January 24th, 2015 | Tags: , ,

The gasp, the rush, the plunge…the cavitating shock of a new medium, carrying you, enveloping you, holding you close. This year has been a wild ride, one of ups and serious downs, but in the span of it I have become a different sort of person, with a deeper understanding of my fundamental goals and values than I ever had before. And I have been taking action to realize them, not holding up my life or acting for others at the expense of myself, much more of late. Having meds on board helped–it kept me alive this fall, if I may be frank–and since the winter break my vision is clear and growing clearer. This is life, lived with intent. Maddening, complex, and exhilarating in the fullest. This is calefaction.

[HabitRPG] has been a bit of a boon in this respect. I am having a hard time now that the semester is in full swing, but having gotten it up and running has made for more proactive task management than I had ever employed before. Here’s me, with my white lion pet and my gumdrop sword of task-slaying:

Just a bard of passion and mirth

I need to invest in some better armor. These task gremlins are going to chew me up if I’m not careful. ;-)

January 21st, 2015 | Tags: ,

Here we go again. That creeping feeling, building into a low panic, has bubbled up to the surface. It has been a pleasant few weeks without it, but it’s back with a vengeance. Find a car, get the semester started right, keep living in the present moment, oh and also try to unmuck the remains of the MAT. And drive 2 hours every day.

Hey, I’m getting some great audiobook time in. Hooray, Google Books + [Gutenberg.org] + “Read aloud” + Car audio Bluetooth. Also, did you know that there are also [audio books] on Gutenberg? I didn’t until today.

And did you see that sickle moon at dusk? Just a sliver, with Venus hanging out just to the left. Diana was giving her some bowmanship lessons, I think.

January 19th, 2015 | Tags: , ,

Speaking Spanish has been one of my minor little tricks that isn’t much to sneeze at. I took a couple years in high school, and let it go at that. But it helped enormously when I went to Latin & Greek much later, and with the massive demographic shifts, even learning a little bit more has helped my teaching. (The Spanish teachers in my department are also awesome and bear with me as I try to improve on the fly.) So, after feeling slightly ashamed of needing to ask one of my department members to help me with a parent phone call, I decided to start taking matters into my own hands. I signed up for [Duolingo]. After the placement test, it busted me back to very elementary Spanish, past initial stuff but still way early in elementary verbs, because I lack so much vocabulary. I have been testing out, but not as quickly as I had imagined myself. It’s humbling but also nice to get reinforcement with some basic gaps in my vocabulary.

It’s also been nice to observe how it rewards you for completing tasks. Not just the actual prizes, but the process rewards–clicks and dings for success, sad trombones for failure. The bells and whistles are rather alluring to win. Also, you earn coins (“lingots”) that allow you to unlock not just treats, but more things to learn, like how to flirt in Spanish. It’s an interesting concept–hey, kid, do you want to learn something cool? So many things to teach kids in Latin. That’s for another entry, though, I think.

But it does tie in nicely with my other gamified Web site, [HabitRPG]. I have been progressing well in that, taking my lumps as I merit them equally with the rewards of completing more habits. I’ve been drinking much more water, I haven’t bitten my nails in a solid 2 weeks, and managing this wreck business on top of preparing for the beginning of the semester has been far more navigable than I frankly thought possible. P(l)anic attacks are–well, they’re not gone, but I’m able to fall back on a much more structured way of approaching planning, even as my goals feel like they’re dizzying in their complexity and scope. And the motivation is a double-edged sword, because I want to avoid taking damage and also gain the benefits of experience and gold. And now I have a party member to think of! (My undone dailies damage him too!! I won’t let you down, rf!)

All in all, things seem to be looking up after passing through the mirror of the winter break. Just taking time to see family at my own pace, and allowing myself to actually relax, has proven to be absolutely the thing I needed to refocus and look at the world in a growth-mindset orientation. Practice, practice, practice is what it takes, even amidst abject failure. Keep trying. I have written “I’m not giving up” so many times, both here and elsewhere, but it’s not just about one leg in front of the other. It’s about being present for each footstep. And we must give ourselves space to breathe in order to do so.

Keep practicing, folks!

