You will be shocked to learn that SCORES HAVE DIPPED, KENNETH, after two years of chaos in our schools. Did I call it or what?
So now all the editorial boards and educational poobahs and conservative anti-public-school vampires have started the weeping and the wailing over the LEARNING LOSS KENNETH and how we as a nation are on the precipice.
We’ve seen all of this before, in 1983, with the panic over A Nation at Risk: our schools were FAILING KENNETH and nothing would do but we must TOUGHEN THE STANDARDS and TEST THE CHILDREN UNTIL THEIR EARS BLEED. Nation at Risk led eventually to No Child Left Behind (NCLB, or as we called it in my school, Every Child Dragged Along), which imposed draconian “goals” on our schools and punished us as “failing schools” if we didn’t meet them by 2014.
(At the faculty meeting where we went over the new law, teachers were freaking out over the “goals.” I calmly pointed out that this would only last until the law had to be reauthorized (i.e., re-funded) in 2007.)
So did we achieve all those goals? Pfft. NCLB did nothing to actually solve the problems the law “identified.” Every child reading by 3rd grade? We could have done it, but we didn’t, because NO ONE ASKED US HOW TO EFFECT THAT CHANGE. If what we were already doing was sufficient, wouldn’t every 3rd grader already be reading? But we changed nothing, nor were we allowed to change anything.
No, the nation never actually committed to any of the “goals,” and 2014 came and went without our having met any of them. The only thing NCLB accomplished was to cement the role of standardized tests in assessing student “achievement” and “school success.” It was all “research-based,” you see. (What’s that you say? Standardized tests are a scam to suction off tax dollars for testing corporations? Wherever did you get that idea?)
Sidenote: At Newnan Crossing, we were doing actual research on whether our year-round calendar — 45 days on, 15 days off —was benefiting our Title I students. I was charged with aggregating the test scores for the cohort of students who had been with us since kindergarten, and the only thing the data actually showed was that if kids had a teacher who was not very good, their test scores would go down. Having a good teacher was not a predictor of improved test scores; those were essentially random. Test scores = “achievement”? Pfft.
So here we are, panicking about LEARNING LOSS after two years of predictable “learning loss” and reaching for the smelling salts once again.
The solution? The children must LEARN FASTER AND HARDER. To “catch up.” Once again.
Here’s the deal: Teachers have always dealt with students who were not where they were “spozed to be,” and now is no different other than we have an entire school population who are not where they’re spozed to be. It’s not a “crisis,” just time to roll up our sleeves and start teaching again. (Even so, schools are not back to what passes for normal, nor will they be for the foreseeable future.)
My advice? Take any moneys appropriated for this CRISIS KENNETH and spend it on teachers: salaries, supplies, smaller classrooms. Do not spend it on packaged CURRICULUM SOLUTIONS KENNETH. Do not spend it on suddenly available TECHNOLOGICAL SOLUTIONS. Do not allow LEGISLATORS TO HAVE ANY SAY on how we do our jobs.
Finally, acknowledge the drop in test scores as an inevitable record of the chaos, and then BY CTHULHU CELEBRATE THE GAINS OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS.
It’s been a year since I’ve posted about my dishevelment, mostly because once you get past a certain point, it’s just pictures of my messy hair.
But here I am in 2022:
Do not be deceived: this photo was taken after wearing my hair up in a bun all day, so that when I finally loose it it falls in glorious tumbles of luscious locks.
But lest we forget, this is where we started:
I was originally thinking about getting it cut after Alchemy this year, but then the guys at The Longhairs announced their support of and participation in The Great Cut 2024, and I thought, you know, we’ve never been to San Diego. That could be fun.
So I bought the t-shirt and will be uncutting my hair for another year and a half. Then we’ll take a vote on how we want me to look.
It was, as I expected, not at all to my taste, but it spawned a whole new zone of experimentation, which I am calling the Grand Unified Vecchio Cocktail Theory, in which you use the proportions of the recipe for the Fernet Branca cocktail and substitute another amaro.
Here’s where it got interesting:
Gin— Even if we ignore the subtle differences in different brands of gin, differences that I am too lazy to learn to distinguish with any refinement, we still have the different types of gin that we can play with:
London dry gin
old tom gin
These different types involve dryness/sweetness, more or less juniper, added flavorings. Within those categories, of course, are scads of different brands of gin, of which I have about 30.
