European Countries and Migration

Read this! this!

The above link to a Washington Post article echoes a theme which has replayed itself over and over again in Europe, and, of course, in the US. Everyone has an opinion and perspective about the refugee crisis in Hungary, Germany, and the rest of Europe. It’s a crisis because it’s a huge and sudden rush of humanity that threatens to overwhelm support services in countries unprepared for the massive influx of new residents.Old News is Timeless

In 2012 Europe was struggling with the same question but under different circumstances. Economic changes put officials on alert and politicians nervously prepared to block citizens from the EU who would presumably snatch jobs and opportunities from British citizens.

Now Germany is aware of the need for an increased working population, and, along with modest offers from France and Britain, is among the few nations to foresee the benefit of welcoming migrants from Syria and Libya. The immediate dilemma is clear, but what about the long-term impact of thousands of children entering school systems with little or no knowledge of the language and culture? How will teachers cope with families burdened by worry and economic hardship? What distractions of the traumatic journey at the hands of unscrupulous human traffickers?

I’m going to follow this story with keen interest, as will all compassionate educators. Not only to see how the story will play out for the 160,000 plus migrants, many of whom are children; but to evaluate how effectively these nations will be in settling so very many people who have been thrust around like nuclear waste between nations.

The arketplace of Diversity

There will be no end of debate about the woes of incorporating so many folks into countries already burdened with humans to house and employ. Schools will struggle to welcome and educate children who had no autonomy in the decision to leave home countries. But one happy little thought I’m left with, that I mean to pass along, is the sparkle of diversity that infiltrates every community in which people seek to carve out their new normal. My time in England was enhanced by the contributions of immigrants – the new citizens – changing the profile of English villages somewhat, but also working to be a part of what has been contributed there before. All our nations have been changed and shaped by incoming peoples, and aren’t we just a bit better off for it?

Would we even get to sample peanut punch without our friends from the Caribbean?

Would we even get to sample peanut punch without our friends from the Caribbean?


Arcade Resurrection and Rebirth

There’s a cheerful little trend out there of refurbished pin ball, arcade, and vintage video games available for anyone to partake. From the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, to “Playland Not At the Beach” in El Cerrito, hipster bars in Oregon, folks can try out the games that some people were smart enough to mothball then trot out a generation later. For those who only know pinball from the movies, they will be mystified as to how one can be considered skilled when control over the rolling ball is determined only by two limited “flipper” levers on the left and right. Otherwise the score is pretty much left all to chance as the stainless steel ball bings and bongs its way to the bottom of the game to get quickly swallowed up.

Indian gaming looks a little different now-a-days.

Indian gaming looks a little different now-a-days.

So the main entertainment with pin ball machines is in analyzing the motifs and themes. Space travel, sports, fairy tales, movies, and TV shows are the usual subjects for what is basically a variation of a historic game called “bagatelle,” seen here at someone’s else’s blog post featuring photos of some unique historic games.

What does Cuba have to do with pinball? The answer is: NOTHING AT ALL!

What does Cuba have to do with pinball? The answer is: NOTHING AT ALL!

Blair alley in Eugene, Oregon has raked in quite a few quarters from me and my sis. We might not be the biggest spenders there on a Friday night, but we do get kind of competitive on the small lane bowling games.

There’s a game for every interest when you step back in time. Even Ms. Pacman answers the roll call although she was a little glitchy when I tried her out.

"Bowling" at Blair alley in 2014.

“Bowling” at Blair alley in 2014.

So let summering folks swim and sail and surf in the lovely outdoors. Others of us are happy to hunker over a cocktail in the dim, skanky recesses of a dive bar and shake some dust out of our brains to retrieve the memories of getting lost in the power of arcade games and a few quarters.

