Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Physical Education

It is official. I love gym class. I always have. And I always will.

Today we moved on from the basketball unit, which I quite enjoyed, to the racquet sports. My eyes quickly gazed upon the square wooden paddles that are used in one of my favorire sports: pickle ball. Some of you know what I'm talking about. Yeah...that's what I'm talking 'bout. The gym teacher then asked me, "Do you have any experience with racquet sports?" "Scoop of chocolate, scoop of vanilla...don't waste my time," is how I should have answered. Instead, I just said, "Yup." I looked at the tennis racquets, the badminton racquts, and the pickle ball racquets and all the memories of these sports I played in high school gym came back to me.

Running out to the tennis courts as fast as we could to get in as many games as we could into what was I think 45 minutes of a normal school period - a miraculously short time when the likes of athletic games with friends are concerned.

Then badminton - and the realization that badminton is no game to be played on lazy sunday picnics, but a game that deserves respect, to those that can wield the long racquet with finess and power.

And of course - pickle ball. The game that came out of nowhere, but captivated no less than a handful of us enthusiastic gym goers (some may have unflattering names for us) - saddened by the fact that gym class was only two days a week for juniors and seniors. (It just didn't add juniors and seniors we should have more priviledges than the freshman and sophomores, and we should therefore have more gym classes.)

Race out of class we would when we heard the buzzer and into the locker room. Shame on you should arrive late, or be slow to change into your gym clothes. Test or no test, we demanded timeliness. No strings on the pickle ball racquets, just wood, and a whiffle ball type ball. A small net and let the games begin...And now let the games begin again.

Warming up pickle ball style with a student, the gym teacher noticed our competence and asked if we'd do a demonstration for the rest of the class (the whole 30 student middle school). It was fun vollying back and forth and when we had finished our volly demonstration the teacher said, "That was really good." Needless to say, the student and I were quite pleased with ourselves.

My deepest respects go out to Ross - Rosco-pico-train, my partner in crime for most of these racquet games and other gym activites.

Prior to this day of gym, I along with the other teacher's aides had come to gym class, or "P.E." as some like it to be called, wearing normal work clothes. Today, though, I brought my gym clothes. As soon as the end of gym class sign is given, I raced for the basketballs for what has now become, for me and a few enthusiastic and talented middle school students - one of whom was my partner for the pickle ball demonstration - our customary series of wildly intense knock-out (foul lind and three-point line distance). Last Wednesday, I had not changed, and had to call it the series short, because I was starting to sweat, and was fearing repercussions from going to an hour and fifteen minute department meeting hot, sweaty and smelly. Today I was prepared to go the distance. And go the distance we did. Game after game after game. Legs burning, lungs aching, and the rest of me happy as a clam because of it. Sadly we finally had to call it quits, and to the coach's shower I went to take the coldest shower I could stand.

Life is good when gym class is all in a days work...and I think there may even be a floor hockey unit later on...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

D.E.A.F., Inc. Holiday Party

So into Allston I went to a D.E.A.F., Inc. holiday party. Always seeking opportunities to practice my sign language and to further get to know the Deaf community, in I went on a fine Saturday afternoon. I was nervous on the way in, not feeling confident with my signing and frustrated with traffic, but I kept on going and soon I found myself at the party, with a few people that I recognized. It was a low key gathering, which I always prefer, and there were several Deaf Blind folks there.

I sat down with my lunch next to a woman and across from two men. I had noticed that two of them were Deaf Blind and having never comnmunicated with someone who is both Deaf and Blind before, in my head I said, "Well, here goes..."

It was an incredible experience. I sat down and the woman quickly signed to her friend, that she wanted to know who was sitting at the table. Seeing this, I introduced myself to her friend, who then introduced me to her. She then put her hand out, palm down, and I put my hand just below hers, touching her palm. I signed normally to her all the while her hand resting lightly on my right hand wherever it went, feeling the handshape, the palm orientation, the location, and movement of my hand. She understood everything. Then she signed to me and when it was my turn again, she would put her hand or hands out. It was really an amazing. I later watched two Deaf Blind folks chatting. One pair of hands on top, then they would switch. They carried on like old friends, which they seemed to be, laughing and smiling and having a great time together. I couldn't help but smile along.

