News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

No resolutions

Being a compulsive list-maker, I’ve always looked forward to writing out my New Year’s resolutions.  I love the idea (or illusion) of a fresh start that the changing calendar grants and after the indulgences of the holiday season, January seems appropriate for a new regime of healthy living and eating and planning to be more productive or creative or self-disciplined, or whatever.  I know not everyone feels this way and have a friend who never makes a resolution (this annoys his wife:  What? He’s so perfect he can’t think of a single resolution?).  Recently, I was browsing for an anniversary card for my sister and her husband and came across a beautiful card that expresses my current sentiment about New Year’s Resolutions:

Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.

–Guillaume Apollinaire

For some reason, I feel like there is a resolution in there somewhere – a resolution not to resolve, not to always be striving for more or different things.  Certainly, dissatisfaction is a great motivator, striving and reinventing ourselves is the American way.  But, the opposite approach, of just being, of feeling gratitude for what we have, of contentment, should be okay too.

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Sick of the Sun

Others have commented already on the Lowell Sun’s editorial hypocrisy (here and here), but after reading the editorial myself, I have to add how insulting I find both the tone and the sentiment.  First of all, they come off like they care about public education; this after consistently undermining the Lowell Public Schools, attacking the superintendent, the teachers’ union and the school committee relentlessly, depending on which political connection they wished to favor, trumpeting any setback and denigrating successes.  Their “erratic opinions” as described by Dick Howe (see first link above), do serious damage and leave no room for legitimate, thoughtful discussion of the Lowell schools. Then, to look at their list of requirements for the next Commissioner of Education, the first qualification is “to be unbending in the relentless pursuit of student achievement.”  This was exactly what we had in Dr. Baehr as our superintendent, but when she was leading the Lowell schools, the relentless pursuit of student achievement wasn’t so attractive to the editors of the Sun. Then, to urge that geographical considerations should not be a factor, that “the best leader among the finalists should be named the state’s next commissioner no matter where he or she lives or works.”  This is okay for the State, but not for Lowell.  I guess our kids don’t deserve the best leadership and the best teachers, no matter where they live or whom they know. The mind boggles.

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Book on good schools

Terry Trout, a Daley School math teacher, sent me the following review of the book It’s Being Done by Karin Chenoweth, which is a study of the traits good schools share. According to Mr. Trout, “Halfway through the book, it hit me: Am I part of the solution or part of the problem? Have I silently agreed or vocally espoused the excuses such as we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got or you don’t understand our kids, etc? I had to face the fact that my students had not performed at the levels demonstrated by the book’s sampling of schools. I had mixed feelings in response to the book. I was excited that other schools are doing it, inspired even. Then discouraged and overwhelmed because I’ve worked hard and not seen nearly the results others have accomplished. Before reinforcing my self-protective defense systems, I must acknowledge that I still have much to learn. This book has affected me at a deep level and my hope is that it will aid the discussion as we work to build an environment where our students will find academic success.” For more about the book, check here.

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In the schools…

Talk about engaging students in learning: I experienced the most amazing English project at the Daley School during a family event last month. The project was a Live Wax Museum where sixth graders in period costumes posed frozen until you touched them; at that point, they “came to life” and told a brief story they’d written about the character they represented. They had been studying biographies, and each student had to choose someone who made a positive contribution to write about. After doing research at the library, students wrote their own biography of their chosen person. They then created a poster that visually represented the person. Along with that, they researched the clothing and created a costume to bring their character to life. I wish I’d brought my camera because the kids did a great job getting in character—from Amelia Earhart in goggles,  to Lewis and Clark with a telescope, and John Lennon with round glasses and a guitar. In addition to learning a few things myself about folks such as Mr. Braille who created written language for the blind, and the life of Mr. Hershey, to name a few, the students themselves were so excited and proud of their projects, it was palpable. You could see many had chosen characters, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Madame Curie, Tiger Woods, Jackie Robinson, and Abraham Lincoln, that they connected to on a personal level. It was a fun project, and special kudos to Mrs. Bejaniance, the sixth grade English teacher behind it.

