Tuesday, December 30, 2008

'Twas a Few Days After Christmas...

... and all through the blog, not a creature was stirring, not even a... um... Yeah, it's quiet here. We're holidaying (a verb? it is now) on the Eastern Seaboard (why doesn't anyone ever talk about the Western Seaboard?)—Virginia, New York, Maryland. De-lovely, non? Foolish bloggy shenanigans will resume shortly. Until then...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Code Talkers

As parents, we're often compelled to communicate in code, preserving the wee ones' blissful ignorance of adult complexities and concerns. When the kids were younger, we could just spell, but Louise's blossoming literacy has put an end to that. My grandmother used to gossip in French, but sadly, my French is very bad, so our secret communiques would be limited to stunted observations about croissants and hats. So what are we left with? Baroque obfuscation.

Example: The kids were hungry and cranky, we were sick, the fridge was empty. We negotiated possible solutions in code talk:
"What about 'Joyous Meals from the Donald of Scotland'?"
Which is to say: McDonald's Happy Meals.

Fellow parents, what code solutions do you use?*

* A couple of teachers I used to work with texted each other anything they didn't want the students to overhear.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Softly Softly Catchee Squirrely

Penny likes to chase squirrels. I get it. It's a dog thing. Leash laws, though, generally prevent her from "pursuing" this hobby. But this morning in the park, I saw a lady with her dog on a leash, and together they were sneaking up on an unsuspecting squirrel. (I didn't stick around to see the outcome.)

Here's what I want to know: What happens if they actually catch it? Has she thought this through? Do they divvy up the squirrel? Fifty-fifty? Sixty-forty? Who gets the head? So many questions.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I'm pretty sure this one is meant to be the punchline to a joke, but I have no idea what the joke should be, so here's where you come in: make one up. "[YOUR JOKE-SETUP HERE]. And then the monkey says, 'or I'll be a monkey's uncle.'" Abundant, uproarious laughter. It'll be beautiful. (And can somebody explain to me why the monkey looks so sad? No, sad monkey, no. Laugh, monkey, laugh!)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Quarterback Problem

I particularly liked this article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell. It describes the quarterback problem, how predicting which college quarterbacks will succeed in the pros is nearly impossible. Some of the best college quarterbacks flop while other seemingly less promising players thrive. Performance in the college game is only a modest indicator of how a player will perform in the NFL with it's very different and more extreme set of challenges. And I.Q. tests and other commonly used predictors are largely useless:
"This is the quarterback problem. There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired."
In other words, the only reliable way to figure out how a quarterback will play in the NFL is to put him in the NFL and see how he plays.

And, Gladwell argues, teaching suffers from the same dilemma. Training, certification, and other requirements typically mandated of teachers turn out to be essentially useless in predicting a teacher's success.

Again, it's the same basic problem: the set of challenges presented by a classroom are so unique and the set of skills needed to successfully manage them is so specific that no test—other than putting someone in a classroom and seeing what happens—can accurately identify who will be a successful teacher. (I've certainly witnessed first-hand exactly how teaching can go wrong and how, despite my good intentions and promising list of skills, I got brutally sacked—metaphorically, that is—by a bunch of twelve-year-olds.)*

Curious, curious.

* The implication, Gladwell continues, is that teaching should shift to an apprenticeship system in which anyone with a college degree can start teaching and is subsequently judged based on actual performance in the classroom, not on external, largely arbitrary criteria.

Scattered Locust-Showers

Last week, it was snowing. Now it's opaquely foggy, and the highs will be pushing eighty. What's next, scattered locust-showers? Hail-of-frogs? (Mmm, hail-of-frogs—them's good eatin'.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Time for another round of our favorite game, "Gimme a Backstory!" Same question(s) as always: What's his name / deal?

Easy Peasy

Yeah, I'm not sure why his ears are so big. It's gestural, baby, gestural. ("Gestural"—sounds weird. Is it really a word? The Google says "yes". But still—sounds weird: gestural, gestural, gestural...)

I remember, when I lived in England as a boy, going over to a friend's house after school. His father was sitting in a great recliner in the shag-carpeted living room eating dinner-or-supper-or-tea-or-some-such in front of the TV. The meal consisted of a rather charmless looking piece of meat and some rather over-boiled looking peas. (Most of my encounters with British cuisine were less than dazzling, though there were exceptions.) What was notable about the spectacle was the way he ate his peas. I watched with great curiosity/confusion as he methodically smashed them against the flat of his knife with his fork, then slid the pea-mash down his gullet.*

Huh. Is that a thing? Is it a British thing? Is it a British-dad-who-eat-dinner-or-some-such-in-front-of-the-TV-in-his-shag-carpeted-living-room thing? Or was he just a rogue pea-masher, carrying on his lone pursuit in plushly carpeted solitude?

Far flung Slimbologists, bring me data points!

* Perhaps we should start a series, Idiosyncratic Eating Habits of the Not Particularly Rich or Famous.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A New Orleans snowman (seen on the Napoleon neutral ground): grimy and hilarious with a tropical flair. Seems about right.

It snowed today. Snowed! Snowed! (The last time it snowed here was Christmas Day, 2004, when Louise was three and June was a baby. And the last time before that was... I don't know when.) The girls were ecstatic. It continued through the morning, accumulating to a good inch or so, before turning to rain and dissolving away in the afternoon.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Les Brusiers: Thursday, Circle Bar; Friday, Hi-Ho

So just clear your week's calendar and scrawl a big, sloppy "BRUISERS" across the latter half of it.
Thursday night: Bruiser party at the Circle Bar.

Friday day: Gently nurse your hangover.

Friday night: Do it all over again.

Saturday: Ponder where your life went wrong and how you wound up in this blurry nightlife-ain't-no-good-life-but-it's-my-life predicament. But don't ponder too hard, because you'll be really stupid and probably won't arrive at any particularly useful insights.
All shows (to the best of my knowledge) occur in the theoretical "Show starts at 10pm" timespace. Details beyond that are left to the fates.

See you there. Whooh!