Sweet vermouth— Lots of these available, but I decided on three:
Cocchi di Torino
Punt e Mes
Again, the differences are in the herbals used.
Amari— Where do we begin? Whole books have been written about this category of herbal distillations. Suffice it to say that I have more than two dozen amari and have barely scratched the surface.
If we do the math, we have 5 [kinds] of gin x 3 vermouths x ≈24 amari, which gives us 360 possible combinations. The gin-loving soul thrills to the very idea.
I’ve had a blast testing out my Grand Unified Vecchio Cocktail Hypothesis [GUVCH], and the results are very promising. Here’s my most recent one.
Salers is an aperitif, gentian-based, bitter and vegetal, with some citrus notes. I bought it recently because it was mentioned in a couple of recipes, and I decided to plug it into the GUVCH. The results were quite pleasing.
Salers is unusual for the GUVCH since it is a clear aperitif, while most amari that I have are darker.
1.5 oz gin, in this case an Old Tom gin
.75 oz Cocchi di Torino vermouth
.75 oz Salers Aperitif
Stir with ice, strain into a coupe. Garnish with lemon zest.
It is light and refreshing. You’ll want more than one.
Decades ago I had an idea for a classroom research/writing lesson, probably upper elementary in nature but very adaptable to middle and high school grades. I called it The Pencil Lesson, and its ulterior instructional goal was to make students aware of jobs/careers other than “astronaut” or “marine biologist” or “NFL quarterback.”
Overview: After examining an ordinary No. 2 pencil for its component parts, students are guided through the research into how each part ends up in the pencil. As they do that, students should become aware of the employment opportunities at each step of the way. (N.B., the point is not to interest students in these specific careers but to make them more aware of the multiplicity of jobs represented in our everyday surroundings.)
Engagement: Create a TikTok-like video showing how pencil erasers are planted like seeds to grow the new crop of pencils. (N.B., I’ve done lessons like this where a class absolutely fails to detect the bullcrap. Be prepared.)
After the video, allow students to yuk on it, then ask the Essential Question: Where do pencils come from?
In small groups, have students “analyze” a No. 2 pencil. What are the constituent parts?
glue (to hold the two halves of the wood together!)
After whole-group discussion, assign each group one of the components. Have them brainstorm/imagine the path that component must take before it ends up in the pencil. (It’s probably most effective for them to work backwards from pencil to source.) Emphasize that not knowing specific steps is to be expected; just put a big ??? in the chart and keep going.
From there, each group researches their putative process, filling in the ??? segments and fine-tuning the segments they thought they knew.
At this point, you might ask each team to present their findings to the class so that everyone is up to speed on how we get pencils.
For upper elementary, this much of the lesson might be enough. If so, make sure that you promote discussion of the jobs involved in each step. For middle and high school students, you can push that aspect of the lesson by having them list the workers that are required to produce the component at each stage, and if you’re really dedicated, have each student pick one job and head to the federal Occupational Outlook Handbook and prepare a short report on the job’s requirements/training/salaries/prospects.
And there you have it: a massive research/writing lesson that could easily take a couple of weeks in your class.
Followup: Let a few months elapse, then ask if students have been looking at objects around them and imagining what it takes to bring those objects into existence. Classroom discussion/sharing, etc.
Prohibition ended in 1933. So why is it illegal for me to buy this gin?
Sure, if I walk into the General Store at Grand Canyon, I can buy it there, but I certainly can’t buy it at Kroger here, nor at any Kroger in the state of Georgia.
Not only that, even though Coweta County finally repealed Prohibition last year — 90 years late — and we are starting to get our first liquor stores now, I can’t buy it there either, nor at any liquor store that I know of.
Why is that?
I’ll tell you why: the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association. Go read their page. They control what the liquor stores in Georgia can and can not sell. If Thumb Butte Western Sage Gin is not on their list, stores can’t sell it and you can’t buy it.
Not only that, but GADA is determined that you can’t buy it directly from the distillery either. (Go read their page!) The very idea of grocery stores having a liquor section gives them the fantods. PROTECT OUR PACKAGE STORES is their entire raison d’être — consumers be damned.
Why is this? These bottles are filled with legal substances. Why is it illegal for me to buy them? I need answers.
(I must give a tip of the hat to Rep. Matt Brass, who is otherwise a rightwing dinglehopper, for introducing multiple pieces of legislation to free us from all this nonsense.)
It’s taken me a while to get to this post, since I’ve already done several on the topic, but here’s a recap.
