Thursday, December 31, 2015

In Loving Memory of Gisela Gil Egui, Colleague, Friend, Mentor, Neighbor. In Shock, As Are We All

Dear Gisela,

I'm going to write this post as a letter. I'm not sure how else to process the news we received today that you and your husband were killed in an automobile accident in Miami. Father Von Arx sent out an email alert late last night about the tragic car accident and I was working on my yearlong reflection when it came.

I was shocked. I still am. It is difficult for me to process.

Your office was next to CWP-Fairfield's office and for the last four years, I've enjoyed your humor, your companionship, your friendliness and your support. I am remembering the days when you'd stop by to see what Ellen and I were laughing at, wanting to laugh, too. Before that, you always stopped in to check on the tomfoolery of what Lois was up to. In all cases, you loved laughing in the CWP-Fairfield office, and often came by to remind yourself that in the greater picture, laughter and smiles mattered most.

I remember you coming to me asking if I'd help you find a way to use your brilliance in service to a local school. You wanted your communication students to go beyond traditional academia and into service learning that was beneficial to them and the community. We met at Bassick High School and together we walked through the halls where you spoke Spanish to the students and offered your vision to the administrators and teachers. We made a connection, but you wanted even more.

In the hallways of Donnarumma, you and I talked about a summer institute for Spanish-speaking immigrant youth and your desire to teach a two-week program similar to Ubuntu Academy. You were full of energy, in love with life, and an all-around fabulous human being.

Every time I saw you, you'd see me and say, "Thank you for your service." Someone nominated me for the Salary Committee and I took on the responsibility knowing that there was little I could do, but it was a role that someone had to serve. You filled me in on your dreams, your love of teaching, and your non-stop writing initiatives. You constantly stated you wished we could find a way to collaborate. I knew we'd find a way, but in the short-run, I simply wanted your friendship and support. As junior faculty, I needed it.

There are no words to express the impact this news had on me yesterday. The loss of your life, the loss of your mother and brother, and the loss of your husband is tremendous. It is simply incomprehensible. As much as I am grieving, I can only imagine what others are going through - you had a tremendous impact on all who knew you. When I was listing out the first people I wanted to see returning from sabbatical after the new year, you were at the top of the list. You offered me a great "Welcome" to Fairfield and have always checked in with me, asking several questions about CWP. I can't imagine the hallway without you.

You were taken too soon.

You will be hearing from me. I will be looking up to the Great Whatever and asking for your help. In the meantime, I am looking to my colleagues and our friends to see how best to help Fairfield University overcome this unbelievable reality. It brings incredible sadness, but I am feeling your warmth and instantly wanting to do better.

You are loved and I promise to do my best in your memory.

Rest in peace, dear friend. The news is one of those events that alters a life forever.
Thank you for living an incredible, admirable, and beautiful life. You remain an inspiration.

Your colleague (and Donnarumma floor-mate),

Bryan

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Post Holiday, Pre-New Year...Perhaps the Best Transitional Week on the Whole Calendar

As children, the holiday break means mucho excitement, but also a short period between excessive school and more excessive school. As I got older, the break meant more opportunities to work hours for extra cash. While away at college, it meant coming home for reunions, family, and catching up. For 15 years in Louisville, the break meant respite from teaching, a 12 hour road trip to Syracuse, and a 12 hour road trip back to Louisville (usually 3 books on CD). Time off is synonymous with reflection.

Now, the week off is more of the same...a place to take stock on the present and a location to look towards what is on the road ahead.

I need my reality check tweaked some. This sabbatical kept me busy as always, but for the first time in my life I actually had time to catch a ball game without a laptop in front of me. I walked the dog daily and spent more time with friends. I sipped my morning coffee slowly, and drank my evening wine with pleasure. This, of course, changes quickly as the semester is over and I've seen the exit for some time. It's back to the rat race of meetings, teaching, writing, advising, committees and never having a second to think straight.

It's a decent change and, as we all know, inevitable. I am thinking of big changes: getting a car and job, moving away to college, taking off to Louisville, teaching there, deciding to go overseas, and finally returning to earn a doctorate. Of course, a major change, too, has been taking the job in Connecticut, getting a house, and opening my world to a new family member (and dog). Who'd a thunk any of it?

I remember a student - class of 2000 - repeated often, "It's not he sprint...it's the marathon." She was wise...the longer race continues and at 43, I hope, I'm not even halfway to understanding what any of it means.

What I do know is that Abu texted last night to say, "I decided to buy the complete collection of Star Wars." He then saw the price and said, "#$#$ that!"

My point exactly. It means what it means and in 2016, I'm sure it will mean even more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

And The Force Has Been Within Us All Along: #Family2015 @LBility @Cc1airlines @AbuBility

I returned to my home planet for the holidays and to the Mall where I worked all throughout high school. That location funded my college life  (all those hours, all those weekends, all those holidays and all the jobs selling shoes and cleaning bathrooms at Sibley's and Kaufman's). That mall was the foundation from which I leaped and it is sad to see it so dead now. It's almost vacant.

Now, 25 years later, I returned to Great Northern to see The Force Awakens with my CNY posse (a second screening). Missing were mom, dad, and Cynde, but they were their in spirit and heart (I wish they came, too).

Sitting next to Jacob during the film I got a Star Wars joke, "How do Storm Troopers say goodbye to Darth Vader?" I gave up. Later Vader. I also got, "Guess what time it is?" "1:30." "Guess what time it is now?" "1:33." "Guess now." "It's 1:36." He then asked me if Chitunga knew he looks like Finn. I said, "I'm wondering the same thing. Why don't you ask him." He then sees Chewbacca and says, "Which one of us plays him? I bet it's Abu." I couldn't help but laugh.

I was excited to introduce the Star Wars series to the twins, Chitunga, and my nephews. Dylan and Mike weren't impressed, but I think the others are sold. I'm happy to hear Sean wants to watch all the films and that Abu plans to binge watch to catch up. Being a Star Wars nerd allows for better conversations with other nerds. From it, we can address the force, its metaphors, the Republic, and the idea of the Dark Side. I love the films, and enjoyed this one even more in the company of family.

The entire ride back to Connecticut I kept thinking about the movie. It is a really easy concept, actually - the force is love and doing what is right by energy, the universe, and the narratives that comes one way.