Monday, December 08, 2008

As I took a lazy Saturday bike ride, great clouds of birds swarmed overhead, merging, splitting, and merging again according to their mysterious ornithological group-think. Mesmerizing. (Also a teeny bit terrifying. If those beasts set their birdy mono-mind to it, they could launch a serious Hitchcock-esque peck-attack. Or—less terrifying but more plausible—a truly devastating Mel-Brooks-spoofing-Hitchcock-esque poop-attack.)

Saturday, December 06, 2008


A blimp has been floating over the city for the past few days. It's quite beautiful, drifting lazily in the cross-breezes, glowing luminously at night.* It's also an ad for DirectTV with a giant screen flashing looping promotional messages.

Are we living in Blade Runner yet?

* The girls love it: they call it "Blimpy" and carefully track its progress through the sky.

La Famille Brusier, Saturn Bar, Tonight!*

We go on at 10-ish sharp-ish. Then stick around for the "XXX-Mas with the King XXX-travaganza": Clockwork Elvis with Reverend Spooky LeStrange and her Billion Dollar Baby Dolls Burlesque.**

As usual, all hell will break loose.

* I must be the worst self-promoter ever—I've got to start announcing these things more than a few hours before show time. [Repeatedly smacking self on forehead.]

** Not actually XXX-rated, but don't tell the tourists.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Yakamein, (alternately: yaka mein, ya-ka-mein, yock-o-mein...) my new favorite food fetish—pork, shrimp, spaghetti noodles, scallions, and a whole boiled egg suspended in salty broth—from the pink Man Chu on Broad. (Read Sara Roahen's Gumbo Tales for a lovely and detailed exposition of the dish.)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Shocking, Really

I have a situation:
The Catalysts:
  1. I bought a new pair of shoes (lovely old-school gray and black checkered Vans, purchased on-the-cheap from the neighborhood thrifty-hipster retail outlet). I'm greatly enamored of them and have been wearing them close-to-constantly.
  2. In my new part-time house-hubby incarnation, I'm now doing a lot more grocery shopping.
The Consequence:

For whatever reason, the particular combination of fresh Vans, shopping cart, and linoleum floor generates an exceptional amount of static electricity, such that I repeatedly get the bejeesus shocked out of me when I reach for desired items on the grocery shelves.*

The Looming Crisis:

I do my best to persevere (bravely muffling yelps of surprise and pain), but if the situation continues unabated, I will undoubtedly develop a deep and irrational fear of canned goods and other domestic wares, causing me to withdraw from the world and live out my days in a boy-in-the-bubble-esque hermit-tent handwoven from anti-static dryer sheets.
Help! What's a half-hipster house-hubby to do?

* The girls find the whole thing very amusing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Feet 'n' flowers. Taken a few days back, before a (comparative) cold snap made bare feet impractical.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Very freaked out mouse, held by tail. ("I've got a mouse by the tail, it's plain to see....") Delilah cornered this little critter in our upstairs hallway last night. The heartless farm boy in me was inclined to let nature take its course, but when the girls discovered the scene and began screaming in horror, I intervened, snatching it up and releasing it to the comparative safety of our front yard (though not before taking this commemorative photograph). In these times of economic crisis, it's nice to know I can catch a rodent with my bare hands. At least we won't go hungry (not around here, anyway).

"I Got B.O."*

Who wants to hear a Cajun story? Ooh, ooh, I do! (Cajuns—they're so funny.)

It was many decades ago.** My uncle was working for the census, conducting door-to-door polling in rural Louisiana. He knocked on the door of a house. An old Cajun lady answered. He began his series of questions.

"Can you tell my your name?"

"I got B.O."

"Well, um… I'm sorry to hear that. But I really just need to know your name."

"I got B.O."

"Yes, I see… Well, that's not on my questionnaire, so if you could just tell me your name."

"That is my name—Agathe Billiot."***

The light bulb flickered on, and all became clear. Cross-linguistic homonym-ilarious—whooh!

* No, not me personally, though I have been known to get a little musty from time to time.

** This was many years before my existence, and all particulars beyond the core story are embellishments of my own imagination. But then all Cajun stories should have a liberal dose of imaginative embellishment. (Is like de cayenne spicing up da crawfish of de narrative.)

*** For the non-Franco-phonic amongst you, allow me to explain: "Agathe" (the French analog of "Agatha") is pronounced something like "Ah-got", and "Billiot" is rendered something like "Bee-yo", so when you say it all together it sounds a whole like "I got B.O.", particularly when filtered through a thick Cajun accent. (Ain't no funny like a funny that requires lengthy expository footnotes.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

The gals and I went to the swamp this morning. (Sarah slept in, and deservedly so. For yesterday's culinary bonanza, she'd cooked ten distinct dishes, a number all the more dazzling considering we only had five people at the table, two of whom were children and one of whom had just come from a previous feast.) It was gray, drizzly, and very very quiet. All in all, rather lovely.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thought bubble contents courtesy of Sarah—a sort of domestic Cartoon Caption Contest, if you will. (They can steal my ideas, I can steal theirs.) Happy holidays. Gobble gobble.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What?!-ermelon Sandwiches

Have you ever heard of a watermelon sandwich? Me neither, until the other day when I met a lady who claimed to be quite fond of them—just bread, watermelon, and a pinch of salt. That's even weirder than my mom's banana-and-mayonnaise sandwiches.

What weird sandwiches have you encountered?*

* Sandwiches seem to be one of those open-ended food formats where culinary idiosyncrasies and embellishments can really flourish.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I barely cracked my sketchbook for three months. Now, to honor the return of doodling, let's have a series of random doodle-posts. First up, Ms. Patterns-'n'-Stripes-'n'-Clunky-Shoes.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Give It Back

The New Yorker stole my joke (twice). My joke. Mine. Give it back, Mr. New Yorker Man. (I'm emotionally traumatized and spoiling for a fight.)*

* It's not the first time a major entertainment outlet has poached on my humor-territory. For years I joked about a new product concept: thong diapers. Then I saw a mock-commercial for exactly such a product on Saturday Night Live. They're in my head!

