Vacuum the Halls. Deck them Later.

Posted on Sunday, December 05, 2010

I was talking on the phone to a client a few weeks ago, a fellow German Shephard owner, as it turned out. I'm not sure how the topic of our dogs came into the conversation, but it did, and he asked if I was coping with the same magnitude of dog hair as he was. Absolutely. Had he tried the Furminator comb? Yes, he replied, but he had also purchased a new vacuum cleaner that had changed his life. Changed his life. A man said this. I've never known of a man's life being changed by a household appliance.

I had to know more.

He gave me the model name. And then he said, "It's the best $700 I ever spent!"

**blink** **blink blink** **blink**

$700 dollars? Yikes. So much for that fantasy. I can tolerate a lot of dog hair for $700.

I told my husband about this phone conversation during dinner. While I had been merely taken aback by the price of this miracle vacuum, my husband nearly choked on his beans. As I suspected. This is the usual male response to good money being spent on prosaic household appliances when there are still homeless wide screen TVs and computer equipment in the world.

Nevertheless, he must have filed the model name away somewhere in his convoluted memory because several weeks later, he forwarded me an email. One of his online deal shopping sites was advertising this particular model of vacuum for less than half price. In other words, much closer to our price range. In the meantime, one of my two working vacuums (the better one, of course) had choked and died, perhaps in an act of Hoover hari-kari, after injesting a particularly meaty wad of nastiness during an intense cleaning session. Spilled cat litter was involved. Enough said.

Long story short? My new miracle vacuum arrived Friday. And will it be as orgasmic as its reputation implies? The jury is still out. But I did have to empty the canister a half dozen times on Friday night alone. And that was from vacuuming just the downstairs.

My13-year-old son declared it "sexy." Either men are changing. Or vacuum cleaners are.

The Sato Family

Posted on Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My daughter and I have been renewing our research efforts for our Japanese Cemetery website. Here is the latest article that will appear there--hopefully in the near future!

When Yoshiko Kato visited the cemetery to translate the kanji stones, I was particularly excited when she reached the fourth marker in the first row. Although the family surnames had been previously translated from most of the stones, this particular stone was marked on our transcript with only a mysterious, black question mark. We had, at that time, not even the least idea who might be buried in that grave.

Yoshiko kneeled in front of the marker, leaning forward and backward alternately in order to make sense of the nearly illegible marks. She resorted to using a finger to attempt to trace the kanji, gleaning by feel information that proved to be too faint to read by eye. At this fourth stone she almost immediately announced that “Sato” was the family name, but the given name seemed to puzzle her. She was expecting a traditional Japanese name, but after studying the writing for some time, she reached a different conclusion. “Teddy,” she said, rocking back on her heels. “You know, like a teddy bear? It says Teddy. Teddy Goro.” The image that “Teddy” brought to mind was that of a child, perhaps even a baby, who tragically passed away early in life (as was too often the case for the children of Auburn’s Japanese families).

A few steps away from Teddy Goro’s grave was another Sato marker. From this gravestone Yoshiko was able to read “Junko” as the given name and October 9, 1931 as the date of death. Were Junko Sato and Teddy Goro Sato related? On that sunny afternoon when Yoshiko visited the cemetery, there was no way to know.

Subsequent research answered our questions about the Sato Family. We discovered that Komakichi Sato arrived in the United States in about 1907. He first settled in Tacoma and established himself there as a businessman—he operated a laundry in the city’s downtown district. His early days were otherwise shrouded in mystery. There is some indication that he may have had a family when he lived in Japan, and that some of his relatives may have come with him to the United States. He was perhaps even widowed by the time he came to Tacoma. Nevertheless, we do know that he married Sayo Naikaido sometime around 1921. Their first child together was a son named Buell Kazuro Sato. Just over a year after Buell’s birth, Sayo gave birth to a second son, Crayton Akira Sato.

Sometime after Crayton’s birth, Komakichi turned the laundry business over to a young relative, Tatsuo Sato. Komakichi and Sayo then moved on, eventually landing in Auburn, Washington, where the family made their living by farming. They can be found there in the 1930 Federal Census with their older boys and two younger children, daughter Lena and son Yoshi. Sayo must have been pregnant at the time the census-taker visited the family. She gave birth to a daughter, Junko, on June 4, 1930.

As we learned at the cemetery, Junko passed away on October 9, 1931. She would have been a 16-month-old toddler. She was probably walking by that age and learning to talk too. She was certainly developing her own personality and learning, as toddlers do, to charm both beloved adults and total strangers. Her loss at such a young, enchanting age must have been a tragic blow to the family.

