Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Prost Bavarian Beer House & Summer in Summit County

Each summer as the days begin to heat up, and the encroaching school supply sales begin to hint at the end of summer, we head to Summit County, CO, for a week or so of mountain living. The respite from the heat (it's a pleasant 78-82 degrees here when it's mid-90s on the Front Range) is only one part of the sheer joy of life at 9,000 feet. It's a day after day of outdoor living with a healthy and steady regimen of hiking, biking, swiming, fishing, reading, relaxing, eating and drinking. Our preferred home base is the lovely Keystone Lodge & Resort, nestled along the Snake River in the Keystone Valley, and we have our regular bike rides and hikes as well as favorite locales. But each summer there is something new to discover, and this year has given us a true Bavarian treat in a Frisco ale house called Prost Fine Beers and Sausages. We visited last night for some local music, sausages, pretzels and beverages.

Our "discovery" of Prost was a bit fortuitous, for it began in our desire to hear some great local music, most notably that of Summit County favorite Beau Thomas. Thomas is a singer and guitarist who appeared on "The Voice," and we have enjoyed his shows at Bighorn Lodge in the Resort over the past few years. Just a man with a great voice, an engaging personality, a guitar, and a broad repertoire, Beau has played the Happy Hour at the Bighorn for a few years, and it had been a tradition to see him at least once when we visited. He can sing practically anything and takes requests, but he also puts a great bluesy-folksy spin on it that is distinctly his style. Beau also hosts the Open Mic every Tuesday at Prost, and we made the trip over to Frisco for some great food and music. Prost is a pretty quaint place with beer house tables and a patio, and we had noticed it over the years, but probably wouldn't have checked it out without the draw of Beau and the open mic. Beau serves as the host for the evening, and he was joined by a local drummer and bass player for an eclectic opening set that included a cover of Curtis Mayfield's People Get Ready and a funky-cool mashup of Dr.Dre(No Diggety)/EdSheeran(Shape of You)/Mackelmore&RyanLewis(Thrift Shop). Beau Thomas & Co was a real treat, and we also enjoyed a couple other talented local singers.

The beer and food did not disappoint. My wife is not really a beer drinker, but she loved the refreshingly light pilsner-style lager called Stiegel, and I enjoyed a dark, malty Hofbrau Dunkel. The pretzels are a big hit as well, and we tried four sausages on their sampler platter - traditional veal, a beer brat, the elk-jalapeno cheddar, and a boar sausage with apricot and cranberry. All in all a great evening and definitely worth stopping by if you're in Summit County. Don't miss out on great beer and German food, and by all means make it a point to see Beau Thomas.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Teaching and My Identity

So, a former student is interested in education as a career, though not necessarily teaching. He's thinking about education policy and the economics of education. He could certainly teach and be excellent, though I'd see him more at the collegiate than the high school level. Anyway, as he ponders his future and decisions in college and post-graduate life, he sent me an email and asked if I'd consider answering a few questions about my decision to pursue teaching. It was actually a fun reflective moment for me, and I thought I'd share my feelings.

Why do you teach? 
a.     I love knowledge and learning and, of course, sharing this info with “a captive audience.” There is definitely a social justice component to what I do – I have an inherent need to “educate,” and my goal for my class is always to (in the words of Henry James) create “people on whom nothing is lost.” Teaching is simply something I can do well, and that’s significant because not everyone can engage the teenage mind with information and skills they aren’t instinctively interested in. I’ve always been able to write well, and as I learned to hone my craft, I developed a real passion for teaching people how to write – to do that well, they must also be able to read and think. And I have the ability to help kids develop those skills.

2.     When and why did you decide to go into education?
a.     Like many teachers, I had several who inspired me in class, and I quickly decided I wanted to do what they do. From the time I was a junior in high school, I wanted to teach, though I did begin as history/social studies major, and I always assumed I would get a Ph.D. and eventually become a professor. Even as an English teacher now, I still have it in the back of my mind that I will someday publish literary criticism and teach at the university level. While teaching in Taiwan, I became quite skilled at grammar and composition, and those areas have remained one of my areas of expertise. I am more of a Rhetoric and Composition guy than I am a Lit person. I also always swore I would never go into administration, yet here I am, and I love that role, too. I was pretty much goaded into that by my old department coordinator, as well as a few other administrators, and I can’t thank them enough for opening that world to me. Being able to still teach, but also do administrative work and coordinate groups like my school's Youth Advisory Board and events like Ethnic Fest makes me feel like I am making even more of a positive impact.

3.     What did you want to do before becoming a teacher?
a.     Writer – I always thought, quite sincerely, that I would teach until I finished the “Great American Novel,” which I would then turn into an Oscar-nominated screenplay. After three worthless and failed novels and screenplays, I’ve now concluded that I am actually a skilled non-fiction writer, which is why I blog and I write articles for the Denver Post and others. At one time I thought I wanted to go into politics and run for office, and I was quite involved in that at various times. While I am still politically active, I know I am more effective as a consultant and writer than I am at actually legislating, or worse campaigning.

