First Day of School!

The first day of school was a non-event for Julia, who was excited about second grade but accustomed to school, and a huge honking deal for Genevieve, who was reluctant to get too excited about KINDERGARTEN! Right up until Monday night, she kept telling us that she didn’t want to go to kindergarten. I expected the worst on Tuesday morning, and worse than the worst at Tuesday noon, when the bus came to take her to her afternoon class.

True to Vivi’s personality, though, she confounded me, in the best way. She was excited, not angry or scared, on the first day of school. She posed nicely for pictures before Julia boarded the morning bus to school:
First Day of School 2011 - 1

gave me a look when I tried to take one too many pictures while she waited for her own bus to school:
First Day of School 2011 - 2

and excitedly bounded off the bus at the end of the day:
First Day of School 2011 - 4

The year is off to a great start.

Poems by Julia

Julia’s first-grade class has been working on poetry this spring. Here are two she brought home today (all spelled and capitalized here as she did in the originals):

Amur leopords
thirty left
save them
stop taking them
brownish orange

My penny
I found it
in my yard
Aberham Liclon
My sister
snatched out of my hands
in dirt
Shouted at me
I could never find it

Belated Status Updates

I was busy today. How busy? So busy I didn’t have a chance to update my social-media status until after I got home. A day without a couple updates is like a day without coffee – hardly worth the trouble. In an effort to partly rectify this horrible situation, here are six status updates I should have posted today:

  • 7:45 a.m. Two parent geese were bookending a row of goslings at the pond this morning. All were staring into the water. I think the parents were getting the kids psyched up to swim.
  • 10:10 a.m. Getting in even 15 minutes early has a huge payoff: I’ve done a ridiculous amount of work in the last 2.5 hours.
  • 11:55 p.m. The gendered divergence in students’ clothing is very pronounced these days. Many women look like their going to work, or at least to a nice party. Most men look like their going to sleep under a boxcar.
  • 12:30 p.m. I’m at the annual lunch thrown by the College for our non-profit community partners. It’s a great event, and this year’s speakers were excellent – a 3rd grade teacher at Julia’s elementary school and a Carl who’s tutored in her room for three years.
  • 2:45 p.m. The barefoot cult at Carleton is getting out of hand: libraries and bathrooms should be footwear-mandatory zones.
  • 4:50 p.m. Someone parks a sweet 1980s Raleigh road bike outside the art building every day. Chrome and yellow-orange. WANT.

Best Week Ever?

End of the Day...

Driving back yesterday from seeing friends in Rochester, I realized that it has been a damn good week – probably one of the best “usual” weeks ever. Last Sunday was a pretty uneventful day around the house, but I got to spend some great time with the girls and enjoyed a nice 90-minute ride in sunshine that has been rare this spring. And I also played perhaps too much with my new iPhone, which is just as amazing as I’d hoped.

On arriving at work on Monday, I found an email message revealing that a very worthy junior faculty member had been recommended for a major grant, one we’d worked very hard to assemble last fall. Though we spent much of the week finalizing various details, the grant award should now come through pretty soon, which will be very satisfying to see.

Feeling pretty happy on Monday, I had lunch outside in a picturesque spot on campus and finished Steven Johnson’s remarkable book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, which is part intellectual history, part how-to for thinking better, and entirely inspiring. I’m already thinking of ways to start practicing some of the ideas he describes. And I was surprised to get a text, of all things, from my wife, of all people.

Tuesday, my work email brought another good message, this one regarding the award of a very prestigious and hard-to-get grant to another worthy junior faculty member. Great in its own right, this news got even better later in the week when we engineered a way for him to both accept this grant and a smaller but equally important grant he had already received – effectively giving him 15 months of funding to work on his current project, not 3. Again, very satisfying.

Tuesday night, on a whim I watched the first half of the excellent French biopic/crime thriller Mesrine, which blew me away. I watched the second half on Wednesday and Thursday nights, and found the whole movie to be an exceptional piece of work that anyone who likes crime movies should see.

Wednesday morning was spent on a United Way allocation panel, helping divvy up the local UW’s campaign funds to various area organizations. It was equally rewarding (giving away money!) and frustrating (giving away too little money), but definitely confirmed my eagerness to help run the College’s United Way campaign again next fall.

Thursday was divided into a rush-rush morning at work, getting all kinds of stuff done, and a tough but fun four-hour bike ride in the afternoon – my hardest ride yet this year, and a key session on the way to the Almanzo 100 race on May 14 – two weeks from today. Conditions were borderline terrible, which only made the 240 minutes in the saddle that much better.

Even given the quality of previous five days, I had high expectations for Friday, and I wasn’t disappointed. I spent all morning at the Minnesota Zoo, chaperoning Julia’s first-grade field trip. I spent pretty much the whole time with Julia and her hilarious best friend, which was absolutely great. After a week of rain and gray, we actually had good weather, and we took advantage, hitting all of the zoo’s high points and enjoying each other’s company.

After a couple quick hours at work that afternoon, I collected both girls at home and went to a great art fair at the Northfield High School, where we had pizza and circulated among the amazing arts and crafts stations set up all over the school. We made a bunch of art, tried out some musical instruments (Julia liked the cello, Vivi – unsurprisingly – liked the drums), and people-watched. Separately, each girl shyly pointed out a high-school age boy that she thought was “handsome” – funny and mildly shocking.

