Sunday, March 27, 2005

The new project has begun!

Pop on over here for my latest project. Last year I wrote a novel. I intended to rewrite it and publish it online, and charge, like, a dollar for it. Not that it isn't worth much more than that, but I was thinking about the first book I co-authored, Digital Prepress Complete, and how, after everyone took their cut, we made about a dollar off ever $50 book that was sold. Hence, when I hear about all these copyright laws that are supposed to be protecting my rights as a creator. Protecting everyone else's profits is more like, since we had a fairly good contract when it came right down to it, which meant that only 92% of the profit of the sales of the book went to everyone else. So I was thinking if I could connect directly with the reader, eliminating all the middle leaches, I could sell the book for a dollar and still make more money.

I still plan on doing that. However, I realized that it is going to take a lot more rewriting than I initially thought. This is because I initially wrote the novel to be a serial in the old movie matinee sense. A series of ten episodes, each with increasingly perilous cliffhangers and shocking revelations. I intended for there to be a gap between reading each chapter, to build anticipation and make the reader anxious to find out what happens next.

I just didn't find it to be as much fun when I put it all together as a novel. So here I am presenting it as it was intended, in serial form. I am rewriting it now to be a better serial, not to be a better novel. I'll be adding a new episode every week. I'll also be maintaining an accompanying blog. When it is all done, I'll rewrite it once again to make it into a novel, which I will sell online and try to publish, for reasons I've written about in the new blog already, and won't repeat here.

I really want lots of feedback on the new project! I want to take it from "pretty good" to "totally cool" and feedback from you, dear reader, can make all the difference in the world. Or multiverse, as the case may be. Heh.

It is a fun serial, called Castles. It is a kind of mystical action adventure coming of age story. It is also about castles in every interpertation of the word. Someone once said, neurotics build castles in the clouds, psychotics live in them. Both kind are in the book, as are the castle walls we build around ourselves for protection, but also wind up keeping people out who might be friends, allies or lovers at the same time. It is also about the castle, an important chess move.

Go give it a try! Click on Episode One for a pdf file of the first chapter. I'll be adding another every week. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

100 Cups of Coffee: Thank you, and Good Night!

Thanks for coming, everyone! This experiment is essentially at an end. I've got to do a few tweaks here and there, and make sure I filled out all the placeholder entries, but I'm done with the regular updates.

Was the experiment a success? I'm not sure. I learned from it, which was the point. It would have been nice to have more comments, but then, I never went out of my way to promote this blog, and my entries were, for the most part, pretty mundane and non-controversial. Not the sorts of things that really warrant comments! I also picked the worst time to do this blog. December through March are my most boring months out of the year. I strive to be a complete recluse, hiding under the blankets and seldom doing anything more than watching TV. The rest of the year I lead a life of action and adventure, I assure you!

I recommend doing something like this to everyone. Take a subject that is static and non-controversial and write about it for far longer than is sensible. Try to keep it interesting. Try never to repeat yourself. I've never heard of this as an excercise for developing one's writing skills, but it is definately a good workout.

I think I cheated too many times, though. I am dissappointed in myself for that. I think too many entries were shaggy dog stories. If you're not familiar with that term, a shaggy dog story is a long, rambling tale that purports to be about a shaggy dog, but after going on and on about nothing to do with a shaggy dog, the narrator says, "and then a shaggy dog walked by..." and continues with the rambling. I felt like too many times I said, "blah blah blah, and then I drank a cup of coffee, blah blah blah." I think a bigger challenge would have been to write about 100 cups of coffee but not bring in any information that doesn't directly relate to the cup of coffee. It'd also be a good way to go crazy! But what a divine madness it would be. You'd be the best writer about coffee in the world by the time you were done.

I am more pleased with the photos than I am with my writing. I think they managed to stay focused specifically on the coffee more than the writing did. I also think they improved more over time than the writing did.

I am not sure I actually wrote anything good in this blog. But it is hard to have perspective. When I feel like I've written something good is when the writing writes itself and it just flows out, and when I stop I can't really remember what I've written. That never happened with this blog. It happened with my novel, mid-way through the third chapter. After that the effort was just keeping my body moving long enough for the words to get out. The book wrote itself.