Note: No pro tips for Santa Fe.
Go. Please plan to stay at least two days. You can, as many do, drive in, take a few photos, and be on your way, but that is just losing a piece of your soul.
Stay in the park if you can. That way, when the tourists go home at 5:00 you will have the Canyon to yourself. However, if they don’t have any rooms, staying in Tusayan — the hamlet just before the park — is fine.
If this is your first time, then stop in Tusayan first to see the iMax movie about the Canyon. Also, the Pink Bus tours are worth it, especially the sunset tour.
Hop that Blue Route shuttle and ride it all the way around. Learn where All The Things are.
Drive out to Desert View and the Watchtower, then drive back to the Visitors Center or Village, stopping at every overlook.
Don’t miss the sunset.
Any of the restaurants are fine. El Tovar Dining Room is expensive. The restaurant at the Best Western in Tusayan is surprisingly good (at least it was during our prior visits; we didn’t make it there this time). Cocktails, however, are basic. (Note: The entire world is suffering from supply chain issues, so give the poor bartender a break.)
Yes, you should buy that t-shirt/coffee mug/tschotschke.
Top pro tip from this visit: Stop at a Wal-Mart in Phoenix or Flagstaff and buy those cheap camp chairs. Pop ’em open rimside, then sit and watch the canyon. You can thank me later.
Before we get to my conspicuous consumption, two more photos from Monday morning as we walked to breakfast:
That youth has his horns coming in. (They looked crooked; is there orthodontia for racks, or is this poor thing doomed to a life of mockery and disdain?)
So, in Santa Fe, almost immediately as we walked from Las Palomas to the Plaza, I found this beautiful silver medallion:
Navajo-made, it seemed a perfect piece to wear to Alchemy as we take GALAXY for its first burn outing.
On the Plaza, I found a hat similar to the one I was wearing, but nicer.
The brim is wide enough to shade my nose (some basal cell cancer concerns there) and the ventilated crown is nice.
And then we found a very nice hat for evening wear:
I may have a thing for hats.
As we walked Canyon Road’s galleries, hoping to be taken with some new piece, I found a new earring:
Sweet little infinity signs. (For those wondering, I have only the one ear pierced; I have a little box of “spares” for the second one.)
This time as we walked Canyon Road, we ventured into the little side pockets of smaller galleries, where we found Jeffry Schweitzer, an illustrator.
This sweet little book is barely sixteen pages long, but the sentiment is heartwarming. Jeffrey doesn’t know it yet, but he may be the illustrator for my children’s book.
On Thursday, the International Folk Art Market was, as I said, a disappointment in general, but I did find these desert bells from Africa:
They have the most beautiful tones with long-lasting resonance. I regret not getting a few more of the smaller ones to use on my Wilder Mann outfit for Alchemy.
And then there was the Panama hat.
Handmade in Ecuador — which is where Panama hats are actually from — its wide brim and general snappiness made it a no-brainer purchase. You will have admired it in several selfies over the last week, I’m sure.
On to Grand Canyon, where the General Store provided me with two essentials:
…light (this is a little camp lantern; you can pull the top up for a brilliant LED lantern, or push a button for the top to become a flashlight. Very useful on darker-than-usual paths.) … and…
…gin! I ran out of Western Sage a while back and just recently ran out of Desert Rain, so I was gratified to see them still available. Western Sage may be my favorite gin. (There will be a rant about this later.)
Generally when we travel, especially out west, I look for lizard sculptures for my collection. This trip I hadn’t seen any that demanded my attention, until Friday night at El Tovar. There I found this little guy:
A closer look:
Incredibly, that is not paint. It is the technique known as millefiori, “a thousand flowers,” most often associated with Venetian glass. If you’ve ever made or seen pinwheel cookies (or sushi!), you’ve seen the simplest version of this: you create long tubes of dough/glass/clay so that when you slice it the slices have patterns in them.
What you’re seeing on this lizard is astoundingly meticulous layers of polymer clay, sliced thin and applied to the basic lizard shape. This lizard is handmade, albeit not in the U.S.; we saw some large sculptures on Canyon Road that used this technique and they were stunning (and expensive).
At Desert View we came across these stone sculptures:
Just as I collect lizards, my Lovely First Wife is drawn to elk. It’s one reason she gladly returns to Grand Canyon, where they are as numerous as squirrels.
Finally, I could not resist:
Grand Canyon National Park map socks! Am I cool or what?
