Sunday, November 15, 2015

Self-Created Pre-Holiday Project Frenzy

We have several family members coming to visit this year.  We will have more house guests than we have ever had, excepting a slumber party or two.

I guess I am into creating extra pressure for myself. In preparation for the family coming I have been pulling out my "To Do" lists from the past 3.5 years and doing all of the stuff I have avoided, for various reasons.  Most of the items will have no effect on our guests. They probably won't even notice the difference, but their visit gives me a deadline and motivation.  I have been playing "Beat the Clock" for a few weeks now. I was slowed down at bit by adding "rearrange the garage to fit ladder",  "sand garage ceiling"  and "2 coats of paint on garage ceiling" to the list, but things seem to be moving along well now.


I have re-painted a table and two chairs. It was time. The table had been hidden by a table cloth since my daughter's preschool art projects went wrong  and this evil stuff that never came off the table a decade ago. 

The robin's egg blue chairs are now teal.


The hidden under the tablecloth white table is now green like our dining table.  This picture makes the color more yellow than it really is.














Now the days are shorter, and we need to see the pellet stove to adjust it, we need more light in the living room.  I went to the thrift store nearby and spotted a lamp that had an interesting shape and pattern.  It was off-white and dingy, I'm guessing by the cord it is from the sixties. The cut outs reminded me of plants, so I bought it for three dollars and the shade for three more. I had just done the table and thought that a little more green might do the trick. With the addition of a little gold paint on the bump pattern and an LED bulb, I brought it up to my version of the 21st century. Did I need to do this? No, but it was more fun than grabbing one off the shelf at Home Depot.


I then painted the bedroom  and closet doors and trim, a project I started and stalled on a year ago. It looks so much better, I wonder why I never finished. I touched up where some of the wall colors meet to straighten the edges.  I remembered why I started buying better quality paint, as I had to paint two coats when I should have only needed one.  I also remembered that sometimes the paint leaks under the tape making it still uneven.  Oh well.


I bought a cabinet for the bathroom about two years ago, but it was so heavy I didn't dare hang it from the 1970's era fiberglass panel walls. I am making a table/support for it.  It should help clean up a couple of areas that keep getting cluttered.  The glass doors will help keep our little wild thing dog from snatching odds and ends, which leads to why I really bought it--for the previous thieving dog. I started priming the pieces yesterday, but it was chilly and the primer took a long time to dry, so I will finish priming the back sides today and will paint it tomorrow. The assembly process will occur possibly on Tuesday.

I've been picking up, sorting, cleaning along the way, but we are living here and any progress I make can soon be undone.  I'm trying to figure out how my pets have any hair at all from all the fur I sweep up, by my calculations they should all be bald.

Then there are the projects that I was planning to do this fall, that still aren't done. The irises have been dug up, and divided, but not re-planted.  



Then I was to rake the leaves into the flower beds and garden to protect the soil and add organic matter. The pine needles need to be raked around the blueberries to acidify the soil, but maybe I'll delegate that one. Today is supposed to be in the sixties with less bluster than yesterday, so maybe today after I prime I'll get these things done.

All this along with cleaning and prepping for a houseful of guests, I am hoping to sneak out for a day to see the new and improved Smithsonian Renwick Gallery ( It was one of my favorites before the renovations, I hope it still is!  That may have to wait until afterwards though.

No sound track this week, I'm hopping all over the place and doing things that are too messy, plus the quiet can be meditative in my self-created project frenzy.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Fruitcake Soundtrack, a new tradition

I'm glad so many of you read my last post, the only thing that disappoints me is that usually something dangerous or tragic has to have occurred to get more readers!  Some of my more everyday life blogs are better written and frankly funnier than the, "OOOOh jeez, she fell through the ceiling but didn't hit the concrete floor!" or "the chicken coop burnt down" posts.  I can see why, "If it bleeds, it leads." became the standard for local news stories.

Mostly, suburban life is pretty I guess I'll have to spice it up a bit.  I had planned on writing a blog on making fruit cakes using my grandmother's recipe a few days back, but ended up relating my gravitational/deconstruction issue, so now back to the fruitcake with a few (true) details to spice it up.

This is the second year that I am making Mimi's fruitcakes.  Many thanks to the two friends who lent me vat sized bowls to accomplish the task. I need to get them back to you very soon, I miss my counter space very much.