Unfortunately, losing children early in life wasn’t unusual in those years, and, no matter what, life went on for the surviving family.

Two years later Sayo gave birth to another son, James. Daughters Reiko and Mitsuko followed in 1935 and 1936 respectively. Finally, on March 20, 1938 Sayo gave birth to her last child: a little boy named Teddy Goro. This little brother was, tragically, almost exactly the same magic age as Junko had been when he too died of unknown causes and was buried in the Auburn Cemetery.

Like all of Auburn’s Japanese, the Sato Family was sent to internment camps in 1942 after the outbreak of World War II just a few months earlier. The Satos were sent first to California’s Pinedale Assembly Center before being sent on to Tule Lake. After the war, the family did not return to Washington; perhaps they didn’t have the means to re-establish themselves there. Instead they put down roots in Hayward, California. They were there in the 1950’s when, after more than 40 years in their new country, Komakichi and Sayo Sato were finally able to petition for U.S. citizenship. Komakichi, regrettably, lived only a few years after this momentous event. He died in California in 1958; Sayo passed away there in 1974. Both are buried in Mt. Eden Cemetery in Hayward, California.

Although Junko and Teddy Goro’s family is no longer in Washington, it’s comforting to know that their family, including some of their siblings and many nieces and nephews, continues to live and thrive even today. I’m sure both Junko and Teddy hold special places in their memories.

It is largely through Yoskiko's translating efforts that we have been able to preserve the information on these unique and vulnerable markers. She has our profound thanks.

Teach for America—in Federal Way???

Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010

(Warning: Here there be strident, sustained whining)

As some of you know, I’ve recently made an attempt—a very concerted attempt actually—to re-enter the field of teaching. I taught high school in Oregon almost 100 years ago when I was first out of college. Upon relocating to Washington, I realized that a teacher with my sparse experience had little chance of being hired in the Puget Sound area, and I reluctantly accepted a position in the airline industry until I could decide what I wanted to do as a career.

Fifteen years, one marriage and two kids later, I was still at the airline, and a bit burned out with the flying and fare wars. After September 11, I had the perfect opportunity to bow out gracefully, and I spent the next several years staying home with my kids and pursuing volunteer work—work that always (with one memorable exception when I worked for a nearby police department; ahem) included teaching and interacting with kids. I realized that I was still good at it, and that there was no reason I shouldn’t dust off my neglected, tear-stained bachelor’s degree and attempt to resurrect my long-forgotten teaching career.

After so many years away, how was I going to accomplish this goal and prove that I was serious about teaching? Well, systematically to put it succinctly. The first step (in addition to all that volunteering) was to apply to have my Washington teaching certificate (long dead due to lack of use) re-issued. Once this was accomplished, I applied to become a substitute teacher with my local district and began teaching there regularly. I discovered that teachers are now required to prove themselves to be highly competent (in addition to being certified) in their field. This is accomplished by taking what are known as West Tests. I took five West tests over the course of a year: English/Language Arts, Social Studies, History, Mid-Level Humanities, and Mid-Level Mathematics. The fee for each test was over $100 and that doesn’t include the investment I made in used text books covering these subjects and the time I spent studying them.

Next, I realized that I would be much more employable if I obtained a second endorsement. As a result, last spring I cleared my calendar for three months (including all opportunities to earn any income), paid approximately $1500 in tuition and taught two sections of history at a local high school in order to obtain a Social Studies endorsement. During this time I also updated my letters of reference (since I had a program supervisor and two mentor teachers who had observed me) and confidential reference forms. These confidential forms, by the way, vary slightly from district to district, and no substitute forms are accepted, no matter how similar. This means a job-seeking teacher-candidate will have to ask the people providing their references to fill out as many forms as there are districts to apply for. In my case, I had narrowed my targeted districts down to the seven most local districts. I asked each reference, therefore, for a total of eight forms (when including a generic letter of reference) and I went about creating 24 pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes in which to mail them away. My reference providers were very gracious—just imagine if I had been in the position some new teachers are of being able to apply anywhere in the state. The paperwork for these kind souls would never end.

