Sunday, August 26, 2007

Vocabulary in the Schoen Book: Nice to Know

I have successfully navigated Part I. Part I is approximately
30% of the book.

Here are some words I either figured out by context or had to
look up:

Positivism (Auguste Compte) - Been awhile since I had philosophy. He was a French dude who spouted the importance of science and technology in all things. All things, in order to be real and provable, had to have a scientific base. Which is why theories based on science are good and real and other stuff is just "soft" science. This led to the Scientific Method, which is good, so I suppose ol' Auguste was on to something.

tacit - This is a word he uses a LOT. Since he was discussing many ways of "knowing" stuff WHILE spewing this term, I assumed, rightly, that it has to do with knowing something but not necessarily being able to articulate how you know it. It is an internal thing - like KNOWING that throwing up is not good and caused by bad seafood and therefore it is not good to eat bad seafood - although nobody ever really told you that. It is tacit knowledge. You know how to solve the
quadratic equation, having the knowledge of an algebra textbook inside you, but you could never actually WRITE that textbook. (Well.. at least you USED to be able to solve the quadratic equation.)

tautological - A redundant argument in that the argument is framed redundantly but not in a negative way. For instance, if a=b and b=c, then a=c... this is a tautological argument. It is very scientific and takes away the mysticism and touchy-feely NPR-type stuff.

epistemology - This is the study of knowledge. At least I hope so since I am writing it here based on pure memory from that theology-philosophy class I took back when my hair was naturally a very dirty blonde.

hegemony - This is power over others and I can't remember why this term was in the book. But I wrote it down which means it must have been important at the time. I guess I better re-read that part.

Johns Hopkins - The founding of this school, according to Schoen, "was perhaps the single most decicive event in the history of learning in the Western hemisphere." Being a history major and in love with all things educational, I can't believe I missed that.

avocation - "the antithesis of a profession." This, I think, is something NICE to know. I am going to try to work that into casual conversation more, I think. Too many people do not know this.

Thorsten Veblen - Some German dude whose ideas of society were important to the founding of American universities. He has something to do with the Johns Hopkins thing. I think I have to read that part again. But I can't help fixating on why in the world anybody would name a precious baby boy, with tiny, perfect fingers and toes, "Thorsten."

I will keep you apprised as more important vocabulary comes up. Some of this stuff is just good to know for the sake of knowledge - very tautological and tacit, if you ask me.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

This Book Needs a Backhoe

..or a front-loader snow shovel or something.

I am trying to get a head start on my reading for my first doctorate class, which starts next week. I am trying to be proactive and efficient. My plan was to finish the reading before the class started so I could dip in later and think profound thoughts and participate in profound and meaningful discussions, thereby increasing and enriching my comprehension. This would eventually lead to a pipe and a smoking jacket (in hunter green).

The book I chose to start with is The Reflective Practitioner by Donald Shoen. It is paperback and about as thick as most heavy-duty professional reading books. The print is very small, which must be the publisher's version of "neener neener neener" since nobody at the publisher's place is ever going to have to actually READ the tome once it is in print.

This Donald Shoen character was apparently well-regarded since he was an Ivy League professor of something or another having to do with business and his obituaries on
the internet nearly make him the 4th member of the Holy Trinity.

He wrote two books. This one and the follow-up. Both are considered classics and must-reads; among those titles that "your education is not complete if you haven't read it" kind of thing.

So, I dove in a couple weeks ago and had this immediate recollection of putting my rosy boa into the wading pool when the boys were younger. Rosie did not want to BE in the wading and pool and my normally docile and slow-moving snake whipped out of that water so fast you might have sworn it was electrified.

Well, THAT is how fast I put the book down and tried to read the other title. The other title is so bad that I can't even recall what it is right now, only that it is on my nightstand.

So I tried again and got through a few pages.