School continues to go well. Slow improvements come, but always I want more. My days are very busy and it seems most days I come home and go to sleep...then get up and go back to school. All the things and side projects that I thought I would have time for while spending a year at home are not getting done. They have all been pushed aside for the time being. All focus and energies go toward the language and the community. And slowly, ever so slowly, it's coming along.

Happy Holidays to all.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Halloween, JV Soccer and Four Square

Much has happened now as I've passed the two month mark at TLC. I feel like I'm in some sort of immersion program, except that I sleep and eat breakfast at home. Otherwise, I spend most of my time at school, though I get paid for only about half of it. Soccer season is still going and I've been helping out the goalies on the varsity teams. I've also had my debut as a head coach (one of three) for a JV soccer team that the three of us volunteered our time to help prepare kids for the varsity team. We have a record of 1-1 now, just recently posting a 5-4 victory before a home crowd against the American School for the Deaf. It was extremely exciting, especially for the kids, of whom many were about to burst after scoring goals. It is controlled chaos on the field, but we're slowly improving as the kids learn how to make legal throw-ins, how to play their position and how to work as a team.

The varsity coed team just won a tournament (for, i think, the fifth year in a row) among the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, the Austine School for the Deaf in Brattleboro, VT, and Governor Baxter School for the Deaf near Portland, Maine.

Meanwhile, school has been progressing. I am slowly improving, though never as fast as I would like naturally. When I'm driving on the highway, I practice my numbers and letters by signing every license plate that passes me (yes, I'm usually in the slow lane as some of you can attest to). Or I try to sign to the songs that I'm listening to.

I now have lunch duty two times a week. This means I help watch the kids at lunch. But more importantly, it means I get to get in on the post-lunch four square games. The kids got a kick out of seeing me in the four-square line. It had been probably maybe twenty years since I'd played (back at Pine Hill School) but thankfully, I still had the touch.

To generate some school spirit before homecoming, which was last weekend, we had spirit week. Monday was pajama day, Tuesday was formal wear, Wednesday was Halloween costumes (as seen above with my English class - the pirate is the teacher), Thursday was twin/triplet day (we all dressed up like our supervisor) and Friday was school colors - the blue, black and white of the "Galloping Ghosts". The below picture is of my ELA (English Language Arts) class. Of course, I dressed up as an astronaut in a blue flight suit with NASA patches. At the beginning of the day, I felt a little subconscious in my blue suit, but by the end of the day, I thought, "I could get used to wearing this thing around." Perhaps someday...

I am still having fun with the kids. Last week one of them was trying (very successfully) to make me laugh by humming. Being the only hearing person in the classroom, I was the only one that could hear it. But so unnatural was the sound of someone humming loudly during a class without anyone noticing, that I could not help but smile. Soon I was chuckling to myself and before long, all the students were aware of what was going on, and I was covering my mouth to stop from bursting out laughing telling myself, "Ben, you simply cannot burst."

Well, that's the latest at TLC. Still having fun. I was lightly scolded (with a smile) last month, when after one student had finished his homework during the study period, I told him he could pick a book out from the shelves and do some reading (as I was supposed to.) However, the student picked a book about making things out of paper and came to me asking if he could make a paper airplane, modelled in the book. Of course, I was game and we proceeded to make a few stunt planes and naturally flew stunts thereafter. Needless to say, the teacher was out of the room and thankfully did not return while we were in our flight routines. She came back while one student was showing another how to build them. I was told that students should be reading if they finish their assignments. My argument, that the activity CAME from a book was did not override the initial rules. Nor did my encouragement of science win over an English teacher. My airplane has now been grounded to the bulletin board by the teacher. It's day to fly again will come.

I am still not a good signer, but the same English teacher, says that's okay, because I have "Teacher Gut". I'm slowly improving with middle school classes, ASL classes, ASL gatherings, and soccer practices. All in all, things are good, I'm still having lots of fun.

Feel free to email with any questions.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Week One at The Learning Center

So, yes, i'm continuing to write, this time not about the physical explorations of the world, but about the explorations into a different community, a different way of living, and how I find myself fitting into it all. Last week I started work as a Teacher's Aid at The Learning Center for the Deaf (TLC) in Framingham, Massachusetts. Not being fluent American Sign Language (ASL) user, there have been some challenges. I knew enough to get through the half hour interview, but that's about the extent of my signing knowledge.

