The Hobart Shakespeareans: Merchant of Venice

I had the privilege of attending the last performance of The Hobart Shakespeareans' The Merchant of Venice at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles on Saturday June 13. To appreciate just how much of a treat it was, let me describe the transformation of one classroom into a working theatre.

Rafe's classroom is relatively small: there's no windows to the outside, no vaulted ceilings, and cabinets and tables take up other wall space to give a very "cozy" feeling. There is a bleacher unit brought in to seat maybe 30 people on 4 levels. I sat in a row of chairs on the floor and other people were standing. The front of class has a 3-rise platform like an olympic medal ceremony, with musical instruments on the sides. Professional stage lighting stands in the back and sides of the class. One of them features looping video of backgrounds such as water through windows or a cross and Star of David to enhance the mood of the scene. Rafe and a past student operate the control board with a crazy array of switches and knobs.

The Play

Rafe opens the play with an explanation of the thousands of man-hours that have gone into making the production. He prepares the audience for some of the mature content of the songs by giving a context to the overall message of the play - racism, hate, and prejudice are not new. Then its the students' turn to give context through a musical message. They're performing on vocals, guitar, drums, and keyboard.

A classical guitar prelude is first. Most of the students had never played guitar before this year. This is the result:

Due to privacy concerns, I've taken down my videos from the performance. You can still watch videos of the Merchant of Venice from the official videographer above. My annotations to the videos I took are below.

Next, the students infuse a modern sound to give the play context in current events.

Another segment of the song:

Act 1, Scene 1 opens with Antonio and one of the theme songs for the play, Neil Young's "Heart of Gold". Shylock, the Jewish money lender, desires a pound of flesh as collateral for the bond he issues to his enemy, Antonio, if he cannot repay it.

As the plot progresses, Antonio gets news that his ships have been lost at sea. He cannot repay the bond and begs Shylock not to take the pound of flesh that he is due. Shylock and his daughter Jessica discuss the persecutions they have born as Jews in a Christian world and the repercussions of not taking what they are legally due.

There are various subplots of romance and deception, but unfortunately those where summarily deleted from my flip video camera as I tried to upload them from my vacation in Guatemala! Arrgh.

What remains are scenes from the trial where Shylock is legally given his pound of flesh, but only if he does it in a way that exacts not a drop of blood: impossible, this releasing Antonio from certain death. Message: the legal system may protect individual from discrimination, but it cannot change hearts or grant revenge at the expense of another's life.

Well, that's all I've got to annotate my descriptions. I'm especially bummed that my videos of Paul Simon's "Obvious Child", complete with brazilian drum corps, and the B52's Beach Party dance scene didn't survive. You can at least imagine the juxtaposition of 400 year old Shakespeare with modern pop culture to make the play come alive.

Bravo Hobart Shakespeareans and I hope that I can make it to "A Comedy of Errors" in 2010!


You betta Belize it!

Internet access has been few and far between and unreliable at times, thus the long period of time between posts.

Since my last post, I've had 2 weeks of homestay-immersion-one-on-one language study in San Andres, Guatemala; a visit to the Mayan ruins of Tikal; and a week on the pleasant beaches of Placencia, Belize. Now Gilda and I are on our way to Guatemala City to complete the circle of our little trek through this part of Central America. We had originally planned to visit Copan, Honduras, but with the recent coup there and difficult logistics, we decided to scrap it and extend our stay on the beach. Not bad, eh?

My language study at Eco-Escuela de Espanol was very beneficial. Although my curriculum was rather grammar-based (today we learn about present perfect tense, tomorrow the conditional), I didn't mind it too much because I was a language teacher myself and understand that structure. I had a good teacher with a sense of humor and flexible teaching style so things didn't get boring staying in one place or on one topic too long. The first week saw only one other student at the school, but the second week had 6 students there so we were able to do some activities and excursions together. We learned how to make tostadas with guacamole and limeade. We visited the school's forest preserve and learned about the native and agricultural plants and trees of the area. We visited the Mayan ruins of Yaxha, which impressed me a lot. Pictures will follow when I have the chance to upload them.

My girlfriend Gilda arrived at the end of my two weeks and we rendevouzed in Flores. We took off to see Tikal for two days. There are literally thousands of structures and hectares of property to explore, so even with two days we didn't see everything there was to see. But with a detailed book the first day and a great guide Cesear the second day. Highlights included understanding the dual Mayan calendars and number system (base 20, not 10); seeing the vantage point of Star Wars Episode IV shot from the top of Temple 4 in Tikal; and seeing howler monkeys swing from branch to branch.

