Tally ho!

Hey everyone!

Shasta’s Fog will be taking a little hiatus while I travel to Ireland and the U.K. for several weeks with the Oasis Chorale. Yes, that’s right, I’m going to England! You could say this English major’s just a liiiiiittle excited.

This is my third year singing with Oasis Chorale, and I’m really excited to reconnect with some of my favorite people. I’m also excited to meet new friends in Ireland, Wales, and England! This year’s program features some amazing music!

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Some things I’m looking forward to:
1. I look forward to the community of our choir.
Oasis Chorale functions out of a portable classroom. Our members live all over the United States and Canada. We receive music early in the year and rehearse on our own. Then we come together for one spring rehearsal weekend before going off on our annual summer tour. After months of personal rehearsal, we are sooo ready to sing IN COMMUNITY. And this is what choral singing is all about anyway.

2. I look forward to meeting Irish and English believers.

3. I look forward to singing in a cathedral.
And other churches with great acoustics. That is, better acoustics than most poorly-designed Mennonite churches. 🙂

3. I look forward to my first real cup of British tea.

4. I look forward to the After-Party: wherein I shall conquer ye British highways and byways in a rental car with some lovely ladies post-tour. I’ll spare you all the grimy details, but it includes R&R on England’s north shore, downtown insanity in London where we will do all the things, a plethora of authors’ hometowns and museums, fish & chips, and some very scary driving by Yours Truly, wherein I shall drive on the left-hand side of the road, with a gas petal on the left, and the driver on the right.

If that’s too much for you, revive yourself here:

See you in August!

 

Battle of the Brands: You’re about to get licked

So as a newcomer to Elkhart County, I simply had to try all the local ice cream places that everyone keeps raving about.

Admittedly though, when I moved here, I was a bit smug toward any ice cream other than Jeni’s. As a central Ohio native, I know that no ice cream can compare to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams of Columbus, Ohio. Jeni’s ice cream is organic, made with local ingredients wherever possible. With flavors like Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, or Sweet Corn and Black Raspberries, this ice cream is not for the faint of heart. (Do not judge the sweet corn. You have not tried it. It is AHmazing! Says the girl who hates anything healthy in her ice cream. Like fruit. Much less, vegetables.)

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My friends from Goshen being introduced to central Ohio goodness.

But my Elkhart county friends and acquaintances keep raving about Rocket Science and The Chief. Whenever The Chief is mentioned, there this sort of sober consensus and accompanying moment of silence. “Mmmm, The Chief.” They silently transport themselves to another place—warm summer nights, sticky fingers, and happy taste buds. Then there’s my town, whose only claim to fame is its ice cream shop. “You live in Nappanee? Oh, they have that ice cream place Rocket Science.”

Rocket Science is a little ice cream shop in the Coppes Commons building. This place is a novelty because the “cream” of your “ice cream” (and any ingredients you choose) are frozen in front of your eyes using liquid nitrogen. There’s a huge tank of nitrogen that newcomers warily regard and and ice cream workers cheerfully pump from as they prepare your ice cream.

I finally visited The Chief last week, so I’m going to rate these two ice cream establishments based on taste, texture, customer service, and environment.

First, let’s rate Rocket Science.

Taste: Yummy! I like how you can choose their flavored creations or you can make up your own combinations (similar to Cold Stone Creamery). I prefer very rich desserts, so Death By Chocolate is a definite favorite. (Hint: it is possible to get a shot of espresso in your ice cream! The nitrogen simply freezes it in as another flavor.)

Texture: Firm. The fast freezing of the liquid nitrogen makes it very, very frozen. Sometimes it is better to let your creation melt a bit before consuming, so you can enjoy the full flavor.

Customer Service: I’ve only ever been helped by smiling, cheerful workers. Last summer, one worker even started remembering my order. I stepped in the door. “Death by chocolate?” she grinned.
Also, while the lines are short, it takes a few minutes to create your individual flavor. The wait time is similar to getting a specialty drink at a coffee shop.

Environment: You can spend your time waiting choosing a seat indoors. There are small wrought iron tables and chairs in the front, or you can sit at larger tables, or even couches, in the large seating area beyond the shop.

