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Pearls of Grade 3 Wisdom

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I teach a group of Grade 3 French Immersion students English for 40 minutes a week. They are mostly a very sweet and funny group. We’ve been working on poetry, including a poem with a template called “I Am.” The first two words of each line are given, and then they fill in the rest. The results are sometimes predictable, sometimes decidedly un-poetic, sometimes surprisingly insightful.

Here’s an example of one whole “I Am” poem, written by a (very bright) Grade 3 student:

I am brave and curious.

I wonder if I will ever change the world.

I hear babies crying.

I see my friends walking by.

I want to live and hope.

I am brave and curious.

***

I pretend I am my sister.

I feel sad sometimes.

I touch the air that we breathe.

I worry about my family.

I cry because of war.

I am brave and curious.

***

I understand the world we live in.

I say do not change.

I dream about life.

I try to change the world.

I hope for world peace.

I am brave and curious.

Pretty straightforward, but interesting and optimistic, no? I liked it. And here are some other lines that cropped up in various other kids’ poems:

I wonder if Santa is real.

I wonder if I will ever be an artist.

I wonder if I will ever be a mom.

I wonder if the pandas will be OK in China.

I wonder how wonderful my dog drawings are.

I wonder if I am as cute as a baby.

I wonder why Donald Trump won the election.

I hear the phoenix song.

I hear Santa breaking my house and sitting on my house.

I hear Hogwarts.

I hear a tiger roaring in the desert.

I see a leopard catching its prey in the tundra.

I see a kitten fly on my shoulder.

I want people to stop buying palm oil.

I want a credit card.

I pretend to have the cheese touch.

I pretend to ride on a black bear.

I feel proud to be Canadian.

I touch every cat that I have had in my life.

I touch the world flooding.

I touch a glass sphere with memories in it.

I worry that my stuffies will go away.

I worry about Donald Trump.

I worry that Donald Trump will kill me.

I worry about my parents being taken.

I worry I will touch a spider.

I worry about the sun exploding.

I worry that in a few years there will be no orangutans.

I cry because Santa didn’t bring me a present.

I cry about every cat that has passed away.

I understand how to make paper.

I understand bravery and love.

I understand that my iPad makes myself mad.

I understand that paper is made of trees.

I say I believe in Santa.

I say that Santa is real.

I say I believe in God.

I say I can do the armpit fart.

I dream I would meet God.

I dream that my cats will wear little elf costumes on Christmas.

I try to be the best that I can be.

I try not to eat tomatoes.

I hope for hot chocolate at Christmas.

I hope that I will stay young forever.

I hope I will meet Prince William.

I hope I get a red hockey puck.

I am… generous, brave, a youtuber, a lover of soccer-baseball, humorous, lovable, curious, funny, smart, creative, intelligent, part Dutch, super, cool, awesome, helpful, respectful, a cat lover, a small kitten and I can fly, active, nice, happy, and I like bubbles.

***

I felt privileged to read these. They are so honest, and so much more interesting than their “About Me” paragraphs in September. And there’s imagery there that amazes me. Some of their worries seem really deep and scary for Grade 3 – but I remember having similar grand worries at that age. (Some of them still apply.)

And it made me happy that the characteristics they named about themselves in the first and last line were, without exception, full of self-confidence.

Teaching in English is fun.

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Trans Day of Remembrance – November 20th

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Thinking of you.

Today is November 20th. It is International Children’s Day, which is well-known. Less well known is the fact that it is also Trans Day of Remembrance.

Last Thursday, I went to a Professional Development workshop on Safer and Inclusive Schools, regarding the LGBTQ community in our education system.

It was a fascinating day, led by an incredibly well-spoken guy from the Canada Humans Rights Trust organization Egale. This facilitator, as a gay man who is also black, had a unique perspective on otherness and marginalization. We, as teachers and administrators in both elementary and secondary schools, learned a lot, discussed a lot, and asked all the questions we had time for. Many new thoughts were provoked, for all of us.