First the sound track, I hooked my tablet up to the speaker system and told it to play songs randomly and turned the volume up just a little too loud. Be sure to click on the youtube links and have the volume up, so that you get the true feel of the mood while I was at least the third generation preparing the family's fruitcakes. The tablet could have played anything from Mozart to folk to pop to punk and this is what it chose to set the mood for this traditional activity:

First I gathered all of the ingredients to An A Bomb in Wardour Street by The Jam.  I chopped up the dried fruit into smaller bits, dumped all of it into a bowl to macerate with orange juice stirring to the tune of Sunday Morning by No Doubt












Next for the eight eggs from my crazy chickens, cracked to the tune of  Broken by Jack Johnson.  (I didn't plan that, it just happened)  Creaming the pound of margarine (a recipe change due to a milk allergy) and sugar into a mush with a wooden spoon, then once the chunks were small enough switched to a whisk to Supervixen by Garbage, it took a bit of work, so it led into Dangerous by Depeche Mode. At this point, I really started paying attention to what music was playing, after all someday my daughter might want to participate in the family tradition and she'll need to do it properly. I may have snorted when I laughed.


 I stirred up a cloud of flour, baking powder, and salt and alternately added that and almond milk to the  egg mixture to E-Pro by Beck. 






I finished up that song while pouring the bowl of fruit and nuts into the wet ingredients. 



Cleaned it up a bit for the photo!

Then, I crashed the Pyrex dishes around in the cupboard to get the right loaf pans lined them and  smeared them with margarine and made a total mess to Building a Mystery Sarah Mclachlan. 














 I filled the dishes and put them in the oven to Stand Down Margaret by The (English) Beat.


Mimi would have had one of her headaches. 


When they were thoroughly cooled I poured a little something on them that Mimi didn't write into her recipe, but we know she used and wrapped them.  I'll open them periodically between now and the holidays to check on them and moisten them a bit more. 

A friend gave me Emily's Dickinson's Black Fruit Cake recipe, it looks interesting, especially since all of the fruit is just dried, not psychedelically colored in a factory.  Maybe that one will have a sound track too!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Little Common Sense and Gravity a Bad Mix

Apparently the previous owners of my house made a few adjustments up in the attic.  Two days ago I went up there to check on something, quickly, because I don't trust it up there I wanted to get it done before my daughter's bus came in five minutes. I stepped on the plywood to peer into a corner and suddenly the floor beneath me gave way.  I stepped back further onto the plywood and it slipped right between the joists and hit the concrete garage floor twelve feet beneath me.  It all happened in slow motion.  Next thing I knew, I was hanging with my hips wedged between two joists and my daughter was below freaking out. 

I was dangling half in the attic, half in the garage.  I hoisted myself up onto the joists, while assuring my daughter that I was quite okay.  She wasn't convinced.  From the joists I stepped over to the attic fold-down ladder, and returned to solid ground.  My daughter thought that she was about to lose her mother, her face was blotched and she was shaky and now her bus was due in three minutes.  She was in no state to be by herself in the wilds of a pre-k to 8 school bus. Luckily, the bus doubles back down our street and picks up kids on the other side about 15 minutes later, so I drove her across the street (the road has a 50 MPH speed limit and at commuting time 65 seems pretty standard, and cars just pop over the hill and surprise you, especially the Prius') and she caught the bus in a somewhat calmer state.  The bus driver inquired if she had overslept and she replied, "No. I wish."







I asked a neighbor  at the bus stop if he had a ladder tall enough to reach a 12' ceiling and he said he thought he had one at work and that he would take a look.  He showed up a few hours later with the ladder offering to help fix the hole.  First, I had to move 79 forty pound bags of wood pellets out of the way to make room for the ladder. I relocated the bags to the other side of the garage on top of another pile of pellets, making a giant tower of pellets.  I then dragged the pallet out of the way and swept up the debris, which contained a couple skinny broken screws.  I won't write what my husband said when I sent him the photos at work.