Bonus: the indoor accommodations mean that you can enjoy this ice cream on a rainy day. Another perk? There’s a drive through, and the shop is open year round.

Let’s move on to The Chief. It is LEGENDARY. (Hee hee, legen-dairy.) Or so I have heard.

Taste: Very nice. I tried the Peanut Butter. I found it to be light at first, but as I ate my waffle cone, I found there to be a very nice after-taste.

Texture: A firm smoothness, somewhere between ice cream and frozen yogurt. The texture was a bit of an anomaly. My friend Camille suggested that to have the full effect, I needed to try the ice cream on a hot day. (It was low 70s.) This consoled me. I would like to try the ice cream on a very warm day and compare the consistency.

Customer Service: Long lines, yet fast service. We went on a Saturday evening, and there were probably about thirty people in line. I spent the time in line choosing the perfect flavor and listening to locals rave about the ice cream. Goshen—you are loyal! Once we got to the window, a pleasant high school student took my order and quickly served me my ice cream.

Environment: It’s a busy place. There are a few picnic tables out back. If those are full, you can either stand or sit in your car. Honestly, it’s just fun watching the locals flock to the place. Very diverse crowd. Elderly, middle-aged, kids with young parents, and teenagers on dates.

Bonus: The Chief employs local high school students, providing them with jobs and even scholarships. A business that gives back!

So now it’s time to vote: what is your best ice cream experience?

 

Chandeliers, Tolstoy, and Mennonites

Armed with a gift card and a ferocious excitement for my summer classic choice (Tostoy’s War and Peace) I trotted into Barnes and Noble to pick out the classiest-looking version I could find.

Yes, I’m a print girl. No Kindle yet for me.

We print people get to be choosy when buying classics. That is, on those occasions when we’re actually buying new books, rather than sniffing out old, bargain-priced copies at garage sales or Goodwill. Amongst booksellers, Barnes and Noble stocks the largest variety of versions, printings, and editions. Barnes & Noble, then, is a great stop for a picky book buyer. And we print people are especially picky concerning cover art.

I’ve been interested in cover art since I first noticed it in my parent’s little home library. (I get my book buying honestly.) While not exceedingly broad, my parents’ reading preferences (from Christian fiction to forty-year-old Bible college texts to my father’s current affinity for Jewish studies) exhibit the phenomenon that pop-culture inspires cover art. Digging through my parents’ books in the basement, I was never really quite sure what groovy font, bell bottoms, or afros had to do with the subject of prayer, but it certainly made sense to book cover illustrators in the 1970s. Cover art becomes so quickly dated but can, nevertheless, remind book buyers of the period or decade in which they buy a book.

Hoping to make a simple choice between a classic hardcover with gold edge gilding and a 2014 pop art cover, I wasn’t prepared for a heavier decision: choosing translations. I had not done my homework before buying War and Peace, and I wasn’t prepared to choose between various English translations of Tolstoy’s Russian text.

So I was reduced to judging a book by its cover. (And the little reviews on the back.) For example, did I want the most-read English translation? Or did I want a brand-new twenty-first century English translation? (There were two: a 2005 Briggs translation and a 2007 Pevear and Volokhonsky translation with the French sections still intact) Would I rather be familiar with the versions most English speakers my age have read, or would I rather read the newer translations? Would I gain something from reading a classic version of a classic? Or should I cheerfully accept a highly-readable modern translation with modern grammar, vocabulary, and syntax? Or would that be jolting, since War and Peace is classic-y? Would the contemporary language take something away from the historicity of the text?

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I reminded myself, though, that Tolstoy’s original audiences would have read War and Peace in a Russian text that to them would not have sounded antiquated. The same for English audiences soon after the 1904, 1923, and 1957 translations. I fingered the 2005 and 2007 translations. (Which incidentally had two cover choices: a heavy colorful volume with eastern-inspired art, and a bulky, rough-edge gilding little beauty, sporting a bronze chandelier, which I’m sure has nothing to do with War and Peace but has everything to do with fashion design trends of the 2000s.)

