Italy and Austria 2017: Day 1 and 2 — Getting to, and Arriving in, Rome

So getting to Rome was a lot easier (in some respects) than getting to Paris, which was the first leg of my European journey a few years back. My traveling partner this year is Thing 2.

This time, we opted to get to LAX to catch our flight via the Disneyland Resort Express bus. Mr. Rovira dropped us off at the Disneyland Hotel; this was easier for him, too, because it meant that he, Thing 1, and Mr. T wouldn’t need to brave afternoon/early evening LA traffic on the way home after dropping us off. Our flight was due to leave Los Angeles at 18:05 on 05 June.

We breezed through security at the airport and then waited for a while until it was time to start boarding our plane. The first leg of our journey to Rome had us traveling into London’s Heathrow airport. We would have a two-hour layover, and then arrive in Rome right around 18:00 on 06 June. Our flight to London was uneventful. A huge boon for me was that I slept for most of the flight. After our initial drink/meal service, I tried to cuddle in to my seat to try to sleep — and I did. That usually never happens. Thankfully, that allowed a ten and a half hour flight pass rather more quickly than I was expecting it to. Meanwhile, Thing 2 was enchanted by the movies-on-demand at our seat, so she spent her time watching movies instead of sleeping. Bad move on her part, I think. She ended up with a no-sleep headache later on.

We landed in Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and had to make our way to Terminal 5. That took longer than expected, and once we got to Terminal 5, we needed to pass through security again. There was an initial problem reading my ticket to even get through to be screened by machines. Then, as we were taking off our shoes and putting our backpacks in buckets to pass through x-ray, I forgot to take my phone out of my pocket. That caused me to beep as I went through. A pat-down found my phone, so they took that out to put through the x-ray machine separately. Meanwhile, Thing 2’s backpack had a “suspicious” sharp object in it, and so it got pulled out for personal searching. Apparently, as she was cleaning it out after school’s end, she forgot to go into the compartment that had scissors and glue in it, so these got pulled out and confiscated (which was no biggie, since who needs scissors on vacation?). Now we were getting really nervous because we had only 20 minutes until our flight to Rome was due to depart. The security woman was very kind, and we said we were sorry for causing unnecessary problems . . . And it kinda made me wonder about security in LAX if we were able to get the backpack through there with scissors. Hmm.

So we stuffed the contents back in the backpack and began running at top speed down to our gate. Passports and boarding passes in hand, I then realized, “OH NO! My PHONE!” It was still back at security. I started running back up to security, not knowing the nice lady who searched through Thing 2’s backpack was on her way down to us with the phone. So, back I ran to the gate, where she was waiting with my phone. We got on to the plan . . . Maybe we were the last to board? It was a little stressful. But, we made it! We were sitting next to a nice woman from the Bay Area who also was traveling to Rome for the first time on vacation; she was meeting friends here. She had missed her previous connecting flight to Rome because her other flight from Oakland was late coming in. So all three of us were glad we were Rome-bound.

Arriving in Rome, we got through customs easily and got our passports stamped. The customs officers were really cool; one was listening to (Italian?) punk music, and they were sort of nodding their heads along with the music as they stamped us and welcomed us to Italy. We easily caught the Leonardo Express train  to Roma Termini (the station nearest our hotel, and one of Rome’s main train stations). From there we got a taxi to our hotel. I’m sure that our taxi driver took us on a longer route than needed to get to our hotel, but it was nice to see some of Rome by car – including our first view of the Colosseum (squeee!)

We checked in without problem. Our concierge, Roberto, was great. I took a quick shower to get rid of travel grime, and we went out for a quick reconnoiter of our surroundings. We ate a quick pizza on-the-go that was delicious, and made our way to an awesome gelato  place for a sweet snack. We also stopped by a pharmacy to pick up some ibuprofen for my ankle. (I forgot to pack the Advil!) Roberto was even kind enough to give me a special pack in which to put ice so I could ice it down. A bit of reading up and reviewing the calendar for the day ahead is how I ended my night. One of the things that we had planned was to visit the Trevi fountain, but that will just have to be done another day, as it was getting dark, and I didn’t want to be out after dark on our own.

(Unfortunately, a bit of jet lag caught up with both Thing 2 and I, so we didn’t sleep past around 3:00 am. We gave it the good ol college try to get more sleep, but eventually called it a night and started getting up. This allowed us to use Yelp to try to find a good place for breakfast and research how to get there on public transit. I also got to write this blog post. 😀)

Six Reasons Why the Tudors Are Awesome to Study (and Why You Should Study Them): A Listicle

As part of my (lapsed) membership in the #EdublogsClub, I was prompted this week to write a “Listicle” entry. If you don’t know what a Listicle is, let me enlighten you. In a sense, it is an informative list about any topic. Often times, the subject of the list is titillating or sensational in some way like this one. Or, the list can be specific to a topic that a specific reader might have an interest in, and the list might help one to deepen their understanding about the topic, like this one. (mental_floss is one of my favorite places to view listicles, by the way.)