We stayed an evening in Western Belize and could immediately feel the difference in attitude of this only-English-speaking-country in Central America. Trek Stop was a pleasant place to stay as we rested from the bumpy, dusty ride across the border.

Belize public transport consists of re-purposed American school busses, so we spent a good 6 hours on them getting to Placencia. Although cheap, these busses don't protect one from the sketchy travel arrangements of others. In Belmopan, Gilda and I squeezed our way into the back of a crowded bus, only to find the sole available seat was next to a dog in a box with motion sickness. Then it started to rain. The stuffy sweaty bus, combined with the wretched smell of dog barf, didn't not make for a sweet entry to Barefoot Perfect Placencia. Oh well.

We were finally out of the jungle when we arrived in Placencia. The cool breeze from the Sea and the fresh air finally told us that we'd reached our vacation relaxation spot. Our cottage was right on the beach, with a veranda full of easy chairs and hammocks to relax in. Although Gilda insisted that I just do nothing for the 6 days we'd be here, she had other plans.

We went snorkeling at Bugle Caye with its solar-powered lighthouse. Gilda snorkeled while I SCUBA dove at Laughing Bird Caye. We both toured Monkey River and learned the hard way that 30% DEET bug spray is useless in the midst of swarming mosquitos. Our guide could only laugh that we'd left the veritable "Jungle Juice 100% DEET" back at our cottage.

We ate at a lovely Austrian restaurant, Danube, and experienced schnitzel for the first time. Gilda fell in love with the Coco Colada smoothies at The Shak. I savored the familiar flavors of chicken, rice and beans.

Now we're on the move once again. Tomorrow we catch the 9am ferry to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala and then a bus to Guatemala City. We'll stay with Gilda's uncle Jorge and visit Antigua, like every tourist should I suppose. Friday we catch an evening flight to LA and get back to our lives.

Its been a great month of adventures and learning. Vinettes and episodes with video and pictures to follow!


Back in the Tropics

I wasted no time after school ended for the year. If I was to have a month of travel before my mid-summer training, I had to catch a plane to Guatemala Saturday night when school ended on Friday. Gilda and I drove down to LA, where I would get a cheaper flight. I saw my brother for a few hours before his own trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I went to a performance of The Merchant of Venice by the Hobart Shakespeareans. That event deserves a post of its own when I can post the video I took from it.

I took a red-eye flight to Guatemala City. Gilda's uncle Jorge picked me up from the airport, took me to breakfast, and saw me on the bus to Flores. After a hot and sweaty 8-hour drive, I arrived in the lakeside town just as night and rain were falling. I plopped down on my bed in Hotel Casablanca, took a shower for the first time in 2 days, and faded off to sleep.

Today I'm taking a boat across the lake to San Andres where I'll be starting my spanish classes. More later when I can get back into town for Internet access!


White Nights

Its a phenomenon of the Northern Hemisphere's Summer, where the sun hardly sets or rises, but lingers its light to allow all-night revelry and insomnia. I experienced it when I went to St. Petersburg during the Spring and Summer of 1997. And I just had a short experience of it again by watching "White Nights" with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines.

Most films about Russia in the 1980s were steeped in politics and this film was no exception. But the location shoots of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, and the dance scenes between Hines and Baryshnikov were special. Of Leningrad, because it captures life at the end of perestroika and glastnost, which made the KGB cloak and dagger stuff kind of over the top.

But for having gone there just two months ago with American Councils for International Education (two very longs months now that school is almost over), I've seen how much has changed. While there's a political glass ceiling for anyone not in the United Russia party, there is relative freedom for artistic expression. I was so impressed with the community support of the arts of any kind: dance, embroidery, photography, and painting. Any child could have access to it and express themselves. My students are fortunate to have classes other than English, Math, and Physical Education! As I work to teach my little niche in the US system, I can't help but wonder how our school community could be different if all the pencil tapping boys could have an outlet it. How all the kids that can't get enough attention talking in class could express themselves through song for 50 minutes long.

Thanks for that trip back White Nights. I'll continue to seek out Russian connections as the reality and urgency of my teaching situation tries to keep me from living in many directions at once.


Students' Questions about Russia

The first school day that I returned from Russia, I had my students write me a letter to get out all the questions they were bursting to ask me. The following questions were asked by my 50 12- and 13-year-olds:

Did the Russian students send us anything?

Yes, I received a few penpal letters from students before I left. Others will be arriving in the mail, hopefully by May.

What fun things did you do in Russia?

If I could name just a few of the fun things that I did in Russia, I went ice skating, cross country skiing, and played volleyball against some very tall and strong Russian players. I went on day trips to visit Russian fortresses, churches, and monasteries. I visited art and history museums. I went to a children's theatre where I was asked questions like a celebrity after the show!

Did you bring any pictures?

Yes, I took almost 1000 pictures. It has taken me a few weeks to organize them into interesting slideshows but soon you will see them in class or on my blog!

Did you meet any ladies in Russia?

What an interesting question! If you mean, "did I meet any women?" then yes, of course, I did. Actually, most of the teachers in every school are women because teachers aren't paid enough to live on. Teachers need to combine their income with a spouse, so that's why so many Russian teachers are women. If you mean, "did you find a girlfriend?" then the answer is, no I did not, but then again, I'm happy with the one that I'm with now!

Did some students see our pictures [in the photo albums]?

Yes, I shared the "Days of Our Lives" photo albums with about 100 students from two schools. They were very interested in the foods and activities that La Paz 7th graders like.

Did you make a lot of friends on your trip?

I certainly did! One of the goals of my trip was to increase understanding between Russian and American teachers and students. I did that smiling, making jokes, giving gifts, and listening to the Russians that I met. Almost everyone was curious about the USA because they only see pictures of the USA on TV and sometimes they are not positive images of America.

Who did you meet in Russia?

I met a lot of school children. I counted over 400 children in 7 schools that I met. I met teachers and principals of schools. I met 2 TV reporters and 1 newspaper reporter. All of these people were very curious about the USA and our town of Salinas.

What did you eat on your first day?

Great question! I ate chicken soup, rye bread, and tea. Russians eat the tastiest bread with every meal. They also like to drink lots of tea.

Where did you sleep?

I slept on a normal bed in my own room. Someone from my host family had to sleep on the couch because I took their room. Russians are very hospitable people!

How did you get there?

First, I flew on a little jet from Monterey airport to Denver. Then I flew on a bigger jet to Washington, DC, our nation's capital. I had meetings there for a day with the other teachers from all over the USA who were also going on this trip. The following day, we all few in the same plane to Franfurt, Germany. We stayed there for just 2 hours before we boarded our last plane to Moscow, Russia. Once we landed in Moscow, however, our trip wasn't over. We had to carry our heavy bags through the crowded subway system to make our train because the surface streets were in a traffic jam! The train ride lasted for 2.5 hours. Finally, I was met at the train station by Tatiana, my host teacher, who drove me the 2 hours back to Korablino. Phew! I was certainly tired by the end of that journey!

How cool was it?

Russia is a very cool place, literally and figuratively! On most days it was around 32 degrees, so I had to wear my winter jacket but I got to throw snowballs, too. The first thing you'll notice when you are in Russia is that all the signs are in a different language and different writing system, called Cyrillic. Once you know how to read the Cyrillic letters, you'll discover that Russian has some words that are the same in English. Look at these two examples:

What did you see, taste, hear, and feel?

A great sensory detail question! I saw beautiful works of art and architecture (how buildings look and are made). I saw a TV show dedicated entirely to accordian music in Siberia! I tasted delicious beet soup (Borsht) and cabbage soup (Shchi). I heard a guitar concert in a kitchen, a women's day concert in a school. I felt the icy water of a frozen river when my left leg fell through it! (I was trying to cross the river to get from the country house (dacha) to our car).

Why did you go there?

Last year, I applied to this program that takes teachers to Russia to understand their people and schools better. They liked my application and what I had to say about my students and how I teach, so they selected me. Pretty cool, huh? But if I didn't apply, I wouldn't have had a chance. So the next time you have the chance to apply for an opportunity, go for it! Even if your chances are slim to be selected, they're still better than your chances if you don't apply at all!

Did you learn different things for your teaching?