January 18th, 2015 | Tags: , ,

I received the news on Friday about my car’s condition. It was determined to be a total loss–the axle damage sent problems all the way up into the transmission. (That’s about what I figured. But it’s still a minor shock to have confirmed such a drastic event from so small a span of time. Seriously, from the lady stopping in front of me, to the swerve and crash and the engine shuddering to a halt, to me getting out of the car and making sure I was ok was something like 15 seconds, tops.)

Allstate is paying out $10,575.42 for the car, but I still had $12,610 to go on the loan. This is where a little thing called gap insurance comes into play. It’s something I simply factored in when I got the loan: you pay a small premium as part of your loan payments, and if your car is totaled, the insurance covers the difference between the amount you still owe on the loan and the amount the insurance pays for the car. I had altogether forgotten it was a thing–I don’t even know if I even did more than think “Yes, that makes sense to get” when I got the car–so when the Allstate guy asked me if I had it I was a little concerned. (I can’t exactly trust past-self from doing right by future-self. I try.) But, I confirmed that it was part of my loan. So, yay.

On the other hand, this basically leaves me at square one as far as having a car goes. Allstate’s rental coverage lasts through Wednesday the 21st (the first day of the new semester for my students), which means I cannot piss around on finding another vehicle. As things go, I am less interested now in getting another major loan, given that I have a vastly different outlook on the next six months than I did even six months ago. So I’m not getting another new car–the fact that I had any heartache at all about owing $12k after a year and a half of regular payments is warning enough for me.

As best I can tell, the easiest way to get a used car in very short order is through something like Carmax, and they seem to sell cars for no less than about $10k.  I’ve put a placeholder on a 2012 Accent GS (same car as my old one, just a year older) at $13k. I must say, I loved the way that car drove. But at this point, I’m looking for something I can reasonably pay off before summer. I definitely want a hatchback still–beyond just being a fashion statement, it behaved the way I want. So I’m looking at a Nissan Versa SL, which looks to be about $8,000 for the [2008] or [2009], ~70k miles on either car. I’ve put in the inquiries, and I’ll be test-driving the 2009 tomorrow.

I don’t have a lot of time to really get comfortable with the decision, but from scouring the various car listings sites it looks like the Versa is my only viable option in the local area for hatchbacks under $8k. It seems like a good car, and a worthy successor to my Accent. And, anyway, it’s not like I didn’t get the Accent in the same hurried timeframe. (Though that was because of a spiteful will rather than genuine loss of use.) So, here we go!

January 14th, 2015 | Tags: , , ,

So, casting about for useful online Latin resources as I was wont to do earlier this fall, I stumbled across a little corner of the Web. I was just looking for something to help my struggling level Is practice their noun declensions. At first I scoffed, thinking it was some teacher’s personal pet Latin Web site. But just a little more digging, and I discovered the tip of a rather useful iceberg. Maybe it’s just a floating diamond, who knows. :)

The site is [Magistrula] (“little teacher”). And it’s fantastic.

It’s a labor of love for one former Latin teacher turned full-time programmer, Anna Andresian. It’s all done in JavaScript (and it’s open source, on a [git repository] to boot!), and it provides immediate feedback on a huge variety of exercises, ranging from simple noun declension and verb conjugation, to form recognition, all the way to sentence translation and construction! The exercises are easily tweaked to include or exclude just about any variable you might imagine (person, number, tense, voice, mood, case, gender, declension, conjugation), meaning you can fine-tune what you’re trying to practice.

But the best part about it is the virtual classes. I was able to set up my Latin I students with a series of exercises that I prescribed, and because they registered for my class, I was able to examine their practice data and infer ways to help them along in class. I’ll be deploying it for all my Latin classes this semester, and modifying the way I do homework–the onus can shift to the students to determine how they need to practice. Which allows me considerably more time to spend on teaching them where they’re having real difficulty.

One other huge plus for this semester is that I can finally flesh out the first tool I ever developed for the Latin classroom, the Passport to Latin. I’m sure many teachers have come to some form of this–a little collection of the various patterns and forms we learn in one compact unit. But I had always dreamed of somehow using it to reinforce practice by having students earn ’stamps’ on the various categories. I never got there when it was me facing the notion of finding time to quiz students with paper–making sure they don’t cheat–running off the photocopies–making sure they’re different enough–having enough time to grade them–etc. Now I can just set a series of benchmark practices and have one marked as a quiz–it’s auto-random, and I can view the results instantly.

