30 August 2016

The Fountain of Youth

I have been blessed with my mother's amazing genes in many ways.  I have the same laugh she does.  I have a similar peacemaking heart that would much rather sacrifice my own preference to someone else's if it means conflict going away (a blessing and a curse).  I've also been blessed with her skin (sans the freckles she has).

This is kind of awesome.

It means I can rock red lipstick and feel like Snow White.  It means that I'm not spending crazy amounts of money on creams or lotions or pills or whatever in a mad attempt to keep my skin looking young.  Cetaphil and drug store facewash are good enough for me.  It means I can play characters on stage that are much younger than myself (thereby allowing me to play loads of characters I have on my bucket list for longer than some.)  There are some definite perks.

There are also some severe annoyances.

For example:

1. My new co-workers think I'm a precocious upstart with no experience.  In reality, I've been teaching for almost a decade (sometimes longer and with more official qualifications than those many years my senior.)

2. Dating is a nightmare.  People are always trying to set me up with their 20 year old recently returned missionaries.  No.  Just. . . no.

3. If I had a nickel for every time someone said "Ah! I thought you were a student!" I could probably fund a trip to Europe.

4. My greatest desire in life has always been to be taken seriously and treated like an intelligent being.  Even from a very young age, I remember being seriously annoyed when adults didn't want to collaborate with me more or less as a peer.

There really isn't a point to this post.  I haven't written anything real since England (and I need to!  There's so much!) but starting at a new school has taken half my will to live and all my energy.  So many new systems to work through and understand.  Still can't print anything and no end in sight to that, so that's fun.  Air conditioning broken in my classroom today, which was made more fun by my 60+ class sizes and the manure factory (no joke) down the road that was wafting smells our way all day.  I had to move away from farmland to live by farms.  Circle of life.

Venting done.

28 June 2016

Day Twenty: Journey Home

We caught an Uber this morning to take us to the airport. 28 miles away, so, naturally, it took us nearly two hours to get there. Oh, I-15. You wonderful, delicious morsel of efficiency. I will never complain about your traffic and perpetual construction again. I will kiss you when I see you. (Metaphorically because safety.) I don't even want to think about my commute every day in the England roadway method.

Our house in Greenwich meant our drive to the airport was basically one last farewell to the city. So long, Parliament. I'm sorry we didn't make it this time, V&A. One of these days I'll get around to you, Natural History Museum. I'm sure you are a delight. Imperial War Museum, you're still my favorite, please don't hate me.

I spent some time looking through my pictures and thinking about these blogs and how much I'll miss writing them. My daily life seems far less exciting than this, but maybe I'll be better at finding things to write about, even when the routine becomes routine again.

I'm sad because there are an many things I think I've missed out on in writing. I don't want to forget any of it. Like how the best thing we did all this trip was climb that mountain and be alone with the world. Or the man who "baa'd" like a sheep in the Tube for ages and we couldn't tell if he was drunk or mad or both. Or the audience reaction to the audience reaction in Harry Potter (first a collective gasp, then a collective laugh about the collective gasp).  What about my broken streak of bringing unseasonably warm weather with me when I travel? Finding that copy of Anne of Green Gables in Portobello and walking away from it instead of buying it? There are so many little details I've missed. Sitting in the terminal and about to leave, they feel important.

Maybe I'm just tired. God willing I'll be home on time, be able to collapse onto my amazing mattress and cuddle up to a kitty that loves me sometime in the next twelve hours.

For those of you who have read these posts and commented on them, thanks for your feedback and kind words. You've made me feel like a real writer again. I've missed that. Lucky for us both, this is definitely not my last adventure, in or out of my "real" world. I'll be back.

27 June 2016

Day Nineteen: The Wind Has Changed

It's a funny thing to travel half way around the world. In one respect, life stops. I have thought precious little about the looming election in America. I haven't thought about how much work I need to do in just a few weeks to get my classroom and curriculum and (more terrifying) student government prepared. (I've never been in student government. Not just as a teacher, as a human being. What the hell did I just agree to do?!!) There is so much to be done that I have been storing away in the far corners of my brain. Out of sight, out of mind, right? It's nice not to think about things you don't want to think about.

On the other hand, things you knew very little about (or hadn't paid attention to much) suddenly take on greater focus. London leaving the EU and the PM's successive resignation, for example. Abnormally wet weather. Annoying tourists.

And then there are things going on at home that remind you of how very far away you are and how much you wish you could do. Hearing about the shootings in Orlando made me feel very far away. Getting texts from my cat sitter about how Izzy is doing. Facebook images of everyone enjoying the sweltering Utah sunshine.

