Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Letters to the Editor

In my prior life, before marriage and children, I lived in or extremely close to real cities – Washington, DC, Chicago, Vienna, and I was used to their newspapers. I was a teenager during the Watergate years, and my mother worked for the Washington Post under Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham. She wasn’t a reporter; she was support staff, but she remembers all of them, including Woodward and Bernstein, during that very exciting period of time in the newspaper industry. Since I lived with her, I got dribs and drabs of information that she would talk about, and, really, as a teenager I wasn’t nearly as interested in it as I would be now.

We lived in Arlington, VA, then, later in Alexandria, in the Old Town section. It was suburban, bordering on urban, with lots of traffic, public transportation, and incredibly good newspapers. Everyone got the Post. There wasn’t even a need to call it the Washington Post. Every time someone mentioned the Post, my imagination gilded it with gold edging on the letters, and I’d feel a sense of excitement and interest. Even in elementary and junior high school, we were expected to be familiar with the newspaper and had to use it for some assignments.

When I moved to Chicago, there were two good newspapers, the Trib and the Sun-Times. I was still a teenager, and the need to read the newspaper for schoolwork was considerably less, but I still read sections out of habit. Not a bad habit, I suppose, although it lead to tsking and head-shaking, laughter, and disgust at politicians and other silly people. It was also a source of material to open discussions with Dad and Ellen, and to argue with the evening TV news. We’d even check the paper on facts, then point our fingers at the TV, tsking some more.

In my very small town, we also have a paper. It’s a lot different from the Post, the Trib, or the Sun-Times. We have classified ads for livestock and truck drivers, farm property and fireplace wood by the cord. Our little paper, the Herald News, has two sections, Sports (and classifieds) and Other. On Fridays, it has a section called “Detours” which is where they let young people, some of whom may have studied Journalism, write articles for the paper. As I get older, I find myself less and less interested in what video or computer game may be the new “bomb”, or which teen angst book is currently popular. I have my doubts about their book review teams, anyway, as it seems they’ve never read a book they don’t like.

The Sports section features updates on all the local high school teams for 5 or 6 small cities around us on a regular basis, with big, color pictures of sweating, harried teens in motion. It reports on a few other teams when “our” teams play against them, and it uses typical warlike, aggressive lingo, i.e. “Warriors Stomp Cats,” and “Dynamic Diamonds Crush Lady Moose”. The Sports section also covers Nascar racing and some professional baseball from time to time.

Our “Other” section probably calls itself the “news” section. I don’t. There just isn’t that much news going on around here. It has comics, the agony aunt column, a crossword puzzle, a Sudoku puzzle, the police report, obits, information on marriages, divorces, births, a social event calendar, and features. For a couple of years, the features were scraping the bottom of the barrel, considering they even put my knitting group, which at the time had all of three people in it, on the front page with a 4 X 6 color picture of us knitting. Possibly not their most exciting edition.

There’s also one full page of OpEd stuff. There’s usually a syndicated column on an issue of political or national importance, there might be a column from another paper in the state on a state issue, and one column is written by staff reporters, on a rotating basis, which leads to some screamingly funny differences in quality, topic, and style. One was so heinously bad that I wrote a scathing reply to the sports reporter who dunned the nerds in his college as brownnosers. My letter was a big hit. And that probably clearly exemplifies the biggest difference between, say, the Washington Post and the local Herald News – letters to the editor.

Big city papers have letters written to the editor by college professors, titans of industry, learned individuals from all walks of life, and an occasional very erudite ordinary person. Small town papers have letters written by annoyed people and people who want money. They have a much wider range of education and writing skills, and they very seldom address national or state issues with any coherence or memorably good phraseology. We get a lot of letters on the doltishness of school boards, written by annoyed people whose kids didn’t make the team, or who think the board is spending money fecklessly, or who are board members themselves and want to make a point separate from the rest of the board. We get letters from old-timers driven to take up pen and paper by the egregious behavior of the county board over funding the nursing home, or by charity directors stumping for yet another wad of my cash.

Then there are the rest of the letters, which really cannot be categorized, and which afford me the greatest human entertainment of my day. There are letters dunning the charity basketball coordinators for unfair refereeing, using any number of tenses, indignant from tip to toe, threatening, oh, woe, to reduce the crowd by one next year. Letters which correct errors in reportage in the paper are invariably smoking with the writer’s rage over having been misquoted, misrepresented, or misunderstood. Sometimes they use complete sentences.

Thank you notes, cautiously written to a single person or reporter, or to a small group of people always make the Letters column, and they are sweet, or bittersweet, or just thought provoking. There are letters written by people who are desperately trying to support a point on an issue greater than their skill in writing; a recent one addressed the topic of “Wal-Mart supporting the homosexual agenda.” This particular pastor of a tiny church intends to protest with a small band of people with nothing more pressing to do, on the day after Thanksgiving, handing out pamphlets, undoubtedly larded with misspellings and inaccuracies, while standing on Wal-Mart property. His letter generated a few of my favorites – letters poking fun at damned near anything.

I like those letters. They show a sense of perspective that I generally agree with, about people taking themselves too seriously, about being a little more compassionate towards our fellow citizens and their foibles and mistakes and attempts to do good that go wrong somehow, and they are usually pretty well written. I write some like this myself. Sometimes I even send them in. Just for kicks, here’s the one on the brown-nosing nerds that generated several hilarious, supportive phone calls to my home. As a nerd myself and proud mother of nerds, I had a position, and I was annoyed, which qualified me right off. Ahem…

Dear Editor,

“My kid beat up your honor student.” I was reminded of this particularly nasty bumper sticker last week when reading Mr. Johnson’s epistle on the evils of education. Mr. Johnson stated that he is finishing his four year undergraduate degree in five years, after enduring endless torturous hours of confinement in tiny cages with his hapless, lackwitted, uninspired, waste-of-hair cohort, all of whom have been bored into drooling comas by fifty-something professors droning ceaselessly about nothing in particular. He hopes his Bachelor’s degree in Attendance (for I can find no other indication of specialization or skill in his writing) will land him a big job and big bucks.

