Thursday, March 31, 2011

Welcome to Hotlanta!

In celebration of Cesar Chavez (a champion of worker's rights), I am visiting Georgia, where they historically fought for slavery and segregation is still rampant! Hooray me!

In all seriousness....I'm visiting one of my very best friends. I'm so excited to spend three days with my best friend. We haven't seen each other for more than 8 months and we picked up right where we left off.

I thought I could add photos, but I guess you'll have to wait (or check Facebook)!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


The LA Times (the deplorable publication that it is) published their own analysis of LAUSD teachers using a value-added method.  It got people all up in arms. 

Value-added gets me all hot and bothered (in the good sense).  Just look at this and tell me you don’t get a funny feeling in your nether parts:

y = Xβ + Zv + ε where β is a p-by-1 vector of fixed effects; X is an n-by-p matrix; v is a q-by-1 vector of random effects; Z is an n-by-q matrix; E(v) = 0, Var(v) = G; E(ε) = 0, Var(ε) = R; Cov(v,ε) = 0. V = Var(y) = Var(y - Xβ) = Var(Zv + ε) = ZGZT + R.

That is statistical porn!

That is a sample of the equation that LAUSD is allegedly using to assess teachers using the “value-added” method.  Essentially, we can use a student’s previous test scores to predict the growth that we would expect from that student (given demographic characteristics) and we can then see what actually happens and use the difference between the predicted and actual values to assign how much “value” a teacher added (or subtracted).

It is a complicated statistical model.  It’s hard for me to argue the use of this model with teachers because I’m not sure that I agree with assessing people’s performance using a mathematical model that it takes a few graduate degrees to understand.  But, the alternative seems even more unacceptable to me. 

Currently, most teachers are deemed “excellent" through observation, even though the majority of our students are not able to pass standardized tests (yes, I realize that this is not the only assessment of a student’s progress, but alas it is what counts right now).  We also look to see what percentage of a teacher's students were "proficient." The problem with this is that a teacher who starts with 80% of his or her students proficient at the beginning of the year is judged the same as a teacher who began the year with 20% proficient students and ended the year with 80% of his or her students being proficient. 

Simple Growth Model: If we just look at a snap shot of a student's progress in the academic year (either using a pretest and posttest, or a compare a student's previous score to the current score), then we get a very hazy picture of what happened and we essentially have no way to control for demographics that obviously will affect academic growth. 

Chicago Public Schools has a pretty easy and intuitive explanation of the value-added analysis.  They have a powerpoint that goes into some Oak Tree Analogy - which may be useful.  But I think this document provides the best explanation:  Value-added explanation.

Monday, March 28, 2011

We must overcome all adversity. The only reason for a person to exist is to be the best they can be. If you don’t have any desire to be the best that you can be in every single phase of your life, you need to check your values. This attitude will develop perseverance. 


The choices that you make each and every day make the person you are in the long run.  By choosing to be the best you can be today, you will be the best you can be in the future.  Sometimes I struggle to balance living "one day at a time" and looking toward the person I want to be in the future.  But truly, you have to do both at the same time.  By making small choices today, you will aggregately be the person you want to be in the future.  You can't live passively in the day and expect to be something more than less than what you could be in the future.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Black Plague

I am finally returning from the dead.  I really thought I was going to die.  I spent my birthday on the couch. I got up to go to a late lunch with my parents in Redondo Beach and then I went back to bed.

On Saturday, a friend I went to preschool with got married.  I also lived with her two brothers (who are also my friends) when I lived in DC a few summers ago. It was really good to be with good friends who have known me so long.  It was fun to reminisce about the "old times."  The times that we went camping together and our parents made us stand in a line to do the dishes in tubs and we had to rotate jobs.  Sleeping outside at their house in Chatsworth and waking up to make pancakes on the griddle in their backyard.  Although I was friends with the bride while growing up, I am closer to her brothers now.  We all lived in a one bedroom apartment together for a summer.  Strangely, none us of us slept in the bed in the bedroom.  Chris and I slept on the couches in the family room because we usually fell asleep watching TV. And Matt was a waiter at a wine bar, so he often got home late and he always slept on the floor.  It was a good summer.  We went camping in the Shenandoah.  We walked from the White House to Georgetown for some yummy home made ice cream. We caught lightning bugs on the nature reserve behind our apartment.   I miss them.