Enough about play! Kids – get to work! School has started and it’s time to get noses to grindstones and hands off the game controls! Do some reading – maybe research the history of arcades and boardwalks in America. Think of how relieved your English teacher will be to read about something more interesting than volcanoes, yet again.  ; )

Isn’t This What Everyone Loves About Summer?

red horse

Oregon, like most states, has communities of immigrants who have brought their particular stamp of charm and personality. Thanks to research I can do without standing up, I now know that the Junction City Scandinavian Festival was created in 1961 to revive a town struggling economically after major traffic was rerouted from Highway 99 to Interstate 5. The festival is over for this year, but you can start planning for 2016! I happen to also know that August 11-14 are next year’s dates. This year, the schedule was:  Thursday- Finnish Day,  Friday- Norwegian Day, Saturday- Swedish Day,  and Sunday- Danish Day. My sister and I visited on Saturday which explains the large red horse in the center of the festival, and also this fetching cut-out for handy photo opportunities.

I'm a good sport!

I’m a good sport!

At the Scandinavian Festival, you can walk around and look at kind of not-very-good art, or watch some not-very-exciting dancing performed by nice looking young people dressed vaguely like my costume (right). Singing happens also, and from our polite, attentive experience, that is charming, but also not very good, but still – there’s a friendly feel about folks milling around, noshing on vandbakkelser (chocolate dipped cream puffs), Æbleskiver (apple stuffed pancakes), meatballs, and meat pie. (I cut and pasted that part from Wikipedia.)

I bought a really pretty silver bracelet made from a piece of flatware. It’s unusual and appealing, and I like bracelets. Also I felt like my just buying and eating half a crab turnover-thingy wasn’t really contributing to the revenue of the festival. Plus I had been kind of catty about some of the art work, so this made me feel like a more generous human being. Although then I felt guilty because I bought something for myself and not for anyone else. *sigh*

All in all – another fun fest – thanks sis! Summer should always have a few days like this – not amazing, but friendly and warm, with playful food and plenty of free parking. The kids romp around in excitement, teens match and mate on the sly, and life seems pretty okay, in a small, satisfying way.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Isn’t This What Everyone Loves About Summer?

A Summer Trip to Oregon

Yes, a Chainsaw Art Festival. And yes, it was loud.

Yes, a Chainsaw Art Festival. And yes, it was loud.

Festival Fun!

Summer is pretty much over for almost everyone I know, but it’s only August and there’s a lot of living to do out there for some of us. A drive to Oregon and a visit to my sister in the Willamette Valley took a pleasant week out of my job hunting career. Always up for a good outing, my sister scouted out a really oddball festival which was right up my alley.

I’ve always had a yearning for one of those massive carved bears you see all over the Northwest roadways. They’re sizable and impressive beasts expertly shaped by chainsaw wielding artists. Yes, it’s a Thing and there were going to be three whole days of it! We aimed for Saturday and I hoped to at last score an impressive carving!

So after taking a remote road to somewhere called Blue River, my sister and I arrived just in the middle of a “90 minute Quick Carve” event. Thirteen individuals who were apparently recruited for this particular yearly event, were buzzing around cutting up logs into mermaids, marshmallow-roasting bears, leaping trout and trolls.  Since this was a fund raising event, my sister and I spent some cash on hot dogs and snow cones and settled in for the live auction bidding!

This little baby carved by a chain saw artist sits in for what I had hoped would be a fierce grizzly.

This little baby carved by a chain saw artist sits in for what I had hoped would be a fierce grizzly.

These Oregon folks know what they want in chainsaw figures, I’ll say that! And they know what they don’t want – several impressive pieces went wanting for a high enough bidder and out of respect for the artists, the autioneer backed off and refused to sell below a minimum bid. Since I had budgeted about $50 for any possible find, I had to forgo the carved and painted hamburger bench, and I couldn’t bid on the proud, spread-winged eagle.

However, all the artists had lots of work done up previously, and lined up for purchase. This goofy little fellow I ended up with wasn’t quite my fierce grizzly, but then, my front stoop isn’t big enough for one anyways. So Jeremy here is parked on my porch. I didn’t name him, and I don’t remember who did, but if you’re reading this, Naming Person Friend of my Sister – curses on you because I wasn’t going to name him Jeremy! I maybe wasn’t going to even name him at all! But these things have a way of playing out whether I’ve directed them or not, which is why I also have a carved stallion named Brownie in my living room.

