Friday, February 29, 2008

Best fridge magnets ever.

If you have to ask why, you wont get it. Watch nbc thursday nights at 8 and learn.

Religious Ed Congress, Youth Day

...was a delightful experience, all in all. It's always good to see 15,000 high schoolers doing Jesus stuff for a day.

The "grown up" Congress starts tomorrow, and I will be in the exhibit hall at the Salesian vocation table to talk about VIDES.

I Love Being Catholic

I do. Quite deeply and earnestly, though I know it doesn't always come through.

A study recently came out that indicates one in ten adult Americans is a former Catholic. This is, clearly, not exactly good new for or about our Church.

And there are plenty -- loads -- of possible reasons for that, and we could spend a lot of time pointing fingers and grousing.

But that would be silly. Foolish, even. I dare suggest, perhaps even sinful.

Because we have better things to do, like clean up our act and start showing them the way home.

Better blogging minds than mine have weighed in on the issue.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Late for Dinner at the Convent

...the one in Bellflower, California, not San Antonio, actually. More on that later. In the mean time:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I'm Goin' to Congress!

Not the one in D.C. Frankly, I don't think I want to be anywhere near there. My head would probably explode in about ten minutes.

Instead, I'm off to the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress as a VIDES rep. I get to stay with the sisters out there and tag along with them to their exhibitor's booth. LA Congress is a big deal from what I hear, but other than a lot of people I don't know what to expect. Despite the days of missed school (which I find I don't ever enjoy much), I'm looking forward to it.

Not sure how much blogging I'll be able to do while I'm away, but there's always the cell phone for mobile posting, and I'll be back Monday. You can survive until then, right?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Labyrinth, St. Joesph's Church, Dallas

September 2006

I don't usually go for hippie-dippy new age stuff, but I've found that the somewhat questionable background of prayer labyrinths doesn't detract from their usefulness in prayer and meditation. This one was particularly lovely, and the perfect weather when I was there made it that much nicer.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Present Musical Obsession

Is this song, which I confess I had never heard of before I saw Kill Bill, Vol. 2, but it was probably the biggest reason I wanted to soundtrack.

Try to ignore how ridiculous that hat looks on not-a-mariachi.

I discovered quickly (as mentioned in the above video) that it's an update of a mariachi classic, which, having heard, I also love.

The band responsible for the new version, by the way, was started by Robert Rodriguez to do music for some of his movies. This makes my inner music snob/cynic scoff. But, as previously noted, I love this song. They're called Chingon, which more or less means "bad ass", which is reason enough for me to love them (speaking of, Dad, could one feminine-ize that noun?). Finally, the clips of the rest of their stuff available on their website are pretty good. Based on that, I've decided I can continue to like it.

Which is good, because -- also mentioned above -- I freakin' love this song.

At Chopsticks, a Chinsese Buffet

*Nudge* Listen, don't worry about that sign. We put it there to make the manager happy. They don't really need to be accompanied. *scoff* Just leave your kids, we'll watch 'em.

Little White Church with Blue Stained Glass

February 23, 2008

Fredericksburg, Texas.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

On the Measure of Five Years

This past January 19th marked the 5th anniversary of the first time I went to mass at Holy Cross, which was the proper start of my journey on this road. I tried then to write some kind of a reflection about it all, but wasn't able to string the right words and ideas together to make any sense.

The fellow doing my ACE interview today asked me a question that spurred me put into words for the first time a lot of what I've been thinking and feeling in the last five years, and especially lately.

"You mentioned you were confirmed at 19 and you're almost 23 now, right? How has your faith grown or developed since then?" he said. I sighed and sat there in silence for a long time, searching for words that would at least kind of make sense. Then, as he is apt to do, the Spirit sort of took over.

"At the risk of sounding sappy," I said, rather quietly, which is quite unlike me, "it's a little like being in love."

Really? I thought to myself. I'm interested to see where this goes.

