Saturday, November 01, 2008
I was able to take a video of our place here in Seattle, though. It's pretty grainy - I guess because it was done on my phone. Hope you enjoy!
Sunday, July 06, 2008
We left Rob’s pretty early so we’d have time to explore a bit once we reached Wall, SD. Most of the drive through northwestern Iowa was more of the same: lots and lots of corn. In South Dakota the landscape changed a bit. The cornfields were interspersed with hayfields and pasture lands. We saw one herd of buffalo and tons of cows.
At lunchtime we stopped in Mitchell, SD, home of the world famous Corn Palace. Supposedly the façade of this basketball gymnasium is made entirely from corn. It was a bit anticlimactic, but one of those necessary places of lore that one must visit when driving through South Dakota. Corn Palace was in downtown Mitchell, away from the fast food restaurants closer to the interstate, so we moseyed on in to Betty’s Café. It was bustling with locals of all ages who’d come right over from church. Our order was brusquely taken by the waitress, and about 10 minutes later a pile of slop was thrown down in front of me.
My experience with cafes and plate lunches has mostly been positive. In Louisiana, a run-down café in a long-forgotten downtown will usually serve up some mean red beans and rice (think Lea’s in Lecompte or Bourbon Street Café at Shop-Rite in Jennings). But that scenario plays out much differently in South Dakota. My turkey slices were accompanied by some peas and carrots straight out of the can and instant mashed potatoes smothered in white gravy.
We made it through the meal unscathed, though, then stopped by Cabela’s for some man-time. Massive sporting goods stores are so much fun! (C just couldn’t figure out why I enjoyed being there).
The drive from Mitchell to Badlands National Park was brutally long and desolate, but the sites awaiting us were spectacular. The Badlands (so named by fur traders in the olden days) are a vast area of sharply eroded buttes and pinnacles. The National Park includes the largest protected mixed-grass prairie in the U.S. One theory is that this area was once a huge watering hole that eventually dried up. That might account for the large numbers of prehistoric fossils found in the area.
We hiked some up the rock and through a meadow before making our way to the Days Inn, Wall, SD – our home away from home.
Saturday, July 05, 2008
After breakfast we plopped ourselves down at a downtown Starbucks to get some more prep-work done for our new jobs. I’ve always been a fan of the Starbucks business model, but usually head to smaller, locally-owned coffee shops because of the unique atmosphere and free Wifi. Well, Starbucks now offer free Wifi through AT&T – you just need to use a Starbucks gift card to make your purchase, and set up an account with AT&T. It’s a pretty good deal.
We had two-day tickets to the 80/35 festival, so by noon we were out on the music grounds. We saw Drive-By Truckers, a southern rock band in the modern mold of Lynyrd Skynyrd; ….., and Yonder Mountain String Band – a fantastic bluegrass ensemble. The weather has been incredible all weekend (we even got a little chilly last night). The last act of the evening was The Roots, but by that time C and I were pretty beat, so we headed back to Rob’s place to get a full night of sleep before our drive across South Dakota.
Friday, July 04, 2008
We passed some areas that still had visible signs of the flooding that ravaged the area a few weeks ago. One small lake was still well beyond its normal bounds, and we saw some extensive sandbagging along parts of the highway. All in all, though, it seems to have drained well.
Speaking of farmland…the Midwest has been synonymous with corn for a while now, but wow, corn fields stretch as far as the eye can see! This is the agricultural industrial complex at its finest. It was a little depressing, though, knowing that millions of our tax dollars are being poured into this area via subsidies, feeding the corn-producing machine. I’ve also been reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, which laments the problem, so I’ve been on a bit of a tirade against corn recently.
Soon after entering Iowa we stopped for lunch in the little town of Mount Pleasant. We resisted the urge to pop into the nearest fast food joint, and instead drove to downtown. It was a quintessential Midwestern town with a town square surrounded by run-down shops and restaurants. We picked the most authentic-looking café and went in for a couple of burgers and fries. It was obvious that we were out-of-towners, but our waitress was really nice.
The rest of the drive into Des Moines was pretty long and uneventful. There’s not a whole lot going on in Iowa besides corn. Des Moines, though, was a nice-looking city. In most of the bigger cities we’ve passed through, there’s been a ton of development happening. I’ve read that this has to do with a younger generation coming of age, wanting urban living as portrayed in popular shows like Seinfeld and Friends. It’s also being driven by rising fuel costs – it’s no longer as exciting to live in the suburbs and pay the costs of commuting.
Upon arrival, we met up with my friend Rob for the first annual 80-35 music festival. We caught a few smaller bands, then ended the night with the Flaming Lips. Some magazine has called them one of the top 25 bands to see before you die, and it was certainly a spectacle. The lead singer rolled out into the audience inside of a translucent ball, and the stage backdrop was a continual psychedelic light show. But the scene wasn’t really our style. We were pretty tired from a long day of driving, and hundreds of drunk, smoking hippies and hipsters aren’t our crowd. Needless to say, we slept well that night.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Our first adventure of the day took us to Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. We took the $10 stadium tour led by a retired school teacher and HUGE Cards fan. He took us all over the stadium, on four different levels. We visited the high-dollar suites, the press box, then ended in the home team's dugout. It was pretty cool to see such a massive structure completely empty.
After the stadium tour we headed north along the river, back to the Gateway Arch. C was scared to take the pod to the top, so we settled for watching a film about Lewis and Clark on the big screen. It gave us a little perspective on how differently we're traveling today compared to the unimaginable trials they went through as they took a similar course across the country. We also decided to support our national parks by becoming annual pass holders. We'll have to make sure we get our money's worth!
Our grand finale was a tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. I'm a big beer snob and can't handle too many of their brews, but it was nonetheless a cool visit. The scale at which they produce beer is phenomenal. The size and age of the brewery complex was also impressive. Many of the original buildings were built more than a hundred years ago, and the complex sits on 100 acres of land! We took the tour, then I imbibed in a couple of their more respectable brews.
Tonight we bunked with Neda, an LSU friend in med school at Washington University. She took us to a great Scottish bar for dinner - one of our best of the trip so far.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
After our run we got coffee at Fido, a coffee shop that was the former home of a pet store. If you haven't been able to tell, C and I are big coffee shop fans. Ironically, she doesn't like coffee, or any hot drinks for that matter, but we both like the ambiance. There's usually great music and a quiet atmosphere - both conducive to getting work done.
We hit the road mid-morning heading to St. Louis. We ended up visiting four states today - Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri. It was another pleasant drive. Western Kentucky offered miles of pastoral rolling farmland, and we only got turned around a couple of times. Collectively, I think we've lost about an hour of time doing this road trip the old-fashioned way: with a road atlas and a few selected Google Maps printouts. With no GPS device, I think we're doing it pretty close to the way Lewis and Clark explored the West.
Downtown St. Louis is a beautiful place. The architecture was remarkable, and the preservation of older buildings was really commendable. C got a fantastic deal on Priceline.com for our first night there. We paid $60 for the Hyatt in the old Union Station. The entrance of the station served as the hotel's main lobby, and the rest of the station has been converted into a shopping mall. Whomever designed this place deserves awards! It is a model of historic preservation.
We made it to the hotel in just enough time to drop our bags then walk to Busch Stadium to catch the Cardinals vs. the Mets. The rain came down hard for about an hour during the third inning, so the game was delayed. When it stopped, it was getting late so we headed back to the hotel before the next wave of thunderstorms moved in. Troy Glaus hit his second homer of the game in the bottom of the ninth to win it for St. Louis.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Breakfast consisted of banana's foster French toast and bacon, with a couple of sourdough biscuits on the side. It was heavenly! It made up for our below average dinner the night before. After breakfast we sat in rocking chairs on the inn's back porch, doing work on our laptops and watching birds eat at the feeders.
We got on the road mid-morning and headed toward Nashville. The first part of the drive was the prettiest, as we passed through a couple of small rural towns. We rolled into Nashville around 2 p.m. and were able to catch lunch with a buddy of mine in med school at Vanderbilt. After that we found the place we were staying. Another friend from LSU let us stay at his place for a night - he was back home visiting his family.
The main event of the day was a trip to the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry started in 1925 as a weekly radio broadcast, and hasn't missed a week since. Today they do three broadcasts a week, and we were lucky to be in town for one of them. This was my second time visiting, Courtney's first, and we both loved it. We saw Pam Tillis, Terri Clark, and a great young songwriter named Eric Church (see video below).
After the Opry we drove to the airport to pick up our second car of the trip - a Chevy HHR. Then we dropped our red Suzuki off at its new home. Unfortunately, we didn't take many photos today.
Monday, June 30, 2008
Total miles driven: about 350
Miles per gallon on the first tank: 28.08
Number of times Courtney has gone to sleep in the car: 0
We got up early (6:30) for a run about Asheville. It's a beautiful city. I think what's most remarkable is the gorgeous architecture. It just seems like cities aren't as adventurous today with their buildings. Or, if they are, they end up looking like that ugly 1970s cement stuff. Anyway, the weather was wonderful - a little north of 70 degrees.
After our run we hit the hotel gym for a few minutes, then got ready to go. At around 9 we got to the Dripolator, a cozy coffee shop just south of downtown. We did a couple hours of work for our new jobs before they kicked us out (not literally, but we got kicked off of their free wifi after two hours). We got some solid work done.
For lunch we went back to the Grove Park Inn. Courtney begged me to go to the Sunset Terrace restaurant, and I'm glad we did. We shared a salmon BLT and a mixed greens salad. Both were delicious, and the view couldn't be beat.
The driving today wasn't all that far, but it was on windy mountain roads, so we took our time. Passing through the small towns on the way to Smoky Mountains National Park was exciting. They were littered with kitschy campgrounds and small-time theme parks. It was America at it's best, and a primer for our eventual destination, Gatlinburg. Some people are turned off by the tourist traps, but it kind of refreshes me. I think it's testament to the freedom and diversity we have in America. Sure, it's kind of ugly, but beautiful on a non-aesthetic level. You sure don't come across this kind of stuff in France. It's remarkable that there's a market for it all.
We gave some serious thought to visiting the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, NC, but we decided to get on into the National Park instead. At the entrance of the park was a well-done replication of a mountain farm village. All of the buildings were original and were relocated to that spot. It was neat seeing how many different crops can be grown in this temperate climate.
Driving through the park was relaxing. The nature of the mountain highway only allows you to go about 40 mph, so we cruised along leisurely. The temperature varied from 64 degrees to about 75, depending on our elevation. The views were really unique. There's a haze that hangs over the mountains (hence the "Smokies" moniker) that Wikipedia tells me is from the hydrocarbons released by the vegetation. The deep green of the trees next to the blue skies also give the mountains a blue aura - which is why the neighboring range is called the Blue Ridge.
Popping out of the park to the north ran us right through Gatlinburg. Wow, what a site! It was like a one-mile stretch straight out of Pinocchio's Pleasure Island (minus the drunk kids). There's a fun park on every corner, with everything imaginable in between - wax museums, Ripley's Believe-it-or-not, an aquarium, you name it. It was once again a celebration of America - a paradoxical example both of all that is wonderful and all that is wrong with this country. A veritable feast for the senses!
We hurried through town (well, as fast as traffic would allow), to get to the Buckhorn Inn, our first bed and breakfast of the trip. What a contrast it was to the glitz of town. The inn is situated in the foothills of the Smokies, surrounded by pine and hemlock. It has an incredible view from the back porch and is as tranquil as can be. I give it a five stars.
Dinner, on the other hand, wasn't as inspiring, but you can't win em' all. It being Monday night, we retired to our room to watch the second-to-last episode of The Bachelorette.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Today's driving was pretty reasonable - we're just getting warmed up. Florence to Asheville, NC, is only about 230 miles. At mile 120 we stopped to use the restroom and C took the wheel. She lasted about 60 miles, then I took over again. We station-hopped for most of it, catching the entirety of A Prairie Home Companion on NPR.
There's not much to see across the mid-section of South Carolina, but as we got closer to the border of NC, we were in the midst of rolling hills and verdant forests - the foothills of the Appalachians. We caught a brief glimpse of the Blue Ridge Parkway as we crossed a couple of trickling rivers and valleys.
When we arrived in Asheville, our first stop was the Grove Park Inn. C wanted to stay here in celebration of our anniversary, but we couldn't quite swing the price of a night's lodging. Instead, we settled on a day at their spa - the first spa visit ever for each of us. We ended up spending 5.5 hours there. I felt a little self-absorbed, pampering myself for that long, but it sure was enjoyable. I spent my time bouncing between the eucalyptus-infused steam room, the 140-degree sauna, the mineral pool and the various hot tubs. When I needed a break, I relaxed in the fireside lounge with my book. All of this lazing about was broken up by a 50-minute deep tissue massage.
Bye the end of the afternoon, we were exhausted! Who'd have thought that being lazy would be so draining. We left the Grove Park Inn and checked into the Renaissance downtown Asheville. C got this for $80 on Priceline.com - a fraction of what a night at Grove Park would've cost us.
We rounded out the evening with dinner at Bistro 1896, a sidewalk cafe downtown. The mountain air was a welcome respite from the humidity of lowcountry South Carolina. Dessert at Marble Slab topped it off, then we headed back to hit the sack.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Soon we'll begin our new jobs recruiting for Teach For America in the Pacific Northwest, but in the meantime, we've got to get there. So, in celebration of this transition, as well as our first anniversary, we are embarking on the Mother of all Road Trips! A 3,000 mile journey across North America that will ultimately include three different cars and 10 days of driving.
Seattle, here we come!
Saturday, March 22, 2008
P.S. Courtney helped a lot more this time than last :)
Thursday, March 06, 2008
I can't possibly list all of the things I've learned from this experience, and this won't be my farewell, reflective post. But I have definitely learned some things about management. The morale among teachers at my school is generally low, and this can be attributed to a couple of specific factors controlled by my principal. Another glaring gap in the leadership at both of our schools is extremely unfortunate. At the beginning of the school year, Courtney and I were very open to staying in the classroom a third year. It's been a series of instances where we've been treated as something less than professionals, along with many instances where our input wasn't listened to nor valued, that has led to this decision.
The final frustrating piece was that about two months ago we were asked by our principals whether we'd be returning next year. We were fairly sure of our answer, but didn't want to rule anything out just yet, so we said "not sure." During the following two months, our principals never once approached us to talk to us about our decision, or encourage us to stay. Knowing the impact we've had on our students, we're confident that we've done a great job. This, however, left us feeling unwanted and little-valued.
We've seen countless problems and inefficiencies that are contributing to the failure of schools like ours to provide a relevant, meaningful and sufficient education. The most glaring problem, however, is school leadership. The job of principal is a difficult and multi-faceted leadership position, and we must have competent and capable people leading these schools.
Leadership/management lessons learned:
1. Encourage open lines of communication, and consider all perspectives and opinions
2. Do everything in your power to retain your highest performing and highest quality employees
Monday, February 25, 2008
Courtney and I spent the three days of President's Day weekend on Molokai, population 7,400. The island stood in stark contrast to the others we've visited - both in its lack of people, and in its arid landscape. Most of the island is covered in agriculture, brush, and cattle. It has no obstetrician, only midwives, and no Wal-Mart! We rented an enormous house with seven of our buddies, spending most of our time out on the huge lanai (balcony/deck), watching humpback whales play in the seas between Molokai and Lanai.
On our final day there, we visited Kalaupapa peninsula, an isolated piece of land on the northern coast of the island, where for more than fifty years Hawaiians with leprosy were dumped to fend for themselves. Twenty-seven patients still live in the colony, along with about 150 National Park Service and Department of Transportation (who run the tiny airport) workers. There's one subsidized grocery store, and one gas station. The only way in is a 1.5 hr hike down the tallest sea cliffs in the world, by plane, or by boat. You can learn more about the history of the colony by watching the movie Molokai. Click on the slideshow below for captions.