Yes, I did! I went to a university class where Russian students were studying to be English translators. They were studying 19th century English painters and the vocabulary to describe the style and message of their art. I learned how to make an English class useful and interesting for very advanced students by studying a topic that they all like.
What did you bring us from Russia?

I made sure that I brought back different examples of Russian candy for you! I hope that you enjoyed it.
Did you get to meet your penpal partners?

Yes, I met the students that will be your penpal partners. They are very nice students with some interesting hobbies. I hope you'll be patient with them because it takes them longer to write good letters in English.
Is Russia a big place?

Yes, it certainly is. The area of Russia that I was in, Ryazan Oblast (state), was very flat. There were fields a mile wide and 3 miles long. In summer, these fields are filled with wheat and oat plants for people to make bread with. Russia is the largest country in the world. There are 11 time zones in Russia, compared with 6 time zones in the USA. That means that Russia stretches almost halfway around the world from itself!

How was the weather in Russia?

For the first 5 days, it was cloudy and cold. Then on the 6th day, the sun came out and it was warm enough to go outside with just a sweater on. The sunshine caused some river ice to melt, and we got to see some raging rapids through the snowy fields!

Did our penpals send pictures with you?

I was only able to get a few pictures from penpals. I will request that the rest of the penpals send pictures when they send their letters.

Did you understand everything that they said?

I understood about 50% of what they said. I studied Russian in college, so I knew a lot more than the other teachers on my trip, who didn't study Russian. But now that I'm studying Spanish, I've forgotten some Russian. Still, it was fun to speak Russian with them and have them practice English with me.

What questions did the kids have about America?

What a great question! Russian kids wanted to know what sports Americans like, what they do in their free time, and what sort of challenges they have in their lives.

What was the favorite thing about your trip?

I think the opportunity to experience a different culture was my favorite thing. It helped to me understand how big our world is. Russians have many similar beliefs and traditions to Americans, but they also have different ways of doing and thinking about things. Every time I travel, I understand how beautiful, complex, and fascinating the people of planet Earth are.


Prekhodit V Gosti (Coming as a Guest)

In my two visits to Russia, the concept of "coming as a guest" is the essence of building relationships. There's no pretensions or preparations necessary for the event. The humble kitchen with its stools and tiny table, bare floors and walls allows a glimpse into the unvarnished, undaunted Russian Soul.

To enjoy coming as a guest, just be yourself, maybe bring some sweets or a drink to share. The tea is poured from a kettle, brewed strong, then diluted with hot water. Add honey, milk, and some sweet cookies.

The conversation comes naturally when hearts are warmed by the tea on a late Winter's night. Most Russians that I've known haven't had the money to go out to the movies or a restaurant. Why let a dark room or mouths filled with food get in the way of conversation and just BEING with each other? Coming as a guest means coming as you are.

Friendships are forged when one comes as a guest. Like Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, after the third cup, you're family. When I went to the house of Elena, I could tell that she was a kindred spirit. She is the best friend of my host teacher, Tatiana. I warmed up to her quickly, too. We all would get together two more times in my remaining time in Korablino.

There is something about coming as a guest in Russia that builds relationships based on sharing nothing more than who you are as a person. With nothing to conceal in a bare kitchen, there's nothing to unravel a friendship's future with false pretenses.


Confetti Taste Testing


Well, there's not enough hours in the day to experience everything from the Russian countryside AND blog about it, so you'll have to forgive me for not writing more frequently. I'll have to catch up on all the stories I've experienced here when I get back.

Yesterday, Tatiana and I went to the market to buy some things for dinner parties we'll be having in the next few days. Inside of the buildings of the market were the candy (confetti in Russian) vendors. My previous trip to Belarus in 1997, I wanted to taste test every type of candy in a store. The poor attendant had to weigh each piece of candy, print a price sticker, and then total it all up for me to the whopping price of $1.

Things were just the same 12 years later! Spakoini nochi! Good night!
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Knee Deep in the Bank of the Oka


My host teacher, Tatiana, is a very adventurous woman. Visiting the backyard of Sergei Esenin's home, there are 100 steps to the bank of the Oka River. A scenic patio and beach invite summer visitors to barbeque and sunbathe. Somehow the same invitation does not extend to its winter visitors. 6 inches of ice and snow have piled up on each step, creating a treacherous clavalcade for anyone who dares to descend. Undaunted by the impasse, Tatiana says, "let's go and see that ice fisherman!" 300 meters in the distance. Ugh. I plod step by step, trying to freeze (no, wrong verb) blank yesterday's memory of falling from my mind. I have a death grip on the bannister as I go. A few times I fall down but thanks to my hold, it is only an exciting slip. Wha-hoo!