The Tower of Pellets

Back to the recalcitrant flooring, it turns out that someone had installed the piece of plywood that was a bit too small by screwing in a few #6 screws halfway and using them as supporting pegs to hold up the plywood.  Of course, I didn't know this, and when some of the screws broke beneath me, then gravity did its thing, sending the plywood and then me through the drywall ceiling. For a bit there I thought I must have done something really stupid, but then realized that it was the person who used the #6 screws who did something really stupid, but I just don't have the ability to see through 1/2 inch plywood...#10 screws might have held or maybe they could have used a couple pieces of scrap wood screwed in place to hold the board up like a shelf...or something!!

My husband stopped at Home Depot on his way home to get the new dry wall, so we could start the repairs the next morning.

Much better!

Our neighbor has come a couple of times, fit the drywall in, taped and mudded the joints and voila, it's ready for a skim coat!


I baked a garlic-rosemary focaccia for him this morning.  It smells too good, I may need to make another this afternoon for us.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Schools Appropriate for Kids or Convenient for Adults?

Are schools set up to meet the needs of children or to be convenient for adults?

Think of a preschooler, any preschooler, describe that preschooler.  Odds are there will be descriptors like energetic, bouncy, loud, exuberant, excited, moody, thoughtful, playful, joyful, inquisitive...

Take that child and place him/her in a kindergarten (which resembles first grade more and more each year).  Tell that child to sit still, be quiet, listen to the adult talk, listen to the adult read, raise your hand, follow directions, line up, be neat, ask questions only at the appropriate moments...

Suddenly, many of the children are having "problem behaviors" because they are acting as if they are five years old, which they are. Humans, especially young ones, are a boisterous bunch. Many of the things we expect of them in school are contrary to human nature and possibly contrary to their individual nature.  Does this make them a problem child?  

 Is it reasonable to ask a child to sit for the better part of a day?  Is it healthy? No. Knowing what we know now about the human metabolism and obesity, should we be doing this? Probably not.  The chairs in a classroom are bought by the thousands, they are durable, easy to clean, and stack.  Are they a comfortable place to sit for the better part of six hours? No.  Just going to Back-to-School night for an hour or two is enough to remind me how awful the chairs are. Is it good for the kids?  Does it meet their physical needs? Nope and nope.

Once seated in those chairs a student must be still.  Fidgeting has discouraged in the classroom, now it has been shown to help the kids with ADHD focus on what is being taught. Some teachers get it, some do not, it is one of those "problem" behaviors, which often indicate a child is a kinesthetic learner, which means that the child learns best by moving and touching things. Kids who are dominant in this learning style can grow up to be excellent artists, mechanics, plumbers, engineers, inventors, dancers, athletes...if they survive the stigma of being the "bad" kid who can't follow directions and do their worksheet quietly, as their brains are starve for appropriate input. Is it good for the kids? Nope.

I worked (very briefly) in one school that had the most silent, still atmosphere that I had ever seen.  Walking through the halls while classes were in session was eerie, not even the teachers were doing much talking or moving about.  Everything was quiet and controlled, until lunchtime, when they herded several hundred students into the large cafeteria for lunch and the students went wild. Every. Single. Day.  Maybe the kids aren't the problem, hmmm?


It is easier for the adult to manage a large group of children if they are all seated and silent.  Do they learn oral language skills? No.  Are oral language communication skills one of the things employers are looking for in employees? Yes.  We are not teaching that, except in occasional lessons, it's an everyday thing though.

Are they encouraged to ask questions?  Surprisingly, no. They are just supposed to do as they are told, questioning the teacher is often seen as challenging the teacher.  The questions they come up with when asked to form questions are staid, because they are rarely asked to form good questions.  They are supposed to passively answer the questions, not actively seek out information in American classrooms. I have taught in several states, they all seem about the same.

Teachers complain the students aren't curious, sure they are, they have just been taught to shut that down in the classroom, because it gets them into trouble. If you give those same kids a scoop of moist forest soil full of critters or a scoop of pond water taken from the edge, they will ask all of the right questions when working in their small groups, but once the teacher asks them to share whatever questions they have the room goes silent.  I have walked around the room writing down the questions kids gush out when they are faced with something unfamiliar in a small group.  Then when I asked for their questions, there was only silence.  Then I pulled out my notes and told them what I had done during their small group observation, and worked with them to answer the questions that I had overheard. They seemed embarrassed at first when their question came up, but when it was taken seriously they seemed proud.  We should take kids' questions seriously, and listen more, they are asking them, just not in front of 25 other people.