4.     What would you do if you didn't go into education?
a.     I would be David Brooks of the New York Times.

b.     After I retire, I’m seriously considering moving to the Caribbean and opening a bed and breakfast with my wife. I would still publish and hopefully be able to do public speaking on occasion.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Practice a little "Intellectual Humility"

How do you "know" what you know?

One of my more entertaining bits that I like to do in my AP Lang & Comp class is to pose to my students this simple question: How do you know France really exists? How do you know France is a real place and the French language and culture are real things? It seems so silly, but I ask them to consider why they accept at face value something which has been asserted by people they don't even know. And then consider how you might set about "proving" it to yourself. You may go online and buy a ticket to "France," but you buy it from a website operated by people you don't know. You go to the airport and wait at a door that says "France" is the destination. You are directed by people you don't know down a windowless hallway, and then you find a seat in a long tubular room which you trust is an "airplane" - a 400-ton piece of machinery that you believe can "fly" at up to 600 miles per hour. Eventually the room starts rumbling and shaking, and you supposedly fly to France. When you land in this place you've never been, you encounter a bunch of people you don't know, who are speaking a language that you have been led to believe is "French."

But how do you really know?

I thought of this ridiculous exercise when I was at the TEDxMileHigh conference this weekend, and I listened to an "idea worth sharing" from Phil Fernbach, a cognitive scientist at CU-Boulder. Dr. Fernbach is the author of a book called The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone. Fernbach's presentation was about that importance of collaboration, and even compromise, in our pursuit of knowledge and understanding. He began his engaging lecture by recounting last year's amusing, though rather disheartening, tweet from the rapper B.o.B in which the singer asserted his belief that "the earth is flat." The tweet caught the attention of eminent scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and they began a sort of debate. This little exchange fascinated the internet for about a week, and the educated world looked on with amusement.

Fernbach used this story and some similar anecdotal material to point out how we like to look with contempt, disdain, and ridicule at stories like these that we find, well, absurd for good reason. But then he pressed us to ask ourselves just how well we truly understand and "know" the physics and the science of a round Earth to conclude that what we believe is correct. With the round earth issue, it seems easy and obvious, but with other issues the idea of factual understanding and irrefutable truth becomes a bit more nebulous. In reality, on a personal level we don't really know very much at all ... especially in the Google era when we can always just "look it up," right? And that dependence on others for our understanding was a valuable bit of insight. Our understanding and knowledge of so much depends on collaboration with others. There is very little we can and actually do know on our own.

So, as Fernbach progressed in his talk, he mentioned a valuable little nugget of wisdom that he phrased as the need to, or at least benefit to, practice a little "intellectual humility." I'd never heard it put that way before, but it resonated with me. At this time in our history, the benefit of the doubt and the respect for opposing views, along with the insatiable quest for fully understanding all sides to an issue or concept seems so important. With that in mind, I think I'm going to delve a little further into the issue by reading Fernbach's The Knowledge Illusion. And, I am definitely going to get to the bottom of this France thing. ☺

So, consider practicing a little Intellectual Humility. I know I could stand to do this.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Things to Do in Denver

A couple months ago, a friend from the Midwest messaged me and asked for some tips about visiting Denver this summer. I'd typed up a quick response and then copied it into a draft for A Teacher's View, but never posted it. But I figured why not. So here it is, slightly edited for a larger audience:

If you’re staying downtown, I’d consider the Crawford Hotel at Union Station, if only for a night. It’s in the heart of Lo-Do (the best restaurants and places to hang), and you’d be walking distance to Coors Field which is a great place to see a ball game. 

Down there for restaurants I’d say: 9th Door, The Mercantile, Vesta, Osteria Marco, Bistro Vendome. Or you could walk/cab over to the Highlands and go to Linger –one of Denver’s best restaurants. Root Down and Little Man Ice Cream are also there. In Denver, it’s also cool to stay at the historic Brown Palace Hotel – or at least go for drinks. Larimer Square and The 16th Street Mall are good walking/shopping destinations. And the Art Hotel is a new cool place to stay. And downtown there are simply so many great breweries, it’s impossible to list them. I’d suggest going to Denver Beer Company.

If you’re willing to head out of the city, it’s a quick ride out to Red Rocks to do some hiking and check out the amphitheater. If you go a little further, there are plenty of great hikes in the foothills around Golden or even Evergreen.  If you’re heading out, I love hiking the 3 Sisters Trail in Evergreen and then going to CreeksideWinery. Boulder is just 30 minutes away and definitely worth the trip. Hike the Flatirons above the University and visit Chattaqua and the Pearl Street Mall.

