Category Archives: Schools

Albany XXX

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Amsterdam

What’s up with that title, right? Is it porn? Extra large? Nope…Roman numerals – thirty, as in thirty years since I first moved to Albany.

In August of 1988 I was 21. I moved here knowing not a single person, other than Mary Panza who I was lucky enough to meet when her roommate tried to seduce me find me an apartment in his role as a real estate agent. The summer of ‘88 was hot, so damn hot. There was a heat wave that was unrelenting. I traveled to England and the Netherlands in July that year and I loved every day of dreary, damp weather we experienced abroad.

That first trip to Europe changed my life. It opened so many doors and windows and made me a traveler in a way I had never imagined. I had met a guy on the ferry on my way back to London and was acutely aware that he was great, but that the timing was not. We did, however, make some lovely memories and everyone should know the excitement of a long distance romance. When a man flys into jfk, hops into a rental car and drives to Albany to spend 2 days with you…well, you feel kind of special. I hope you know that feeling.

Albany charmed me from my very first visit when I found my way to Lark St.and enjoyed a fancy brunch at The Beverwyck. Once I got a handle on the size of the city (it’s always felt small to me, initially a disappointment but ultimately an asset), and began connecting faces and names, history and legend, I settled in with interest and made a life here.

Albany has witnessed my greatest joys. I got married here, right in Washington Park on a picture perfect Sunday afternoon. I own a house and pay taxes in the city and appreciate the privilege of both of those being possible because of the education (and degrees) I received from SUNYA. My children were born here and are students in the city school district and, while the education they receive may not be as immediately impressive as the high test scores and college acceptance rates of the suburbs, I do know my sons have learned a lot about getting along with people who don’t necessarily look or think like they do. Lessons in life count too.

I started running, an activity I never could have imagined I’d love, while a student at UAlbany and have run thousands of miles around this city.  I’ve learned to write and take photos and have been lucky to share some of my passions with an interested audience.  The opportunities here have been limited only by my own level of competence.  It’s been so cool, really.

Albany, though, has also been the setting for some of my saddest days. There are places around this town that are absolutely haunted for me – spots that I do my best to avoid because of the personal ghosts. The news, both domestic and international, that I’ve witnessed while living in Albany, has left an imprint as well. Princess Diana dying, the towers falling, the children murdered in whatever most recent school shooting…I can tell you exactly where I was for each of those breaking stories. I’ve shed a lot of tears in this town. Believe it.

After 30 years, I love Albany more than ever. The happiness I’ve known in this city that receives credit for how easy it is to get to places “to which you really want to go,” has far outweighed the heartaches I’ve experienced. I’m not sure what the future holds, (once I hit my 30 years teaching, who knows?), but these three decades have been the most productive, challenging and exciting times of my life and I wouldn’t have wanted to live them anywhere else.

Thanks, Albany xx

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Reflections on Summer 2018

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  • My travels have taken me new places and I am so appreciative of the memories I made and the food I ate and the wine I drank and the friends I hugged.
  • Cape Cod without children is like shared custody following the end of a marriage/relationship – a dirty little secret in all the best ways. (Credit to LGP for the custody thing)
  • Summer is a time for me to take on larger household chores, such as organizing and weeding out extraneous stuff that can weigh a person down. During these tasks I always stumble upon things I find interesting – like my journals from the early 90s.
  • One of the most important parts of summer, for me, is spending time with people I don’t always have the luxury of seeing. Pool dates, lunches and nights out with friends, have made Summer 2018 exceptionally special.
  • Being reminded of past heartbreaks and lessons learned can be really comforting. I think that every relationship that I was in that “failed” was followed by a much better personal situation. Sky’s the limit. Full steam ahead.
  • It’s been a hot summer and I’m fortunate to not have to work in what have been extreme temperatures. I’ve been able to accept the heat without needing to fight it. Night runs have been tremendous and I’ve mastered closing up the house to keep it cool during the daytime. It’s summer. I like when the seasons perform as expected.
  • In the last week or so, I’ve encountered a number of work friends and a couple of students. Seeing them reminded me what the very best part of my job is – the people with whom I’m lucky enough to work.
  • There are some ways in which I feel like a different person, as if I’m evolving into a new, hopefully best, version of myself. Some of it originates with physical change – different hair, new car, but more of it comes from having been through a lot emotionally and feeling a little less naive. Currently doing my best to retain and refocus “wonder” as a word of future possibility instead of rear-view second guessing.
  • Authenticity is topping the list of new words in my vernacular these days. It appears above catfishing and intentional mind fuck, not just for alphabetical reasons either. Authenticity deserves its own damn blog post. Stay tuned for that.

