stretch

... And Never Resist a Perfect Moment.

Definitions
stretch
wensurprised
I found out a few weeks ago that New Zealand defines the first day of spring differently from the US. It had never even occurred to me that different countries would have different first days of spring. The US uses the equinoxes to separate the seasons and I had just assumed everyone did that - after all the equinoxes happen at the same time everywhere... I figured that what we in the US named the start of spring (usually around march 21) would be the beginning of autumn in the southern hemisphere and that the september 23ish equinox would start our fall but their spring, but otherwise - they’d be the same, right?

Turns out there are a couple of options. New Zealand uses the first day of September for the first day of Spring. There are 3 months per season, and they’re whole months. The first day of autumn, then, is going to be the first day in March. But - there’s a bunch of places apparently, where the seasons aren’t necessarily the same lengths. In Ireland Spring starts at the beginning of February on St Brigid’s Day (I can’t imagine that making any sense - February was unforgivably cold and clearly not spring where I grew up). In Sweden, according to wikipedia, they define spring as starting once there are 7 days in a row with daytime temperatures above zero (that’s going to be degrees Celsius) - which seems very sensible, if non-constant.

And now, I’m trying to decide how I would define the start of spring. Last night I cooked asparagus for the first time this season. I think that would have to be a part of my definition - local asparagus being sold in the shops for reasonable prices. And this morning we picked up daylight saving time - again, clearly part of how I have internally defined spring. Although it will mess with another part of my definition - being able to get up with the sun for work - until mid-October when the sun gets back to rising at 6.30. Back home the first crocuses and the pussy-willow and forsythia were the plants to watch for, replaced here with the weeping-willows and the daffodils. But I think I’m never really going to be able to let go of the main definition I grew up with, which was the snow finally melting and the grass starting to turn green. Since we actually did have snow here this year, I’ve been feeling like it’s spring since that week in August. Apparently my definition is a bit hazy.


Daffodils
sunset
wensurprised
It’s spring in Christchurch. I can tell because I’ve got daffodils in a vase on my shelf. (Well, actually, they’re in a cup. I cannot locate my vase. Does anyone have my vase?) Christchurch does spring daffodils in a big way. Also the odd bluebell, lots of snowdrops, and heaps of blossom trees which are all either fully out or getting there at the moment. This is my third Christchurch spring. For some reason I have almost no memory of the first one - I think... I was trying hard not to flunk my teaching practice at Shirley (boys schools were not my calling), I was still getting used to the city, I was a bit homesick. I think it might also have rained a lot - I have memories of it being realllly cold for the year 11 grad. But I remember the spring from last year; the earthquakes had just started.

It’s been a year. A year and a week and a bit, in fact. Last weekend I didn’t get around to writing anything because I was participating in the mass choir put together to sing at a memorial thingy. We did the Faure Requiem, which, if you’ve never heard it, I highly recommend finding on youtube or from your local library - it’s gorgeous - I love how modern it sounds, almost like jazz. It was a really beautiful way to mark the anniversary, to stop and take 40 minutes to reflect and remember. I found it interesting that what I remember most is that it was spring. I remember taking Taffy out for a ride, and all of the silt and the amazement of torn streets and fields that had been completely restructured, but I remember them as covered in new-green grass, as surrounded by blossoms. I remember as they slowly reopened parts of the city and getting to ride past the Arts Centre again and enjoying the sun. I remember Big Band Fest in October, dancing to the army band in Victoria Square. I remember my Source-to-Sea trip along the Avon river (for any Christchurch friends thinking - oh! there’s an idea - it wasn’t actually terribly exciting...) and the gold of the willow trees all along the banks.

I remember being so thankful to have it all back, after initially being unsure we’d get to return to the city.

Looking back now, last spring was a gift I didn’t know I was getting. It was, from October when things started reopening, until February when it all closed again, 5 months of knowing what we had because we’d lost it - temporarily, we thought. Five months when I knew to marvel at pretty buildings and treasure every reopened cafe in a quirky backstreet - joyfully aware gratitude - and the spring flowers were window dressings: a wonderful surprise decorating my blessing.

This year I knew the daffodils were coming: an anticipated joy rather than a surprise. This year, this spring, they represent survival.