Bathing, whistling.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Adios, Mr. O (At Least For Now)

I spent a ridiculously long time trying to compose this post. I crafted lengthy post-mortems and detailed analyses. But I think I'll keep it simple.*

I'm not teaching anymore.

I expected teaching to be really really hard, but I also expected it to go well. It didn't. I could list a thousand reasons: I was grossly undertrained, the kids were wild, I was too nice... But as time passed, it became clear: it just wasn't working.

And so, I find myself back in the civilian world** battered, bruised, and exhausted. I'm deeply disappointed—I had great hopes. And I confess, I'm also relieved. Teaching is extremely hard even when it's going well. When it's going badly, it's miserable.

My brief time in the schools has left an indelible impression. I already miss those crazy kids, even if they ran me ragged. And I may return to teaching. I don't know. (I'm postponing any long-term career decisions until after the PTSD tremors subside.) I regret that it didn't work out, but I don't regret trying.

Life is a funny business. At least I'll have more time for blogging.

* Perhaps I'll wax analytical at a later date.

** My interim post-Mister-O incarnation: part-time computer geek (it's a sad statement about our national priorities that part-time geekery pays the same as way-more-than-full-time fingers-to-the-bone teachery), part-time Mr. Mom (during the brutal hours of trying to teach other people's kids, I didn't see nearly enough of my own), and part-time head-scratcher, trying to figure out what's next after this unforeseen turn of events (and of course, part-time dilettante aesthete, gleefully plunging back into all of my woefully neglected hobbies).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Play With Your Food

Sarah was out of town over the weekend, and Sunday morning, as a surprise, the girls made me breakfast in bed. The menu consisted of bread with peanut butter, two chocolate chips, and two cornichons—an eclectic assemblage of ingredients, no doubt, but well chosen if one's primary ambition is to make papa's breakfast look like a smiley face:

The bread with peanut butter is supposed to be hair, just in case that wasn't clear.

All in all, quite tasty (though the cornichons juice ran into the chocolate chips and gave them a slight vinegary tinge).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It turned clear and cool today, good cooking weather. (Chicken and sausage gumbo, early stages.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Up in the Air

After the storm, many homeowners decided to jack up their houses, maybe five or six feet, high enough to avoid (God help us) future flooding. But a neighbor down the street has decided to take the practice (quite literally) to another level:

Holy bejeezus! What is that, fifteen... sixteen feet? (For a sense of scale, compare it to the stop sign on the corner.) Remarkable. What are they planning for? "Let all the ice caps melt! Bring on the hurricanes—two, three, four at a time! I'll be high and dry in my dainty* bungalow in the sky. Mwah, ha, ha!"

It takes all sorts.

* It's not a big house, and it's epic elevation is all the more jarring in contrast to its otherwise modest dimensions.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Halloween 2008

The sugar-frenzied evening as captured in pictures:

Angel and Cleopatra

Padmé, Mary, Cleopatra

On the hunt

Sorting through the loot

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Better late than never: June with magnolia flower, Virginia, early summer.

Return of the Slang Sling: Sweaty, Stinky Edition

Often in the past, I've used this blog to indulge my inner-armchair-linguist, focusing in particular on the vernacular underbelly of our glorious ever-percolating mother tongue. Well, my new Mr.-O-incarnation gives me up close access to a particularly rich microcosm of slang. So let's revive our Slang Sling series. First up, "musty":
sweaty (and possibly also stinky)
I love how this very specific vernacular usage orbits around the standard version (Webster's offers us, "smelling of damp and decay"). And middle-schoolers, obsessed as they are with the newly emergent demands of personal hygiene, spend a great deal of time discussing the mustiness of their neighbors and acquaintances. In particular, my girls' classes* like to complain that my room is "musty" after it's been occupied by a boys' class. (As it undeniably is. Many of my early-middle-school gentlemen have yet to master the finer points of deodorant usage.)

* Did I mention that our middle-school classes are gender-segregated, a nouveau-retro trend in urban education. At one time, I would have been highly suspicious of such an initiative, but now I find I quite like it. It eliminates a layer of hormone-frenzied complications from the classroom dynamic and allows the boys and girls to operate in their very distinct styles. (Are gender differences ever more acute than during middle-school?)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

La Famille Brusier, Friday, Circle Bar

Make it so.

The Week That Was: Mein Gott!

  • The weekend: A blur of end-of-quarter paperwork: exams, quizzes, folders, spreadsheets, percentages, miles and miles of red ink.
  • Monday: Our new schedule went into effect: classes shifted and split, a whole new routine, a new homeroom, new names and personalities to learn (who knows what, who doesn't know what, who can sit by whom, who can't sit by anyone...).
  • Tuesday and Wednesday: I was stricken by a particularly virulent stomach flu and remained home, laid up for two days (the misfortunes of my ailment blended with ongoing end-of-quarter logistics to form a particularly unenchanting blend of nausea and drudgery.
  • Thursday: Returned to work, groggy and out of the loop. The kids ask me a million-and-one questions for which I had no answer. It's a weird short day, the kids are dismissed at one, and report card conferences are held from 2 to 6.
  • Report card conferences: it was an open-appointment format—the parents arrived in dribbles and drabbles, sometimes with the kid, sometimes without, to pick up the report card. After my rag-tag week, it felt remarkably professional and real. My grades were reasonable and fair. The conferences went well. Whew! Six o'clock rolls around and it's officially behind me.
  • Friday: It was another curious short (make-up for Gustav*) day. The classes were more casual than usual. We played the radio.** I dazzled the 6th-grade boys with my drawing chops. In the afternoon, we went on a field trip to City Park. (We hoofed it there, a distance, as I'd explained during our measurement discussions, a distance of approximately one kilometer.*** It was lovely.
* Other places have snow days. We have hurricane days. And sometimes, like snow days, they have to be made up during the school year.

** I've had to introduce a "No Popping" rule for my class—no straight up booty-shaking. My fifth- and sixth-grade girls will sit in groups and bop along doing math problems. But certain songs make them want to get up and start shaking it, and, in all earnestness, I have to decry, "No popping!" They understand and don't argue. (There's a time and a place.)

