

It's interesting being in a flight museum as an adult, or at least as someone with slightly more perspective than a five year old. The place was filled with scrambling, running kids (including a scrumptious toddler in an orange space suit from the gift shop and bunch of kids at that stage where their feet are huge but the rest of their body hasn't quite caught up yet). And everywhere around are weapons. Giant, flying, weapons. The Enola Gay is the second thing to catch your eye as you walk into the main hangar. (The first is The Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, which, granted, doesn't have any guns on it, but is still clearly an instrument of war.) We were walking around the museum talking about various evolutionary improvements versus leaping advancements (like swept wings) and how all these things allowed us, the US military, to be better at killing the bad guys.

Killing. The. Bad. Guys.

Okay. Yeah. The history of flight has two branches- commercial flight and military flight. And our wonderful, fabulous, can't compliment him enough tour guide spent 20 years in the Air Force so of course he is more interested in the military branch of things. I am well aware that my lack of military knowledge allows me to be all judgemental from a particularly safe and ignorant point of view. But I have to admit that I didn't expect the National Air and Space Museum to make me think that hard. Or be that emotional. Or that uncomfortable and conflicted. Or, you know, that involved.

(Side note: The tour guides get to talk about whatever they're interested in. There isn't a set tour that they have to follow. Which is great because it means they are fascinating tours, but also means that Sarah and Desh once went on a tour that spent the entire time looking at engines. Which probably, at this point, I should trust and believe would be great because the tour guides are so fabulous, but really? Engines? Two hours of engines? I fear that that would be like a wrench museum. (Boring, guys. I mean boring.) All of the title cards for the artefacts and what have you are very technical; they totally and completely fail to be compelling on their own. Which is why the tours are so great.) (Have I made that clear yet? If you go to the National Air and Space Museum take a tour.)

Oooh! You guys ready for my favourite part? The Langley Aerodrome was hanging above our heads near the end of the tour. It is beautiful- made of pale wood and yards and yards of creamy cloth stretched out on an architecturally stunning framework. But, you know, it is also flat. With a boat in the middle. And clearly couldn't fly if you paid it to. So what on earth was it? I wanted to know.
See how this is falling into the water? how it is totally not going to fly? Isn't this silly? It was catapulted off of that there house boat and kerplash! fell into the water. Many times. I love it. Oh, early flight. So many times you did not work.

What makes it even more fun is that when the Wright Brothers managed to fly, the U.S. Patent office granted them a patent on the idea of flight. Take that to the bank. So after people had got thoroughly fed up with paying royalties on the idea of flight someone came along, dug out the Langley Aerodrome from its storage place in the Smithsonian, heavily modified it, got it to fly, unmodified it, and sued the Wright Brothers. Ultimately the judge rolled his eyes at both groups and said something along the lines of "don't waste my time with your ridiculous flying contraption, but Wright brothers? You can't patent the idea of flight, anything related to it that you invented? Sure. Go ahead. Definitely. But not the idea of flight."


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kansas Wedding: The first facebook pictures




Blatantly stealing some pictures here...

Dave always writes arrangements of Happy Birthday for people on their birthdays and their wedding day happened to be the birthday of the organist who played for the wedding AND Sarah's christening. So Dave wrote a very cool barbershop quartet with beat boxing that we proceeded to horribly butcher to much acclaim at the reception. L to R we've got Nik, Me, Martin, Dave, and Joe.

Also: the entrance of the newlyweds! Just look at those smiles!


Monday, August 9, 2010

Kansas Wedding: The Parties

Something I discovered this week is that if you are a friend of Sarah Titterington Ibbett's and you two are close enough that it was important enough for you to come to her wedding to Dave Ibbett in Kansas- then the odds are that you are very cool and totally wonderful. The same goes for if you are a friend of Dave Ibbett's and you flew all the way to Kansas for his wedding.

Not only did I get to see Sarah and Dave get married, I got to meet a whole slew of totally wonderful Titteringtons, make friends with some truly fabulous and loving bridesmaids, hang out with hilarious-constantly-singing groomsmen, and place myself in the middle of a bunch of Oberlin grads who made me feel totally at home.

Was all that emphatic enough? I don't really think so. The level of welcome and consideration was through the roof. And it was all so happy and simply delightful.