The point is, War and Peace is in modern, global English for the first time in 80 years. (The ’57 version used exclusively British English.) English audiences today (and in the next decade or so) get to have an experience with the text that will not happen for another fifty years. We get to read it in our contemporary language. Picture this: it’s 2074 and a professor of English soon realizes that her students, or her grandchildren, struggle through War and Peace. The diction and vocabulary are complicated and outdated. A re-translation will occur. Language changes over time.

Since I did not have a smartphone with me at the bookstore to google which translation I should choose, I went with the Briggs. Later, I learned there is a quite a controversy between the 2005 Briggs translation and 2007 Pevear and Volokhonsky, some of it having to do with class (intellectual snobs arguing that Tolstoy’s book wouldn’t have been easily accessible to all social classes, since he wrote portions in French and not all 1860s Russians were bilingual, so modern English translations should also keep the French portions original to maintain the inaccessibility), some of it having to do with style (Tolstoy’s Russian was choppy, so English translations should be choppy), and some of it having to do with Britishisms (can we really handle Russian soldiers popping out in lower-class British dialects). But you can read all this scholarship for yourself. By googling it.

Or. You could simply sit down and read for yourself for the first time a very accessible classic. I went with the Briggs, which leaves out the original French. It proves to be highly accessible, and I am devouring it more voraciously than even this winter’s A Tale of Two Cities.

Reader, you have raised your hand, I see.

“Why do we read Tolstoy?”

We read Tolstoy because he became convinced of the relevance of the teachings of Jesus Christ for everyday living. Fifteen years after publishing War and Peace, Tolstoy announced himself a pacifist, inspired by Jesus’ Sermon the Mount. (This fact alone drove this twenty-first century Anabaptist to read his earlier work. What could I learn, I asked myself, from his early questioning?) In fact, Tolstoy’s rejection of government involvement due to his pacifist leanings got him kicked out of the Russian Orthodox church. Interestingly, Tolstoy’s writings on nonviolence went on to inspire the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. These reasons, dear reader, are why we read Tolstoy.

Nonetheless, to first-time readers of Tolstoy’s amazing work, choose for yourself between the twenty-first century Briggs and the Pevear and Volokhonsky. But do it sometime in the next decade. The freshness of the dialogue will not occur again for another fifty years.

Survival Tips for First-Year Teachers

Last week I talked about some of the hardest lifestyle adjustments first-year teachers make. This week I’m giving a few survival tips for first-year teachers in regards to relationships.

Make friends with the other teachers (for the students’ sake).
Engaging other teachers in constructive conversation reduces stress by challenging your one-dimensional views of students. I was sitting at a basketball game this year, cheering for my boys, and I leaned over to another teacher: “I kind of forget that they do things other than English.” And I don’t need to tell you that that’s a problem. Certainly, having chosen the field of language and literature, I obviously see the English classroom as a very important part of development on the part of a student and an individual, but I need to remember that their performance in my class does not represent their entire being. You might only see students in the context of your class, and your class might not be their best subject. What happens is that you begin to make a little box and put the student in it. Talking to other teachers can help round out a student.

“Jake is doing poorly in my English class. He’s very quiet, he hardly says anything, and he doesn’t perform on tests and quizzes the way I’d like him to. How is he doing in science?”
“Oh, he’s doing very well in science! He participates so well in class! I can always count on him to raise his hand to answer questions. He’s so interested by biology!”

(Near verbatim conversation that I had this year.) Having these conversations can help round out a student because you can begin to pinpoint the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. You can share the triumphs of students who excel, but you can also gain helpful information in understanding where your struggling students’ strengths and interests lie. These cross-discipline conversations are very important. For example, it can lead you to ask the question: what would happen for Jake in English class if we wrote English research papers on biology topics? What if we discussed a controversial bio ethics issue for the speech class debate? These constructive conversations can actually make you more hopeful about a struggling student’s future performance.

(A note: these conversations also lead to discussions about social dynamics among the students. For example, one student may be quieter in one class because of a certain peer group, but be much more engaged in another class. Noticing those peer group patterns and discussing them are insightful.)

