Friday, November 30, 2007
Kazakhstan lies in the north of the central Asian republics and is bounded by Russia in the north, China in the east, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the south, and the Caspian Sea and part of Turkmenistan in the west. It has almost 1,177 mi (1,894 km) of coastline on the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan is about four times the size of Texas. The territory is mostly steppe land with hilly plains and plateaus.
In January, Michael and I are traveling to Almaty, Kazakhstan to visit The Almaty International School http://www.qsi.org/kaz/ and speak at a teacher's conference. Already I am impressed by the school and its philosophy which leads with an emphasis on kindness. Kindness is not a word that gets airtime in US school goals. How do you develop a standardized test for kindness? If you go to the website, be sure and check out the online student newspaper which is very informative and the little video.
Airline tickets all booked and new down coat purchased, we are ready to go to the cold cold steppes -- in January (did I mention?) The trip will be long -- what the travel agent calls an "over over." Overnight to Amsterdam, get on another plane, and overnight to Almaty. The flip side of the world.
So, naturally we are looking for some background reading material to help activate and assess our prior knowledge (which amounts to zip) of this area to help increase our comprehension. Unfortunately, Lonely Planet does not have a guide. Neither does Fodor's or Frommer's. Mmmmm.
So when we went for our visa pictures at AAA and (just thought I'd ask) I asked the travel agent there if she had any brochures or travel information for Kazakhstan, she replied, "What country is that in?" Mmmmmm.
We politely informed her that Kazakhstan IS a country -- in fact the 8th largest country in the world. Casting a suspicious eye on both of us, she informed us she only had information about Europe, which looks to be only a launch pad for this trip.
Filling out the VISA application, I notice that the word for NO (as is "have you ever visited Kazakhstan before?") is OK. OK means NO? That'll make your number two pencil turn backflips. Mmmmmm.
Our contacts at the school have been warm and inviting -- in direct contrast to online descriptions we have read about the geography in January. Lonely Planet online has this caution: If you do decide to battle the winter, be aware that many domestic flights are grounded and finding food can be a problem since lots of eateries close for the season. Mmmmmmm.
But then there are the rich descriptions of the food, the hospitality, the friendliness -- all in direct contrast to the weather. Just now, I was back on the site looking at the buildings and the faces of the students, getting excited.
So, here's my today thought to ponder: Is January considered winter in a land when OK means NO?
Sunday, November 25, 2007
And there we are. Left to right: Scottie (aka Scooter), Stephie, Thomas, Sara Kelly, Sara Ellen, Danny, Ben. Ready -- Swing! A little unsure. Holding on. A lot to be thankful for this year.
I've read a lot of articles about people boycotting thanksgiving because of the dastardly acts the settlers committed against indigenous peoples, but I like the idea of taking a day of the year to be thankful. It's the outdated textbooks and folklore that we need to leave behind, not the extra helping of gratitude. A day to celebrate the harvest of another year. This year I'm thankful for the above, for all my extended functioning dysfunctional family, for a warm home to come home to with running water and lights. I'm truly fortunate and pausing to be grateful is important for every reason I can think of, including a way to stave off the blues that often drag in on the skirts of winter. Something to keep us all laughing and hanging on.
Monday, November 19, 2007
I downloaded photoshop brushes. Emailed just the right font to moderator and Goddess of YA literature, Teri Lesesne. Let me just stop for a moment and say, in case you were wondering, that this is THE best read person not only in YA lit, but probably in the galaxy. I lurk on her blog occasionally, but too often and it makes me depressed that I don't read more at traffic lights. I have no idea how she reads as much as she does. Go here to fact check: http://professornana.livejournal.com/
Once the mosaic began, I relaxed into listening to Christopher Paul Curtis and Pam Ryan, Jeff Wilhelm and Janet Allen and others. A whole lot of talent was packed into that hotel ballroom, much of it carried into the room in canvas bags on the weary shoulders of teachers. It was a great afternoon and those 2.5 hours flew by. When it came time for my 13 minutes, I jumped up and raced through the whole thing in 10 minutes. Zip zip. And back to enjoying hearing others talk about their passions.
