You can know anything. It's all there. You just have to find it.

-Neil Gaiman


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Road to Rochester

Yesterday I drove to Rochester to see my good friend Stephanie and do my book readings and art stuff with the kids at Byron Elementary. I had a great time and the day just flew by.

Here's the breakdown.

I leave Minneapolis at 6:45 a.m. and head south on Hwy 52.

I try to ignore the "check engine light" because it came on two days ago and the earliest appointment to get the car in was today. I drive the speed limit and take it easy because I'm afraid the car will either blow up or I'll suddenly lose all power and drive into the ditch. I stay in the right lane and try to ignore that a 1985 Festiva just passed me.

When I hear a weird noise I turn the radio up and sing along. Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

I arrive at Stephanie's a little after 8 a.m. We drop her daughter off at preschool along with another little boy, Beau, who's in her daughter's class. Because it is 18 degrees outside all the little kids come to school in their snowsuits, mittens, and boots. I try to help Beau with his hat and mittens though he assures me that, "I can do it!" Beau is obsessed with football. Though he is only four he asks me if I like the Vikings. I have to be honest here. "Actually, I like the Packers." Stephanie laughs and tells him that we grew up in Wisconsin, and Beau isn't sure about Wisconsin; he doesn't know where it is, but the way he blinks at me I'm guessing he thinks it might be close to Mars.

I notice all the kids have backpacks that are as big as they are. I find this hysterically funny. They look like miniature Sherpas ready to leave Everest base camp.

After we leave preschool we go over to the elementary school which is right down the road. Today the kindergarten classes are in the cafeteria doing cooking class. This is cool to me because when I was in kindergarten they didn't let us play with real food, everything was fake or just imaginary. Today the kids are making cornbread. They are in groups of 6 and supervised by at least one adult. When we arrive they are busy taking turns stirring the milk and eggs before adding the Jiffy cornbread mix.

Our first stop is the second grade class, where Stephanie's oldest son is. There are several things I notice that are different from when I went to school. First, the students' desks are grouped together in little pods of five or so. No straight rows like I remember. Also, there is not a big main chalkboard, there is a small chalkboard and a bigger computer whiteboard with the lesson plans and instructions that changes as the kids are doing different things. When we arrive the kids are working on some assignment and they are huddled in their groups, some get up and walk around and are talking; it seems much more collaborative and creative environment than what I remember of second grade.

When I go to read I get two devices to wear. One is a little microphone around my neck and I also have a device for one of the students who has a hearing problem. He comes right up to me and tells me how to wear it and assures me it's cutting edge technology. That's the other thing I notice; kids seem much more savvy then I remember being at that age.

Stephanie introduces me and then I ask questions and they are all very eager and excited to volunteer information. I ask them if anyone has a hamster for a pet. One little boy screams, "I have a FISH!"

I read the story about Luella and tell them all about making the book and then I show them how to draw a duck...starting with a circle for the head and how you break down a drawing into circles and lines and that way you can draw anything. The kids really like this part, and some of the drawings are fantastic.

The little kids name their ducks. One is Suzy, another is Joe, and one little boy holds his up for me. He wrote "Killer" by his duck. I'm sort of amused, sort of disturbed. Stephanie whispers to me, "He lives on a farm."

Aaahhh....he might be the kid who goes duck hunting.

I do pretty much the same thing at 10 a.m. with the two kindergarten classes. Then I also give everyone book marks. The kids love them; they like to get presents. Thanks again to Kelly for making them for me. It was a big hit.

During the lunch hour we go to Mayo clinic and we deliver the books to her coworkers who ordered them. I have never been in the Mayo clinic before; it is beautiful. We walked around the Gonda building and Stephanie shows me where she works (echo cardiology) and what they do, and it's fascinating to see everyone hustling and bustling about. I kinda feel like I'm in the presence of greatness--walking around the most famous medical center in the world and brilliant minds working together to solve scientific mysteries. Stephanie admits as much to me when I tell her that. "Yes," she says. "I feel lucky and privileged to work here." She points across the street to the hotel and tells me the penthouse is where the King of Saudi Arabia stays when he's in town. And yes, he's in town.

Then we have a nice lunch with her husband, who also works at Mayo, and then I made my way back home to Minneapolis. I'm happy to report the little Jetta arrived home in one piece.

All in all, I had a great time.
Thanks again Stephanie and to all the students and staff (especially Mrs. Demmer!) at Byron Elementary school, and also the great people at Mayo who gave me so many nice compliments on the book.

I will post some photos soon.

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