Day #6

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10 inches of snow. Even here, that’s a lot. We’ve got great snow removal, but even the best have to err on the side of caution. I’ve been up since 5:20am. The robo call came while I was in the shower. The winds are ~40 mph, which makes it worse. Since I live in a ‘burb, my street looks pretty good. Since I live in a town home, my driveway was cleared overnight. My drive to work is only about 5 miles, but as soon as I get into the city, there is a noticeable difference in plowing.

It’s our sixth cancelled day this school year. This has never happened. Well, at least since I’ve been teaching in this district AND when my parents taught in this district, starting in 1967. It’s crazy. The polar vortex is supposed to come back for a visit next week, but hopefully it won’t be that bad.

So in the meantime, I brought enough stuff home last night to make sure I had stuff for the weekend. I corrected tests and had a pretty productive evening of planning and correcting. So for today, I’ll be glad to be warm and safe at home.

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Wonderful Wacky Week

This week was weird. We started with not one, but two days closed due to the cold. This time the district had teachers report to work. In the 8 days we’ve had of second semester, I’ve now seen my kids five times.

What are teachers to do without students? It was weird. I wasn’t in a big rush to get to school. I could ease into my day. I had time to plan. I had time to catch up with colleagues. I had more than 20 minutes to eat my lunch. I could go to the bathroom whenever I needed to. I could do things that had been shoved down to the bottom of my to-do list. I set up my second semester grade book, did my yearly health assessment for insurance, took a survey about our PLC work, prepped for my re-scheduled math meet. For one week, I did not bring home work to do in the evenings. Even though the district technically violated our contract by having us come in, most of us were fine with it. We got stuff done.

In the 187 contracted days, we only have one day that the district allows for us to determine our own work. For senior high, it’s the day between semesters. We just had ours on January 21st. Finalizing grades and getting ready for new students, new classes is the purpose of that day. We work like fiends to get it all done on time so we can have a nice fresh start to the new semester without the old one hanging over our heads. So lots of us stay late and work throughout the prior weekend to make sure we’ve finished everything. In other words, we put in a ton of time even prior to having that one work day. And you still feel like you don’t get everything done that is needed. So when we had to come into work without students this week, most of us were already caught up since we had only had two days with them.

In the midst of planning ahead, we took a little time for some staff activities. We’re having a pep fest next week. We haven’t had a pep fest in years. As a fun little surprise, we’re doing a “flash mob” dance. There were at least 50 of us learning and practicing the dance both days. Now that’s a fun way to get to know your colleagues! On the second day, a few of us took a little time out of working for a quick game of volleyball. I hadn’t played volleyball in years. It was a blast! Then I went back to my desk and got more work done. So in these two crazy days, I really enjoyed spending time with my colleagues. We’ve really got a great group of teachers that work extremely hard and care deeply about our students and their achievement.

Wednesday the kids were back. I think they were glad to be back in school. My math meet went off without a hitch. The 100+ mathletes that came to my school and participated were great.

Thursday. Because of the lack of progress with our contract, we had a planned union action. My district doesn’t have a defined day. We are expected in the building 15 minutes prior and 15 minutes after students. We are not required to be in the building to prep for our classes and do the additional work that all teachers do. It is understood that you get the necessary work done outside of that designated time in the building to be ready for your classes. As a result of this policy, we cannot do a “work-to-rule” action. This is good. Teachers have one heck of a time with that. There’s no way you can get everything done in 8 hours per day. When districts do work-to-rule, teachers are torn about participating because it’s just not in their nature to leave work undone for the next day. Work-to-rule is a drastic step when contract talks aren’t going well. Our action was much different and has a much more positive tone.

At 55 sites, with approximately 2500 teachers, parents and students, we organized Walk-Ins. Thursday morning’s snow storm just made it more dramatic. With the worst commute of the winter thus far, we gathered outside our buildings, with signs and our colleagues to welcome kids to school, wave to drivers, and all walk in together, prior to our 15 minutes, required by contract. My building started at 6:50am. Considering how bad the roads were, our 40 teachers that made it in that early were fantastic! We had signs, red scarves, glow sticks, and a nice crowd on the main street in front of the school, waving at cars going by. It was actually really fun! The crappy weather just showed that we’re determined to fight for better learning conditions for our kids. What’s good for kids is good for teachers. Our signs were all about what our kids deserve. Smaller class sizes, school nurses, counselors, librarians, art, music, phy ed, special education, less testing and more learning. At 7:10 we all walked into the building together, brushed off the snow, and got down to the business of teaching and caring for our kids.