Three weeks away is a long time, and I am ready to go home.

I miss driving. I miss the bike trails by my house. I miss my cat. I miss my bed and my big American shower. I miss cell service and Internet whenever I want it. I miss the clothes I left at home. (Ooh how I miss variety in my wardrobe!)  It has been a practically perfect in every way kind of trip, but I am ready to leave.

Not particularly excited for the process of actually leaving, though. Nicole and I were talking the other day about how if we were given the power to apparate either to or from a location, which would we choose? Both of us vehemently declared "from!" I am not looking forward to tomorrow!

Fortunately, I think I'll be able to actually make it home with all the souvenirs I bought. In the past I was bringing home clothes and scarves and chocolate and the like. Now my suitcase is bursting under the weight of ten new books. That said, time in the London Underground teaches everyone that there is always room for one more, and somehow I think I've managed it.

(We do need to leave now though, before I find another book to buy and the whole thing explodes.)

Our last day in London led to a bit of an escape from the crowds in favor of time in Hampton Court Palace. Hampton Court is best known as the home of Henry VIII (one of them, at least), but its history is far more than just Henry - the palace had a revival of popularity during the late 17th century, which is why the architecture of the place is so disjointed. It's a history lover's dream to visit. So many amazing historical events are echoed in the walls of the palace. In three consecutive rooms, for examples, are evidence of the first three of Henry's wives; this shows just how long it took to build the place and how quickly he went through women. There are amazing wood carvings throughout, best showcased in the great hall, once used essentially as a canteen for visiting guests. This large hall has wood carvings throughout the ceiling. It used to hold the letters "A" and "H" entwined all around the room (for his second wife, Anne Boleyn), but after Anne was beheaded the letters were carved out. One was missed (on accident or on purpose is anyone's guess) in the top of one of the corners. This room also has heads in the eaves, meant to remind guests that the King had eyes and ears everywhere.

Henry VIII really is one of the most fascinating contradictions in history. On the one hand, he was Defender of the Faith - a staunch religious theologian who was studied and had great knowledge of doctrine. On the other hand, he was married six times (under increasingly dubious circumstances) and known for his unforgiving and unpredictable temperament. He's quite the character. Apparently he was the first king to have a full body portrait painted. He looks pretty formidable in the portrait, staring the viewer down with complete confidence. In truth, his life was a mess. He was injured in a jousting accident while married to Anne Boleyn and never fully recovered. He was in near constant pain. Plus, he had this nasty habit of marrying wives who couldn't give him a son, died when they did manage to give him a son, and were often adulterous or independent or not happy with HIS adultery and independence. What a disaster. Henry did manage, though, to set the line of succession before he died. His sickly son reigned for less than a decade, his Catholic daughter mercifully reigned for about that long as well, and then the world was granted Elizabeth I, one of the greatest monarchs in British history.

In addition to the information on Henry and the Stuarts that came after the Tudors died out with Elizabeth and the eventual entering of the Hanovers with George I. My favorite part of Hampton Court, though, are the gardens. Mary II (not the bloody one) was a great lover of plants and the gardens are filled with plants from all over the world. I especially love the fountain gardens because water and ponds are so beautiful and soothing and I want one. (I should probably get a yard first.  I have a feeling my cat and an indoor fountain would be not a brilliant idea.)

We decided to play tourist after Hampton Court and went to King's Cross for the requisite Platform 9 3/4 picture. The platform has moved every time I've come. It was never between nine and ten - platforms nine and ten are actually across the tracks from one another, so it couldn't be there anyway.  First it was back a long way and hiding near the toilets with just a wall. Then I came back and it had moved to a different location, this time with a luggage cart half way through so you could pretend you were going in. Now they've finally realized the money they could make and they have a whole photo area set up like Disneyland, where, apparently, you queue for about an hour, pick your props, and have a worker fling your scarf into the air so it looks like you're moving before you exit to a gift shop where you can buy the picture and a million other things (if you want to wait in another really long line.)  It's probably a good thing that I was running out of cash and had a few more gifts to buy or I'd have had to beg Greg and Nicole to wait while I bought more things I didn't really need to take home.