*** As a benchmark for a mile, I tell them "from the school, down Esplanade, to the I-10–you know, by the purple Man Chu...". (The Man Chus are a pair of ghetto-Chinese take-out joints near-ish to our school–the pink one on Broad, and the aforementioned purple one on Claiborne by the highway.****)

**** (Footnotes within footnotes. (Parentheticals within parentheticals.)) I've bonded with the students over the fact that my dad grew up in the radically-dilapidated-but-formerly-honorable old Creole townhouse next door to the purple Man Chu.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Better late than never: Jason, front porch, summer

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Through the eyes of a child—a portrait of yours truly by one of my fifth-graders. I love it. (I particularly love the careful attention given to the mole on my left cheek.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

1/4, 0.25, 25% of the Way There

Well, we're wrapping up the first quarter of the school year (I just gave my quarterly exams today), and to date, I've successfully managed to make just about every rookie mistake there is (too nice, too inconsistent, too overwhelmed by the dizzying array of kids and complexities and problems and craziness and procedures and all the bijillion things you're somehow supposed to know how to deal with and do with next-to-no training). But for what it's worth, I'm usually pretty good at learning from my mistakes, and I'm starting to feel like I'm at least getting a bit-of-a-sort-of-a-clue of how to make this whole complicated thing work.

I've never done anything so hard in my life. I get up at four in the morning to prepare for the day.* In the evening, not long after I get my own kids to bed, I zonk out, too stupid and tired to do or say much of anything else. Some days are okay. Some are just simply miserable. (Here and there, a few are rather lovely.)

But as hard as it's been, and as much as, sometimes, it's just completely sucked, I love the work and I love the kids. (They're so so funny.) And I'm very much looking forward to starting the next quarter, getting some things right that I got wrong the first time around, hitting a bit more of a stride, getting into something like a groove, and incrementally increasing the good-to-crappy-day ratio.**

Onward and upward.***

* Farmer's hours. That must be a genetic legacy of my Virginia farm-stock heritage.

** Also, due to various logistical shenanigans, my teaching schedule will significantly improve. I'll switch from teaching three grade levels (tough for any teacher, really tough for a rookie) to just two: fifth and sixth. And my rowdiest class is being split in half, going from nearly thirty wild sixth graders to two classes of much more manageable proportions.

*** This phrase has ended quite a few of my recent posts. I happened to notice the other day that it also concluded the very first Slimbolala post ever. I think I'll stick with it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Better Late Than Never—The gals and their wigwam, Virginia, early summer, constructed under the guidance of yours truly. They spent many happy ours of their vacation crouched in it, having adorable little tea parties.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Better Late Than Never—Mary, Studio in the Country, July

Better Late Than Never—Louise and June, Poplar Branch Farm, Virginia, early summer.

The second installment in our Better Late Than Never photo series—Jason and (a small fraction of) his albums (the morning we headed out to Studio in the Country).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sock Hoppin'

So we've got the random and untimely photos covered. How 'bout some random and sort-of-timely-ish snippets from school-land. (The great tragedy is that my days are supremely full of the panoply of life in all its forms, good and ugly, but it all flies by so fast, I barely have time to notice, much less transform it into wry, pithy little posts. But as I promised, I'll do better.)

One of the recent highlights was last Friday night's "sock hop" which I chaperoned. It was simultaneously adorable, awkward, hilarious, and outrageous:
Adorable: Seeing the students all dressed up in their fanciest finest, trying on their turning-into-adults personas, was so very sweet.

Awkward: I forgot how awkward kids can be at that age. It took them forever to get dancing. Finally the girls cut loose (dancing with each other, of course). The boys never got past a couple of half-hearted foot shuffles. (This includes some of the same boys who can't stop wiggling and dancing during the day while I'm trying to teach them math.)

Can you guess what the favorite concession was? Pickles. Dished out of a massive plastic five-gallon bucket.*

Outrageous: In many regards, it reminded me of the adorable, awkward, hilarious middle-school dances I attended in my own youth. But there was one notable difference. They most certainly did not booty-shake like that at my school—four-foot-tall ten-year-olds doing staggering, physics-defying oscillations. Mon dieu!
Whoop, there it is.

* Did I tell you about the day all my fifth-grade girls came in from recess with wet compresses on their eyes because of of some pickle-juice-explosion salt-and-vinegar-in-the-eyes incident on the schoolyard?

Christian, Vivienne, and June—Perdido Bay—Gustav evacuation. (The picture isn't particularly fuzzy, but it's undeniably belated. I have oodles more that I never got around to posting. Maybe I'll start a "Better Late Than Never" photo series.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Bee-Syndrome Continues

"Busy like a...", that is. Apologies for the utterly dismal posting rate recently. The immersive nature of this newbie-teacher-gig makes my head whirl and swirl, and often I just don't find the room in my brain (or the time in the day) to string a coherent set of words together and post it here.

But I promise to do better. Perhaps a few incoherent snippets. Or some motley postings of random photos. Something. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Others! Like Me!

My student was fussing at me because I wouldn't let her drink juice in class. "I'm mad at you," she said. "You wouldn't let me drink my pickle juice."*

Pickle juice, did you say?

I thought I was alone, a solitary pickle juice drinker** in a salty vinegary wilderness. But there's another. And maybe more...

I polled the class and, much to my surprise and delight (and amusement), found that over half of the fifth-grade girls identify themselves as pickle juice drinkers. ("Pickle juice is goo-ood!") Over half. Two thirds, even (which is to say: four sixths, six ninths, 66.66%, four-hundred and fifty-four six-hundred and eighty-oneths, 0.6666666666...). I never imagined my transition to teaching would be a straight trip to Pickle Land.

I've finally found my people.

* Though I'm quite fond of a good p.j. swig myself, I marvel at the extremity of actually packing a container of it, bringing it to school, and surreptitiously slurping it during class.