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

So, without further ado, here is my list:

  1. Henry VIII had six wives. Yes, six. That alone is amazing, especially for a guy who lived in the 1500s. Most people didn’t get divorced back then. Really, though, if you think about it, he only divorced two times. His third wife died, and his last wife survived him. The other two wives? This leads me to . . .
  2. Henry VIII had two of his wives’ heads chopped off. Our 21st century notions of marriage include deep, abiding love. Back then, marriage was more of a business transaction, but it still goes beyond the pale to think that dissatisfaction with the marriage could result in execution.
  3. Henry VIII started a religious reform movement in England. He wanted to annul his first marriage to his wife, Catherine, daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The Pope said, “No.” Henry VIII didn’t like to be told that, so he said the the Pope, “You’re not the boss of me anymore!” and separated himself and his country from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. He became the head of his own church, the Church of England, later to be known as the Anglican Church. In reality, it wasn’t too much different than the Catholic church, and there were great debates during Henry’s time about how much of the liturgy should be changed. It was pretty rocky for a while, depending upon whether or not one was a Catholic or a Church of England member (Protestant), which leads me to . . .
  4. Wanna know where the moniker “Bloody Mary” comes from? It actually is a reference to Henry VIII’s  oldest daughter (from his first marriage), Mary. Henry VIII started England on the path toward Protestantism, but when he died and Mary took over, she zealously brought England back into the Roman Catholic fold. She persecuted people of the “new faith,” killing and torturing so many that she earned the nickname.
  5. Elizabeth, Henry VIII’s second daughter (from his second marriage to Anne Boleyn), is an awesome example of a strong woman in history. She was a strategic thinker — albeit sometimes overthinking things — and she had a coterie of spymasters and advisors helping her out. She even kept her own cousin, Mary Queen of Scots (not to be confused with Elizabeth’s sister, Mary) under house arrest for more than eighteen years.
  6. Henry VIII has an awesome Twitter account. Seriously. It is truly laugh-out-loud funny. Henry’s followers get to read snarky posts about world leaders, his favorite foods and activities, and prescriptions for truly living the #TudorLife. The online feud he has with Richard III is delightful reading for #Nerdy Tudor enthusiasts like myself.

BONUS: Candy Heart Writing for Valentine’s Day 2017

Recently I have been reading the book Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I by Peter Ackroyd. It is all about one of my favorite time periods in history and full of gory details about how people of the “wrong” religious faith at this time in England were tortured and put to death. It goes into great detail about the cantankerous Henry VIII and his whims. It details how his daughter, Elizabeth I, could not let down her guard lest she lose her power and her crown. For my Candy Heart Writing 2017 post, I’m going to connect two hearts I pulled out of the bag — NOT NOW and TRUE LOVE — with some of what I am reading about, especially as it pertains to Elizabeth. First, there were two great dilemmas that Elizabeth faced as queen: (1) whom should she marry? and (2) what should she do with her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots? When she first became queen, Elizabeth’s courtiers urged her to marry, promoting a match with the king of Spain and also with a duke of France. She would frequently put off discussions of the topic of her marriage by essentially saying to her council and Parliaments, “Not now!” (As in, “I don’t want to discuss it!”) Additionally, she would instead say something to the effect that the country of England was her “true love,” and that she was wedded to the country and its people. Marrying another, she argued, would distract her from her true purpose, which was to live long to serve and guide her people. As mentioned, Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, was caught numerous times conspiring against Elizabeth to seize the crown of England, to unite the crowns of Scotland and England. Elizabeth’s cabinet approached her, asking what to do with Mary? Should they execute her? Elizabeth answered again, “Not now,” until she could put off the decision no longer. Finally, after eighteen years, Elizabeth had Mary executed. If you enjoy learning about the exploits of Henry VIII or reading about strong women in history, this is the book for you.

Image courtesy of Parnote (@Wikimedia Commons)

#Edublogs Club (Post 3)

Prompt: Write a post that discusses leadership, peer coaching, and/or effecting change. 