Bad Days That Aren't Bad
chairs
wensurprised
A year ago, I had a really bad August. Just one of those months. Way overly busy, and anything and everything going wrong (well... not everything. The earthquake waited ‘til September). It ranged from little things like food exploding in the microwave, to real nuisances like bike maintenance issues, to proper Bad like a colleague whose dad had a heart-attack and so had to go home for a while, leaving me with her classes. I’m not going to say I was miserable, because I’ve been miserable and I know how that feels. But I was unhappy. The little things were a big deal, the big things were overwhelming, and the things that I should have been enjoying were not making me happy.

Last Wednesday was the annual Cantamath competition - the local maths meet. It was one of about 8 out-of-the-ordinary commitments that managed to land in that week, including parent/teacher meetings, extra school meetings, and extra dance and choir practices - busy, busy week. And it was a wacky, messed up day. I got to work and tuned into the internet to discover that there’d been an earthquake in Virginia that had rocked DC where my sister lives. She hadn’t checked in. And then later that afternoon 2 of the kids on the year 10 team (there’s only 4 in a team, so that’d be half of them) told me they didn’t want to compete afterall, leaving the last two very disappointed, after months of practicing. And on the way home from work I caught a piece of glass in my back tire 5km from home.

But - what I remembered about the day later was the joy of finally hearing from Chelly at lunch time, perfectly fine and a generally a bit confused about our concern. I remembered how cool it was that the remaining team members managed to find two friends who were willing to jump in at the last minute, including a girl from another school (shhh - we’re not supposed to mention that) who had desperately wanted to compete but hadn’t been able to because her school wasn’t entering a team. I have very fond memories of basking in the sun in a park on Miln Rd, waiting for my flatmate who drove my car out to pick up me and my bike. And - when I finally got home that evening a package had shown up for me from my best friend containing, among other things, a fabulous bicycle-motif-ed shirt. It was, in memory, a great day.

Last August’s mess of bad luck finally broke over the course of a particularly amazing Blues dance workshop. It finally hit me that the problem wasn’t actually all the bits and pieces going wrong - it was that I wasn’t looking after myself properly. I wasn’t taking quiet time out for me and my soul, I wasn’t making sure I got to see friends, I hadn’t been hugged in months. This August, I’ve got all that under control - and it’s amazing what a difference it makes.

Snowdays
wild things
wensurprised

I went to bed last Sunday night still very unconvinced that there wouldn't be school in the morning. There'd been some hail in the afternoon, but it had all melted. And, by the time I was on the way home from church there was some snow-like stuff happening, but it was very wet, and I wasn't convinced it would stick. You've got to remember - where I grew up, we had fairly stringent snowday rules. Not as strict as where my best friend grew up, where the snow didn't matter, and the only way to get school cancelled was for the temperature to get low enough that a diesel engine wouldn't start. But still - it took some serious snow to cancel school where we grew up. We'd get just a late opening sometimes, if it wasn’t quite enough... that was okay. But the best bet for a proper day off  was something like 15-30cm in the last couple of hours of the early morning, something they couldn't get off the roads in time. Or an ice storm that took out the power.

But Christchurch is, understandably, less set up for dealing with snow, and the 12-odd centimeters that we got was enough. I Skyped mum and dad after my sleep in (because - not sleeping in on a snowday is practically sacrilegious) and we tried to figure out how long it had been since my last snowday; we decided, probably close to a decade. We didn't have snowdays in University - it was Montreal - they're good at snow in Montreal. And we certainly didn't have snowdays in Africa. So my last one would have been in high school sometime. I don't remember anything about it. I have memories of a few specific snowdays - the storm that had us out of school for almost a week and got the play I was in postponed comes to mind - but mostly I just remember the feeling...

Snowdays felt like a reprieve - like you were supposed to sit an exam that day which you weren't ready for, and at the last minute they cancelled it. (Coincidentally, my year 11s had that happen, and I know they weren't ready, 'cause this afternoon I marked the paper that they had to take when they got back on Friday). Snowdays felt like the sleep you desperately needed, because you stayed up until 1am finishing your calculus homework, even though your alarm was going to off at 6. Snowdays felt like the joy of getting to indulge in hobbies and projects that you never had time for when it wasn't snowing. Like getting to read the whole of a Tamora Pierce series in a day in your pjs and never get out of bed. Like watching marathons of Jane Austen movies guilt-free. Like making cinnamon buns for a late breakfast and chocolate cake for a wholly unhealthy tea. Snowdays felt like miracles.

