30 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 2–My Parental Units

I’m thankful that I’ve been lucky enough to have both parents as an active part of my upbringing. And while my parents divorced when I was 17, both still have a deep impact in my life today–as does my step-mother.

My mom passed away four and half years ago. Despite her loss, I think of her daily and I employ the lessons of her life as I live each day. My mother was a kind, generous woman who struggled with having self-worth throughout her life. While I may have many regrets about how often I showed or verbalized my love to her, I know that she knows how instrumental she has been to my life. My son and I still cut the same jokes we did with her. She lived with us the last eleven years of her life while she grappled with under/unemployment. Through her efforts to remain employed, I learned a lot about dreaming big even when faced with ageism and sexism. When she became ill in mid-2013, her downward spiral happened all too fast. Emphysema is a nasty disease. And I would never wish it on even the worst of enemies. I feel her loss daily, but I know that she is with me in my heart and in my mind and in my memories.

Mom. In her 30s, her 40s, and her early 60s–not long before she passed.

Thankfully, my dad is still with us. And he and my step-mom are laid back, but energetic. But unfortunately, they live 1,500 miles away. We do talk often, but not often enough. The two-hour time difference often leaves only the weekends for us to catch up unless they want me to call late at night. I try to travel back at least once a year. My son and I used to take annual summer road trips to visit them. But now that my son is in college, I’ve been flying back for weekend visits. I’m looking for my next set of open days so I can fly back and spend some time with them. My dad and step-mom have been married for 29 years now, so step-mom has played a long-term sustaining role in my life, even though I was 19 going on 20 when she and dad married. She takes good care of Dad, and I’ve seen Dad grow and do things with her that he never did with my mom. He found the right woman with whom to spend his life. Dad and step-mom have long taught me about the strength and importance of family. I carry that lesson with me every day.

Dad and step-mom. Always together. Always smiling and laughing. 

My brother used to sing the distinctive opening word to Danzig’s “Mother” every time my mom entered the room.

“Mother” by Danzig

“Okie from Muskogee” by Merle Haggard

My dad listens to country music, and particularly to the old school singers like Hank Sr., Roger Miller, etc. So here’s one of the legends.



180 Days: Day 38–NaNoWriMo Starts Today! Woo Hoo!

Extra Credit! Extra Credit! Come and Get Your Extra Credit!…

If there’s one thing that students love almost as much as summer, it’s extra credit. Enter National Novel Writing Month, more affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo started with a small band of writers in 1999 and has spread internationally in the ensuing years. The goal is to write every day in the month of November on a single story and at the end of the month have over 100 pages/50,000 words towards a novel by month’s end.

I explained NaNo to all of my students and offered them extra credit for every day in November that they made a legitimate attempt at writing a single story, hopefully leading to at least the beginnings of a novel. My intention is to help students build discipline–writing daily is one proven way to become a better writer. Practice. Practice. Practice. Plus, students do not get many opportunities to write narratives in high school, much less narratives of their on topics/genres of their own choosing. So this project really is all about sparking some creativity amongst the students–even though it’s extra credit.

I got the typical questions. “Have you ever written a novel?” “Is it hard?” “How do you do it?” “Do you type or handwrite?” etc. etc. etc.

  1. No. I’ve never finished a novel with NaNo, but I have written every day for the month of November in years past. And I enjoy the challenge in developing a story, or building a format, or blogging daily, or whatever I choose to do.
  2. Yes. It can be hard. But, no. It’s not always. It’s a process. It’s all about learning who you are as a writer and how to develop your own voice/style/methods/strategies as a writer.
  3. Personally, I use both computer and handwritten techniques. I often blog straight onto my computer. I edit online and post with minimal revision. I often write fiction into a binder filled with looseleaf paper. I have a research section and a text section. I research names, topics, etc. online and record the info by hand, then write by hand before typing and revising. I like carrying a notebook everywhere I go, much like Quentin Tarantino does, even if I don’t use it. This part really is about building self-discipline to write with regularity.

Last year, my NaNo goal was to blog every day in November in order to kickstart my blog. I succeeded for not just 30 days, but over 45 days. And while I’ve written on the blog sporadically in the months afterward, I decided to start this school year borrowing an idea from a colleague, resulting in this 180 Days blog. Let my blog tell the story of my school year. It may not be a novel, but it will be a documentation of a year of my school life. And for NaNo this year, my plan is to continue my 180 Days blog while picking up my FB 30 Days of Thanksgiving, and adding a sprinkling of my Jules’s Jukebox into the mix. So I do plan to have a flurry of writing throughout November. I want to set a good example for my students. I write because I want to write. I write because I want to challenge myself. I write because I want to develop discipline.

So here we go…

“Miserlou” by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones


180 Days: Day 37–“Never Love A Wild Thing, Mr. Bell”

Holly Golightly gave this salient advise in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And today, I played Holly Golightly for Halloween to a group of ghosts, ghouls, zombies, and steampunk red riding hoods who would rather have been anywhere else but English class. But in English class they sit reading and writing summaries about war. Today is a short class period because of our modified schedule for intervention period–mercifully. So while students write their summaries, I let them “trick or treat” my pumpkin full of smarties candies and tell me about their costumes. Many guess correctly that I’m “Audrey Hepburn” though I’m the character she famously portrayed in Blake Edwards’s 1961 classic. Their guesses allow me the “in” to tell them about Capote and that they should read the book.

Speaking of loving wild things, tonight the Dodgers play the Astros in Game 6 of the World Series too. The ‘Stros are up 3-2 in this wild World Series, so tonight’s win will mean “winner takes all” or “live to fight another day” depending on which team you are. I am glad that the Dodgers are in the finals because they are a home team. I don’t dislike the Dodgers. But I do have a hard time with some of their fans, who heckled my son mercilessly when he was a five year old attending his first major league game proudly wearing his T-Ball uniform, which happened to be not from a rival team, but THE rival team (SF Giants). And Dodger Stadium is a real pain to get in and out of being in the heart of downtown in a ravine with only one way in or out. So needless to say, I typically avoid Dodgers games. It also hurts their cause that they beat my team for the National League title to make it to the Series–I grew up watching the Chicago Cubs. So I have chosen to cheer for the Astros this year. First, because they are representing a city trying to recover from a massive trauma with a millennial flood. Second, because I’ve actually been to see the Astros before, way back in the Astrodome days to see Nolan Ryan pitch. And third, because this would be their franchise’s first World Series win.

So tonight I will hand out candy with my brother and sister-in-law while we intermittently watch the game and horror movies. We will see where the night takes us wild things. And if I have any students showing up tomorrow after their late night prowls tonight.

holly golightly

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“Moon River” by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.


30 Days of Thanksgiving: November 1st

A few years ago, I started participating in this Facebook 30 Days of Thanksgiving “challenge” to write something I’m thankful for each day of the month of November, the month of Thanksgiving. So this year, I chose to move my FB “challenge” to my blog page to accompany my 180 Days and Jules’s Jukebox posts.

I am thankful for…

…my son, Tristan. I’ve always called him “My Angel Boy” because I consider him my gift from above that has given my life purpose and direction. He has given me so much to be proud of –from his high school accomplishments to his current status as an honor student in college who works part-time on the weekends. We have shared so many defining experiences–from traveling abroad together and road trips across the US for our bonding time to successes and losses in our lives, like losing my mother at a too young age to his success in earning his Eagle Rank in Scouts and becoming the commanding officer of his high school JROTC battalion. I am grateful that we still talk to each other. It’s too easy for a 19-year-old to not talk to his parents at all, but we still sound ideas and thoughts off each other–albeit, most of the time it’s at weird early hours of the weekend mornings when we happen to be home at the same time. I am always thankful when he safely arrives at home or school after his weekly 100 mile each way trip to/from his university. I’m just happy and thankful that T is in my life.


180 Days: Day 20–Clubs Flush

Research has long shown a positive statistical correlation between participation in extracurricular activities and success in school (success being defined as “consistent attendance, academic achievement, and aspirations for continuing education beyond high school”).  The National Center for Education Statistics says, “Extracurricular participation was positively associated with … success indicators among public high school [students].”  This week has been a busy week overall with non-classroom duties.

So I don’t mind that this week felt like a non-stop action adventure movie due to the heavy non-classroom duties. My lunches three days this week are filled with club meetings. I advise two student clubs; each requires meetings with club officers to build each meeting’s agenda, then the meetings themselves. Luckily, the club officers are on their game.They know how they want the meetings to go and do a great job of putting the piece together. And between the two clubs, I get to have positive, non-academic time to mentor nearly 100 young leaders that I don’t normally see in my classes.