Here are some sentence starters that may help you as a work on the ideas for your post:

  • The best school leader I have ever worked for/with…
  • Teaching leadership skills to students…
  • The qualities of a true leader include…
  • Leaders don’t…
  • Leaders never…
  • Leaders always…
  • I wish my school administrator/boss…
  • As a leader, I wish to improve on…
  • A leader I admire…
  • Peer coaching…
  • Effecting change…

I LOVE sentence starters, especially for such a big topic as this. It helps me organize my thoughts a bit and make sure to address all parts of the task. I don’t want to get political, so I won’t name names or get too specific with facts and details . . . except with one of the starters. (See below.)

  • The best school leader I have ever worked for or with . . . had a lot of life wisdom to share along with professional experience. This person had integrity and was a real team player. No job was too menial, despite the fact that she was the “face” of our school and the buck stopped with her. She handled discipline, was our instructional leader, and helped the lunch ladies pick up trash students left behind in the quad after lunch. She didn’t play favorites with the teachers, and she was a plain speaker. She believed in every student’s ability to learn, and she knew every one of our school’s students by name – and we had nearly 1000 of them.
  • Teaching leadership skills to students . . . is probably something I should do a bit more of in my classroom. I don’t teach the leadership class, but that doesn’t mean I cannot try to focus on a character trait of the month or some similar endeavor. (Our leadership class has done that for the school at various times over the years I’ve been at our school.) In truth, I like to “be the change I want to see in the world,” though, and try to model good citizenship for my students through being a responsible, good citizen myself. I try to treat every student respectfully and fairly. I am trying to be more mindful. (I even bought and started reading a new book, Mindfulness for Teachers, over Winter Break.) I am hoping that this mindfulness approach to my teaching will transfer to my students; that they themselves will notice will respond rather than react in their relationships with others at our school – staff and peers alike. Hopefully, citizenship and leadership skills will improve as a result.
  • The qualities of a true leader include . . . but are not limited to: (1) avoidance of gossip; (2) enthusiasm; (3) the ability to be a team player; (4) competence and skill; (5) the ability to be a friend to all and to bridge the divides that keep people apart; (6) oratory and empathy skills; (7) integrity; (8) optimism rather than pessimism; (9) patience with others; and (10) respect for others. These are not necessarily listed in order of importance to me; they may change in importance depending upon the situation.
  • Leaders don’t . . . give up. They are persistent in helping their team solve problems. They are willing to think creatively or “outside the box” to solve problems.
  • Leaders never . . . play favorites, as Rudyard Kipling wrote about in his poem “If“. In his poem, Kipling admonished the reader to remember that it is the mature and wise adult who treats everyone the same: “If all men count with you, but none too much” (Line 28). I also love this poem because Kipling additionally wrote about how important it is for someone to not lose their wits when all around him (or her) are losing theirs. Sometimes being a leader is difficult, and he or she must blaze a path or act the maverick, going against the flow and conventional wisdom. This is difficult. Leaders manage to do this and never lose sight of the end goal.
  • Leaders always . . . keep on trying. They are not content once they have reached a goal. Goal attainment is merely an opportunity to reflect and evaluate, and set a new goal. They are not content with what is.
  •  I wish my school administrator or boss . . . made a few more “top down” decisions. (This is applicable to to all levels of leadership in my district.) This is mostly a personal preference for me. Personality wise, I am a “rule follower” and I don’t like ambiguity. Lately, our district has been focusing on “guaranteed and viable” (G & V) standards – non-negotiable skills that all students must demonstrate mastery with – for continued success in school. To give teachers more “ownership” in the process, each site has been encouraged to come up with their own set of G & V standards. This has resulted in confusion and a lack of uniformity across our district. If someone had stepped up to leadership and just said, “These are it!” then my colleagues and I at my site, and across our district, would be able to get to work together more quickly on creating a standard set of proficiency scales, learning goals, and common formative assessments we all could use. I feel like all of us are spinning our wheels and recreating the wheel, each at our own school sites, when we could be more effective and efficient. I like knowing exactly what you want me to do.
  • As a leader, I wish to improve on . . . being more “present” for my students. I get so focused sometimes on all of the assessments I am supposed to administer (and the results thereof), and I start thinking of numbers rather than personalities. I feel like in the last 18 months, I’ve become somewhat detached from my true reason for teaching, which is twofold: (1) I want to share my love of learning with others, and (2) I want to be an advocate for youth. Really, that’s what makes me most happy in my job – just being there each day, sharing what I know, helping them learn new things, and just enjoying getting to work with some really cool youth. My mindfulness practice is helping me to become more present with students in the classroom, to focus on the students’ personalities and emotions, and to enjoy and accept them for who they are (thirteen-year-olds!). I want both them (and me) to stress less and enjoy the process more.
  • A leader I admire . . . well, there are so many! Who would I love to meet and chat with from history (or present day) if I had a chance? The list includes: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama; Pope Francis; religious leaders such as Jesus, St. Thomas, the Buddha, Muhammad, and Job (from the Bible); Queen Elizabeth II; Ghandi; Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo; Harriet Tubman; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; writer Jane Austen; Ada Lovelace . . . this is not an exhaustive list.
  • Peer coaching . . . is something that I am currently getting a chance to engage in. There is a peer on my staff to whom I act as a mentor. I hope I am doing a good job! (I think this person would say that I am.) We should probably spend more time together consistently, but this person knows I am available at any time – in person or by text. I try not to give advice, but instead to share my experience and offer my own perspective on issues that have come up. I try to be a good example of what a teacher should be to my peer.
  • Effecting change . . . is hard, plain and simple. As Newton postulated, “An object at rest tends to stay at rest.” This includes inanimate objects as well as humans (I think). Change is scary for a lot of people, and I include myself in that group. People are resistant to change, so getting them to take that leap of faith despite the fear . . . well, if a person can get others to do that, that’s the mark of a good leader. I hope I am inspiring to (at least some of) my students, and that our time together this academic year will lead them to try something new or do something differently. If I can do that, I will have been a success.