Early in the celebration period we had a picnic complete with baby twins! Margot and David were passed around all picnic long and *gosh* they are cute. They have very adult faces and kept whipping their heads around to observe everything very seriously. And then they walked!

On Thursday we had the Hen night/bachelorette party and the stag night/bachelor party. The women started off in the massively capable Maid of Honor Allison's room at the hotel which was heavily decorated in pink. We told stories, played games, drank mojitos, and giggled a lot. The guys played laser tag and had their asses handed to them by a bunch of local teenagers who clearly played laser tag all the time. Then we all met up at the local "Irish Pub" down the street.

We danced to the live band until midnight, played more games, and covered Dave, Dave's little brother Joe, and some of the other guests in bright red lipstick. A raucous and vibrant good time was had by all.

We had a bridesmaid luncheon where I spent most of the time talking to Sarah's Oberlin friend Emily about all sorts of things. There was a bit of a bridal shower and then we went back to the Titterington's house for a surprise baby shower for Meghan, one of the opera singing bridesmaids who is newly pregnant. (I got her a copy of But Not The Hippopotamus an important addition to any baby's library.)

The rehearsal dinner was held at one of the Titterington Uncle's house. Dave had made heaps and heaps of curry two days before (with able bodied help from Nik, Martin, and myself.) and everyone trooped in to the beautiful and spacious house to eat home made naan and tasty dips. Instead of having speeches and whatnot at the wedding, the majority of toasts were made at the rehearsal dinner including a stand up routine by Tim, the best man, and a bizzarro world skit written by Allison, the maid of honor, about an American Dave and an English Sarah. It was very cute and even included a Lady Gaga impression. Dave and Sarah's mom, Beth, had made slide shows of the two of them. It was very cute to see their baby pictures and pictures with each of the wedding party and their families. Meredith and I gave a speech about how we had known that Sarah and Dave were Sarah and Dave long before Sarah and Dave knew that they were Sarah and Dave.

Ah, then the final party was the reception. How cool was the reception? (Oh, you don't know yet. Because I haven't told you. But trust me, it was super cool. And it's going to have its own post! That's how cool it was.)

Kansas Wedding: The Ceremony



I don't even know how to start writing about this wedding, it was amazing. How about the ceremony? I'll start with that:

I overheard someone say at the reception that it had been "a wonderful concert....and a nice wedding too." There was so much music throughout the whole week; so much music and community and love. Fabulous.

The whole thing started off with the local baroque orchestra playing a bunch of Purcell and one of the bridesmaids singing. (Three of the bridesmaids were professional singers.) The parents walked in to Handel and another bridesmaid singing, and then the attendants all walked in to an arrangement that Dave did of the Beatles "Here, There and Everywhere" And all that was before Sarah had even walked down the aisle! (We practised a lot during the rehearsal to figure out how long between each couple there needed to be in order for us to walk on the beat but still stay in the correct placement.)

A note about having a wedding full of musicians: we applauded EVERYTHING. Beautiful singing? Applaud! A nice reading? Applaud! A funny joke? Applaud! Some people walking into the room? Applaud!

Dave wrote a lot of music for the wedding, but the one piece Sarah hadn't heard beforehand was her procession music. Half the bridesmaids needed tissues before she'd even got to the front of the church.

We got to sing some of my favourite hymns, which was made all the more fun because I was sat between two of the opera singing bridesmaids- it was a wall of beautiful sound.

Sarah and Dave had chosen some really poignant and touching readings from Quaker Faith and Practice, and had various British groomsmen reading them. The Americans lapped this up with a spoon. (It was described to me later as "sounding like Shakespeare.")

And then they were MARRIED! My friends! My dear friends that I met so early on in my time in London, they got married. (see picture above for old school, unmarried Sarah and Dave. Wedding pictures will follow as soon as people start posting them online. My camera was being persnickety and not helpful in that regard.)

Then everyone sang "Jerusalem." A word about that hymn: it's practically a second English national anthem, has a wonderful tune, and some strange and excellent lyrics. All this combined to, in my mind, make it the theme song for the whole wedding week. Because the English groomsmen knew it so well it then became important for the bridesmaids to learn it and blow them out of the water (3 opera singers, remember? We could be loud) so they graciously taught it to us with inventive and hilarious hand motions and actions. It's been stuck in my head for the last three days.

So that was the ceremony. Here's another take on the wedding from my friend Nik who was one of the groomsmen.

