Highlights of 2008, Part 2

Click here for Highlights of 2008, Part 1

July 3, 2008

I’m finally writing again!

After months of frustrating delays and distractions, not to mention periodic episodes of just feeling so disheartened, my writer’s block (or whatever this inability to write has been) seems to have broken. I sat down out on the deck this past Sunday and just started typing, sentence after sentence, until I finally got one that resonated, “YES! This is how this book will start!”

I’m never sure, once I start writing, whether I will end up keeping what I wrote the day (or week or whatever) before, but I need to get something down before I can start messing with what I’ve got. So far, what I have, including what I’ve added over the past couple of days, still looks good to me, and that’s a good sign.

It’s still slow going. I often get sidetracked for long stretches looking for statistics or just the right quote, and a big chunk of Tuesday’s writing time (I’ve blocked off mornings for the next month or so that I’m home) was spent going back to contributors for permissions to use their quotes.

(Clearly being my own research assistant may not be such a great idea, so I may end up pressing Jerry into this service. He’s actually a better Web searcher than I am, though sometimes it takes less time to explain what I want than it does to just go after it myself. Always a bit of a challenge.)

In any event, I have a start, and— here’s the best part— it feels good to be writing again. I’m grateful for the breakthrough.

I would love to be sleeping better and getting up earlier, but that will either come or it won’t. (Sometimes four in the morning isn’t such a bad time to write if I’m up anyhow.) I’m just so happy to be home, and to be writing again. And just being out on the deck, watching the birds squabble at the feeders or looking out at Mt. Taylor or the beautiful, deep-blue New Mexico sky while I’m processing a thought, is a really nice way to spend a morning.

Other summer projects

I have a very brief window of time to get anything done before I go out on the road again the first week of August. I’ve been cleaning and sorting through the clutter. Upstairs, the space is in pretty good shape. Other than a large crate of books and papers with research for the new book that’s still in the bedroom (going downstairs later today), nearly everything up here is pretty much where it belongs.

Downstairs, where my office and studio are, is another story. But I’m determined to get through the stuff down there, find the top of my desk again, and get everything into a place of its own before I head out again. Actually, my mom is coming for a visit next week, and while I no longer feel the pressure to “clean for company,” (and yes, that even includes Mom), it’s kind of a nice timeline for something I really need to do anyway.

And after months of spinning my wheels, it’s time to get over to my friend Lynn’s and finish up whatever needs to be done with the Quark files for Magic, Miracles, and Synchronicity, the latest incarnation of Daily Riches. If you remember, I had a copy of Quark installed briefly before my desktop computer crashed. I have not been able to figure out how to open these files in InDesign, and they won’t open in the VERY old version of Quark I have on an ancient computer we still use for some of our business operations, so I’m going to my friend’s house to finish this up.

Oh, I almost forgot! The Facilitator’s Guide for The Win-Win Classroom is out and available. Corwin (publisher) did a great job with it and it’s been selling well! If you’re teaching a class or running a study group, it has some terrific activities in it (which I plan to use as well in some of the multi-day programs I have coming up this fall!!).

OK, it’s 6:20 a.m. I’ve been up for what seems to be the requisite two hours— once I wake up, usually about 4 or 5 hours after I fall asleep, it’s rare I fall back to sleep sooner than that— so I’m gonna try to catch another hour or two before I start my day. This is clearly a messed up way to live, and if I’m lucky and actually get the sleep my body probably needs, it means that much of my morning will be gone by the time I start my day. This sucks, but the alternative is starting what is a long day ahead of me on about four hours of sleep, which is rarely a very good idea for me. Z-time, folks. More later.

August 10, 2008

The school year has begun!

I just got back from my first week out on the road, this year going back to school in Joliet, IL, working with three really terrific groups of teachers there. My suitcase is still not unpacked—no point, really, as I take off for Warren, OH, and a few days back in Pittsburgh in about 36 hours.

