Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Things I Was Not Prepared For (Part 1)

When I started teaching in the year 2000, I was vastly ill-equipped (both intellectually and emotionally) to face the demand of rotating classes of adolescents all day long.  Even now, thinking back to that first year, I feel an echo of the chill in my soul and the hollow in my bones that I felt every morning as I sat in my cold classroom, wondering what in the world I was going to wind up doing, saying, or dealing with on that particular day.

Still today, in my twelfth year of teaching, I find that there are still things that I am not prepared for.

1. Responding effectively to comments such as, "My mom read this book in high school and says that it was the most boring book ever in existence." Far be it from me to stifle parent educational input on any level--they're discussing classwork at home! YAY!--but I still haven't figured out a way to deal with comments like this in good grace. Today, when this phrase was uttered in my room in reference to one of my most beloved classics, all I could come up with was the decidedly limp, "Well. At least now you have a chance to decide if you agree with her."  But really, parents. Come on. Cut a girl a break, will you? My task is challenging enough.

2. Coping with being sneezed on. Generally, when a kid sneezes violently directly onto or around my person, he is already embarrassed enough. My insistence on immediately wiping down my face and/or forearms with a Clorox wipe generally just compounds his embarrassment; however, until I learn how to simultaneously degermify and dematerialize snot globbets, this will most likely continue to be the most direct and effective course of action. 

3. Holding it together after accidentally dropping a flagrantly embarrassing Spoonerism or committing various other verbal faux pas. Whether it was the time I dropped this gem: "When folding a flag, always remember to fart from the bottom," or the time that I informed a class full of TEFL students that BFF actually stood for "Breast Friends Forever," I've been guilty of some of the most hideous crimes against the English language imaginable.  I've found no remedy for redeeming the moment other than in learning to ride the wave of laughter and to enjoy the fact that for once, my students and I are both laughing about the same thing.

4. Living down ridiculously memorable mistakes. There is no remedy for this one. To some students, I will always be the teacher who got pulled over for a traffic violation less than a block from the school during early-morning rush hour. To others, I will go down in history as the teacher who--as one homeroom class affectionately termed a public display of my innate physical clumsiness--"actually tripped over air." I know another teacher who pulled a muscle when he ill-advisedly decided to execute an impressive kung-fu-style kick during class. It just comes with the territory.

Those who are responsible for preparing teacher-training curriculum and mentoring first-year teachers should seriously consider adding the above issues to their syllabi. Future generations of teachers will thank you later.

Forewarned is forearmed. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

How to Live with an Equestrian

(Catch the audio here.)

Little did I know that my decision to live with an equestrian would have such a broad impact on my life. Over the course of the past few years, I have learned that there are actual rules governing life with an equestrian, and the sooner these rules are grasped, the sooner life will operate more smoothly for all involved.

The first rule of living with an equestrian is to remember that bedrooms are for sleeping and for keeping clothes on the floor. They are not places for hanging out, decorating, organizing, or spending any amount of time on activities that do not involve sleeping. Guys, if your mother ever told you that you should never marry a girl until you see the state in which she keeps her bedroom, it is probably not a good idea for you to consider marrying an equestrian. Or, if this proves an impossible stipulation for you, a good rule of thumb is to check out her tack box. Her bedroom may be a hot mess, but you can bet your bottom dollar that a peek into her tack box will reveal a veritable organizational feast for the eyes involving polo wraps neatly rolled and snugged together in rows, spray bottles arranged with the handles all tilted just-so, and fun photos arranged collage-style at eye-level directly across from the door. Contrast this with the starkly-white, unadorned walls and the laundry-littered floor of her bedroom, and you will begin to have a good idea of what it feels like to live with an equestrian.

The second rule of living with an equestrian is to adopt the mindset that having an equestrian in the home is much like having a new pet. As soon as the floors have been wet-mopped, your equestrian will arrive home full of the energy and joie de vivre of a good ride, tracking mud behind them, blissfully unaware of having committed a crime. Just like household pets often leave hair on the furniture and favorite toys in weird places, equestrians leave wads of hay clogging the lint trap of the dryer, damp saddle pads hanging over the backs of chairs, piles of tack and tack cleaner in random spots of the common areas, and abandoned socks scattered everywhere. A personal favorite around this house is something we've dubbed the Polo Wrap Octopus, which emerges from the dryer a snarling mass of tangled cloth and Velcro, skulking around the living room for days before finally being subdued and trundled off to the tack box.