My boys - resting on a hike

I also went to visit the house that I was born in.  I just drove past. It was so much smaller than I remember it being.  And it struck me, that this is often how things happen. Something that is such a huge part of our lives at a certain point, slowly becomes smaller and smaller and smaller. And even places, events, memories and the like that we place such importance on at the time become less and less a part of our lives as we grow more distant from them. In some aspects of our lives, this is a good and healthy thing.  But it's important to hold on to some of those memories that make our lives and the people that we are surrounded with really count.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The (gimpy) Olympics

There is a brokenness
Out of which comes the unbroken,
A shatteredness out
Of which blooms the unshatterable,
There is sorrow
Beyond all grief which lead to joy,
And a fragility
Out of whose depths emerges strength.

A few weeks ago, I applied to be a part of the Paralympic training camp for 2011.  On Tuesday, I received notice that I had been accepted.

I debated about whether I should go or not - I haven't been riding all that much lately.  Last time I trained with a coach I started to not like my bike because everything was about numbers and not just riding. But I decided that not many people on the Earth get to train at a United States Olympic training facility and if they kill me, well then at least I died trying something new.

So...the end of April....I'll be here:

Here's a video from the 2009 training camp:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A gift

I restarted this blog to share the ideas and feelings that I received from Father Rolheiser at our parish mission.  If there is one thing that I wish I could share with each one of you, it is the gift that our community received in having Father Rolheiser speak to us. I tried to record it on my iPhone, but there was too much static (and people noise) to upload it to this blog.  But I was listening to a Latin mass that a friend had sent me to start my morning for some reason I decided to check St. Monica's website for recently uploaded audio.

And I am so excited that my very progressive and hippie church* uploaded all three nights of the parish mission onto our website. I PROMISE you that if you take the time to listen to these recordings (you can download them and listen to them on your iPod). The topic was Faith and Doubt - Rolheiser nails it, and sprinkles in some awesome jokes and stories.

Granted, now I can't intellectually steal his ideas and post them here.  But he is truly a gifted man.  I must warn you that if you have any predisposition to weird intonations (as I do) then he tends to extend the last syllable of some words at the end of sentences.  But they also recorded some of the music - I must admit this is one of the reasons I get to church 15 minutes before mass (to find parking) in any Sunday (not just Christmas and Easter).

I am very affected by music. If you listen to Day 1, around minute 46, Helena sings a beautiful song. An on Day 2, at about minute 75, there a hymn that uses the music from from Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah.  The recording does not due either of them and their talent.

* I say this because St. Monica's is known for being progressive.  We have a vibrant Catholic community.  If I wanted to be at St. Monica's every night of the week, there would always be something to do.  Monsignor Torgerson has a facebook page, a twitter account and a hybrid car.  In addition, you will not find some of our ministries at most other Catholic Churches.  Some of my favorite are the clown ministry (they all dress likes clowns and go to visit children in hospitals, etc.),  GLO (gay and lesbian outreach), and the "Spirituality of the Twelve Steps."

Monday, March 21, 2011

LOL for Monday

This was in the refrigerator at work!   I MUST find it!
Peanut Butter + DARK (therefore healthy) chocolate = MY dreams!!!!!!

One of my interns left this on my door while I was at a meeting

Can't say it's false....

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It doesn't rain in LA

I'm sitting outside in the pouring rain waiting for Player Greg to pass by where we are sitting.  Today is the LA Marathon - which given that it is the middle of March, it would seem that Santa Monica should have beautiful weather.  But it's pouring down rain and as Southern Californians, we are woefully unprepared for such awful conditions.  I lost my umbrella the last time it rained - at the Christmas Pub Crawl, so I'm sitting underneath an absorbent blanket.  :(

I'm cheering for Greg to run by so that I can go home and take a warm shower and watch basketball.  GO IRISH!