Maestro Show Pictures


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kansas!

Have landed in Kansas and am now in the midst of preparations for Sarah and Dave's wedding!

Dave's friend from Cambridge, Nik, and I arrived within two minutes of each other so we were each met by half of the couple with hilarious personalized plastic hats decorated with pictures of American things (mine had an electoral map with which states Obama and McCain won).

We are staying with some family friends- an 84 year old man named Tom who is very sweet to us even if he repeats himself quite a lot.

It is HOT here. Today is meant to be record breaking at 101 degrees, but tomorrow and the next day there are meant to be thunderstorms! (Which I'm very excited about.)

More people are trickling in today- Dave's family, another Groomsman, and the Maid of Honour. I gather actual festivities start on Thursday.

The flights were fine and I got a good rest last night. A bit jet lagged still (I kind of want a nap...) more news as it happens!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tyke Camp

We're into the third week of Tyke-ness. I've continued to be privileged with really excellent helpers. Last week's theme, unintentionally, was "messiness" admittedly one day we did schedule "messy play" but the rest? That was just because we're such lucky ducks.

We've done bunches of cookery...stuff. We made coconut ice (essentially dessicated coconut, sugar, and food colouring), jelly, pretzels, and today we made cheese straws.

Can I suggest something? if you're cooking with children, maybe don't start with something that a) you don't have the correct measuring tools for and b) you don't know what consistency the dough is meant to be. In spite of having no clue what I was doing the cheese straws somehow, miraculously, turned out just fine.

We've started presenting cooking in a TV show style way: we set up a table at the edge of the classroom and cluster them all on the floor around and call them up in pairs to do any stirring or mixing or rolling or what have you. This has been fine so far since most of what we've been making has had a barrier (i.e., a spoon) between the tykes' hands and the food. For the pastry today, though, we were mixing with our fingers which is when something occurred to me: the floor? In the classroom? It is *filthy* and the tykes? sitting on it? Keep putting their HANDS on it. So we had them washing their hands constantly- once so they could touch the dough, again because they couldn't get to the dough without touching the floor again, once more because seriously: don't touch the floor, a further time because do you want to mix the dough? DON'T TOUCH THE FLOOR!, and a final time after their hands were all floury and buttery from the pastry.

Last week with the pretzels I decided that next time I'm going to be a bit more emphatic about what shapes are allowed. No, you don't get to stand at the table for twenty minutes making a snake and then making a ball and than making a snake again- other tykes have not had their turn! Make the first letter of your name and then SIT DOWN. If you want to play with dough? We have some beautiful, perfect, homemade, blue play dough right over there. Yes, it's been there all morning. Right there. On the table. Over there. That table, in the corner. Yes, that one.

You can roll and flatten and roll that dough to your heart's content. But this? This needs to be put into an oven.

Seriously kid.

Right, that blob? That's what you made! Well done!

Now, shoo.

We've done some arts and crafts as well. Lydia brought in this brilliant science activity book so we had Science Day! (you can tell on the weekly schedule which things I have invented and which I've copied and pasted from earlier schedules made by other people. Mine all have exclamation points...) We made air rockets with card, tape, and paper straws. We made climbing lizards (looking a friction don'cha know). We've painted pasta and made pasta necklaces, made ingenious hand print and glitter fish puppets, spinning spiral mobiles, and huge STACKS of colouring in.

This week is quite a bit smaller so I've only got one helper a day instead of two. Because there are so few kids I've started taking specific orders for colouring. It turns out that there are brilliant databases for printable colouring pages. Anything you could possibly want to colour in can be found on the Internet. Thank you, Internet.

I tell you about all of these exciting activities we've been doing (and I haven't even mentioned the trips to the playgrounds and the science museum!) but you know what they get really, really excited about? And play with for literally hours on end? The train set.

Three year olds are awesome.

(PS. "Messy Play" involves covering the tykes in smocks, sitting them down at a table, and putting trays of stuff in front of them. Specifically corn flour mixed with water, shaving foam and glitter, hair gel and glitter, and shaving foam and sand. They liked it okay but I LOVED it. We had a very fastidious set of tykes that day. Most of the corn flour + water mix that ended up on the floor was entirely my fault. As was *all* of the shaving foam that ended up in the tykes' hair and on their faces. I'm so embarrassed...)