** I like olive juice too. Any other olive juice drinkers out there?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Like a Bee

...busy, that is.

Monday night I had my first (and I'd like to think my last) full blown what-the-hell-was-I-thinking-trying-to-be-a-teacher-that-was-a-terrible-idea melt down. But then Tuesday morning I said, To hell with that, and the rest of the week has been going just about as well as I could expect, all things considered. (And there are many things to consider.)

Bit by bit I'm getting it. And I'm still completely (100%, 1/1, 1.0) loving it.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Ten Years

As of today, the Lady and I have been married for ten years. (In a week, we will have been together for eighteen years—half our lives.) Gustav derailed our more elaborate anniversary plans,* but we managed pawn the kids off on friends for a few hours and make it to Galatoire's for a lovely (and immensely entertaining) Friday lunch. Good food. Great people watching. And the company was perfect.

* Not the first time our anniversary has been derailed by a hurricane. (And the wedding itself almost suffered the same fate.) Annou warned us against getting married during hurricane season. We didn't listen.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Home Again, Home Again...

Well, the return trip only took a slow-jogging six hours as opposed to outbound's miserable sluggish ten. The house smells a bit funky but is otherwise intact. The city is still half-populated. Plenty of branches and power lines are down, plenty of streetlights out (and the Natty Guard is back), but all-in-all, the city looks pretty normal-ish. (Not that it looked particularly normal before .)


Au revoir, Alabama. It's been nice, but we're happy to be heading home. Hopefully, the return trip won't take ten hours.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Well, we dodged a big old ugly mess. Our pleasant Alabama exile continues for another day or two, until the city reopens and the re-vacuation wackiness sorts itself out.

School is closed for the whole week—plenty of time to catch up on sleep and plan lessons. De-lovely.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

(Driving at a) Walking (Pace) from New Orleans*

We are safely ensconced in Alabama. The normally-three-and-a-half-hour drive took ten, but we're here. (And that 2 a.m. gin & tonic was mighty good.)

* Awkwardly sung to the tune of "Walking to New Orleans", Fats Domino.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The (Rather Un)Usual Drill

We'd been planning to visit friends in Alabama for the long weekend anyway. Now—thanks to Gustav—we're more elaborately planning for a somewhat longer weekend in Alabama.* The drill has begun: Move everything inside. Move everything upstairs. Batten down the hatches. Pack up the kids, pets, and valuable documents. Cram them all into the overstuffed clown car. (Park the other car on high ground.) And sometime today/tonight, away we go.

* Personal opinion (not technically a fact): It's going to slowly tick west and New Orleans will get little more than a blustery day. (I'll bet a twenty on it.) But you gotta do what you gotta do.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Three Years

Well, it's three years ago today that Katrina hit. And of course, Gustav is weighing on our mind. The kids are jumpy. A perhaps slightly too poignant anniversary. But we'll manage.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I thought the second week was supposed to be easier than the first. Not the case. The kids were definitely putting their best foot forward last week. This week they're pushing every limit they can find. (Today I had to physically place myself between two very angry seventh grade girls to stop a fight.) Whew!

Onward and upward.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Day That Was

Just when I think I'm getting the hang of it, along comes a day like today when nothing works quite right, the kids seem riled, and it all just goes kind of off (in an abrasive, noisy, tumultuous way).

Maybe it was them. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was the broken AC. Probably all three.

Thank g00dness tomorrow is a new day. Onward and upward.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Week That Was

Week 1—check. Whew2! (Math joke.) More happened than I'll ever have time to tell, but touch on the high points:
  • Teaching is exhausting.
  • I love it.
  • Middle schoolers are extremely hilarious and extremely insane, with so many different nuances of insane: 5th-grader insane, 6th-grader insane, emotional-7th-grade-girl insane. (I've discovered that I need to keep a box of tissues in my classroom.)
  • Monday and Tuesday were a blur: (Approximately) a bijillion kids came and went from my classroom. I said a bunch of things in some semi-planned order, some of them relating to math.
  • Wednesday, I was just starting to think "I'm getting the hang of this," when my 6th-graders hopped on the Fast Train to Hell in a Handbasket. I managed to divert course, and we pulled up just this side Heck in a Handcart, but I had peered over the Brink and seen the Abyss. I decided I never wanted to go there.
  • Wednesday night I got some notions.
  • Thursday, I started The New Regime. The New Regime consisted of several key changes:
    • I instituted a theater-in-the-round seating arrangement:

      a rectangle of desks, with one missing from the corner, all facing towards my desk and wheelie-chair in the center. This arrangement has several advantages:
      1. The students are arranged linearly, only capable of directly interacting with the student immediately to the left or right, avoiding complex networks of interaction that can quickly grow tangled (as I saw the day before).
      2. I have immediate access to every student, whisking my Chair of Wisdom and Instruction over to their desk to provide guidance or a dash of proximity control.
      3. I can see and everyone, all the time. And they can see me see them.
      4. It can do fun things like People Math (patent pending), treating the students like a human numberline.
      5. On my desk in the center, I have immediate access to my lesson plan, any materials needed, and coffee-sweet-coffee! (I once made a point to the sixth-graders that I could sit there and drink coffee there in front of them but they lost 10 Thunderbucks if they did the same, because I was the Teacher. They vigorously protested (though before this point, they had never objected to my coffee.) "That's not fair, Mr. Olivia!" I pretended to sheepishly acquiesce, "Okay. If it really bothers you...," sadly shuffling my feet to put it away. They called me back. "Naw, Mr. Olive-ear, We just playin' with you. You can have your coffee. You're the teacher." "Ohhh...kay, thank you."
    • I instructed them to place their Timecards (their weekly points and demerits tally they carry with them) on the desk, facing me. This allowed me to instantly deduct points without interrupting my conversation (though usually the threat of deductions sufficed).
    • I created and instructed them in a set of hand signals. They are as follows:
      1. Points warning: I flash a hand (or two, or ten) at them, showing the number of "Thunderbucks" (our mascot is the Thunderbird) I will deduct if they don't quit acting up. (I got the idea from James Brown who, so I was told, would flash a signal at his band members when they frakked up, letting them know how much of their pay he was docking) It's delightfully effective.
      2. Volume control: I raise or lower my hands indicating where I want the class volume to be. If I gesture emphatically down with my palms, it means, Silence.
      3. Answer-in-Unison/Raise-Your-Hand: While asking a question, I either gesture my right hand around in a circle, meaning, "Everybody answer," or I hold it raised, meaning, "This is a raise-your-hand question."
  • I invented a game called Bing! (at five-thirty Thursday morning as I sat on my balcony in the dark drinking cold-coffee-brewed-the-night-before, thinking, "What the hell am I going to do with these kids today?") It's loosely modeled on the drinking game Bizz Buzz (which I recently learned from another teacher friend). Each student was assigned a number, one through twenty-whatever, around the room. In the first round of Bing!, I instructed the students to go around counting off their numbers, exept all the evens had so say "Bing!" instead of their number. "One." "Bing!" "Three." "Bing!" "Five." "Bing...!" Good fun. In subsequent rounds, only odds Bing!-ed then multiples of three, multiples of seven, primes, etc.
  • The students love to be assigned tasks—they fight permission to erase the whiteboard or pick up papers. (I've developed a new technique to avoid arguments over who gets picked, The Chair of Chance. I sit in my wheelie chair, pointing my arm straight out, and spin. When the stops, whoever I'm pointing at, or closest to, is chosen. And if necessary, I can game the system with a subtle toe-drag to deliberately pick who I want while maintaining the appearance of randomness.)
  • I received a couple of lovely and delightful gifts for the classroom. Thank you, kind donors. (You know who you are.)
  • Many middle schoolers lack adequate verbal filters. I've been asked the following questions this week:
    • "You been outside? because you look kind of hot. You sweatin'."
    • "Why you sweat so much?"
    • "Mr. Oli-vee-er, you grease your hair?"
  • And one final note: Did you ever wonder what teachers do when the kids aren't around? Now I know the trade secrets. They do this:

    Taken some point last Sunday, after we'd just moved around several dozen extremely heavy work tables in preparation for the first day. (Favorite detail: the bicycle helmet.)
    Long entry. Tired. Onward and upward.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

La Famille Brusier: Circle Bar, 8-10pm

Just because my head is spinning—and I sometimes forget what day it is—doesn't mean that I can't rock out. (In fact, it might help.) I do know that tonight is Fortnightly Fun, and I plan to have a good time. (I require catharsis. Lots and lots of catharsis.)

See you there. Whooh!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Whew! (Again)

I survived Day 2. There were some undeniable flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants moments (when my lesson plan that successfully filled eighty minutes for two of my classes only took about half-an-hour for the third class and I suddenly found myself having to wing it for a huge chunk of time), but I managed to maintain a convincing-ish front of acting like I knew what I was doing, and all went reasonably well.

Another notch. A couple hundred-ish more to go, and I will have survived Year 1. Onward and upward.

Monday, August 18, 2008


I survived Day 1. I'd even go so far as to say that it went pretty well—no fights, no catastrophes, no full-blown pandemonium. We even managed to stay (roughly) on task and (sort of) learn something.

Middle schoolers are a trip, like popcorn kernels. They can't sit still. While one end of the room is focused on a question, the other is devolving into a minor riot. While one student is answering a question, a dozen others are bouncing out of their seats, arms straining for the ceiling, overwhelmed with urgency to say their piece. It requires constant vigilance, keeping the class from erupting into giddy thunderous chatter. But I love them. They're so fun and lively and frank and interested. (Though some had warned me against the age, I decided to follow my gut–those are the kids for me–and I think I was right.)

I'm exhausted–I feel like I could sleep for a week. But tomorrow's a new day. Onward and upward.

Welcome to Mr. Olivier's Math Class.

I promised you pictures—you get pictures. (I never break a promise. Unless I do. Because sometimes life is life. O bla di.)

You may recall the "before"—a diamond in the rough. This is the after (completed earlier today):

"Welcome..." (Notice the meticulous punctuation. I don't fool around.)

From the front door.

From the back left (the teacher's-desk-vantage).

From the back right.

It actually looks like a real classroom, huh? I didn't know what the hell I was doing when I started, but I'm pleased with the results. Note the plants, the consistently maintained color schemes, the thematically grouped posters and snappy inspirational sayings. (All that die-cutting and laminating really paid off.)

So it's now the wee hours. The post is posted. The outfit is laid. The hair is did. The shoes are shined. The lunch is packed. The lesson is planned. The alarm is set. I'm feeling pretty good. Wish me luck. Onward and upward.

p.s. Apparently the New York Times magazine has a really good article on the radical transformation of New Orleans schools—"the most ambitious education laboratory of our time". My booty has been so busy getting burned on the Bunsen burners of the aforementioned laboratory, I haven't actually had time to read it yet, but perhaps I'll do so tonight as I drift off to sleep, gaining courage and fortitude for the fraught adventures ahead.

p.p.s. Everywhere I went today, as I purchased little last minute doo-dads, I found myself wandering the aisles with other teacher newbies, as they diligently studied their shopping lists and made earnest phone calls for guidance.

p.p.p.s See that nice looking white board? It's actually just some sort of inexpensive shower board that a fellow teacher bought at Home Depot, cut down to size, and bolted on top of the dismal blackboard underneath. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I love the laminator. I learned how to use it yesterday and went on an hour-long tear, laminating everything I could get my hands on. I think I might laminate June; it'll make her easier to clean.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Extreme Makeover: Classroom Edition

I've decided that decorating a classroom is just about one of the funnest things in existence. They're paying me for this? My inner interior decorator (say that three times fast—"inner interior decorator, inner intreriro dec...") is on the verge of unbridled giddiness.

And as a teacher, I now have access to all sorts of super cool artsy-craftsy implements. My favorite? The die cutter, which lets me cut out all sorts of crisp nifty letters and other wingdings. Also, the massive paper cutter is pretty frakkin' cool.