I posted on the ProfReading Board at Teachers.Net, my online reading group, and asked if anyone else had read it. Jan, a mentor and hero and Woman of Wisdom, who not only READS hefty titles but actually writes and publishes them, responded, as I hoped she would.

I was praying for some discussion so that the dense James Joyce/Feodor Dostoyevsky/Leo Tolstoy-like prose would make sense to me.

But alas... it is a title Jan attempted several times then "gave away," which I think is a euphemism for donating it to the Goodwill or Salvation Army. (I think it
is still there, marked down to 25 cents.)

So I dug in again. The last week or so it was all I could do to plow through two pages. (Not even that if a glass of wine was involved.)

Today, I made it through a dozen pages and believe that I can succinctly summarize what it is Shoen is trying to say. This perplexes me since I really don't understand why he has taken all these pages so far to posit a really simple thesis.

Proud of myself, I Googled the title thinking it might have a Cliff's Notes study guide. HA! I tried Spark Notes and could swear I heard "neener neener neener" when the query came up empty.

Desperate, I Googled again and found a book review for the follow-up title which says in a nutshell EXACTLY what my little succinct summary says in my head.

I am barely a quarter of the way through the book. My goal was to finish it tomorrow, according to the timeline I drew up for myself last week, when I had forgotten how dense and muddled this book is to actually read.

It is said that James Joyce wrote the greatest book in English ever written. The problem is that very few people have actually navigated Ulysses successfully. But I suspect the book is full of profound things - since it is said that Ulysses is the greatest book in English ever written.

John Dewey wrote like this and he had profound things to say. Paolo Freire wrote like this in TWO languages - and he had profound things to say. (He used the word "apprehend" a lot.)

So, I am going to hope against hope that Donald Shoen is worthy of his glowing obituaries and stellar book reviews and general pedestal-est qualities. I will again attempt to read and ponder.

Then I will attempt to "apprehend" what he means.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Molly's Classroom: Proper Display of the Cards~

Molly the Cat has shared pictures of her classroom with me. I have yet to photograph my classroom and share with her. If I did, one might notice that I also have nifty and eye-catching alphabet "sound/spelling" cards on my wall in a particular order.

Molly teaches in California. I teach in California. There was a 50% chance that we would be displaying the SAME type of cards in our classrooms. Aren't statistics fun?

In California, you have two choices: Teach in an Open Court district or in a Houghton-Mifflin district. Your district gurus decide - you don't get to.

The cards are mandatory. You will be severely beaten by the Muslim guy with a stick if you don't put the cards up on the wall IN THE CORRECT ORDER.

Notice that the pictures on Molly's cards are a bit more realistic than the cartoonish pictures of the K-2 version. This is because the publishers are very aware of the self-esteem issues of older elementary kids and won't insult them by using such infantile pictures.

So - they use the more "mature" pictures.

Since Molly teaches near the state capital, where all this "fidelity to the core of the gosh-almighty program" emanates, she is also required to have an altar in her classroom to the gosh-almighty program. She didn't include it in her pictures because the altars don't look right without the lit candles and technically, candles are not supposed to be lit before the children have been trained HOW to genuflect appropriately when they enter the classroom. The altar fruit is added after Unit 2 - along with the picture of the electrical engineer who invented the program.

The inventors of the approved religion... I mean PROGRAMS (gosh, where IS my mind these days...?) liberally grease the palms of Sacramento politicians who get to decide which programs get adopted. In case you wonder, these deciders ARE NOT TEACHERS! Go figure! Isn't that FUNNY?

But I digress.

Just wanted to explain the nifty and visually eye-catching cards!

The Ironic Iranic Photo Opportunity~

I just can't help thinking about the photo album.

Let's say you're perusing the album a few years from now and run
across this picture.

"Yeah.. that's my sister on the left and her sister in law next to her.. and I THINK that's my mom but I'm not sure.. oh yeah..that's Sarai.. NO, wait... okay.. that's Sarai on the end because her burka had that little tear in the sleeve.. or was that Rania? No.. oh shoot. I can't remember. Which one is the taller one? I can't remember.... Oh well. These are just the "women" in the family."