During my years in the classroom I read research that stated that teachers ask the most questions in lessons and that most of those questions are rhetorical, never expecting an answer.  The quality of the questions posed by the students was low. I set out to teach my fifth and sixth graders how to ask good quality questions, it was a long, painful process.  They were very frustrated in the beginning, but as time went on they became more skillful.  Sometimes, I had them use the phrase, "I wonder why..." and "I wonder how" (excluding the use of the words --many or much).  The other technique was to ask a type of question that could not be answered with a "yes" or "no" response, or other single word responses.  The question had to elicit a story.  The moment of victory for me was during the sessions of career presentations that parents gave to the classes.  One of the students who had consistently performed below grade level, but who was starting to awaken in the classroom, asked a parent what she needed to do to prepare for her career.  Not "Do you like your job?" or "How much money do you make?", but a real question that required a bit of a story in response. This student then beamed as the next five minutes were devoted to answering his question. 

A few years later when I had moved out of the classroom and into a museum I was asked to judge science fairs and the biggest issue that I found with the projects was that the students' questions weren't any good or they just lifted a project from a book of science projects and didn't really care about it at all.  Some who had a bit of curiosity and interest in the project doomed themselves with poorly worded questions. We need to have the kids ask more questions, but this doesn't happen often, because it will sometimes lead the children into material that is not on the required test later that week.  Do employers need employees who can ask good questions? Yes.

Not every child thrives when they are constantly with others, especially in large groups. Are they allowed a few moments to themselves?  Usually, no. As an introvert myself, I remember feeling relief just being allowed to walk to the office to deliver a message (written on paper, imagine!) or to go to the restroom.  The hallways were blissfully empty and quiet and I felt I could breathe.  Luckily, I was deemed a reliable child and frequently was chosen to do these things, but not often enough. When I was older and stayed after school for extra-curricular activities, I felt the same way, the impenetrable crowds were gone (my school had several hundred more students than it had been designed for) and I could relax.  I enjoyed school much of the time, but nearing the end of the day I often was ready for everyone to go home, it was just too much stimulation.  Kids are not allowed time to themselves, they are thrown in with the herd and stay with the herd, all day. Is it good for the 50% of the kids who are introverts? Nope. Why are they in large groups?  It's cheaper.

School start times are another of my little peeves.  We've known for years that later start times are better for teens, they miss less school, have less car accidents, and get better grades if schools have a later start time.  Any parent of a teen knows that they just don't wake up early, they might be walking around because they have to, but they do a pretty good zombie impression.  Why do we have early start times?  Tradition, sports teams need the after school time for practice, it builds character, and it is convenient for the parents and teachers to have normal working hours.  Is it good for teens? Nope. How about sending the little ones, who tend to wake up at the crack of dawn (if given an appropriate bedtime) to school first? Then when the buses are freed up later, send the teens in to school.

Children who are given choices learn to make decisions.  Very few things are left to be decided by the children. Adults like to be in control, they control the kids walking in silent lines down the halls, they control the student's bodily functions by withholding the hall pass...The kids are assigned seats on the bus, they are assigned tables at lunch and have to earn the privilege to sit with their friends, they are given "assignments" that have little wiggle room in the manner in which they can be done.  My daughter says that the only choice she is given during the day is what to have for lunch, and since she brings her lunch most of the time, that is because I give her a choice.  She laughs at "the land of the free", she can't pee without permission. How are kids supposed to manage their own behavior if they are never given an opportunity to make a choice?  We want great decision makers--well then train some!!  Give them decisions, give them a bit of freedom!  Of course, some will not make the right decisions, but there is an opportunity to learn.  Will some abuse the privilege? Certainly. Let them face the consequences and let the others learn, rather suffocating all of the students.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Prussian military and beyond-American Education rant part two in a series of thousands

Back onto the education rant, the first part was about poverty and education.  The second part is about redefining what education looks like, acts like, and examining it's purpose.

To figure out what is wrong with education in the US one has to go back to the roots of public education.  The first Department of Education created in the US was in Massachusetts, the first Secretary of Education was Horace Mann, a lawyer and a Senator.  He had some great ideas (of course, this blog is biased) like universal education--every one, rich or poor, gets a basic education and it is funded by the local government.  Mann went to Prussia and gathered some ideas for public schooling, some ideas are good, some in the long term not so great.  

