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August 2010 entries

First Day of Preschool

I overheard this conversation this morning:

Aidan: "Gabrielle, I hate to tell you this, but today I am going to Grandma Tina's house and you are going to start school."

Gabrielle:  "That's OK.  I am going to meet my new friends and my friend Sarah will be there this week."

Aidan:  "OK, I just wanted to make sure you were OK with that.  Because I'm going to the big school tomorrow and starting kindergarten."


Gabrielle was more than OK.  She was excited to start her new year in the "Big Kids' Room".


The Art of Waiting

I'm not good at sitting still.  Sometimes, I even experience a sense of nervousness when I do nothing -- a sense that surely, there is an item on one of my 5 "To-Do" lists that deserves my attention.  I've been sporadically reading Sue Monk Kidd's When the Heart Waits.  I say sporadically partially because of the current hectic pace of my life, and partially because it's not one of those books that I can dive into and finish within days, like I do most books.  I like Sue Monk Kidd -- she's the author of The Mermaid Chair and the popular The Secret Life of Bees.  This book, however, is not a work of fiction.  It is a spiritual reflection on Kidd's journey through midlife (also why I can't fully relate to the book.  I'm not ready to call 30 midlife!).

But, all that being said, I am in a bit of a holding pattern right now.  I have approximately two weeks until my "due date" which means virtually nothing as far as pregnancy goes.  Aidan was two weeks late -- so, I could be waddling around for another month.  Gabrielle was right on time -- so I could be delivering on schedule.  Then, of course, there is the fact that after 36-37 weeks, the baby is considered "full term" and could arrive at any moment.  There is absolutely nothing to do but wait, which I've said I'm not that good at.

And, I'm not the only one.  As Kidd reflects, we are terribly impatient as a society.  Think of how many products are touted as "instant" or "fast" -- foods, software programs, digital photos.  It's truly overwhleming how demanding we are.  Kidd calls ours "the instant society" and she's right.  We want everything to work right now or else we become impatient or even depressed.  Recently, there was a discussion in the news about our dependence on instant communication.  Adolescents send texts, expecting an immediate response.  When a reply is not received, kids  begin to feel hurt, angry, and depressed because they connect the digital delay to their self-worth or importance.  An acquaintance of mine admitted that even as an adult, she experiences this.  She'll send an email and wonder why no one has replied 30 minutes later.  We've become increasingly ego-centric.

We've also becomeaddicted to the quick and easy, says Kidd.  We've become addicted to instant gratification.  This spills over into all areas of life, and our addiction to instant results sometimes comes before concern and compassion for others.  Consider the classic example of road rage.  For some reason, when we get behind the wheel of a car, many of us dehumanize other drivers and become enraged when another vehicle spends too much time at a green light or makes a hasty turn in front of us.  We feel like champions when we reach a destination faster than our GPS predicted.

What will be the long-term effects of such impatience and such disregard for other human beings?  For one, Kidd argues, we are losing our ability to sit in stillness and wait.  We adopt a "quickaholic spirituality" if we adopt a spirituality at all.  Many people fully expect to believe in Jesus and ta-dah!  be saved without any real growth or struggle.  There are certainly many other types of struggles, not just spiritual ones, that we resist.  I'm starting school again.  Part of me will want my students all to "get" what I introduce to them the first time.  Part of them will want to "get" a high grade with minimal effort.  We want instant results.  Quick, easy, fast, right-now results.  When we don't get those results, we'll become frustrated -- unless we keep and maintain a healthy perspective and posture of waiting.

What does waiting look like?  Sometimes, it looks like we're doing nothing.  Which, in our society, looks a whole lot like laziness or irresponsibility.  What about those "To-Do" lists?  What about the agendas, the planners, the blackberries filled with appointments and tasks?  One time a businessman told Sue Monk Kidd, "I think I'd rather die than have time on my hands."  Wow.  Really?  But, as Kidd notes, "addictions always lead to death".

Waiting can also look like repeated motion.  As Aristotle says, "We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."  Several of the world's religions have repetitive prayers -- like the Catholic rosary.  To the naked eye, it can seem like the beads represent redundancy, but for the truly contemplative, the words become a mantra which brings about enlightenment and peace.  This applies to the secular.  If my students steadfastly apply the techniques I suggest in their compositions, they will evolve into better writers, even if they feel like they are doing the same thing over and over again. 

If we can somehow ignore the insistence and urgency of modern culture, we can become more attuned to our individual promptings, those stirrings of the conscience that urge us to take action -- even the action of waiting.  Even if we don't think we're very good at it. 