Although LGBTQ rights and equity have come a long way in Canada in recent years, there is still a long way to go, especially regarding transgender and transsexual individuals, and gender non-conformism overall.

Our facilitator agreed, it’s a very complex topic to talk about, and unfortunately I’m not able to elaborate in this post on all the discussion we had.

For now, just try to imagine what it would feel like to know you were in the wrong body. Not just to feel different from the people around you, but to know that the gender you had been assigned since birth was not yours.

People in this situation are often forced to hide their true selves, because they don’t have safe environments to be who they are. And even those who are able to live in a manner consistent with their personal gender identity often end up dealing with discrimination and violence. Lives are lost every year in the trans community because of this.

If you’d like to learn more about issues facing transgender and transsexual people, please take a look at this list of Must-Read Trans Blogs at bilerico.com. I am also looking forward to reading the books that were recommended to us:

Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

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Beyond Magenta

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirsten Cronn-Mills

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Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

For today, I’m going to try to figure out a way to at least introduce this topic with my Grade 5-6 class – enough that, just in case any of my students might be fundamentally different from how I am seeing them, they’ll know there’s someone at school they can talk to.

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Dear Ontario Teachers

Dear colleagues,

I know I haven’t written about what you’re going through in a long time, not since the post that unexpectedly deflowered my blog three months ago. I want you to know that it’s not because I’m ignoring what’s going on; I think about it every day. (Well – and I did have that baby, too, so my daily priorities are often more nap-and-poop-related.)

I’d like to be able to say, “I wish I were there at school with you!”… but it wouldn’t be true. Not just because I’m delighting in my offspring at the moment – although that’s a big part of it.

Mostly it’s because I’ve been imagining being in your shoes right now, having to participate in work-to-rule, and I know how I’d feel. The stress would be eating away at me. Although I don’t presume to speak for you, I’m sure a lot of you must be feeling stressed.

If I were teaching with you right now, it would be a constant source of frustration and guilt to know that no matter what I did, I would be letting someone down: either the students and their families, or the union and my co-workers. That’s the reality of work-to-rule. People hate it when we disengage from extracurricular activities. It’s a tough situation to be in while trying to focus on the best ways to captivate the minds of a roomful of kids, this close to Christmas… especially if you have an overactive guilt reflex (which I do).

I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I know that if I were teaching right now, in moments of fatigue and strain, I’d second-guess myself and my situation.

There would be times when I’d see kids’ disappointed faces and think, Do I HAVE to do what my union says? Is it THAT important?

Then I would go read Bill 115, and realize that I do, because it is.

The right to organize trade unions for collective bargaining is a fundamental human right, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Bill 115 says No, actually, forget rights and negotiations: YOU WILL DO AS THE MINISTER SAYS. You can produce a collective agreement identical to the one she presents, or she will “impose a collective agreement”. Seriously. How can you even call it a “collective agreement” when there is nothing collective about it, nothing agreed to? Laurel Broten, along with the Liberals and Conservatives who helped pass Bill 115, are apparently exempt from the UDHR. That is a scary precedent. If this kind of autocracy is allowed to persist, the Employment Standards Act – which applies to all working Ontarians – will be meaningless. (So if anyone reading this still thinks it’s about the money… sigh… then I’m afraid you’ve been brainwashed by McGuinty.)

Still, even knowing how regressive Bill 115 is, if I were teaching, there would be times when I would overhear parents’ understandably frustrated remarks – even comments about us holding the kids ransom, using them as pawns, depriving them – and think, Do we really have to do it this way? Is this the only option?

Then I would think of the Queen’s Park Rally for Education, and the countless other rallies organized by teachers, students, and supporters in the last several months, all of which seem to have gone unheard… I would consider all the written protests, the letters and petitions and votes that remain unacknowledged… I would keep in mind that last February at the Provincial Discussion Table, three bankruptcy lawyers represented the government and there was no actual opportunity for discussion – and that when union reps were in talks with the government last month, it was the latter who abruptly ended things. All of this tells me that work-to-rule is not the only option; but this situation calls for us to use as many options as we have. We wouldn’t be here if any of the earlier objections had prompted the government to repeal Bill 115.