The Prussian system was set up because the nature of war was changing and they needed their troops to be able to understand some of the strategy.  They lost to Napoleon and they didn't want a repeat.  Battles were no longer of the face the enemy lined up in a field and run at them while blasting them with all you have  and if that fails use the bayonet type, they required more planning and the ability to adjust mid-stream.  The system also focused on creating a common experience for the students and to instill nationalism in the populace.  They wanted better soldiers.

Skipping back to the US, Mann came home and put some of what he learned in place.  

The idea was to create better citizens and consistency.  Some of this can be seen in the social studies textbooks of today.  Though these texts are somewhat better today for diversity, they are used to instill pride in the US, but they go about it by omitting many of the negative things that have been done in the name of the USA.  When I was doing my work study hours at the university where I received my teaching degree (MS) I met someone working in the next office who was working on his BS.  Three semesters in a row he enrolled in US History, he kept dropping it, not because he couldn't handle the material, but because the material was so negative and he "knew" that American history was glorious, because high school had taught him that was so.  He asked me why it was so negative, and I responded, "Because it is true, the high school textbooks are written to make Americans love their country, but that love is blind to the truth." He didn't know about many of the issues with slavery, Japanese internment camps, US intervention in South American and Middle Eastern countries' leadership or many of the other events that happened.  He had learned the white washed version, and in his early thirties he was learning new things, he felt he had been lied to.  It is still going on, look at some of the issues with the AP US History curriculum, they are still trying to push US exceptionalism.  The truth that we are fallible seems too much for some people.  Are we creating the thinking citizens that our republic needs?  I think not.


Mann started what were then called Normal Schools, teacher's colleges to improve the quality of teachers and to create the profession of teaching.  Before this time, anyone could call themselves a teacher and if they found someone to hire them, then they taught.  Some were good, some were great and the remainder collected a salary for a while.  Teacher's colleges are good things, I learned many really great things in my education program, but the one thing that they did not talk about is how you must check much of what you have learned at the school door because of "policy", "procedure", "new program", tradition, and the fact that most school decisions are made by  politicians (elected school boards - which are political training grounds - and policy makers inside the department of education) rather than by educators. Mann, a lawyer, the first education secretary, started that tradition.

Mann also introduced grade levels, age segregation within schools.  While there is some benefit, there are many drawbacks.  Children of the same age are not of the same ability.  There are certain windows of child development that need to be addressed, but throwing all the five year olds in the same room all day together with little contact with the older students misses many more opportunities.  Years ago, I conducted the readiness tests for kindergarteners.  Some could name one or two numbers, knew a couple of colors and no shapes, but would be the first to help another kid up when they fell, they had some of the soft skills needed that are not addressed much beyond the primary levels. Others came in reading or near reading, had extensive vocabularies, could put objects into a variety of categories and could do a bit of math.  Both the high achieving and the low achieving kids could have benefited from time with older kids, the low achieving (as defined by the tests given by the district) to see what older kids know and to strive for that, and to have the older kids benefit because to help teach someone a skill a person learns the skill to a greater degree in process.  

The high achievers benefit because there are people around who can understand what they are saying. I remember one tiny little kid, one of the youngest in his class with the reading vocabulary of a middle school kid, he'd bounce into the room all round faced and rosy cheeked in his Osh-Kosh-B'Gosh overalls, play in the house, build with blocks and talk about how he was going to be a surgeon when he grew up and why.  The other kids just smiled and nodded. (I wish I could remember his name, I'd love to see if he stayed on track, he could be a surgeon by now.)  He would have been able to go much farther had he had more exposure to a challenging curriculum with older children for at least part of the day.  The artistic children who don't draw the basic square house with the triangle roof and lollipop trees, but create crenelated edifices would benefit from exposure to others with similar abilities, but with more experience. I could go on and on, but anyone who has made it this far would give up on me.