Goodnight, 29.

I've not had much time to blog of late.  School has started, at least for the teachers.  I'm excited about the start of a new school year, though at the same time, it's odd that I'm planning not to be in my classroom because of the impending birth of my third child. However, being involved the planning process for the new year is keeping my mind from fixating on exactly when that impending birth will be.  

Tonight, I say goodnight to my twenties.  People in their 40s, 50s, 60s, pish posh at me, saying that "30 was nothing" or "I wish I were thirty again -- you are just a baby!" but the truth is, changing any decade is a milestone.  I remember turning 10 quite vividly, and thinking that there was something significant about being in the "double digits".  It's psychological, to be sure.  What is age but an arbitrary number assigned to the days we've been alive?  Will I feel any different tomorrow?  I doubt it, unless of course, I'm in labor. ;)

So, goodnight 29.  It's been nice knowing ya.


Early Literacy

I fairly certain I disdain most modern children's literature.  As educators, Michael and I have been reading to our kids since they were in utero.  We are frequent fliers at the library (our latest visit prompted questions from the librarians about our trip to Italy and the kids' time at Grandma's) and we are certified bibliophiles.  Aidan's been moving into chapter books -- not reading them on his own, but having the attention span to listen to them and as we go, he recognizes many words.  He's also into "Pokemon" and "Bakugan" as well.  For the most part, I don't really like either one of these shows/games.  Pokemon feels too much like an endorsement of slavery:  the Pokemon Trainer basically "owns" his Pokemon and calls him out to battle when needed.  The Pokemon responds with undying love and devotion.  I've never seen a Bakugan movie or TV episode, and Aidan mostly likes them because of the mechanics of the balls that turn into robots.  In general, though, we steer him away from anything that's too violent.

Anyway, to return to my first topic, Aidan brought home a "Digimon" book from the library, and I read it to him.  All 134 pages of brainless, essentially plotless garbage.  It was filled with pedestrian dialogue such as, "I like totally agree, Sukumon."  And I pointed out to Aidan that it was quite possibly the worst book I'd ever read.  Even he agreed that the story wasn't that exciting. 

Yesterday, we began a family book instead -- actually, a series of books that we have in one edition, given to us by the famed Mr. Bower (who also came to the house recently bearing the gift of a katydid): The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  We've started with The Magician's Nephew and read two chapters yesterday.  Aidan was impressed with the sheer size of the book, and with the fact that Daddy read these books when he was little.  (I'm also a bit of a nag to Mike, making him visibly read books and magazines so that Aidan sees that reading isn't just for moms who happen to be English teachers.)  Gabrielle's attention span wanders a bit, but when we re-told Chapter One at the dinner table, she remembered the main details of the plot and was happy to be "in" on the action of a "big-kids book". 

And the beauty of the Narnia series is that has all the classic themes that kids love and need as they work out their own moral codes -- good versus evil, magical places, selfless love and sacrifice with other people, appropriate violence to preserve peace.  AND it's beautifully written and NO ONE says, "Like, totally".

Talking with Gabrielle

Me:  "Gabrielle, let me wipe off your face.  You have sticky stuff from your peach all over it."

G:  "It's OK, Mom.  My tongue can do it."


G: coming over to the dinner table, putting her head on her fist: "Mom, sometimes Aidan acts a little, you know . . . well, I am just getting tired of him today!"


Back Home

After a few flights, a few train rides, and a car ride or two, we're back home, safe and sound.  It's great to be with the kids again, and as Gabrielle said on the day of our reunion, "Mom, this is a good best day ever!"  Ciao, Sarteano! 


These were taken by a member of the choral workshop party whose children have and were participating as auditors.  We met such wonderfully diverse and interesting people over the past 2 weeks! This is the bed and breakfast where we stayed on the top floor.



It's Official!

Just before we left for Italy, Michael was offered the teaching position for which he interviewed on July 26.  We received word that the Keystone Central School Board approved the recommendation for Michael's hire, and he will officially be the Central Mountain Middle School's new chorus teacher . . .starting in just a few short weeks!  We are, needless to say, extremely excited about this opportunity for Mike -- music jobs are few and far between in this current economic climate, and it's fantastic that Mike's hard work through his undergraduate and graduate degrees has paid off.  He's anxious to apply what he's learning here in Sarteano to his classroom when we return. 