Of course, parents want their kids to have everything. We want that too, obviously, which is why we do all those activities in the first place. I believe most of us would far prefer to still be doing them. But the children’s right to field trips does not trump our right to collective bargaining. So I’ve vowed to disregard words like “pawns” and “ransom” and “deprived”, because I know there is nothing malicious or underhanded about this job action. (Unless people want to direct that language at the Minister. THAT would be valid.) Also, I’m ignoring parents who say we are “not letting the students” play sports or do drama or what have you, since we have forbidden nothing. That’s Ms. Broten’s territory.

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Queen’s Park Rally for Education

If I were teaching right now, there would be times when the general public opinion – the rampant vilification – would weigh on me. I might wonder, Is my union really representing my best interests? Would it be better if we just dropped it?

Then I would give my brain a shake and remind myself: no, Bill 115 is not a fight we should drop. Our union representatives are doing their job by making sure that we, the members, know this. They are also doing their job by asking for more than they actually expect to get in negotiations: that’s the nature of bargaining. They know the contract inside and out, and keep high ideals in mind. This is how, over the past several decades, they have negotiated many necessary improvements to working conditions in schools. We know the budget is tight right now, and compromising on contract points during negotiation is something we can do. Giving up the right to negotiate is NOT.

The government portrays us as unreasonable in the midst of the mess they created, despite giving us no opportunity to be reasonable. They have obscured their role in this standoff and everything that led to it, knowing that we would have to resort to measures that affect children (we’re teachers… everything we do affects children). Colleagues, I’m sorry you’re bearing the brunt of this. It is sad that the alienation strategy has indoctrinated so many people – but we don’t have to internalize it. We know we have support from each other, and from other critical thinkers, in spite of it all. We’ve all talked to parents who, despite the fallout of work-to-rule, understand and support what we’re fighting for.

If I were teaching right now, there would be times when the haters – the ones who go beyond complaining, who spit venom in the form of ignorant suppositions and really nasty language – would get to me, and I’d feel like crap. This did happen when I wrote that other post: at first, it was exciting to try enlightening some web trolls, but the vitriolic content (not to mention the effort it takes to be educative, diplomatic, and civil when responding to these people) wears a gal down after a while.

What made it worthwhile was discovering that many of you found the post encouraging at a time when you needed it. I’m very, very thankful for that.

If I find myself discouraged by the antagonism, I take a deep breath and remind myself: this viciousness has nothing to do with me, as a person. Haters will be haters. Trolls will be trolls. Some people will always be hostile to us. Some people have chips on their shoulders and feel the need to unload their bitterness on the web or in the Op-Ed section, where they can be anonymous. As teachers, we have taught kids with those kinds of anger issues, and know that they are usually in need of help.

I want to remind myself, and all of you who could also use the reminder: You are a good human. You try hard. You work hard. You teach, to the best of your ability. That is what matters.

Dear colleagues, I’ve realized something while writing this, and you probably have as well: in spirit, I am there with you. This mess sucks, and it’s obviously far from over, but I’m with you for as long as it takes. Good luck, and bon courage. And happy holidays.

***

A NOTICE TO POTENTIAL COMMENTERS:

This not a news source. It is a personal blog, written by a teacher. Please don’t expect it to be unbiased.

You are most welcome to leave comments. Mature discussion is great.

Please be aware, however, that if you use inflammatory language and/or make arguments based on wrong assumptions or inanities (especially if they demonstrate that you have skimmed this post, seen that it’s pro-teacher, and decided to rant irrelevantly), I’ll delete your comment. I’ve already taken too much time to respond to people like you over here, and I’m done. I have a baby to feed.

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How Far to Bend the Gender

As a girl born between two sisters, I was, in childhood, emphatically girly. I loved unicorns, ballet, pink things, dolls, My Little Ponies. The tendencies of our elder brother didn’t hold much sway with us back then – he was outnumbered – and he seemed happy enough to make his Lego projects and wooden models on his own. I know there was some overlapping of activities, but my strongest memories were dominated by our female sensibilities.

woodcraft mosquito model
I remember this one. Yikes.