But all this was just preliminary to the real fun—applying for jobs! Friends, anytime a human resource department says it has initiated a procedure For Your Convenience, bless yourself Catholic style and pray for deliverance. In this case, my seven targeted districts had all recently implemented an electronic application process For My Convenience. What was this process like? Well, the most recent application I filled out included 25 separate screens of information that had to be filled out and saved. They wanted my personal information, my education and employment history, my non-education related employment history, military history, demographic profile, names of professional references, names of personal references, various release forms, etc., etc. But that’s not all! Then there are the uploads. Most districts want a resume and a cover letter. And a copy of your certificate. And at least three references letters. And those confidential evaluation forms we discussed earlier. And a college transcript (an official one can be sent later). And copies of your West Test Scores. Whew.

But, hey, you’re not finished yet. Then there may be writing samples to provide. Or sample lesson plans. Or, like the one I most recently filled out, a “teacher style profile”—a lovely little program featuring 32 timed multiple choice questions designed to uncover if your teaching style amounts to continually running to the principal, complaining to fellow teachers, bitching directly at students, or shifting problems onto parents (Right answer? There is no right answer! That’s the fun!).

But at least this is all professionally and reliably programmed, right? Oh, you poor innocent. How can you even ask such a naïve question? Of course not, silly! Anytime you return to your saved application file, you may or may not find gaping holes in the information that you laboriously filled in even just days before. But technical support is graciously provided, right? Tell you what, let’s not even go there.

And, assuming you vault all these hurdles and successfully apply for an open position? You may—may—receive a two-sentence robo-email thanking you for applying. After that, unless you qualify for an interview, you will never hear from the district again.

Twice this summer—late summer, after I accepted a seasonal sales position in desperation, I received last minute calls inviting me to school interviews. In both cases, the interview slot was during the training class for my only guaranteed employment for the remainder of the year. If I missed any of the training, I would have to forfeit the guaranteed job for an interview for a speculative job. In both cases I explained in desperation that, although I couldn’t be there at the suggested time, I could be there just one hour later. Please, please, could I be interviewed later that same afternoon?

Nope. Sorry!

After everything I’ve done and gone through to attempt to secure a teaching position, two districts declined to spot me even a single hour. That’s just the way it is.

And why is this the way school districts select candidates? For the same reason that dogs lick their own genitals—because they can. There is a glut of good, solid, qualified teachers out there seeking employment. And districts have decided that the best way to thin the herd is to set up a veritable obstacle course of hoops for them to jump through. And, as I’ve discovered, even successfully jumping through those hoops is no guarantee that you’ll even be considered for a job. Such is the reality of the teaching job market in the Puget Sound.

So here it is November, and I’m sitting in an in-bound call center, making just over minimum wage, and trying to feel good about my current sales job and my chances for becoming an official teacher next year. And it was actually going pretty well until just last week. That's when I heard a radio story about how Teach for America is coming to Seattle and FEDERAL WAY, Washington. Teach for America is an organization that takes recent college graduates from various fields of study and puts them into the at-risk schools as teachers. These 22-year-old graduates make a two-year (two-year!) commitment to teaching. But it’s not like they aren’t qualified to teach. They are given a five-week course that covers, evidently, everything they need to know to be a teacher. They are paid the same wage as any other teacher in the district. And the district pays Teach for America a $4000 fee per graduate hired in their district.

Federal Way is one of my seven targeted school districts. Federal Way declined to give me even an interview for any of their open positions this summer.

Tonight on the news a spokesman for the Seattle School District was defending the decision to bring the Teach for America program into Seattle. His claim was that, despite having some excellent teachers in the district, Seattle still has schools that lack high quality teachers. “Our recruitment efforts just aren’t bringing in the right teaching candidates,” he concluded.

My response? No fucking shit.

Hey, Blogger People

Posted on Saturday, November 06, 2010

I've been away from Blogger for so long that I missed some sort of "update" that they imposed on their reluctant users in the past few months. I know this because I almost need a magnifying glass to read my own blog at this point. Do any of you fine people know how to increase the point size so that I can make this thing actually readable? Help!

Update: nevermind

Esperanto – Not Just for Cock-eyed Optimists Anymore

Posted on Thursday, November 04, 2010

One of the problems with Esperanto is that, when you get together with other Esperanto speakers, even those from the most distant and exotic lands, you tend to talk about—what? Esperanto. Of course. You’d better be prepared to break the ice by responding to any or all of the following questions:

Kiel vi eklernis Esperanton?
(How did you begin to learn Esperanto?)

Kiam vi unue Esperantiĝis?
(When did you first become an Esperantist? Or, a bit more literally, When did you first become Esperant-ized?)