But what if one of the women snapped a picture of all the guys?

(That is, IF women are allowed to snap pictures of guys. Or maybe they can snap pictures if they are related to ALL the guys. They can't snap the picture if they are related to only one or two of the guys. That would be blasphemous and immodest.
Okay, so let's just say that somehow a picture of all the guys got taken.)

So here's a pic in the album of all the guys in their nice white tunic things. Or maybe they were wearing regular clothes that day. (They get to, you know.) Every guy could be named because .... WOW! You can see their faces! So they get names! Yes! This is okay because it is the GUYS of the family. The gals don't count.

Heck, they normally can't even POSE for pictures unless some male relative takes it and the other women behind those comfortable and cozy looking tent things are RELATED to him too! Because some guy can't come along and take a picture of gals

They CAN come along though and beat non-related women with sticks for showing too much baggage under the eye or a flash of wrist. This they do in the name of Allah and the local Iman because they CAN. They can do what they want because they are guys.

And this guy taking the pic had to do it quickly because OTHER GUYS were around and standing awfully close to the unrelated GALS.

But now that this photograph has made the internet, all the gals in the picture get beaten by the stick guy - for being so immodest and getting put on the internet for non-related guys and infidels to look at.

Especially the one whose shoe is showing.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Homework for Monday

I mentioned before that teaching kindergarten at the beginning of a school year is a lot like giving birth. You swear to goodness you will never, ever, EVER do that again, but then you forget. And you do it again.

I have also mentioned that teaching kindergarten at the beginning of a school year is a lot like herding cats. Cats on meth, lacking ears, and possessing the loudest of caterwauling capabilities. This was proven yesterday when Brandy entered the classroom, after having been called to come inside more than once or twice, and screamed at the top of her lungs just because she felt like it.

So what I want to reiterate is the fact that many young kindergarten children entering school for the first time are feral.

Yes, feral. They are wild, undisciplined, and clearly living only for the moment and to grasp any and all things in the world that will interest them for that particular nonosecond in time. This includes bodily functions, the drinking of water, the making of noises, the extreme movement of any and all protruding body parts, and the use of much scented soap. (In one week, 3/4 of the first bottle of scented hand soap is gone.)

This week has been hellacious. My old room partner called me last night and said, "Remember. It takes you a few weeks to bond with your kids." She does this because she watched my shell-shocked reaction for many years over the course of numerous "first days" and "first weeks." She, for some reason, doesn't forget how hellacious it is. Go figure.

Last night I made a list. It was a list of the 9 children I like in this class. This morning I added another one. Then I remembered that he kicked Haylie in the head, and acted the victim when I asked him to apologize. So I erased him. Which means I like almost half my class right now.

Yesterday I considered tethering some of them to trees so that I could actually teach the nine I like. These are the kids who sit still and listen and act like they truly enjoy what I am telling them. They raise their little hands and they treat every new activity with excitement and dedication.

These are the kids trained by their parents to LISTEN. They are taught to be kind to others (most of the time) and to pee INTO the toilet and not AROUND it or on the seat.

After dealing with temper tantrums, pushing, shoving, running, leaving the instructional area, and extreme kick boxing yesterday, I fantasized about a nice little job in an antique store or book shop.

When Raymond left the bus line to stand, scowling, with crossed arms, in the middle of the lawn, I was tempted to leave him there. I started thinking about what might happen if he didn't get on the bus to go home. If his parental units had to drive to school and remove his ramrod stiff body from the lawn and heave him into the car. Would they be mad at him? Would they teach him that standing in line is civil and polite and that we don't shove our way into the front just because we think we deserve it by virtue of being "Raymond?" "Raymond the Center of the Universe Who Must Always Be Allowed to Do What He Wants?"