Good, good!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Mr. O Chronicles: Miscellaneous Ruminations

A loose assortment of percolating cogitations:
  • One of the things I find very appealing about teaching is that I can weave in any and all of my multivarious, over-plentiful interests: Math? Sure, that's a gimme. Drawing? Absolutely. Spice up the lesson with some visuals. Photography? Certainly. Somehow. Music? Certainly. Somehow. (And I can definitely lean on on my band-fronting showmanship skills. I suspect hamming it up in front of a group of middle-schoolers is a lot like hamming it up in front of a bunch of drunken bar flies. Middle-schoolers—drunken bar flies—emotional, erratic, loud, and easily distractible. Not a problem.)
  • I just started getting my room together. It's a work in progress, to be sure, but the vision is gelling. Green liner paper, little blue wavy trim, yellow headings and sayings. Some plants. Lots of good geeky math-y teacher-y wall-stuff. (I made my first trek to the teacher-store today.) It's going to be sharp! (I'll post a picture when it's done.)
  • I'm going to teach a Lego robotics elective. Dork-a-licious!
  • It seems I'll be teaching 5th and 6th grade math, not 6th and 7th, the consequence of roiling tumbling enrollment numbers. This job is undeniably an exercise in flexibility. Good thing I do all that yoga.
  • As the pieces fall into place, I find myself becoming more confident and excited.
  • I can't wait to meet these kids.

Random sky photo of the day. (Long-time readers may have noted that I'm a sucker for skewed shots of clouds and telephone poles. I dunno. Sue me.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Jack Car / Carjack

On my lunch break, I went to the bank. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I felt the unfortunate lumpty-lump of a flat. I pulled over to address the problem. Tightening the last bolt on my spare, I heard a violent vroom and screech, looked up, and saw a small white SUV smash up onto the curb of the neutral ground, round the corner, and crash into a van parked directly across the street from me.

The driver door swung open and a teenage kid bolted down the street, around the corner, and out of sight. The back hatch popped open and another kid tried to lunge out, but a pair of arms belonging to an undetermined third occupant clasped firmly to his ankle. As I dialed 911, he bucked and wiggled, lost his shoe, and finally broke free.

He dashed across the street, towards me. A group of construction workers tackled him to the ground. (They started beating on him. Another lady and I hollered at them to stop hitting him and wait for the cops.)

By chance, a police car showed up at that moment. They cuffed the kid. The third occupant, the owner of the car, emerged, with blood streaming down his face. He was an off-duty police officer. They'd carjacked his vehicle.

As I was giving my statement, the cuffed youngster protested, "I'm twelve. I never touched the wheel."

Twelve. The same age as the kids I'll be teaching. It's a reminder that, in this business I'm entering, the stakes are high. If they make a wrong turn, they don't go to a second-tier college. They go to jail or worse.

Quite a lunch.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Fortnightly Fun—Thursday, Circle Bar!

Yeah, I'm not sure either. Mary says she wants our next flyer to feature "The Rock". I say, "okay". That's just how it is.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

And So It Begins

I reported for duty today, the start of our two-week before-the-school-year gearing-up. It was the first time we—the new team—had all come together in one place. They're a great group of people.* And hi-lar-ious. Good times.

* Though there are undeniable exceptions, teachers are, by and large, a damn fine slice of humanity. I'm happy to be in such excellent company.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ooh, Lord...

I've got my work cut out for me. The Times-Picayune published all of the New Orleans schools' LEAP scores* today, and only nine percent of my school's fourth-graders got "basic" in math,** the second lowest in the city (which is saying something).

I'd say I'm shocked, except I'm not. When I was at John McDonogh High this summer, which has roughly analogous scores, many of the kids were completely derailed by even basic arithmetic which Louise, ten years their junior, has mastered. (In comparison, at Louise's school—the highest-scoring public school in the city—ninety-eight percent of the fourth-graders scored "basic" or above.)

We have a new administration and a largely new faculty, all fully committed to turning around a failing situation, but we've got some serious teaching to do. Onward and upward.

* Note: This is the associated article. The full listing was included in the print edition, but I can't find it anywhere on the (nightmarishly convoluted) website. But if you actually want the nitty-gritty, you can find it here.

** LEAP is Louisiana's implementation of the No Child Left Behind high-stakes testing mandate. Kids are tested at fourth and eighth grades and again prior to graduation, and they can't proceed without scoring at least "basic" in English or Math and "approaching basic" in the other subject.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Quizzical Friday: Ne'er Swear*

Pop Quiz: What sort of goofy substitute curses did your teachers try to sell you on?

I had a teacher who tried to convince us, instead of swearing, to use:
"crystal buckets"
She claimed that swear words are so satisfying because of the particular phonetic components they contain. And "crystal buckets" supposedly contains all of these particularly gratifying combinations. So... crystal buckets! All of the catharsis and none of the cursin'!

It never worked for me. (I'm a big fan of good old-fashioned honest swearing—mumbled discretely under one's breath so the teacher can't hear, of course.)

* I tried to think of some nifty coinism to label this category of faux-curse. I don't think this is it. ( I was going for a sort of near-beer/ne'er-swear rhyming thing, but...) Any suggestions?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I Got Class!

I finally found out which classroom is mine.* Would you like to meet it?

As with everything else in the building, the room is nice and old fashioned (the way I like things).

It's on the third floor, and the back wall is lined with giant westward facing windows which let in lovely light (and if they weren't so clouded with age—or some other mysterious clouding-force—you'd be able to look out of them onto grand old Esplanade Avenue).

And I have a desk. A desk! An honest, plain desk. I like it.

Thank for indulging my dork-out. Now I just have to figure out how to organize the thing. And how to decorate it. And how to fix up the raggedy whiteboard. And the raggedy black(er... green)board. And how to teach. And all those other details.

Onward and upward. (I think I'll be saying that a lot for a while.)