Equestrians are even known to leave dark, damp spots on the carpet... only don't be alarmed: it's usually just neatsfoot oil.


Furthermore, like most family pets, equestrians are sometimes guilty of offensive odors. We are not talking here about mere body odor (which also can be rather alarming, but that is a separate issue). We are talking instead of the shock of opening the lid of the washing machine only to be knocked back ten feet by the stench of day-old, forgotten saddle pads which had been dumped for a cleaning and then promptly forgotten. We're talking about the potent marinade of boots after a rainy day, and those abandoned socks, some of which would give finely-cured French cheeses a run for their money.

It should be remembered, though, that much like having a family pet, the positives of having an equestrian in the house far outweigh the negatives. The sheer amusement value of their wardrobe choices alone begin to make up for the detractions. I am not just talking about the "put something here" mishmash of barn wear which often constitutes the equestrian's best attempt at outer-wear, either. I'm talking about how adorable it is to watch an equestrian dress up for a formal event. If you're fortunate enough to live with an equestrian who owns an actual pair of dress shoes, and can remember which decade they were purchased in, you're doing pretty well. 

Which brings me to a list.

Common Phrases Most Likely Uttered by Your Equestrian:

1. "What should I wear tonight?" This is generally uttered about ten minutes before you are both due to leave for an important event just as the equestrian is jumping out of the shower. It should be translated as, "What of yours will fit me, and do you have matching shoes in my size?"

2. "Who's driving?" This phrase is uttered as you are both on your way out the door. It should be translated as, "If you want me to drive, you'll either have to move or sit on top of a pile of wet towels, three saddles, two saddle trees, assorted mismatched spurs, a half-drunk two-liter of Gatorade, a hammer, overdue library books, a deflated beach ball, and a hoof pick." One time, as I was getting into my equestrian's truck, she said to me, "You'll have to move the video camera. And the machete. And the Lidocane." Somebody call Ann Rule. 

3. "What's for dinner?" If you live with a rare Cooking Equestrian, this means, "Which boxed mix should I stir up tonight: the Hamburger Helper or the Kraft mac and cheese?" If you live with the more common non-cooking breed, this should be translated either as "Where are you taking me for dinner?" or "Which Styrofoam container holds the least moldy leftovers?"

4. "What are we doing this weekend?" I threw this last one in as a joke, because if you live with an equestrian, you will never hear this. Friday nights are for going on group trail rides, Saturdays and Sundays are either for horse shows (which, if you have a Western Equestrian isn't so bad, but if you have one of those Dressage Equestrians, good luck even understanding what that's all about), or for conking out on the living room floor in exhaustion, because if there's one thing equestrians do not do well (other than housework) it is getting enough rest and/or generally taking care of themselves until they're practically dying of exhaustion. 

As previously stated, many parallels exists between having an equestrian in the home and having a new pet. Most likely the strongest parallel would be although they both track mud across the floor, leave their toys around the house, and make messes on the carpets, the fun and companionship that they bring to the home more than offset any perceived inconvenience. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: My Year in Books

First, some stats:

Total Number of Books Read: 155
Total Number of Pages: 45,408
Longest Book: Christian Theology, by Millard J. Erickson, 1,312 pages.
Average Book Length: 293 pages
Average Read per Day: 124 pages

Next, some categories:

Breakdown by Categories:
Miscellaneous Fiction - 31
Devotion/Theology/Religion - 31
Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy - 12
Miscellaneous Young Adult: 10
True Crime - 10
Classics: 10
Miscellaneous Non-Fiction - 8
History - 8
Biography - 8
Sci-Fi/Fantasy - 7
Western - 6
Poetry - 5
Youth Dystopian - 5
Humor - 2
Mystery - 1
Other - 1

Ten of Top-Read Authors in 2011:
P.G. Wodehouse - 11
Ann Rule - 9
Louis L'Amour - 8
Rick Riordan - 6
Suzanne Collins - 5
Jane Austen - 4
Georgette Heyer - 4
C.S. Lewis - 4
Terry Pratchett - 4
Connie Willis - 3

Newly-discovered Favorite Authors of 2011: Erik Larson,  D.A. Carson, Jon Krakauer.