Finally I'm on solid ground, knee deep in snow. Tatiana sees a photo opportunity and takes the above picture. Yes, the beauty of the Oka River was worth the attempt.
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Walking in a Winter Wonderland


Greetings from Russia! Today we visited the village of Konstantinovo, which features a beautiful monastery and the home of Sergei Esenin, a young writer of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Here was a nice photo opportunity to visit with a beautiful horse, Masha, and his furry hatted owner.

Russia is cold and windy, but the people are warm and kind!
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I left my 3-y-o journal on my flight to DC. Thanks 2 God & United airlines for getting it back 2 me b4 I leave!


<b>Leaving on (another) jet plane</b>
Its sunny in Denver, and I've forgotten how dry & thin the mile high air is. Gasp!
<b>The journey begins</b>
I'm en route to Washington DC for my pre-departure meetings. I slept about 3 hours after repacking zzzz!


Russia here I come

"It has been a month of buckling down and focused preparation." That's what I wish I could have written now that I am four days away from my next major international trip: a 2.5 week teacher exchange to Russia. I've re-designed my blog in honor of the Russian flag, which I'll be living under from March 6-21. But the onerous task of preparing for a goodwill trip in the middle of a school year, involving the collection of artefacts and lessons to take with me and the preparation of 2.5 weeks of lessons to leave behind, has been like juggling cushy teddy bears with revving chainsaws.

I now realize why it is so rare to find research and hear of mid-year projects from public school teachers - it is very hard to do. Still, I aim to do the best I can and to make the most of the opportunity. I'll be traveling to Korablino, outside of Ryazan, located 3 hours Southeast of Moscow. No, the weather will not be a respite from the temperate climate of Central California. But the warmth of my host teacher and school will. I'll be serving as native speaker celebrity in a handful of English classrooms in the area, visiting local officials, and enjoying cultural performances and International Womens' Day during my time there. I expect to come back with closer ties to Russian teachers and students, a renewed appreciation for Russian culture, and plenty of stories and pictures to share with my students and friends back home.

I hope to be documenting my trip on a regular basis with this blog, as well as my professional observations on my teaching blog. Thanks for reading!


Throw Away Your Trash - Jamaican Style!

My closest Peace Corps neighbor, Richard, sent me this link to a music video featuring Mr. Vegas and the students of Point Hill Primary and Junior High School. That's one of the schools where I taught environmental education. I certainly can't take credit for their know-how, but perhaps a seed was planted that others came along and nurtured.

Come to think of it, I actually may have known about this video before it was produced. When I visited Point Hill in June of '08, the current Peace Corps volunteer assigned to the school was only able to visit with me for a few minutes because he was busy going into Kingston for the recording of some song. I guess this was it!

Enjoy the song and remember, where ever you are, "Dash whey yu trash!"


Visiting Rafe Esquith, Part IV: The Hobart Shakespeareans

**If you haven't read the first three installments of this series, scroll down and read those first.

After lunch, things were rather open ended. The class received a package from a group of students and professor from Delta State University, somewhere in Mississippi. Once again, the class chorused with an "oohh!" of appreciation as Rafe extracted a bag of candy, an ornament, pennant, and okra mascot. "Well, we can't put up the banner because none of my students have gone to Delta State," Rafe quips as I study the placards under them. I've finally figured out that the dates under students' names mark when they were in Rafe's class, not when they graduated from university.

Rafe apologizes to his students from keeping them from lunch, he gets a little carried away with history, he says. Then he tells two more anecdotes about Grant and Sherman, Sherman and Johnstone, and Nathan Bedford Forrest. He goes on the say that elementary school is like a big restaurant, "you get to try a little bit of everything and then choose something you want to do for your whole life."

The students worked on their art projects for the rest of the day, a full hour, while I talked with Rafe about teaching philosophies and just plain observed.

At 2:10, Rafe gets up in front of the class again. At one student's request, Rafe tells a series of jokes. Then asks, "who has a compliment?" Two students chime in, complimenting one person for helping them, and another sweet students says, "I'd like to compliment our visitor for traveling so far to see us." [Isn't that nice?] There's no bell to dismiss the students so all just pack up and go, not like the students would have a Pavlovian response to it anyway. At several times during the day, Rafe would just teach right through the bell and students would answer through the bell. Room 56 obviously marches to a different drummer.