And, in usual Connor style, he'll have a whirlwind two weeks of prepping for the school year and running Hughesville's band camp in his position as Assistant Band Director there.  Fortunately, the Band Director at HAHS is understanding and will allow for flexibility in Mike's schedule those two weeks.

So, we have a few more days of vacation left:  Mike's concert in Sarteano is tomorrow night, we fly from Rome to Amsterdam on Sunday, and then from Amsterdam to home on Monday.  I've managed to prep my new drama course and make serious progress for the fall play, which I will direct during my maternity leave.  The down time I've had here has been crucial for that endeavor.   Once we're home, the frenetic schedule we're accustomed to will resume -- complete with new school years and a new baby! 

And, I think, we wouldn't have it any other way!

A Tuscan Journey -- Day 7

After I wrote yesterday's entry, I did some research and some thinking . . . when Mike was done at 12:45 p.m., I announced, "We're going to Rome!"  So we did.

The first part of our trip was a hair-raising bus ride (think Harry Potter and the scary ghost bus that rips and tears all over London) through the hills of Sarteano to Chiusi.  The bus was, we were sure, going to tip over.  Our driver acclerated around S-turns and coasted through stop signs as if they were suggestions.

Once in Chiusi, we bought a train ticket for Rome -- a ride which took nearly 2 hours.  We arrived in the legendary city at 5:30 p.m.  The last train out of Rome to Chiusi (which we obviously needed to be on!) left at 9:45.  So, we bought a map and started pronto!  Right away, we spotted the famous church of St. John Lateran:

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We took a few turns, and in the midst of modern day traffic and fashion, we found:

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The Colosseum, of course!  And near by, the Arch of Constantine:

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We also hoofed it to the Vatican!  Amazing.  No sign of the Popa, though.

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It was a whirlwind trip, but the opportunity of a lifetime.  We caught the train on time and even sat in first class with our second class ticket -- endorsed and validated by the transportation official.  After a quick taxi ride from Chiusi (which was much less frightening than the bus!) we arrived at our home away from home around midnight, exhausted but in awe of our world's history and our religion's heritage.

A Tuscan Journey: Days 5 and 6

Our days in Sarteano continue to be relaxing and interesting.  Michael's workshop is going well, and I know I'm looking forward to the concert on Saturday night!  Two nights ago, the group assembled for a multi-course meal at a local ristorante, Roberta's.  Michael was asked by the coordinator of the workshop if I had any specific requests in my delicate condition.  He explained that since arriving, I've not been eating much meat.  I can explain this -- most of the meat here on sandwiches looks indigestion-producing:  salami, hams, etc.  that I don't usually eat as it is, so I've been enjoying the vegetables and cheeses and breads.  This information somehow was translated to our Italian hosts and cooks that I was vegetarian.  Though, I admit, for the meal we had, it was probably for the best.  We started with a rice and baby octopus dish .  . . which continued on to

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Umm...right.  I don't usually eat anything with legs still attached.  Thankfully, our host was incredibly sweet about my not eating it and brought me a plate of delicious local cheeses instead. 

Last night, we went to the Sarteano Castle, originally built in 1038.  Over the years, various additions and reconstructions and attempted sieges have weathered parts of the structure, but its majestic beauty remains.  A local property, the city opens its doors for a small fee and welcomes local artists to present artwork inside. 

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Last night, we witnessed a performance by the local Academy of Flag Wavers (a poor English translation -- it was essentially a medieval-style color guard and drum corps).  A volunteer organization with a lot of passion, the flag wavers consisted of a senior group (adults, mostly men) and a junior group (kids, mixed boys and girls).  The event started at 9:30 p.m. (which means nearly 10 on Italy's relaxed clock) and many families came out for the festivities.  I wonder how parents in America would react to a performance involving their children at 10 p.m. -- 11:30 p.m.   But, here in Sarteano, where the world takes a nap during the hottest hours of the day, the people are well rested and more than willing to stay up late.

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Another beautiful night in Tuscany.  The difficult news is that it doesn't look like a tour of Rome is in our future here.  The train to Rome takes about 1 hour, 30 minutes from Chiusi (about 15 mins. from Sarteano) and Michael's schedule only allows for one half-day (today) and he's expected back tomorrow morning for rehearsal at 9:30 a.m.  We plan to explore Chiusi this afternoon -- it is known for Etruscan ruins.  On Sunday, our plane leaves from Rome at 12:50, so we won't have time to sight-see in Rome.  We'll spend Sunday night in Amsterdam, though, and we plan to save our pennies so that one day, we can make a family trip to Rome and the Vatican.