Kial vi decidis lerni Esperanton?
(Why did you decide to learn Esperanto?)


No mystery here; it’s perfectly natural to kindle a conversation with common interests. Unfortunately, these openings tend to progress into discussions of all the minutia and trivia of “the movement.” And that translates into preaching to the choir, in this particular context. Until the language evolves into some sort of vehicle for more prosaic human discourse, it will always be seen as artificial and contrived. We “samideanoj” know this, but we just can’t seem to help ourselves. After all, you can talk about iPhones, hybrid cars, reality T.V., or the weather with pretty much anybody—but it’s not every day when you can break into a chorus of L’Espero (Esperantujo’s imaginary national anthem) with someone who not only knows the words, but who will maybe shed a sentimental tear or two with you as you finish the final verse.

After almost two years of study, I recently had my first opportunity to use Esperanto for a practical purpose. And, in the words of the T.V. carpet technician who once had the opportunity to clean up after an alpaca, “It was awesome!”

American Esperantist is a publication too beefy to be called a newsletter, but too modest to be called a magazine. Whatever you want to call it, I subscribe to it. I wouldn’t want to speculate as to its total circulation. Let’s just say your family Christmas letter probably reaches a broader audience. Nevertheless, a notice placed on one of the last pages of the most recent edition caught my eye. It was submitted by a Swedish Esperantist who was seeking help with a genealogy matter. She didn’t feel that her English was strong enough to accomplish the research herself, so she was hoping to make contact with an American Esperantist who could help her navigate the available records.

I contacted Soile by email to volunteer my services. It turned out that she was now in her 70’s, and most of her relatives, including her husband and only child, had already passed away. You could feel a lonely layer of melancholy just beneath her words. However, she knew that her grandmother was one of only two siblings who stayed behind in Sweden when the other five siblings departed for America in the very early days of the 20th Century. She knew the names and birthdates of these five ancestors and she knew that they had probably settled down in Minnesota initially (no surprise there!). She was hoping to contact their descendants—her American cousins—and perhaps establish a relationship with them. But she had no idea of the names or locations for the present generation. She wanted to know if, in a country as big as America, there was any way to track down her lost family. Did I think I could help?

What seemed like an insurmountable problem to Soile actually seemed pretty straightforward to me. In fact, if I couldn’t track down some of her family members, I would have to return my official secret decoder ring in shame. I assured Soile that I would give it my best shot. She provided me with the names and birthdates for the original generation and I began my research.

A week later, I initiated an email exchange with a woman in San Diego who, it turned out, was the great-granddaughter of one of the brothers. As you might expect, she was originally reluctant to share personal family information with a complete stranger. She asked for an explanation of who I was and why I was involved. I explained that Soile did not speak much English, but was a very fluent Esperantist and that, as both an Esperantist and genealogist, I had volunteered to help her make contact with her American relatives. My new San Diego contact responded to this explanation with a single word: “Fascinating,” she typed, and I imagined her delivering this line with a skeptical Dr. Spock-type expression, complete with arched eyebrow. Fortunately, she warmed up over this next few days. With her help, I was able to provide Soile with three email addresses for various American cousins. In addition to this woman in San Diego, we found descendants in southern Oregon and in Kansas. The whole exchange took about ten days.

As of today, Soile has “friended” several of her American relatives on Face Book. They use Google Translator to bridge the gap between her Swedish and their English. And I get the satisfaction of having accomplished something by using Esperanto that might not have otherwise happened.

The Election

Posted on Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Electing Republicans at this point is like returning to a surgeon who "accidentally" amputated your leg because your new doctor has been unable to orchestrate a miracle that would allow you to grow a replacement.


Posted on Wednesday, June 09, 2010

I’m just not feeling right these days. Everything seems to be coming to a headless head. My body is changing, and I want to reach a truce with it. To be at peace with it; to cherish it even, despite its faults and foibles. Will that be possible? I want to treat my body better. When you get right down to it, your body is all you’ve got. Without your body, you’re walking around the ramparts moaning, “Adieu, adieu; Remember me.” And then its too late to wonder what might have been if you’d finally decided once and for all to just quit with the alcohol already; to find a way to do lunch that doesn’t involve driving up to a pimply teenager thrusting a greasy bag at you through an open window; to be able to say, “I just don’t care for chocolate,” without betraying yourself by laughing like a lying maniac until you fall over and start knee-slapping the pavement.