One last thing to gush about is the game engine. Yep, it has games, too! The player controls a zombie who runs around zapping stars with lightning bolts. But the real fun is the fact that anyone can make a new game! So I’m envisioning having my students create games for each other to practice different skills. Or, you know, simply allowing them to, and seeing what develops out of the chaos.

It’s a great tool for individualization of practice. I must take care not to lean on it irresponsibly; the practices will need to be curated so everyone has a skill level to work from. But I sense a moment of power.

January 12th, 2015 | Tags: , ,

I’m grateful to be writing this post, and grateful to be sitting here on this couch typing it, and grateful to have had a full day’s work done before coming home to do so. The things we own can do mighty works. This laptop is my tool to communicate, to express with the written word, and to gather information. My phone does these tasks in smaller batches, but adds greater ease of voice contact (at least for this curmudgeon–YMMV concerning Skype/Hangouts/et al.). My car gets me around far distances, farther and faster than the best bike, and hauls things in speedy fashion that I could not even carry all together at once.

Well, it did these things, until I wrecked it Thursday. :)

First things first: I am alive and well (completely without injury, as best I can tell), and so is the individual who caused the accident. But my car, a 2013 Hyundai Accent, is rather the worse for wear. Commuting to work Thursday morning, someone pulled out directly into traffic and stopped in my lane instead of at the stop sign some yards back. I managed to avoid her, jerking the wheel hard right and braking like a boss, but neither momentum nor angle of attack were sufficient to avoid careening with my front left into the square’s sign on the corner. Not an insubstantial sign, let me tell you. In the disagreement of physical space that ensued, I was unable to generate a clipping error, and the car shuddered to a halt. No airbag (apparently I am to be thankful for this), and boy howdy the bumper tried to do its job. It got so excited about it that the radiator and my left wheel joined in the fun.

After the police called in the tow, I got a doctor’s appointment that day, and secured a rental by the afternoon. (This was not without some help getting around–again, for which I am eminently grateful.) I checked out of the doc with no neuropathy evident & no muscles spasming, and a weekend’s rest has seen the tension that built up Friday melt away. (I am to call the doctor if anything comes up.) So, now all to be done is to ensure the process of insurance goes smoothly.

I keep thinking about how I could have just T-boned that car. I don’t think the driver would have lived. I keep thinking about how the sign crunched as my car hit, and my seatbelt did its job without me even noticing. (I found my glasses down by the accelerator–they had flown off my face, unsecured by the same.) Had I struck the windshield or steering column, I would be in a much greater world of hurt.

I felt a great deal of anger this weekend, thinking about the various things that should not have happened. But as the days pass, I am realizing that that was more of a physical process than any real substantial reasoning. It was an accident, in the strictest sense of the word. And all I can do is breathe a sigh of relief that my only worries are how much it will cost to fix, who’s going to pay for it, and what about the loan that I still owe a fat chunk on. Seriously, it’s just stuff. Neither I nor the other driver need to pick up the broken pieces of our livelihoods.

[Update: her insurance is accepting responsibility. I'm glad, because while it's just stuff, the initial estimate alone is $5000 worth of damage to my car. Everything is proceeding smoothly, knock on wood.]

January 7th, 2015 | Tags: ,

So, I’ve been trying to find some good apps for my students to use as electronic Latin dictionaries. I finally got around to it, and here’s the results of my search. I have tested all the Android apps, but I don’t have an iPhone; if you have good suggestions to supplement this list or have good feedback on one or more of these, let me know and I’ll add it!

Free

Whitaker’s Words: An app version of the Web software [http://archives.nd.edu/words.html]. A similarly clean interface, and only somewhat less featureful, it lists principal parts and part of speech. NB: you must take care to read the entries carefully to make sure you correctly identify which word you mean!

Verba: An offline Latin-English dictionary application based on An Elementary Latin Dictionary (1895) by Charlton T. Lewis. Accepts any inflectional form of a word, then presents a list of all matching inflections and lemmas, from which the definition may be accessed.  It has slightly weird interface, and it does not list principal parts with any consistency. But it gives exhaustive usage examples, and it is Free software!