I’ve learned a lot since having a son. I remember worrying, while pregnant, that I wouldn’t know how to relate to him… and then being glad to discover that when it’s your child, relating is not a problem. Love takes care of it. And fascination, too: everything that interested him automatically interested me, because I wanted to know him completely.

I had already talked to other parents who had discovered that, no matter how gender-neutral you try to make your parenting, most boys love VEHICLES. Diggers, dump trucks, racecars, school buses. We knew E liked cars even before he had any – just the pictures of vehicles in his books thrilled him.

Last year, teaching five different groups of kindergartners, I found that this trend held firm. Boys loved the cars, ramps, robots, dinosaurs, and Lego; girls loved the “babies”, dress-up clothes, dollhouses, beads, and pretend food. Give them things like geometrical shapes, and some boys would use them to role-play “good guys and bad guys”; girls would role-play “mommies and babies”. There was some crossover, and plenty of neutral territory in puzzles, blocks, books, painting, etc… but still. I was surprised at how pronounced these proclivities were, and couldn’t help wondering about the Nature/Nurture proportions in these kids’ preferences.

It’s amazing how early children learn about “boy” stuff and “girl” stuff. Whether it’s from parents, kids, or other role models, it makes me uncomfortable – because most children, being so spongy, assimilate these lessons deeply.

At this tender stage, I worry most about the boys. The first year I taught Grade 1, there was a wonderful little boy I wanted to take home with me. He was quiet, sweet, bright, smiling, artistic. At age 6, the trees he drew not only had leaves on them, but the leaves had veins. I remember that on Valentine’s Day, he wore a red shirt and pink pants. He was adorable.

By Grade 2, he had become vocal about his love of princesses. My heart broke one day as the class discussed a story we’d read, and he mentioned Cinderella… and already, I could see other boys in the class exchanging surreptitious smirks, mocking inside their heads: this boy wasn’t following his gender role. (He’s now in Grade 6, in another school. I hope he’s okay.)

My son, with all his love of cars and dinosaurs and Lego and crazy sound effects, has a princess side too.

His Auntie Beth recently gave him a set of lavender fairy wings. He loves them; he even went biking with them on once. They became part of his dragon costume for Halloween.

The first time E had his nails painted, it was at the small home daycare he attends (where peer pressure is low). The girls were doing theirs, and naturally he wanted his done too. Why not? What kid wouldn’t want awesome-coloured fingernails? But M warned me about it tentatively, before I noticed it, because she knows that some parents object to nail polish on a boy. HA. We all loved it, because he was so delighted. Now we do his nails on a fairly regular basis.

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Pretty colours.

He’s always been a little fashionista. Even before he turned two, he would notice my jewelry: “That’s a pretty necklace, Mummy.” He loves to wear his Mardi Gras beads and the hand-made necklace from his Family Camp friend. Once, he put them on and picked up a broom and said, “Mama, look. I’m a princess, sweeping.”

He also does this thing, if you can catch him in the right moment, called “princess dancing”: uplifted arms, swaying steps, poignant little head-tilts… and a childishly seraphic smile. Almost unbearably beautiful.

For now, these aspects of his personality commingle with his more “boyish” tendencies.

His favourite movies are Cars and TinkerBell.

 

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Cars – the relatively wholesome first one.
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TinkerBell – sent to us accidentally by the Disney Movie Club; surprisingly watchable.

 

He has two beloved re-usable bags: one picturing Lightning McQueen, and the other, Disney princesses.

He gets just as excited about butterfly tattoos as firetruck tattoos.

During kids’ gym time at our local YMCA/YWCA, I once saw two staff members lovingly ogling my kid as he rode a mini-Cat tractor with one hand, dragging a doll stroller with the other.

Sometimes he uses his cars to play family-type drama: “These two cars are getting married, and this big car is moving to a new house and the other cars are worried about him.”

I adore his openness, his natural expression of what he loves. I want him to be able to keep ALL of it.