I can’t help but think how much more these students have their act together than I did at that age. I was exceptionally active in school, especially junior and senior years. Every time I grow impatient with students in my classroom for cross-talking, for not listening to instructions, for not writing down instructions or due dates, I think back to these kids in these two clubs and I find my hope in this young post-millennial generation. Clubs give students the ability to grow and transfer their academic skills in a more authentic setting that interests them.

Even though my calendar is flush with meetings, responsibilities, and the day-to-day efforts of teaching, I always remember my teachers who gave me the opportunities to be active in school and develop leadership skills. Now it’s my turn to pay it forward to a new generation.

“Be True to Your School” by The Beach Boys


180 Days: Day 17–Connecting the Past to the Future

I was worse than the kids today. Trying to stay focused on a warm, sunny late September Friday afternoon is hard enough. When it’s my birthday, it’s even more so. I could barely wait to get home and join my friends for happy hour cocktails and grub. But I love my students. I love my job. So I dug deep and sailed through a productive day with them.

Luckily, our subject matter came full circle and I saw light bulbs going off across the classroom all day. Students started connecting the dots from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s three ways to confront oppression to the NFL and Charlottesville–that fighting for social justice is still paramount in our society. For kids who spend more time staring at the 5″ screen of their phone than they do reading any headline news, it’s always nice to see the spark of understanding pop across their faces.


Ultimately, I don’t care if kids don’t like me because I kept them working right up to the bell on a Friday afternoon because I do care about them learning about their world around them and understanding how our past shapes choices we make for our future. Transferring skill sets and knowledge, using those skills and knowledge critically, is a constant struggle for adults, much less teens. So asking students to do the hard work of thinking late on Friday is always a tall ask. Thankfully, they rose to the occasion. They stayed en pointe till the bitter end, er, bell.

A tall ask sort of like my past struggles to lose these last pounds of weight informed my choices tonight in food and beverage choices even though my birthday is a cheat day. I chose to partake in that flourless chocolate lava cake rather than sip a few extra adult beverages. I chose not to do both. I chose to work off the cake without a hangover and without being dehydrated. We all make choices. Our choices should be guided by our experiences and knowledge. I thirst for knowledge and understanding because of it–who wants to be the putz that makes the exact same egregious mistakes of history over and over again. William Blake wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” So let’s just say, I’m wise enough to know better and decided to let myself eat cake.


“Birthday” by the Beatles (Paul McCartney, Live 2008)


180 Days: Day 12–Spirit Friday & Hard Apple Cider

Football Fridays–gotta love ’em. The scent of autumn hanging in the cooler night air, the distant sound of the marching band’s drumline, the roar of the community cheering on their respective teams. Fridays in the fall bring back memories from my own childhood as where I grew up Friday Night Lights were a very real thing.

Being that this was the end of the second full week of school, our school hosted its annual Spirit Welcome Back Friday. Students dressed in their class colors (this year seniors are blue and sophomores are yellow) and attended a fun rally at lunch full of fun class competition activities. Any “way” that gets students involved in school, whether it’s wearing a class t-shirt, playing musical chairs with other classes at a rally, or cheering at a football game on Friday night, is a good “way.”

Overall, I feel this year has started with more optimism than the past few. And that brings a big sigh of relief. I’m not going to lie. The past few years have been rough and divisive on our campus. For the first time in a long while, I have hope that those days are behind us. I joined a few colleagues for some cider after school. We joked that we were hosting our own PLC (Professional Learning Community). But in reality, it wasn’t a joke. When teachers get together, we inevitably talk shop. We share ideas, we share information about our students, we learn from each other. It’s the best and most therapeutic form of collaboration.

There’s nothing better than happy kids and happy teachers. The hard part is keeping us this way–happy and optimistic about where we are heading. So here’s a Friday “Cheers To You!”