And, it turns out, they still do.





When I can write about what I can't talk about
sigh
wensurprised
Probably like a lot of the news-media consuming world, I spent this week watching the riots in London. Not quite as avidly as I followed the progress of the winter storm that is, supposedly, just about to break over the city, but I followed it. I must have read every news story with a headline about disaffected youth printed in any large scale paper with an online distribution. And there were a lot of good pieces written. So many that I never actually managed to pick any particular one to post on facebook and respond to. I found myself a bit tongue-tied about it, actually - wanting to talk about the story, but not sure where to start; wanting to discuss the psychiatry and the anthropology involved, but feeling like I was either judging without understanding, or that I was understanding without judging, or something else entirely.


I think the main trouble is that I have just a tiny bit of experience with this kind of violence. I checked back through my entries from my Africa years, and I never actually wrote about our little Mchinji Mission riot, except one line about reasoning with people who are carrying sticks. Nevertheless, the majority of you actually know me, so you probably heard the story at the time. In case that’s not true for you - in a nutshell, a few months after I started teaching in Africa we had a riot. The fourth form students hadn’t been getting English classes because of an issue with the staff, and they were upset about it, and about the fact that no one was listening to them, and eventually they staged a riot during a morning assembly. They came through the school with sticks - big sticks - as a group of about 50, broke what few windows were intact, chased the students out of the school, and beat the headmaster. I didn’t understand, it was my first riot, and tried to intervene, and came within a couple of inches of getting hit, lucking out by the grace of ducking just in time and the kid recognising me as he turned. Later, I met the student who’d nearly hit me, I’ll recognise him anywhere for the rest of my life, and I’m pretty sure, from the way he greeted me, that he has no memory of that day.


Also, I’ve dealt with more than a few fights as a teacher since getting to NZ. You’ve probably seen it on the news - the issues NZ schools have been having with fights and bullying, especially among girls. Recently, after I and a number of other teachers started expressing concern about the number of fights we were dealing with when doing duty on the park, Hagley decided to hire a couple of security guards to deal with the park, and pulled the staff back to the actual school property. I appreciate that, and it’s nice, being a street away from the Angry, but it’s also sad that it’s gotten that far.



And so, when I read about the riots, I have some first person experience and pictures of specific angry teens I’ve worked with, to connect them to. I have a list of kids that, if this ever happened here in Christchurch, I wouldn’t want to run into in the streets, because I know what they’re capable of when they’re *not* part of a mob. I’m not going to say they’re a worst nightmare - my worst nightmares tend to be more emotionally based - but they’re one of those things that you deal with as a teacher, even as you say, this, this is not what I signed on for. I didn’t take self defence as a course in teacher training. I’m just supposed to teach them algebra... Well... algebra and logic. I guess the logic isn’t sticking.

Failure
school
wensurprised
 For the uninitiated, this is the wikipedia article about custard squares, or, as they are apparently called in the fancy culinary world, mille-feuille. Custard Squares, in the form that we get them here - a layer of pastry followed by a thick layer of custard, followed by a layer of frosted pastry - seem to be a comfortable-with-their-history English Colony thing. You get them in England, you get them in NZ and Aus, you get them in the English bits of Africa (we had them in Malawi, in the cities, if you knew where to go), you cannot get them where I grew up in New Hampshire. The wikipedia article says you can get them in Canada, but I don’t remember ever having them - maybe they weren’t the same.

The thing about custard squares is that, while delicious, they are impossible to eat in a neat and tidy way. The pastry is hard to cut, even with a knife, and it’s almost never served with a sharp knife - you just get a fork. And so, when you go to slice off a bite sized bit you inevitably end up squishing the whole thing into a rude-looking, custardy mess. You really *want* a little bit of pastry, and a little bit of frosting, and a whole lot of custard in each bite, so you put up with having to essentially deconstruct it in order to cut each piece up, but I have never in my life managed to eat it without feeling a bit like a slob.