* As I said, the school is in the midst of reinventing itself. There's been a great deal of room shuffling, but (with the contribution of a bit of geeky know-how by yours truly) we finally figured out how to migrate the computer lab to its desired location, and all the other pieces fell into place. (What do you call the puzzles with the grid of squares and one square is missing and all the others get strategically slid around until they finally arrive at the correct configuration? It's like that.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Slimbo, Slimbo, what do you see? I see a Junie looking at me.

Junie, Junie, what do you see? I see a vague impressionistic blur of what I suppose to be my papa looking at me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A (Not So) Brief Attempt to Synpositize the Recent Events of My (Delightfully) Overcrowded Life

Okay, so what the hell have I been doing with my time? Let's see if I can remember:
Monday, July 7 – Wednesday, July 23: Schoolin' School Part Deux

As soon as we returned from Texas, I launched into the second session of Schoolin' School. The first session consisted primarily of lectures and the like held in a schoolin' -school classroom. We—the Mathies, together with the Science and Special Ed folks (the other much-needed teacher-types)—learned generalized teaching strategies, classroom management, and other schoolin' goodness. But for the second session, we broke out into our specific subject areas, and our groovy lil' math team (lead by my new hero, Dr. T) spent almost all our time in actual classrooms at an actual school, John McDonogh High, working with actual students. Each morning we observed, tutored, and taught. Each afternoon, we converged in the school's library to review and to learn slick tricks for actually making math education interesting and effective. (Who'da thunk?!)

(I could say plenty more, but when I started to collect my thoughts, I quickly found myself writing the first chapter of Mr. O's Tractatus-Pedagogus, so I think I'll save that for another post.)

Saturday, July 12 – Friday, July 18: Mr. Mom

Sarah and the other Rock-a-fellas were whisked away for a mad-dash tour of the East Coast, meeting with all sorts of low-income housing bigwigs and viewing various splendors of urban redevelopment. I held down the fort, doing my best to make sure the kids didn't starve or devolve into a mire of their own filth. I was marginally successful. (How do single parents do it? God bless 'em.)

Friday, July 18: I Got a Job!

After a few weeks of dazedly shopping my newbie-teacher skills around the current stunningly complex array of New Orleans public schools, I finally found my new schoolin'-home, McDonogh City Park Academy. (It's the old McDonogh #28 on Esplanade Ave, and it has nothing to do with the aforementioned John McDonogh High School which, confusingly enough, is also on Esplanade. (Several of the city's public schools have "McDonogh" in their name.)* And don't be fooled by the "Academy" either. As our post-Katrina school-scape has gone all topsy-turvy charterized, even decidedly downscale schools have upscaled their names, and we now have more "academies" than you can shake a stick at.)

As with so many of the city's schools, its current incarnation is a very new entity, still gelling into what it's going to be. Newness presents its own challenges but also its own opportunities. And I got a very good feeling from the principal and lead teachers, which is critical. It should be interesting.

Saturday, July 19: Birthday Girl!

Darling Sh-Boo-Boo #1 turned seven (Good Lord!), and we hosted a giddy little gaggle of gals for a birthday shindig at the Mid-City Lanes Rock 'N Bowl. Fun, fun.

Sunday, July 20: We made a record!

La Famille Brusier trekked to the piney northshore woodlands outside (papermill-a-licious) Bogalusa, LA, where we recorded a dozen-ish tracks (live-style) at the fantabulous Studio in the Country under the kind and professional guidance of Ben Mumphrey. It was both extremely gratifying and extremely exhausting. (It ain't easy spending hours and hours on end trying to make sure your finger don't go a tiny bit the wrong way and your voice doesn't warble a tad off pitch.) And don't ask me how it sounds yet. For a good while after recording anything, all I can hear are all the things-that-might-possibly-be-wrong-with-my-performance. I'll give you the upbeat promotional blurb later.

We ate dinner at the (decidedly dicey) Western Sizzlin', the only place open in Bogalusa on a Sunday.

Monday, July 21–Wednesday, July 23: Geek Fest 2008!

For the final three days of our aforementioned Schoolin' School Part Deux, we attended the Mathematical Sciences Institute, a local middle- and high-school math teacher geek out (picture lots of frizzy hair and corny math-pun t-shirts: "Chicken Pot Pi", "Fear Factorial", "Enter the Mutrix") where we spent the day messing around with protractors and "manipulatives" and talking about things like "the best way to guide students towards a correct intuition of imaginary numbers". Good stuff. (And I won a raffle for free admission to next year's geek fest!)

Saturday, July 26: Meet and Greet

Saturday, my new school had its meet-and-greet, where I dished out chili cheese nachos to my future students, then retired upstairs to the library where I met and gret (you know what I mean) my new fellow teachers (including several even-wider-eyed-than-me fresh-off-the-Ivy-League-Boat** Teach For America newbies) who will be my partners-in-pedagogy for the coming year.

Now: A Respite

And now I have a little break, a week-and-change to breathe deeply, put in some coffice hours, and just generally get my head screwed on straight before reporting for duty on August 5. (Actual classes start August 18). Ahh...
Whoop, there it is. Onward and upward.

* Double parenthetical—whooh

** Sorry, the hyphens are a little out of control. In the absence-of-blogging, I've been denied my regular hyphen-fix. O-bla-di.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fortnightly Fun!

flyer by Mary T.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Ooh, Lordy. The supernova continues. One of these days, I'll actually find the time to tell you about it. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Slang Sling: Fancy-Pants Edition

I like the expression:
"putting on airs"
I can't say why, but it seems to perfectly capture the idea of someone getting too big for their britches.*

What expressions are you liking?

* Another great expression. ("Fancy pants". "Too big for britches". What's the connection between high-falutin'-ness and legwear?)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Take the Long Road Home

We finally closed out our Road Home claim today. Whooh! And gosh, it only took just-shy-of-three-years. Yes indeed, brutally efficient bureaucracy at its finest. (Though late-money is better than no-money.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Fortnightly Fun avec les Brusiers!*

The usual deal: Band starts at 8:00. Nonsense starts at 8:05. All hell breaks loose around 8:30 or so. See you there.

* I wasn't lying.

Monday, July 07, 2008

What's his deal? (Extra credit: What's his sweater's deal?)