Adventures in Rome: Priceless

People don’t enter the teaching profession to make money. Obviously, we want a pay check, but with the level of education required in many states (Master’s degree) and the number of hours we contribute, we’d be making far more in the private sector putting our skills and passion to work. And let me just squelch right now the oft-claimed, “at least you get summers off.” True, kinda. If we aren’t going to training or working second jobs. But we also don’t get paid for the summer. Our paychecks are divided into twelve payments so that we receive summer paychecks, but we are only paid for the school year. Also, we don’t get paid overtime. I usually put in between 50-55 hours per week.

Anyway, it isn’t lucrative. So when I decided to celebrate my youngest’s university graduation this summer with a trip to Italy, it was a decision I didn’t take lightly. It was expensive. I came up with all kinds of reasons why I shouldn’t. Briefly. And then the most important reason blazed: if not now, when? Soon my baby will start a career that will possibly take her far away and keep her busy. Then marriage and babies and I’m not getting any younger, so yes, now.

I lived in Vicenza, Italy for about three years, 24 years ago. It’s where my son learned to walk, and where I carried my daughter until a few weeks before her birthday. So this trip was a sort of an emotional homecoming for me, too.
We spent 18 glorious days luxuriating in the Ligurian Sea, steeping in ancient art, feasting on local cuisine, and hiking urban streets and rural trails.

We started in Rome.

Trevi Fountain

Obviously, the layout of the city isn’t different from when I was there before. What has changed is the commercialization and focus on tourism. I remember walking right into all the sites without waiting in line – except the Vatican. But even that line has grown exponentially. It really just blew my mind. As a stay at home mom on a soldier’s salary long ago, I got to look at sites from the outside, but rarely could we afford to go in. So I decided that this time we were going to go in and see everything. I sprung for good tours that skipped the general admission lines. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It is absolutely worth it.

Vatican museum
St. Peter’s Basilica

The Bocca della Verita used to be very open and easy to access. Now it’s all closed in with scaffolding and an attendant, and the line was just wicked in the hot July sun. We stood there wilting for about an hour with temps in the mid-90s.

Bocca della Verita

When touring, I found the best way to stay sane is to be flexible. Set a few non-negotiable tours and visits (plan far ahead because many sites require reservations, even with general admission), but then relax and simply enjoy whatever circumstance arises.

The Coliseum
Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona
Palatine Hill
Circus Maximus
The Tiber River
View from the Castel Sant’Angelo
The Pieta

Eat. Everything.

Eggplant pasta
Spaghetti carbonara (I think)
Fig and prosciutto lasagna
Caprese Sandwich
Pannacotta
Tartufo
Pistachio and chocolate Cannoli
Canneloni

Clearly, I could write several posts about the food alone. We agreed before we left that there would be no discussing diet or calories at any point in our trip, and that eating local cuisine was as much a part of travel as getting there. We fully indulged. The best new thing we discovered is the afternoon apertif. Most restaurants serve free little nibbles when you buy a drink around five or so. We fell in love with Aperol spritz, a lovely concoction of orange bitters, prosecco, and bubble water. My favorite memories will be finally sitting down after a full day of walking, climbing, standing, and sweating, (we averaged ten miles per day) and reveling in the sweet refreshment. Usually we got chips or olives and crackers.

Aperol spritz

I do not regret anything I spent money on for this trip. Sure, there are things I learned later that could have saved money, and prior planning and communication that should have occurred, and travel arrangements that had to be changed and dollars forfeited. But I got to experience moments of my daughter’s cultural awakening and understanding. We shared laughter, silliness, camaraderie, (stress and patience, too) as women, that we may never have otherwise known. Worth it? Absolutely priceless.

 Empty Nesting

I’ve been running with my dog for years. She is a doberman rottweiler mix, smallish but big in heart. As a puppy, her name was Athena for a while. But she was a clown and snapped playfully with her milk teeth really fast, like an alligator, and laughed when I feigned horror.  So she became Toga, far more likely to be dancing on tables and popping grapes than presiding eloquently over a temple feast. Her clownishness is magnetic

Around three years old, she began to lose patches of black fur. It was gradual and not immediately noticeable. Then the remaining fur started to turn white. Her vet was clearly excited and perplexed at this turn of events, having never seen it before. She sent a skin biopsy to the lab, researched, and eventually determined that Toga is overall healthy, but has a very rare form of alopecia and vitiligo. 

At seven, her belly began to change again. It went from naked mole rat smooth to sporting several long tufts of reddish brown. But she doesn’t realize she’s funny looking, and commands respect even as she tosses my socks in the air, grinning and hopping about the living room.  

When I’m physically in shape, so is Toga. Knowing that she needs to excercise helps get me out the door, especially in winter. We have jogged through a suburban neighborhood in Idaho, followed Wyoming wild horse trails, wandered past stately mansions in Buckhead Atlanta, along industrial roads in Nebraska, through Tennessee Civil War battlefields, and braved rattlesnakes in Southern California. 