"At the beginning, there was a lot of emotion. I was kind of infatuated, it was all sort of heady, I wasn't even exactly sure what was happening. Now, it's been a little while and the new has worn off, but in place of all the... the sort of bumbling emotions, there is a greater and a growing depth and understanding. I've slowly learned more and more about the Church, and I've taken time to mull it over. All the little pieces have come together to make something really strong and solid. Now it's all really part of who I am. At the start, it felt like something new that I was putting on and wearing on the outside. Now it's in me. It's a much deeper faith. There is much more intimacy. My church and my faith and Jesus... they're the central core of me, they're the most important part of me."

Ah, I thought, so that's how you feel about it?

It's nice when I get to have a good conversation with myself... in front of a stranger...

A Very Busy Day

Today, I:
  • flew to Dallas, where I spent a total of three and a half hours on the ground.
  • sat through what was supposed to be a 30 minute interview and became a 50 minute conversation, which is a nice way to conduct an interview.
  • flew back from Dallas.
  • went to dinner at Mi Tierra, a San Antonio landmark, with my grandfolks.
  • saw Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee at the afore mentioned eatery. Huck sat about 10 feet way from me eating his Mexican food.

Given my indifference and even antipathy towards politics, I wasn't as excited as some of the other people in the restaurant, including the droves of cell phone owners who surrounded this poor guy and his party. Still, it was pretty cool, and I did take a few pictures (obviously). I had my camera with me, so I got some decent pictures from afar without having to bother the poor man.

All in all, a most eventful day.

This Post is a Trifecta*

June 2003

Theater was arguably the highlight of high school. I've never had the nostalgia to go back to high school, but I certainly enjoyed (most of it), mostly because of my gradual discovery of the wonders of the English language, photography's weaving into the fabric of my life, and the fun and folly of theater.

All three of those things are combined in this little post, making it in one sense the perfect post. I think that's pretty remarkable. Maybe tomorrow we'll do a college trifecta post, which would be something along the lines of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. With salsa dancing in there somewhere.

*I realize this is not an entirely correct use of the word "trifecta", but it is a colloquial usage increasingly common among my peers. I'm comfortable with this usage because this is how language evolves in the first place: a group of people decide to use a word for something somewhat different than what it has been used for before. See "wonder of the English language" above

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

OENCH, Complete

A few days late, I'm finally getting around to informing you all as to what exactly OENCH was. My delay is due to the fact that once OENCH was really rolling, I wasn't terribly interested in blogging.

But I'm back.

My sister turned ten this weekend, and after Christmas I was rather glum about missing her birthday for the first time in ten years. A few weeks ago, on a whim, I looked up plane tickets for the weekend, then realized it was a three-day weekend. That, more or less, was it. I told Sr. Rosann about my plan and promised I wouldn't miss any school, and she practically pushed me out the door. So, my parents and I ironed out the details and started devising ways to maximize the head-explosion of my surprise arrival.

OENCH (pronounced "wench") is Operation Explode Noona and Charlie's Heads. We left Alex out of the acronym because the extra vowel would have complicated matters, and I guessed his response would be a smile and a "Hey, you're here" rather than an exploding head. I'm all about precision of language.

The plan set into motion on Friday, when I hopped a plane after school and landed in Baltimore late that night when the kids were asleep (except Alex, who, as anticipated, was gad to see me but in no way exploded). In the morning, I dragged myself out of bed and snuck into the garage with a box of donuts right as Melissa came downstairs, and called the house from my cell phone.

Me: Happy birthday!
Melissa: Thanks!
Me: How does it feel to be ten?
Melissa: Meh, about the same.
Mom: Tell her she should come and bring some donuts.
Melissa: (annoyed, because this rubs in my absence) :sigh: Mom says you should come and bring donuts.
Me: Ha, that'd be great, wouldn't it?

This is the part where I walked around to the front door, knocked, and waved donuts in the air when Melissa looked to see who it was.

She was not terribly interested in the donuts. Go figure.

Cutest. Rock Star. Ever.

Thanks for sharing, Paul!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Fish Face!

Today is my baby sister's 10th birthday*.

I get choked up and sappy just considering trying to put into words how grateful I am for the last ten years. I'm sure actually doing so would result in the ruin of my computer, so I won't. I instead trust that you, Dear Readers, and especially you who actually know me, understand as much from the way I talk about her.