We saw Aladdin as our final show of the trip. Ironic to see a show about a hotter than hot desert hours before I fly back to one. Truthfully it wasn't my favorite of the trip by a long shot. The added songs were disappointing, the character development was flimsy, and the over abundance of campy humor was "meh". I wish they'd have taken a cue from Lion King and Beauty and the Beast and been a bit more grown up - the best thing about those adaptations is that they graduated from cartoon status and focused on telling a story with heart and maturity. This show felt like a step backward in a lot of ways. (Also, their Jasmine was terrible. Pitchy and whiney and awful. Not impressed.) "Friend Like Me" was good, but I expected more out of this show.  Ah well.  When your summer includes fifteen professional productions, odds are one of them will be disappointing.  We've been incredibly lucky with the rest of the shows we've seen, so no complaints here.

Well, my bags are packed.  I'm so grateful to have taken this trip.  I really do think the chance to travel as freely as I do is one of the greatest blessings of being single.  Seeing the world and experiencing new things is such a gift.  It changes a person completely to look inside a new culture and to view their own culture from a different angle.  There are many things about England that I will miss.  I will miss the landscape.  I'll miss the weather (even the rain - scorching heat when I get home. Boo.)  I'll miss the yoghurt.  I'll miss watching the show "Have I Got News For You" at night (hilarious).  I'll miss the easy access to hundreds of years of history.

But there are many things that this trip has given me that remind me of how much I love home.  America may be the land of Hershey's chocolate and loud extroverts, but it is also the home of wide roads and efficient travel.  It's the place where you can drive forever on one road and see nothing at all.  It's a place founded on independent and daring thinkers.  I'm not so geocentric that I could say that America is the greatest country in the world, but it is my country, and I love it dearly.  Even though I'll be spending forever on a plane tomorrow, aside from getting home to my cat, the moment I'm looking forward to most is when I arrive in customs and see the American flag.  It's a fantastic thing to travel, but it's just as fantastic to come home again.  I'm ready.

26 June 2016

Day Eighteen: A little bit naughty, a great bit inspiring.

It's inevitable when you spend enough time on the Tube that you come across some rather interesting characters.  There's actually a "People on the Underground" Instagram account I follow that calls out the particularly strange.  More commonly you run into drunks or overexcited teenagers.  With Pride yesterday there was loads of color.  I thought the celebrations were only on one day, but apparently they went on to today as well.  How do I know this?  A man that looked like Jeff Daniels wearing a Jack Daniels tank top, short shorts and eighties style trainers (sneakers) sat opposite me this morning, carefully covering himself in glitter.  It was a very thorough process that reminded me of my cat grooming herself.  (I miss my cat!)  It was fabulous.  (In every sense of the word.)

We played tourist today by walking by Buckingham Palace and through some of the parks on our way to our matinee.  Buckingham is generally an area I avoid because it can be so horribly crowded, but we missed the changing of the guard crowd by at least an hour and it was actually pretty empty (at least by Buckingham standards).  After visiting so many different estates across the country that have had to open themselves to tourists either in part or completely, it's pretty insane to imagine having an entire estate to yourself.  (Granted, the queen doesn't have the land that these other estates do immediately adjacent to this house but, you know.) It's still pretty wild.  I'm pretty glad I don't have people outside my windows at all hours taking pictures.  I did enjoy the brief visit, though - it seems more recognizable after the last several years of William and Kate events than it did the first two trips to London.

We were lucky to get tickets to Matilda today.  Most shows are dark on Sunday, but Matilda has a Sunday matinee.  It was immediately apparent why: unlike the other shows we've seen, this show was positively swarming with little girls.  I've hardly seen any children in the other shows (with good reason, I guess.  1984 isn't exactly light fare, and Harry Potter is pricy, tickets are hard to come by, and really more attractive to children of the 90s who grew up with the Boy Who Lived.) No worries.  Matilda is a fabulous show for children, and aside from the one that literally could. not. stop. squirming. in front of me, it was fun to have their reactions all over the theater.

Matilda was the heroine I related to most when I was really young.  Of course, I loved Anne Shirley, but I aspired to be her, I didn't think I really was.  Her world was too different from mine.  I loved Mary Lennox as well, but my life was so different than hers that I didn't really relate to her that much.  Matilda, though - Matilda was an inspiration (before Hermione came along).  Matilda was smart.  She loved to read more than anything and had an inner confidence and spunk that I shared.  She got on better with adults than with children and had an utterly insatiable desire to learn and make the world right.  Matilda, like Hermione did later, reminded me that even if people thought I was a nerd for loving school and reading, that knowledge made a person somehow powerful and someday they would understand.

