Month: September 2011

An Incident at Aquaboulevard

I’m not sure how many days of hot weather we had on our first trip to Paris, but what I do remember is that my daughter, Emma, had heat rash, our hotel had no air conditioning, and there were people dying from heat exhaustion all over Europe that summer. The heat was inescapable unless you stayed in one of the twelve buildings in Paris that had air conditioning. We spent one afternoon in an air-conditioned theater watching a cartoon version of Sinbad in French, no subtitles, no English, we understood none of it but it was two hours of cool air. We didn’t care about the movie; we just cared about air-conditioning. The movie ticket agent was suspicious, we spoke hardly any French, we wanted to buy tickets for a movie that was starting in an hour (“You cannot go in now”) and we were not in an area of Paris nearly free of tourists.

Our goal really was just to give the kids a little treat, they had been such good troopers with the heat and walking, we thought we would take them to a movie. The plan was to go to the theater, which was located in a large shopping mall, get our tickets early, eat lunch at the food court and then watch the movie. We would be inside during the heat of the day, the kids would be refreshed for the rest of the evening, and it was a good plan until we walked by Aquaboulevard. Auqaboulevard was a water park designed by Jacques Cousteau that sat alongside the mall. There were several places in the mall where you could look into the water park, and of course, one of the places just happened to next to the food court. If you are a parent you know how it went.

“Can we go in there?”

“We are going to the movie, we already have tickets.”

“But, I want to go in there.”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

“I want to go now,” tears begin streaming down face.

“Maybe tomorrow, I will see how much it will cost. We could spend the whole day there.”

Did I want to spend a whole day in a water park in Paris? No, I really did not want to travel all the way to Paris to swim in a bunch of urine infested waters, but I made the mistake of saying, ‘Maybe tomorrow,’ which meant we were going to the water park tomorrow unless it cost a billion dollars. It didn’t.

The next day we trudged from our hotel to the water park. My kids were excited and I was actually looking forward to getting out of the heat and spending some time frolicking in the urine soaked waters of Aquaboulevard. (I am assuming the water is full of urine. I have no actual evidence of urine in the water other than the fact that kids pee in public pools all the time.)

We arrived at the water park and I began navigating the complex cost system of the water park. There was only one attendant who spoke a little English and so we did our best to figure out the prices. It turned out the least expensive route was getting a yearlong membership, which meant I had to fill out some paper work. I really had no clue what I was writing in any of the little boxes but I did my best and when it all looked done, we paid and began heading back to the changing rooms and here is where the day came apart. There was a red sign with a man wearing shorts with a large red X across it. Next to it was a green sign with a man wearing a Speedo, there was no red X on the Speedo, although, in my opinion there should always be an X on men wearing Speedos.

I stopped the girls from going into the changing rooms and went back to ask the English speaking attendant if our swim trunks were okay. They were not. We had to have Speedos. We did not have Speedos. We could not go into the park. Really? Really.

Cancel the yearlong membership, pull crying kids out of the entryway, walk back to the hotel through the heat, and feel like quitting.  Not a good start to the day.

We did manage to rally and find a great park nearby (see the video) and the kids had a great time there, but someday when I am 70 years old I will have revenge on Aquaboulevard: I will go there in a small white Speedo.

When You Lie to Your Kids

Here is the danger in telling your kids that carrying them in Europe is illegal: they might want to attack you. We had been on longer walks, but those walks were disguised by twists and turns (to be completely honest, many of the twist and turns were because we were lost.) This walk was supposed to be a nice stroll up the Champs-Elysees. Now you don’t have to stroll up the Champs-Elysees if you go to Paris, but be ready to explain your actions when you get home. For most Americans there are several places you must go when visiting Paris: Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame and Champs-Elysees/Arc de Triomphe. If you don’t see one of these places be prepared to explain why. You may not get accused of being a communist (although traveling to Paris these days has a way of coloring you pink anyway) but people will wonder why you didn’t go where they wanted you to.  I must admit I do the same thing when people I know travel: If you went to India, I will ask if you saw the Taj Mahal. If you go to China, I will ask if you saw the Great Wall. If you go to Australia, I will ask about Ayers Rock. Now I don’t really know where many of these famous sites are really located, but I will want you to see them so we have something to talk about.

A random friend will ask, “Did you go to that road where they finish the Tour of France?”

“Why, yes, we walked all the way from the fountains at Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe.”

“You kids are so lucky that your parents took you to Paris and you saw all those famous sites.”

So the family stroll up the Champs-Elysees was a walk intended to check off a couple more locations, it was not intended on becoming the Bataan death march. I figured we would walk a bit, sit a bit, go into a shop or two, look around and then continue on until we reached the Arc. Unfortunately we managed to arrive in Paris during one of the longest stretches of hot weather in recorded history. People from the Northwest do not do well in heat, when it gets above 80 degrees we all begin complaining. So by 9 am it was already too hot for our poor bodies and we darted from shady location to shady location like vampires. We did take breaks but as we got further up the street it became more and more crowded but before too long the stroll had become a miserable slog. We trudged up the sidewalk slowly. Most of the tourists around us did not seem to be affected by the heat, they were probably from places like Spain and Italy where it gets above 80 degrees occasionally.