Here's a visual aid, in case you need it or would like to kill four minutes drinking in the wonder that is Melissa. I figured ten years was reason enough for a photo/music** montage.

Happy Birthday, Noona! We love you!

*Anyone who suggests, implies, hints, or otherwise tries to tell me my baby sister is no longer a baby will be promptly banned from this site and my life, and then sent to Nunavut for the remainder of his or her Earthly existence.

** As noted on the YouTube page, music by Bach and Hannah Montana. The latter because Melissa is obsessed and the song reminds me of her. The former because I need to preserve my street cred.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Top secret


I have no reason at all to be excited today.
None whatsoever.
That odd post title?  Pure nonesense.  No scheming here...
(...Stay tuned for details)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Part Where It Starts to Feel Like Something is Being Accomplished

I was peacefully enjoying my cheese enchilada and fried fish (leftover night) tonight when our vice principal came into the sisters' dining room.

"Hi, Roxanne, what can I do for you?" Sr. Rosann asked.

"Sorry to disturb, I actually came to ask Andie a favor," she replied. Our VP is from Louisiana -- she actually sounds just the slightest bit like Mama, which I find comforting -- but Southern charm aside, I was a little nervous. She came over to my spot at the table. "We have some kids who mistakenly came to the Worth the Wait presentation [chastity presentation that the kids eventually hear, but this was for the parents]. Could you take them to a classroom while their parents are at the presentation?"

"Oh, sure. When do you need me?"

"Well, how fast can you eat?"

Not knowing which students I would find -- eighth graders? first graders? -- I inhaled my potato salad, ran up to my room to put on shoes and grab my DVDs, hoping they wouldn't notice I morph into a total slob after school and that somewhere between Beauty and the Beast and The Princess Bride we could keep each other happy, then ran back down through the dining room to the cafeteria.

Now, I know you're not supposed to have favorites, and I don't in the sense that I treat any of my kids better or worse than others. The simple fact, at least in my experience, is that you just get along better with some students than others (I sometimes suspect they are people, too), and I confess I was excited when I saw the small group of sixth graders sitting awkwardly near the door. Likewise, I smiled a little when they saw me, beamed, and waved frantically.

They tailed me to the library and went through my entire movie collection, during which I told them they're not allowed to see any of Quentin Tarantino's movies until they're 30.

"But Miss, I saw that one. And that one. Dude, that one is awesome! That girl kills everybody, like whoooooo-waahhhh!"

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. I like you being innocent."

"Ha ha, Miss, you're funny."

Eventually we settled on Napoleon Dynamite (although my Tarantino fan put up a good fight for Lord of the Rings, which made me really, really, proud), and after they made fun of me for not being able to work the DVD player (it wasn't plugged in), we sat around the tables and talked through the whole thing.

It was easy to just sit with them and chat, as opposed to directing and refereeing them as I normally do. There wasn't the smallest sense of awkwardness. Of course, it takes a lot to make me feel awkward, but I was excited to see they didn't feel weird about hanging out with their teacher, either.

You see, one of the guiding principals behind Salesian education is being accessible and available to the children as a friend. Not the kind of friend who lets them get away with stuff, but rather the sort that listens, guides, and supports. St. John Bosco said that the "playground" -- that is, the places we meet the children in their element -- is just as important as the classroom, and I was grateful to have this chance to be with my students out of class.

I didn't get into this gig just to fill brains, you know? Which is good, because I'm not convinced that's happening much. I am always gratified when I see my students know I care about them. I have a fair number who tell me I'm "the best", and there's no way they're really taking about my pedagogy, because that's pretty rough around the edges (and the middle). It is, I think, a sign that they have understood on some level that I'm here for them, and that has resonated with them.

When Mrs. LeBlanc called me to have me bring them back, I was a little sad, but was comforted when they turned back and yelled, "See you in class, Miss C.!"

Indeed, you shall.

Field Day Frolic

January 29, 2008

(Some time ago.)
We're having field day tomorrow, so I --
Bec: What?
Me: Field day.
Bec: It's January!
Me: ...It's Texas.

