Thursday, February 28, 2013


 Daylily 'Dallas Star,' an oldie but one of my favorites.

I'd like to run away.   Have you ever had a day/week/month like that?  I'd like to go away and find some physical and mental space from all the difficulties that are in my life right now.  I can't do that, so I distract myself when I can.

One of my seed orders arrived yesterday, and I spent part of the evening winter sowing.  I used up the last of my soil, and had to go out and get another bag.  This weekend I hope to get more sowing done.  One of my seed orders appears to be MIA in the snail mail.  I'll just have to reorder online, after I call the company and tell them to disregard any late snail mail order they receive from me.  They're a good company; they've never been late like this before.  In fact, they're usually amazingly fast at filling orders and getting them out.  A third order is somewhere in between - hopefully I'll see those seeds by the end of next week.  We'll see.

I made a start sowing tomatoes and zinnias, and celosia - 10 containers worth.  I've got a LOT more to go, if my seed orders arrive.  More zinnias, more tomatoes, then peppers, and other assorted annuals.  

I need to fence my raised veggie boxes this year.  There aren't any cats patrolling the neighborhood right now, and the rabbit population has become a real nuisance.  I'll have to fence my daylily seedlings, too.  And, I'll probably end up digging wire into the ground around the bottom of the shed, where the rotten critters have a burrow.  That's a good spring project.  I'll end up spending a small fortune on galvanized wire and wooden stakes.  But maybe I won't find my veggies nibbled to nubbins if I put in the work early.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Back To School - Winter Break Edition

The macaw in the aviary at the zoo, from yesterday -
not related to today's post, but I like the picture
for its illusion of warmer weather.

I was really dreading going back to school today, but it worked out pretty well after all.  The kids were glad to have their routine back, and we had fun for the most part.  We worked on reading skills, did literature with Robinson Crusoe, worked on telling time in math, learned about the Pilgrims in social studies, and did a worksheet and watched some fun videos from the San Diego Safari Park in science.  It was good to be busy and productive and keep my mind off of some home stuff.  There's a lot to be said for distraction and compartmentalization.

Today I had a meeting with the school psychologist for our son's grade.  I sent her a rather disjointed and unhappy note during the week before winter break, basically saying, "Enough is enough!  Do something about the bullying Safety Guy is going through!"  Today was for us to talk through my perspective and concerns about SG and the bullying situation.  It was really productive, and Mrs. J. is going to observe SG in his three most difficult classes over the next week or so, to assess triggers and interactions and to get a feel for what's really going on between the students.  She'll be talking to his resource teacher, and other teachers involved.  She agrees that  it's not all up to Safety Guy to give in and change in this situation - the other students need to be responsible and held accountable for their own actions.

I didn't pull any punches, even though I was polite.  I detailed what SG has told me about the names he's been called, the covert nature of some of the bullying, and the constant pressure to keep his cool when effectively trapped with the same bullying kids day in and day out.  Mrs. J., bless her, understands SG pretty well, and she can see the bind he's in, and that I'm in as well as his mother and as a teacher at the school.  I told her that if this continues, I'll be put in the position of having to choose between my son and my job - and if I have to quit my job to advocate for my son, I will.  I'm not sure she'd thought of that, and anyhow it's not her job to save my job.  But it's a description of a real-world conflict of interest, and it needed to be said.

Hopefully after her observation we can meet again to see what steps can be taken to help SG.  I didn't go in with an axe to grind with the other students.  Frankly, I know them too well to be angry with them personally, but I can sympathize with their issues without condoning their behavior.  Still, there's absolutely no excuse for this situation to continue, especially since SG will be with these same students in most of his classes as he goes through high school.  This needs to be addressed NOW, before SG loses his cool and finally punches one of the bullies.  Because SG might not be very coordinated, but if he ever connected a punch in anger someone would really get hurt, and I don't want to see that happen, for both students' sake.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

How Can It Be 11 Years?

The Princess and the Bad Cat, January 2013.

I can't believe it, but it will be eleven years tomorrow since our daughter was born.  She couldn't wait for her scheduled c-section, but decided she wanted to enter the world a day early.  When she was born, her first howl could be heard down the hallway to where my parents and one of my sisters waited.  My sister turned to my Mom and said, "She has your lungs!"  (My Mom is famous for her lovely singing voice, and for her amazing volume when she needed to get our attention, call us home on a long summer evening, or chew us out.)  Not much has changed since then! 

I have so many good memories of our Princess:  as a pretty baby with big blue eyes, an adorable dandelion-fluff-haired blonde toddler, a talkative little pony-tailed girl, and now as a smart, kind and headstrong young lady.  Now she's crazy about horses, pets and dragons, has lots of equally smart/goofy/chatty fifth grade friends, loves to read, and wants to be a vet tech specializing in equine medicine.  I think there's every chance she'll realize that last dream.

It's going to be a wild ride through the teen years with her, and I hope and pray she makes good choices.  I worry about how the world will treat her.  I love it that she'll still sit next to me with her head on my shoulder, just resting while we travel or watch TV.  I hope she never outgrows that.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Should, Ought, Might

Photo by Daniel Chodusov, 2013, via Flickr, free use image.
I'm feeling really "on the edge" lately.

I was hoping that a week off from teaching would help me refocus and get my act together on a number of other fronts, but it seems that the "free" time has just been an opportunity for my psyche to quietly go to pieces without the schedule of school to force me to compartmentalize and keep it together.  I've realized that I've been under an insane, un-Godly amount of pressure for the past few weeks, and I'm fraying around the edges, badly.

I've tried to rest physically, around bouts of insomnia or disrupted sleep, and bizarre dreams.  I've tried not to take out my stress and anger and lack of peace on my family. Depending on how I look at it, I've either failed miserably since I know I've been on the edge and everyone in the house knows it and I've snapped at people more than once this week, or I've succeeded better than should be humanly possible, because I haven't totally lost my mind or moved out or blown up on them.  I've alternated all week between being constructively busy and totally motivation-less, without much in between.

The house isn't clean.  It's not a pit, but it's not looking great either.  I'm getting the basics done, and everyone is fed and clothed.  I can't please everyone.  I don't even want to try right now.

The kids have been bickering.  A lot.  I know it's just ridiculous sibling stuff, stupid teen/tween crap, and Aspergers nonsense all tangled up together, but I Just. Don't. Have. The. Patience. For. It.

I am really down about teaching at the moment.  Too much stress, too much bureaucracy.  Right now, if the permanent teacher could come back this week, I'd gladly hand back her class without a second thought or regret, and refuse to sub for a couple weeks after that.  I'm burnt out.

I'm sick of the tyranny of the oughts, the shoulds, the mights.  I feel like I'm in emotional survival mode, and just getting through each day without a major breakdown is a victory.  In a perfect world - but this isn't.  And it won't be.  But I can still choose to make each day a little better, as much as I'm able to by God's grace.

Right now I'm leaning on grace, because my own resources are nil.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Endings, Beginnings, Continuations

An ending:  yesterday we had to have one of our guinea pigs, Cocoa Puff, put to sleep.  Pet ownership is like that - you seek out the pleasure of the pet, and you carry the responsibility of care through to the end of the pet's life.  I'm not broken up like I was over losing Sophia last fall, but I'm still sad.  We still have her sister, Flash, and a male pig in a separate cage, Cookie.  We'll have to keep an eye on Flash, so she doesn't pine.  Sometimes guinea pigs will die after their cage-mate dies, and that would break Safety Guy's heart - Flash is his.

A beginning:  my husband has started grad school, for his master's degree (and I'm having a brain glitch right now and can't remember if it will be in some aspect of software engineering or electrical engineering; his B.S. is in EE).  Homework is starting to hit home this week, and he's a bit stressed juggling family and school.

And a continuation:  I finally pulled out a painting that I started a couple years ago and abandoned.  It's been watching me mournfully from the corner ever since, saying, "You can't leave me like this!"  So I'm taking another run at it.  The jury is still out on what it will become, past the obvious "tree roots growing over rocks in a forest" idea.  I've also got a walled garden picture I started about 6 years ago, still unfinished.  Somehow I don't think I'll be like Leonardo da Vinci, carting an unfinished masterpiece around Europe while I get it "just right."  I'd be okay with "not bad, I can live with it this way" at this point.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Annual Winter Sowing Post

Some of my winter sown babies from May, 2012, ready to go in the ground.
At a glance, I see leeks, striped hollyhocks, daylilies, sunflowers, 
bok choi, two different kinds of poppies, annual phlox, tomatoes, and zinnias.

I know I've bent your ear about winter sowing in the past (here and here, and probably elsewhere too).  For my new blog followers, the quick summary is that winter sowing is the practice of planting seeds in recycled containers in the dead of winter, chucking the containers out in the snow to freeze solid, and waiting for them to thaw and sprout in the spring in their own sweet time.  You'd be amazed at how easy this is, and how much money it saves in the long run in the cost of plants.

I put out my first batch of winter sown containers a few weeks ago - 17 milk jugs with tough annuals and perennials.  This week I'll go for a second round, with probably two more rounds to go after that.  I sow the hardiest plants first (the perennials and annuals that will come up no matter what the winter throws at them), and work my way down to the tenderest ones (who really don't want to be frozen at all, just chilled for a few weeks, like tomatoes, peppers, and zinnias) in late March.  Now, in late February, I'll be planting the "happy medium" plants, the ones I didn't get around to last time but who won't mind being frozen for a month or so before spring.  I've got a bunch of daylily seeds in the veggie crisper from late last summer - they'll be planted soon.

Winter sown containers, February 2011.

I'm still waiting for a couple seed orders to arrive, so I'll have a lot left to plant in a couple weeks.  Lots of annuals, but not that many perennials.  We do have a wonderful local greenhouse that I can get all sorts of wonderful plants ready to go, especially more tender things that I don't have a long enough growing season to effectively sprout myself, so I know I'll be spending some time (and money) there when they open in late April.  But for today, I think I'll rifle through the seed box and see what can go out in the cold right now.  Ah, anticipation - one of the sweetest parts of gardening.

Update:  I ended up planting eight containers today - 7 of various daylilies, and one of romanesco cauliflower.  Maybe I'll toss a few more outdoors later on.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Winter Is Broken

It's subzero again, at least in the wind chill department.   The temperature right now is 14F, with winds in the 20s, and it's truly bitter outside.  You can feel the chill pouring off the windows.

Earlier this week we had a few beautiful days, and a gentle thaw.  I know very well that we'll have another 6 weeks or so of winter from now in CNY, no matter what Punxsutawney Phil said on Feb. 2nd.  Still, this week we hit that magic day in the late winter when you just KNOW that spring is coming.  As I read it in a book once, "The back of winter is broken."  No matter what the weather does for the next month or so, the tide has turned.  The dogwood shrubs and brambles have a flush of red in their bark.  The buds on the poplars and maples are growing.  The birds sound different - same birds, new songs, as if they're celebrating something we don't know yet.  I found a woolly bear caterpillar trundling across the bare yard at the stable, and held it for quite a while before I put in back into a patch of grass.  Soon the willows will turn yellow and stay that way until their first flush of catkins and leaves turns them soft chartreuse in April.  So bring it on, winter - your days are numbered.

(I just had to go look up woolly bears.  It turns out it's the caterpillar of the Isabella tiger moth, Pyrrharctica isabella, and it stays a caterpillar through the winter and pupates in the spring.  Cool!)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Under Pressure

I feel like this tonight - wrung out and ready to crash.  
I intend to take a nap with a cat tomorrow.

I am pathetically, unbelievably, completely glad that this work week is OVER.  I left the school as quickly as I could at the end of the day.  I haven't blogged much lately because I've had just too much on my mind, and I hesitate to share all of it publicly.  What I can share, though, is that the pressure at school has been tough, and the reason isn't much related to the class I'm substituting in.  It's much more related to what's been going on with Safety Guy lately.

He's had go-rounds with bullying in the past, and it always seems to be the same handful of kids.  Some of them he gets along with off and on, frenemies I suppose you could call them, and a couple he rarely gets along with at all (because they're too much like him, with similar needs).  Over the past month or so the frequency of the bullying, and the magnitude of Safety Guy's reactions to the bullying, have gotten much more intense.  It's happening in less structured situations (like in the hallways), but also in a couple particular classes (general music, which is a big, unruly class, and his 15:1:1 math class, which contains a number of the kids who have bullied him in the past, as well as a couple kids he just doesn't get along with because he and they are too much alike).

The worst part of this (as if knowing that my kid is being bullied isn't bad enough) is that his resource classroom is right next to the classroom I'm subbing in long-term, with a double door between us.  I get to hear when he loses his cool, up close.  My students will tell me (as if I can't hear, but I know they mean well) that my son is having trouble today.  I can hear the frustration and pain in his voice, the edge-of-tears "why don't they leave me alone" desperation.

This week was the last straw.  Something has to give.  I've exchanged a flurry of emails with his resource teacher, his guidance counselor, and the school psychologist.  They are wonderful professionals, but in many ways their hands are tied by the logistics of the school staffing, space and schedule.  There is NO other class SG could be switched to.  There is NO way to separate him from these kids - they share many of the same needs for smaller group instruction and resource help, and they are in most of the same classes together.  There is ONE resource teacher for 8th grade, and she's awesome, but she's got her hands full.  Every day these students go to school in lockstep, from class to class together all day long, always in each other's spaces and faces, and on each other's nerves.  They all know EXACTLY how to set each other off.  SG is only away from most of these students during his French class, while the other students have Spanish.  He eats lunch with me now so he doesn't have to eat with them in the cafeteria.  In all of his other classes, he is trapped with them.

Now I know Safety Guy isn't a total victim here.  He has the "rules police" thing going on big time, which is very much an Aspergers characteristic, as well as being a personality trait.  None of his peers appreciate him telling them when they've broken the rules, and obviously they won't listen to him when he tells them to behave and listen to the teacher, or to stop doing something because it's bugging him (like making random tapping noises).  And sometimes, because he's a typical teen boy, he'll trash talk them and shoot off his mouth and get on their nerves for that too.  I'll be the first to admit that he's not the easiest person in the world to be with day in and day out.

BUT.  BUT BUT BUT!  He does not deserve to be bullied.  Just because he can be difficult doesn't mean he's earned this torture, that he somehow brings it on himself or deserves it.  

When he told me this week that one student had called him "fat," "queer," and a "dickwad" (at one point whispering the insults to him over and over, so softly the teacher couldn't hear but SG sure could), and another student had called him a "man-whore," I put my foot down.  (My husband too - he's no more pleased with this than I am.)  Safety Guy said he hadn't told his teachers about all of the bullying each day because, in his words, "They don't do anything about it."  Now, that's not totally true - when they catch the kids in the act of bullying, those kids DO get detentions or other consequences and have to talk with the principal or counselor.  But this has gone on for so long, and these other students have not stopped in spite of dozens of reprimands and various forms of school discipline.  Safety Guy feels that even when he does report it, nothing will make the bullying stop, so why should he bother?

It's breaking my heart, dealing with all of this.

After the winter vacation we'll be working with the school psychologist to put some more protections in place for Safety Guy, in the form of a behavior plan for him.  Now before you think I'm nuts for letting them put a behavior plan in place for SG when it's these other kids who obviously need their behavior modified, I KNOW.  Yes, I know it's the bullies that are the root of the problem.  But by documenting how/when SG is being "set off" by them and helping him with strategies to deal with them, it will by default also identify the bullies and put the responsibility for bullying where it REALLY goes - on them.  Because documenting their provocation will hopefully lead to help for them as well.  You see, I don't know if they'll have behavior plans too - and even if I did, I couldn't talk about it.  It's a Catch-22, being both a parent and teacher in the school where SG is having these problems.  I can't say everything I know.  However, I know that Safety Guy can't be the only one to "give" in this situation, no matter how dramatically he reacts to the provocation of these other kids, these bullies.

We had Safety Guy's pre-9th grade meeting on Monday, to plan his high school program.  One of the things we asked was that SG be separated from the most persistent bullies as much as possible in his classes.  The response wasn't encouraging:  most of the students with needs similar to his will have most of the same classes.  That makes it all the more imperative that we get a plan in place NOW to document and address this issue formally.  It's gone beyond the level of simple day to day discipline.  Frankly, I'm amazed that Safety Guy hasn't clocked one of these kids yet.  And, I fear that he still might; then he'd be punished for violent aggression, even if he was totally provoked into it.  When did it become the victim's fault when they are hurt, and their duty to give way in the face of the bully's rights, and their time for punishment if they hit back at the aggressor who has been hurting them?

If I thought Safety Guy needed a different academic/behavioral placement, we'd be seeking it.  But he's not the problem here.  He will continue to learn ways to deal with bullies, how to manage conflict resolution, how to get along with difficult people.  But he doesn't have to be the one to give up his rights to a free, appropriate public education in a safe learning environment.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Not a Bad Little Storm Up Here

 I'd rather see flowers white as snow right now. . . .

I know the East Coast took a pounding last night, with many places getting over 2 feet of snow.  We topped out around 10-12" locally, with lots of drifting.  The Princess went off to her 4H activity this morning, her first sleep-away "camp" experience.  Her best friend is on the trip with her; I'm sure they'll have a great time.  Safety Guy and Tech Guy were both feeling bleh and dragged out this morning, so they decided to pass on the outdoors Scouts activities today.  Fighting a cold and standing outside in a single-digit wind chill in a foot or more of snow just didn't seem like a good idea for either of them.

 Echinacea 'White Swan' - such a pretty, simple flower.

It was a long, long week at school - busy and productive, but still with its own stresses.  It looks like the teacher I'm subbing for will be out at least for a few more weeks, quite possibly more, so I'm just taking it a week at a time while still planning as if I'll be here longer.  I know the kids miss their "real" teacher, but we're getting along okay and having some fun along the way, so I can't really ask for more than that.

 A white peony - unfortunately, I can't remember its name. 

My art is at a complete standstill, and I've been thinking about putting my Etsy shop on vacation for a couple weeks so I don't have to think about it.  Right now it's just one more thing I can't get ahead on, and I don't have the time to put into it.  I have been enjoying looking at stuff on Etsy, just feeding my aesthetic eye so to speak - mostly jewelry right now.  Turquoise, peridot, silver, rough diamonds, baroque pearls, handmade and including recycled metal, just lovely things I can imagine wearing.  That's why it's called a "wish list," right? 

 Lilac 'Krasavitsa Moskvy' ("Beauty of Moscow").

The Princess has a birthday coming up fairly soon, and she has asked for a European-style charm bracelet like the one Tech Guy gave me for Christmas, so I've gotten her a bracelet and a handful of charms.  Now that she's out for the day, I think I'll put that together.  Thankfully, she doesn't read my blog, but I'm still pretty sure she knows I've been working on a bracelet for her since I asked her about charms a couple weeks ago and we spent some time picking out our favorites from several shops, "just for fun." She's also asked for a real jewelry box.  No doubt about it, she's growing up.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Finding Nemo in a Blizzard?

B.C. "helping" my husband work from home one day not too long ago. . . .

I just have to laugh at the weather wonks who decided that naming winter storms was a good idea.  Who got together and decided on this year's list of names?  Elvis?  Khan?  Nemo?!  I just have to laugh because their choices seem to beg to be made fun of.  Anyhow, we're getting some snow in CNY, with a forecast total of 4-8" that seem to be about right - we've got about 4" so far, with the storm forecast to be moving through NY for the better part of the night, so we'll probably end up near the top of that projection.

I'm hoping that the storm passes through quickly, because both the Princess and Safety Guy have activities they're looking forward to tomorrow.  The Princess has a 4H horse-related weekend camp (which has already been shortened to one overnight instead of two due to weather - they were supposed to leave tonight), and Safety Guy has the annual Klondike Derby winter fun day with the Scouts.  We'll see if there are any more changes in plans.  I hope not, both because the kids are looking forward to their fun stuff, and because my husband is going with SG but I'm not chaperoning the 4H trip this double-activity means that I'll actually be alone in the house for the better part of a day, and I could use the mental space.  I could REALLY use the mental space.  Really.  A lot.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mind Too Full

The view from Harris Hill, near Elmira, NY, 2010.

I've got a bad case of too much on my mind this weekend, which has made it hard for me to focus on much of anything.  I count myself successful to have done some cleaning and pet care, cooking and winter sowing, shopping and laundry, all with my mind not quite all in the present moment.  Body on autopilot, mind off on its own odyssey - a bit disconcerting, but I suspect it's a self-defense thing.  At least I didn't spend the weekend in bed, hiding (which sounded mighty appealing, actually).

We were busy this weekend, in a good way.  Kid activities for both Safety Guy and the Princess, home maintenance stuff for my husband, pet maintenance and laundry for me - just la vie quotidienne in our corner of the U.S.  I'm grateful for the routine and relative peace, even if my mind is spinning its wheels over something private.  I pray, I keep busy, and I go on.

Some times are just like that.

I've enjoyed talking with Safety Guy this weekend, as he's been exploring some old interests (shipwrecks) and indulging in a Mythbusters marathon on Friday.  I like it when he's in an inquisitive mood, feeding his curiosity, indulging in learning just for fun.  

The Princess is coming up on her birthday, and after talking it over she's decided that she'd like to go to the zoo with a handful of her friends for her birthday party.  I love going to the zoo, so I'm perfectly happy with this idea.  And, it keeps the party chaos and mess out of my house.  I'll have to see if I can bring a cake to the zoo, if they have a party room for a reasonable fee.  If not, we may do our party treat out, like at Friendly's.

I planted 17 containers of seeds on Friday, and sent in a couple seed orders.  Ah, the anticipation of spring! I love that.  Another good distraction.

And so life goes on as I seek grace to deal with what's too hard for me to handle on my own.

Friday, February 1, 2013

SMH - It's a Snow Day?

 From a few weeks ago - we don't have even this much today, so far.

We're having a snow day today, but the weather hasn't been bad at all.   It was one of those mornings where you look out the window and think, "Nah, we'll have school," then you turn on the news and see a 2 hour delay and think, "Why?"  And an hour later, they went to a full snow day, still with no serious snow in sight.  I was joking with my husband this morning that maybe the higher-ups in the school all needed a day off, but with fluctuating bands of lake effect snow going through our area during the usual bus/going to work time and again later in the day around dismissal time, the district probably just made a good, conservative call.  We haven't had a full snow day yet this year, so we have days to use.  Lake effect snow is nothing to be trifled with.  If the band of snow misses you, you might get a handful of flakes and not much more, but just a couple miles away from you someone else can see an inch or more an hour under the band.  We had just over an inch this morning, scattered flurries all day, and now we're under one of those heavier bands (it's almost 5pm now).  You just can't predict lake effect snow very well.  Better safe than sorry.

I have to confess I was delighted with the snow day, however.  I even prayed for a snow day last night, knowing it wasn't likely but feeling like I could really, really use one anyhow.  It has been a long, chaotic week (snow delay earlier in the week, school schedule changed on two days for a special event, the Princess being sick and my husband staying home with her), and I've been feeling a bit burnt out, so a real extra day off feels like a long vacation to me today.  I've been catching up on some cleaning and laundry, and I even took a NAP.  Yay me, maybe I'll be more patient with everyone around me now that I don't feel rushed and dragged out.

 Dianthus 'Chianti' - I just found seed for this again, after not seeing it for a while.  
I had it at our old house, and love its deep wine and white coloration.
It's a perennial; I hope to have a nice clump of it this year.

I'm going to start my winter sowing tonight.  I sorted seeds last night, got rid of some seed that was too old to reliably germinate, and finalized my seed orders.  I'm getting some things from three different companies (Pinetree Garden Seeds, Select Seeds, and Thompson & Morgan).   Pinetree and Select Seeds are my favorites, and Thompson & Morgan usually has a few things I really want but can't find anywhere else, so I splurge even though their prices are high.  I brought the bag of soil inside a couple days ago to thaw, and I just added water to it so it will be ready to use later tonight.  Good clean fun, playing in the dirt.  I'll sow the hardy starters first, perennials and the annuals I know don't mind an early start (like sunflowers).  The tender stuff will have to wait until late February or early March (tomatoes, peppers, zinnias, and the like).

Time to go finish cleaning and make dinner, then I can play in the dirt.  Happiness!