I am working with the Middle School, with about twenty-seven 11-14 year-olds. With each bell/strobe light signal, I switch classes and teachers I'm working with, and my daily schedule includes math, english, social studies, science, sometimes art, and hopefully some gym later on. All the classes are taught in ASL. At this point, I am able to understand the math classes pretty well, being numbers and charts and graphs, but the vocabulary of social studies is significantly more daunting. English is challenging but also rewarding in the gains that I make as the students explain the intracacies of ASL while also getting a better handle on their English skills. (ASL does not spell out each word, and ASL grammer is nothing like the English written language, so it takes students (and me) a while to get the hang of their none native language. To these kids, English is a SECOND language.)

Thankfully, I've been given the job of morning attendance taker so I'm slowly getting to know all the students. And slowly I am able to understand them when they finger spell their names without having to ask them to repeat it a few times. During class, I try hard to improve my skills. Always with my dictionary on hand, I sit and use a few different methods of paying attention. Often times, I will try to get the general gist of what the teacher is signing. (Often times this does not work.) Other times, I will try to focus just on the signs, just to recognize individual signs, so that it's not just a blurr of hand movements. This is getting easier, but with this method, I often miss out on the big picture. My third and least effective method of learning is when I suddenly find that I've been zoning out which greatly reduces my understanding of what is going on. With this method, though, I hope my subconscious is filing everything into nice neat ASL folders in my brain. Needless to say, at the end of the day, my brain is thoroughly exhausted.

Slowly, though, I am learning. Through the help of my supervisor and the teachers as well as the students, day by day, I know more signs and after a week of classes, feel like i'm getting to know the students. The highlight of Friday was helping a student figure out a math problem that involved simple planetary motion. I was able to communicate everything I needed to, the student was engaged and was miraculously able to understand what I was signing - and i was able to understand her. I was amazed to find myself, at only the end of the first week, to be saying to myself, "I LOVE this job!" And I'm getting paid for this!

There are a number of things that I have had to get used to:
-Conversations often occur between people across a room, and as a third party to those conversations, my neck gets a good work out going back and forth.
-When in class, if I look down to write something down, I miss what is being signed.
-Deaf students are anything but silent. They are very vocal and if they cannot get someone's attention visually, they will try for a tactile method which can mean hitting desks, book shelves or anything else that will send the vibrations to the other person.
-By school policy the primary language of the school is ASL. This means that even if i'm talking with a hearing teacher we will shut the door. (My supervisor and the two teachers I work with are deaf, and the other two teachers are are hearing.) Generally all communication, even between two hearing people, in the spirit of open and clear communication, is done in ASL.

It is strange to be in one place for the next 11 months (school ends late July) and it is strange to be indoors all day, and it is strange to not be getting ready for another adventure somewhere away from home. But biking the seven miles to school keeps my legs happy while sitting at the desk, and the metal concentration and stimulation are more than enough to keep me excited about what I'm doing. I have a long, long way to go as far as the language is concerned and I need to spend much out of school time doing homework of my own, but that's why I'm here, and I'm very happy to be at the middle school. I hope that the middle-schoolers will be able to learn as much from me as I will learn from them.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

NOLS: North Cascades Mountaineering

The past 30 days were spent in the mountains and valleys of Washington state, instructing a NOLS North Cascades Mountaineering course. Ten students and one other instructor and I headed out for 30 days of glacier mountaineering. But first we had to get there.

From the dense forrests we climbed up and up and up towards the snow in our not-so-trail-friendly plastic mountaineering boots. We had a ration periods of 8 days, then two 10-day ration periods. With each re-ration we had to descend into the lush forrest to get another 10 days of food. Not easy to add 20lbs of food to a pack that was just starting to feel good, and then start heading up again. But I was always happy to be heading back up towards the snow and rocky peaks.

The work was hard, but the living was simple, as I like it. Keep yourself dry, warm, fed and rested. No phones, no television, just the team and the surrounding world. Here are my favorite pics:

During my week off, I flew east to NYC to see my brother, Chad, play in his band, Dispatch for two of the three sold out shows at Madison Square Garden. It was an unreal experience to be in New York after this last month in the wilderness with our small team, and then seeing 20,000 wild fans singing my brother's songs.