I don’t know the impact of our walk-in on the district. We did make the front page of the paper on Friday. The news media is always reluctant to side with teachers and unions. They’re coverage was pretty vanilla. But if you took the time to look at the photos from so many sites, you can easily the dedication of our teachers to students.

It was definitely an unusual week. But one of the most fun weeks I’ve had on the job in a while.

Day 4

This is unprecedented. Tomorrow is the 4th day school has been closed due to cold weather. In the morning it’s supposed to be -21 and it’s quite windy. I don’t know what the wind chill is expected to be. But the other three days that we’ve been cancelled we haven’t had gusty winds like what’s swirling around right now.

Last Thursday was an unexpected closure. I was at school, working a gymnastics meet when I found out. You should have heard the excitement of those girls! Yes, they won their meet, but they were more excited about their day off. What’s different about tomorrow? Even though our contract has a clause in it that says we don’t have to report, the district is making teachers report to work. We’ve always interpreted this as when we’re closed due to bad weather.

“SECTION 4. QUARANTINE/CATASTROPHIC DISASTER LEAVE.  Teachers will be provided up to a maximum of ten(10) days paid leave of absence for quarantine by a health officer due to a contagious disease. The same will be provided for a catastrophic disaster that occurs in the teacher’s school and/or community which causes the closure of the District or the teacher’s school.”

Since there isn’t time to grieve/fight this, we’re going in. We’ve also been told on a robo-call that the district wants us to be productive. When are we not productive? We’re teachers for crying out loud. We’re productive in our sleep! I’m productive while I swim and think about how I’m going to resolve an issue or teach a lesson. I’m very productive while I’m at home too. I certainly don’t have to be in that building, at my desk to be productive.

Many teachers will have child care issues since most districts in the metro are calling school off tomorrow. I’m not sure what they’ll do. And guess what? It is dangerous to be out in this weather. So why do we have to come in? One word. Control.

Yes, it’s cold.

Is it unbearable? No. Is it dangerous? Yes.

I think it’s -10 right now. By morning it is supposed to be -23, or something like that. The current windchill is -33. How long does it take to get frostbite? Less than 5 minutes. So, if you’re not prepared for the weather, it is very dangerous. When it’s cold like this, there is a bit of unpredictability. Cars that are parked outside overnight may not start. Even after mine has been parked at school all day, there’s a bit of a protest from my engine when I turn the key. And mine isn’t that old! Because of this unpredictable and dangerous situation, the governor has cancelled school for the entire state for tomorrow. Am I excited about this? You betcha! But it really does make sense.

Whenever school is cancelled, due to a snow day or whatever, school districts are in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. People are mad that you cancelled because now they have to find daycare for their kids. People are mad if you don’t because it’s dangerous for their kids to be out in the poor weather conditions. So the governor calling it off for the whole state was a blessing. Superintendents across the state don’t have to make the hard call.

The other aspect of this that people don’t realize because they don’t see it, is what it’s like to be poor in this weather. Lots of my students don’t have adequate winter coats, hats or gloves. As I drive to school, I see numerous kids at bus stops wearing hoodies. No jacket, no gloves. Just a hoodie and jeans. I do understand that some kids just don’t want to wear a coat because it’s too bulky or not fashionable. But when it’s this cold, I think even those kids would give in to bundling up.

It was very nice to know on Friday that we had a 3-day weekend. My district did go back to school for 2 days last week. So it actually worked out rather nicely. Many districts weren’t going to be back in school from winter break until tomorrow anyway. So everyone is getting a bonus day. What will I do with my day? I’ll probably go swim. Yeah, -20 and I’m thinking of swimming. It will be a nice extra day to catch up on stuff around my house.

And if you need a little inspiration about the cold… Here’s an article about a guy from my church. He’s 90 and this cold weather isn’t going to stop him!

Keepin’ it Green

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I went up north this weekend in hopes of a little relaxation and seeing some Fall colors. I got the relaxation part. Fall isn’t quite ready to show its colors yet. There are some yellows starting to come through. But it won’t be peak for at least another week or two.

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It’s the time of year to take in the boat and the dock. I brought my kayak home to hang out for the winter. Maybe I’ll use it here in the Spring…

But in the meantime, I had a nice, relaxing weekend.