Monday, February 04, 2008
We have a reading program called Accelerated Reader (both Courtney and I used this program in elementary school). The students read a book, then take a computerized comprehension test. The program assigns them a certain number of points based on the reading level, length of the book, and how well they did on the test. It's a phenomenal way for me to track what/how much they are reading, as well as how well they're understanding it. It's also a great motivation tool for the students. It's primarily used by 3rd-6th grade at our school.
Today I was looking at our school's "dashboard" and saw that my fifth graders are averaging 28 minutes of reading a day (almost all of it done outside of school) compared with 21 minutes by the fourth grade (of which I teach 15), and 11 minutes per day in sixth grade. My 38 students have read a total of 9,000,000 million words this year - the school's total is 17,000,000.
We're making lots of progress, and it's exciting. It astonishes me more and more that there are those who believe students like mine aren't as capable or somehow don't deserve as much as students in wealthier communities. An excellent education should be a RIGHT for all children in this great country.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Ireland has recently imposed a $0.33 fee for each plastic bag, and this New York Times story tells about its impact - they saw a 94% decrease in plastic bag usage within weeks.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Cinnamon and Kayle had the most creative superheroes.
My superhero's name is Tuxedo Man. His superpower is that he cleans all of the world's tuxedos. His weakness is stains.
My superhero's name is Mr. Landry. His superpower is that he teaches kids lots of things like how to read. His weakness is when his students don't do their homework. (hilarious if you can imagine how mad I get when my students don't do their homework)
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Last year I made the most of what I had - I used my three Imacs, then "borrowed" three more from other teachers who weren't using them. With these six computers I introduced my students to typing and to the Internet. I thought, however, that as we close on the first decade of the third millennium, my students needed and deserved a whole lot more than this. In their lifetime, these kids are going to be using technology at every turn. Typing today is much more valuable than cursive, and encyclopedias are yesterday's game. There's absolutely no excuse for a 10-year-old to be computer-illiterate.
Given all of this, I asked (or, sort of begged) people for computers. Finally, I discovered a gold mine. A colleague teaching at a nearby high school said his school had recently updated all of their computers and had a mountain of old Imacs (the same model that my school is still using) that they'd like to get rid of. Over the course of a couple of months last semester, I rounded up enough computers to ensure that ALL of my students would have their own! I now have 19 computers in my classroom. Each day my students spend about 15 minutes on a typing tutor, and we are just now venturing into other aspects of the Internet. Hopefully we'll soon start utilizing the class blog that I set up at http://mrlandry.blogspot.com. We'll have to just figure out a way to get around the DOE's ridiculous content filter (way too restrictive).
Thanks to my father-in-law for coming through with some Ethernet cables. I asked my school for some at the beginning of the school year, and by the end of the first semester I still hadn't received them.
Friday, January 04, 2008
To My Twenties
by Keneth Koch
How lucky that I ran into you
When everything was possible
For my legs and arms, and with hope in my heart
And so happy to see any woman
O woman! O my twentieth year!
Basking in you, you
Oasis from both growing and decay
Fantastic unheard of nine- or ten-year oasis
A palm tree, hey! And then another
And another and water!
I'm still very impressed by you. Whither,
Midst falling decades, have you gone? Oh in what lucky fellow,
Unsure of himself, upset, and unemployable
For the moment in any case, do you live now?
From my window I drop a nickel
By mistake. With
You I race down to get it
But I find there on
The street instead, a good friend,
X---- N------, who says to me
Kenneth do you have a minute?
And I say yes! I am in my twenties!
I have plenty of time! In you I marry,
In you I first go to France; I make my best friends
In you, and a few enemies. I
Write a lot and am living all the time
And thinking about living. I loved to frequent you
After my teens and before my thirties.
You three together in a bar
I always preferred you because you were midmost
Most lustrous apparently strongest
Although now that I look back on you
What part have you played?
You never, ever, were stingy.
What you gave me you gave whole
But as for telling
Me how best to use it
You weren't a genius at that.
Twenties, my soul
Is yours for the asking
You know that, if you ever come back.