I've loved the music for this show for a long time and the show was wonderful.  For a show that places so much weight of the storytelling onto the shoulders of nine children, it was really impressive.  My favorite song in the show is at the beginning of act two - the kids come out and sing about how everything will be wonderful when they are adults.  They'll eat sweets all the time, they'll go to bed late, play with toys their parents don't think are fun  and they'll never get a sunburn.  Then Miss Honey comes out and sings the same song - she's not waiting to be a grown up, she is "up" - and she's still waiting for that bravery.  This is why Matilda is still an inspiration to me - she reminds me that, years ago, I was a really confident (probably to a fault) little girl that worked through bullying in elementary school and still came out of it with head held high and priorities set.  She was brave.  When I feel small, when the adult world in which I live suddenly seems overwhelming or disappointing or even frightening, I can call on that voice for help.

After Matilda we went over to Westminster Abbey for the evening service. Come to find out that the normal service has been cancelled in favor of a special (free) ticket only event in honor of the re-dedication of the English Holocaust Center that serves not just survivors of the Holocaust but also survivors of other genocides or abuses.  We were told that there might be room if we waited, so we decided to wait and find out.  I'm glad we did because they were able to fit us in - just barely.  We got three of the last four seats (everyone else had to stand). It was a beautiful service.  Several speakers from various religious organizations around the country spoke about the role the Holocaust plays in our present and future decision making; about the power of choice; about the way that choice enables us to be humane at all and that without choice we would only be automatons; about our responsibility to build a world that doesn't just allow all people or even simply accept them, but enriches them.

It's so easy to live in fear of what we don't understand.  I see this with my students - given a piece of literature or an experience that they don't get, or don't feel prepared for, they tend to shut down in anger.  I see this in my church - when someone asks a question or wants to discuss something uncomfortable (LGBT issues, for example - feminism for another), it's not uncommon for those issues to be shut down, glossed over, moved on from or even referred to as sinful.  I don't think it's necessarily because people on either side of these different situations is right or wrong.  I just think that when you don't understand something or are ignorant of something, fear is a natural reaction to it.

This is why I am constantly trying to find books that challenge the world view of my students.  They live in such a vanilla world most of the time.  And I'm not even referring to Utah Valley and Mormon culture.  I'm referring to the whole existence of teenager life which can, at its worst, be extremely self centered and frivolous.  I don't necessarily fault them this - there is a real luxury in being a teenager.  You are old enough to do good and influential things in the world without, for many of them, the pressures or fears of adulthood as a regular part of life yet.  But that self-centered world is not ideal for creating kind, considerate, charitable adults.  I choose to teach what I do because I don't know how else to encourage my students to be empathetic and generous humans for the rest of their lives.  They may not leave my class being the most brilliant writers.  They may still hate reading.  But, God willing, they will be better people, because that matters infinitely more to me than the writing and the reading.

(Do you hear that, Federal/State Education dimwits?!)

25 June 2016

Day Seventeen: Crowds and Inspiration

I do love the rush of a city. I love the resources and options and culture and life. I love being on the Tube and hearing about five languages and seeing so many different types of faces and cultures represented. I love the food and the museums and the passion.

I am also a certified introvert who craves quiet time alone. I love my house for that - I love that it's clean and decorated precisely to my tastes. I love coming home and seeing everything just so. I love the glorious view of the mountains outside my window. I love how quiet it is. I love watching the deer from my balcony.

Being in London makes our time in the Lakes and in the Cotswolds seem like another life. Was it really only a week and a half ago that I climbed Newland's Pass and felt like the only person for miles? Just me and the sheep and the waterfall for company. (Well, and Greg and Nicole, but still.) That whole world feels like a lifetime ago when you're pushing yourself through the Portobello market.

I wouldn't trade it for anything.

(But I'm also looking forward to the lower crowds and more peaceful elements of home.)

Portobello is such a fascinating place. I think if you looked hard enough, you could probably find Mary Poppins' bag there somewhere. You can find practically anything, and much of it at reasonable prices. (Prices do seem to have risen a bit of late - I read that stalls are so expensive to rent that some of the smaller vendors have been pushed out and others have raised prices, but it's still pretty great.) The only problem with Portobello (aside from the claustrophobia inducing crowds) is that there are a huge number of things I want to buy and can't, because who has room for a gorgeous working (almost) grandfather clock in their carry on (unless you can find the Mary Poppins bag)? As it was, I enjoyed looking at all the things for sale (at least for the first hour) and ended up leaving with a present for my sister and (of course) another book for me. Bleak House by Dickens this time - I've been dying to read it. I also got an amazing lunch from one of the street vendors - this potato and cheese and garlic and spicy conglomeration that was probably really bad for me but so good that I really don't give a (insert favorite expletive ((or "expletive")) here).