I hurt to think of how soon these parts of his wonderful Self will be drummed out of him. He’s always liked pink, but recently says he doesn’t. He tells me, “Mama, your favourite colours are pink and purple,” because I’m a girl. (I prefer teal, I tell him.)

He’ll be going to JK next September. I don’t want to advise him to do things that will lead to ridicule… but I want him to feel welcome to embrace his whole self. I want him to be him.

I want him to be like my 12-year-old male student who was so confident, he was completely unabashed about being the only boy in his jazz dance class, and sometimes wore a furry pink bedjacket to school just for kicks. I want my son to have that powerful, joyful, unswerving sense of self – and to share it.

That’s what leads to acceptance. So that it’s okay for little boys to go to school with pretty fingernails.

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BANG Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

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NOT HARRY POTTER.

I admit, I’ve been remiss. I haven’t been keeping you all up-to-date with the GGG book club’s choices for… um… approximately a year. Whoops. I know you have all been tearing out your hair and wailing (internally): But Dilovely, the books! Forget the rest of this drivel… the BOOKS!

I promise I will rectify the situation. We have been reading some really good books, worth writing home about.

But since this is one of the few times I actually bought a book (a virtual one, anyway) so soon after its release, I feel the need to tell you something about it post-haste. I usually don’t feel urgency about books – so far, basically just Emily Giffin and Jo-Ro have inspired this in me.

Most of you already know I’m a devoted Harry Potter fan, and am training my son to be a wizard (and my daughter too, eventually). That is why I was really excited to read The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling. Her first book written “for adults”. I knew it would not be in the same vein as HP, but I figured I’d be guaranteed to enjoy it.

It’s a story of a small (fictional) town in England, with a “small-world” feel, where everyone knows each other and is all up in each other’s business. The sudden death of one well-known man creates shock waves in the community, and the reader discovers how it affects the lives of the people he knew – and even some he didn’t.

(In case you are wondering, “The Casual Vacancy” refers to the deceased’s spot on the Parish Council that must be filled when he dies.)

Here are my thoughts and estimations – without spoilers.

You will likely be disappointed if:

  • You’re waiting for any mention whatsoever of Quidditch, Butterbeer, Animagi, or Hungarian Horntails. Sorry. There aren’t even any house-elves.
  • You want the action to revolve around one hero – here, the reader is privy to the thoughts of well over a dozen characters over the course of the book.
  • You expect any one of those characters to be as winsome as Harry (except in Order of the Phoenix when he’s kinda bitchy).
  • You prefer plots to follow predictable lines and/or contain lots of action and/or suspense.
  • You’d like to see the whole plot wrapped up in an epic, heart-thudding, satisfying finale where good triumphs over evil and true love poignantly prevails.

You will likely enjoy the book if:

  • You like lots of multidimensional characters with rough edges.
  • You want your novels to have a really gritty side, including sex, drugs, and… what was that last thing?
  • You have been hoping to discover that J.K.R. has a proper vocabulary of swear words.
  • You are engaged by realistic, non-formulaic stories.
  • You are comfortable with an unresolved ending and ambiguous messages.

This is not a magical showcase of Rowling’s impressive imagination. What it does highlight is her ability to draw characters with deft strokes, using their own thoughts, their actions, and the thoughts of other characters about them. The story practically studies the study of human nature.

Reading this book, I found I both liked and disliked almost every character presented. The majority of them I disliked at first impression, but grew to like as their strength and depth were revealed – and also their difficulties, which kindled my sympathy.

It’s like real life, for me at least: it’s not that I often actively dislike people, but I do tend to like people better once I get past initial impressions. Everyone is deeper, more prismatic, than they seem at first.

It’s also like real life in that how we are perceived not only differs with every person we know, it also does not match how we see ourselves. There will be people who like and admire us more than we realize, as well as people who really don’t like us, even if they don’t show it. Likewise, our actions – or lack thereof – sometimes affect people in ways we haven’t predicted or even considered. Sometimes we can think we are doing or saying one thing… and that thing is being regarded by someone else in an entirely different way.