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Make friends with other teachers (for the teachers’ sakes).
It is a good idea to try to serve your fellow teachers.
“ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME. I’M DOING COSTUMES FOR THE SCHOOL PLAY, MAKING BROWNIES FOR PARENT’S NIGHT, AND CHANGING BULLETIN BOARDS THIS WEEKEND. YEAH AND REPORT CARDS ARE DUE.”
Cringe. Pat pat. It’s going to be oooookay.
Certainly, the little things pile up. But you might think of finding ways to be available to your fellow teachers. If you hear a teacher complaining about a task that comes very easily to you, you might offer to help. (Little. Little tasks here. Not school-play-costume-sized tasks.) Think instead of things like: “I can bring back those copies for you.” “I can make that announcement for you.” “I’d love to brainstorm with you about the hallway behavior problem you’re having.” Showing other teachers that you are human (that you are available and that you care) builds a positive atmosphere and might just work in your favor down the road. Like when, after your emotional wailing about the rented costumes getting ripped, a helpful co-teacher (who happens to sew) offers to mend the ripped costumes. And she acts like it’s no big deal at all.

Find a way to connect (to the students).
I’m not sure how to put this. If you have not seen the movie Frozen, you are NOTHING. I’m suggesting that it’s important to stay marginally informed of kid culture. No, perhaps you’d rather not watch The Hunger Games or another Duck Dynasty episode. You don’t like country music, and you think One Direction has terrible lyrics. Maybe you don’t even have a smart phone yet. However, my advice is: get in the know. Try every now and then to be relatable. Otherwise you might end up having an awkward conversation with a car load of eighth graders, where, when asked about a cool movie you recently watched, you do a comparative analysis of the French government’s round up of 8,000 Jews in Paris in 1942 to America’s modern-day abortion genocide. As for the eighth graders, they will probably stare at you like you are from Mars. A better response might be: Despicable Me.

Find a way to disconnect (from the students).
A fair warning to new teachers: you will get very wrapped up in your students’ lives. You will spend outrageous amounts of time thinking about your kids. (Even if you are a content teacher, or, one who teaches because they “love science!” rather than because they “love kids!” Content teachers still care a lot about their students and their success as individuals.)
However, this involvement can be a source of stress. Teachers can stress themselves out by thinking that they are the child savior. This year, I would periodically get overwhelmed because I would feel like a child needed so much, and I need to give them more, but I realized I couldn’t give them everything they needed. And that was true.

I’ve heard it explained like this: we as teachers have both responsibilities and opportunities. We have the responsibility to teach grammar and lit, to test for comprehension, and to lock the classroom at night. We also have opportunities. We have the opportunity to encourage a failing student. We have the opportunity to reach out to a child who is struggling at home. We have the opportunity to love a child unconditionally and to teach them to spread their wings and fly.

However, we cannot get our responsibilities and opportunities mixed up. For first-year teachers, I think that responsibilities must come first. The first year of teaching is about mastering the content, simplifying the busy work, and honestly, just surviving. From my own experience, I would encourage first-year teachers to prioritize immediate responsibilities rather than spending too much time trying to change the world. (But, we feel the pressure to, because there are so many haters of the mistakes of first-year teaching. Why must all seasoned teachers and popular teacher/authors continually disparage what goes on in your first year? It is really discouraging!)

The days will come where you look at you bulletin boards, and realize they needed to be changed two weeks ago, and your report cards are due, and also those thirty research papers, and you will burst into years. Because you will remember your sick neighbor (who probably deserves a casserole), your filthy kitchen at home, and those bills that need to be paid. But on top of all this, you will find that you cannot stop thinking about that undisciplined student who is failing, who said today, “I’m not smart enough to go to college.”

It is at this moment that you need to remember: do the responsibilities first. The opportunities will be there tomorrow. You have a lifetime of teaching. Changing the world tomorrow might mean taking the sticky-tack off the wall today. Opportunities are sweet. But they should not be contrived.

Strangely, the survival tip here is: get away. Take a weekend off. Go visit family. Play a game of soccer. Go out for coffee (with non-teachers). Get a hobby. Do absolutely no school work. You will be amazed at how clear your mind will be when you return. I especially encourage the weekend thing. In late winter. To a place with lots of sunshine. Give yourself a sanity break. You (and your students) deserve it.