After the crowds of Portobello, we did get a brief respite by walking through Kensington Gardens. I love Kensington. The last few times I've been here I have stayed in west London and have been a frequent visitor of the parks. This time, staying in Greenwich (south and east), this has been our first time in the parks at all. It was a breath of fresh air to be back with the trees, to watch the dogs running around and chasing the pigeons. I think if I ever were fortunate enough to live in London I would have to come spend time in the parks on a regular basis. One can only spend so much time fighting crowds before one starts going nuts.

Of course my favorite part of Kensington is the statue of Peter Pan. I had such an obsession with Peter as a child. Truthfully, I don't think I can say that it's worn off. There is something so entrancing about that story to me. As a child the adventure and prospect of flight alone were enough to captivate me. I used to keep my window open at night in case Peter came. Even after I grew old enough to know that he wouldn't (because I was too old . . . and because he's fictional), I still kept it open for sake of symbolism alone. I love what that story teaches children about the bravery it takes to grow up. I love what that story teaches adults about the beauty in embracing childhood and not getting so lost in the business of life that things that matter most get shoved aside.

One of the most magical theater experiences I ever had was in Kensington in 2009 when they put on the Peter Pan play. I really can't describe the play in any justice, but it was stunning. The scene that really stuck with me was at the end of the first act. Peter has been wounded in his fight with Hook and doesn't think he can fly. He tells Wendy to leave without him by taking hold of the kite, but she is scared and doesn't think she can fly without him. In the end, he shoves her off the rock and the kite sweeps her away. This is a great scene for Peter, but it's really Wendy's story - that scene meant so much to me that summer. I was just weeks away from starting my internship as a teacher. I was about to be thrown into adulthood in a very real way and I wasn't sure I was ready for it. Peter Pan has always been a story that reminded me to be brave. I have to visit the statue when I come. It's a beautiful thing, set in a lovely location along the Serpentine River that runs through the park. I usually take about a hundred pictures of it, but limited myself to three (ok four) ((ok five)) pictures this time around. Not that I need more. But . . .

Caught in the rain after Kensington, we decided to go to the store to stock up on necessary treats to take home (seriously, America. Get your act together and demand McVities biscuits. They are the BEST EVER) before grabbing dinner and heading to the theatre for tonight's show: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

I first read Curious Incident in high school. I was utterly taken by it - I think I could say that it was probably the first "adult" (non classic) book that I read that was also particularly different. Told entirely from the perspective of Christopher, a boy with autism, I was thrown into a world that was so VERY different from the one I knew. It was magical. It was funny. It was sad and interesting and strange and enlightening. It changed me. It made me want to be a teacher.

I revisited the book in college in a class where we needed to read something about learners with disabilities.  This book was on the list, so I pulled out my copy and read it again.  Reading it from the perspective of a person just months away from working in her own classroom - it really transformed the kind of teacher I wanted to be.  I wanted to protect students like Christopher.  Not necessarily from themselves - I wanted to protect them from educational systems that held them back.

It's been one of my greatest privileges to fight to create a classroom where everyone is welcome.  Some of the students who have found the best success are those that learn in different ways than the "average" student.  (That said, I'd argue that the "average" student is a red herring and doesn't exist, but that's a discussion for another day.)  I've been especially lucky to work with students "on the spectrum".  They challenge me, but I love a challenge.  The challenge is so, so very rewarding.

Seeing Curious Incident tonight reminded me of how special (dare I say even sacred?) my job is.  The show was beautiful.  The technical elements were amazing - I loved the precision of it all, especially given Christopher's personal affinity to maths.  They told the story well and with great heart.  What I loved most of all, though, required no technology at all.  I loved watching Christopher's teacher advocate so fiercely and kindly for him.  That's not to say that Christopher didn't have other advocates - he was surrounded by them.  But in the end, it was his teacher to whom he posed the question "so - I can do anything?"  It was the voice of his teacher that he heard directing him when he was scared.  It was amazing.

You know, summers off are a true perk of my job.  Not that my summers off are ever purely "off" - there's loads to prepare for (especially this year in transferring to a new school and taking on Student Government and the like).  But my job does allow me to take three week holidays in Europe every other year or so if I want to, and that's a pretty big plus.  It can be hard (in June) to even want to think about all the work ahead.  After today, though, I'm excited to get back.  I'm excited to take up the challenge of reaching the student that no one else has quite been able to figure out yet, because that is what makes my job so very, very beautiful.