This summer she turned eight and something isn’t quite right. She’s still funny and energetic – but not as much. She gets up from bed a little stiffly. Three times she has stopped in the middle of a run. The first time we were about four road miles into six when she dragged me over to a patch of shade and sprawled, belly down in the dirt. She refused to move. Mr. Running rescued us. The second time was at 2.5 miles. Mr. Running rescued us again. 

The third time I stuck to a dirt path not far from home, but inaccessible by car, hoping the softer surface would make a difference. 2.3 miles in Toga found the only shade and plopped down again. Mind you, it isn’t especially hot – 75 maybe. We ran in Atlanta mugginess all last summer. This time I couldn’t call for help. I picked up her 50 pounds and carried her for a while, but she became suitably offended and wriggled down, dragging me back into a jog. We made it home together. 

The vet said there’s a bit of inflammation in the soft tissue on Toga’s front leg, a rest will help. But it hasn’t. She could run tests and see if there is something more, but she seems reluctant that it would tell us much, and Toga appears healthy in every other way. I worry that she hurts.

So I’ve been running by myself. It feels wrong. Mr. Running says she howls while I’m gone. She’s never done that before. 

It’s not like I run fast or very far. I use a 4 minute run/1 minute walk training app. She used to get home still ready to run, while I collapsed in a sweaty heap. 

The average lifespan of a rottweiler is 9, dobie 10. Toga has accompanied me through three moves, one marriage, two job changes, and my kids leaving the nest. I wrestle with whether I should continue to let her run until she stops or keep her at home. Or just walk. She doesn’t understand walks. 

Part of me is missing, running alone. I feel vulnerable. I research protective breeds best for running, occasionally look at ads for puppies in the area. Even though both our dogs are fine and we definitely don’t need another, I feel like my baby is getting ready to move on. 

Summer Reading: James Joyce

Contrary to popular belief, ​English teachers haven’t read every work in the literary canon. Despite my best efforts, I only manage to make little dents in my ceiling-high pile of to-get-to books. Every year I add everything from classics to nonfiction to politics to fluff to this collection, thinking that I’ll catch up during the summer, and then every summer I find myself attending at least one education workshop or seminar that requires its own stack of reading, and the others are doomed to cobwebs. 

Last year I moved to Atlanta for the month of July to study Communism in America with Harvey Klehr at Emory University. We read Whittaker Chambers, Richard Wright, John Steinbeck, etc. Fabulous and fascinating, highly recommend. 

This July found me studying the history of the Grand Coulee Dam, and training to teach AP English. 

Tackling the AP course this year, I have impetus to buckle down and read more classics. Today I am paying homage to James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which I just finished. My previous exposure to Joyce was a few snippets in college to illustrate linguistic experimentation. We didn’t read an entire work that I can remember. 

My gut reaction to Portrait: I really enjoyed the first four chapters. Joyce takes me on a nostalgic journey back to childhood, experiencing the innocent world bubble through a child’s sensibilities. His subtle changes in descriptive imagery and maturity grow as Stephen’s experiences and awareness increase. I love the countless allusions and historical references; the Penguin Classics edition, as pictured, provides an exhaustive notes section annotating these. I found myself flipping back and forth constantly to check my knowledge and understanding, particularly about Irish revolutionaries and Catholic tradition. 

Joyce loses me in the fifth chapter, though. Intellectually, I get it. The evolution of boy to man, immature to mature, servile to free.  The myth of Icarus and Daedalus, flying. But it feels self-indulgent to me in its philosophical rambling. Pedantic and didactic. And I don’t know if this is because it’s supposed to. 

Frankly, I don’t want to teach this book in my AP course. I just don’t like it enough to reread it, and I don’t know that I want to subject high school students to it. There are way too many other fun challenging novels waiting to be read.  

Inhabit Peace

 24God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; 

25Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;

26And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

 

27That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 


28For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. 

29Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. 


30And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: 

31Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. ~Acts 17

Synchronized Insanity 

The American Civil Liberties Union tweeted this pic of a darling baby holding a flag with the caption, “This is the future that ACLU members want.” You would have thought the organization quoted Goebbels. The Perpetually Offended, in synchronized horror, swooped in with talons pointed, and cried: EVIL WHITE SUPREMACY! 

Are you freaking mad? Is this really what we’ve become, that a picture of a baby holding an American flag is RACIST? Even worse is that the ACLU, not exactly a bastion of integrity, pathetically apologized. 

Multiculturalism,  as it’s taught today, divides. Diversity, as taught today, creates animosity and anger. Social studies (“history”), as it is taught today, often ignores fact and favors moral relativism and cultural Marxism. Since when has focusing on our differences ever brought people closer? Marxists have been purposely tearing down the foundations of our country for decades, and the ignorati follow blindly,  oblivious to what they are destroying. 