New server

I switched my two Web sites to a new host and have finally worked out most of the bugs. Today’s challenge was putting a counter on a couple of the pages and (with help from my friend, Kendra Karp, a programmer and network specialist and generally really-smart-person) configuring the code to allow different counters on different pages on the two sites.

Although my site averages about a million hits a year (or has in several of the past few years), it seems kind of silly to have a counter starting from 1 after all this time. But I’m a little curious at this point, so let’s see where this goes. If it’s still really depressing low after a few weeks, I may, for my ego’s sake, pull the code, or just save using a counter for special projects.

Writing? NOT!

I was just getting some momentum going on the writing when my mom came out for a visit about 4 weeks ago. We ended up having such a nice time (and lots to do that didn’t involve work) that I have not been able to get back in the rhythm since. Not her fault, much as I hate taking responsibility for my lack of momentum here, but there have been a whole lot of other things that have come up in the past few weeks that have kept me from doing any work on this book. In addition to nailing down details for 18 different events in the next few weeks, I’ve been distracted by…

Magic, Miracles & Synchronicity

Since my last blog, I finally gave up trying to run Mac OS 10.5 on a 7 year old, 867 MHz desktop and went out and bought a new iMac. (Gorgeous, fast, wonderful!) I finally got Quark up and running and between a few Quark-savvy friends and a number of pestering calls to Tech Support, I put together the separate files for this book, updated a few things, and just about have the “guts” of the book ready to go.

In the meantime, I was working with the InDesign files of the cover (a different application from a different designer) and have uploaded them to the printer, although there are some questions and changes needed and I’m hoping to have them worked out this week. (Hard to do this stuff on the road, but I’m working on it and hope to have the book in print by the beginning of October.)

High School’s Not Forever Scholarship

My co-author, Eric Katz, and I have been advertising a $250 scholarship on our High School’s Not Forever Web site. We had close to 33,000 hits on that page and got over 700 applications which, of course, we have to go through and evaluate. Now Eric has unfortunately been the one to receive all the submissions and has read every one. I owe him big time for going through them all and narrowing down the field to the top 35 or so essays. But this is just one more thing vying for my time right now. I hope that we will have selected a recipient in the next few weeks, which we will post on that site. We also plan on offering the scholarship again for the class of 2009, so if you know anyone who is interested, we should have details posted in the next few weeks.

OK, that’s it for now. I’ve got to go pack! More later.

August 24, 2008

Magic, Miracles & Synchronicity, off to the Printers

The cover is done. A few last-minute tweaks, which I left to the designer, but it’s ready for the presses. The text of the book is also done and, as of this past Friday, at the printer’s as well.

One new idea emerged as I was putting the final touches on the page layout: I’m planning a new Web site to go along with this book. I registered the domain name last week and as soon as I have the Welcome page set up, I’ll link it from a few places on this site.

I have absolutely no time to design another site, but I’m thinking just some very basic graphics and simple architecture to get the thing started, as I have included the URL in the back of the book, which will hopefully be out by the beginning of October, if not before.

Travel, travel, travel… and a trip down Memory Lane

I’m actually in the air right now, headed up to Boston for the next couple of days. I’ve got the best seat in coach— an exit row aisle— but it’s still cramped and crowded here. (Kind of a drag that I didn’t get upgraded on both legs of a ticket that cost $1000!) This is my fourth week in a row on the road. I haven’t been home more than two or three days since the semester started.

Of course, some of this is my doing, extending my stay, for example, after a job in Warren, OH, so I could spend a few days in Pittsburgh where I lived for 11 years (1969-1980) and where I started my teaching career.

Bonnie MilanakI had a fantastic time seeing family and friends with whom I usually connect when I’m in town. A very special highlight, however, was seeing two people from my earliest teaching days. I initially got together with a recently rediscovered and very dear friend, Bonnie Milanak (right, in her present-day classroom) who taught fourth grade across the hall from me when we were both first-year teachers in the graduate intern program at the University of Pittsburgh in 1973-74. We hadn’t seen one another since.