I doubt that I'm done writing about coffee. I'm planning on pitching to the Bangor Daily News that they let me do a regular column on coffee. Only this time it will have a different slant. I want to find the best cup of coffee in Maine. When the SCAA gives its Golden Cup Award, they don't actually visit the coffee shop. Instead, a sample of the coffee and the water used is mailed to them, and they analyze it in a lab. To me, this is useful in establishing the ballpark, but the chemistry of the coffee is just one small part of the equation of what makes a great cup of coffee. It is atmosphere, mood and je ne sais quois. Context. So I want to travel around the state to find the best cup of coffee in it. I want it to be a community effort, too. I want people to contact me about the places they think are the best, and I will go and meet them there, and drink coffee with them, and chat. Part restaurant review, part travelogue... I want to be the Hunter S. Thompson of coffee!

You can help make this happen. If you've been reading this blog and enjoying it, please write a few kind words of praise that I can quote from. I'm putting together a press kit to send to the Bangor Daily, and having positive reviews to include would be a great thing!

I said that the next thing I wrote about was going to be about quitting coffee. I lied. To do that I'm going to need a few days when I can be completely out of circulation while I go through withdrawals, and I've got too much going on right now. It looks like July, maybe August I'll be able to spare the time.

So, next I'm going to be blogging about John Milton's Paradise Lost. Why? It is a challenge. It is a great poem, but it has been analyzed and written about so much. What new does anyone have to say about it? I certainly bring nothing to the table when it comes to talking about Paradise Lost. So that is my challenge: find something new to say about Paradise Lost. Oh, and to up the ante, make it interesting reading for people who've never read it and could care less about literary analysis.

Why do I feel compelled to do these things to myself? Do other writers set out to make things difficult for themselves? When I wrote my novel, I decided to write an entire novel in four months (while I was also teaching and taking classes). I need to write another novel. I also need to edit the first one and actually do something with it, like try to get it published. My experience with the publishing industry has been so awful, though, that I am reluctant to ever deal with it again. I know there are a number of writers out there who use blogging as part of their writing, but I haven't investigated them yet, suprisingly. I should.

Anyhoo... I'll post a link to this blog when I start my next experiment, and if there's some interesting epilogue, I'll post that, too. So, thanks for reading, everyone! Have a safe drive home. Let's meet for coffee some time soon!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Cup 105: Cafe on the Corner

Cafe on the Corner
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Café on the Corner, Dover, New Hampshire
When: March 8, 2005
Who: Jessica Brakeley
Coffee: Port City Rocket Fuel
Mood: Happy

Here's a rundown of the Portsmouth area towns and their nicknames:
Somersworth = Scummersworth
Rochester = Raunchester
Dover = Dirty Dover
Portsmouth = Pretentious Portsmouth

The other town either don't rate nicknames, or I don't know them. Scummersworth and Raunchester, but I've lived and worked in Dirty Dover and Pretentious Portsmouth, and I have to say, Dover's alleged dirtiness has been its salvation. Portsmouth looks pretty, but it has become unlivable. The people who run that city should be shot as traitors. They've betrayed the people who lived there in service to the landlords and business owners. Portsmouth was a great city once, but in recent years all efort has gone into atracting more business and tourism with no concern for the people who lived there. Now it is a bedroom community for Boston. The families who lived there have moved to towns like Kittery and Elliot, while the younger people have moved to Dover. Dover may be "dirty" to Portsmouth's clean, but it is the clean of a hooker who's done herself up to attract johns. Beneath the pretty surface is disease, addiction and despair. I'm so glad I don't live in Portsmouth anymore!

Dover, on the other hand, seems to be trying hard not to become Portsmouth. There are concerts in the park that actually seem to be for the people who live in Dover, instead of the same musical every night all summer long that Portsmouth puts on to entertain the tourists. There are affordable restaurants and pleasant people. And there is the Café on the Corner, where people gather for good coffee and pleasant coversation. Sure, there may be places like that in Portsmouth, but in Dover there is a pleasant lack of people who are out to be seen, who are more concerned with how they are dressed and who is looking at them than with actually enjoying life.

The Café on the Corner is a microsm of Dover. It is a big place, but not so big that it feels cold. Windows wrap around the whole place so you can see the entire corner it takes its name from. It isn't that pretty a view, but the openness is nice. And you can see Baldface Books acrosss the street on the other corner. Used bookstore fans, Dover is worth a special trip just for Baldface books! There are rooms and rooms of books. If I hadn't already gone broke on the bookstores in Portland, I would have done it here! They also have CDs and a great vinyl selection, too. So you can pick up something good to read, then go hang in the big, comfy chairs at the Café.