First, a video from Day 5 that I forgot to upload:
[This post is a day late because we were flying home yesterday. Duh.]
The Western Tanager joined the chipmunk in wishing me a good morning.
Today we took the Blue Route shuttle to the Visitor’s Center and walked back to the Village, a distance of a couple of miles.
The views are as usual awesome.
This is at Mather Point, at the Visitor’s Center, probably the only view most people get of the Canyon — and that’s fine, if unfortunate.
Here’s a longshot of the viewing platform. See the tiny little dots? Those are tourists.
And here we are, being not-tourists.
The more time you spend at the Canyon, the more curious you become about its ecology. The area is in a long-term drought, and there are stresses associated with that, but on the whole the life there is adapted to that environment. Here’s a dead juniper:
Only it’s not dead.
Not even close.
Lizards abound but are difficult to get photos of.
The photos take themselves.
This is looking over at Bright Angel Trail, which starts at the rim by our cabin and goes all the way down to the Colorado River and then back up to the North Rim. [NOTE: Do not attempt.] There are people on this trail. You see them, right?
Even with binoculars, they were hard to see.
Our plans for the afternoon were to eat a nice lunch, then take the Red Shuttle back out to Hermit’s Rest to watch the sunset, ending with snacks at Hermit’s Rest and a nice shuttle ride back to the Village.
That’s not what happened.
The restaurant at Yavapai Lodge at which we wanted to lunch wasn’t actually open for lunch, so we settled for their Tavern… which was not quite the best meal we’ve had there. We soldiered on.
Here’s the waiting area for the Red Shuttle:
What you’re not seeing is the dozens of people waiting for the shuttle, part of the estimated hundreds making their way to Hermit’s Rest — which is not a large area. After waiting for a while as more and more people joined the line, we began to realize that 1) it was going to be way too crowded up there; and 2) waiting for a bus to get back after sunset was not going to be fun.
So we decided to bag that idea. Why not just walk/hike up to Trailview Overlook, the first stop on the Red Shuttle, and watch the sunset from there?
I should have taken photos of the very steep and precipitous trail up there, but we were too busy trying to stay alive on this .7 mile climb to care about that.
Here’s the view from up there:
It is, as advertised, a view of Bright Angel Trail and the Village.
You know what’s not visible from Trailview Overlook? The sunset. It would have been behind the forest up there.
So we hiked back down and just walked back up to El Tovar to our usual spot.
However, even this chaos was a good thing, because as we walked up the hill past Thunderbird Lodge and the mini-herd of elk who have taken to dining there, we heard a loud, high-pitched whistling call.
It was one of the mother elks, who had been so focused on her grazing that she and her baby had become separated. (It was similarly focused on a patch two lawns up.) She was calling it, and it responded. My Lovely First Wife actually got footage!
That made the whole venture worth it.
The sunset did not disappoint.
We then retreated to the bar at Bright Angel Lodge — they call them “lounges,” not bars — where we gifted our chairs to Christine, our bartender, who was delighted.
I have mentioned that the cocktail game at Grand Canyon is not, shall we say, elevated. Here is the bar at Bright Angel (and it’s not a lot better at El Tovar):
I decided to challenge myself to come up with a cromulent cocktail using these bottles and the typical bar collection of juices, sodas, etc. Christine abetted me in this crime.
Dear reader, I failed. The pinkish bottle in the middle photo is a prickly-pear-flavored vodka, and since one of my hits is the Prickly Pear Daiquiri, I brainstormed with that one. I avoided rum, since that would have been reduplicative. The best I could do was 1 oz brandy, 1/2 oz PPF vodka, and lime juice, and — boldly — a salt rim. We tried a second one using bourbon. Neither had any body to it.
Christine added Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice to both, and that helped, but on the whole I would have tossed them in the sink at home. Oh well. Xanterra, if you’re listening, my offer to serve as artist-in-residence cocktail consultant stands.
One last thing: At the bar the night before, one of the TVs was playing by-god cornhole championships (of which, I kid you not, there are multiple). They made the golf on the other TV look thrilling. This night, the TVs were playing car races, which are also mind-bogglingly boring.
We teased Christine about not having cornhole on the agenda and settled in for snacks and cocktail failures. But then…
But that’s not the most ridiculous thing. Here’s the lineup for Heat 6:
Emerson. Chance. Ryan. Kyle. Brannigan.
Kaylee, for Cthulhu’s sake.