We went back to the school at which we spent our first year. I had not been in that area since we finished our Masters program at the end of the school year, in June of 74. Going back to my first classroom was quite a trip! Anyone who has ever heard me talk about that first year has probably heard the story about the day my supervisor observed me and all he could come up with afterwards was a comment about how my flag looked great.

janie_flagWell, this is the flag—and if it’s not the exact same one that he complimented 35 years ago, this was the image I’ve held in my mind every time I’ve told this story. Bonnie took a picture of me standing in front of my door, the place I stood in 1973 and greeted my first group of students. While the building (and my old classroom) had a certain familiarity, it really was the group of interns—as well as the veteran teachers and the students—that gave the school it’s character. Without them, this was, to a great extent, just another one of the hundreds of schools I’ve visited in my life.

The next step down memory lane took us out to McKeesport, a few miles down the road from Pittsburgh. I had been going to this former mill town my entire life to visit my grandmother, and it was just one of those sweet quirks of fate that had me back there, at the beginning of 1973, student teaching at Shaw Avenue School, the elementary school my mother had attended many years before. (This seemed an odd placement at the time, as most people in my class taught in the city of Pittsburgh, much closer and easier to get to, especially for someone without a car!)

My first student teaching placement was in a sixth grade class with Tony Lettieri, the cooperating teaching to whom I dedicated The Win-Win Classroom. Although the book put us back in touch with one another, I figured it was time to head back to the area and reconnect with him in person, as well. I don’t remember seeing Tony since I finished my student teaching in April 1973, and I can’t remember the last time I was in McKeesport (certainly not since my grandmother left there, sometime soon after).

As with all true friends, we picked up right where we left off. Tony, his wife, and son, Chris, took Bonnie and me for lunch, and then drove us all around the area to see how much things had changed. Shaw Avenue School (which had been called Model School when I was there) is now a parking lot, as is the department store at which my grandmother always used to shop. (Her house is still there, though in serious disrepair. Sad.)

But we laughed like crazy and reminisced, and with new teachers getting younger and younger all the time, it was really nice to hang out with a couple of “lifers” who had shared my experiences, remembered the really difficult kids, and lived the reality of running off handouts on paper towels because we had used up our allotment of paper for that month—or year. And it took my breath away to realize that between us we had a combined 110 years of teaching experience. I’d like to believe that somewhere in all those years, the three of us have touched a lot of lives.

Sept. 20, 2008

Progress, sort of…

The book: I’ve been fighting to get a voice and a direction for months and at this point have about 30 pages of rambling crap to show for it. So a week ago, I’m on the phone with my friend Aili (Dr. Aili Pogust, kind of a co-mentor and sounding board) and after about an hour we get to THE BOOK.

And after going on and on and on about how much negativity I was running into in the field and all the stuff I don’t want to write about, I make this comment about just wanting to write something that will help people (beginning teachers in particular) hold onto their passion and commitment. And there it was.

OK, I’ve kind of known that all along, but keep in mind that this book was supposed to be a revision of Being a Successful Teacher, a book I wrote 25 years ago when the first-year teachers in my program at the University of New Mexico needed help with things like bulletin boards and lesson plans and field trips and I didn’t see anything out there as comprehensive as what I needed.

But what I needed (and needed to write about) in 1982 and what I need (and need to write about) in 2008 are two very different things. As a result, I have revised the ridiculously long outline I started with about a year ago and stripped it down to bare bones. At the moment— and this continues to evolve— the structure is based on some of the issues and realities that exist in schools that can erode passion and commitment and kill the joy of teaching and the desire to continue in the profession. (And I make this statement with more than 35 years of experience in schools around the world to back it up.)