Three decades ago when the first Star Wars came, who would have thought that there'd be an opportunity in time to revisit the childhood classic with the entourage I have now. I channeled all toys and the R2D2 lamp my mom made me (and wish I still had them with me today).

And then there's more jokes These are for Jacob Charles to add to his collection:

Why is Yoda such a good gardener?
Because he has a green thumb.

What's a Jedi's favorite toy?
A Yo-yo-da

What side of an Ewok has the most hair?
The outside.

What do you call Storm Troopers playing Monopoly?
Game of Clones.

What do you call potatoes that have turned to the Dark Side?
Vader Tots.

Why does Leia wear buns in hair?
In case she gets hungry waiting for her son to leave the Dark Side.

Finally,

What do you call Chewbacca when he gets chocolate stuck in his hair?
A chocolate chip Wookie!

We are the Force, especially when united in support and dedication to one another. MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU (and with us....for a very long time).

Monday, December 28, 2015

Happy Birthday To My Big Sister. I Love You and Wish You The Best in 2016. Let the Beauty Continue.

Happy Birthday, Cynderballz!

Well, I'm sad Chitunga and I didn't stay one more day to continue the holiday chaos into the traditional celebration of my older sister's birthday, but I think the greater gift for her was to depart so she wouldn't have deal with the headache of all of us organizing how we'd celebrate her day.

Instead, Chitunga and I stopped by on our way out to Connecticut and dropped off flowers and a small gift. We picked out the perfect card, too, but it was $5.99 (man, how do card businesses stay in business?). Channeling Cynde, I decided to buy a cheaper card and then verbally tell her what the more expensive one said. It was a sentimental card depicting what I really wanted to tell her: how beautiful she is, how much she means to me, how wonderful it has been to age with her, how important the memories with her are, and how enthusiastic I am about what the future has in store for the two of us. 

She's come a long way from feathered hair, hairspray, rolled jeans, thick socks, and Jack Wagner! I love being with her, Mike, Nikki, and Dylan and just relaxing - It always helped, too, when such occasions include a free dinner. I wish FaceTime also allowed us to tip our wine glasses on Friday nights like we used to do, but that has to come in spirit. 

Have a spectacular day, Cynde. You hold the Elmer's glue that keeps all of us together and through you not one of us has murdered the other (and I think Mom and Dad will okay now...I got them toy guns from Santa so they can simulate their frustrations without actually going too far with them. I don't think the foam darts will hurt them too much).

Here's to you, Big Sis, today, tomorrow, and always. You carry the universe on your shoulders and I hope today, at least for a little while. others let you take a break. Thank you for a wonderful week home and for being central to all the love shared by our families throughout the year.

Elephant shoe.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

An Unexpected Divergence For a Saturday in Front of the Television. A Series I Haven't Read

The good thing about getting my run done in the a.m., is I'm wide open for whatever comes my way during the day, without feeling guilty about the need to hit the pavement.

So, I headed to my sister's for the U of L/UK basketball game (CATS deserved it, as they played a better game), and ended up following that with the Divergent movies series and an NFL game between the Eagles and Redskins. Who allows the games to last four hours? They are a killer for fans!

Divergent started out a little too similar to the other sci-fi teen heartthrob stories, but then it picked up with intrigue before ending in complete, "This is absolute ludicrousness."

Still, it was a way to diverge from having a plan-of-action for the day and I almost fell asleep on an actual couch in the middle of the day.

And thanks, Nikki. Chitunga and I cashed in some of the Wegman's card and we got out traditional sub. Nothing beats those!

But now it's Sunday. I believe there's a crew going to the new Star Wars film.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Wow! That Came and Went Somewhat Fast. I Guess It's Time To Start Thinking About 2016

Big day today: U of L/ University of Kentucky game at noon.

And then I have to begin thinking about the layers of work awaiting me in my office, for CWP, at my house, for my classes, and with the professional organizations I belong to.

Perhaps that is what holiday breaks are for: to help us erase all the foolishness of working so we can enjoy the happiness of those we love most and spend time, albeit it short, in the company of family.

Yesterday's tradition extended beyond brunch into a prime rib dinner (um, that might be the first prime rib dinner I've ever had - and Dave rocked the mushrooms. Delicious).

Huge appreciation and shout outs to both my sisters for hosting tremendous food and crowd events in their homes. It's a lot of work and they rocked all the occasions like pros.

And then I think about all the years mom hosted our holidays in her home...makings for pure exhaustion...but she did it.

Our traditions have changed over the years, but they grow stronger and more important. So, here's to the week that just was (there must be a buckeye or magic layer bar left somewhere).

Now, time to warm up for the big game.

Friday, December 25, 2015

And To All, A Good Night! Merry Christmas Everyone. Holiday 2015 and Great Wishes for 2016

From Our Flakes Like Mike, to Your Flakes Like Mike, a Very Happy Holiday Celebration from the Isgars, Crandalls, and Barnwells in Central New York.

We successfully made it to another new year and we did extremely well on the home front to celebrate all that is love, happiness, and calm.

Cynde and Mike hosted another great celebration and we are all ready for Santa's arrival.

A very merry Christmas to you, your families, and all that you love - that is what it is all about.

May another day of happiness shine upon your world and those you care about most.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Small Parts. Engineering. Patience. Ingenuity. I Love Building Things. It's Trickier with a Lot of Cooks in the Kitchen

The Barnwell sleepover never got to the intended movie because we spent the entire evening building a rollercoaster and working with it so it actually would function correctly.

We each took parts here and there, then lost attention, only to come back and work on it more - it's like any puzzle, actually (and the parts were so tiny).

Squirrel! Squirrel!

I have to say, however, that we did accomplish our goal and I was very impressed with the focus and determination of Chitunga, Sean, and Jacob. They high-fives on several occasions as they worked out Snafus and troublespots.

"Do you always say BOOM when you're are successful?" Sean asked Chitunga.

Boom .Success.

I think Casey was bored with he whole evening, but she did get a couple loads of laundry done.