At least I don’t smoke. I like to give myself credit for that, but I can hear Chris Rock in my head chastising the brothers who boast that at least they’ve never been to jail. “You’re not supposed to go to jail!” he says in eye-rolling exasperation. Clearly, I need to set my goals higher. Anymore, saying, “At least I don’t smoke” is kinda like bragging that, “At least I don’t cut myself with dull, rusty razor blades and rub composted manure and dog spit into the wounds.” Well, no. I would hope not.

I am trying so hard to keep exercising. Please keep your fingers crossed that we will have summer one day soon. Hell, I’d even settle for spring.

The Weekend Cometh

Posted on Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The two indispensible items for this weekend’s trip? 1) Cowboy boots, and 2) a corkscrew. Ha! I bet you’ll never guess where I’m going. In fact, I’m so confident in your inability to guess where I’m going I’m just going to go ahead and put you out of my misery by telling you. My friend and I are going to leave the men/children behind and travel to an eastern Washington bed-and-breakfast. And there, we will sleep in a teepee. But, no, not some rustic KOA campground special and smelling vaguely of mildew teepee, but a teepee with hand-hewn log furniture including full-sized beds with Pendleton blankets and hand-braided rugs on the plank floor. And then, the next morning, we go on our wine tasting tour of the local vineyards—our horseback wine tasting tour. Because folks, you may not be able to get away with driving drunk, but there’s no law on the books says you can’t throw a leg up over ol’ Blaze and sing old A.M. top 40 radio songs as he staggers along the trail to the next winery’s tasting room. And this, this, sounds damn close to my idea of heaven on earth.

We Interrupt This Series..

Posted on Sunday, May 09, 2010 bring you a completely non-Deutch-related update on my life and chronic absenteeism!

1) I have completed student teaching! "Student teaching?" you ask. "Isn't student teaching something you were condemned to suffer through back in the dark and distant 80's?" Why, yes! As a matter of fact, it was! HOWEVER, that stint of student teaching resulted in my English/Language Arts endorsement. And, as I try to revive my long dormant teaching career, I know that I will be twice as employable with two endorsements. So, this stint of student teaching was intended to result in a shiny new Social Studies endorsement. And, unlike the first time around in the 80's, this time student teaching was an absolute and undeniable blast! I taught two periods of U.S. History & Government to 11th graders at a quasi-local high school, specifically a unit on the Civil Rights Movement. And I rocked. How do I know this? Because here a full week afterward, I'm still having dreams--normal, pedestrian dreams--that are entirely populated with black people. My psyche has never been so thoroughly integrated. Dude. You wish you were me.

2) I am brushing up my Esperanto in anticipation of another 3-week immersion course in San Diego this summer. And, after teaching Esperanto all year at the Boy's middle school, even at a very basic level, my Esperanto has never felt sharper. I can't wait!

3) In anticipation of my San Diego sojourn, I was presented with a brand new net-book computer for Mothers' Day! I'm typing on it now, trying to make the adjustment to yet a tinier world of print. My old laptop is named "Levon", so this new little sister has been christened "Lidia" (a fine Esperanto name). Isn't she cute? Okay, so you can't see her. But trust me, she's cute.

Part III - Deutches and the Anniversary of the SFO Earthquake

Posted on Saturday, April 17, 2010

Here is a much delayed Part III of our story. Did I mention that I'm embroiled in a student teaching field experience? I'll catch you up with all that one of these days. In the meantime, here is, finally, the continuation of our story...

What sort of mother was Elizabeth McMahon Deutch? I wish I knew. Unfortunately, after the passage of a century, very few clues remain about their day-to-day family life in San Francisco. I can tell you with a fair amount of confidence that Liza was probably a bit of a stage mother. We have a brief blurb from a turn-of-the-century San Francisco newspaper that mentions the Eddy and Claire Deutch would be dancing the Parish of St. Brendan’s on an upcoming afternoon in 1904. Edward would have been 12 that year and Claire eight. I imagine little sister Thelma at age six, sitting in the audience as the emotions of pride and envy duel in her imagination. Thelma and Claire were particularly close, and Thelma must have wished it had been she herself on the stage with her beloved sister rather than Eddy. But Thelma’s day would come.

There is another record of the Deutch family from this period that bears looking at. It is a voter registration record for Isaac from 1907 (women hadn’t yet attained the right to vote, so no such records for Liza). Although he declined to declare a party affiliation at that time (later records indicate he would become a staunch Republican), his address was included on the document: 1223 ½ Geary Street.