The coffee at the Café made me happy. Of these past hundred-odd cups the coffee here was the best. The coffee was Rocket Fuel, from Port City Coffee Roasters out of Portsmouth (Port City, The Friendly Toast, and Jumpgate, a scifi/game/comic book store are Portsmouth's three redeeming qualities). Port City, as I've said before, is the best coffee roaster I know of within a day's drive. It was a rich blend, deep and authoritative without being agressive, like a kettle drum in an orchestra.

Suprisingly, the coffee here is better than at Port City's own café. Maybe it is the Dover water, or maybe their equipment is better, or maybe it is just the atmosphere. The café is very welcoming. You don't have to be trendy or beautiful (or a young urban professional) to set foot in there. While we were there, a woman hung out with her two kids. In the window seat a grandmother chatted with her granddaughter. College kids lounged in the overstuffed chairs and did their homework. It was a variety of people you just don't see at the cafés in Portsmouth or Portland, for that matter. It was a good place to end our vacation with, and a perfect cup of coffee for the last cup in this blog.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Cup 104: Double Capuccino at Arabica

double capuccino at Arabica
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Arabica, Portland, ME
When: 12:30 pm, March 7 2005
Who: Jessica Brakeley, Lisa O'Quinn
Coffee: Arabica's Capuccino
Mood: content

I usually don't do capuccino. Despite what most people think, the process used to make espresso extracts less caffiene from the beans than coffee does, so really, you're paying more and getting less. But Arabica's coffee, well I make an exception there, because their capuccino is a work of art. It is has a swirly sensuality that would get Georgia O'Keefe excited. The ones made by the owner are truly beautiful, to the point where I almost hate to drink them and make that beauty go away.

I don't know if Arabica is still run by the original people, but I was very impressed by them. I wish I knew their names so I could give them credit. I was a regular when they first opened, so I know the look and feel of the place was all theirs, not something they hired someone to create for them. The tables, for example, were built from old barn boards because they were free. Instead of covering up the bare brick walls, they scrubbed them down. The place has a beautiful, warm, rustic feel to it, and I'm so impressed that it came from creative problem solving. For a while Arabica was open for reduced hours. The owner couldn't find staff that he thought was good enough. Most places would have been content with just any warm body keeping the place open, but he didn't want to compromise the quality.

Again, I am missing... well, not the city, exactly. I don't think I'd want to live in Portland again. I don't miss the traffic, or the crime. I remember the first week I moved to Portland. I put a door mat in the hallway outside the door of my second-story apartment. It said WELCOME in big, flowery letters. Someone stole it. But I miss being able to go to a used bookstore and finding so many books I want that I feel overwhelmed, as opposed to searching in vain for something to buy. I miss cafés. I miss having options of breakfast places.

We were hanging out at Arabica, in the window seat. I had a remarkably awkward moment where I'm sitting, hoping that Jessie isn't noticing me checking out that hot chick walking by, and then realizing that the hot chick is actually my best friend's wife. Double-secret-guilt-whammy!

Cup 103: Monday Breakfast at the Friendship

Where: The Friendship Café, Portland, ME
When: 10 am, March 7, 2005
Who: Jessica Brakeley
Coffee: unknown
Mood: relaxed

In 1998, Portland, Maine had the highest per capita of both lawyers and restaurants in the USA. I don't know if this still holds true, but I do know that Portland has one heck of a lot of places to dine. That's one thing I miss most about Portland. What I don't get, though, is why everything is closed on Monday. Our first choice for breakfast was The Porthole, currently my favorite breakfast spot in the city. The Porthole is out on a wharf and the walk to the front door is skanky, filthy and has an air of danger... or is that just rotting fish? The Porthole used to be a depressing mediocre diner, but it is now under new management and has new cooks. You can actually get an omelette with brie and portabello mushrooms there. The food and service are consistantly great, but the city doesn't seem to have discovered how much the place has changed, so you can usually get a table without a wait. Just not on Mondays.