Up until the public school system with grade levels was established children had much more exposure to adults and older children, so, out of the last ten thousand years or so since humans started living in larger villages/towns due to agriculture it is only in the last 175 years that we have isolated the children from the rest of society.  I think socializing children in a vacuum for most of the day is not a good idea, they need to meet and work with people of all ages, including the very old. (Putting all of the elders in one spot hidden from society is a whole connected, but at this moment digressive topic)


The work we give the children is meaningless, it really benefits no one.  Work instills pride and motivates.  Meaningless tasks assigned as an exercise induces the "why do we have to learn this?" whine.  I would love to have my kid have the chance to spend a few hours a week with someone who designs software for a living, because that is her interest at the moment and I would rather have her discover that it is or is not for her before we invest six figures in her post-secondary education.  She would also see how her mathematics and patterning abilities (first remarked upon at 4 months old) fit into her goals.  I would also like her to have exposure to musicians other than her regular teacher, he is wonderful, but he is but one of many different types of musicians.  I want her to use the mathematics that she has been taught, do something with it, rather than  just keep cranking out problems on notebook paper with little vision of their purpose.  I want her to use her math in art and music and music in her art and math.  I want her IRLA (integrated reading and language arts) class to read and write about science and history and math and art and...everything.  I want more adults with varied experiences (insurance agents, horticulturalists, waitresses, lawyers, plumbers etc.  maybe on the two days a month & two weeks a year model of the National Guard) in the classrooms and the kids to leave the classrooms regularly.  For many years we locked our children in windowless buildings (--a sarcastic-tone gets lost sometimes, insert here-- thank you to the designers of the late 50's through early '80's and the insurance companies who supported it) to teach them about the outside world.  Now many schools are now integrating windows back into their designs, but the windows face a blank and bland lawn or parking lot, and teach them nothing.


So in summary--tell the kids the truth, expose them to a greater variety of experiences, integrate them into the community, and give them some purpose.

The boxes that we trap curriculum and our students in limit the students and their potential contributions to society. We separate them from varied thoughts, varied people, and the world. So, are we seeking better soldiers or are we seeking a populace of citizens to wave our flag without understanding what it represents or ones who are ready for the future?

There are many more issues...are schools designed with children or adults in mind (are the children's needs met or is it just more convenient for adults), schools and property values, segregation by race and income...future rants,

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tons of Tomatoes-- Dehydrating Day!

I made pickles earlier this season, I've blanched and frozen pea pods and greens.  Now for something new! Dehydrating!

My mother-in-law gave me her food dehydrator a couple of years ago.  Now this isn't some little rinky-dink plastic dome thing, this is a cabinet with loads of trays.  I kept telling myself to use it, but I hadn't , now, finally, it is seeing some use.

The cherry and currant tomato bonanza is going on in the garden.  I picked only the ones that were hanging on the wrong side of the fence, which still left me with a 9 x 12 tray filled with tomatoes.
Tomatoes are really photogenic, I took lots of pictures.

I googled how to dehydrate them and miraculously all the people posting agreed on most points, which are--slice them in half, place them in the dehydrator on a low setting, check on them and in 10-16 hours (depending on the dehydrator and how low it is set), and voila dehydrated tomatoes.

So, I sliced them in half.

All several hundred of them.  It took a long time to slice them in half.  I could have left them whole, but they would have taken several days in the dehydrator.  I don't think it is energy star compliant, so to save the electric bill, they were sliced, and sliced, and sliced.

And loaded them into the dehydrator.  I added a layer of peppers, because I still had space.
I had seven trays of tomatoes and one of peppers.
I checked on them this morning and they looked like this:

They are very tasty!  I love it when it works!
Bottled up, five trays of red cherry and currant tomatoes look like this:
It seems the secret to telling if the tomatoes are ready is to put a few of them straight from the tray into a jar, if it fogs up they are not ready.  The only cloudiness I have on these jars is mineral deposits from our well water.
The yellow ones are taking a bit longer, they were much larger.  They are still in the dehydrator.  I tested them, they taste good too!

Now for all of the tomatoes that are inside the fence, this could be days of work.
This is slooooooooooooow food.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Beware--School Rant

First day of school, so I'm thinking about schools.

I spent many years in education in one form or another and I'm kind of puzzled that when the conversation over the failure of American schools to keep up with other developed countries doesn't address the issues of child poverty.  We have one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world.  Impoverished children, in general, do not excel in school, hmmmm, maybe there's a connection.  Nearly a third of American children are being raised in poverty. A third, it is astounding.  It is heartbreaking.