And it's Christmas Eve! One gift was delivered a little sooner than the rest. Fun. But not there's today.

video

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Postcard from the Tropical Island of Syracuse, New York, Where Santa Goes To Get Away

Chitunga must be good luck. This is the second year we've returned for the holidays and the temperatures have been ridiculously high. This year looks to set all types of records and I can't believe the view from 5388 Amalfi Drive. Typically, this scene is frozen by now with polar bears and penguins. Nope, there are seagulls, flip flops and suntanning lotion galore.

This is Central New York.

Ah, the weather might be odd, but the traditions stay the same. We did Chubby's on our first night home, stopped by Cynde and Mike's to drop off items for the big day, and instantly started eating. We saw a few old friends at the bar and quickly turned my parent's house into a storage arena for our crap while we are home.

And poor Louisville. They're under tornado watches. That sucks. I can't imagine getting hit by a tornado on winter break. El Nino.

We have had other holidays such as this and I remember vividly skateboarding as a kid in shorts and a t-shirt. Mom also remembers similar winters in Hamilton (and often these follow with a pretty rough winter). But CNY, that is synonymous with rough winter!

Just not this week while we're home. I'm sure Butch will ask us to help him mow the lawn.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Over The River and Through The Woods, To Grandmother's House We Go! Packed Up and On the Road.

Well, I wanted to get at least one shot of presents under my tree (as this is where they're being stored before Kermit is loaded up in the a.m. - "takeoff time, 9 a..m.," says Chitunga).

All the gifts have been up in my room out of the reach of Glamis, but I figure all will be well tonight because I'm home and with her and she's in the kitchen gnawing on a bone.

I propped up the tree so it looks like there is more than there actually is. We should be fine loading up the car.

I've got my podcasts updated (we like the news shows), a full tank of gas, and all my goods packed. It's simply a matter of getting a good night's sleep and driving safely on route 17 until we arrive (we might have to stop at Syracuse University to drop of a present for Marcelle from Alisha).

It's too bad the new Star Wars wasn't out, because it would be awesome to play the entire trip home.

Sadly, three items from Black Friday, ordered online, have not arrived. Two of them are expected in January, but the third is lost in cyberspace. I ended up getting Nikki another of what I ordered and am disappointed that I think I was scammed. C'est La Vie.

and Bon Voyage.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Crandall's Official Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in a Few Simple Words To Capture How I Feel

Brilliant, luminous, radiant, awesome, superb, excellent, Wow!, incredible, stunning, vivid, ablaze, splendid, intoxicating, thrilling, perfect, outstanding, superior, eventful, action-packed, wonderful, stellar, super, momentous, out-of-sight, cool, top-notch, better-than-I-expected, great, first-class, supreme, quality, in a class all itself, ten, 100%, inviting, initiating, magnificent, phenomenal, surprising, tremendous, dynamite, divine, swell, and fantastic.

I think I really liked it...so much so that now I want to see it again. First, however, I want Chitunga to take Dylan, Sean, and Jacob to see it so they can have that bonding for life - letting the force be awakened within them.

I'm such a cynic and skeptic. I don't get too excited about movies (well, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and The Hunger Games caught my attention), but this movie brought back my childhood, the present, and the future.

I now know what all the hype is about.

And it was great getting to see it with my CWP-cohort, Julie and Shaun. I'm so glad the idea sparked itself today and an event was born.

I am a very happy man this morning.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Impromptu Holiday Party For Ubuntu Academy On Mt. Pleasant Before @StagsMensBball In Webster Arena

One way to spend a Friday before the holidays is with several from Ubuntu Academy and the Fairfield University Men's Basketball team at Webster Arena. Although the Stags had a loss, the opportunity to watch the team play was a tremendous hit for the young men of Bassick High School and their teacher, Mr. King.

I had to laugh when Simon found the Santa outfit packed for Syracuse and put it on to entertain everyone after the pizza party. This, of course, turned into singing carols, phone calls to several family members, lots of laughter, and total joy, before we left for the game.

I am amazed at how far these boys have come in a just few short years with academics, English, and a willingness to try to new things (last night, the barbecue chicken pizza was a hit).

Watching the Stags basketball team is always an inspiration for them and the boys talked on the way home about how lucky they are to get to see them play and model student athleticism in southern Connecticut. "It was one of my greatest nights in America," one of them said on the drive home. As Abu and Lossine discussed over the summer, every player who makes it to a college team is a role model for youth in the community - the success on and off the court is guidance for  students like those from Ubuntu Academy to do the same. A pathway towards higher education and lifelong success is viewed as attainable. The appreciation they have for Coach Johnson and his team is immeasurable.

I know the Stags have a tough stretch of games and practices over the next week, and their holiday schedule is grueling. Still, the team has magic with their cohort this year and one loss is not a setback for what they're setting out to accomplish. The fans are watching.

It is Ubuntu, and Ubuntu builds the community we all desire.

Go Stags! Eyes are on you!

video

Happy Holidays, From Arcadius to the Fairfield Stags
Men's Basketball Team



Saturday, December 19, 2015

Happy Birthday, Mom! One Things For Sure! You Have a Great New Coat for a Snowy Saturday!


Happy Birthday, Mom! I'm thinking of you. I hope you have a spectacular day. I love you and will call very soon to sing!


Mimi Sue, The Birthday Girl. It's the 19th of December, Y'all!
In the meantime, know how much you are appreciated, especially for putting up with my silliness and wackiness all these years. You've been nothing but supportive, witty, caring, and encouraging. 

I am celebrating your special day from Connecticut with memories of childhood, weekends at Camp, stories from your high school days, Saturday nights in support of Cynde and Nikki during their color guard competitions, days in the pool, trips to Prithe Thopper and Wegmans, and the total embrace of all you continue to do for Cynde, Casey, and our entire family.

When I think about my accomplishments as a teacher and reader, I am thinking about how much you instilled a love of books in my brain...from trips to North Syracuse library, to the Harry Potter series, and to the joy of the young adult novels you continue to share with me.

You remain a #1 of teacher in my world who guides me to be successful (and more gray). Dazzle the crowd today in your new shoes and with that outfit you've been gearing up to wear for some time. 

As the sands in the hour glass, so our the days of our lives. I'm not Patch, Bo, Victor, or Roman, but I like to think that our storylines are just as enthralling. 

Eat a chocolate something and enjoy every bite of it!


Friday, December 18, 2015

The Ultimate Distractor At The End of a Year: Love. Ah, The Holidays. Such a Festive Carrot.

We spend so much of the year grinding, and laboring, and losing sleep, and thinking, and worrying, and fretting, and meeting, and writing, that when the holidays start creeping up and everything becomes more clear on what matters and is important, it is somewhat impossible to finish tasks, concentrate on what still needs to get done, and to focus.

I'm distracted by love. I love driving to Syracuse and love more seeing friends and family. I love our quirky Crandall traditions and the overabundance of food, gifts, laughter, and play. I love hugging, and remembering, catching up, and thinking ahead. At the core of everything we set out to do, it is love that matters most.

Yesterday was miserable with gray, rain, and cold winds, but writing from home I kept distracting myself with wrapping, organizing, and looking forward to a short time off by a Christmas tree and the stories that make my core what it is.

I don't care how old you are, when it gets to the season of love, you can't help but have sugar plums dancing in your head --- well, buckeyes and magic layer bars, ginger ale with cherry juice and whiskey, and even Chubby's.

I'm ready for another dose of Cherry Heights and I hope I can get more determined to finish the other projects on my list. Right now, the Christmas Carols are in my head and the opportunity to be work-free is on my radar. I suppose not one of us would appreciate such times if it was this way 365 days a year, so here's to next week (and the chaos of it all)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Am I Supposed To Get Goosebumps and Tears From the Star Wars Soundtrack, Jimmy Fallon Style?

Day 2: Another video. I couldn't resist.
All month, I've been sending Christmas Carols to Pam and Shirley by replacing lyrics with only their names. It creates for a nice medley of holiday tunes with a little more egotistical slant. Maybe that is why when I saw Jimmy Fallon's team and original actors of Star Wars harmonizing the music from the first Star Wars movies, I shook my head in amazement.

Brilliant. Jimmy Fallon is officially one of the most brilliant talents out there. His mind is one of a kind and I wish he was a colleague. We'd spend all our time coming up with silly things to do rather than getting done what we're supposed to. Of course, he is getting done what he's supposed to, because such playfulness is his career.

I could watch the video again and again, but I won't, because I don't get paid to have THIS much fun (just a little less fun).

Now I wish I had the capability to do this with the Christmas album I've been making. I mean, I have the soundtrack.

I'm cracking up. This is superb!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

This Is For The Class of 2 G's and a $1 (2001) and For The Many Who Have Helped Me To Become Me

I caught this version of the Beach Boy classic on Monday night and I couldn't help but get nostalgic for the Class of 2001 and the four straight years I was able to teach them from 1997 until their graduation. I was a new teacher who dedicated all he had to see them successful (and even made them mixed tapes...remember those?...that had on them numerous songs, including God Only Knows).

It seems like so long ago, 2001. I remember I departed to Tokyo, Japan soon after their graduation, but I thought a piece of me was dying when they finally were moving on....all the conversations, the lessons, the phone calls to parents, the mentoring, the grading, the letters of recommendation, the planning, and reflection - it was all for them. It was also for me to build a foundation for instruction that would be carried with me for my remaining time at the Brown.

God Only Knows What I'd Be Without That Place.

Then again, God only knows who I'd be without my parents, my sisters, my education, my mentors, my friends, my students, Abu, Lossine, Abdi, Chitunga, my work with CWP-Fairfield, my relatives, my memories, my travels, my books, and my hopes.

When Jordan Smith and Adam Levine did this rendition, a whole bunch of emotion boiled up inside of me. I am me because of who all of us are together and for this, I'm grateful, thankful, and appreciative.

I'm heading into this holiday season with much love. I've happened upon tremendous luck and have nothing but respect for all and everyone who had something to do with where I am right now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mommy Hates When I Get Nerdy Haircuts, But I Told The Lady, "I'm Getting Old. Do What You Want"

Sometimes I think I look just like my Grandpa Spence. It might be the ears or the hair. I've never quite figured it out.
Either way, I went to get the hairs clipped for the holidays by a new lady. I told her I like to look like Kramer from Seinfeld and gave her a history of having ass-length hair, going Buddha-shaved, and lately being a crossbreed of a seagull, punk, and Rod Stewart.

She nipped, and clipped, and putzed, and spritzed, making me feel like the Lion being pampered in the Wizard of Oz. Then she put all this gunk in my hair and slicked it back to give me a helmut head. I did grocery shopping, came home, made dinner, then looked in the mirror. "Hi, Pee Wee Herman. Nice to meet you."

I'm sure after I shower and attempt to stye it myself it will come out differently.  It sort of stinks getting old because the variety of hair choices seems to fade away and you don't want to usurp the youth's culture of funky new hairdos: stripes in the head, hipster beards, strange electric colors. Rather, you want to age gracefully.

The lady edged me up, however, like Abu, Lossine, and Chitunga get when they go to the barber. I thought, "Hmmm. How does she know about their persnickety attention to straight lines and angles?"

Then she clipped my ears, eyebrows and nose hairs and I thought, "It's in your imagination, Crandall. You're just old. She's doing the best to make you not so old."

And when I wash the product out of my hair in the a.m., I'll try to update the post to see what sort of mess I can make of her hard work.

(and this post ends with me singing from the musical Hair as I do after a haircut, nostalgic for the days when I had long locks and was less conscious of having to be a professional. Adulthood sucks).

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hey, @RobertGalinsky! Shhh! They Said Not To Take Photographs Inside, But I Snapped One of the Program

To the left is a photo from Madison Square Garden where Syracuse was anything but Orange and the entire game was a fizzling fud of disappointment. St. John's hit their 3's and Syracuse defense allowed it. Every time Cuse had opportunities to score...they didn't.

And that's enough of that. They deserved to lose.

Although I went to the Big Apple for a game, my buddy Robert texted to say he put tickets on hold for me to see Sheer Madness (Crazy...how did he even know I'd be in the city?). The show started at 3, the game got out at 2, and I was with a crowd of Syracuse fans - it was up to them. "Um, Bryan. After that awful game, we need our spirits lifted. Do you think the theater will have a bar, too?"

We hoped. And they did.

I'm so thankful that Robert reserved the tickets for us because the show was funny (and punny), original, clever, and the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It's not quite a 'solve your own mystery' plot, but the actors break down the walls between stage and audience and interact with spectators to figure out exactly who killed the old pianist upstairs. I've heard from others that Shear Madness is never the same show twice and I truly appreciated the improvisation required from actors. They had to stay on their feet. The best parts were when actors cracked themselves up with impromptu shenanigans. It made the show that much more remarkable.