Stephen Colbert + Kooky Academic

...equals a rollicking good time and a nice "Heck yes, Stephen Colbert!" at the end.

One nasty work, bleeped (and well played, I do think).

My admiration of Mr. Colbert grows.

**UPDATE** Viacom has, it appears, pulled down the above video. Someone else put this one up. It's just the end, but that's the best part anyway.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Let Us Not Offend the Venutians

Dear Readers, you might have gather by now that I am quite fond of my school, and along with that all the little traditions we have here.
That established, and in no way tarnished by what follows, there are a couple things that make me tilt my head and go, "Huh?"
Every morning, the whole school gathers for prayer.  We say a Pledge to the Cross:
Hail, Holy Cross, Brighter than the stars,
Thy name is honorable upon the Earth.
I pledge my loyalty to King eternal, immortal, and invincible.
To the only God, the honor and glory, now and forever.
We pledge allegiance to the American flag:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
And to the republic for which it stands:
One nation under God, indivisable, with liberty and justice for all
God bless America
I pleadge allegiance to thee, Texas
One state under God; one and indivisable.
God bless Texas.
And finally we pledge -- to the Earth?
I pledge allegiance to the world
To cherish every living thing,
To care for earth and sea and air,
With peace and freedom everywhere
I hope it goes without saying I like the world.  I do try to take care of it, and I intend to stay here.  From day one I have wondered, though: to whom or what else would we pledge?  Jupiter?
And what if we have some Martians or Plutonians out there? I hate to think we're making them uncomfortable (Plutonians are already upset with us, I'm sure, since we deplanetized them).

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Question on the Difference Between "Miss" and "Ms." Lead to This

Student 1: So you're not married.
Me: Right.
Student 1: And you've never been married either.
Me: Ri--
Student 2: Of course not, stupid, she's never even had a boyfriend.
Me: (Quite taken aback) Um... excuse me?
Student 2: What, you have?
Student 3: Of course, dummy, she's a grown up. When, Miss?
Student 2: (With great disdain) When she was a senior in high school, probably. Or in college.
Me: (Gestures to suggest she's totally mental) [Student 2's name]... wha... huh?
Student 2: Well, Miss, you live with nuns. And you're too nice.
Me: Are you saying I have to be a jerk to have a boy friend?
Student 2: (shrug)

...So that's my problem!

Seriously, I haven't the vaguest idea what to make of that.

Sister Carmen

October 2007

The Delaware One Expired...

...So I got a new one.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sympathy for Baby Cows and Cow Boys

I have been to my first rodeo, and just as I expected, it was pretty awesome.

"Pretty awesome". Just let that sink in. My artistry with words is just too much to take in all at once sometimes, I know.

What surprised me and impressed me was how fast these events happen. Some are timed then judged, and the riders have that famous eight seconds to show what they're made of. If they slip -- well, too bad. Likewise, some events happen as fast as the cowboys can make them happen, and for a lot of those eight seconds is a lot, so one teeny mistake means you're out of the running. I felt kinds bad for the guys who slipped up.

I liked the rodeo. I like that it's about bringing your "A game" and putting forth 100%. There's no holding anything in reserve. It's eight seconds to make or break you (or a bone).

I also felt kinda bad for the baby cows, but they all skipped off pretty happily at the end.

I confess, as an Air Force brat, and simply as an American, I enjoyed the unbridled patriotism. As a rabid Catholic, I liked that it started with a prayer. I can't think of the last non-church public event I went to that had that.

I also liked that it reinforced for me that I am, indeed, in Texas, which is the only place on earth I think you would find this:

Yes, folks, that bathroom sign is wearing a cowboy hat and spurs. Amazing? I think so.

Semi-seriously, the rodeo was better than I expected. One ticket got us onto the grounds (which had all the fun, food, and fanciful shows of a state fair with fewer screaming children), into the three hour rodeo, and the concert following. Not a bad way to spend the day.

Family: move here, and we can go next year. Hint...

Pre-Valentine Thought

"The great lie is that love is something you fall into.