I am now back in Washington getting ready to head out on another 30 day expedition. This time, we are heading to the Waddington Range of British Columbia. We spend more time on the glaciers here, getting resupplied not by van or horse packer, but by... ....helicopter. And we get into the wilderness not by van, but by ... ... float plane. Yes, I am very excited. It will be fun. All the best to you all.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

New Job!

I've just been offered, and have accepted, a job for the entire school year of 2007-2008. I will be a teachers' assistant at The Learning Center for Deaf Children in Framingham, Massachusetts. My sign language skills have a long way to go but I was able to get through the half hour interview all in sign. It's a bit daunting right now to consider being in one place for 10 months and to be using a foreign language most of the day but I imagine there will be a pretty steep learning curve, at least that's what I hope...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Florida Outward Bound

Down to Key Largo, Florida after two full days at home. Sort of felt like I hadn't been home, though magically, I had less bagage, and quicker flights. It was great to see old friends, and familiar boats. The winds were good, as were the students (ages 15 and 16), and we all had an excellent time.

I am now home trying to sort everything out. Not an easy task after being away for six months having been in Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and Florida. Thanks, again for all your interest. I am flattered and you all make it more worthwhile. To Washington State this summer for NOLS mountaineering courses. The next few weeks will determine what comes next fall. We shall see...

All the best to you all.


Hawaii. Back in the states. Flew into Honolulu, checked out the Pearl Harbor memorial sights and then started driving around with another Ice friend, Andrea, who I randomly met in the Sydney airport, to discover we were both headed to Honolulu. Cancelling my rented car, we started the drive around the island in her rental car. O'ahu is a beautiful island and we enjoyed our driving and little side hikes. I camped that night and then I hit the surf in the morning for a few hours before my flight to Maui. It was fun, there were lots of surfers, and thankfully, I managed to stay out of their way.

Then onto Maui, were I spent the first night in a campsite on Haleakala, halfway to the summit. It was a beautiful twilight drive up to the camp. The bright stars were out and as I drove up the mountain, I slowly climbed above the hanging clouds. It was magnificent.

The next morning I awoke at 4am to catch the light changing before the sunrise. It was again, spectacular. After the sunrise, I hiked around in the crater for a few hours, before heading down to the coast to do the famous "drive to hana" and just past it to where I spent my second and last night in Maui. The drive was excellent, and I had to pull over many times to take pictures.


Hawaii was an unexpected beauty. I wish I had had more time to explore. So it goes, I hope to return, perhaps on the backside of another trip to the ice...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Finally up to date. On Monday, I met up with General Assistant Tracy, who is also staying in Sydney, and we took a train up to the Blue Mountains. They were beautiful and we hiked for hours along the cliff top and then dropped into the forest, always on the lookout for deadly snakes and spiders.

After a long day, we played some backgammon with my new travel backgammon board. I was on top of my game as the picture will show those who know the game. It is unimportant to note that I had only taught Tracy how to play the night before. She called me a "dork" but I couldn't miss capturing the moment.

No more triathlons planned for me, though Caroline has one this weekend, and Jamie has his cricket finals. Otherwise, we're going to the symphony orchestra tonight to hear the show "Antarctica" complete with pictures and narrations from Robert Scott's expedition. We are very excited.

On Sunday I'm off to Hawaii for a few days. It was less than a hundred dollars through Raytheon's travel plans to stop in Hawaii, so I couldn't pass it up. Then home for two full days before going to Florida to teach a week long Outward Bound sailing course. The adventure continues...On a side note it looks like the Denali expedition will not be happening. The leader of our expedition got a job as a volunteer park ranger that same month, and it was understandably too good of an opportunity for him to pass up. Hopefully some time in the future I'll find myself on the mountain...

Hope springtime is almost on the way in New England!

Sydney, Australia

I am currently in Sydney, Australia with my cousin Jamie and his wife Caroline. Got here Friday evening. Saturday was a training day. Yes, Caroline, the triathlete, had managed to get me a number Sunday's olympic distance triathlon. How could I refuse when she had emailed me about it a few days before I left New Zealand. Biking with the "tri-team" at 6:30AM then to surf swim practice of entering and exiting the water. The practice involved working on the techniques of diving under waves and body surfing them back to the shore when the swim had been completed. It was excellent to be in the warm water. And the waves were quite fun.

Caroline took excellent care of me. She somehow found me a sweet bike, bike shoes, a triathlon wetsuit, and a race suit. That's right, I hadn't been on a bike or worn goggles for half a year, but I was going to look the part, at least as far as my equipment was concerned.