#EdublogsClub (Post 2)


  • Write a post that discusses your classroom or place of work. Some topics you may wish to address include:
  • The physical space – how you approach layout of furniture, technology, etc.
  • The aesthetics – share a photo and/or discuss decorating your space
  • Staying organized – how you do (or don’t) keep organized
  • Tips, tricks, or advice related to the above
  • Anything else you wi
    sh to share!
  • We want just a little window into your daily work life 🙂

My classroom is my home away from home, so I want to feel as comfortable there as possible. I like it clean and tidy. I don’t like a lot of stuff on my counter space, and the closets are organized.

Our interactive word wall for ELA and HSS terms

I like space to move in my classroom. I have seven tables, at which sit five to six students each. I used to have individual desks, but they were a trapezoidal shape.  Devising seating arrangements for a square-ish, rectangular-ish classroom with trapezoidal desks was difficult. I just didn’t feel like any of us – students or me or any visitors – could move well. The flow is really important. So, this year, with the tables, I feel like that has really opened up the flow to my class. I try to change seating arrangements two times during the quarter, or about six to eight times a year, just to change things up a bit.

My classroom is very colorful. To cover my bulletin boards, I bought some Peanuts Gang-themed fabric . . . about three to four different kinds that all compliment each other. (I love Charlie Brown and Snoopy.) Back in my first year teaching, I made Peanuts Gang characters on tag board, so those hang on the wall, too, in various places.

Linus and student avatars with QR codes to student blogs.

To go with the colorful wall space, I have four different colored chair options for students – red, green, yellow, and blue. I just wanted more than one color, and my principal was game for it. It helps, sometimes, with management, too, because I can say, “If you are in a red or yellow chair, please . . . “ and then give students some directions.

Different colored chairs with student avatars (with QR codes to blogs!) in the background



My students all have a space on my walls, too. Each student makes an avatar at the beginning of the year to represent themselves using an app on their iPads. Then, as we set up our blogs, I also have them create a QR code for their blog and share that with me. I print them out and place them next to the respective avatars.


With respect to organization, I pride myself on staying organized. I want my students to continue to develop their own organizational habits, ones that will serve them well in life as they mature. (I teach seventh graders.) Some students don’t have organizational habits that are as well-developed as others, so I see my organizational routine as sort of a model for them. We do a lot of stuff digitally at our site, so my classroom website has digital copies of all of the current quarter’s assignments available for students to download. I also have an “extras” binder on my countertop for students to obtain paper copies after an absence, or in case they have lost their original. There is a “No-Name Graveyard” in my room for papers that are turned in to me without a name. There is also a “purple basket” which is my special basket. If students have late work, work from an absence, or work they want to turn in early, it goes there. It helps me ensure the assignment gets place in the right “pile” and doesn’t get lost.