Look for new posts as my job search continues. There should be some really exciting posts coming up; for instance – I bought more clear boxes to organize shoes in my closet. And no, my shoes aren’t named. Most of them…aren’t…anyway…

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on A Summer Trip to Oregon

Teacher Fellow at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Through the generosity of the Lifeguard Teacher Fellowship Program (which supports the creation of classroom materials and teacher resources about the life, legacy, and leadership of George Washington….) ITeacher Fellowship, I’m privileged to be living on the grounds of Mount Vernon, working closely with the staff at the Fred W. Smith National Library.

My project is to write a play for teachers to use with upper elementary aged students. I love having a tangible goal – I know just exactly how I would stage 25 to 30 ten-and eleven-year-olds on a small stage (or corner of a classroom); so I while I feel dwarfed by the professional expertise of the hugely qualified staff here, I also know that I am the supreme expert on just how exactly kids will absorb the legacy of George Washington and the people who intersected with him in their own life journeys.

Here in residence for three weeks, I have wasted no time in taking advantage of the expert minds here: I think I have the cast of major characters at the ready, and soon – very soon – I’ll type out the first version of a play set with historic accuracy, but with fictionally creative license, at Mount Vernon in 1791. The cast of “characters” which are real folks who lived here, will include Nelly and “Washy” – George Washington’s grandchildren from Martha’s son, Jack. These children lived basically as Washington’s second family. I’m learning that blended families, due to death and remarriage, were as common in the 18th century as they are now in the 21st! The family tree connections are so complex I’ve been reduced to making a cheat sheet of names throughout the years of the Washington and Custis families. My version is a much ruder diagram than has been created by researchers here. Complicating the scenario is the very typical tendency of colonial folks to name generations of offspring the same name. The work of researchers here who are cataloging the primary source mentions of every single slave becomes all the more impressive when I scroll through digital mentions of “unknown” which go on and on and on. And on.

So how to bring to life these people who are bits of text on a screen? That’s the fun challenge and since I feel about writing as most people feel about dessert, I’m in hog history heaven. Not only do these people on staff here share my interest in portraying these historic figures in their real personas, but they are eager to pass along the passion and supreme commitment they’ve made into exploring and bringing to life these very real people that we can only distantly imagine.

So I feel emboldened not to let them down. I will continue to poke around amongst the amazing richness of sources I am privileged to access. I will ask the seemingly stupid questions on behalf of kids everywhere. I vow also to interpret all this information and channel it into an accessible, usable format for teachers who are always short on time and long on desire to ignite interest in children to be lifelong learners who strive to seek out more. Like these researchers I’m meeting here!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Teacher Fellow at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Thank you, folks, for allowing us to carefully spend your money on history!

The BBC (which I read on line daily) had this recent announcement:

An 18th Century steelworks in Sheffield has been given funding to further develop as a visitor attraction.  The Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet has been given £47,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop plans for the site and apply for further funding.

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet will be saved from crumbling into history’s memory.

Plans include a new learning centre and the restoration of machines.  The initial funding will be used to develop plans for the site and apply for a full grant later in the year of more than £800,000.  The hamlet, which contains 18th and 19th Century listed buildings and machinery, plans to expand as a visitor attraction.  The machinery at the site, which was originally powered by four water wheels by the nearby dam, will be brought back to life if further funding is given.

I read this happy news and can report that I have received additional funding as well!  A generous Fulbright Alumni Grant will allow me to rewrite and print my “No One Is From Here” curriculum and distribute it to a number of target districts in California, and, hopefully elsewhere in the US.

If you have £800,000, I can sell you millions of these!

I will not be so cheeky as to propose that my lessons for children are as historically significant as this mill site, originally called Abbeydale Works and one of the larget water powered sites on the River Sheaf. The main products of the works were agricultural scythes, but other tools were made there also, such as grass hooks and hay knives.  If you visit the site, you can see waterwheels, tilt hammer, a grinding hull and the only intact crucible steel furnace surviving in the world today.  I’m not too sure if I saw all those things when I was there at Easter, 2012, but I can attest that costumed interpreters do a terrific  job outlining the history of the facility that sits in a place with  centuries of experience in metal working.