I started on the performance poetry circuit (could this be?) 16 years ago and I know that people assume I am beyond being nervous. But not true. Believe it or not, I get more nervous to deliver a poem for a small audience, say a dinner table of folks, than a ballroom. That I've known forever. But now I know that I can get EXTREMELY twisted over 13 minutes, when an hour is a breeze. Who understands these things?
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Thursday, November 08, 2007
A commenter on my last post suggested I name names, so here we go. Our neighborhood was unhappy with our councilman Bill Snow for failing to stand up for us against the over development of a former school property by Junior Properties, ltd. Junior's daddy, the Big Shot, Osborne, gave a pile of money to the financially crippled school district, earmarked solely for the football stadium. Period. No books, no AP teachers hired back, no computers or classroom remodels. Football. In exchange for this "contribution" he was gifted Center Street Elementary School and surrounding properties for development by good ol' Junior, who has proposed squeezing in 50-60-70 (depends what day you ask) condos onto the former playground.
Why is our council representative so important? It is council who will decide how many units go onto that land. In our minds, rubber stampers need not apply. And rubber stampers who have a whole lot of unexplained cash in their election campaign accounts should get lost.
Most people think the Osbornes bought Center Street School for the fire sale price of $700,000, but that's unclear. Nothing was ever recorded. Did the district gave it to them as swag for the gift to the football team? Who knows. Very fishy. And Mr. Snow and the rest of council just kept smiling and rubber stamping approvals. Keep in mind that this neighborhood is still reeling from 2003 when 63% of the town voted to stop developers from plugging a different development (Newell Creek) into our limited green space. The developers took the case to court and a judge OVERTURNED the popular vote. To say the neighborhood is a little skeptical of sincerity of developers is an understatement.
And now this new Junior Properties development at Center Street School threatens to overwhelm our ancient sewers, threaten our trees, and increase our population density and traffic flow at one of the busiest intersections in town beyond the point of safety. We've already sacrificed the playground I used to walk to with my grandkids and the ball diamond that throbbed with T ballers on any given summer evening. And guess what? Osborn also owns the bank that is doing the financing and owns the gas company which is also drilling (with council approval) at more and more sites in this semi-urban neighborhood. Could it be that Osborn rhymes with Halliburton?
Carolyn Bucey was party to a lawsuit against the Newell Creek developers and in fact she and her husband received a small settlement for loss of value to their home due to the Newell Creek development. So, wasn't it a surprise to all when a glossy, four color copy of her confidential settlement check was mailed first class to the entire Ward along with an implication that she was taking payoffs? How did Snow get a copy of that check? Who paid for the expense of mailing? Who would want such a person as Mr. Snow to represent them after he did such a thing?
Well, guess what. The majority of voters do NOT trust Mr. Snow to represent them anymore. Here's the best part about grass roots efforts, Bucey's committee was able to xerox a simple letter explaining that the copy of the check was obtained underhandedly, that the check was NOT a payoff but a perfectly legal settlement, and get that info hand delivered to the entire ward, 1/4 of Mentor inside of two days. The majority of voters decided.
And that is what democracy looks like.
Monday, November 05, 2007
It's shaking your head and reaching for a stack of literature and a list of addresses to hit the streets. It's mentioning that you will be out of town for the election and having your neighbors take the literature out of your hand and telling you to get your number 2 pencil to the board of elections and vote early because (new policy) they are open on Saturday for early voters and this election is SO small that every vote, every single pencil mark, counts. There will always be more little guys than big guys in this country, but we have to make our marks.
And the best part about voting early, we actually were able to make a mark on a paper rather than a touch screen that swallows votes and doesn't spit them out again, which is an whole other issue.
Too many of us are inclined to complain about a loss of democratic rights and not actively involved in the democratic rites -- like standing on street corners and passing out literature, trying to engage neighbors in real conversation. I'm just as bad. I'm spotty in my involvement in this mud-wrestling match called democracy. But every time I put myself up out of my chair and away from my computer and TV where pundits shout their opinions, every time I get around to expressing mine by jumping into the process, this time only by showing up at my neighbor's house to be sent away to vote early, I am grateful for the experience. It all seems so reasonable. It makes me hopeful.
Neighbors actually talking to one another. It's a great concept.