Every heat was like this. It sent me into a giggling fit that attracted attention. (FYI, Kaylee came in third. She’s adorable.)
It was time for bed.
I’m not going to blog about getting home, other than to say: Yo, SanTan Brewery & Pub at Phoenix Sunport, dudes, fix your “order from your phone” thing so that it doesn’t randomly add cheeseburgers and an IPA to my order of chicken fingers. Poor server had to fix it all. And if you’re going to feature your Saint Anne’s Citrus Rose Gin[1,] you should probably try to get some vendor at the airport to sell it, not to mention having it as an option on your “order from your phone” thing.
Next up: the swag report, and pro tips.
 Coming soon, a rant about liquor distributorships.
We did so by driving out to Desert View, on the eastern end of the park, and then stopping at nearly every viewpoint on the way back.
The main attraction at Desert View, other than the Canyon, is the Watchtower, designed by Mary Colter back in the 1930s. Like the Canyon itself, it is endlessly fascinating to watch: Colter’s vision of an organic structure resulted in stonework that at first appears random, but upon closer examination is intricately designed.
The view from the Watchtower is, of course, spectacular.
It’s the point at which the Colorado River does a hard right and heads west, dropping some 300 feet almost immediately.
We found a shaded spot, popped out our camp chairs, and settled in for some Canyon watching.
There, unbelievably, trails down there.
We have questions for Park Rangers. For example, in this next photo, if you find the rapids on the left side, right above them is a little white spot on the cliff. Even with binoculars we could not tell what it was, since it’s surrounded by completely black rock.
I will not insist that you participate in our stop-by-stop Canyon watching, but I’ll share some things.
Another view of the mighty Colorado River. As a fellow watcher commented, “It doesn’t look that big to have done all this.” Of course, it’s a matter of scale — the river is about 300 feet across.
At one of the stops, thistles:
The junipers are laden with berries…
…which got me to thinking. Some enterprising entity, perhaps the Eleven Associated Tribes, could ethically harvest juniper berries and package them for people who are interested in distillations and infusions, i.e., teas, essential oils, gin.
One would not offer just the juniper, of course. There’s desert sage…
… piñon trees, germander, all kinds of herbs and plants that could be harvested and sold to the likes of me.
At one of the stops, a trio of ravens greeted us, and after they hung around a bit, I shared my water with them. Always — always — make friends with the ravens.
I’m not sure what this shrub is, but its blooms are nice. Is it juniper? All the other junipers were in full berry.
Even the dead trees are picturesque.
My Lovely First Wife adventuring out onto a promontory. A bit.
One last panoramic view:
Back at the Village, we decided on a multi-phase plan. First, we’d check out the Hopi House for a couple of items we’re still looking for. Then we’d slip into El Tovar’s cocktail lounge and have a drink and a charcuterie to tide us over. Then we’d sit out and watch the sunset, which is always the main event. After that, we’d retreat to the Bright Angel Tavern for a light supper.
The gang was back.
Including this goober. How the hell did he get into a fenced-in garden?
Not only that, but when we came back around from Hopi House, he was gone. Over charcuterie, we asked the waitress if she knew how he did it. Yep, all of them know just to push their way under the fence. Later there was another one in there.
After we finished our cocktails, my Lovely First Wife suggested that I run back to the cabin to get the chairs while she paid the bill. (It is not a short distance back to the cabin.)
That’s okay. I got to see the fawn suckling.
It’s eating grass, but it’s still dappled and still wants its milk.
We settled in to watch the sunset, and now I will walk you through how the Canyon is one of the most watchable places ever.
Your establishing shot:
(We were joined by this little bug, who trundled back and forth in front of us the whole time.)
As the sun sets, the Canyon goes darker…
…while the sky above remains brilliant.
This sunset had an extra bit; since the sun was behind clouds while it was setting…
…when it finally sank to the horizon, its light escaped the clouds and…
… the Canyon was lit again, for a moment.
…and then, behind us…
So, just your typical sunset over your typical Canyon with your typical rainbow with your typical elk grazing all around you.
Finally, the sun set.
We headed back down to Bright Angel Lodge, where we greeted our bartender Christine and had a light supper of fish and chips. We told her of our sunset experience and she commented that camp chairs are on her list to acquire, so we immediately offered her ours. We can’t take them back with us and we were wondering how best to gift them to someone else. (Apparently there’s a gear swap kind of thing, but we can just give ours to Christine.)