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Murderous Dachau

 

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This is a replica gate. The original was stolen, but was recovered and now is on display in the museum.

Two of my sons are big history buffs. When we travel, more often than not, we visit places steeped in history, particularly 20th century wars. Our most recent trip earlier this month continued that tradition and we took in some intense WW II history in (or near) each city we visited. It’s always a speech robbing experience, which is why I’m only finding the words two weeks after we paid our respects at the first of our stops, Dachau.

483AEA12-9529-487E-A133-4501599FE841I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Normandy, the Ardennes Forest, Nuremberg and Anne Frank’s house and have seen things that are beyond my comprehension in terms of hatred and heroism. Dachau, though, was a whole nother level, as it was designed to be as the first and model example of a concentration camp. 

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One of the watchtowers.

Visiting Dachau is really easy, in terms of transportation, from Munich. It was a train and a bus all on the same ticket. The bus was packed with students and groups, but we wedged our way onto the first one and arrived at the camp in time to get in on one of the day’s English tours, scheduled to last approximately 3 hours.

Our guide was terrific – thorough, knowledgeable and a resident of the area whose own grandfather had been punished with a sentence at Dachau, yet survived to never talk about what he witnessed or was subjected to. He didn’t want to risk going back. Despite his Opa’s reticence about discussing his time imprisoned, our guide’s repeated use of the word “murderous,” revealed his deep understanding of the grounds we walked.

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Smoking forbidden.

The tour physically moved us from where the trains would arrive to the processing building, which offered displays and photographs to visually recreate what occurred in which area. The sleeping barracks were replicas, tidy and clean in a way that they never could have  been with hundreds of humans denied every basic need. It was horrific. The toilet and wash room bearing the load of so many…

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Only the foundations remain of the original barracks.

We toured a building which was the prison within a prison. Individual cells with perhaps a toilet, maybe not, and heavy wooden door with wrought iron bars. I couldn’t decide if it was better or worse than the chaos of the general barracks, but I imagine the lack of nourishment and the addition of regular beatings and other abuses probably swayed things to being worse, if that’s even imaginable.

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Haunted by how those bars may been bent.

It was a heavy day but, just like the large groups of German children who were there as a required component of their curriculum, it felt compulsory to me. If you’re in that area, I recommend a guided tour (minimal cost) and a walk around the small city of Dachau, if you can manage it. We didn’t have time but I would have been interested to see some of the city. It would have been nice to get a different definition for a quaintly pretty city that has been synonymous with death for decades.

 

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Telling stories – Adam Gidwitz

Last week, author Adam Gidwitz visited my school and spent the day doing presentations and hanging out with kids, and it was incredible. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but last year’s The Inquisitor’s Tale was one of my favorite recent reads. It’s a book that is difficult to sort into a definitive genre, but it has historic fiction, fantasy and adventure elements that combine beautifully into a wonderful story told in multiple voices a la The Canterbury Tales. Except that, unlike my high school experience suffering through Chaucer, this book was a joy from start to finish.

Adam did three separate presentations for my students and each was slightly tweaked to meet the population, in this case, our school’s grades of sixth, seventh and eighth. I was totally impressed with his comfort level with our students and his genuine interest in them. For instance, as students were filing in to the auditorium he made a point of introducing himself to those already seated with an easy “Hi, I’m Adam. What’s your name?” His past career as “the worst teacher in NYC,”* was proven impossible to believe. He gets kids.

We had lunch as a group of about 25 and it was relaxed and fun. I know the kids who were present won’t ever forget the experience. It was so cool. The last presentation was with our sixth graders and it was magic to see him wrangle that group of pre-pubescent kids, on the last Friday afternoon of the school year, with just four words: Once upon a time…

Read his books and see him speak, if you have the chance. There’s a possibility that he might pop up in the area next year and I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything.

*laughingly self-defined as such

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Valentine’s Day massacre – sponsored by the NRA

mw_template_2017Last night’s run took me along a route I don’t often get to experience on foot. I had plans to meet a friend down at Nine-Pin for Fin’s pop up, (and knew that stretching my legs before my upcoming flight would be beneficial), so I decided a downhill run to the Warehouse District would check all the boxes. The weather, while damp, was refreshingly mild when I set off and my route to Broadway evolved as I made my way to the reward of a ginger cider and lobster mac and cheese.