Then finally, today, we went to Rochester to visit with friends there. The girls enjoyed the trip and the visit, and we got back in time for me to sneak in a short ride while Shannon and the girls assembled May baskets to distribute to friends on Sunday. The day was capped with a good dinner, a beer, and a video. I know they can’t all be this good, but it’s nice to have an such a good one every now and then.

The Value of School

As we traipsed around the halls of Julia’s elementary school on Thursday, enjoying all the craziness of the “Beyond Words” literacy festival, I was more and more impressed by the quality of the materials that the students had prepared for the festival – from Julia’s poem poster and other written work to woodblock prints and other kinds of art. (The girls here are standing next to Julia’s poster. They’re supposed to be holding hands, but it looks like Vivi is the campaigning politician shaking the hand of a constituent.)

The students’ stuff was impressive on its own but also as proof of the really amazing teachers at Sibley – and, I’d say, at most public schools. Working with a hugely varied group of kids, the teachers manage to encourage, induce, coax, and compel the students to learn an immense amount – and in addition to acquiring the three Rs, to create a lot of really wonderful, beautiful work.

All of this goes to demonstrate one of the towering stupidities of American society: that the teachers who are literally responsible for shaping the next generations of Americans are grossly undervalued, both in absolute terms and in relative terms. I don’t think it’s excessively hyperbolic to say that any one of those elementary-school teachers does more good for America in a week than a Wall Street banker does in a year.

Preschool Math

The other night, Vivi asked me to write down some math “pwobwems” for her to do while Julia did her own math homework. She said she wanted to do both “one gigit” and “two gigit” problems, so I wrote out a few, which Julia knowingly said were “just equations” (“just equations“?!). Vivi struggled a bit with them, but you can see that she managed to answer them all.

I love her editorial at the bottom: “too HARD INDEED”

Jazz (History) Is Over (part II)

Following on yesterday’s post about my experience in Steve Kelly’s jazz history course, here are the best ten songs that I heard for the first time in the course.

10. Coleman Hawkins, “Body and Soul” (1939)

9. Nina Simone, “Love Me Or Leave Me” (ca. 1965)

8. Count Basie Orchestra, “One O’ Clock Jump” (1937)

7. Nat King Cole, “Just You, Just Me” (1957)

6. The Modern Jazz Quartet, “Django” (1960)

5. Count Basie & Jimmy Rushing, “I Left My Baby” (1939)

4. Joshua Redman, “Moose the Mooche” (1993)

3. Benny Goodman Orchestra, featuring Charlie Christian, “Solo Flight”

2. Duke Ellington, “Sepia Panorama” (1940)

1. Louis Armstrong, “West End Blues” (original Armstrong version, 1928)

Jazz (History) Is Over (part I)

Yesterday I sat for the final exam for the “Jazz History” course I’ve been taking this term, a course taught by Steve Kelly, who is about to retire after a long, distinguished career at Carleton. I took the course because I wanted to learn more about the history of jazz, a musical style that I love but know very little about. I wasn’t disappointed. Kelly was a great teacher, both as a conveyor of technical knowledge about jazz and as a teller of stories about his own experience playing and hearing jazz. By the end of the term, I had a far better sense of the history of jazz, of the key players and periods in that history, and of the rudiments of the technical aspects of the music.

Though this was pleasing, I was well prepared to realize this goal. Having studied an awful lot of history in my life, I was equipped to understand the periodization of jazz, and to start to map the connections and disconnections between periods – say, the swing era that ended during World War II and the bebop era that started then. Putting particular musicians and pieces into those periods was no harder.

Where I did falter, and had to work pretty hard, was in trying first to understand some of the technical dimensions of jazz music (or, really, any music) and then to apply that understanding in an analysis of particular tunes. 32-bar AABA form? 12-bar blues? I barely remembered (from junior high band) the definition of a “measure,” much less how to keep 4/4 time or, worst of all, how to read music.

I’ll be darned, though, if knowing how to study and learn didn’t pay off. Though I probably had the worst tune-analysis skills of anyone in the class, I did acquire a rough facility for analyzing a song, and – what’s more – found that process remarkably interesting and fun. For my final project, I analyzed a little-known Duke Ellington tune, one which I’ve loved for a long time and which gradually revealed its inner structure as I listened over and over to it. I probably replayed the song about a hundred times to get it down for my paper – and even then I missed two key features of its structure.

What helped me even more than a facility for learning new things – even things as inconsequential as how to hear and diagram a 12-bar blues form – was being able to write clearly about what I was hearing. I found it was pretty easy to describe songs, artists, styles, et cetera, both objectively (“What are three main characteristics of bebop?”) and subjectively (“Explain why you like this song.”) Before I could get too high on myself, though, I did the math and realized that I’ve been writing fairly intensively for more than half my life – longer than most of my classmates have been alive. I’d better be halfway decent at it: I’m old.

Inter-Modal Friendship

Looking out my office window throughout the day, I often feel a pang of sadness for my bike, which sits out there all day in the cold, halfway up the snowbank that covers most of the bike rack. (I’ve anthropomorphized my belongings like this as long as I can remember: I recall introducing my G.I. Joe figures to each other as I acquired them.)

So imagine my happiness when I discovered, the other day, that my bike had a new friend! They come from different worlds, but they seem to have gotten on well.
Surly and Segway