My principal already had to peel him off the cafeteria floor once (because I was "mean to him" and didn't let him slide across the newly polished floor when he was supposed to be eating.) So when she ordered Raymond to get back in line and HE DIDN'T DO IT, she shouldn't have expressed surprise. In fact, when she ordered all of the feral cats back into line and to stand in one place, she shouldn't have acted surprised at all. Especially when they looked at her, told her about their latest video game, and continued playing "swing the backpack as far as you can" instead of actually LISTENING to her.

"OH MY GAAAWD," she squealed into my ear. "OH MY GAWWWWD!"

So on Monday, I will send homework. It is an assignment that asks parents to discuss 'civility' with their children and to discuss why it is important to stand in line. Examples and suggestions are given - like, 'talk to your child about courtesy and waiting in line WHILE you are doing so in the market or the bank.'

And here is what will probably happen. Nine papers will be returned with copious notes written by nine parents about the discussion they had with their child about standing in line. I will proudly post them while Raymond unties his shoes again and Brandy screams because she feels like it.

The rest of the parents will be calling the office to either complain about the leash marks around Junior's neck or ask where they might find one for home.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Cost of Butterflies

The bushes outside my classroom are currently blooming with pretty little white flowers. Since I work in the armpit of the Mojave Desert, this is quite special. These bushes are attracting hummingbirds and one very pretty yellow and black butterfly. Lack of rain met no wildflower display this year, so I often find myself watching the wildlife with sincere appreciation.

This butterfly has been flitting about all week and I knew it was just a matter of time before the kids would see it and try to 'catch' it on our way to the cafeteria.

Sure enough, it was flying around the bushes yesterday and the kids began squealing, "Butterfly! Butterfly!"

A couple of them gave chase and were clapping their hands together in an attempt to stop the poor thing in midair.

"NO!" I admonished in my best teacher voice. "We don't hurt butterflies! Don't touch their wings or they won't be able to fly!"

"Why?" asked Tabatha, who had been hoping for a butterfly kill before lunch just as a matter of principle.

"Because, Tabatha, we don't want to hurt it," I said, leading her back to the line.

With wide brown eyes looking quizzical, she asked, "Why? Are they expensive?"

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Classroom Preparation Using the ADHD Method

There are so many things to do in this classroom that I had to sit down and create a LIST. Then I had to pick a place and start. This sounds easy but it is not.

The first thing I did was put back all the heavy furniture and bookcases that were stacked all over the room so the custodians could "clean." I don't know about
you, but I was taught while growing up that when you make a mess, you clean it up. Maybe I am intolerant and lack flexibility, but I get a bit cranky when I have to spend 3-4 hours replacing furniture and shoving full bookcases with my fat a$$ back where they belong. I could swear when I LEFT the room in June, the chairs were NOT stacked 24-high on my counter. I also didn't leave ceiling tile dust all over my workspace or straight edge razors and nasty cleaning rags in my sink.

I was also taught that when you use SOAP to clean something, like furniture, you have to WASH IT OFF or the furniture will be STICKY. Again, maybe it's just me, but sticky furniture does not have that squeaky-clean presentation. Perhaps I am turning into Mr. Monk.

Once the furniture is arranged (including the pieces I don't think were HERE in June but surely somebody will claim them....)I begin tackling other projects and it goes like this.

I see a piece of border that is loose from the Calendar area, which we did not have to completely strip off the wall this year. So, I get my stapler to go fix it. But I
am out of staples so I have to go to the cupboard to get some more. Once in the cupboard there are a few things I need to rearrange. Once that is finished, I return to the sticky table to continue working on name tags and birthday balloons, affixing string. But my scissors were left someplace so I have to go find them. My classroom has at least 6 pairs of nice Fiskar scissors. I was able to locate the ONLY pair that was "decorated" with white glue last June by one of my students.

Returning to the table, I begin working and notice that little piece of border that is waving free from the Calendar area. So, I go back to get the staples and then fill the stapler. This reminds me that I have a NEW stapler and I may as well fill it also, but it is still packaged. It is packaged so well it would survive a lunar landing. So what should be a quick task turns into a finger-scraping JOB.