By the time we reached the Arc everyone in my family was exhausted. I wanted to walk to the top of the Arc; it is times like this when my family decides that traveling with me is not fun. I managed to talk my son into taking the stairs up to the top of the Arc, but our stay on top of the Arc was brief because there was no shade and my pale skin was beginning to turn an uncomfortable shade of pink. So, we went back down to the base of the monument I and sat there amazed at my ability to turn a fun outing into something akin to punishment.

Manna from Moo Cow

New Zealand 2007

Image by Szymon Stoma via Flickr

Who knows how old the meat was, but when meat is free does it really matter? I don’t mean you should eat old meat if there are worms in it, but if the meat has been frozen…then so what? It might not taste like you expect but life is full of adventures if you just let yourself get there. At least that is what my experience has taught me. Pass up an opportunity to eat free meat and two days later you might regret it.

Now I doubt that I would steal meat out of a freezer today, let me rephrase that, I doubt I would liberate meat left behind by tourists today, but at the time I was slowly running out of money and the meat was a risk I was willing to take.

My friend, Andy, and I had been touring New Zealand on our bicycles for about two weeks when we found ourselves at the Pauanui Pines Motor Lodge in Pauanui, New Zealand. We ended up there the same way we ended up everywhere else on that trip: dumb luck.

We left Auckland one day and just started pedaling southeast. We had no reservations anywhere, we had no general idea of where we would end up each evening, we just started pedaling and after it started to get late we would begin thinking about where we wanted to sleep. Most of the time it just worked out. We didn’t have a tent, we didn’t plan more than about two hours into the future and I must admit, it was one of the best trips I have ever taken.

The Pauanui Pines had little bungalows around the property with a couple beds, a television, a dining room table and a kitchen. We arrived just after the holidays so the place was nearly vacant and the rates were favorable.

So how did I go from staying at the Pauanui Pines to stealing meat? That is a good question. It happened on the way to the shower. Andy and I had a long day of swimming in the ocean, sunning on the beach and basically acting like bums, but even bums need a shower on occasion and so we grabbed our towels and headed over to the shower rooms. The showers were the kind where you drop in a ten-cent piece and then scrub like a madman hoping to remove all the soap and dirt before the water turns off. I believe there is probably some laboratory where they see how quickly someone can actually take a shower and then they set all of the pay showers to about ten seconds less than that.

Since Andy and I were super cheap I don’t think the time limit was going to affect us, if the shower turned off too early we would have just finished with a garden hose. On our way back to the bungalow we thought we should check out the clubhouse but once we got in the door we realized that it really was just a big kitchen for the campers with a few stoves and lots of table space. Two weeks earlier, during the holidays, I am certain that the clubhouse was packed with families, but on this evening it was just us.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of needing, I mean really needing, to look in unfamiliar freezers and there were two freezers in the clubhouse. I don’t know how Theodore Davis felt when he discovered Tut’s tomb, but I suppose he felt about as good as I did when I opened the first white freezer in the clubhouse. The freezer was packed with food. We checked the other freezer and it was also filled.

There are some people who would consider our next move stealing, but really is it stealing if someone leaves something behind? You don’t get arrested if you pick up a broken couch that is sitting alongside a road. You don’t get arrested when you find a twenty-dollar bill on the ground. Is it stealing if something is left for the good of humanity? Well Andy and I did not spend a great deal of time discussing the finer points of the moral dilemma before us. We each slipped a couple of loose hamburger patties into our towels and strolled back to the bungalow.

Andy and I had been surviving on potatoes, lamb sausages, barbeque sauce and beer for two weeks so it didn’t really matter to us how old the meat was. It might have been there for two years for all we knew, but hamburger is one of those beautiful meats that cannot be ruined, it is ruined as soon as it comes out of the massive grinder that combines all the crap they can’t chop into steak.

So, that evening we dined on two very well done hamburgers, I may not believe that hamburger can be ruined, but I do believe in cooking mystery food thoroughly. We ate those burgers with a generous helping of barbeque sauce and potatoes, and then began plotting our next shower. We certainly didn’t want to get caught hauling meat out of the freezer, but at the same time we did not want to pass up the opportunity to have a free meal provided by the generous people of New Zealand.

We showered twice a day. Our quick showers were always followed by hearty meals of mystery meat and potatoes.

The days were warm, the surf broke wonderfully, the beach was lovely, the few campers we talked to were friendly, but the showers were always exceptional.

A Good Lie to Tell Your Kids

Traveling with young kids can be a challenge. They are grumpy little people with short attention spans and not much interest in history or art. So when my wife and I decided to take our kids to Europe for the first time there were many challenges we had to overcome: How do you keep your kids entertained without spending the whole day at places like Chuck E Cheese? How do you avoid eating at places like McDonalds? How do you introduce your children to a world that will be vastly different than the one they are accustomed to? And how do you get from location to location without carrying them everywhere?