Fortunately, The Friendship Café is open Mondays. The Friendship is a great restaurant on Congress, but I always forget about it since it is past all the useful things on Congress. I do it a disservice. The Friendship has never let me down. The food is always good, and they seem to want to make the "Friendship" part mean something. At least, the waitresses seem to be a degree friendlier than most other restaurants, a genuine friendly, not the "I'm being nice to get a better tip," friendly. The Friendship is a clean, well-lighted place, always bright and cheerful, even in this winter's bitter cold dreariness. Today's breakfast was an asparagus omelette with green coconut curry sauce. I never would have thought to make anything like it, so it was an exotic twist to an old standard. I think the chef might have felt a little insecure about it, because I heard the waitress saying to her, "He really likes the omelette a whole lot." Props to the waitress for knowing the vanishing art of proper coffee timing. Too often, and you're an interrupting nuisance. Not often enough, and the diner winds up drinking cold dregs. You have to be able to sense when there's about half a cup left, and be there to refil it. This keeps the coffee at optimum drinking temperature throughout the meal.

Today is a grand day in Portland because Jessie and I have nowhere to be, no plans to do anything but wander around and spend money and do the touristy thing in a city we both used to live in.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Cup 102: Sunday Night at the Friendly Toast

Where: The Friendly Toast, Portsmouth NH
When: Sunday, March 6, 5 pm
Who: Matt & Mike Curti
Coffee: unknown
Mood: Happy

I am bruised and sore from sledding. You know, sledding just didn't seem this self-abusive the last time I went. That was 25 or so years ago and an hundred pounds lighter, though. It was still fun after all these years, though! The afternoon trip to Portland didn't pan out. My friends never called me back. I'd be upset about that, but it means I get to have boys night out with my favorite brother-in-law and favorite nephew. Of course, they are my only brother-in law and nephew, but I'm sure they'd still be my favorites even if I had dozens of them. I'm always happy that my sister married such a great guy, and I couldn't ask for a cooler nephew. Caritha and Sofia didn't want to go out to dinner, so it was just us men. Two of my favorite people at my favorite restaurant!

A word about The Friendly Toast. You are going to think I'm making this up, but I swear it is true. My friend Matt Jasper was married to Melissa Jasper. The marriage kind of fell apart when Melissa, as Matt put it, "ran off with the 6 foot tall lesbian guitarist from the band Motorpussy." They divorced. She kept the name Jasper. Matt remarried to Beatrice Weathersby, a Costa Rican circus performer who co-authored medical textbooks with her dad even though she dropped out of high school. Melissa and Beatrice became friends while they were working at the Salvation Army in Dover, NH. They took home all the best artifacts from the Salvation Army. Bizzarre or kitschy paintings, old advertisements, weird sculptures and so on. Then Melissa and Beatrice opened a restaurant and decorated it with all the stuff they'd been saving. Matt washed dishes. It moved a couple of times, settling in downtown Portsmouth. The location may have changed, but the eccentricity only increased. Now it is the size of small warehouse, and its walls are a museum of bad art and design mayhem. A non-nostalgic look back at a past many would just as soon forget, but others find beautiful and hip. Like pointy-tipped eyeglasses and Russ Meyer movies. Beatrice sold her half of the restaurant to Melissa. Melissa remarried, to a man. He changed his last name to Jasper...

The Friendly Toast could probably get by just on the decor, but that is just where it starts. The menu is vast, containing a hundred or more items ranging from ordinary to exotic to things you might eat on a dare, if your honor was on the line, or if you were really, really drunk. There is a wonderful variety of vegetarian items, and even the non-vegetarian items you can usually get with meat substitute. I've never been disappointed by anything I've eaten there, and I've eaten there a whole lot. And all the food comes in astonishing quantities. And the toast? Yes, it is friendly. Fresh baked just for them, usually about two inches thick and fried in butter. Again, it ranges from the mundane white and wheat, to the exotic, like the chipotle chili and cheddar bread I had this evening.

Mike got egg-in-a-hole. Egg-in-a-hole is fun. Take a slice of bread and a glass. Mash the glass, top-down into the bread to cut out a circle from the middle of the bread. Then put it in a frying pan, drop an egg into the whole, and fry it up! Matt had the Almond Joy pancake. Chocolate chips, coconut, almonds in a pancake that put the "cake" back in pancake. I got the Peasant Breakfast. Not sure why it is called that. It was two piles of food on a plate. The first was tofu, carrots, corn, rice, and other fun, and the second was black beans, spinach and other things I can't remember right now, but it was wonderful and delicious and I ate way more than I should have and enjoyed every minute of it.

I usually don't drink coffee that late into the evening, but I still had a drive ahead of me. The Friendly Toast has a distinct coffee. Not sure where they get it from. There is a charred harshness to it that is not unpleasant yet is uniquely Friendly Toast.

Matt wants to go there regularly. He makes me such a proud uncle! He loves the food and the atmosphere. It was the first time out with just da boyz. I guess that is one advantages to Matt and Sofie getting older. They can start doing things without each other and without both parents and have it be okay.

This time away from Orono has been good for me. I haven't felt depressed at all since I got out of town.

Cup 101: Pinewood Derby

pinewood derby
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Curti residence, Kittery, Maine
When: 8;30 am March 6, 2005
Who: Matt, Sofia, Caritha & Mike Curti
Coffee: Avalon Organic
Mood: jovial

So much to do today! Matt has to get ready for the Pinewood Derby. We've got games to play on the Nintendo DS. We're going sledding, and I have to leave for Portland in the afternoon... better fuel up for a strenuous day!

The coffee is Avalon Organic, which my sister got from me during her last trip home. She was quite mortified when I publicly dissed her coffee during my last trip, so she said she'd keep the Avalon Organic on hand so I'd have coffee that I couldn't complain about. Of course now she's probably pulling the old bait-and-switch on me, and is serving me Market Basket coffee and telling me it is the coffee I gave her, just to get revenge...

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Cup 100: Little Dog

little dog
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Little Dog, Brunswick, ME
When: 4:00 pm, March 5, 2005
Who: the regulars
Coffee: Little Dog's house blend (from Coffee by Design)
Mood: nostalgic

The Bohemian is gone. Too bad. I used to detour there on my way from Kittery to Orono because the coffee was really good and it had the shabby coolness of a West Coast coffee shop. Fortunately just up the block Little Dog has opened. It's much bigger than the Bohemian, and it has that East Coast fastidiousness, but the coffee is good and they have big comfy chairs and couches, and plenty of tables. It appears to be "the spot" in Brunswick. The place was absolutely packed! I was able to snag the last overstuffed chair.

They serve coffee from Coffee by Design. Times have changed! When I lived in Portland, Coffee by Design was this long, narrow hallway of a coffee shop where the Maine College of Art students hung out. I was a regular, it being a five minute walk from my apartment. Now it appears they are moving up in the world and are selling their own blends of coffee to other shops. Good for them. I just hope they don't go the way of Green Mountain. If I start seeing Coffee by Design in Mobil stations, I'll know we're in trouble. For now, though, Coffee by Design is as good as ever.

Sitting in my big, comfy, purple, overstuffed chair I realize something. I miss this. I miss being able to go to a coffee shop and sit, hang out, read, people watch. In Orono there is nowhere to go and just be, and have a friend happen to be walking by and stop and chat. Here there is no "just happened to come across so-and-so." You have to plan every social encounter. It makes me furious to think that there were places like that on campus, but the University destroyed them.

These are important realizations as I try to decide my next move. Within the next few months we have to decide whether to stay in Orono or move to a different town. The closest town to Orono that has a coffee shop is Belfast. Maybe it is time for a change?

(I was going to stop at 100, but that would leave me in the middle of a trip, so I'll stop when I head back to Orono)

Cup 99: Jim

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Jim Moulton's, Bodoinham, ME
When: noon, March 5, 2005
Who: Jim Moulton
Coffee: unknown
mood: thoughtful

Jim appreciates a good cup of coffee, even if he isn't a heavy coffee drinker. He uses that odd coffee filter that is sort of the autodrip filter shape only it sits on top of the mug. They make fine coffee, but I don't usually use them. Like Bing says, don't mess with Mr. Inbetween, and those are midway between French presses and ADCMs.

Spending time with Jim gives me a headache, but not in a bad way. It isn't often I get to talk about my Really Big Ideas with someone who understands and agrees with me. We've both devoted years of our lives to researching learning technologies, educational reform, and constructionist learning theory. When I talk with most people about such things, the conversation usually gets to the point of me introducing the ideas and explaining why they are important, but with Jim I'm able to start where all these years of thought have led me. It is always very exciting.

The other exciting thing about conversations with Jim. Usually conversations about the problems of the world are never more than just that. With Jim it is more like, okay, we're agreed that this is a problem. What are we going to do to fix it? And then we come up with a plan that is so crazy it just might work. Today was no exception!

Cup 98: On the Road Again

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Orono
When: 9 am, March 5, 2005
Who: Dot & Dash
Coffee: Port City Capone
Mood: exhausted

Why oh why did I think it was a good idea to be in Bodoinham at 11 am? Got back around 7 Friday night, had a couple of hours to veg out to SciFi channel's friday night lineup, then up early to get ready to go. If it was just a trip to Brunswick it wouldn't be such a big deal, but this was just the start. Bodoinham to Brunswick to Kittery saturday, Kittery to Cape Elizabeth Sunday, Cape Elizabeth to Dover to Orono on tuesday... the plants needed watering, the cats needed loving, the dishes needed washing, and life in general had to be put in enough order to leave it alone for a few days since Jessie was already down south at an art educator's conference.

Of course I was late. Hopefully Jim wouldn't hate me too much for that. It was a pot of coffee this morning, from the ADCM. Quitting coffee soon, so I'm overindulging and also I want to be alert for the drive south. Heading east the traffic gets thinner and thinner and you only need to be half-awake. South of here, though, the traffic thickens, the drivers get more aggressive and less considerate, there are more streets, more options, more lanes... I was used to it once, but now I've been in the quiet, laid back life for too long and it all seems big and scary and I get anxious whenever I head south.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Cup 97: Malaise

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Pembroke Elementary
When: 7:30 am, March 5, 2005
Who: everybody! everybody!
Coffee: Folgers
Mood: anxious

I skipped the Mobil station with its marvy coffee lids this morning. I had two Nature Valley Granola bars (Marden's had store display-sized boxes on sale for a couple bucks) in my pocket for breakfast, so I figured early in the morning the coffee at the school would be drinkable enough. It was.

There's a definate malaise about the school today. Fascinating that kids can pick up on things even if they don't know what is causing it. For the first time I actually had kids out to get me. There are always kids who are obnoxious jerks, but that is just their nature, and as annoying as it is, I don't take it personally. But today I had kids who were deliberately trying to test my limits and make me angry. Paula's leaving is part of it. A number of the teachers left early to go to a veteran teacher's funeral, too. Not easy to teach when you're burying a friend. The kids pick up on that stuff. This was the least enjoyable day I've ever spent in Pembroke.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Cup 96: Where's Your Indignation?

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: from Orono to Pembroke
When: March 3, 2005
Who: me
Coffee: Port City Capone (ADC)
Mood: angry

I am on a bender. This blog will conclude on Tuesday, after the hundred-ish cup of coffee (actually, the hundredth would be tomorrow, but I'll be travelling, so I figure I'll just go until I'm back from vacation). So today I made a big pot of coffee in the ADCM and I'll be drinking as much as I can for the "grand finale" and then starting my next blog, Cold Turkey, where I pause from drinking coffee completely and write about withdrawal. It isn't going to be permanent, though. Long enough so that the caffiene starts effecting me again. So today I have a really gigantic mug of coffee sitting beside me on the drive in, oh, and that picture? That isn't a coffee mug. It is a soup bowl...

But anyway, there's something I need to rant about for a minute. Paula Smith, principal at Pembroke, is leaving. She's retiring early, which will mean about a 10% reduction in the amount she'll be making when she retires. This is bad. You know, I don't need to drive two hours to find a school to consult to. I can find places much closer, but I make the drive because Paula is principal in Pembroke. She is regretably unique among school administrators in that her priority is to create the best learning environment possible for the students, and to give the teachers the support they need to make that possible. With Paula, I can explain what technology the school needs and she'll find the money for it. Dealings with other administrators are not so productive. Typically, they'll say something like, "Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Do up a proposal and get me an invoice and I'll bring it up before the board..." and I'll do that and never hear about it again. In Pembroke, though, I can make things happen. Educational consultants are often hired by administrators to let them feel like they are doing something. It is sad, but my fees are the same whether my recommendations get implemented or not. But you know, I am in this because I want to make a positive difference, and in Pembroke I can see that happen. That is primarily because of Paula.