JoJo (who reads here, Hi JoJo!), already spotted the significance of these two unrelated crumbs of information about the Deutch family—that they were in the heart of San Francisco during the great earthquake and fire of 1906. The earthquake struck on Wednesday, April 18, at about 5:00 in the morning as most of San Francisco’s citizens lay sleeping in their beds. It was estimated at a 7.9 on the Richter scale. Thousands of people died, many in the earthquake and even more in the ensuing fires. Although we have no way of knowing what the Deutches’ specific experience was, the entire family survived intact. Perhaps even more surprisingly, their home was not damaged beyond repair. They continued to live there for several more years. And that means that son Edward’s little spelling book probably rode out the earthquake at the Geary Street address as well—a fact that makes me feel slightly more justified in trying to save it and return it to the family.

By 1916, Edward was in his twenties and had evidently joined his father in business. Edward’s first reported occupation was “liquor dealer,” while his father Isaac continued to report his own job as “saloon keeper.”

But then 1920 arrived, and with it Prohibition. Isaac must have been in a panic. Then in his late sixties, lost the only job he had ever known. Or did he? In 1920 he told the census-taker that he worked as a bookkeeper—a word that bears a bit of a similarity to “bootlegger,” don’t you think? Coincidence? He certainly wouldn’t be the only saloon owner to go underground during Prohibition. Realistically, how many options would he have had in launching a new career at his age? All we know for sure is that he ultimately did not survive Prohibition. The last record we have from him is from 1922. After that, he drops off the records. It’s probable that he died shortly thereafter.

Elizabeth lived many more years as a widow, still on Geary Street, although their address had changed back in 1911 to “1263 Geary Street.” Either the family had moved, or perhaps the city simply changed the street numbering system. Either way, the new address would be associated with the Deutch family for many years to come.

Part II: The Deutch Family

Posted on Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Typical 1890's Saloon

(This is a continuation of the previous post--start there if you haven't read it yet...)

Elizabeth Genevieve McMahon. A beautiful name for a beautiful girl. She had been born on a California farm in the early 1870’s to Irish parents, and was one of many daughters in a large Catholic family. As such, there was little money to invest in the children’s educations—especially the girls. Whatever future Liza envisioned for herself, she would have to bring to fruition on her own. And whatever that future was, it did not involve farm life.

We next find Liza in a San Francisco saloon, where she had probably gone to seek work. With her beauty and talent, she likely sought a job there as some sort of showgirl, a perfect opportunity for a young woman of her charms in the gay 1890’s. What she found there was a saloonkeeper named Isaac Deutch. Isaac was at least 15 years Liza’s senior, but was an established entrepreneur with a thriving business in a key San Francisco downtown location: Geary Street. It wasn’t long before Isaac and Liza fell in love.

Isaac had been born in New York to German, probably Jewish, parents. Not Irish. Not Catholic. Liza’s parents might have objected to the match on these grounds, but it’s more likely that they were simply relieved to have the responsibility for one of their many daughters taken off their hands. Isaac’s concession to allow Liza to raise their future children in the Catholic faith sealed the deal, and they were married. They established their home at 1223½ Geary Street.

Their first child, Edward, was born in 1892. Daughter Claire followed in 1896. Their youngest child, Thelma, was born in 1898.

This is the beginning of their story.

Part I: A Bit of Mystery

Posted on Saturday, March 27, 2010

Several months ago I ordered up an antique Esperanto book over the internet. The seller was throwing in a bonus book to sweeten the deal—some sort of text book. In English. I didn’t care about that; I was just looking forward to getting my Esperanto fix and savoring the fact that I would become the proud owner of a book that many Esperantists have heard about, but have seldom seen. Good for me! But when the package arrived I understood immediately why the seller had sent the bonus book along. The smell! Before I even had it fully unwrapped from its acid-free paper wrapper, it hit me: the unmistakable stench of mildew. The little text book, titled Seventy Lessons in Spelling, was a miserable wreck that clearly had spent several years, maybe decades, in somebody’s damp basement. I opened the decaying cover gingerly. The title page revealed original copyrights of 1885 & 1899. And how can you simply toss such a relic in the garbage can with the orange peels and egg shells? It’s a little piece of history, if a derelict one. I didn’t want it in the house (where it could infect the rest of my books), but I couldn’t bring myself to consign it to the garbage either. This was clearly the same dilemma that inspired the seller to send it to me in the first place. He very neatly passed on the problem to unsuspecting me. Well played, Anonymous Book Dealer. Well played.