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“Fifty springs are little room”

The other day, while cross-country skiing through a winter wonderland, the trees all wearing coats of snow, the green pine branches laden down and chastely filtering the light, I kept thinking of a line from a favorite poem by A. E. Houseman

“And since to look at things in bloom, fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go, to see the cherry hung with snow.”

There are a few weeks in May where some trees by Boarding House Park look as if they are covered in snow, perhaps they are a type of cherry, I don’t know.  However, we don’t have to wait for spring!  There are times when winter can redeem itself with beauty and getting out and seeing it is reward and compensation for living in this climate.

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Still listening

Sure, it’s the day after Christmas, but my family allows me one more day of listening to Christmas music, which I know must be tiresome for them. For me, the small window of time to listen to old and new favorites passes much too quickly. Last week, an overworked and harassed business owner told me that he had found a radio station that didn’t play any holiday music, because if he heard Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer one more time, he couldn’t be held responsible for his reaction.  I can’t really blame him for that, the endless and indiscriminate round of the same songs interspersed with frantic advertising gets old fast, but who could tire of George Winston’s December or the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s jazzy instrumental arrangements?  I also like James Taylor’s Christmas CD and a homemade recording of a friend playing all the traditional favorites on his piano.  So, I’ll be listening to all of these today and then I promise to quit. It’s all over for another year.

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A Christmas greeting

Now Christmas is come, let us beat up the drum, and call all of our neighbors together;

 And when they are here we will make them such cheer as will drive out the wind and the weather.

Here’s hoping you are all inside and safe and warm with your families on this Christmas Day!

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Favorite Traditions

My daughter had a school assignment the other day (they’re writing more—a good thing) where she had to describe “with meaningful details” her favorite family tradition during the holidays. I suggested the candlelight service at our church on Christmas Eve. (I love the prayerful singing and the soft glow from hundreds of tiny flames.) She immediately discounted that idea to remind me of my brother’s annual brunch where she gets to see all her cousins and have “Uncle Danny’s pizzelles” (Italian waffle cookies). The brunch is fun, and I love being with my family for these eating festivals, but my favorite part is the rousing sing-a-longs that follow.  As my mother used to say, “It’s a shame I can’t sing because I really like to,” which pretty much explains Doherty singing. Aside from in-laws and a rare offspring, most of us cannot carry a tune, but what we lack in tone, we make up for in enthusiasm. Our singing is loud, off-key, and full of laughter and drama. So, whatever your favorite traditions may be, may you enjoy them wholeheartedly with loved ones. For lyrics to four songs, check: more »

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Best holiday recipe

At the risk of being considered a ‘girly blog’ ( just kidding, no hard feelings, Howie, I think it’s funny!), I’m going to post my number one most requested recipe ever.  I usually make a large batch of cranberry chutney around about Thanksgiving and use it all through the holiday season.  We always have this for Thanksgiving (perfect while waiting for the turkey to cook), Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and many parties in between. Enjoy!

Brie with Cranberry Chutney more »

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The Saturday before Christmas

My condolences if you shopped today—especially at a mall. I happened to drive by Burlington at 5 p.m. and the traffic was horrible on 128 as cars inched along trying to get to the mall. Drum Hill was also a nightmare of crawling cars and limited parking. Ah, such is the wonder of the holidays—not for me.  Several years ago, I began giving “thought gifts” which usually turned out to be something homemade (most often food) or delivered (such as flower centerpieces or fruit arrangements). I’m not naturally crafty, but over the years, I have given breads, soups, wreaths with candles, bags of snacks and nuts, framed photos, and of course, cookies of all varieties. One year I discovered an awesome grater, so everyone on my list got one with a hunk of special cheese and a bottle of wine. I try to be creative and functional in thinking about gifts. My goal is to give something useful that the recipient will actually enjoy.  I spent too many years wandering aimlessly through hot, crowded malls trying to find something (anything)—usually expensive—for people who probably didn’t want it anyway. I’m sorry if this sounds Scroogish or anti-consumerism (which I know stimulates the economy), but it works for us. Okay, maybe not the kids so much. That’s a story for another day.

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