Dictionary Latin English Free: Great for looking up a Latin word by its principal parts or its English definition; it also lists declension or conjugation. Not great for figuring out what an inflected word’s principal parts are, though. It also hooks in to Google Translate, which is worse than useless. (I mean it–GT is actively obstructive to learning Latin. Try for yourself and see.) Also, it has ads.

Paid

Latin +: Just a dictionary and word parser. An inexpensive tool that’s part of the larger SPQR suite, useful for beginning Latin students.

SPQR: A full-featured Latin reading suite with a dictionary, word parser, and flashcard tool. It also includes a rather large collection of texts (some with translations supplied!). Worth every penny for a student intending to take upper-level Latin. [This is what I primarily use.]

January 5th, 2015 | Tags:

Travel this winter break was nowhere near as exhausting, and much more greatly refreshing, than it has ever been for me. A calendrical accident allowed NC teachers a full 2 weeks of vacation this year, and I used it to the fullest extent. Two major stops: Asheville, NC and roundabouts Ellicott City, MD.

Asheville is…amazing. First there’s the LaZoom tour, which is full of yuks–there’s a live comedian narrating the bus’s travels around the town, and every so often it stops to allow on a costumed supporting character to provide hilarity and, well, just plain weirdness. It helps that they allow open container on the bus, so things were pretty merry. I helped pay my way by making dinner for our hosts Christmas eve, and then biscuits Christmas morning. (Who knew they were so easy, and still so fluffy??) The opportunity arose to watch Game of Thrones, so we mainlined season 3 in a single sitting. That’s right, ten hours of quality bloodshed and chivalry. I finally got to see the Red Wedding after rage-quitting at the end of season 2 so many tears ago. And we caught the Purple Wedding the next morning. Much board gaming and scintillating conversation was had–desperately needed after this semester’s utter shitshow. No pressure, no obligations, just good times with good folks.

We made it safely back to the Triangle, and then headed up to Maryland to see my sister and dad. Again, just about the most positive experience possible. My sister is always a joy to visit and spend time with–over the years, we’ve clashed, but always we’ve stayed in touch and communicated whole-heartedly. She’s a rare touchstone in my life, and her husband is of the same caliber. My own bent is turning in their direction, and if I might speak an unspoken wish, I would like to return to Maryland and begin growing the seed of what feels like an amazing opportunity. The Icehouse, my sister’s home, has the makings of a great little place to brew some amazing beer, and she and her husband have been renovating the structure as they live in it.We spent a grand time with them, engaging in restful palaver, and my dad was insistent that we go to Jailbreak Brewery (the only production brewery in Howard Co.), so many delightful times were had when a few friends responded to my call to join for fun and merriment. On our way back we even got to stop by my mom’s place and make biscuits there, too :) And to top it off, one the leg home, we got gas for $2.01 in Brodnax!

But it was over our time in Asheville that the big idea hit, and it is here I shall try to breathe life into it: Tiny House.

The tiny house movement is pretty recent; I remember seeing it first in the WaPo maybe a year and a half ago, and while it was an amusing idea, I had never really considered it for my own lifestyle. But, well, things have changed. And my attitude towards things has changed. I first moved to a 400 square foot hole in the wall last summer, and I basically camped there for the next year. The main factor in not really taking full advantage of the space, in retrospect, was the utter lack of a kitchen. In the throes of the school year, I didn’t take the time to build up, either–shelves would have made it more livable. As it was, when I moved out I had basically not touched so much of my stuff. And it still sits in the place I dumped it this July. I don’t need it. Any of it.

All I really need is a place I can move around at my own will. 200 square feet is eminently doable, even on a flatbed trailer. And with a light enough frame, I can haul it with a much smaller vehicle than some monstrous truck behemoth. I’m ready to throw my life into the wind, to uproot. North Carolina is no place for us, not long-term. The NC legislature has basically done for public education in this state, and I don’t have to be a martyr. My sister’s place has enough space to build a tiny house in, and between us we have enough know-how and vision to make it a reality. The more we research, the more feasible it seems to become. What really transfixed me was Andrew Morrison’s [TEDx talk], coupled with his [Youtubed house tour]. Watch those, and tell me you aren’t dreaming of possibilities too.