That doesn’t mean I don’t keep trying.


On Thursday this week I ran the Australian Maths Competition at Hagley for the second year in a row. For the uninitiated this is a link to the wikipedia article about the competition (one of the largest in the world), which is really just an exam, but more importantly, this is a link to their website, where you can get access to practice papers. A warning: if you haven’t done any maths since high school... you might not want to look. The Aussie Maths Comp is not easy. I can do most of the problems in the senior set, given some time to think about them - but I’ve done a lot of this kind of mathematics in my life, and it still makes me nervous when kids bring me the problems looking for help if I haven't had a chance to try them before hand.

Given this, I know that it’s unsurprising that we have a hard time convincing kids to sign up. They know, or at least they can be pretty sure, that they’re going to fail well before being handed the paper. And no one likes doing that which they know they’re going to fail. And, unlike my problems with unsuccessful custard-square-eating, people will judge you based on your failure on something like the AMC, even if they know that it’s really, really hard. But it bugs me that so few are willing to even try.

I worry that we’ve started to overprotect our students from failure. In New Zealand at the moment, you can pass high school and go on to uni based solely on internal exams. Maybe not some of the more competitive uni degrees, but you can. And the thing about internal exams - especially at my school - is that the students aren’t supposed to take them until the teacher is confident that they will pass. The mind set is - why test them if they’re not ready? You know they’re not ready, so don’t test them. Wait until they can pass. To a certain extent I understand and even appreciate this policy. We aren’t required to keep pushing a subject until the student is ready, or hold up the class for a single student, we can move onto new things and come back to that exam later, or never if the student never gets their act together. And it does provide a certain level of confidence for weaker students. But it means that students very rarely fail. And when they do, it becomes - kind of - not their fault: I, the teacher, misjudged their readiness; I gave them the test when they weren’t ready for it. So they don’t get a lot of practice at dealing with failure, which I tend to think is a shame. Failure is a fact of life. No, hang on, that’s not quite right. Failure is a fact of a boldly lived life. You can get through life without ever failing if you never do anything remotely challenging, but who wants to live like that? And so shouldn’t we, as an education system, be teaching students how to confront and work through failures? How to mentally get past the shame and be willing to try again, even if you know you’re probably not going to do a whole lot better the next time? Shouldn’t we be providing the occasional, metaphorical Custard Square?

Something to Research Someday.
stretch
wensurprised
Back when I was in university I had an encounter with a drunk guy just across the street from the Gates on the corner of Sherbrooke and McGill College Ave. I can't remember when it was exactly - I think it must have been during my first year because I don't have memories of going home and telling Tegan about it. I was probably coming home from Indigo because I spent a lot of nights there reading (and not buying) the majority of their science fiction section, and it must either have been very early in the school year or late, because I wasn't wearing a hat. We were stuck at the lights waiting for the walk signal and he looked me up and down and told me that he was very pleased to see that I had parted my hair down the middle. I had it plated into two braids - this was back when it was long - which I only remember now because I was suddenly very self conscious about my hair. He continued on to explain his theory that people who parted their hair on one side or the other were unbalanced. (I resisted the urge to point out that he, himself, was hanging onto the street lamp to remain upright and probably didn't really have the right to call anyone else unbalanced.) I can't remember, now, which side was which, but he had come to the conclusion that if you parted your hair on the left (we'll say) it meant you were a really logical, scientifically minded, rational person without a creative bone in your body, while if you parted your hair on the right it meant that you were so creative that you'd wouldn't be able to get through sentences without getting lost in your own imagery and metaphores.

I mumbled something along the lines of thank you and was very happy when the lights finally changed so that I could escape. (Hey, I was young!) But I still think of him every time I wake up to discover that overnight my hair has decided to switch natural parts and now wants to curl into my *right* eye, or when I'm trying to get it to do something specific that involves being parted down the side. And I wonder which side he told me meant what. As it happens, I do consider myself to feel fairly balanced between my creative and rational sides, between the maths teaching and the dancing, between my obsesive need to document vacations in military style precision, and my desire to paint the interesting things I visit. But I go through phases of feeling more one than the other, and my hair goes through similar phases...