#EdublogsClub (Post 1)

Well this is not my first blog post, by a long shot, but I definitely don’t blog as much as other teachers. It was something that I thought I’d start trying after viewing a session about student blogging at the (Computer Using Educators) CUE conference in Palm Springs back in 2013. At the time, my students and I had Google Apps for Education (GAFE) accounts, but Blogger was (and still is) blocked by our district. So, I decided on using Edublogs, and that’s how I ended up here. I’m not a “regular” blog reader – I’m often too busy to sit down and delve too deeply into too many blogs – but I do like to read Edutopia, Edudemic, and Catlin Tucker. One tech tool that I use to keep up with blogs is an app called Feedly. (It is also web-based, too.) All of my RSS feeds “dump” into Feedly, including those of my students, so I can keep up with recent posts a little more easily. I don’t really have too much advice to others (especially the new peeps!) except to just keep after it and build discipline. I got out of blogging regularly myself in the past 18 months because I was working on my Master’s degree; literally every free second I had was spent working on assignments for my own professors or grading my own students’ work and planning for our days. I am joining the #EdublogsClub to recommit to my own blogging, and I am hoping that it will help generate readers for my own students’ blogs. (Sorry I am late with this first post!)

Bass Guitarist or Lead?

I thought about this question as I was driving home today. It is an interesting question to ask someone if you are trying to get to know them a bit. Lead guitarists are up front in center, and they get all the attention. They like it, too. Bass guitarists are important, though; music wouldn’t sound the same without them. They are a little more behind-the-scenes, however. They don’t get as much attention as the lead does, but they’re still cool. Which would you be, the bass guitarist or the lead?

Myself? I think I would be the bass guitarist. I like to be important, but I like to stay low key. I don’t like to draw a lot of attention to myself. I also love the sound of the bass guitar. There’s a bass riff that plays over and over in one of my favorite movies; I was watching it today as I was grading papers in first period. It has stuck with me all day. Unfortunately, it isn’t on the soundtrack for that movie, and believe me, I’ve looked. I am a firm believer that if something is on the Internet, I’ll be able to find it. And I have not been able to find it in all the years I’ve been searching. There’s a few other bass lines that I love:

  • the bass background melody in “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash
  • the opening bass riff in “Our House” by Madness
  • “The Guns of Brixton” by The Clash
  • the opening bars of “Mountain Song” by Janes Addiction
  • “Wonderful” by Adam Ant

All of this leads me to my next question: What is on your playlist of late?

I’ve been really stressed out, so I’ve been gravitating to songs that I can play loudly and ones that I can scream along to as I drive. Yes, scream along to, not sing. One of the only times I am truly by myself is when I am in the car driving home; I don’t have my kids with me because they come home with Mr. Rovira. So I can play my music as loud as I want, or “so loud that my ears pop” as Riton says. Especially with the songs that have awesome bass lines, it makes my bones vibrate. Nice! I made a new Spotify playlist for my screaming songs. It contains:

  • Smashing Pumpkins
  • Rage Against the Machine
  • System of a Down
  • Marilyn Manson

What are you listening to? What should I add to my playlist?

In Celebration of “Random Acts of Poetry Day” . . .

Today is the commemoration of Random Acts of Poetry Day. To celebrate this day, people are encouraged to

engage in moments of guerilla poetry. Take your chalk in hand and scrawl the words of your heart across sidewalks and alley walls, ramble madly, like a sweaty toothed madman, or wax lyrical about the most important love of your heart. Better with word than pen? Then stand on a street corner shouting poetry to the wind, imparting onto all the joy and pain, sorrow and exultation of your soul, heart, and mind. To be a poet is to walk the wild lands of impossibility and imagination, and Random Acts of Poetry Day is your opportunity to, for just a moment, bring others into the world in which you live (Days of the Year).

So, to that end, I am posting an “I AM” poem. I frequently assign students to do this at the beginning of each academic year, but we did something a little different this year to change things up. So, I’ll post it here now for your perusal and enjoyment. Even though I wrote this years ago, it still holds true for me today.



I AM intense and driven.
I WONDER about a lot of things . . . that’s why I read part of the encyclopedia every night.
I HEAR a comic “duh duh duh” when my mom says, “We need to talk.”
I SEE myself as a grown-up Lucy van Pelt from Peanuts.
I WANT just a little more time to myself.
I AM intense and driven.

I PRETEND that I’m having conversations with people while I’m driving so that when we really do talk, I say what I want to say correctly.
I FEEL challenged when I have five things to do at once and I don’t know which one to tackle first at the expense of the others.
I TOUCH heaven just a little bit whenever I hear one of my children say, “I love you, Mommy.”
I WORRY about failing or not “measuring up.”
I CRY when I think about children who are seriously ill, malnourished, or unloved.

I AM intense and driven.
I UNDERSTAND, as Nietzsche wrote, “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”
I SAY drunk drivers should receive drastically stiffer penalties for their crime.
I DREAM about nightmarishly bizarre scenarios, usually.
I TRY to teach things differently and more effectively with each passing year.
I HOPE that I inspire someone this year.
I AM intense and driven.

— Jenny Rovira
September 2007