What to do? Sell it? In its condition, it certainly had no value. Donate it to the museum for their school house display? They wouldn’t want it for the same reasons I didn’t want it. Leave it in a public place where someone might pick it up and love it? It didn’t seem likely.

Eventually inspiration struck. On the inside cover, the original owner had written his name and address in careful cursive script. I doubted, based on the age of the book, that he could still be alive, but perhaps his descendents might be interested in owning the book, not for its contents, but simply to have a sample of their ancestor’s handwriting and a record of his address. I myself would love to find a book that had been owned and studied by my grandfather or great-grandfather—to have a relic of him, his life and time. Perhaps, using the skills I’ve acquired through my highly developed sense of historic snoopiness, I could find a trace of this man’s family. Here is the information that I had to start with, and I emphasize that this was the only information I had. Everything that follows started with just this name and address:

Edward Deutch
1223½ Geary St.
San Francisco, Cal

I was anxious to see where this inscription would take me. If anywhere.

March Has Arrived

Posted on Saturday, March 06, 2010

I have essentially stopped substituting at this point because I have begun a quarter of "grad" school in order to obtain an additional endorsement (in Social Studies) on my teaching certificate. I'll be spending most of this month assembling a portfolio (read "group of hoops to be jumped through") and observing the two classes that I will be teaching during most of the month of April (two sections of 10th grade U.S. History & Government). I'll be teaching a unit on Civil Rights and the 60's. All this so that I can be observed a grand total of two times by my program supervisor in order to prove I qualify for the endorsement. A privilege for which I will be paying $1500 in tuition while losing the opportunity to make any money over the next two months. All this just so I might more reasonably seek a teaching job for the coming school year. If I'm successful? Then that triggers what amounts to a Master's Degree requirement to be completed in the next couple of years so that I can continue to teach. At, of course, my own expense.

I'll also be taking the state test in mid-level mathematics because, unlike English or Social Studies, math is a high demand field. If I pass, I will not be endorsed to teach math; however, I will be "highly qualified" in that subject, meaning that I could teach it in a Washington middle school as long as I teach 60% of my day in my endorsed subjects. Cost of the math test: $120. Cost to pursue a full math endorsement (since my current English endorsement is entirely unrelated): approximately two years of undergrad tuition, including a full term of student teaching. No thank you.

In order to prep for the math test, I considered taking a course or two at my local community college, conveniently located less than a mile up the road. However, it turns out that most community college classes are now 5 credits (3 credits was the norm back in my day); tuition is running right around $100 per credit. So there would be an additional $500 if I decided to go that route. Instead I went on eBay and found some old algebra texts. It's pretty difficult to work through these things on my own, but, luckily, I have a 15-year-old daughter who is a math genius. Yes, she's been tutoring me. Although this makes me feel slightly pathetic, at least I'm making progress in filling in the holes in my own spotty math education.

These are the sorts of issues that caused me to step away from education for as long as I did. Although I've been in pretty constant contact with teens in educational settings all along, it had been more than 20 years since I had taught in a public school classroom setting (when I started subbing last school year). The major changes in that time have been in requirements for teacher accountability/education/training. I certainly understand those concerns. But why is it that, in every case, any proof of these qualities comes at the teacher's expense? The number of hoops that teachers and potential teachers have to jump through is plain, old-fashioned ridiculous. The fact that each hoop comes with a price tag attached--to be paid by the teacher, always the teacher--is just one reason why it is so difficult to attract quality candidates to the field.

Try, Try Again

Posted on Saturday, February 27, 2010

Okay, as most of you know by now, my son took it upon himself to Google me, and, bless his pointed little head, he found his way to my site. Great. I don't want him here. I don't want my daughter there, nor my husband. I just want to communicate with select friends and the anonymous internet in general, without the unsolicited commentary of any 12-year-old child. Is that so much to ask?

He was pretty damn smug about it too.

So, I had this "Vaporback Writer" site several years ago. It was pretty cool, but it was spawned at a time when I was pretty dissatisfied with life in general, and my husband in specific. So, despite the fact that Hoss (remember Hoss? Gosh, I miss him!) had helped me obtain a really cool template for the thing, I eventually abandoned it and went on to more positive pursuits (Ed Troyer love poems and associated stalking, etc.). Unfortunately, that template seems to have evaporated into the atmosphere, so here I have found alternate arrangements template-wise. Not sure if I like this look or not. Feel free to chime in with an opinion.