At the moment my hair is parting itself mostly on the left and I seem to be going through a creativity kick. I've got the Horrible Year 10s working on designing raised flower beds (raised, *circular* flower beds - and they have to figure out how much siding they need for it, and how much soil to buy to fill them). My ESOL kids and I are working on transformational geometry stuff and drawing patterns with symetry and rotations. And I am having trouble not dancing to the music in my head while in front of classes. On Thursday, despite being exhausted after a morning of teaching and then 4 hours of a professional development workshop about teaching statistics and then 2 hours of choir (and he's just decided that we should start learning the Bach motets... ay-yi-yi), I managed to get myself to Blues - and I'm so glad I did. We had the most amazing class, titled "weird hand-holds," in which Andrew and Sarah demonstrated the oddest positions that you could end up in and then challenged us to find smooth and interesting ways to get into them and then back out of them. I laughed so much my sides ached and came out of the class breathing hard, and energised (and actually struggled to fall asleep because I was still trying to figure out how this cool move could connect to that really neat position with some kind of funky side maneuver... ) and then woke up Friday to find my hair had parted itself down the middle again.

Right Now
chairs
wensurprised
 "Why, [Emilio] had once wondered, would a perfect God create the universe? To be generous with it, he believed now. For the pleasure of seeing pure gifts apprecitaed. Maybe thats what it meant to find God: to see what you have been given, to know divine generosity, to appreciate the large things and the small..."
~Mary Doria Russell. The Sparrow.


On Monday the Deputy Principal came in to watch me teach for the first time since I started at Hagley over a year ago. I knew she was coming; in fact, she'd planned on coming to see my ESOL class, but I'd suggested that while that would be lovely, those kids are so good she wouldn't really get to see me do any behaviour management, which is what she wanted to see, and that if she really wanted behaviour issues, she should come see the horrible year 10s (I should start upper casing that, shouldn't I?). I regretted it once I'd invited her because - she's never seen me teach. And as much as I trust her to see that I'm doing a lot of work with a really rough class, there was still a big fear that she'd see only the really rough class... For a small miracle, 4 of the trickiest kids in the class were absent. And, further miracle, the ones who were there did *exactly* what I would have asked them to do (if I'd been brave enough to ask them to do anything) - they were their own difficult selves, but they did mostly what I asked them to, mostly when I asked them to do it. Although Matt did insist on leaning over his desk every single time I walked past him and calling out hellllllooooo into the microphone I had to wear for the observation because it was being taped.

When I talked to Ros afterwards, turns out I'd worried for nothing, she had seen the work and was happy with it. And for a last miracle, and not a small one either - she accidentally lost the video file of the observation between transfering it from the camera to a disk, so I never had to watch myself... (although that means she's coming back next week to do it again...)

On Tuesday I made curry - a mix of the recipe Tegan and I perfected in uni and mum's cauliflower and coconut recipe. And when I realised that it wasn't going to be enough all by itself for the three of us, small miracle, discovered a box of dhall waaay up at the top of the cupboard that I must have brought with me from the last flat, which made enough.

On Wednesday the internet at school went down - all of it. Not the internal network, thank goodness, so we could still use KAMAR to work on reports. In fact, some of the teachers joked that maybe they'd turned off the internet on purpose so that we could get more work done. I was not amused. I was halfway through my reports with 2 weeks to go at that point, and I really wanted to check my email because I was waiting for a recipe from mum. But - every time I actually *needed* the internet for something - to get a worksheet for a class I was about to teach and about to panick about, or for the kids to be able to access CensusAtSchool for their stats project - it came back on for just long enough.

On Thursday I managed to remember all of the Maori words to the national anthem, even though I hadn't been able to remember them before rehearsal. Also, at dance that evening, my foot, which has been doing silly things all week, behaved itself, even though we spent the whole class doing ochos (for the non-Blues dancers out there... ah, no, nevermind. I can't explain ochos. Try running it through youtube...)

On Friday, the kid I'd had to stick in the principal's office for the whole day because he'd sworn at me and called me, well, some actually rather unimaginative names really, but still names for which he gets into a lot of trouble, got smart and appologised when I came to see him at the end of the day. He told me he'd been really angry, and that he knows that when he's angry he says stupid things that he shouldn't, and that he's working on it. The counsellor he's seeing must be making a difference. Not having to put him back in the principal's office next week - major miracle.


There are weeks when things go so right that you can't ignore it. This wasn't one of those. This was a week of little, wee miracles. Teeeeny small things that would be easy to miss. But after last week's battle with severe impatience, I spent this week on a live-in-the-moment kick. I put away my packing lists and hid the travel books and my calendar, and focused on appreciating what I have right now. And it was good.

Looking Forward
sigh
wensurprised
 We’ve all heard of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. By contrast, I realized, happiness has four stages. To eke out the most happiness from an experience, we must anticipate it, savour it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory.
~ The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
 
Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.
~George Washington Burnap (often, incorrectly, attributed to Joseph Addison)
 
"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.
~ The House at Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne


I spent a lot of this week looking forward to things. I have some very exciting things to look forward to at the moment: overseas trips, people visiting and visiting people, activities that I really enjoy but that happen only once a week. (I also participated in some less exciting forward-looking as I waited with a variety of co-workers and friends for the government to announce what was going to happen to whose houses, now that they’ve got a bit of a picture of the state of the land underneath Christchurch. ) I’m a staunch defender of the joy of anticipation. I have about 8 different lists, at the moment, on my shelf, for my upcoming trip to Sweden – packing lists and places I want to visit and trails I’d like to cycle (and a very cool thing I want to buy). I also have lists for my Christmas trip home and January visit to Tegan. I love pouring over travel books in advance. Last summer, when I biked the rail trail, I had the towns along the trip memorised a good month before I left. The only reason I ever practice for choir is because I need an outlet for the anticipation of getting to sing *those songs* with *those people,* which I love.

But I have to admit that by Wednesday night, the number of things I was looking forward to... swamped me a little, and I got downright antsy. I ended up going for a bike ride before tea, looking for a bit of present-tense, but found myself, again, planning for the weekend, when one of my siblings would be here with an aunt and a cousin that I last saw over 2 years ago.

The thing is, there’s anticipation and then there’s impatience and they’re awfully close together, and I kept spilling over from the one which is fun to the one which isn’t.

When I got home on Wednesday I spent some time wandering through my favourite internet places and I found a piece from Neil Gaimen - there’s always something good from Neil Gaimen – which summed this all up rather nicely. And I think, since I loved it so much, that I might start trying to memorise it. It’s been a while since I added “Litany” to my memorised poetry repertoire and I need a project for the long plane trips coming up. With the last few lines running through my mind, I did a much better job, on Thursday, of enjoying my present, and on Friday, when the Sib, the Aunt, and the Adorable Cousin finally did show up on my doorstep, we had a completely delightful Indian dinner, complete with dramatic renditions of children’s books read aloud in public places...


(in case you have room for just one more quote – here is Mr. Gaimen’s poem.)

The Day the Saucers Came (From Fragile Things)

That day, the saucers landed. Hundreds of them, golden,
Silent, coming down from the sky like great snowflakes,
And the people of Earth stood and
stared as they descended,
Waiting, dry-mouthed, to find what waited inside for us
And none of us knowing if we would be here tomorrow
But you didn’t notice it because

That day, the day the saucers came, by some coincidence,
Was the day that the graves gave up their dead
And the zombies pushed up through soft earth
or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable,
Came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran,
But you did not notice this because

On the saucer day, which was the zombie day, it was
Ragnarok also, and the television screens showed us
A ship built of dead-men’s nails, a serpent, a wolf,
All bigger than the mind could hold,
and the cameraman could
Not get far enough away, and then the Gods came out
But you did not see them coming because

On the saucer-zombie-battling-gods
day the floodgates broke
And each of us was engulfed by genies and sprites
Offering us wishes and wonders and eternities
And charm and cleverness and true
brave hearts and pots of gold
While giants feefofummed across
the land, and killer bees,
But you had no idea of any of this because

That day, the saucer day the zombie day
The Ragnarok and fairies day, the
day the great winds came
And snows, and the cities turned to crystal, the day
All plants died, plastics dissolved, the day the
Computers turned, the screens telling
us we would obey, the day
Angels, drunk and muddled, stumbled from the bars,
And all the bells of London were sounded, the day
Animals spoke to us in Assyrian, the Yeti day,
The fluttering capes and arrival of
the Time Machine day,
You didn’t notice any of this because
you were sitting in your room, not doing anything
not even reading, not really, just
looking at your telephone,
wondering if I was going to call.

A Lunar Eclipse and the Bird
sunset
wensurprised
Thursdays I get to sleep in. Not lots – I still have to be at work by 8.30. But I don’t have to be there any earlier, because my first class isn’t until 11, so there’s never any planning that I have to finish before the kids show up, or any urgent photocopying. I often sleep all the way until 7 – practically indecent, isn’t it?

But for some reason this week – probably having to do with the large earthquakes we had on Monday and subsequent jumpiness – I couldn’t sleep in on Thursday. I woke up at 6, and couldn’t imagine sleeping again, and so I got up and got ready and ended up leaving the house a little after 7. And as I stumbled, still a bit bleary, through the back door, I caught the moon, looking... odd... through the gap in the trees in the backyard. I nearly walked on and I actually tripped when I suddenly remembered that there was supposed to be an eclipse sometime soon and went back to look and – hey look! Eclipse! Just starting into the total phase! So cool! I called out to the one flatmate who was up and went off on what I’m sure was a somewhat sleepy and therefore mumbled science-nerd rant about how cool this particular eclipse was because it was during a full moon and how it was going to last for a really long time (relative to other eclipses) and be particularly dark, and he was a very good sport about standing on the cold balcony and listening to me until I ran out of interesting things to say (and then he said ‘that’s cool’ and went inside). I continued on to work, stopping at the field halfway there to watch the moon set (not properly, but Christchurch is pretty flat (even after all the upheaval) and so it set over houses well before it got to the edge of the earth), and once I was at work, found the google streaming site so that I could watch it go through the rest of the phase. (if you missed it, you can still see pictures here: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/06/lunar-eclipse-photos/?utm_source=feedburner&pid=1428 )

It made me think, though, afterwards, about how it was only cool because I knew. I’d read about it, had anticipated it, decided I probably wasn’t going to see it, since I couldn’t imagine getting myself up super early on a school day to watch it, and then accidently ran smack into it because it turned out to not be that early, and because I was twitchy after earthquakes. If I hadn’t read about it, I would have ignored the odd cloudy moon and maybe have written it off as maybe having something to do with the ash cloud currently making a mess of local air travel.

A few weeks ago, one of the kids in my horrible year 10 class (note, for those who haven’t been around me lately: I call them the horrible year 10 class, but they’re really not that bad anymore...) asked me about how the calculator does what it does, and I decided it was worth giving him at least an approximate answer, which required a quick stop through the concept of binary. Since we had 5 minutes left in the class, and no one was really interested in the worksheet any more, I thought – why not, I’ll teach them how to count on their fingers in binary. And so I pulled them all together and got them all to put their hands up, and we started with 1 – “everyone, this is what 1 looks like in binary, yes, yes, it’s the same as what it looks like normally, huh? Alright, this is 2... everyone do 2 in binary. A little different, yes? And then 3 is this...” A few (a very few, these are my horrible year 10s, after all) of the kids suddenly saw where this was going. “And then this is 4...” They roared. “Miss, that’s the finger! 4 in binary is your middle finger! Miss is giving us the finger!” They began the inevitable “I’m not giving you the finger, that’s 4 in binary,” joking. One of them figured out that if you kept going there must somewhere be some number corresponding to doing *both* middle fingers. He didn’t quite get to 132, but he tried, and this was also hysterical.

And the only reason that this was fun – although... these are my horrible year 10s, giving one another the bird might actually qualify as fun all by itself – but the only reason we could have this fun together, was because they now knew something that they didn’t know before. They can (kind of) count on their fingers in binary and (kind of) understand that this is a legitimate number system, but, while legitimate, it means they can do the middle finger in class. Tee-hee-hee-hee. And I wished that they were mature enough for me to point this out – and mention that if they’re willing to work with me and learn some more stuff, we could find many more accidentally cool lunar eclipses and funny rude gestures together.

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