However, the main parallel here is the hopeful news that after Abbeydale receives £47,000 , the steelworks can apply for further funding of £800,000!  All this is possible through the Heritage Lottery Funds, which has to be the most visible and productive lottery disbursement in the world.  Tangible and well labeled improvements to attractions all over the UK testify to wise spending in improving the country’s past.  A quick look at the fund’s website: will impress Americans with just how productive the spending from a lottery scheme can be.  As well as improving historic industrial and maritime sites, the Heritage Lottery Fund spends about £375 million  a year rescuing, upgrading, and restoring the UK historic sites, museums, lands, and social historical records.

So I doff my hat (which I am not wearing, because I don’t look great in hats…) to the preservers of history, and I gratefully join the ranks of hopeful individuals who put sweat, if not blood, into the creation of something that hopefully will improve the world just a tiny little bit.  Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet:  congratulations!  And say, Abbeydale Board of Directors:  if your education department needs some curriculum materials written up for school tours – I understand you may have £800,000 more coming your way.   For £10,000 I can put you in touch with a very eager writer who loves history, and really loves Sheffield!  Cheers!


Weather news is rarely interesting unless it messes with history.

Once when I went for a haircut at a new salon with which I was unfamiliar, I walked in and cracked myself up by telling the owner, “I almost got my hair done at the dog grooming place next door!”  I was informed, with withering sarcasm, “Oh, I’ve never heard that one before.”  hmm.  Really?  I was not original?  (or funny?)  The reason I mention this account not related to England OR education is because I am about to make another obvious observation that will already have been commented upon by millions.  However, since most of those folks probably live in England, I think I can go ahead and try it for my US readers.

Breaking story in the BBC on-line news: Rain Cancels Battle of Hastings.

A re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings on what is believed to be the original battlefield has been cancelled because of torrential rain. English Heritage said for safety reasons the event could not go ahead because of unacceptable levels of mud on the battlefield and public areas. Sunday’s re-enactment marked the 946th anniversary of the battle when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold.

Apparently it is the “unacceptable levels of mud”  that caused organizers to cancel this event which makes commemoration of the history changing clash of 1066, when William the Conquerer, Duke of Normandy overtook King Harold of England.  And of course:  I thought:  wasn’t the original Battle of Hastings most likely a messy, muddy, weather laden, blood letting mess  of an event?  In my seven months in the UK I must boast a bit that I never allowed climatic conditions to dissuade me from a plan.  The following photos do not come with wind chill factors, but I can attest that I was fairly miserable with wet and cold when I took these pictures:

Eyam, Derbyshire. May. Pouring rain. 9 degrees Celcius.

London. Boat parade on the Thames. June. Pouring. 12 degrees.

Oxford in June. Pouring rain. 10 degrees Celcius.

Zero degrees. February.

So forgive me for this most un-unique thought, but here it is:  when you cancel a reenactment of a battle that was brutal and history making because someone might slip in the mud, have you just gone a little bit overboard in the protection of your citizens?  Now the souvenir shop wares make sense!  For every castle in the UK boasts a gift store where not only can you purchase princess tiaras and dragon stuffed toys, but also a super-safe arsenal of foam weaponry and armor – and that, friends, invites a battle re-creation in which no one gets hurt!  Cheers!

Don your protective gear and fight your enemy fair and square!


Where you end up is as important as the path you take.

Thinking through a typical teaching day backwards is like planning a good lesson, although I rarely follow either those excellent strategies for reflective teaching.  When teachers look carefully at where they want to end up, crafting the steps to lead to a successful lesson or satisfactory school day, the small adjustments made quickly in response to the receptivity of the students can make a huge difference.  In less graceful words, I mean that teachers should never be afraid to stop midstream and try a new approach.

A particularly rowdy afternoon influenced by the Giants’ baseball team win to qualify for an important play off souped up the strong and vocal boys in my class to a frenzy of good cheer that made focus on anything else virtually impossible.  The mood carried over into the next day, and I abandoned the sedate and thoughtful writing exercise I had planned, and instead rounded up a bag full of small toys and desk items.  Every child was allowed to quickly study one of the items in secret, and then had to describe the object without using its name.  Every item became, instead, a “zaplonk.”