I wasn’t sure how I would overcome all of these challenges but I did decide right up front that I was not going to lug a stroller around London and Paris and I was not going to spend my vacation time like a pack mule carrying my kids from location to location, so I did what parents have been doing for centuries, I lied to my kids. It was a simple lie, a beautiful lie, and a lie I would suggest for any American family traveling overseas.

“Did you know it is against the law to carry children in Europe?”

There it is. One day, probably after carrying my kids around Seattle, this little gem popped out of my mouth. At first I really didn’t know how valuable this gem was but if you are a parent you know that carrying a 40 pound kid around for 20 minutes can be tiring, so carrying two kids around Europe for two weeks is not anything any parent wants to do unless they are some kind of super-parent who wants to brag about how great they are. I am not that parent.

Now some of you out there might be skeptical about how well this would work, but let me assure you that once we arrived in London we saw very few children being carried. Most people who live there take their kids in strollers and on the couple occasions we did see children being carried my children actually believed that the parents were breaking the law.

My kids walked everywhere. They were little troopers. They walked to the Tube station, they walked through museums, they walked long distances (okay, we did have to buy a lot of ice cream), but I did not carry my children. Did I have any guilt over this lie? Nope, not a bit. Were there any problems? Well, my daughter did get angry once or twice, but that story is for tomorrow.

Why I Teach

This morning I read an article in the NYTimes by Charles Blow, In Honor of Teachers about a teacher who inspired him. I am glad I read the article but I made the mistake of reading the comments other readers had about the article. Now I realize that many people have some strong opinions about teachers and teaching, but most of those people have never been a teacher and don’t really know the realities of the job.

Let me address the two elephants in the room to begin: Yes, I do get more vacation time than most American workers. Unfortunately most of that vacation time is consumed by work for my job. My summer vacation is the one time during the year that I am not working seven days a week. Now I don’t say this to sound like some martyr dragging my cross to the classroom each day, I just want people to know that as a teacher my job follows me everyday. I have worked many other jobs: land leveler, bag boy, toilet cleaner, paperboy, tree trimmer, bellman, pizza deliverer; and there is no other job that stays with you every moment of every day.

The second elephant in the room is the union protecting “bad” teachers. Yes, there are teachers in the profession that are not equipped for the challenges of the classroom. Those people should not be teaching, other teachers do not want those people teaching, but those people are not as numerous as the public seems to think. The public is under the impression that for every “good” teacher there are 12 bad ones, I would turn that statistic around, for every bad teacher there are 12 good ones. Now your ideal teacher may not be my ideal, but once you spend time in the classroom you begin to understand that not every child is going to like you or respect you or learn from you, but a good school will have a teacher somewhere out there that connects with that child. You need a variety of teaching styles and teaching personalities to make connections with the variety of students.

I have taught in five different schools. In each school there were different working conditions and different challenges, but in each school there were amazing teachers…I mean amazing teachers. People who change lives. People devoted to their students. People who truly care. People who spend long hours not giving up on students. Those teachers are in every school in our nation.

I decided to become a teacher in an odd location: Pauanui, New Zealand. I was not in an education class thinking about curriculum design, I was sitting on a beach thinking about what I was going to do with my life. Like most big decisions in my life I took a 360 degree turn from what I had been planning on doing and decided that teaching was for me. I wanted to do something productive and altruistic with my life, something that would benefit society.

Twenty-one years later, I can only say that I believe I made the right choice. Sure I get frustrated with crazy parents. How many crazy parents are there? Take the number of bad teachers and multiple it by 15. Sure I get angry when all of the country places the blame for all of society’s ills on my shoulders. Certainly there are days when I want to quit because the state cuts my pay and then adds days of work to my schedule. But there is no greater joy than seeing a student learn. There is nothing like knowing that you played a small part in sending someone great into the world.

I will never earn more money from the state of Washington than I do right now, the state salary schedule ends at 17 years of experience, but I don’t really care about that. I don’t care that politicians are making uninformed decisions that make my job more difficult. I don’t really care about all of the things that happen outside of room 122, because once those students get into my room next Tuesday I will have the opportunity to make a difference and those differences can’t be weighed or measured.

I am a teacher and I make a difference.

The Ambassador

Sea spary.

Image via Wikipedia

A faded copy of Wallace Stevens’

Collected works sits on a windowsill

Looking west across a churning ocean.


A murky, gray horizontal smudge meets

Beyond vision and fades both north and south:

The archaic world of the Pelican.


This ancient bird dives along the shoreline

Blending sky and sea till it’s nearly

Indiscernible through the mottled glass.


Searching the braking waves the Pelican

Plunges its great wings into the salt spray

And rushes over the cutting water’s edge.


Numerous other shore birds have washed up

And been buried by rolling winter sands,

Selected by fate to soar no longer,


Yet the lice infested feathers of this

Primordial bird keep it aloft to

Behold an ever-changing empire.


Beyond the shoreline’s crashing saltwater,

Beyond the horizontal dreary smudge,

The eternal world of the Pelican


Will welcome this antiquated bird home

Tonight, and the Titans will hear its

Wondrous tales of imaginary lands.

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