"You don’t fall into it. Not if you want it to last. You grow into it. And you only do that with work, and with honesty, and with trust. And then, with more work."

Read the rest.

Happy early St. Valentine's Day.

San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo (Teaser)

I swear on my South African garbage bag chicken, I will post more pictures when I get back from the meeting I'm already late for (oops!).

I also swear I actually have a South African garbage bag chicken. Becca gave it to me. Because that's the kind of friend she is.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Dangerous Boy

Balboa Beach, California, July 2007

A typical exchange between my mother and brother:
Mama: What did I tell you about being cute?
Charlie: I have to be extra good.
Mama: Right. Why?
Charlie: (wicked grin, like the one above) Because I can get away with stuff.

It's the Little Things...

The 8th graders and their teachers are on a field trip this afternoon. Somehow, in the shuffle, I ended up with two extra free periods and no classes to cover. This is, to any teacher, a gleeful little surprise akin to finding an actual diamond in a box of Cracker Jack.

The 6th graders I usually have are in with another teacher right now, along with the other half of the 6th graders. I popped my head in to make sure said teacher was aware that I was ready to take them.

I'm all set to take them. Feel free to keep them if you've got them working on something, though, I was just going to have them prep for the academic competitions.
6th graders I'm supposed to have: (ALL throw up their arms like babies desperate to get out of their crib) Miss C.! Take us with you, Miss C.!! PLEASE take us! Miiiiiiiiiiss Ciiiiiiiiiis-neeeeeeeeer-ooooooooooooos!
Esteemed Colleague: Makes no difference to me. They can keep doing what they're doing.
6th graders I'm supposed to have: (Collective cries and sighs of despair)
6th graders I wouldn't have now anyway: Ha ha!

So here I am, celebrating Mardi Gras by sitting in my empty classroom, blogging and stuffing my face with Snickers (I take my para-church holidays seriously). In a little taste of a real New Orleans Mardi gras, I'm also wearing a neck-full of beads and nursing an cranial injury from a favor thrown from a float (made from a Radio Flyer wagon). If I have to work on Mardi Gras, the least I can do is live the spirit.

Story of My Life

You could also replace that with "sister".

from I Can Has Cheezburger

Monday, February 4, 2008

"What is She Eating?!"

September 2007

Sr. Ngan and our assistant principal's dangerously cute pre-k kid.

Why This is Worth It

"Everything we have and everything we are is for you."
-Sr. Roasnn, on behalf of the Salesian Sisters, to the St. John Bosco School Community.

On Friday night, St. John Bosco School commemorated the closing of its 50th anniversary year with a gala at the Gunter Hotel (I picked a good year to volunteer here, because I keep getting to go to these wonderful events that only happen every so long). I don't think I have, in the almost six months I've been here, spent adequate time describing how unique and wonderful a school SJB is. I cannot imagine a better place for my first year of teaching. I went to eleven different schools before I graduated high school, and several of them were of incredible quality, but none compare to what I've experienced here. At other schools, "family" is a buzz word that really means, "We mostly get along and will ask favors of each other when we need to". It's a truth here.

It's more than the fact that we have kids whose parents went here, and even a few teeny ones whose grandparents attended decades ago. It's more about things like the fact that I know almost all of my 79 students' parents, and they know each other. The members of the SJB family back each other up in things great and small. This school would literally shut down in an instant of all of our involved parents dropped out, but what's more remarkable is how willingly and gladly those parents do the work they do. So many students and parents at SJB stay connected for years -- decades, even.

Two things, I think, are responsible for the closeness in this community. The first is common love for the children and commitment to whatever is in their best interests. The parents are, even by parent standards, admirably devoted to their children, and to their education and well being. The teachers, who make half of what they could at public schools in San Antonio, stick around for upwards of twenty years not because they get any special compensation or renown for it, but simply because they love these children. Everything we do, everyday, is not just about doing a job, keeping the kids occupied, and getting them out the door. We're all hell bent on teaching them everything we can, not least of all how to be a good Christian and a strong individual. The sisters, of course, have literally given their entire lives to this purpose.