And the entire cast was great: Kate Middleton, Adam Gerber, Jordan Ahnquist, Jeremy Kushner, Patrick Noonan and Lynne Wintersteller.  They had a great time in the performance and lightened a sour mood caused by the loss at MSG (we were pre-March madness. They were simply Shear Madness).

As I watched (participated, actually) I wished I had others with me from Connecticut who I know would love the style of acting/improv/play and surprise. The theater, too, was nice and alluring --- Mad Libs, The Musical? I might have to go back.

Ah, but this post is a thank-you note of sorts to Mr. Galinsky. I'm so glad he thought of me and that I could bring my friends. Wonderful to spend a few more hours in the city.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

It Stinks To Be Strategic (Even Organized) Only To Learn...Well, So Much For That.

Last year, during the move, my snowblower conked out. It wasn't the engine, but the auger chord for the blower rusted and snapped in half, making snow removal impossible. I went to shoveling two driveways in the worst part of the year, only to give birth to Henry, the Hernia.

So, I was smart about getting the replacement chord online to put on this Fall. It came around Thanksgiving and yesterday seemed like the perfect day to be Joe Repairman. It was 65 degrees and I didn't mind lying on my garage floor.

The snowblower I have was a gift from my father when he found it free on the side of the road in Cherry Heights. At first I thought, "Oh, crap. I will have a clunker that someone didn't want," but it did the work. We had an auger chord problem then, but it was easily repaired.

I lived by my machine in CNY during my dissertation and it was a blessing for my first couple of years in Connecticut.

When I pulled the machine apart yesterday, I realized, "Man, this ol' gal is rusted and seen better days." The auger chord I got, too, was too long. Although it was billed to fit my particular MTD Yard Machine, it is about an inch too long.

I went to return it, and the company I got it from is no longer in business. This time I ordered directly from MTD. It should arrive sometime, I hope (and I write, I hope, because many of the holiday gifts I purchased on Black Friday have still not arrived and tracking says they may not make it until January).

I was trying to think ahead and to be ready for the first snow fall, and took the tropical El Nino weather yesterday to be repair day. It was a bust. Now I must wait again and even then I don't know if the machine will run. Fingers crossed it will get me through another winter because these toys are somewhat expensive. My Nordic upbringing, however, has me ambitious to have such power under my belt...

...so only time will tell. In the meantime, I'm off to Madison Square Garden for a 'Cuse game. Couldn't pass up an opportunity to see them play in the Big Apple. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Funny, but Not Funny, But Funny. Exaggerating Steve, The Skin Tag, Simply For a Good Laugh.

What do you get when peeling potatoes and thinking about aging? A Really good practical joke that cracks me up. I still laugh because (a) it reminds me of the Christmas cactus that grew out of my mom's forehead one year and (b) the possibility of it is so disgusting that all one can do is laugh.

Part of aging is skin tags and I have two: Steve and Stanley. Steve is a little larger than Stanley, and both are tolerable, but annoying - evidence that you can't control biology when you get older.

Well, Steve and Stanley have become infamous during conversations with friends about the craziness of aging: aching bones, nose and ear hairs, sleeplessness, and fragility. When a friend asked how Steve was doing, I thought it would be hilarious to take an "eye" from one of the potatoes I was peeling and place it on my thigh as if it was really Steve.

They bought it hook, line, and sinker and said immediately, "You need to take Steve to a doctor right away. That's not right."

No, it isn't right because it is an outgrowth of a potato. Still, I started laughing at how hilarious and awful and sick and scary it would be to have Steve really looking like the monstrosity I created above. I let the joke stay for 24 hours and then had to confess that it was really a potato part. I mean...eeks...can you imagine?

Lord help anyone who actually had such a growth on their body, although I'm sure such a thing is more common that any of us want to guess.

I laughed for hours every time I looked at the photo. It is a my thigh. They are my fingers. But, that is an eye of a potato sliced off before I boiled my dinner. I imagine you're really grossed out right now or you are fading this as funny as I did. Either way, I couldn't help but sharing because, well, it's just too good to make up.

Friday, December 11, 2015

I'll Let It Go For Now, But Next Week, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Time to Return Santa From Vacation.

I barbecued in shorts last night and a t-shirt, after I finished my evening run. It's all good, and it will be warming up this weekend. I will take it...no complaints here (even though I still have flowers in full bloom out front and the trees are budding).

But, I'm putting in a request. I'd really appreciate if it would cool down around December 23rd, so we can have a white Christmas in Syracuse. Last year, it was also warm and Chitunga didn't get to see a really good taste of lake effect. I'd like to ask Mother Nature, God, Santa, Maude, El Nino, global warming, Wayne Mahar, etc. to put in a special request to muster up some thick white stuff for our six days in CNY.

I'm willing to speculate that this dude is not the Big Guy, but actually Ron Freeman, my principal from the Brown School, but if it really is Ol' St. Nick, I'm requesting he takes off his burks, quick sipping his tequila, and for goodness sake, get out of that floral get up. The reindeers need snow.

I'm good for high 60s / low 70s this weekend, though. There's nothing wrong with that, but as soon as we approach Syracuse, I want to know there's predictions for a remarkable holiday - one we'll cherish for its festivity and timing.

And with that, I'm baking a cake for the GSEAP holiday dinner and I'm good to go with the BBQ chicken for the next couple of days.

Carry on.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Breathe. Breathe Out. Breathe In. Breathe Out. Show Some Crack. Breathe In. Breathe Out.

I had a decent rhythm going yesterday. I awoke, I wrote, I walked the dog, I wrote some more, I met with District Superintendents and proposed yearlong professional development with state grants they are working on, I did a little shopping, I came home, I wrote some more, and then I went to make dinner.

When I heated up the spaghetti and meatballs, I checked under the sink to see if my repairs from last week were still in place. 

Um, that would be "No." It was a mess. Now, my sister Cynde's butt crack is much nicer than mine and Chitunga's, too, would be much more appealing, I'm sure. They've both had run-ins with the sink. 

I ran to Home Depot and found a part that I thought was sure to fix the problem. Of course, this only worsened the problem because that part fit like it should on one end, but then wouldn't fit over the attachment to the dishwasher on the other end. Chitunga came home when I had the kitchen torn apart and I gave him everything and said, "Go wash these in the tub or bathroom sink." The two of us then tried to reassemble the parts from memory, and this was a giant puzzle. We'd finally get everything fitted just right and, lo and behold, the last fastener would not catch to the bottom sink basis. 

Drawing board. Back to it. Home repair books from the shelf. YouTube videos. Frustration. I finally said, "Tunga, you get one more shot to see if you can get the damn locks to thread." 

He did...for now. But we're paranoid. We know the part we need and hope we can find it. It's good for now, but it totally put a "wrench" in the evening. When I settled, I began writing some more, but I'm not a good thinker when I'm frustrated.

And Glamis? Man, she loved running off with all the parts. But today's another day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Little Joy A Few Weeks Early. Celebrating Love, Life, & Laughter Diva and Frog Style

Shhhhhh. This post is actually part of an early Christmas gift for one of the greatest creatures ever to come my way. Tonight, a week before she departs to Ghana with Kwame Alexander, we will have a mini-holiday celebration at Mt. Pleasant where I will offer her infinity and send her to this poem. Shhhhh. I said she can't see this post until this evening.

Three years ago, Attallah Sheppard, me, Kwame, my cousin Mark, Alisha, Rhiannon, Abu and Lossine met at the Trumbull Marriott and instantly hit it off. We've been collaborating poetically ever since. She is magic. She is family. She is laughter. She is a glimmer of hope.

So, in addition to the gift that is under my tree with only a few ornaments are infinity scarves to represent the full circle and flow of energy she's brought to my Connecticut world. With them, I hope that Abu, Lossine, Chitunga and I will be draped in all her pursuits to come. Merry Christmas, Diva. God Only Knows What We'd Be Without You.
D estiny’s a fickle sprite who brings her
i ntellectual might to the music of muses and
v erses. The poet picks up the pen, rehearses,
a sks for forgiveness, then disperses 
 I magery before it reverses into the mundane.
n ow, this is one way to keep the writer sane, to
f ind a way to pen what he’s trying to explain, to
i ntersect purpose with love and disdain, & to
n estle meaning within the limits of the human brain.
i am me because of who we are together…
t he moral of this story is not whether or not we matter…
y ou/me/them/us become better, simply through 
F lowing, growing, and knowing celestial chatter…
r eflecting, contemplating, & remembering to foster
o rder within the human distaster…there, but for the
g race of God go we. This is infinity.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Thinking and Thinking and Thinking and Thinking About the Vitriol In America Right Now

Before I start thinking, I think it is important that you watch a Tide commercial (yes, Tide commercial --- the American Dream brought to you by a laundry detergent corporation) that featured Lopez Lomong and his role in the 2008 summer Olympics. You can watch the above video, too, but you really should take a few minutes to view the commercial:


When I first returned to Syracuse to earn my doctorate, I attended a fundraiser for Lopez Lomong in Tully, New York, and learned quickly what he represented for refugees who not only relocated in the United States, but who are members of the 60,000,000 displaced individuals residing in refugee camps around the world today.

America is not everywhere else. It never has been, and hopefully it will never be.

In 2008, Lopez Lomong was selected to carry the American Flag to represent the summer Olympians and the United States of America. All one needs to do is read his memoir, Running For My Life, to have perspective on what our nation and democracy means to individuals like him from around the world. For many, the United States means salvation from violence, hatred, and war. Innocent people in other nations are trapped by the vitriol of hateful individuals (note I wrote, "vitriol of hateful individuals).

Lomong carried the American Flag in 2008. He was a refugee. He loves this nation. He represented everything that this country stands for.

I cannot promise anyone that all individuals given asylum in the United States share the love Lomong has for our nation. I do know, however, from my work and my research with immigrant and refugee youth, that the very few (the 1%) that is granted an opportunity to relocate, the United States means hope, promise, and possibility. The recent incident in California is not a norm. I've talked with several of my refugee and immigrant friends (many of them Muslim) about what this means and they, like most of us who are American-born, are disgusted. The vicious act does not represent the beliefs, values, and cultures of the majority. As always, however, a few (this case two) instigated a national panic and a paranoia like I've never seen before. This state of fear (and the hatred spewing from our mouths with anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric) helps those who HATE America in other nations to win. They do not value democracy, diversity, multiculturalism or rule by the people.

It is not a coincidence that the attack in San Bernardino occurred in a facility that took care of dis/abled people. In many nations of the world, the weak and dis/abled are the first to be attacked and ostracized by governments (even killed) because they represent everything such hateful minds detest. My good friend Charlie once said, "You can tell much about a country by paying attention to how it treats individuals with dis/abilities, both physical and mental." He came to this realization after we hosted a young woman from the Middle East in an exchange program and her father came to visit. We learned that she had a brother with dis/abilities who received no support in their homeland. Rather, their son was detested by the nation state and treated as a monster. The father was in absolute awe of what was in place for such individuals in our country. Hearing him reflect on this was one of the most remarkable things I've ever heard.

This is why I was disgusted the other day when watching Fox News (Yes, I sometimes watch Fox News). In an opening statement by some woman I never care to see again, nothing but complete hatred, venom, ignorance, and alarmist words spewed forth. I felt like I was watching the villain in some superhero film and couldn't believe she had air time. Then, later in the day, I saw people posting her clip on social media and I got sick to my stomach. They were celebrating it.

Really? This is what our country is becoming?

And that is why I revisited Lopez Lomong's story last night and reached out to the young men and women I've worked with over the last decade. I wanted to know what they were thinking about the sudden "turn" away from what our nation was founded upon. As expected, they reported they were sickened by the actions in California, too. They understand America. They appreciate it. They wish they could voice this to American people. They don't like having the suspicious and scornful narrative being written about them.

Everything is political. I get that. I hate politics, and would rather stay independent and wide-eyed. With this noted, however, I found myself saying, "Check the hate."

Check the hate. When I hear individuals on both sides of the political spectrum accusing, exaggerating, over sensationalizing, and spewing irrational and sick hatred, I want to ask, "What is it about your life...about your core...that you hate so much?" If hateful individuals on both sides took the time to unravel their hatred (anti-Muslim, anti-police, anti-immigrant, anti-government, anti-anything), I'm sure they'd get to the true core of their emotions and I bet anything it has to do with the power struggle they have either in their personal or professional life. I've found hatred to always be an indicator of projection.

I know this may seem like an irrational notion for irrational times, but the only answer I've ever found that works: in history, in books, in movies, and in my personal life, is the power of love. Right now in the United States - even during the most loving, lit-up, and celebratory part of the year - love seems to have been put aside.

So, I'm checking my own hate and recommending others do the same. There's no room for both. I will continue to choose love. I love Lopez Lomong's story and I love the American dream. I love my family, my friends, and the wonderful students I've been fortunate to teach, including several who have immigrated and relocated to this nation. And I love the mission statement of this nation: Give me your tired, your poor, and your hungry. 

We are privileged and have responsibilities to those who do not share such luxuries.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Wilma! I Left My Keys Inside! Will You Let Me In The House! Wilma! Yo, Wilma! Shoot!

I was always perplexed while watching Flintstone reruns when Fred locked himself out of his house. He'd bang on the doors and scream for his wife, when all he had to do was jump through the window which seemed like a giant hole in his rock. Um, couldn't he just climb through?

I thought about this yesterday morning when I left the house to take Glamis hiking along the Sound. I got out front and went to open the car when I realized, "Snap! I locked my keys in the house." I stayed calm, checked the doors and slightly panicked. I thought, "Oh, the back, sliding glass door will be open." Nope. I tried windows and they were all locked. Then, the last window I checked...the one over the kitchen sink, was unlocked (but it only opened a few inches). I got it open and thought, "Fudge. This isn't a big entrance like Flintstone had."

I tried, though. And I failed.

I could get my arm in and I grabbed a spatula resting in the sink. That's when I remembered something miraculous. I put my keys by the coffee pot last night. I don't know why, but I did. I thought for a second and thought, "Hmm, I bet I can reach my arm with the spatula and pull the keys to a location where I could grab them."

I stretched, jimmied, and retrieved! Success. I got my keys.

Now, I thought, "What if I had to be outside all day? What would that have been like?" But, the good news is it didn't happen. Luck was with me (at least in the morning, because then the kitchen sink leaked everywhere exactly as it did for Cynde during Easter and my hernia surgery and, Chitunga, the first night I left for Syracuse and Minneapolis).

Ai ai ai. Adulthood.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Wow! World Premiere of PROSPECT HIGH (based on true events) at Central High School with @_Mitchellaneous

The Cast of Central High School's PROSPECT
HIGH: BROOKLYN
On Friday night, I had the honor of attending the World Premiere of Daniel Robert Sullivan's Prospect High: Brooklyn, a script created from the real worlds and experiences of New York City high school students in partnership with the Roundabout Theater Company. As expected, Shaun Mitchell, Connecticut Teacher of the Year finalist and CWP-Fairfield Powerhouse, did a phenomenal job mentoring actors through a mature and sometimes difficult to swallow play.

Mature. That was the theme of the night as Mr. Mitchell explained the students would use adolescent language and would explore the realities of the violence in some urban schools (here, an exploration of a true-to-life incident where a young man and his friend bludgeoned to death a classmate with a hammer).

The writer, Sullivan, worked with teenagers to get their vernaculars and to sculpt a piece of drama from adolescent angles. Overall, I was impressed by the entire performance. Yet, as any individual who works with urban youth (and teachers) would attest, I'm not sure the dialogue Sullivan penned is as authentic and real as the voices we typically hear in our schools. The story was compelling and the  performers at Central High School did a remarkable job, but I wanted a little more believability from the script, especially with how teachers and youth interact.

The most touching scene for me was when Mr. Nichols and Makala, played by Anthony Mellow-Valle and Shaqueen Bromley, had an intimate conversation about cutting...the phenomenon where an individual digs into their skin to make it bleed. Such violence is to help them feel (usually associated with those who are most dead inside and the subject of a piece I wrote called Venglish, published in The Pressures of Teaching). The two actors at Central High School did a delicate job with this particular scene and I will keep the story of using Sharpies to create butterflies with me for the rest of my life. This, I felt, was more realistic to the exchanges between teachers and students (although, in reality, a male teacher would not necessarily subject himself to being alone with a student, even if the intentions are for helping them to heal).

My major critique of Prospect High had nothing to do with the directions or acting, but with the believability of what students and teachers have to say to one another. I know it is hard to capture the life of an urban school in 90-minutes and that dialogue needs to move quickly to get a story across. Still, I wondered about the authentic input the writer had from teachers and students. Those I've worked with in urban schools are more complex than how they were written by the author.
Teaching is complex. Youth cultures are even more complex. Perhaps the script could have been more complex.  Sullivan tried to show balance between bad teachers and good teachers in his writing (which was moderately successful), but like Freedom Writers, Impossible Minds, and any film trying to capture the energy of a school, it can get a little hokey at times.

Shaun Mitchell and Patrick Setiadi
Besides that, the entire production was totally worthwhile. The kids rocked the script given to them and did a phenomenal job pulling the audience into the story. Bria (Aislin Otero), Devin (Patrick Setiadi), and Andrea (Taina Vilorio) were phenomenal leads and well casted. Anny (Henecy Gomez) also did a great job portraying a transgendered youth trying to maintain integrity throughout the script.

Within the performance the teacher in me wanted to intercede with workshops, support, and dialogue about the content. Yes, the realities of urban schools are intense at times, but I've found even in the worst circumstances there's a special relationship between teachers and students that has them bonded together against incredible circumstances. They are not the enemy of each other; instead, they share an enemy beyond the boundaries of brick walls and security checks. The enemy, I believe, is the one that exists in the apathy those in power have towards the tremendous socio-economic divide in this nation. The enemy is  the political mechanism that  worsens urban schools rather than provides them with the resources they need.

Regardless, I'm thumbs up for the work of Mr. Mitchell and his cast. I'm so glad I attended and experienced their great work. Congratulations.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Harvesting The Joy of 3rd Grade Writers, Invited To Hear Author's Chair of Insightful Personal Narratives at Middlebrook

For the last few months, I've been providing professional development on narrative, informative, and opinion writing in K-5 schools for teachers, support staff, and students. Included in this work has been model lessons and a few weeks back I had the opportunity to work with Amanda Schaeffer's class at Middlebrook. The topic was getting "unstuck" when writing narratives and composing on topics that matter to us.