Speaking of basketball, I picked Pitt to win it all.  Another winning bracket for Team Topanga.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wounded Healer

Another of my favorite authors is Henry Nouwen.  I am reading his book "Wounded Healer." He taught at Notre Dame, among other places (but really those are inconsequential after you've taught at Notre Dame).

In this little book, he attempts to encourage us into a new type of ministry to our brothers and sisters.  He says that, "In our own woundedness we become a source of life for others." Often we want to cast off our weaknesses and help people through our strength and support.  But Nouwen urges us to "keep living our wounds instead of thinking them through."

Nouwen openly suffered from depression throughout his entire life.  He is one of few people who shared openly and honestly about the struggles in his life. including his depression and homosexuality.  I think that so often we bury feelings when we are hurt or sad or wounded.  But this is the exact opposite of what we should be doing.  Nouwen doesn't advocate for us to wallow in our wounds and continue to be drug down by our pain, but it is through feeling and understanding our pain that we can help ourselves and others.

It's hard to feel hurt.  And we know all too well that there are many unhealthy ways to cope and bury hurtful feelings (here's looking at you Charlie Sheen).  In a world that is constantly busy, it's easy to let uncomfortable things happen and never really deal with the feelings that go with those experiences.  And so we bury things, deeper and deeper into our souls.

In one of my more recent surgeries, I had a wound that magically appeared after surgery.  For a while, the doctors kept it under the cast, hoping that it would heal itself.  When that didn't work, they sent me to physical therapy to have them debride it and keep it open, but it still wouldn't heal.  They tried to put me on oral antibiotics and tried to surgically close it, but nothing would make this hole to my bone close.  Finally, after 10 weeks of a PICC line and antibiotics directly to my heart, the darned thing closed.  It was a painful and very difficult time of my life.  And even now, when I struggle with something I look to the quarter sized scar on my tibia and the ever so small scar from the PICC line on my right arm and I gather strength from knowing that I made it through that experience.  By suffering and coming out on the other side, I am stronger now.

Another point of The Wounded Healer is that we are to share our faith in community, share our wounds with one another and through our sharing and the power of God we can heal one another.  We congregate in churches and organizations for a reason: God intended us to share this life with one another.  I often keep my faith bottled up.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Beloved

If you've talked to me in the last few months, you know that I don't always fit into the stereotype of a perfect West Los Angelino.  I don't like clubs.  I have no desire to go out every night. I am not on Atkins, vegan or eating gluten-free.  I eat carbs.  I don't wear jeans that cost $350. I am not cool.  It's taken me a really long time to realize that no one is cool.  Some people are just better at pretending than others.

But I do have some good friends and every once in a while - one of them busts out something that really hits home:

"You know, you might never be the person you want to be.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing. From where I'm sitting, the person you are now doesn't look half as bad or in need of order as you might be thinking. That person might actually be pretty awesome. Confused, a little effed up, and maybe more than a little crazy, but who isn't?  Besides, what if you fix your pretty little box, become superiorly mentally balanced, and all that ish.  Then what?  You'd probably become scary, and smug and write books and never leave your house. I would surely de-friend you.  Not to say you'd ever know!!!"

So calm and rational for the person who (literally) jumped across the table at trivia last night because "someone" didn't mark the double for the round (and maybe we would have won if "someone" had). Not very "Lenty!"  Five dollars in the penalty jar (you know who you are!).

Then I listened to a podcast of Monsignor Torgerson's homily from ass mass.  He was talking about the scene where Jesus is tempted by the devil after his 40 days in the desert.  The devil tells Jesus that if he is truly the Son of God and the beloved, then he will ___________.  Monsignor used this example to point out that we should let no one tell us who we are:

The greatest sin is if we dance to the tune of someone else - we're this, we're that, or we're something else.  No, we are who we are and we are the beloved of our God. Don't let anyone tell us anything else. Be who you are. Be content with who you are....Do not allow yourself or be tempted to become something you are not. Sin is when we disallow or disbelieve and become who we are not....So I hope this time of Lent....we will hear, clearly, "You are the beloved, highly favored and blessed by the Living God.