I have to find the scissors in order to free this extremely well-packaged stapler and fill it with staples.

But now I have trash to put in the can - which is missing a liner.

So, I go hunt for a custodian to find a liner to put it in the barrel. While I am gone, I visit the restroom, stop by the talk to the school secretary, pick up a check from the office clerk, and chat with a co-worker in the hallway.

I return to the room and notice the Office Depot bag where I retrieved the new stapler an hour ago. I decide to put away the new supplies I purchased while I was there - to buy binder combs. (But I spent $88 on other stuff besides binder combs.)

The binder combs remind me that I need to count out enough paper for our tactile alphabet books and since I am preparing for my class I may as well go ahead and prepare for my partner teachers as well. This means rounding up 4 reams of paper. I put the binder combs down somewhere. They'll turn up eventually.

Seeing all those office supplies on the floor reminds me that I better get them off the floor and put them away - leaving the alphabet book preparation for tomorrow.

It takes me 2 hours to put up one bulletin board because 7 different teachers stop by my room to talk to me, ask me something, drop something off, pick something up, or because they are looking for somebody else - who already left. Because I am
talking, I keep putting the border up backwards and have to redo it because of the Mr. Monk issue.

The board is finally up and it takes me another hour to put the finishing touches on the area I usually post classroom pictures - because I just can't leave well enough alone and now everything is perfectly color-coded, matched, and symmetrical.

I don't think I ate lunch today.

It is almost dinner time and I am not even half-finished with what I wanted to do today. I sit at my table to examine my LIST. Only two things are crossed off. I could add a few things that I did earlier and then cross THOSE off, but decide against it. Certainly, I think, there is a way to WORK SMARTER and get this all done in the next half hour.

But I make the mistake of looking up. There is a little piece of border waving free from the Calendar area. And heaven help me - I can't find either of my staplers.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Gradient of Important Things: Reflections of a Trip

I have returned from Virginia grateful to be off airplanes and back in the land of the "dry heat." My own bed felt wonderful last night and my dogs are following me everywhere - I can't get a moment's respite from canine curiosity. Even the cat seems happy to see me; I suspect this is because the male members of the family are less than likely to attend to his nutrition needs in a timely manner.

After a good night's sleep, my mind can finally reflect upon the wonderful trip and the excellent time that I had - a perfect ending to a summer that is proving too short. Such is the mindset of the traveler, I suppose. Weary, contented, and then reflective.

I must count my blessings.

Cavey and the Rocket Scientist have a lovely home and a delightful family. The conversations were englighting, envigorating, and amusing. Cavey is the perfect hostess and attended to my every need - often before I knew I one existed. I will admit that at times this made me uncomfortable because she waited upon me hand and foot. At one point I was ready to demand something to do - dishes, laundry, floor-mopping, bathroom cleaning, anything! But she would never hear of it. I had to be sneaky in order to wash my own dishes and was physically insistent when it came to loading and unloading the dishwasher. And still, if I had grown up Catholic, I would be wracked with guilt, attending confession, and telling the priest that I was slothful and lazy while a guest in someone's home. And then I would look around the confessional and say quietly, "It's DAWK in here!"

The children are so intelligent they frightened me. I found myself watching my grammar and making sure nothing asinine or trite rolled off my tongue. My sorry attempt to educate the youngest on the wonders of raccoons was met with patient politeness - it seems she already knows everything there is to know about raccoons. The cuteness factor didn't appeal to her either. When I showed her a picture of my son feeding the raccoons that visited our June Lake Cabin a few weeks back, she shook head mildly and said, "They're pests. You feed them and they will only come back."

I was enthralled by the squirrels visiting the birdfeeder outside the breakfast room window. "They are so cute! Look at those little claws!" I exclaimed one morning. The boy was raised with impeccable manners so he desisted from eye-rolling or deep sighing. "They're vermin," he said quietly.