January 2nd, 2015 | Tags:

So, I’m trying out a new thing. I have been attempting to-do lists for most of my life unsuccessfully–I lose them if they’re on paper, or they constantly need updating. And to-do software is only as good as my actual use of it. I tried ToodleDo, and it was ok, except that it didn’t really address the problem: me. Me and my really, really bad habits. I avoid prioritizing, I piddle, I put stuff off, I tell myself I can do it later. And I always find some way to hijack my good intentions with guilt and shame and paralysis. And this fall I’ve been learning to talk the language of vulnerability, listening to Brene Brown’s talk about Daring Greatly, and realizing a few things about my relationships with myself, with others, and with the world at large.

So when I read a friend’s post about [HabitRPG], I figured, well, I like to play games. And maybe the more visible reward system that an RPG embodies is the way to go. After all, that’s what I’m doing to my students ;-) So, I’m signed up. I am trying for some ambitious stuff, and maybe I need to walk it back a bit before I die at level one. I have several daily goals, which I can already feel slipping away from me. But words are flowing into this text box, so that’s one goal happening. NB: [this wiki page], even if you’re not into the whole gamifying thing, is fantastic advice for practicing useful goal-setting.

Obviously this is fueled by some momentum from New Years’ resolutions. But this isn’t just about that. I feel a change in the wind, and the question I’m really asking is: if not now, when?

Happy new year, folks.

April 14th, 2013 | Tags: , ,

One of the great emotional hurdles I’m discovering in a full classroom setting is the anxiety of sufficiency. I don’t mean just whether we’re engaging the material that Latin students ought to know. Though blending culture lessons evenhandedly into the grammar is a distinct challenge, we are not doing too terribly for my first real crack at this. No, my concern–dread, even–is that I’m not delivering it in an interesting enough way that will ensure retention and motivate students to pursue questions they have independently. We start by teaching as we have been taught, and because I learned Latin in college, I have been the recipient of the grand tradition of old, white scholastic privilege that has been handed down through the generations. It is simply assumed, in the standard curriculum, that students will thirst for the knowledge, so that when you dole it out, they will lap it up as pigs at a trough.

This new generation isn’t having any of that.

And why should they? Their weltanschauung, the scenery from their perch in the branches of this crazy tree, is the socioeconomic aftermath of the cataclysm known as the Internet. Communication is no longer limited to one-on-one interactions, but rather they are steeped in a sea of myriad voices, all competing for their attention. And like any tree grown in soil, they draw strength and nutrient from it. It is to them a given, a fact, an intrinsic part of their consciousness. We who have emigrated to this way of living, like the legendary foreigner king of Rome, Tarquin I, must honor their customs and woo them with instruction that speaks to their motivations, dreams, and goals. We must show them through the lens of modernity that ancient Rome, and the words these people produced, are every bit as relevant to them as how Kat was asked to prom by Johnny.We are swimming every bit as much in a sea of Latin as we are in the digital, interconnective mediaverse; it’s my job to show them how to swim better in both.

The key to all of this is that I go into the classroom with unextinguishable zeal and enthusiasm for the language. I don’t know how anyone would sign up to be a teacher who wasn’t driven forward almost against their will to share this passion. (But I see them.) Now I need to cap off that zeal with relevance. Because, frankly, just memorizing declension and verb endings isn’t intrinsically interesting to a broad swath of people. And even going the word-roots route is only so useful; appreciation for the beauty that is the Latin system of verbs and nouns must be cultivated through means other than brute force.

My mother, of all people, dug up a link for me that has a collection of useful Web sites that could be useful in doing so with the resources we now have at our fingertips. It is the rare student who does not have access to the Internet, either through their phone or tablet or PC, and so I post this here for myself as much as you:

50 Fun and Educational Websites Keeping Latin Alive

The blog post itself is three years old, but the list is extraordinarily comprehensive. My goal is to go through these items and incorporate what I can into my curriculum for next year. I want to encourage as much as I can the skill of self-study. Not just because it’s how one truly learns, but also because trying to just beat it into their skulls is a ridiculous amount of work! The sooner I can trick them into doing it for themselves, and to enjoy themselves to boot, the sooner I will retain the energy to develop truly excellent lesson plans ahead of time instead of jumping from fire to fire as I am right now. The graduate work that I am pursuing plays a role in my pedagogical tardiness, but I own my missteps. I know where I can and should do better. I hope to share my efforts in this direction here more frequently!