St. John Bosco, co-founder of the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians (the Salesian Sisters' formal title), said education should form good Christians and honest citizens; that teachers must not only form the mind but the whole person. Secular educators are getting around to this idea in the last few years, but the Salesians have been doing it for over 150 years, to the exclusion of just about everything else.

And this, I think, is the second reason SJB is so tightly woven: we share a common love and wonder of these sisters, who live a life so contrary to what the world tells us we must to be happy, who act in every moment of the day for the kids, whose have given up everything else to be in the service of Christ, and to that end they walk with these children selflessly and tirelessly. At the gala, we premiered a commemorative/promotional video about the school, towards the end of which one of our more active mothers was interviewed and said, "Thank you isn't enough to say in response to what these women do for our children." She paused and teared up, searching. "We're very grateful," she said, pausing another moment but still only being able to quietly say, "very grateful."

There are days here, especially lately, that I am so tired and burned out and uninspired, I honestly wonder if I will make it to the end of the year without prompting a revolt from my kids (or the sisters). But then Sister Carmen comes into the dining room smiling and laughing after hours in the kitchen, Sister Thuy goes on and on about all of her kids in a jaw-dropping display of how possible it actually is to never quit caring, and Sister Gloria spends hours upon hours alone in the VIDES office while the rest of us are at school so that more people like me can share this incredible life, if only for a little while, and I have to sit up a little straighter, push myself a little harder.

They have this effect on all of us. It's hard not to love the obnoxious punk(s) in your class when you have these witnesses to Love walking around in those conspicuous habits all the time. Their holiness, and the love that comes from it, comes from them like vines that wrap around the school -- from the teachers to the parents to the cafeteria ladies, from the desks to the rafters -- and keep the whole thing upright. It is a living, breathing, growing discipleship. It is Christ among us. It binds us.

I haven't talked much about "what I'm getting out of this", mostly because it goes to deep for me to be able to finagle into words. What I can say is that I hope I walk out of this convent with just the smallest speck of the devotion, first to Christ and then to his work, I see in these women.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Dragon's Heart

The lighting was horrendous, from a photographer's perspective, and my photo editing software is light-weight at best, so I gave up on making these pictures look good and went straight to surreal. Yes, they look rather awful, but I sort of did it on purpose, which makes me feel a little better.

Last night, the sisters took me along to a mass celebrating the Vietnamese New Year at Assumption Seminary, followed by dinner and assorted dancing and music in the seminarians' dining room, including a dragon dance (two, actually, and each with two dragons). We have three Vietnamese sisters just in our St. John Bosco community with a few more across the street at the Provincial House and one a the other Salesian school in town. Five of these sisters went last night, and it was such a joy watching them enjoy the evening. At one point they tried to drag me up on stage with them when the seminarians asked if the Vietnamese sisters would sing a song, but I put my unconsecrated, non-Vietnamese foot down and stayed back to take pictures.

I did end up teaching Sr. Suzett to cha-cha, which I was more than happy to do, because I'll take any chance to spread the joy of Latin dance.

When I spend time with the sisters in a more social setting, I invariably end up remembering a comment a dorm mate from college made, something along the lines of "Being a nun is for girls who are afraid to have fun." Needless to say, this girl had never met a sister in her life. Every sister I've ever met, especially the Salesians I've been so fortunate to live with these months, are full of more joy than most of us would know what to do with, and moreover are hilarious. I suspect this springs from their intimacy with Jesus and the real, deep satisfaction of a life lived for others.

Meanwhile, if I remember right, this dorm mate didn't make it past first semester of freshman year. I guess we all have our priorities.

Convent Fashion Crisis

I'm going with the sisters to an event for the sisters. In other words, lay people aren't even supposed to go, but I guess living with nuns is close enough (according to my sisters).

My question is, what do I wear? How dressy a thing is this? This isn't information they put out when inviting religious to an event for religious, because religious wear more or less the same thing no matter what.

Better question: am I going to be the only unhabitted person there? And would I then singlehandedly set the level of formality by my fashion choice. If I show up in white gloves, it's a gala. If I show up in a grass skirt, it's luau.

Or am I just going to stick out like Paris Hilton in Baghdad no matter what?