Maybe it is not the failure of our school systems (though some changes do need to be made, but they do not need to include any corporate involvement, tests or textbook publishers, that is a whole different post) that we need to look at, but the ability of our families to provide enough money to put food on the table and pay the rent, too.  Parents who work low wage jobs often have multiple jobs.  Having multiple jobs makes it difficult to raise children, because they can't be there regularly to help with homework.  They can't be there regularly to get them on the bus.  They can't afford to pay anyone to help with those tasks, as upper middle class parents can.  Notice I said upper middle class, our middle class wages have stagnated to the point where they, too, struggle with these very basic ways to help their children.  People who work multiple jobs cannot spend the time talking to their children, the time taking them educational places.  They are just to darned tired when they do get home to do any of these things or they just need to go to their second or third job. 

Not only are the parents too tired, but stress levels are also highly associated with poverty. If their car dies and they can't get to work, you lose your job.  If they don't go to work, they lose the car, and their home.  If they can't pay the electric bill or the water bill despite working two part time minimum wage jobs (25 hours each, so that the employers don't need to provide health insurance, because that costs money!), a parent might be a little too stressed and tired to read, "The Hungry Little Caterpillar" for the twentieth time, or maybe even the first time. Remember, at the Federal minimum wage, at fifty hours a week a breadwinner can come home with $18,850 annually, working 52 weeks a year, which is about poverty level.

The best way to predict a child's standardized test scores is to look at the family's socioeconomic status and the educational level of the mother.  Maybe we are going at fixing education the wrong way.  More testing will not improve schools.  Paying living wages, and providing educational opportunities with flexible schedules for adults, providing more affordable options for quality child care (remembering that  the people who run the child care facilities are often parents as well) might have a greater impact, but then those textbook and test prep companies wouldn't make so much money.

It's time to look at our schools as a reflection of our society.  If we took child poverty seriously, then our schools would do better.  We need more better paying jobs, not more tests, not more educational initiatives that just scramble the same old stuff a different way. Nearly a third of the children in this country are impoverished.  Impoverished children do not do well in school. Creating jobs, good jobs, and providing better educational opportunities for adult education are probably the best things we can do to educate the children and to create a better prepared workforce for the future.  It's time to stop blaming teachers, parents and the schools, they are all trying their hardest, but they are struggling upstream against the current like salmon. The current is not going anywhere, we need to build a fish ladder.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fifteen Minutes of Peace

We're just back from our vacation, a trip to Seneca State Forest in WV.  No electricity, no cell coverage, no wi-fi, no running water...but there were gas lights and a propane fridge.  We went knowing that it would be an escape from the modern world.

We arrived to find that our cabin was two stories and looked more like a house than a cabin.

Inside was the wood cook stove and sinks with no faucets.  The water needed to be hand pumped outside.

We knew most of this going in, since we stayed there in another cabin two years ago.  The cabin sat on the banks of Seneca Lake away from the other cabins.

Violet came with us, her goofy houndness took a little while to settle in, she feared being taken back to the shelter, so having all her gear, her bowls, crate, blanket, etc. packed up was stressful.

 She followed us around the house as we unloaded and unpacked.  I had noted earlier that she seemed to really have to think to go up and down stairs, so I guessed in her previous life there were no stairs.  She followed us up the stairs and then stood at the top staring down.  She took a few steps and then we heard her tumble down the rest of the flight.  Later, she went up and tumbled down again.  Being no fool, the third time she stood at the top and whined.  We knew it was time for her to go out.  I placed treats on every other stair to help entice her down.  No dice. I called and encouraged her.  She would reach for the treat two steps down, but wouldn't attempt putting a paw on the step.  My husband eventually carried her down, a somewhat damp process, because she really did need to go out.  Late that evening just before bed, she was up there again and needed a walk and he carried her down again.  It was looking like it was going to be a long damp week.

The next morning we were all up and getting breakfast together when we heard a tentative step on the top few stairs.  We all called and cheered her as she slowly picked her way down the stairs, fighting the force of gravity.  Once mastered, she was able to make it down the stairs many times a day (since she is my little Velcro girl) without any further indignities.

On the second day of our trip, the cabin was quiet, my daughter and her friend were reading and drawing in their room, my husband was taking a nap and I was reading down stairs.  My daughter came down the same stairs to get a pen walking in her stocking feet, stepped off the stairs onto the very smooth hardwood floors and executed a perfect cartoon-style banana peel fall.  Her feet went up into the air higher than her behind and she levitated for a moment, before crashing down.   I asked her if she was okay and she immediately replied that she was fine.  Then in three heartbeats, her freckled face turned a funny gray-green as she lifted up her left arm.