And the dog - they have the cutest hound down the street who obviously loves life and barks happiness whenever anyone makes the slightest sound. Hounds are known for their sharp hearing and legendary noses and eyesight. So he barked often. "What a beautiful dog," I commented when we drove by his domain - which is directly across from the Rocket Scientist property. "That ol' blue-tick-hound-mix?" the daughter replied. "No, he is not. He's obnoxious." (I guess he gets loose a lot and eats the cat's food. Since the Rocket Scientist is loathe to spend more on cat food than he absolutely has to, this little quirk does not amuse him. It falls under the "obnoxious category").


The son, like his father, is an expert waterskier who casually careens across huge boat wakes and slaloms - then repeats the process over and over again. For a long time. My only goals for waterskiing this trip inluded staying UPRIGHT with zero face-plants, lasting long enough that disgust over shaky legs and tired shins would not emerge, and at least moving out of the wake once. I was lucky that the boy did not see my one and only face-plant, which occurred when my body was quite literally to the point of shaking with exhaustion.

The Rocket Scientist Cat, Mike, is one outstanding speciman of feline. Never have I encountered such an intelligent, loquacious, and conversational animal. The sheer contentness that Mike exhibited when I picked him up can only be described as close to painful. Had his razor claws kneaded any deeper into my flesh, blood would have been drawn and Jack the Obnoxious Dog would have begun baying at the scent. "He never hops onto ANYONE's lap, ever," the kids told me when I motioned for Mike to join me after dinner one evening as we conversed at the table. In keeping with the attitude of cats everywhere, he immediately proved them wrong by leaping onto my lap and "loving" me to the point of pain - something like what they say about the shots you get for lockjaw.

I saw beautiful countryside that is overrun with lush beauty and rolling hillsides. I visited Monticello for the first time and learned much about one of my favorite historical figures, Thomas Jefferson. I got to sample some of the best home-made cooking in the commonwealth and become reaquainted with some dear friends. I got to renew my acquaintance with Cavey's delightful and beautiful mother, and laugh with her soon-to-be stepfather, a man she loves dearly and respects wholeheartedly. I got to enjoy the company of a family that loves and respects each other - with such warmth and laughter that just being with them causes your heart to swell with contented happiness.

I got to read something touching and memorable that was written by my friend. It was a wonderful piece of writing that evoked concern, fear, frustration, relief, and supreme happiness. AND I got to watch her mother read it - for the first time. Seeing the effect of this writing upon Cavey's mother was very touching. Her mother had gone through these events with Cavey years ago - she had been there. Nobody can hurt for you like your mother can. It is your mother who always wishes to shield you from life's heartbreaks and the random devastation often wrought by fate. To watch this was something akin to interloping - I felt several times I should have left the room.

I have bruises on my shins for trying to climb onto the boat after skiing. I used the "flopping fish" method, after attempting to just hop out like everyone else. My guess is that my exit from the water was somewhat amusing. My skin is tanned despite numerous applications of sunblock.

I went to Virginia this time weighing at least 10 pounds less than I did 3 years ago. Cavey never saw me when I reached my highest weight ever - 189 pounds. And since last July I have taken off 34 pounds of fat. When I left for Virginia this time I weighed in at 155 pounds and prayed to goodness I wouldn't gain any of it back because these last 10 pounds have been brutally stubborn.

We ate well. We ate healthy food and didn't snack too much. We stayed active, walking, swimming, and waterskiing.

But I was fearful of weight gain for one reason: We had partaken a bit too much libation (for medicinal purposes). I never libate that much, ever. I surpassed my usual limit of 2 small glasses of medicinal libation and drank another one. That kept getting refilled by the Rocket Scientist, who was playing classic rock on his IPOD and encouring us to dance around the room like lunatics.