I have a lot of issues with St. Monica's (mostly the lack of parking), but we are truly blessed to have such a talented leader in Monsignor.

You can download his homilies on itunes or listen online at:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I refuse to use GPS

Much to my father's dismay, I refuse to use a GPS. If I'm absolutely lost, I will use my iPhone to figure out where I am (but no promises that I'll get where I'm going).  My "real" life is somewhat like that.  My mom claims that there is never a dull moment.  And when I decide to do something, there is rarely an obstacle that will stop me.  I'm a little like a roller coaster, one might say.

Sometimes I wonder how I got from here:

To here....

 To here....
Which is where I'll be tonight.  :(

I often forget that God already knows what will happen. If you had told me three years ago that I would be doing math every day for a living, I would have fallen over.  I don't like math!  But here I am, and I really like what I do.  I trusted in God to provide the experiences that I needed to get to where I am going.

One of my favorite bible passages is:

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Making the "right" decision is hard, and sometimes there isn't a "right" decision, there is only a decision. But it's important to include God in those thoughts and decisions.  Trust that he is guiding you through the Holy Spirit, and you will follow his will for you.

Back to work....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

God wants you to be happy....

I get freaked out when there is too much deep thought going on....sometimes I think God just wants us to live today, be happy and experience the world he has provided for us.  So....often, I just have things lying around in my brain that make me happy.  It's about finding the shining in all things that makes life a little more bearable.

Someday when I have children, this mural will be painted on the wall.  Calvin and Hobbes characterize the child-likeness, companionship and joyful exploration of the world that I try to have in my life and that I hope my children will also enjoy.

"It's not the destination, but the journey..."

"What's the point of wearing your favorite rocketship underpants if no one ever asks to see them?"

 My hedgehog, Mr. Grumpy Pants, provides much amusement in my life (begrudgingly). I admire his curmudgeoniness.
We all make mistakes, said the hedgehog crawling off the scrubbing brush.

As I was walking to church tonight, I met this dog on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.

"The more people I know the more I like my dog!" (Carrie Underwood)

 Ha!  A friend sent me this photo in a text the other day.  Daphne is getting quite famous!  In case you want to buy this book, Moby Duck.

A Dark Night of the Soul

Tonight Father Rolheiser talked about doubt, or a dark night of the soul.

Mother Teresa’s decades-long dark night of the soul was revealed after her death in Come Be My Light. Her bouts with doubt and the distance she felt from God surprised many who considered her the epitome of perfect Christian joy. Perhaps God already considered her a saint when he canonized her with his deepest silence during her life. His timeline, after all, has little do to with the Vatican’s process for making saints.

"Tell me, Father, why is there so much pain and darkness in my soul?"

That didn't meant that she didn't have faith.  Some people might ask why God would choose not to make himself readily apparent in such a holy woman's life.  I think that the answer is something that is easy for me to grasp because I feel God's presence in my life right now, but sometimes it's not so easy for me to understand.

The answer that Father Rolheiser gave was that when we are young or new to faith, God presents us with easily accessible ways to experience him. As our faith grows deeper he withdraws those easy things and forces us to go deeper.

He gave several examples of this process throughout our life:
1.  Referring back to the fish example last night. At some point, the mother fish will turn off the powerpoint presentation and those images will be taken away from the baby fish. That doesn't mean that water is no longer present.  It is surrounding them and sustaining them.  They just have to think and look deeper.

2.  The difference between icons and idols.  An idol is an icon of which we cannot let go.  An icon is a "thing" that helps us to access a concept of the Lord.  But it is not God.  When we replace God with a "thing" it becomes an idol.

3.  Finally, he gave the example of climbing down a mountain.  We reach a place where we feel safe, the ground is secure and we are OK. Then God, will pull the ground out from under us. We go deeper down the mountain and we are scared because we are no longer secure.  But eventually we will land and find some security again.  But just as we feel secure, we might fall again.  Each fall is a dark night of the soul.  God withdraws his presence (how we demand it or currently experience him) so that we are forced to go deeper into our faith.

