The Conference

Of air-conditioned ballrooms, name tag lanyards, and drink tickets–and whether or not conference-going is worth it.


Let’s begin with the setting: an opening keynote session, held in a wide hotel ballroom, the kind created by throwing open the Godzilla-sized accordion dividers that normally parse one cavernous hall into smaller ones, filled with rows and rows of chairs, all on top of carpet patterned in inoffensive colors, all designed to hide stains and wear. A stage is set up at the front with a podium and colored LED lighting for effect, framed by two giant projection screens on either side.

There are about 500 of us, and most all of us fit into roughly one of a handful of categories: community college fundraisers or marketers, or board members, presidents or administrators with those responsibilities. We are there to learn the latest tricks of the trade, to hear stories of successful programs, to network. We are from all over the country, from big and small schools, rural, suburban, and urban, historic and new, and so forth.

Professional development of any strain has never particularly been my cup of tea. Maybe it’s my background as a teacher, but somehow the pedagogical styles of just about every training program I’ve completed reek of elementary school-aged tactics. Which is fine, of course, if you’re working with ten year-olds, but a bit demeaning otherwise.

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Cherry Groove

LIFE WITH KIDDOS

Another school year beckons.
But first, the beach.


We are in search of dolphins, dozens of us on this small boat bobbing in the ocean. Our eyes are searching across the deep, the ripples and waves a sequined glittering array of light and shadow, all of us desperate to see a protruding fin or the spray from a blowhole.

Four summers here, our little vacation spot in Cherry Grove, and still each trip we find new things to do. This year, we booked a sunset cruise on one of the dozen or so boats we’d spotted tooling about in the ocean earlier in the week. The entire enterprise seemed to abide a classic fisherman’s sensibility, rough about the edges, rules entirely absent. Which is to say, one could smoke on board, which a handful of folks did, or bring a backpack full of snacks and a personal cooler, which we did. There were no regulations, no tucked-in shirts, no safety talks, nothing much beyond the growl of the diesel engines.

There was cadenced, wizened commentary from the captain, though, broadcast over tinny loudspeakers as we trolled the surf in search of dolphins and delivered in a Chesapeake accent. We sat on benches along the sides of the boat. Plastic lawn chairs were arranged in the open decks in the center.

It took an hour or so of motoring up the Intracoastal Waterway to reach the Atlantic. (“We call this the Ditch,” the captain noted in his well-rehearsed monologue.) Creeping along the no-wake zones, we spotted a few restaurants perched along the waterfront, rolling carpets of vibrant grass, and rows of multi-million dollar vacations homes, replete with LED-lit boat docks, palm-lined palisades, glimmering pools, and tiled roofs meant to invoke places more inspiring than Ditch-side mansions. Everyone crowded to one side of the boat to snap pictures of Vanna White’s house as we idled past.

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Midswelter

LIFE WITH KIDDOS
Thomas hangs off the side of a Land Rover, which he really wants us to buy.

Life without a brother can be hard, especially when you’re the only brother in your brood.


Thomas, alas, has determined that he would really like to have a sibling that is his gender. The discovery isn’t terribly surprising–this summer, he and Julia have suddenly grown into a place where conflict is a not uncommon circumstance–but the admission came after our prolonged absence while we were in Colorado. The three kiddos had been dispatched to Carl and Dianne’s for the duration, and it seems the closer quarters compounded the matter.

Naturally, the idea that a brother is at odds with his sister is nothing new; this is as ancient an idea as any. We’d arrived at a boiling point, though.

The other evening I came home from work to find Thomas clearly in a funk. Kelly glanced at me and nodded at him, trying to convey in the silent language of parents that the boy needed to talk. So I went in to change, and he followed me into our room, and I proceeded to open up his can of worms.

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