Those old era posts are still here. Mostly. But it looks like the dates have dropped off of them. That's not such a big deal though. We'll see if I get an actual date on this post.

The big problem is that I'm still listed here as "XXXX Panda." That phrase has got to go. That's how the nefarious boy found my secret lair in the first place. Unfortunately, I may not be able to divorce this particular site from that identity (black-hearted Google bastards!). So, to make a long story short, I may have to start over from scratch yet again.

Who's ready to follow? Anybody? Anybody?


A New Era

Posted on Friday, February 19, 2010

We have entered a new era here at the Panda compound: My daughter obtained her learner's permit today. At age 15 3/4, she is ready to get behind the wheel of a car for the first time. And she designated herself an organ donor (which makes we terribly proud).

More 15-year-old Wisdom...

Posted on Tuesday, February 09, 2010

We interrupt our Black History Month ruminations to bring you more teen wisdom. My daughter on travel:

Her: I don't want to go to California.

Me: Why not?

Her: I've seen COPS.

Well, enough said.

Kristy Celebrates Black History Month

Posted on Monday, February 08, 2010

I read a post at Mrs. G’s place today regarding celebrating Black History Month, and reminding us that we white folks can celebrate too. So I’ve decided to paste up a few posts about how my family’s long American history intersects with black American history. Why the hell not?

Slavery. That, of course, is where it starts.

In 1685, my first American ancestor was back home in Scotland, persisting in his Presbyterian ways despite instructions from the British Crown to convert. He treacherously felt a greater allegiance to his God than to his king. And he certainly wasn’t alone in holding these treasonous ideals. He was one of many Scots who became known as the Covenanters. (By the way, there is a Covenanter cemetery in Scotland that is notoriously haunted by famous spooks—but that’s a story for another day).

Along with several of his countrymen, he was loaded onto a British convict ship bound for the “American Plantations” (Australia had not yet been opened for the purpose of disposing of undesirables). The idea was to land in New Jersey and to sell the Covenanters into indentured servitude. The proceeds of their labor over the next several years would be collected to pay for their passage, after which time they would be forbidden to return to civilized Britain, but would otherwise live as they might in the far off colonies.

In the course of the Atlantic crossing, fever broke out on board. As many as half of the passengers perished, including the man who had been charged with the supervision of the Covenanters. In his absence, the ship’s captain attempted to negotiate a “deal” with the son-in-law (and evident heir) of the deceased supervisor. Wouldn’t it be better, he proposed, to change course slightly and dock in Virginia? There, they could sell the surviving covenanters into outright slavery. The higher price they would realize from the sale could then be split in some amicable fashion between the ship’s captain and the son-in-law. A deal with struck.

This story, when I discovered it, astounded me. Slavery was something I always associated with black Americans exclusively. I think it comes as a surprise to most of us that it could, and did, happen to any number of undesirable white people too. In the earliest days of America’s settlement, landowners were in no way picky about whom they bought to accomplish forced labor.

In the case of my unfortunate ancestor, a vagary of the weather decided his fate. As the ship approached the Virginia shore, a storm blew up and pushed the ship up the coast, forcing it to dock first in New Jersey as originally planned. The Covenanters, upon arrival, protested that neither the Captain nor the son-in-law had authorization from the Crown to negotiate their indentures. In the ensuing confusion, sympathetic colonists agreed to billet them until the matter could be heard by the court. And once the court decided in their favor, they quickly made an escape into the western wilderness before the case could be reconsidered, thereafter avoiding any populated British settlements.

This story has led me to wonder why it is that we think of slavery only in terms of African Americans. Is it simply because the numbers made them such an obvious majority? That slavery, as it impacted other races, amounted to occasional anomalous footnotes to our shared history? Or is there a subtle racism at work here too? That, by persisting in the belief that only black people were victims, that the white majority can maintain the notion that slavery could only happen to an “inferior” race of people—not us. And, therefore, believing that slave=negro helped prevent us from feeling any empathy for the early plight of Africans in this county. What would have been the history of slavery in this country if it had happened regularly to other races? How would the history of slavery turned out differently if my ancestor (and many more like him) had been auctioned on arrival at a Virginia dock?

Our Princess

Posted on Monday, January 25, 2010

My 15-year-old daughter on family dinners:

"I wouldn't hate you all so much if I didn't have to spend time with you."

A ray of sunshine, our Mamie*.

* And perhaps this explains why my husband sometimes refers to her as the cover girl for Sullen Teen Magazine.