Rolheiser cautioned that a dark night of the soul will come when you least expect it and in the way in which you least are prepared.  I have to admit that this worries me.  It is so easy to be enveloped in the passion that you feel when God is so real and present. It is scary to think that there will be (no doubt) a time in the future that I will again experience a dark night of the soul.  But I think that the knowledge that it is coming and the acknowledgement when it arrives are tools to help me delve deeper into my faith.


I am blessed to live in such a beautiful place...

Now with Photos!

I decided since I have reliable internet access...I will go through and add pictures to my posts from my trip.

A good imagination

This week is the mission at our parish to help us partake in Lent.  The speaker is Father Ron Rolheiser.  I read one of his books at Notre Dame (or I was supposed to read it!), "The Shattered Latern."  I've read several of his other books, including "The Holy Longing."  I've been looking forward to seeing him speak since it was announced this last summer.  He did not disappoint.  He spoke for two hours yesterday and there were so many things that I wish I could share.  The topic of his sharing is "Faith and Doubt."

The first night, Monday, was about faith.  One of the most vivid things I took from this night is that faith is always there and God is always there. Often we feel alone and like God has left us, but this is NOT the case.   One night, after a retreat or an intense spiritual experience, we may feel very close to God, and feel his intensity in our heart.  It is easy to believe.  On another night, we may feel alone, laying in the dark of our soul wondering where God might be.  It's not that God is more or less present on either night.  It's that on one night we have a very active imagination and the other we don't. God is always there.

He also talked about the question of "What is God?"  How do we find him?  Two things about this:
1.  These questions are like baby fish asking a Mama fish, "What is water?"  How does she explain this?  They are immersed in water, it is every where and how is she to explain to them something that envelopes them in totality?   He joked that if the Mama fish was very technologically savvy, she might bust out a Powerpoint presentation and show her baby fish pictures of water - a water fall, a river, a pond, etc.  But these would still just be images on a screen of what water is, there would be no way to explain in totality what "water is."  This is like God, he is infinite, he is everywhere. Our words, our art, our songs, the things we use to try to experience God - are just that - tools to experience part of the infinite, part of that which envelopes us.  He also gave the example of a fetus in a womb.  We are the fetus, God is the infinite entity of which we cannot know but we are a part of, He surrounds us, nourishes us and sustains us.

2. At the end, he said "Have you ever forgiven someone else, only to gain nothing by it, not even internal satisfaction?  Have you ever made a sacrifice without receiving any thanks or acknowledgement?  Have you ever decided to do a thing purely for the sake of conscious, knowing you must bear it's sole responsibility for your decision without being able to explain it to anyone?  Have you ever tried to act purely for love, with no logic to sustain you, acts in the dark and seem like pure nonsense?  Were you ever good to someone without receiving a trace of gratitude, without the comfortable feeling of being unselfish? If you have done any of these things, then you have known God."

Father Rolheiser

He also had a myriad of jokes that were interwoven into the more meaty content. One of my favorites:
A woman gave up all sweets for Lent.  A real temptation was that she had to drive past a bakery every day on her way to work.  She solved this by taking another way to work.  One day, her route was blocked and she was forced to drive past the bakery.  She was truly tempted to stop in and get a pastry.  It must be a sign from God that there was construction on her alternate route!  She still felt a little guilty, so she made a "deal" with God.  She would drive through the parking lot and if there was an open parking spot (which btw, there never would be in LA) then it was God's will that she was to break her Lenten promise and get a pastry.  Well, what do you know? God is a loving God! She found a parking spot.....on her eighth trip through the parking lot!


I gave up Facebook for Lent.  So instead of spending countless hours stalking people and wasting my time, I decided to spend more time with God.  As part of that, I decided to restart my blog.

Forty Days (OK...I'm a little late, it took me a while to remember I had this blog and that perhaps I should share some of the things I am thinking) of faith and probably a little nonsense too.