After each child had completed writing a description in detail (the object of the lesson, after all) I arranged all the toys on a table top, and added in a few distractors.  One by one, children selected another child’s descriptive paragraph and, based on its author’s use of detail, attempted to select the correct item out of the bunch.

This was a useful activity for many reasons:  a) it had a novelty factor, so all children were immediately engaged. b) It was a short lesson with an immediate outcome. c) it involved interaction with other children and gave each writer and each reader a moment to have the full attention of the crowd;  and, the lesson goal, d) the activity highlighted the need to use accurate description and legible handwriting and reasonable spelling!

In a lesson like this, I did two things I never advise:  silently cursed myself for not planning ahead, as I groped and groveled around in drawers and bins for enough objects to describe; and  worried tremendously that more than one child would be humiliated by another child for poor spelling or messy handwriting.  But these are the usual risks that occur daily in the classroom.  It’s what makes teaching endlessly interesting.  Like a science investigation, the teacher tries valiantly to control all the variables, but in the end, it really will be the student who either learns something or doesn’t.  And no one can control that outcome.  Even if all the student learns is that he should tie his shoes before walking up to the front of the room, lest he trip and embarrass himself, there will be something learned, just not always what the teacher intended at the outset of the lesson.  Cheers!


Two Countries Separated by Very Different Styles of Writing

I was reading a rogue copy of Sunset magazine that had somehow leapt into my mail box (Where did it come from?  It had my name on it, but I don’t ever remember subscribing to it…) I recall Sunset as a dependable but slightly dotty aunt in my childhood household.  My mother honored its very “California” recipes and often took suggestions from its pages for braised lettuce or curried tacos.  With a careful and professional style, Sunset magazine was always a dependable read in medical waiting rooms or on short airline flights.

I’m not singing high praises for the magazine, particularly, but when I read the now updated version, I had a cranky, old lady moment.  A (very short) article about the 100 year anniversary of the planting of Chardonnay grapes imported from France, had this as its lead paragraph,

Considering the amount of California Chardonnay we drink in this country, you’d think the wine was invented in the state. Oh, wait,  it was – 

Sunset Magazine,October 2012

There are so many ways this style of writing pains me, not the least of which in that it reads as if crafted by a ten-year-old.  And I should know.  This style of writing I call the “Talking in Writing” technique.  Fifth grade boys usually employ this as their method, with narratives strung together by dialogue that features no quotation marks, and sound effects randomly inserted like cartoon bubbles:  Blam!  Wow!  Oh No!

In a slightly unrelated connection, but still on the subject, the recent presidential debates, which I watched streamed live on line, featured a continual cut and paste border of Twitter tweets.  These are the visual equivalent of the muttered smarty-isms better confined to one’s living room. I found that I needed to adjust the screen size and scroll the frame down so that I was not continually influenced by strange off-topic comments from viewers who had worked as hard on their tweeting names as they had their personalized licensed plates.

 I’m proud of us as a society, to have the written word muck around in the backyards of the common citizen.  I don’t think academics have exclusive rights to how the rules should be followed or broken.  In fact, I’m generally charmed with the whimsical ways English speakers can manipulate the language, keeping it fresh and funny.  I think we all need to try harder to be verbally sharp.  I, myself, (correct usage here of ‘myself’) just yesterday uttered these words, “Gosh, it’s  such a beautiful day.  We are so lucky to live here.”  I wanted to slap my own wrists!  Think harder, Woman!  Say something that hasn’t been uttered by a gazillion other people!  Write something that has never been written before!  And make it eloquent and expressive!  A delight to read!  Use the language to the ultimate!