Best Re-read of the Year:
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee - I first read this as a teenager, whipping through it in a couple of days and enjoying that dreamy, slightly-stunned and emotionally worn-out feeling one sometimes has after a truly profound reading experience. This time around, I thought that I knew what to expect and that it would be a nice trip down memory lane to read this again. I was totally wrong: this time (no doubt due to a measure of understanding and maturity on my part), the experience was even more deeply moving and profound. This book is surely one of the most important works of literature to be produced on American soil.

Most Surprising Reading Obsession: Books about Mormonism.
What began as some reading to cover a brief paper on the history of Joseph Smith and the development of Mormonism became a research obsession centering on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Before understanding the offshoot, I needed a grounding in the original religion itself. Including many, many media articles and volumes which I skimmed/read in part (including a very fascinating copy of the most recent Mormon missionary manual loaned to me by a friendly and helpful Mormon), my 2011 Mormonism research included the following books:

Under the Banner of Heaven: A History of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer
Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, by Richard Ostling and Joan K. Ostling
The American Religion, by Harold Bloom
The Mormon Mirage: A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today, by Latayne C. Scott
For Time and Eternity, Allison Pittman (the only novel in this list)

Least Surprising Reading Obsession: Books about murder.
After having seen Ann Rule near the top of my most-read authors for the year, this really comes as no surprise. For some unfathomable reason, I find the recounting of true crimes and their ensuing investigations to be both fascinating and (don't ask me why) quite intellectually relaxing.  

Most Enjoyable Books of the Year:

The Lonesome Gods, Louis L'Amour - Not only is this one of L'Amour's greatest novels, but it also makes perfect fodder for roadtrip reading while driving through the desert, which was what I happened to be doing at the time that I read this. "My name is Johannes Verne, and I am not afraid."

Friday's Child, Georgette Heyer - This may have been my third read-through of this one, and yet it still had the power to keep me up late on a school night, snickering at the sly humor and reveling in the deliciousness of the witty banter. I will be forever in Heyer's debt for making me conversant with Regency and Georgian-Era slang.

Son of Neptune, Rick Riordan - The popular Percy Jackson author amps up both the adrenaline and the emotional content in his spinoff series, Heroes of Olympus 

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, Erik Larson - Larson's meticulous research pays off with a dark, fluid narrative that is accompanied with a ream of delicious endnotes.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson - Only Bryson could take so many seemingly-unrelated-but-still-fascinating facts and stitch them together with such precision and elegance.

Under the Banner of Heaven: a History of Violent Faith, Jon Krakauer - A recounting of the horrifying Lafferty murders of the 1980s is interwoven with an unsantitized account of the questionable roots of the FLDS church. Armed with his considerable storytelling abilities, Krakauer presents his overall narrative with a clear-eyed skepticism. Although he does not dwell unduly on the grisly details, he likewise does not seek to sugar-coat anything.

Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis - Lewis's literary bent toward Romanticism has never been so obvious as in the beautifully-crafted title essay, which is both artfully written and magnificently textured.

Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, Peter Hessler - I continue to enjoy all of this man's narrative non-fiction work.

Books Which Let Me Down:

Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins - Intended to serve as the capstone of a series with such a strong foundation, this book instead becomes an unspooling melodrama which collapses under the weight of its own tangled plot about half-way through and dribbles along to an emotionally-unsatisfying conclusion. Boo.

Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self, Marilynne Robinson - While her novels radiate warmth and light, I found her essays too ponderous for the likes of me.  Sad.

City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare - I should have known better than to randomly pick up a shiny-looking paranormal young adult fiction. But it was soooooo shiny. Bah.

My Reading Goal for 2012: 175 books.