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Oregon Wine Wrap-Up, For Now…

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Does it look like we tasted a lot of wine? Well? We did! But we hardly made a dent in what is out there. My trusty “Oregon Wine Country” book has several pages of maps with vineyards. We did a fraction of the Willamette Valley Central – Salem map. On that particular map, we went to: Airlie, 3 Fools, Emerson, Illahe, Johan, Firesteed, Van Duzer, Bethel Heights and St Innocent. On an earlier visit, we went to Willamette Valley Vineyards. Their Riesling is still one of my go-to wines and I can get it here. The Flying Dutchman is in Newport and Springhill is on a different map.

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As I said earlier, my favorite places were the ones where the people pouring were the ones that directly worked with the wine. Illahe, Emerson and Airlie would be my top picks. The photo above is from Emerson. Tom Johns, the owner, was doing the pouring. My cousin and I had a great time joking around with him. He even offered me the vineyard if I could guess the 5 grapes in his blend. I’d never heard of most of the grapes. It was a pretty safe bet on his part. But they are listed in the trusty book! Emerson needs a MN distributor and they had great wines. While we were at Emerson, a person from 3 Fools was using their tasting room. They are there most Saturdays and they use the Emerson facilities. The three fools are actually down to one fool now.

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Have you seen this label? I think they’re in all 50 states. They were right by the road so we stopped. They weren’t even on the map in the trusty book. Maybe I should’ve taken that as a cue. The wines were fine, but it’s a big production facility. They’ve got at least 300 acres in the area. I’d probably pass on this one and go to a smaller one, now that I know what I like.

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With my Norwegian heritage, I really wanted to like Johan. I got a bottle of the Pinot Gris. But I didn’t get excited about their wines. The wine maker is from Norway and fell in love with Pinot Noir and decided to make it. They do all sorts of fun celebrations of Norwegian holidays.

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Eola Hills has a tasting room right off 99W. You can pick seven wines to taste for free. I particularly liked their dessert wine. This was stop #4 on our first day, so we were a little happy at this point. Eola Hills sources their grapes from other locations, so they make a pretty wide variety. Some of their grapes come from Washington state. They have some fun activities that they host.

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Van Duzer has a beautiful location and a great place to enjoy a picnic. They’re tasting room gets more traffic and have hired people to pour. I particularly liked the Zephyra dessert wine. They had a nice port style wine too. We were limited to 4 pours, so we were selective about what we tried.

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Bethel Heights is a very beautiful vineyard. There are several right in that area. We first stopped at Bryn Mawr, but didn’t taste. It was getting close to closing time and I was the only one tasting reds. They had five different Pinot Noirs. Too bad I didn’t taste, but that’s for another trip. Bethel Heights had some good Pinot Noirs, but they were over $50 per bottle. They were a little out of the range that I like to spend. I think I got a bottle of their Gewürztraminer.

The last stop was St Innocent. Their Pinot Noir, Temperance Hill Vineyard was one of my favorite wines. We tried a variety of others, including their special blends that are used at their event center. This was at the end of the day and was our fourth vineyard. We were a little goofy and thanks to my cousin, my photos from St Innocent are all rather silly. Check out the website to see the location.

All in all, I love wine tasting in Oregon. It’s a nice, relaxed pace with fun interaction with the people making  and working with the wine. There are so many wineries that you can’t hope to put a dent into your tasting repertoire. Decide on a strategy and go with it. Mine was smaller, lesser-known vineyards in an area that was easily accessible to our location.

Visiting Airlie

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Airlie was a fun vineyard to visit. Mary Olson is the owner and she’s from Wisconsin. She also went to Augsburg College in Minneapolis. So she’s got midwestern roots. Another weird coincidence is that she took a history class from a different uncle of mine while at Augsburg. Small world. My trusty “Oregon Wine Country” book has her vineyard on the cover. She also said that the authors went to pretty much every winery that is listed in the book.

Here is Mary:

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Mary is the one that did our tasting. We tasted many wines and the “tasting fee” was a donation jar for local food shelves. I like that idea. We tried their Rose, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Seven, Muller Thurgau, Pinot Noir, Marechal Foch and Port style wine. My favorites were the Seven – which is a blend of 7 grapes, the Gewürztraminer and the Port. The port style wine is named Nudge. The proceeds go to help pay for health care for the workers. The name, Nudge, is an effort for others to do the same. Airlie does have a MN distributor. And I did find it in Colorado when I was there last week. If I can’t wait for my aunt and uncle to get here in the fall, I can go to Surdyk’s to get some.

If you check out the website, there are lots of cool events that happen at Airlie. Later this month, there’s a weekend where people can camp overnight and Mary makes blackberry pancakes for breakfast. What made this visit so memorable, was listening to Mary tell about the wines and being in such a lovely atmosphere. I like the personal touches that these Oregon wineries have.