I took State Street down to Washington Avenue, admiring the architecture and feeling appreciative to live in a city that is filled with beautiful buildings and parks. My mood was good and my body felt strong. I was happy until I noticed the flags flying at half-mast on numerous buildings. I mentally paused to consider what the occasion might be for the flags to have been lowered, quickly concluding that it must be an acknowledgement of the latest school massacre. I wonder whose job that is, to raise and lower flags each time American students are murdered in their classrooms. I expect that their arms must be pretty damn tired.

This morning, as I got ready to leave my house for work, the list of names of the most recent victims were read on the radio and I was compelled to stop what I was doing to listen. Their ages gutted me – many were just 14 or 15 years old. What was your biggest worry when you were that age? Zits? Making your school’s sports team or landing a role in the spring musical? Maybe an upcoming test or project? I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t concern over whether a classmate armed with a semi-automatic weapon would be shooting up your school that day.

Why are our elected officials ok with students being murdered while at school? I mean, they must find it acceptable, right? They continue to accept money from gun proponents and refuse to consider legislation that might prevent these sort of things from happening again and again and again. Doesn’t that make them complicit? I’ll answer that myself – Yes, our government is responsible for creating a situation in which civilians can purchase and possess firearms which can be used to perpetrate crimes like what we’ve witnessed time and time again in our country. They should held accountable in every way possible – sue them, vote them out, spread the word about how people like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are beholden to the NRA.

Our children are not replaceable but every single one of these f*ckers who choose dollars over public safety are disposable. Let’s stop memorializing teenagers with stars and stripes and start ensuring that children who go to school in the morning return home in the afternoon on a bus and not in a body bag.

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Have you ever imagined what it might be like to wake up the day after your 6-year-old was massacred?

I have. If I’m being completely honest, far more times than I’d like to acknowledge. If you’re a parent, I think you probably have, too. How could any human being not place themselves in the shoes of the 26 families who lost a child 5 years ago in an elementary school in a pretty little town in Connecticut?

That day is like 9/11 to me, etched on my heart and absolutely unforgettable. Maybe it’s the same for you?

I had indulged two of my three boys with a midweek (personal day) overnight stay at an indoor water park. My oldest son declined to come because he didn’t want to miss school, something I didn’t endorse lightly at that time. I’ve become more lenient about it since.

I remember it being late morning when I first became aware of the situation occurring in Newtown, CT. Reclined in a chaise lounge under a roof built mostly from glass, I checked my Twitter feed and saw news of a shooting at an elementary school. There was an image of children being led in a line outside of a brick building, a second shooter was being sought, and emergency vehicles looked to be everywhere. It was chaos and horror. I swear the sky clouded over and became gray. I wanted to go home.

As we packed up our bags, I monitored the situation on my phone. I looked at my own child, approximately a year older than most of the victims as it turned out, and imagined sending him to school and never seeing him alive again. On our drive south, I stopped at an unfamiliar branch of my bank to take care of something. As I stood in line for service, tears rolled down my face with quiet abandon. The other people in the bank had conversations in normal volume voices, certainly unaware of what had transpired, I imagined. I couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly continue to speak on a day in which primary school students and their teachers had been shot to death in their classrooms. What words could be said that had any meaning?

Every single day since then has been a new opportunity for our country to honor those lives lost. We can do better. We have to do better. No one should ever have to wake up a day after their child was massacred in their classroom.

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Vote No

I’m done with apologizing for my eventual pension and benefits. I fulfilled the educational requirements for a professional career, received a state license, and have worked more than two decades in public education to provide students with necessary intellectual and practical skills.

It’s been a privilege to get to know so many young people and quite frankly they, along with my colleagues, are the best part of my job. Despite what your impression may be, it isn’t always easy to be an educator. The hoops we’ve been forced to jump through in terms of testing and professional evaluations have stolen hours upon hours of time that could be better spent teaching and providing our students with opportunities for growth and individual attention. Bureaucracy has always been, to me, the Achilles heel of education.

In less than ten years I will retire and receive a pension and yes, Fred LeBrun, you can call it generous. I’m really sorry that you, Mr. LeBrun, work for a company that doesn’t do the right thing for their own employees, but I don’t believe that means I don’t deserve to have a good quality of life in my later years. In fact, I think it’s really unfortunate that every person in our incredibly wealthy country can’t look forward to having the same.

It seems to me that our collective efforts would be better spent working together to provide all Americans with an existence that allows for a stable life rather than attempting to eliminate teacher pensions through an opening of the New York State Constitution. We need to stop accepting the ever-widening wage disparity in our country and come together to demand health care and retirement benefits for all citizens. We’ve earned it.

Vote on November 7th – and don’t forget to address both the front and the back of the ballot.

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