Of course, if you’re coming to Denver, you should head into the mountains. We prefer Summit County, and Breckenridge is definitely our mountain town. Breck is the perfect mountain town, and just two hours from Denver. We go every 4th of July for a few days – it’s got a great parade. We also spend a week or so in Keystone at the Keystone Resort and Lodge at the end of July. It is our happy place, right along the Snake River. It’s pure bliss.

Of course, there are countless books and websites about Things to Do in Denver, but it's always nice to add a personal touch. Regardless, the Mile High City is a wonderful place to visit .... just please don't move here!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 - "Can Steve Martin Teach You to be Funny"

Online learning - is it really a thing?

When I think about the potential for learning in the Internet Age, I am truly overwhelmed with the possiblities at the same time that I am quite skeptical of the reality. Because I am currently trying to learn to play piano (in my quest to live more artfully and be more artful), I have hope that there is nothing that is not learnable through the YouTube model. I've watched several videos to learn the basics of songs I wanted to play, and I realized that the model is quite transferable. In waiting for one video to play, I was sucked in to an ad for, an online tutorial site featuring numerous celebrities. It was the Steve Martin video that hooked me:

Now, I haven't actually signed up for any classes, but I am tempted by the idea, and I thought I'd at least look it over and post about it. There is a fair amount of hype and some credible people behind the idea of, and it seems like an opportunity that is at least worth the first $90. I don't know if Steve Martin can teach me to be funny, or whether Herbie Hancock can actually help me feel the magic of jazz music, but I would imagine that the experience would be one of the more entertaining classes in my educational career even if I learned nothing.

What do you think? Does anyone have any specific experience with MasterClass?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"America" - through American Literature

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, 
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, 
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, 
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work, 
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck, ...
      - Walt Whitman

On this celebration of Independence Day, I enjoyed a reflection from on the heart and soul of America as seen by international writers and editors through their picks for the quintessential American fiction. That got me thinking as a writer and teacher what my picks are for the best and truest representations of the American ethos - its voice, its spirit, its identity. Some I have pulled from LitHub's list, and others are my own reflection. Here are A Teacher's View of the "quintessential America" through its literature:

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Leaves of Grass - Walt Whitman
  • See opening quote. Is there anyone who more aptly called to attention that uniquely American character through the language we use

  • Growing up on the banks of the Mississippi River, I have a fondness for this book that Hemingway once said is the beginning of American literature. The spirit of America and the hope of the redeeming power of literature is so poetically summed up in Huck's parting words: “I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before.”
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson

Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston

Light in August - William Faulkner

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

  • The bible of the Beat and Hippie generation, this rambling, explosive yet reflective meditation on travel, jazz, booze, woman, and freedom is an iconic American voice. I mean, really. Just listen to this: "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."
A Separate Peace - John Knowles

White Noise - Don DeLillo

Generation X - Douglas Coupland (technically a Canadian author)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Aruba - One Happy Island

Until last week, I had been to four islands for vacation - Hilton Head, Paros - Greece, Bali - Indonesia, and Penghu - Taiwan. Every one of them was a wonderful experience, albeit in different ways and at different times in my life. The common thread of course is the unique qualities of island life, the most noteworthy being "island time." Having never been to the Caribbean, and having watched way to much "Caribbean Life" and "Island Living" on HGTV, it was a dream to spend some time in Gulf, and my most recent trip to Aruba did not disappoint. The motto and theme of this wonderful little semi-arid beach oasis is "One Happy Island," and at least from the tourist standpoint the experience fulfills the promise of the premise.

The key to the magic of the island is, in a word, its charm - Aruba is a quaint, welcoming, easy-going, safe, accessible, and simply adorable bit of land on the southern end of the Gulf of Mexico. Located roughly twenty miles off the coast of Venezuela in the territory known as the Dutch Caribbean, Aruba is a Dutch-controlled island, and it evokes a symbiotic blend of both Aruban and European culture. Maintaining one of the highest standards of living and average incomes for native people among the Gulf islands, Aruba seems to have nicely balanced its colonial past with its tourism-oriented present. We traveled smoothly between the port city of Oranjestaad and the resort-heavy Palm Beach, using both taxis and the local busses. In fact, I would highly recommend taking the bus for at least some of your trips, for it was a cultural experience all its own.

Our time was spent around the pool at the Marriott Aruba Surf Club, and I'd highly recommend it. We easily drifted between the Surf Club, the Ocean Club, the Mariott Hotel, and even made our way up and down the beach to other hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and the Hilton. All the beaches in Aruba are public, so access up and down is easy and not restricted to hotel guests. One nice quality was the ability to visit the other hotels for their restaurants, shops, and or course casinos. In making our way between the resorts and into the shopping/dining area of Aruba, I always felt as safe as I do in my own hometown. The staff in and around the resorts are literally everywhere with quick assistance and a smile. Visiting a place like Aruba immediately leads me to an inkling to "retire in the Caribbean," and while I will do some additional research over the next decade or so, I will definitely take another trip to island gem that is Aruba.

In the meantime, I'm planning my next vacation and research trip for the US Virgin Islands: