Monday, November 28, 2011

Grateful


I just found out some really, really good news!  The victims of the buggy accident survived, and the two people in the SUV only had minor injuries.  You can see the news story here.  I am so grateful that they'll all eventually be okay.  My husband and kids are equally relieved and pleased to hear the good news.  The news story even reported that the horse survived and will recover, much to Princess Yakyak's relief.  Given how bad the scene looked to us last week, I'd go so far as to say the survival of the couple in the buggy and their horse is nearly miraculous.

Back to the grind at school today - and I'm already counting the days until Christmas break.  The students were pretty willing to work today, except at the end of the day.  (I only have four students for the last class of the day, and the two girls are more trouble than a sack full of spider monkeys.  I like them, but whoo-ee are they a handful!)  All of the teachers are trying to ram through as much work as possible in the next few weeks, before the Christmas Crazies become too much and the students' ability to focus diminishes until it can be measured in nanoseconds.  It will keep me hopping to keep the kids on top of their work, since many of my students are challenged in the organization department, aside from any other issues they may have.

On a fun note, I feel like I'm getting a break from the "hard" pre-algebra stuff since we're doing a unit on coordinate graphs.  THAT I can handle.  We've been looking at all the places we can find information on graphs, and the ways coordinate graphs are used.  Scientific graphs, sighting scopes for guns, heads-up displays in fighter jet cockpits, and playing Battleship are just some we've come up with.  I modified a  Battleship game printout I found online, and now I can have the kids play the game against each other on a 12 x 12 grid with positive and negative integers in four quadrants.  Fun with a purpose!  The guys in class are more into the idea than the girls, but they'll survive.  We won't spend weeks on this idea; we need to move on.  But there's no reason it can't be fun.  After this it gets boring again - unless someone out there knows some way to make the distributive property interesting to 8th graders?

And finally, I had a sale!  A friend from our old church bought one of my paintings from my Etsy shop.  'Reflections' will be going to a good home tomorrow.  Thanks, Pat!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What Has Been Seen. . . .

Sometimes we're going along in life and something happens that smacks us out of our normal groove and suspends time for a little while.  Sometimes those moments are good and beautiful, and sometimes those moments are awful and shocking.  We had a desperately sad and tragic experience on our way to visit our families for Thanksgiving.  Before you read further, I'll assure you that my family and I are safe.  But another family, or rather two families, are not doing well at all this holiday season.

On our long drive to visit family we always pass through part of the Finger Lakes of New York, where there's a large Amish community.  Horse-drawn buggies and wagons are common along the roads there, and we always watch out for them, especially at night.  The Amish generally favor not only black buggies, but also dark-colored horses, making them nearly invisible at night except for some reflective tape or safety triangles on the back of their vehicles.

About ten minutes below Seneca Falls, we saw two cars stopped up ahead - one facing us in the oncoming lane, and one facing south with its flashers on, in our lane.  There also appeared to be a couple other vehicles just a dozen yards or so farther ahead, at a crossroads.  There were no street lights; it was very dark.  We slowed and came to a stop maybe 25 feet behind the stopped car.  It took a few moments for us to take in what we were seeing in our headlights:  a large SUV on the shoulder of the road across from us, its left front fender and bumper smashed, its driver tearfully, frantically talking on the phone; the road covered with glass shards and wood fragments; a lady in pants and a sweater kneeling over a dark shape in the road,  barely visible in front of the car in our lane; and dimly, off to the right in the field, yards away from the road, the silhouette of what took us a few moments to recognize as a buggy on its side, misshapen and strange.

Someone had hit an Amish buggy at the crossroads.

The lady and another person were already kneeling by whoever was lying in the road.  There were a couple other vehicles on the far side of the crossroads, but we couldn't see much past the car in front of us.  I put our flashers on and called 911, while my husband got out to get a better look at the situation.  The kids were upset in the back seat, our daughter asking what had happened to the horse, our son needing reassurance that we were calling for help and that we were okay ourselves.  He kept asking if he should call his Nana on the phone to tell her what was going on and that we'd be late; we told him not to call until we knew more.

We must not have been the first to call 911, because within a couple minutes a volunteer fireman pulled up, blue lights flashing from the top of his vehicle.  Then a second, and a third.  Princess Yakyak pulled a blanket from the back of our car, and I took it to one of the volunteer firemen, for him to use with any victim who needed it - it was cold outside, cloudless and starlit. 

We stayed out of the way of the emergency personnel as they arrived from the north and south - more volunteer firemen, a fire truck, an ambulance, another rescue vehicle, two more ambulances, and the State Troopers.  One trooper brought some Amish people to the scene.  I imagine in such a close community amid several small towns, the troopers knew who to pick up and bring to the scene right away.

We could see very little from our car, and I would not let PYY get out.  Safety Guy got out to look a little closer as my husband called his parents to tell them we'd be late.  Both of them stayed well back from the victims.  Safety Guy was upset that we wouldn't let him, a Boy Scout (as he vehemently reminded us), dive in and help.  We couldn't see much, but I could tell that this was no scene for a seventh grade Boy Scout to be involved in, and other adults were already doing what they could to help.  I don't want to imagine the injuries suffered by the people in the buggy. 

After a little while, the firemen had us move our car onto the shoulder of the road so the ambulance could get by.  Back in the car all together, we reiterated to the kids that we were already doing what we could to help:  we had stopped and put on the flashers (to stop further traffic behind us), we called 911 right away, we gave a blanket to the volunteer firemen (and the kids saw them put it on someone in the SUV), and we stayed out of the way of the emergency personnel and obeyed them when they asked us to move the car.  Also, we prayed for the people involved in the accident, and for the emergency workers helping them.  Safety Guy still wasn't happy to be told to let the professionals do their job.  I admire him for wanting to help.

We couldn't go anywhere; we had to sit and watch as events unfolded.  There were a couple dozen cars backed up behind us before the road was closed and traffic redirected down a side road a country "block" behind us (something like a third of a mile).  We waited to see if the police needed to speak to us, since we'd been on the scene right after the accident, but since we didn't witness it ourselves, we were eventually allowed to go as they cleared the backlog of stopped cars.

Just like that, we left the scene of the accident and drove off into the night, away from the flashing lights and the glittering bits of glass on the road, away from the sad, crushed shape of the buggy in the field, away from the victims whose names we didn't know but suddenly felt connected to, away from the woman in the SUV whom we'd heard crying, "I didn't see them, I couldn't stop!"  It was utterly surreal to just drive away from the scene of such pain and chaos, and back into our life - over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go. . . . 

We made our way along back roads and then south again, and soon stopped at a mini mart/McD's plaza.  It felt like being on another planet, bright and shiny and fake after the brutal reality of the crossroads.  We all needed to get out of the car and get some space.  The kids and my husband had a snack, I had a drink - I just couldn't eat.  We saw a young Amish man also leaving the store right after we got back in the car.  He went around to the back of the building, then pulled out with his own horse and buggy.  Unlike most Amish buggies, this one was painted a lighter gray color, and had battery-powered head lights and flashing safety lights on its back and sides.  It was a sad reminder of the scene we'd left behind us, and I wondered if he knew the people in the other buggy.

Three days later, we don't know much more about the accident.  Because of the holiday, perhaps, the little local newspapers and online news outlets were slow to pick up on the story.  This evening I saw one little blurb online, and the details they listed from an "eyewitness" don't quite match what we saw, so I'm taking their reporting with a grain of salt.  Still, they say that there were two victims from the buggy, but their status is not known.  The story also reported that the horse ran away (which our daughter was relieved to hear, and although I strongly suspect the horse to be injured as well, I didn't tell her that).  They gave the cause of the accident as a "runaway horse" that bolted through the crossroads.

I'm writing this all down here on my blog as a way for me to process what happened.  I suspect we'll be working through this with our kids over time as well - they could not help but be affected by what we saw.  Driving home from Thanksgiving, on another starlit night, we passed along the same stretch of road where the accident occurred.  PYY didn't say anything then, but she'd told me earlier that she was afraid to go back to school and have her teacher ask her what she'd done over her break.  Safety Guy was quietly anxious as we passed that way, and he reached to take my hand as we drove, for reassurance.  I hope and pray that this experience and memory can be used for good in our lives, even as I hope and pray for the recovery of the Amish victims, and for the driver of the SUV.  None of our lives will ever be the same.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ready For Thanksgiving


I am so very glad that it's finally time for Thanksgiving.  It seemed like it would NEVER get here.  But I survived the last day of school this week in good shape, and we're off school now until Monday.

Today I came home from work and finished putting up the Christmas lights.  Red and white lights on the holly bush and the cherry tree, and white lights on the porch railings, with cheerful red bows as accents - now all we need is a little snow.  Well, and I need to dig the wreath out of the basement.  That's next weekend's project - finding the wreath, and excavating and finding new homes for some of the dreck in the basement.  The wreath ought to appear if I sort through enough stuff.

 A lap full of cozy cats - B.C. and Sophia.  
The combination of a sunbeam plus a lap was perfect.

The house smells wonderful tonight.  I made my favorite holiday treat, Cranberry-Orange-Walnut Bread.  The recipe is here from last year.  I'll be taking both loaves to my husband's family Thanksgiving meal on Thursday.  I'll be making Maple Glazed Carrots as a side dish, too, since my sister-in-law asked me to bring "any orange vegetable."  The day after Thanksgiving, we'll have a big family dinner with my parents and my sisters and their families.  It's going to be a fun, busy, happy couple days.  We'll need the weekend to recover from the holiday travel and food extravaganza.

 One of the last flowers of fall - gaillardia (blanket flower) after a hard frost.

I love this time of year.  I've started my Christmas shopping, and I had to wrap up the gifts for my youngest sister and her family so they can take them back with them when they go home next week.  I enjoy picking out presents and wrapping them just so, with lots of love and care and curly ribbon.  Often a cat or two helps with the process.  I just got some new (to me) Christmas music (by Glad, Russ Taff, and Phil Keaggy), so when I get ready to do "the big wrap" in a few weeks, I'll have an evening of wonderful songs.  I imagine some flavored coffee and a cookie or two might figure in there somewhere.  It's a joy to count my blessings, and I hope I never forget what the Lord has done for me even as I get to prepare gifts for my family and anticipate fun and fellowship during this season.  I'm thankful; may I never forget to live it out.

Monday, November 21, 2011

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Today was rather discouraging on the teaching front.  I don't want to get into details - but I just have to say that even many normally well-behaved kids were not showing their best side today, and the ones who normally have issues were in rare form.  My generation was no paragon of virtue, but I really don't remember THIS level of disrespect toward teachers and school staff from large numbers of students in my schools.  We may have had a handful of kids out of every hundred who were truly hardened and difficult for teachers to deal with, but the ratio seems to be much higher now, more like 12-15 out of every hundred who are incorrigibly rude and habitual troublemakers.  And those students make it VERY difficult for everyone around them to do their jobs, whether that's to teach or to learn.

This has nothing to do with students having disabilities of any kind.  It's a respect issue for all kids, pure and simple.  Many kids apparently aren't learning respect at home, and that dynamic is carrying through into the schools.  It doesn't help that public school teachers and staff largely have their hands tied as far as discipline goes.  Rewards and incentives (and withholding them) only work for students who care about those perks.  Detention and suspension only work up to a point.  The really difficult students don't have any sense of shame (and only a hazy grasp of right and wrong).

What disturbs me is the number of students who don't care if they accomplish anything is school, who are hardened to consequences and have no desire to allow any authority figure to have any positive influence over them.  They know they don't have to do what the teachers ask, and they know that no teacher can make them obey.  I had two students walk right out of the class on me today because they didn't want to do the work.  My only recourse?  To call the office and tell them that these two students had left without permission and were wandering the school, and write them up for a detention, which they would most likely skip anyhow.  They didn't care.

I don't have any brilliant suggestions to deal with this situation.  I'm honestly at a loss what to do with the hardest, most disruptive, most disrespectful students.  All I can say is, regular public school is NOT the place for them.  They need a much more restrictive, regimented placement for education than a regular classroom.

But, I'm also dismayed at how many "average" students and "decent" kids don't seem to have a fundamental grasp of RESPECT toward teachers, authority figures, and adults in general.  Simple things, like not talking while a teacher is talking, or staying quiet when asked to do so during announcements, seem to be foreign concepts to the majority of the kids.  Still, most of these kids are amenable to direction from teachers, even if we have to raise our voices occasionally to make the point.  There's hope.  But I'm still discouraged that they even NEED to be reminded of such basic rules of social behavior.

So now I sound and feel like an old fogey.  "Kids these days. . . ."  "When I was a kid. . . ."  "I remember when. . . ."  But I can't seem to help it.  It's really bothering me that things seem to be so much worse than they were so many years ago when I was in school.  And it was no picnic then in the '70s and '80s.  Days like today make me worry about the future of America.  These students are our future voters, leaders, parents, teachers, workers.  And the next generation after them?  Who knows.

It hasn't been an encouraging day on the teaching front.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better.  I guess that's why I and others teach:  we still hope to influence the kids who will let themselves be influenced for good.

Pray for us - we need it.  So do the kids.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wheel In The Sky

 Wheel In The Sky 
mixed media (acrylic & marker) on art board, 18" x 24"

I finally got some things photographed and listed in my Etsy shop yesterday.  Some items are older ones that I pulled from my Etsy shop months ago to try to sell at Hartsville Hollow.  Some items sold, and some fall seasonal items have been switched out for them to do their holiday displays, so I got a bunch of things back from them this week.  I've also got a handful of new items listed.  Here's a sampling of what's going on in my shop:

 Chocolate Brown Abstract Plate
10" diameter

 Green Smithereens
Acrylic on canvas board, 11" x 14"

 Rhiannon
Acrylic on art board, 8" x 10"

 Sand Storm
Mixed media (acrylic and marker), 8" x 10"

 Sunset Illusion
Mixed Media (acrylic & marker), 5" x 7"


 Assymetrical Tea Cup and Saucer Set

Late Autumn Woods
Mixed media (acrylic & marker), 8" x 10"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

To Flea Or Not To Flea


Bathing a cat is interesting.  Bathing all three cats in one evening is, um, VERY interesting.  Why on earth would I want to bathe the cats, you may ask?  Well, we found a few fleas. . . .  We haven't had fleas on the cats since we got Sophia as a kitten, almost 15 years ago.  That was easy:  flea powder and brushing, and voila!  No more fleas, and no problem since then.  We're not sure how this problem started now. They're all indoor cats, so we think we must have tracked in some flea eggs from outdoors. 

So what are three wet cats?
Armageddon cubed?

So, the war began.  After flea dusting the carpets, washing everywhere the cats slept, medicating them with that stuff you put on the back of their necks (twice, since the first treatment did NOTHING and we tried another product), and combing them like crazy every day for a week (and having the neurotic urge to scratch every time we see the cats), we decided to dunk and scrub them to finalize our campaign of extermination.  Which really means that *I* got the pleasure of bathing them, but we all knew that would happen.  I love Tech Guy, but he'll be the first to admit that the cats will let me do things with them that no one else can, so I had the best chance of emerging from the arena of combat bathroom with my face still attached my skin relatively intact.  He manned up and did the flea dusting/vacuuming thing, so we were sort of even.  Kind of.  Well, not quite, but whatever. 


Bathing B. C. was comparatively easy:  he was all injured dignity and sorry, bedraggled "Why me?" over the affair, but he didn't fight me.  Sophia lived up to her kittenhood nickname - "Little Miss Barbed Wire."  She wasn't attacking me, but she wanted OUT of the tub.  For being the frailest and smallest of the cats, she was the most agile in trying to evade the suds.  She was determined to climb any available support  to accomplish that feat, including climbing my arm and slithering down my back while soaking wet.  But, since her escape was AFTER I rinsed her, I let her go without a fight.  Molly was a three-hand job, but I made do with two.  She's the youngest, strongest of the cats.  She also complained the loudest about the indignity of being bathed, and wanted no part of being dried off, so she got to be damp much longer than the others, who let me use the hair dryer on them.  So now we have three clean, fluffy, flea-free cats.  (Oh please, let there be no more fleas in our house, EVER.)


Update:  Sitting here at the computer, brushing Sophia while I proofread, I just found a flea.  I think I'm going to cry.  And bathe the cats again this weekend.  Maybe I should sell tickets to cover my incipient medical bills.

Another Random Thursday

- Last week Safety Guy got a very special delivery:  a real fire alarm.  He ordered it off of eBay.  My husband is going to rig it up to a switch to Safety Guy can test it whenever he wants once in a while, as long as he warns us ahead of time.  I can't wait. . . .

- A sub for the sub, or, sink or swim:  I've been subbing in the same class for three weeks, and it feels like months.  Mrs. K. did her best to prepare me for the day to day class work (she did really well), but I'm frequently tripped up by all the "little" things "everyone knows" but no one has thought to tell me directly.  Like how to submit the end of marking period grades on the computer.  (Finally done with help from the guidance counselor, after the grades mysteriously vanished from my classroom computer and I was apparently locked out of the system.  We still don't know why/how that happened.)  Or the tidbit of information that if I need a sub, they don't come for resource periods (so I should tell students I'm not available for those periods, not allow them to come, and then wonder where my sub is while my daughter is home alone because of early dismissal, waiting for me).  There's also the fun and games that come with being "out of the loop" as a sub.  Nobody tells me anything officially, so with a student from my class who was suspended out of school over a week ago, I've heard from everyone else (including other students who "see" him of Facebook) that he's out until February.  Um, yeah, I think I'm supposed to know some of these things ahead of time, or at least in a timely fashion?  Gotta love bureaucracies.

-  I dropped off a batch of ceramic ornaments, a votive candle holder, and a bunch of wooden ornaments at Hartsville Hollow.  It was nice to see the ladies there again.  They returned some items to me that haven't sold yet, and this weekend I'm going to rephotograph a bunch of them and list them in my Etsy shop.  I don't have super high hopes for selling much on there, but you never know.  If I don't list anything, I won't sell anything anyhow, so I might as well try.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Divide and Conquer

 A red-tailed hawk over Seneca Lake, last month.
I miss the fall colors already.

I'm slowly getting the hang of working with my students.  Each class period is different from the others - different subjects, different teachers, and different combinations of kids.  I've found that often I have to think about how to separate or group students before I can think about how to teach them.  Honestly, the social/emotional drama in eighth grade is mind-boggling.  Add in a number of students with attention deficit issues and various behavioral needs, and it's like juggling squirrels to teach more than two of them in a room at a time.  Today they were unusually, well, squirrelly.  Heaven only knows why (I don't ask why any more), but they were more than a little bit of a handful today.  In spite of that, we managed to cover some ground in math and in studying for an English test.  I'll take what I can get, and overall it was a pretty good day.
 

My own kids have been almost as flaky lately, Princess Yakyak more so than Safety Guy.  PYY has been tired from staying up to read.  (She thinks I don't know she reads under her covers with a flashlight at night.  Sorry dear, I've been there and done that!)  Tonight I'm going to enforce an early bedtime for her, without any flashlights or reading material.  A good night's sleep will work wonders in her attitude, I hope.


Safety Guy has been fairly agreeable lately.  There are moments of teen angst and verbal defiance, but they haven't been too serious or too prolonged.  And, in an endearing turn of events, he's been asking me for hugs occasionally.  I've had to remind him that when he asks for a hug, it's customary for him to hug me back.  Otherwise, it's like hugging a tree, as he stands with his arms at his sides.  Sometimes it's the fine details of social skills that escape him.  Other times, they bypass him completely, and don't even cast a shadow as they go by.  Ah, Aspergers. . . .

The old Erie Canal, not far west of us.  Lovely!

 We're waiting for the kids' first report cards of the year, which should come home in a couple days.  Safety Guy found out early that he's getting a C in math, and he's quite proud of himself.  He worked HARD for that grade, and considering how much he struggled last year and had numerous failing grades, starting out with a solid C is a GOOD start for him.  All of his other grades are higher (mostly Bs, with an A or two for variety).  That's just fine with us!  And hopefully he'll see some upward progress all around this year. 

Sylvan has been very good for him, and not just for math.  The discipline of studying for his math has carried over into his other subjects, and he's proud of his good grades.  We have had to sit on him about getting his homework done, since his teacher had to contact me several times in October about unfinished or missing assignments.  Organization doesn't come easily to him, and there was probably a bit of ostrich syndrome going on as well.  (You know, the if I don't look at it and don't do it, it doesn't exist approach to homework.)  Also, Safety Guy doesn't like having to be checked up on each night regarding his homework, and he really dislikes having to correct his work.  He figures that if he did it once, right or wrong he's NOT going to do it again.  (We're still working on that issue.)  But for now we've reached an understanding:  if he shows us his completed work each night, and corrects any silly mistakes, errors made through being careless or inattentive, we won't  make him redo assignments.  He'll have to stand or fall by his own work, and it's not our job to point out every error for correction.  Homework is practice, and his teacher will help him learn from his mistakes.  But we made it clear that if his teacher has to speak to us about incomplete homework again, he'll be losing after school TV/computer privileges until he gets back on the ball.  And THAT is a promise he takes seriously.

Both kids are likely to be quite upset when we have a media-free weekend sometime in the near future.  We're all spending too much time online, and my husband and I think a long weekend break from electronic media would do us all good.  If you hear weeping and wailing and mayhem from Central NY, you can bet that the "no TV/no computer" edict is in going into effect in our household.  Some of the fussing might even be coming from the kids. . . .

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Black Gold

Today is the day:  I'm emptying out the compost bin.  I've enlisted Safety Guy to help me haul the finished compost to the raised beds.  (This led to a discussion of "How much will I get paid?"  The answer was, "Fifty cents per wheelbarrow load, but some of the other things I'll ask you to do to help as well will be free, just because you're part of the family.")  Later I'll be putting this fall's dead annuals and trimmings in the bin, and whatever isn't done "cooking" yet from this year can go back in the bin for another year as well.  I've got a single bin right now, but my husband plans on making me another one next year.

I'm not one to obsess over composting.  Like anything, it can be taken to an extreme, but I'm a simple, unhurried person.  In my world kitchen peelings and scraps and guinea pig waste and yard trimmings and weeds go in the top all year, and eventually compost comes out the bottom.  I'm not out to "cook" the pile in world-record time, and I'm not competing with anyone.  The slow but steady method works just fine for me.

So today I'm digging wheelbarrows full of gardener's black gold out of the compost bin.  It's a beautiful thing to see the cycle of life go around, and to have what was dead and useless be recycled and used to nurture and restore life in the garden.  It's a blessing to have a pleasant, warmish late fall day to work, and to have the physical ability to do so.  I hope your day is productive and peaceful too.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

First Snow and Family

We had our first serious snow of the season yesterday - a band of lake effect that settled over us for a couple hours and left a heavy inch or so of white all over everything.  It was dense snow, the kind that falls in clumps instead of individual flakes.  It was like being pelted with mini snow balls as I walked from the store to my car when it started falling.  It was also beautiful, like walking in a snow globe, and even exhilarating in a way, seeing the turn of the seasons click another notch.  The snow made me happy.  It was not so much fun to drive in, but, well, nothing's perfect.  It didn't melt right away, either, but hung on until late this morning, when the sun melted it all away, so it sparkled in the bright light under the blue sky.

My favorite part of the snow was seeing it coating the last few trees with leaves hanging on - the maples, with deep yellow leaves, rimmed with white.  Silver and gold.  It was so lovely.

Fall is almost over.  The trees are almost all bare and gray, the fields are brown and gold, and the last green is fast fading from the grass.  Thanksgiving will be here in a couple weeks, and I'm looking forward to seeing both sides of my family.  We'll spend Thanksgiving day with my husband's family at his sister's house.  That will be fun, sharing a big turkey dinner and all the trimmings in their wonderful old farm house.  The next day we'll have a big family get-together at my parents' house, with all of my sisters and their families.  No turkey and trimmings that day, but semi pot luck, with lasagna and chicken and whatever else we feel like bringing.  Most importantly, both days we'll all be TOGETHER, which is getting harder and harder to accomplish as life takes us in different directions.

I'm looking forward to the holiday season, my favorite time of the year for family traditions.  In a couple weeks it will be time to buy a tree to decorate - but for now, I'll enjoy the lead-up to Thanksgiving, and give thanks for my family and our blessings.  I hope you have a blessed holiday season too.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Trainspotting and Freedom

Safety Guy has come back around the Aspergers Obsession Mountain to pay a visit to two of his old favorite subjects:  real railroads and model trains.  It seems like a couple times a year he cycles through his interests and returns to this particular one.  Right now he's full of plans to expand his layout, purchase new track and rolling stock, and get his long-desired sound system.  At least his timing is good:  Christmas is just around the corner, and I can suggest certain items or gift certificates to family members who ask what to get him.

This summer we expanded his sphere of freedom to include riding his bike outside our neighborhood and the streets nearby.  That includes going up to the main drag in town, and down to the railroad bridge that divides our town in half.   (It's not a big town - we're really Small Town U.S.A here, with all that implies.)  He loves to ride his bike down there and watch for trains.  Sometimes he takes his camera and gets photos or videos of the freight and Amtrak trains that ply this two-track main line east and west many times a day.  It's been good for him on several levels:  the self-confidence of independence, the exercise riding to/from the crossing, and the outdoors fun in nice weather to get him out of the house and away from the computer.

It's been a gradual process to let him have more independence.  We've been more cautious with him, because of his Aspergers, than we probably would have been with a neurotypical ("normal") young man.  But he's proven himself to be responsible with his freedom, so we've gradually increased his sphere of independence.  Next spring he'll be allowed to ride his bike to school, which is on the other side of town from where we live.  (If you could ride straight north as the goose flies from us, it's really pretty close, but to get from here to there you have to go to one of only two places you can cross north-south under the rail line, not quite half a mile away, so it's not really close by road.)

Letting Safety Guy range on his own has been a little nerve-wracking for me.  As responsible as he is, he still has Aspergers, with all that implies about emotional immaturity and dealing with social situations, and handling emergencies.  One day he came home and told me that he'd almost been hit by a car.  ("Almost" in his vocabulary could mean anywhere from 10 inches to 10 feet to 10 yards, so I don't really know how close his close call was.)  I had the immediate urge to tell him to stick closer to home.  But would that make any real difference?  He could have a close call a block away, or a mile away, and it wouldn't change anything.  What's important is that he wasn't hurt, and he's been more careful to look out for traffic since his scare.

So, he's still riding his bike into town to go trainspotting.  The weather will be unusually nice this week, so I suspect he'll be out quite a bit, waiting for the trains to rumble by.  Sometimes the engineers will blow the air horn for him, when he makes the fist-pumping gesture and smiles big.  It's good.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Character, Education, and Money

This morning I read a really good post by Elizabeth Aquino, in her blog "a moon, worn as if it had been a shell."  Her post covered some really intense ground, from the Occupy Wall Street movement to choices in where to educate our children.  I responded to her post, then realized I had just written something I wanted to share on my blog.  So, you'll need to read her post for today, "How to do it when you're 98 years old," to really understand where my response is coming from.  My post starts after the photo below.


The premise that "more money buys a better education" is only true up to the point that money can purchase more or better supplies, technology, buildings and teacher education. But money cannot buy motivation, integrity, commitment, or plain old stick-to-it-ive-ness. Those qualities can be found in any school (public, private, parochial or home). Really, the home environment of the students is just as important as the schools they attend. No "good" school can make up for a lack of guidance, support, commitment, discipline and integrity at home, and no "bad" school can take that away from a student raised to honor those character qualities.

I grew up going to public school, and have a number of teachers in the family. I home schooled our children for 6 years, to better meet our son's needs after his diagnosis with Aspergers. We had our kids return to public school in 2010 when I was burnt out, and our son needed more help than I could give him on my own. If our local public school hadn't had such a positive reputation among special needs parents, we would have pursued private school. I'm currently back at work after 13 years away from teaching - substitute teaching in public school in 8th grade special ed.

I've seen good teachers labor day after day to instill a work ethic and passion for learning in students who weren't raised to care about such things, and who couldn't care less. I've seen teachers with tenure who had no business teaching, through ineptitude, laziness, or bad attitude. I've seen students from well-to-do homes make staggeringly poor choices in spite of good teachers and concerned parents. I've seen students with very difficult home situations thrive in their education through their own inner drive, against great odds.

Money is a tool, like any other, and it can help in education as in any other field of endeavor. But it can't take the place of CHARACTER, for the teachers, administrators, parents or students. I think our whole society is suffering from a character deficit, and no amount of money will fix that problem in any school setting.

For the parents who pay for private school - good for them. Private school is not usually a poor choice for students. But for parents who can't afford or choose not to use private schools - don't feel bad about your educational choice. Invest in what you DO have, with your time, energy, votes, presence, encouragement, and respect.

And a side note: sniffing smarties - what's with that? Some of my students do that. They use powdered candy like pixie sticks too. They say it's to get a sugar buzz. Really??? I think it's just that it LOOKS like doing real drugs, to impress other equally insecure, attention-hungry, immature kids. . . .

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bargains for the Garden

I know it's late in the fall here in the northeastern U. S., but believe it or not it's not too late to take a chance and plant perennials and shrubs.  I'm not recommending you purchase something pricey online from a warm-climate nursery and throw it in the ground - I'm talking about those scruffy, brown and dead-looking leftovers at the garden center or big box store.  You know, the yucky ones on the rolling rack with a big sign saying "CLEARANCE!"  Most of those unsold plants are simply doing what comes naturally - going dormant for the winter.  And in the great rush to push Christmas merchandise earlier and earlier in the year, stores with unsold plants are going to throw them out, or unload them (pardon the pun) dirt cheap.

I ran across such a deal at my local Lowes today.  A salesperson saw me looking at the cart of clearance plants, most of which were marked between $.25 and $.50.  She said, "If you want any, I'll give them to you for 25 cents each."  In the end I purchased 10 plants:  three 1-gallon golden barberry, three 2-gallon salvia 'May Night,' two 2-gallon unnamed ligularia, one 1-quart astilbe, and one 1-quart perennial aster or Michaelmas daisy (I think - most of the plants had no tags, so I was playing "name that plant" a bit).  I paid a grand total of $2.50.  YES!  Good grief, I spend more than $2.50 for my favorite iced coffee at Dunkin' Donuts!

I've already planted them.  Our soil is far from frozen, so the plants will have several weeks at least (and probably much more) to start their new root growth.  They'll continue to grow slowly underground through the winter.  They all had sturdy root systems, so I'm hopeful they'll all make it through and thrive in the spring.  I'll give them each a ring of mulch later this week when I'm touching up some other areas of the yard.  This weather is too nice to waste - 50ish (F) and sunny.

So take a look at the clearance plants the next time you're out - you may find something worth taking a chance on, for pennies.