“I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas for some optimistic energy…


180 Days: Day 5–A Trip to the 30s

Tonight my sophomores are assigned to read “Greyhound Tragedy” by Richard Brautigan. The story was published in the 1970s but takes place in the 1930s. So we spent most of today researching movies and movie stars of the 1930s. These are kids in which 9/11 is someone else’s history, so the 1930s is completely alien. So we talked a bit about what films looked like in the ’30s, who the movie stars were, what key world events occurred that might influence what movies would be about. So we looked at the Great Depression, the election of FDR, the rise of Hitler, Jesse Owens, Amelia Earheart, the Hindenburg disaster, etc. The goal was to provide some context for a group of 15-16 year-olds who idolize celebrities of their own, to help them empathize with the protagonist of Brautigan’s very short, minimalist story. I enjoyed teaching this story last year because it offered so many opportunities to discuss writer’s craft and elements of a story–what does a piece of writing have to have in order to be a story? For such a compact piece of writing, it’s a powerful example of how literary devices (such as metaphor and allusion) can add rich subtext and provide meaning.

When my colleague brought the story in last year, I immediately fell in love with it because I connected with the protagonist so strongly. My mother always watched old movies on the lone TV on Saturday afternoons while I was growing up in the ’70s. She filled our bookshelf with saucy books about the Golden Age of Hollywood that I voraciously devoured and eventually read with more adult eyes (a juicy favorite was Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon). Hollywood was a bright shiny dream for small town Oklahoma girls like my mom and me, so I fully empathized with the protagonist. I shopped at Penney’s as a youth. I loved Clark Gable movies (Teacher’s Pet is a favorite–Gable in a rom com!). And I understood the allusion to Harlow and Valentino in the final sentence–and how the reference to them adds another layer to the tragedy of the title. I will see just how many students can explore the subtext enough to understand what the titular tragedy of the story is–if they bother to read their homework at all tonight.

One can hope.

A clip from the 1958 Clark Gable/Doris Day film Teacher’s Pet (Gable’s Gannon character blurting out in protest of writing 2,000 words sounds just like my students. lol):


Jules’s Jukebox: I’m Getting Re-Wired–It’s a Kasabian Kind of Night

Kasabian, the hard-punching guitar band from Leicester, England, is priming to release their 6th album, For Crying Out Loud, on April 28th. They tantalized me when they released the first single, “You’re in Love with a Psycho,” and played new music live in Australia last week. Guitarist Sergio Pizzorno has hailed this album as being about saving rock music and making a guitar record that is relevant (he is joined in the band by vocalist Tom Meighan, bassist Chris Edwards, and drummer Ian Matthews). I enjoy the band because of their ability to create a consistent sound that is distinctly theirs. I can hear a song and know it’s Kasabian. This ability to create an unmistakeable sound is what sets great bands apart from mediocre, dime-a-dozen bands. That’s what set bands like Oasis and The Verve apart from other bands formed in this same era (Kasabian formed in 1997, Oasis in 1991, and The Verve in 1990)–they weren’t grunge or indie knock-offs.

So tonight’s jukebox selections highlight how I discovered and fell for Kasabian’s easily distinguishable sound.

“Julie and the Moth Man” by Kasabian, the B-side to “Underdog.”

The 2011 Jason Statham/Paddy Considine movie, Blitz, introduced Kasabian to me with the hard, reverb-y, industrial guitar riff pounding over the end credits (yes, I know, I came to the Kasabian party a little late, but better late than never with this band). The song’s violent and seedy lyrics served the mood of this British serial killer/police procedural well. But suffice it to say, I like the music far better than the lyrics of this song–I guess the facts that my name is Julie and I don’t like the idea of f’n in alleys or getting hit by frying pans contribute to my dislike of the lyrics. One can argue, and I struggle with liking this song for this reason, that the lyrics glorify physical and sexual violence against women. That may or may not be Pizzorno’s intention. Lucky for him, I still like the song despite despising the lyrics…

“Re-Wired” by Kasabian, from the 2011 album Velociraptor!

“Re-Wired” is probably my favorite song by Kasabian because of its groovy, funky almost disco sound for the verses juxtaposed with the hard-rocking chorus. While the song most certainly alludes to drug use–again, I ignore the lyrics for the music’s aesthetics, the video is a fun ride through a high-speed car chase with the band that pays homage to many classic films, including Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

“You’re in Love with a Psycho” by Kasabian, from their upcoming album For Crying Out Loud.