Students from other classes and grades start to file in, taking out their copy of "The Merchant of Venice" to browse or read. At 2:23, Rafe begins by announcing that Friday will be Casino Night, "A fun way to teach students not to gamble," he says asidedly to me. Rafe sets the ground rules for attending as far as parent pick ups and communication go.

Key Points for Holding a Shakespearean Practice

All students participate all the time. For two sick players, the entire cast and crew chorus their lines in their absence. While only a few players will perform with guitar, voice, piano, or drums, there are at least 10 students practicing to be ready if called up to replace a student. I asked one student what her part was and she said, "I used to be Jessica," and no more than that, implying that she had lost the role for some reason that didn't cut the mustard.
Its a rock opera. The students will perform 18 songs for the Merchant of Venice. 18 memorized lyrics, beats, and chords. Today I heard, "The Obvious Child," "Comfortably Numb," and "Heart of Gold." Songs are chosen for their lyrics to describe the plot or character in the play. It brings the Middle English down to a pleasant level and enhances the skills of the students to learn music.
Choreography is key. As I watch a "beach blanket bingo" looking scene of suitor boys and selector women, Rafe explains that he's added dance and moves in the last 5 years. The first choreographer was a diva and wanted the 10-year-olds to treat her as such. She didn't last long. The most recent one was a CSI actress who comes in her spare time and gets the fact that she must be low key, inclusive, and patient. Hardly a student was sitting down when it was time for this dance scene.

By 3:30, our rehearsal of the Shylock's defense scene was over and Rafe got out his roulette board, spinner, and chips to demonstrate a game for Casino Night. His message: like alcoholism, gambling too is a sickness. The House always wins. Giving the first turn at gaming to the 4th graders, Rafe explains each type of bet, give a chip to each student, and rolls the wheel. Then he collects the losers, gives out winnings, and then shows how much the house won. Another chorus of "ooohh!" Then to the 5th graders not in his own class, the same illustration. Then his own 5th graders. The students grasp the real life example: gambling with chips is fun, but with money is always a losing venture.

At 4pm, everyone is dismissed. Everyone says, "good-bye Rafe" as they leave. Rafe replies with a, "goodbye beautiful" or "goodbye ______". A core group of seeming main characters lingers and a visiting 6th grader interacts with them. Rafe leaves the room for a few minutes, and the kids start throwing a softball in his absence. They reveal that they're not robotic superkids: like most kids would act "when the cat's away, the mice will play." I ask if they're concerned that something could break if they continue playing and they stop, echoing that, "something could break." Wow, I'm still amazed.

Rafe knows that I took the bus to get here in the rain and he doesn't want me taking the bus now as the sun sets. So he drives me home in the Oprah van, given to his foundation from the Oprah grant. I ask him some more questions about how to prepare urban ESL students for a global marketplace with suburban and foreign students accelerating so much faster without making them feel like they're behind. We both agreed that the students need the cultural literacy and background knowledge to make connections and thus learn more. Building that literacy for our students means giving them the experiences that level the playing field: trips to site of significance in the USA, music and rigorous performance that builds individual voices, and the why-factor that motivates students to realize that what they're learning has real-life implications.

He drops me off and wishes me well. I walk to my brother's apartment with a smile of appreciation. Until I realize that I've forgotten my umbrella in Rafe's car. I call the cell phone number he gave me. He circles back to give it to me. "I knew we'd see each other again, but this is getting ridiculous!" That's the kind of person that one of America's most amazing teachers is. I've been privileged to spend the day with room 56 at Hobart Elementary.


Realizations and Resolutions

I can't believe it! I've been blogging since 2004? Granted, some of those times have been on life support and others on adrenaline as far as posting frequency goes. But the blog still evolves and serves as a record of my travels, thoughts, fears, and dreams.

For the record, this is what I resolve to do in 2009:

-Learn to play the guitar well enough to lead songs and teach others
-Maintain appointments that I make
-Collect, then read, all Newbery Award books from 1922-2009

Those seem like smart enough goals to me. Let's see by December how I've done with them!

Countries I have visited

Where I've been in the USA