I have been going through the 800-plus pages of interviews, surveys, research, and writing—notes I’ve made, chapters I’ve started, and material from the original book—coding each paragraph or concept according to this new outline. It’s slow going, but at least I feel like I finally have a direction.

Magic, Miracles & Synchronicity, book and site

The book went to press last week and is expected to ship on October 9. In anticipation of the book’s release, I am developing a new Web site to go along with this book. At the moment, I only have a placeholder page and a counter. This is the first announcement of the site, so I’m not expecting much traffic until it launches. In the meantime, I am working up graphics for the site and have only a very rough sketch of where this thing is likely to go.

And if that weren’t enough…

I hired Rebecca Haden to do a site analysis and all kinds of other geeky things related to Search Engine Optimization. And found out that, essentially, my site, as it is right now, kind of sucks. For a site with as much information as this one offers, one that’s been around for more than 10 years, the fact that it had the lowest possible page rank just depressed the hell out of me.

Following Rebecca’s suggestions to change some of the keywords and add some code to allow for some complex analyses of who was visiting the site and what they were looking for, I realized that there are too many things about the site as it is that just don’t work.

So in the middle of everything else, it’s back to the drawing board and I’m heading back to a much simpler navigation and structure, hoping for a warmer, less corporate version of the original site. Here’s today’s sketch, which is about the 5th version of this structure. It may well look different by the time the site launches, but even if I go with the above design, it’ll be a while before I have the graphics created (based on the elements in this mock-up), much less have them applied to all five or six hundred pages on this site. (I’m hoping to be able to do this in stages, rather than wait until the entire site is done.)

Keep in mind that all of this is going on simultaneously and that I will be on the road pretty much solidly until the 18th of November. So juggling all three projects should be kind of interesting, especially since much of this work will be done on airplanes and in hotels. I have no idea when any of this will be done, but check this blog, as I suspect I’ll be keeping updates here, if nowhere else.

Oct. 4, 2008

The new janebluestein.com

…is still a ways off.

Nonetheless, I spent the entire week building graphics and roll-overs and changing the layout a little more. The vertical photo-bar that’s currently on my home page has now been reconstructed to run across the bottom of the page (at least on my home page, maybe every page). Plus the banner is smaller and there is contact information along the bottom of the page.

So I’ve been reading these tutorial on changing from table layouts to CSS positioning (among other geeky things) and frankly, I’m in pretty far over my head here. I’m actually ready to start changing the pages if I keep everything in tables, but if I can do this once instead of twice, it kind of makes sense to figure out the harder stuff now.

I’m hoping to meet with a friend to see what’s involved with making this change. If I can get one page set up, I’m generally a whiz at cutting and pasting and saving as a different page and just changing the content. We’ll see.

The truth is, as I look at my site and how it’s grown over the years, the navigation (of which I was always so proud) has gotten unwieldy. I’m really hoping that the new site will not only be more attractive, but also easier to get around, and that the hundreds of things I have on the site will be easier for people to find.

Perhaps most importantly, I’m hoping that the site itself is easier to find, and more likely to show up in searches. I’ve gotten such wonderful feedback over the years about the amount and quality of the material on this site, so I was more than a little dismayed to find out that my page rank, according to Google, was a big fat ZERO! Not cool.

So the whole redesign is in part aesthetic (and accommodating the fact that I’ve just gotten a little tired of the look), part architectural (simplifying the navigation), and part optimization to increase traffic. All this free stuff isn’t going to help anybody if they’re not being directed to the site.

Heading home

I’m on a flight to Atlanta (as I so often am these days), heading home from a week in New England. I was really disappointed when the ASCD conference was cancelled, but it ended up giving me a free day to get a lot of work done on the site graphics. Better yet, it also gave me a chance to have lunch with a friend, Howard Grossman, whom I hadn’t seen in decades.

Howard was always one of my favorite people when we were in high school, one of those nice guys I had just lost touch with over the years, so this was a real treat, one of those easy reconnects that reminded me how important it is to come up for air and value the good people that are a part of my life, even if only infrequently.

I will be home for ten days this time— the longest stretch in quite some time, and pretty much the only time I have to really get everything ready for our trip to Italy, 3 weeks from tomorrow. It’ll be a pretty crazy week, and I already have a bunch of appointments breaking up the free time I’ll have, but those are important too.

I’m trying to figure out how to pack for 3 and a half weeks away, which is never easy for me (and yes, I am trying to keep it down to one medium-sized suitcase), and for a trip that will include clothes for Lake Como and the Italian Alps as well as the Giza Plateau in Egypt. (How cool is that, packing notwithstanding?)

Plus, we’ll be in Italy on November 4th, so I have to make sure to get my absentee ballot in. I will be gone when early voting is available, so that’s not an option, and if I have to camp out downtown to fill in the right paperwork there, that’s a number one priority for me.

I will admit that it’s been hard to keep stick to my policy of keeping this site as politically neutral as possible. It’s such an incredibly important election and has been so emotional for me at times. I’ve gotten some amazing emails and although I swore off forwarding, it seems like I’m sending some of this stuff off that is just too good (and too important) to not share, every day.

Oct. 13, 2008

The new janebluestein.com

…is in the process of being rebuilt. I spent about four hours last week learning CSS positioning and putting together the page that I’m using as a template for building my other pages. If you want a sneak preview, you can click here for a link to the temporary page. (Please note that once I launch the new site, I will save this page as my home page, not a test page, and this link will no longer work.)

If you check this page out, you will note that the links all work, or should, and will either take you to a new page (which may or may not be finished) or to an existing page. It’ll definitely be a little weird during this transition time, but do know that I am totally buzzed about the progress I’ve made here (with tremendous gratitude to Lisa Tannenbaum, who helped me through this learning curve) and intend to get this new site up as soon as possible.

I have not decided whether to wait until the entire site has been re-done (in other words, until I’ve finished re-doing all the pages in the site), or if I will launch a section at a time as I finish it. Since I’m changing the file structure as well as the appearance, I’m not sure the latter will be possible, but stay tuned…

I may have mentioned that I have not been indulging any of my hobbies or doing any work at all with any of my coveted crafts media. Maybe that’s why I’ve gotten so into working on this site. Between the mechanics of recreating pages and the efforts at developing and refining the color palette and graphics for the new site, I think it has become a genuine creative outlet for me.

Packing, etc.

We leave for Italy in 13 days. Other than a few other things of which I do not have duplicates, my suitcase is packed! Amazingly (for me), I’m still committed to doing these 3 1/2 weeks with one medium-sized suitcase (slightly larger than a carry-on rollaboard). At least so far. As far as I can tell, I still have room for the toiletries, my black shoes, and pillow, plus another book or two.

One thing I do not think I’ll be taking is the enormous pile of notes related to the book I’m supposed to be working on. I hate to do this (for a bunch of reasons), but I think I need to clear my head and not have to worry about keeping track of hundreds of pieces of paper filed for each topic. I was looking over the schedule for the cruise and MacMania conference, and believe me, I don’t see a lot of free time.

Besides, any down time I get, I want to use to catch up on my “fun” reading and bond with my camera (a Canon Rebel xti that Jerry bought me last December)! I see time devoted to the site as well, but that’s just plain fun for me.

By the time we get home, Magic, Miracles and Synchronicity will be out (actually, we should have them this week, so if you ordered a copy, it will go out before we leave for Italy), the Web site I started for the book will be done enough for me to let it go for a while, and if the overhaul of this site isn’t completely done, it will certainly be close to finished by then.

So my intention is to come home and use the next two months (with the exception of 4 days on the road in December) for wintertime, snuggled-in stuff: writing, knitting, spinning, beading, cooking, and all the other stuff I haven’t been able to devote any time to for the past several months.

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