The actual competition was a lot of fun. I was far from being competitive, but I pushed all I could with what I had and had a great time and I finished in 2 hours and 29 minutes...and I've now gone "international." Caroline finished twenty minutes before me and got second in her age group! And if it weren't for her chain coming off, she would have taken first!

After the race we went to Jamie's cricket semi finals. Here he is as he patiently waits for his turn to his bat. Finally Jamie made it up to bad, and after he scored 11 runs, the other team could see that he was on his way for a century, so the game was called. They won, and are now moving on to the FINALS! Quite an exciting weekend!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Able Tasman and NZ Departure

To Able Tasman National Park, Scottie and I went. Camped in a campground for $4 - a nice spot on the water. It was a pleasant night until the rain started, which I had feared it would. My sleeping bag was in a bivi sack, so it held the rain out for a bit. But somehow in my confused sleepy state, the side zipper got left open while I was messing with the sack's mesh screen. So I woke up at 5 am a little wet. At 5:45, I tossed in the towel, got up and studied my sign language dictionary until it was light enough to move on in the rain.

Drove to the Able Tasman area, and then ran into the park for about an hour and 15 minutes. I figured running was the best way to see as much of the park as possible in a short amount of time. The bays and water and islands were beautiful. More tropical than Stewart Island was. I ran on and on, hoping to get around the next ridge for another view, but soon it was time to turn around. Then back I went taking some pictures as I went.

Back to Nelson for the night, and then I made my way towards Christchurch, picking up my friend Ragnar along the way. The weather was quite different going over Lewis Pass. Luckily, Scottie was up to the challenge and we persevered.

Back to Christchurch for a few days of rest and relaxation with Ice friends who were also about to head on. Went back to the Antarctica exhibit near the gardens. It was very interesting to look upon all the artifacts and pictures and displays knowing I had been where all these expeditions were trying to go. Then a little walk around the botanical gardens. So beautiful. I loved the trees, so well taken care of. Finally found my favorite tree.

It was strange to be in Christchurch, about to leave. Christchurch seemed to be where it all began. Fall was coming and the cool breeze and the leaves changing color reminded me that it is a time of change. I love the trees, so nice to have my hand on a living plant.

New Zealand was amazing. Wonderful people (especially John and Jill!), spectacular sights, and now this past month makes wonderful memories. Australia is next to visit my cousin Jamie and his wife Caroline.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Glaciers and Pictin

From Tea Anau and Milford Sound, we headed to Wanaka in Mt. Aspriring National Park. We were there for a few days visiting friends and figuring out our plans from there. We decided to steer Scottie towards the glaciers on the west coast.

To the Fox (below) and Franz Joseph Glaciers we went. They were interesting but less than spectacular after spending 4.5 months around snow and ice. Had we been actually on them, the story might have been different. And as it was, the rain was coming down quite steadily.

After the glaciers, we eventually found ourselves back in Christchurch. It was sadly time for Krista to head back to the US of A, and for Ben to fly Scottie without a copilot up the north-east coast.

To Pictin, the north-east corner of the south island, I went. Beautiful inlets, bays, islands and such. New Zealand continues to amaze me.

Later that afternoon, I found the New Zealand Outward Bound headquarters. I introduced myself as an instructor from the states and I was immediately welcomed and taken care of. They fed me dinner and even let me row out in their dingy to check out their boats. Such hospitality!

Ran a bit of the Queen Charlotte Track the following day and then headed west.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Milford Sound

To Milford Sound:

After the Kepler Track, Krista and I figured it would be worth driving the Milford Road even if we couldn't get on the track. So into Scottie we went, north into fjordland. The views were spectacular and I don't think I've ever been on a road with such magestic views. I had to stop every five minutes to take another picture. It was really incredible.

We arrived at the carpark and were greeted with even more stunning views. There were boat cruises that went into the sound, but being that you had to pay for them, we figured that the drive would be enough. However, once we got there, we could not turn around without seeing the area from the water. And so, off we went, into this incredible fjord.

It was just incredible. The shear cliffs, the plant life coming out of the cliffs, the waterfalls, the clear water. It was all amazing. The pictures tell the story. We went all the way to the Tasman Sea and then sadly turned back. Amazing place.