Joseph Geobbels would be proud:

It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.


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Visceral Reactions

Teachers feel defensive. People readily blame schools for society’s ills and balk at increasing taxes for education when they feel they have no say. It’s increasingly popular in American culture to point fingers, shift blame, and vilify whomever is in the crosshairs of accusation at the moment. 

As a constitutionally conservative educator with over 13 years experience in both private and public schools, I react viscerally to both the culturally Marxist inculcation and virulently self-protective political lobbying of the NEA, and the chest-thumping crass attacks of the self-appointed defenders of tradition who are tired of feeling silenced and marginalized. I live in both worlds. 

This is what I think. 

​1. The fault doesn’t lie necessarily with the teachers. Many of us are fair, balanced, logical, fact-based and aware. I blame the teacher and administrative education programs steeped in “progressive” language and indoctrination, shifting schools from educating individuals with facts to indoctrinating students into “social justice” warriors to fight everything traditional, conservative, faith-based and factual. In other words, most teachers are churned out to be very good little soldiers for the cause: that which has been determined important by Marxist “progressive” elitests. They feel good about what they teach. They feel it’s important to continue moral (socialist) indoctrination. The end (government manipulated utopia) justifies the means. Those of us who don’t fall into the jackbooted line either remain silent with our heads down or risk ostracization and retaliation. Recent surprising comments about inclusion from the new OEA president are heartening, but naturally suspect. 

2. The media, both mainstream and social, should be blamed for hyping every little pet peeve of Minority Group of the Day that feels its needs aren’t being met, and feeding the frenzy that follows. We aren’t interested in listening calmly and discussing logically anymore. The MO now is to label grievances as oppression, and then silence with vilification anyone who disagrees. Attorneys should be ashamed of themselves for willingly participating in this increasingly litigious behavior. 

Media also touts rankings every couple years from some questionable international test given to some kids somewhere that ranks our kids 39th in the world, without accounting for test reliability or vast differences in cultural and educational expectations and outcomes. Until we compare only countries of equal size with equal borders with equal immigration numbers with equal cultural expectations with equal diversity with equal policies regarding who we educate and to what level, it isn’t equal! Stop already with comparisons to Finland and Norway and China. Until we acknowledge how and whom other countries choose to educate and grant citizenship, it’s a moot point. 

3. Parents who raise their kids to feel entitled to do whatever they want without consequence are a problem. Countless excuses run the gamut from how Sally never misbehaves at home so it must be the teacher’s fault or Fred was at his dad’s house and didn’t know about the assignment or Lola is experiencing anxiety about school and can’t do any work or George never gets anything lower than a B, so if he has a C it’s the teacher’s fault. 

Parents who take vacation in the middle of the school year instead of during the summer or scheduled break are a problem. Maybe we can get away with that in elementary schools where, arguably, grades don’t “count,” but pulling kids from high school in the middle of a Shakespeare (biology, chemistry) unit and requesting a packet ahead of time to finish over two weeks in Cabo or Disneyland as if all we do is worksheets and expecting no grade repercussions is irresponsible and selfish. 

Parents who continuously bring forgotten lunches, basketball shoes, homework, permission slips and insist on calling and texting during class, flouting school and classroom policies are a problem. Those computers in their hands take children to places no parent wants to admit, but teachers see the huddled embarrassed giggles over a screen at lunch, the tears as a result of texting fights between couples and hurtful unfriending and destructive rumors. We see the kids who sit alone in the corners of the hallways to eat with unknown individuals across the net, plugged in to whatever they listen to these days, and we see the rampant cheating via test pictures and plagiarism. It’s okay to tell your kids no. They don’t need smart phones, believe it or not. We somehow made it through high school without being constantly connected to mom and dad. 
Of course every child deserves to be heard and worked with individually and there are always anomalies in each situation, but until we decide to set strong expectations, persevere and follow through without enabling irresponsibility, stop insulating our kids from failure and consequences, and start monitoring their activities instead of telling ourselves they are mature enough to handle it, we continue to instill entitlement and bad behavior. 

4. I blame social promotion that allows little Sally to move to third grade when she has missed half of second or hasn’t learned to read, and Fred who hasn’t turned in a single assignment for five years, but still goes on to high school. I blame lenient attendance policies that don’t hold kids or parents accountable, and discipline policies that merely tap the hand. Popular now is the suggestion that minority students ought not be disciplined at all

There are great teachers with brilliant minds in our education system who love students and give far beyond their paycheck. Parents continue to want the best for their kids. We should all agree that what we’re doing isn’t working if what we want in the end is to graduate determined, individual thinkers. If, in the end, we really just want workers who viscerally feel good about themselves because government entities like their perceived morality and celebrate every little thing they do for the Collective, then we are succeeding. 

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