I quickly recalled where in town I had seen the big blue H sign, as I calmly walked over to examine her wrist.  Everything seemed lined up properly, good.  She had full movement of everything, double good.  She didn't need to tell me that it really hurt, that was written on her face.  I pulled the blue ice from the freezer and began basic first aid.  I had some sports wrap in my bag, that I had packed since my ankle has been annoying me again lately.  We bandaged her wrist with the bright blue wrap and waited to see if it was going to bruise and/or inflate like a balloon.  All the while I was calculating the time of day, wondering whether there were any orthopedists in the area, would we need to head home to get proper treatment, whether we would have to call her soccer coach to take her off the roster, thinking of my friend who had just posted vacation photos of her neatly polished toes on the beach with blue ice packs around her ankle, and a million other things.  It is now a week ago, her wrist is still wrapped, but functional.  Soccer throw ins hurt though.

The remainder of the vacation passed without any more scary stories.  We slept in, read books, fished, played Scrabble and Apples to Apples, toured caverns, watched wildlife, walked the dog around the forest, canoed and pedal boat-ed.

My very favorite part was walking back from the outhouse at about 2 AM.  There were no city lights to interfere with the stars, it was still except for the sounds of the water and a frog.  It was a type of quiet that just is not possible in an urban/suburban area--no cars, no planes (we live near two international airports and three major military installations, there is always a plane), no voices, no lights.  I would stand out there in my pj's for fifteen minutes or so before going in, but only because it was the mountains and it was chilly.  That was why I went into the woods, for those fifteen minutes or so each night.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Assignment: 101 Things to Do Over the Summer without an Electronic Screen

I set my 13 year old daughter to a task.  She needed to come up with:

 101 Things to Do in the Summer That Do Not Include an Electronic Screen

I do this almost every summer, so that she doesn't disappoof (her new favorite word) completely into Minecraft .  It is all stuff that she likes to do or would like to try doing, so that it isn't the punishment list, but the life enrichment list. So far this is what she has this year, with some notations in parenthesis from me for clarification.   The idea is also that many of these things do not burn a giant hole in our wallets and many should not require an adult to completely devote their day to servicing her idea, a few are okay though.


101 Things to do without a Screen (draft), there are only 30 items on her list, so far.


  1. Kitties (play, pet)

  2. FIRE!!!! (we have a  new fire pit and plenty of kindling)

  3. Bake cupcakes

  4. Make Pudding

  5. Make fire/dinner (trend here)

  6. Berries (We have several kinds to pick, usually something is ripe.)

  7. Fort (work on one in back yard woods)

  8. Pogo (problem here, she has outgrown her pogo stick, she needs an adult one)

  9. Floral arranging (usually something in the yard is blooming)

  10. Ride bike

  11. Chickies (give snacks, pet)

  12. Sing with parrot

  13. Board game

  14. Hair (in this humidity, it is a challenge for curly folks like her)

  15. Paint (could be more specific, laundry room, shed trim, canvas, objects...)

  16. Draw

  17. Think (always encouraged)

  18. Read

  19. Sew (learn how to)

  20. Sleep (as if a teenager really needs to put this on a list)

  21. Build stuff (creative, needs to be more specific)

  22. Burn stuff (destructive,  but back to the fire pit, I think she is referring to an invite to some of our friends a few weeks ago about coming over to burn marshmallows and hot dogs to celebrate the beginning of summer)

  23. Dance

  24. BUBBLES! (never too old)

  25. Friends (she is a teenager, but the idea needs specificity, what to do?)

  26. Go to park (which one? why?)

  27. Call friends in FL

  28. Call Grandma or Nonna

  29. Fresh (Yogurt shop)

  30. Yellowstone (She's going to need help with this one)

Her dad suggested "Collect as many different types of insects as you can find."

I suggest soccer tricks, shoot hoops, squirt friends with super soaker,
 set up can targets for super soaker go for distance and accuracy, take a walk,
She doesn't think it's funny that we ended up with similar sneakers.

write a story on paper with a pencil, play flute...

Note my assistant in the background.

 So, what ideas do you have for her?  Revised list in a few days...