Therefore, I give you an example of what has to be the most charming writing style in the English speaking world.  Yes – dear England appropriately enough continues to print the absolute best verbiage in the media.  And all for free:  the headline –

“Todwick A57 accident blackspot improvement works begin”

Construction work has started on a £14.7m scheme to improve a notorious accident blackspot in South Yorkshire. More than 30 people have been injured on the A57 at Todwick, near Rotherham, between 2006 and 2011. The scheme includes a dual carriageway on a part of the 2.5km stretch of road, a crossroads and roundabout. A reduced speed limit is in operation until the work is finished. The project is expected to be completed by early 2014. The council said the new road scheme would also reduce traffic congestion and delays. Councillor Gerald Smith, from Rotherham Borough Council, said: “This road carries high levels of traffic so it needs to be as safe as possible. It has been troubled by road safety and congestion problems for years. “

Yes, so many, many words.  And so many questions.  What’s a blackspot?  Would I know I was driving on a carriageway?  Is Totwick actually in the Rotherham Borough?  What IS a borough?  I can draw no particular conclusion by contrasting these two examples of the English language in print, but I can only decide this:  have a good time with writing, people; but don’t sound like a ten year old in print unless you actually are one.  And in that case – you have to write even better than that to get an “A” from me!  Cheers!

Using Students’ Strengths

Tommy Mattinson in England is a man who knows wherein his strengths lie.  My evidence:

Gurners face off for title at Egremont Crab Fair

World champion gurner Tommy Mattinson has been spending the week loosening up his face as he prepares to defend the title for the 13th time. Competitors are heading to Cumbria this weekend for the famous competition, which is part of the Egremont Crab Fair. Contestants put their heads through a horse collar and contort their faces in a bid to be crowned champion in the much-loved event.

Horse Wearing Blinders and a Horse Collar Kicking Up His Hind Quarters - Royalty Free Clipart Picture

It is possible to visit the BBC site and view a picture of Mr. Mattinson’s prize winning mug, but I don’t suggest you do so unless you’re willing to get set for eight hours of uncomfortable dreams.  All the station agents in my subway dream last night had Tommy’s scary visage, making it a very long sleep indeed.  I only bring this up to make an exaggerated point that successful folks know what gifts and talents they possess, and use them to craft a satisfying career and life outlook.

I know my students would have been enchanted to see and discuss, and possibly imitate, Tommy Mattinson’s features, but I am thinking of his “accomplishment” in a slightly different way.  That is – when you’re good at something, make the most of it!  Thirteen years in a row this man has achieved the title and dubious honor, but clearly the guy loves it or he wouldn’t keep entering.  I chose to focus on this idea for inspiration in my classroom yesterday, and found a way to remind children to utilize strengths in order to work together to accomplish a project.


An innocent exercise in estimation prompted the activity:  the morning’s warm-up writing directed each student to make an estimate as to how much money they would need for a trip to Disneyland for the weekend.  Reports from as modest as $100 to a grandiose $25,000 (renting out the entire hotel for the family…) caused an interested hum of speculation.

A perfect gap of 30 minutes later in the day presented itself and I gave a quick assignment to work in the groups students were already in for an earlier reading task.  Each group would get the use of one computer, and in half an hour should report their findings to the class with revised estimates based on a little simple research.

Any elementary school teacher could forecast when would happen next:  yes, it did.  Nearly every single child rushed to the bank of computers along the wall, leaving only the most hesitant or polite children waiting helplessly with paper and pencil and nothing to write down.  Fifteen minutes later I called a halt to the activity and we agreed to abandon it.  However!  Never one to let a learning opportunity slide away, I led the kids through some analyzation as to why the assignment ended up in chaos.  As we talked and listed the tactics that didn’t work, I brought in comparisons to a team catch game we had played earlier.  In thinking and discussing, we all came to see that what were strengths in some:  (tall enough to reach the tossed bean bag first, or quick enough to scoot around in front to intercept…) were real liabilities when over used.  (All the tall kids grab at the beanbag and it falls uselessly to the ground, for instance)

So to get neatly back to Mr. Mattinson’s creepy face in the horse collar at the Crab Fair in Egremont:  using your strength to achieve a goal only works when you have the proper venue.  In other words, I assume Tommy Mattinson saves his best/worst face for festivities and not for funerals.  He knows what his talent is and he uses it when it will guarantee the most success.  Teachers can and do, instruct children to consider carefully what every one brings to the business of school.  In a world reliant on group work to solve massive global problems, this skill is possibly one of the most critical we can reinforce.  Cheers.