But Paula is leaving, and one of the reasons is that she's being forced to enforce State and National standards that actually prevent teachers from teaching. Students in Maine spend weeks out of the year taking standardized tests. This flies in the face of all recent research into education that shows that standardized tests are not an accurate assessment of what a student has learned. Only very shallow level thinking can be measured in a standardized test. There are many other flaws, but all that aside, ask yourself what you've observed in your own life. I'm operating on the assumption here that schools are supposed to be preparing kids for the real world. How many times in your life outside of school has your success on anything you've done been based on taking a standardized test? Other than a Cosmo quiz, that is? And yet schools are punished if their students don't perform well on these pointless tests. Schools are told "Don't teach to the tests" and then are punished if they don't. What do you think is going to happen? So educational time, instead of being spent preparing for life is being spent preparing for the tests. Meanwhile, veteran teachers are being asked to prove in more and more different ways that they've been doing what they've been doing for years. So much time is being spent proving that teaching and learning is happening that there's no time any real learning to happen. Innovation and creativity in teaching is being stifled. If it doesn't help students on the MEA or meet the Learning Results or No Child Left Behind it doesn't get taught.

As principal, Paula is being asked to make sure her teachers comply with all these new standards. She has to force her school to use educationally unsound practices, and to increase the amount of work and stress in her teacher's lives without giving them any more pay. For many administrators, this wouldn't be a problem. These are the administrators who don't know anything about education and who don't care about their teachers. But Paula cares and she knows what good education is. So she's getting out.

I'm sure she's not the first. She won't be the last. In Maine and in the rest of the country, public education is becoming a horrible place to be for any teacher who cares about their students and who knows anything about educational best practice. We're going to lose all our best teachers: those who care about their students and want what is best for them. What we'll be left with are teachers for whom teaching is just a job. Given that Maine ranks 47th in the nation in starting teacher salary, subtract those who are teaching because they are teaching out of love and a desire to create a positive change in the world, and you're left with those who can't get a job anywhere else. Just the kind of person you want teaching your children and influencing the future of the state!

It doesn't have to be this way. It got this way through the best of intentions. The legislature realized that Maine's schools needed to be improved and tried to do something about it. Unfortunately, their solution (increase testing, increase standards) is making things worse, and preventing other solutions from happening. These aren't bad people, though. Just uninformed. If we want something better for our kids and for the future of our state, though, we parents, teachers and students need to school them. The time to do that is now, though, before we lose all Paula Smiths from the school system and we're left with educators who are just going through the motions and collecting a paycheck.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Cup 95: Glow

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: my office
When: 6:30 am, March 2, 2005
Who: Dot
Coffee: Avalon Organic Italian Roast
Mood: mundane

I switched to the macro lens so I could get way close to the coffee. I was trying to capture the oil slick on the surface of the coffee. You don't get this when you use a paper filter, so, IMHO, an essential part of the coffee gets lost then. So I recommend a gold filter, or a French press. Even a gold filter will still strain out some of the essential coffee-ness, so a French Press is really the only way to get the full-on coffee experience. I was almost dipping the lens in the coffee, but before I could snap the shot, the lens fogged up. I couldn't get the shot I wanted, but the fog on the lens made everything beautiful and glowy and romantic. Now I'm thinking maybe I should carry hot coffee with me wherever I go, and take every picture this way. It certainly would make the world a lot prettier! And I could call it my coffee filter!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Cup 94: Dash

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.

Where: my office
When: 8 am, March 1, 2005
Who: Dash
Coffee: Avalon Organic Italian Roast
Mood: humdrum

Dash is usually Jessie's cat, but she decided she wanted to get in on the act today and got all cozy beside my computer.

In an effort to brew the perfect cup of coffee I picked up a thermometer at Marden's for 88 cents this weekend. According to the SCAA, the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the ideal cup of coffee is brewed at 96° C. So I got my water up to that temperature before I poured it into the French press. I really couldn't detect any difference, though. Maybe their standard just applies to ADC makers. Or maybe I need to warm the press first and insulate it, since immediately the temperature of the coffee dropped to 80-some degrees. Oh well, more investigation is necessary. I need to find a scale, now. The SCAA also requires a ratio of 64 ounces water to 3.25 to 4.25 ounces of cofffee. Time for another trip to Marden's!