A few weeks following, I did a workshop for teachers on thinking like a comic illustrator and storyteller, blocking one idea at a time.

The hard work paid off, because yesterday I was invited to hear drafts of student work and was able to see how the young people went from a seed in the library model lesson, to further development in comic strip forms, to a finished product - 22 personal narratives. The kids wrote about gymnastics, video gaming, basketball, skiing, engineering, monsters under the bed, friends, and even trips to Targets. I was impressed by the originality, the consistent development, and the ability to maintain audience awareness in all that they wrote.

My favorite line of the day came from Luke who described a time he was having a very rough day and his parents took him to Targets to pick out a toy. At first he didn't know why he was brought to the parking lot of the store he detests. He wrote,
I discover that we were going to Target. "Ugggggh," I moaned and I went back to my blue mood [he was angry about falling off of a slide and having a slight concussion]. What do my parents need now that will be totally useless to me? I jumped out of the car. I dragged my feet to the ground. Why do parking lots have to be so large?
Luke went on to narrate a story about walking into a store full of what he hates most, PEOPLE! and how every time his family enters Targets they run into people they know, which is super boring. Ah, but his parents brought him to Targets to allow him to pick out a gift to put him in a better mood.
Legos always cheer me up no matter what situation I'm in. There are so many different kinds of them, but my personal favorites are the city. There are so many sets that you can build! They have police stations and fire trucks and so many other things (but for Christmas, I'm hoping to get the giant spaceship).
I was highly impressed by all the young writers: their details, their use of imagery, the million dollar words they used, but most importantly the originality.

I brought my signature pirate-eye patches and admitted to Luke, "Yes, I got them at Targets." (Seriously, his essay would make the greatest commercial, as his disgust for being there was totally overturned when he got to pick out a Lego toy). I asked the kids to ARGH-ue about 10 important writerly things they learned from hearing one another's essays. These kids came up with 12 and I felt like I was working with doctoral students. They were brilliant.

So much of what we do in life simply disappears and we never know the effects we have. Yesterday, however, I learned that my few hours of working with teachers and kids paid off. I was so proud of the young writers, their teacher Amanda, and their district for hiring CWP-Fairfield to explore new ways for teaching writing. I only hope such success is spreading throughout all the schools I'm working with.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Missing the National Conference, But Connecting With My Buddy Via FaceTime and Using Time Away to Make Money for Literacy Programs

I've been attending LRA for the last seven years, but this year I stayed at home. I decided at last year's meeting that I needed to rethink the financing for national conferences and I ran some numbers in my head. My hypothesis was that I could stay in Connecticut, conduct professional development in local school districts, put the money into the CWP-Fairfield account, and as a consequence, fund the third summer of Ubuntu Academy for refugee and immigrant youth in 2016. Last year, I spent almost $1,800 to present on the literacy youth I work with and this year, staying put, I was able to secure enough workshops in school districts that, indeed, helped me to meet my goal (N=$5000). Because of this choice, I know 26 young people will have a two-week summer experience to counter summer literacy loss. I traded in the expense to attend LRA to do more for the world.

The sadness? I missed seeing my friends and mentors, including my LRA buddy, Elizabeth, who FaceTimed me from her hotel room, and my intellectual, comic relief - Stephanie Jones. I also missed many of the intellectual minds that have had a tremendous influence on the ways I think about the world. I received knowledge from the sessions Elizabeth attended and made a promise that I will try to find my way to Nashville next year. I attended NCTE and NWP a few weeks ago and got some of my educational fix, but I am not sure it is quite enough. There is a family feel to LRA, too (albeit, dysfunctional as all families are).

Perhaps it's because I live in a region with some of the most severe socio-economic divides in the nation. Maybe it's because I follow my cousin's lead and look for ways to play intellectual Robin Hood by taking from those who have to give to those who do not. Either way, I know that the cost of attending a national conference doesn't always equate to the ground work I like to do. This year I experimented with alternative uses of the precious time I have, and I am feeling like a winner. On the scale of equity and liberty, it seems that raising $5000 for marginalized young people outweighs the cost of flying across the country to present to a few individuals about the literacy work with marginalized populations.

So, I took a chance. Rather than fund my own travels, I dedicated my December to work in local schools so I can continue the work I love doing with relocated populations of youth. Time is precious and I'm glad I made the decision for this year, but I really do miss seeing my inspirations, guides, and academic friends. If only we could find a better way to disseminate the work we're doing, without having it cost so much.

I know, too, that it has also bought me academic time to analyze data I've collected, to think about new ways to understand what we're learning at CWP, and lightened my typically frantic end-of-Fall semester.

So, for those who are doing as they do, I am wishing them the best.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

I Don't Care If It's Cold, But Give Me Sky and Sun. Nothing Makes Me More Miserable Than Fog and Cold Rain. Ugh.

Normally I am pretty happy-go-lucky, and I lost my Eeyore nickname sometime in college. No longer did I see the glass as half empty and perform life as a Debbie Downer. I chose happiness and looked for optimism to live my days. To me, it has been a choice.

I will argue, however, than when the skies are gray, the rain is frigid, the fog is thick, and the bones are damp, that it is nearly impossible to think pleasurable thoughts. I can do it if the temperature is in the 70s, but when down in the high 30s, I just want to curl up in bed and mope.

The weather brings sinus pressure, low-grade headaches, lethargy, sleepiness, and doubt. Yes, it keeps me indoors and sitting still, but it also is highly depressing. Even the gym couldn't get my blood and spirits going yesterday. I simply gave in to the fact that it was going to be a grumpy, miserable day.

Of course, I kept the spirits up when working at Middlebrook Elementary and, like Frenchtown, love the 1st and 2nd graders. Still, I could feel the energy drain on the teachers and students, too. It's ugly outside...not yet white, all types of mud, but not with the promise of tulips and daffodils. It's just gross.

I'm hoping today is a little more scrummdiddleyumptious for us all. That way I can see what Pooh and Piglet are up, too, and return to my bouncy Tigger self.