The band released this song last week. This fun first single reads almost like Jabberwocky-style jibberish, but makes more sense as the song progresses with random references to Axel Foley (we’re not gonna fall for the banana in the tailpipe) and Charles Bukowski (“Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead”). But the music is more “Re-Wired” than “Julie and the Moth Man.” It sounds almost like a mashup of Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boys stylistically.

Bonus Song: “Put Your Life On It” by Kasabian, from their upcoming album For Crying Out Loud.

This song was premiered live last summer by the band and is the closest thing to a power ballad I’ve heard from the band. I love that this song departs from their traditional sound and stretches into new territory for them.

Jules’s Jukebox: Musing about Muse & Politics in the Age of Resistance

When the Lollapalooza line-up was released today, I nearly fell out of my seat at the opening day’s line-up: MUSE, Liam Gallagher (Fuck Yeah!), Tritonal… so many I’d love, love, love to see. But tickets sold out before I could act–and I understand why. What a great way to spend a Thursday–and then catch a game at Wrigley on Friday. Talk about a perfect slide into the weekend.

Seeing the line-up took me back about a decade to when I really fell in love with MUSE. So tonight’s twofer (plus an extra for fun) features a couple of classics from Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme, and Dominic Howard.

“Citizen Erased” by MUSE, from the 2001 album Origin of Symmetry.

The first song I heard from this album was Paul Oakenfold’s remix of “New Born” from the soundtrack to the 2001 Hugh Jackman/John Travolta movie Swordfish. The remix prompted me to seek the original version, which led me to this hard-rocking reverb fest.  Finding this album sparked my interest in the trio from Devonshire, England. The song’s lyrics show Bellamy’s struggle with being constantly questioned by those around him. His allusion to Orwell’s 1984, particularly in the title and the lines “Wash me away/ Clean your body of me/ Erase all the memories/ They will only bring us pain,” remind us all that citizens can be erased and that lies can rule supreme, that innocence can be lost to experience only to be erased back to innocence. (Here is a great blog explaining this song much better than I.) The dichotomy and the dissonance in this song are compelling to listen to.

“Map of the Problematique” by MUSE, from the 2006 album Black Holes and Revelations.

This song continues to display the band’s ability to write layered lyrics that can be seen through a variety of critical lenses. While one person may read the lyrics to this song as being about a man’s inability to move on from a failed relationship, another reads a far more political message (which the band is known for) about war and world chaos that causes us to lose ourselves–like The Lost Generation of WW1. In the verse “Life will flash before my eyes/ So scattered almost/ I want to touch the other side/ And no one thinks they are to blame/ Why can’t we see/ That when we bleed we bleed the same” I can read both of the above interpretations. But my surface reading is this: We wreak havoc on each other, accept no responsibility or blame for our abuses of each other. We want to see the other side’s perspective. We want to reach out to the other. But we have so enabled ourselves that we can only see how right we are rather than find our common ground–that we bleed the same regardless of right and wrong.

“Uprising” by MUSE, from the 2009 album The Resistance.

This song has particular meaning for me right now in light of current world politics–the move toward nationalism, isolationism, authoritarianism. Bellamy has long been a critic of collectivism, but it’s interesting that this progressive liberal finds common ground with his more libertarian views–we both want to be free of mind control and manipulation in an information age rife with propaganda and fake news, kleptocratic rulers, and over-reaching, profiteering, capitalist elitists; we both want the world to be free from tyranny. And if any song is an anti-tyranny song, it is this song. This song is an anthem for resisters. The chorus reflects how when we stand together and rise up, we will win against the tyrants. “They will not force us/ They will stop degrading us/ They will not control us/We will be victorious.”

Ok. I’m throwing a Liam Gallagher song in for fun. Just because I love Liam Gallagher and am anxiously awaiting his new album…

“Rockin’ Chair” by Oasis, the B-side of “Roll with It” (“Roll with It” is from the 1995 album What’s the Story, Morning Glory?, but “Rockin’ Chair” did not make the cut for the album); featured on the 1998 album The Masterplan, a compilation of B-sides not featured on albums. “It’s hard enough sitting there/ Rockin’ in your rockin’ chair/ It’s all too much for me to take/ When you’re not there…” I just love LG’s voice. Here’s to hoping he’ll add more U.S. dates besides Lollapalooza in the near future.