So this morning, you can only imagine my elation when I fearfully got upon the scale of doom. I held fast to the windowsill, willing with exquisitely fine-tuned psychic force the needle of the scale to stay under 140 pounds. Gradually releasing my hold, I watched fearfully, with a lump in my throat as the needle squeaked up past 150 and landed on 155. I couldn't believe it.

I stepped off the scale and did it again - cursing my poor eyesight because it looks, if you examine closely enough, as if the needle IS on 155 but WANTS to go just a tad higher - to 155.4 or something.

So I stand relieved, allowing myself now to fully enjoy this wondrous adventure.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Nickel's View

This day has been almost too wondrous for words but I will select a few anyway in an attempt to explain for you the most wonderful things about today.

Cavey surprised me today and took me to Monticello - the home of Thomas Jefferson and a monument to the man's genius and creativity.

Having always lived the readerly life, I have read about pastoral Virginia and her native sons. I have perused stories about the horse farms and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I read Fawn Brodie's biography of our third president and am well aware that the writer of the Declaration of Independence, crafter of the constitution, died a slaveholder - with many progeny by his mistress and slave, Sally Hemmings - children he never claimed.

And yet this man doted upon the only 2 of his children to survive infancy and lived with grandchildren underfoot for many, many years. By all accounts, these children were much enjoyed by their grandfather.

So, my background knowledge is rich and my love for Virginia and its rich sense of "place" is well-known by anybody who reads my writing and knows me well. I am not being obsequious when I proclaim the beauty of the Virginia countryside, the marvel of her lush greenery, and the architectural superlatives that describe her homes.

Driving to Monticello was one of the most beautiful road adventures I've ever taken. The road is almost covered by the canopies of ancient trees and the lush greenery and
grasslands extend as far as the wandering eye can see.

The roadside churches are perfectly exquisite - I literally sucked in my breath when we passed an old Episcopal church with its Gothic windows and beautiful red brick. The Presbyterians, never as grandiose as their Church of England neighbors, have a simpler dwelling inspired by its austere Calvinist roots - and yet they manage to convey majesty, peacefulness, grandeur, and history - all in a flash beside
the two-lane highway.

It would be heaven to call one of the many beautiful homes along this route home. The horse farms, of course, are for the very rich - and all of the farms have names that are carved on very ornate signs. There are vineyards with acres and acres of grapes - with homes almost too obscured by the growing harvest. Can you imagine living in such a place? Going to the market from such a place? Picking up the mail from the box that rests under the ornate iron sign thatdeclares the name of your "farm?" Driving up the driveway that resembles a small road, to a house nobody can see fromthe road - to your own version of earthly paradise?

But Monticello itself is almost beyond words. Walking those grounds and touring those rooms just cannot be described adequately enough for you to get the true picture of how inspiring and how wondrous this place really is. It is a marvel of architecture and design. The gardens still grow and the vegetable patches, designed by Jefferson himself, still produce. There are trees wider than the expanse of a large man's outstretched hands - trees that were no doubt purchased by Jefferson and planted by one of his workers. Ortrees already there, perhaps saplings, when Jefferson first
decided to move away from his home of birth and to the "little mountain" claimed by his father, Peter Jefferson.

And they remain today.

After the house tour, we emerged onto a terrace that led to the front yard of the house. This, explained the docent, was the "nickel's view" that opened up to one of the largest front lawns you'll ever see. It seems we entered from the back of the house - which is as grand as the front.

We walked past the family cemetery and saw the obelisk that marks Jefferson's grave. He wanted to be remembered as an architect, the author of the Declaration of Independence, andthe founder of the University of Virginia. And that is what the stonecutter chiseled on his tomb. He is surrounded by family and only Jefferson descendants may petition for burial at Monticello.

This trip was truly the highlight of my journey to Virginiathis year. And to top it off, Cavey and I talked about books all the way back. Not just any books, but books that inspire rich thinking and lead to rich writing. This was as itshould be - in keeping with words penned by Jefferson to John Adams many, many, years ago:

I cannot live without books.