(I have recently been reminded of this in my own life, in more ways than one. It is way easier than we realize to be and do things that become insincere or unkind by the time they reach someone else. That can be true even for people who prioritize niceness.)

We all keep secrets. We all do weird things sometimes without knowing quite why. We all have our vanities and insecurities. We all have motivations other people don’t guess at. We all occasionally have thoughts – about ourselves and others – that we’re glad no-one has to know about.

I think that’s what this book is about. (Not that it doesn’t have occasional heart-thudding moments, as well as poignant ones, and some very satisfying ones as well.)

So in my mind, the message isn’t actually ambiguous after all. It’s one of the oldest messages out there, told in a skilful and unexpected way: try not to judge people until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. If you’re judging (or even if you’re not), you’re being judged… so take care. After all, you never know when you might die of an aneurysm.

I think Jo wrote this novel for herself. For a chance to do something completely different, relinquish the fantastical and write something outwardly mundane, but with insidious profundity.

And I’d like to think she would be tickled that I’ve figured all this out.

jk-rowling 2012
J.K. Rowling, 2012

So, to sum up:

In case you haven’t already deducted, I’m with List B – I enjoyed it, found it fascinating, read it avidly. It doesn’t live in the cockles of my heart, the way Harry does, but I did kinda love some of the characters. And I’ll remember them for a long time.

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National Holidays and Life’s Trajectory

Happy Canada Day, Canadians!

strawberry maple leaf

And happy strawberry season, to everyone who can get ’em locally. (The smell of the warm strawberry field yesterday evening, when we went picking, was delectable. You can’t beat strawberries that were picked minutes ago, just a few blocks away.)

While I’m at it, happy early Independence Day, Americans!

I don’t celebrate Independence Day, but I am closely connected to both nationalities. Both my parents and their families were born in the U.S. Some of my very favouritest people in the world (many of whom are related to me) are American. All the same, and despite my recent ranting, I’m glad to be Canadian.

At this time last year, many folks in this country were watching newlyweds Will and Kate enthrall Ottawa.

Kate-Middleton-Prince-William-Ottawa-Canada-Day Continue reading “National Holidays and Life’s Trajectory”

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Snapshots from Homecoming Weekend, a.k.a. “Glad to be Old”

It’s Homecoming weekend. No wonder there were so many students all garbed-out at the same time: boys with warpaint on their faces, girls with gaudy t-shirts offsetting their way-too-short shorts.

There’s a big house party on a busy street. The music can be heard blocks away. A gaggle of students crowds the front porch, surrounded by discarded beer cups (red, so they count as school spirit). A girl in a pink shirt, jeans, and sunglasses sits on the step with a drink in her hand, not conversing with anyone, but moving her head to the music. Dilovely can tell (recognizing one of her own) she is not one of the cool ones, but here she is at this awesome party. It’s surreal, and hard for her to believe she’s there, but she will pretend she does this all the time.

Not long after, Dilovely stands in line at the liquor store, trying to remember the last time she got carded. (It was well into her twenties, but now fading in the distance.) The guys behind her are talking about how “sick” it is that there are $4 mickeys of champagne for sale. Dilovely is disconcerted that one of the guys is standing right up in her personal space and periodically brushing up against her; it isn’t until one guy drops his six-pack and the group of them is escorted out of the store that she realizes why she overheard one of them asking his buddies, “Do my eyes look red to you?”

That’s how naïve Dilovely is: she has never tried to buy alcohol while drunk, so she never knew this was not allowed. In fact, here’s a secret: Dilovely has never, in her whole life, been drunk enough to be sick, or even fall over. Not even at her own bachelorette, where she had a record 11 drinks (including shots).

Back to the checkout line. The cashier is a dewy-faced young man with a beard that really tries hard. He says awkwardly, “It’s homecoming this weekend. I guess I really should be watching out for those… They sure don’t give people in my age group a very good reputation.” Continue reading “Snapshots from Homecoming Weekend, a.k.a. “Glad to be Old””

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