I do wish him the very best of luck. He’s going to need it. I certainly hope he doesn’t continue to promote himself as a scholar because he isn’t one. Scholars enthusiastically study their topics of interest for years, learning their material deeply and comprehensively, something Mr. Johnson has, by his own account, been assiduously avoiding at all costs. I do wonder what the administrators and professors of L**** University would think of Mr. Johnson’s essay. Probably not much; I’m sure they’ve heard it all before, most likely with the same lack of creativity or zest.

Mr. Johnson, instead of finding a major which sparks his interest and attention, prefers to hamfistedly lump smart, enthusiastic, engaged students into one dismissive category, which he and others of the species Homo bardus stolidus predictably call “nerds… brown nosing for A’s.” It has apparently never crossed his sports-addled brain that many, many people actually like to learn new things. They like to find out new information, techniques and methods, and to develop skills in order to accomplish their own goals. That their mastery of the subject matter is recognized in academia by good grades is generally secondary. They are, in fact, pursuing their own interests with little or no regard to Mr. Johnson or his posse. I hope Mr. Johnson learns that envy is a very unappetizing trait, and that insecurity dressed as boredom is even less appealing.

It seems remarkably hypocritical for Mr. Johnson to have lauded the behavior of those who try to achieve their personal bests in sports in his previous articles, yet in this particular essay he denigrates those who do so in the classroom or other academic settings, calling them “brownnosers” and “nerds”. Perhaps he has yet to learn the definitions of the words, “extrapolation,” “epiphany” or “objectivity.” He does appear to exemplify, perhaps unintentionally, undiluted “egregious lack of insight”.

Nonetheless, I would like to thank Mr. Johnson for his opinion piece. He has made it abundantly clear why the US ranks in the bottom one-fourth of developed nations in both mathematics and science, as reported by the TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) and the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) report. He has also implicitly demonstrated why recent NEAP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) reports indicate that only 32% of Illinois students score at “proficient” or “advanced” levels in reading and a mere 24% of all students nationally score at or above “proficient” in writing. Finally, I’d like to thank him for helping me understand why 70% of community college freshmen and 38% of four-year college students require remediation at an annual national cost of over $1.4 billion. It’s always nice to have new data, anecdotal or incidental as it may be.

Oh, in case Mr. Johnson was wondering, nerds like summer break, too; they are not forced to sit small classrooms in polite silence while their time is wasted by pointless, inattentive questions or comments posed by posturing, puerile seatwarmers.

Oddball Word of the Day

perpend (PUR-pend) n. a large stone built into a wall so that it passes through the entire thickness. Also "parpen," "perpent". Also "through stone."

(from the MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Of Mice and Men

OK, we have mice. We have mice every winter. We live out near the country (real honest-to-crap “feed your family” type cornfields are like a street and a half away), we don’t have a cat (don’t get me started), and our house is 45 years old or so, so the mouse pathways in and out are probably pretty well-established and either beyond my line of sight or beyond my ability to bend over and crawl around and search for.

We tried blue poison, but with a dog around, well, let’s just say the results can be icky. We tried those wire traps, but wound up throwing a bunch of them away, since none of us could stand to, er, disentangle. So, now we have reusable mousetraps. They have a big red X on the top of them, as if to say “Don’t stick your finger in here, Stupid!”

I am a vermin avoider, so the task of baiting the traps is always up to someone else. Also, removing the deceased is up to someone else, too. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of being a vermin avoider is that I have hypersensitive hearing and Super Person sight (when it comes to vermin), and I am always the first person to either hear them or spot them. I have to take my glasses off to knit socks, but somehow my eyeballs work fast enough to see not only where the mice have come from, but also where they have gone.

One year we had a baby mole in the house. I’m not kidding. It’s not like we have dirt floors or something way too organic like that, so I have no idea how the damned thing got in the house. I was the one who spotted it, scampering hell-fer-leather around the living room, early one Saturday morning. The dog was second to notice it, and between me yelling about moles in the damned house, and the dog barking and attempting to dig through the couch to get to it, leaping onto and over furniture in a mad mole chase, things got loud in a hurry.

The dog was in a hunting frenzy, I was waving plastic leftover ice cream buckets, yelling at the dog, and trying to beat him to the mole, the kids were still in their nighties, jumping and squealing, and my husband came thundering downstairs in his undershorts, waving his arms and yelling his usual manly refrain of “What the Hell’s going on around here?”

“A mole! A mole!” I yelled, whilst beating my plastic buckets together, attempting to distract the dog. “Eyeeew! Icky! How did a mole get in?” asked all of the kids, not quite together. “ARFARFARF” yodeled the dog, while leaping in 3-foot high arcs and bouncing in circles. “What the F***?” yelled hubs. “How can a g*dd*mned mole be in the g*dd*mned house? Are you all completely g*dd*mned nuts? I need pants,” he said, and stomped back upstairs.

I finally realized that I and my buckets were not doing much good, so I herded the kids back to their rooms and told them they needed to be dressed and brush their hair before I’d let them chase the mole. I left the dog on mole patrol and put my buckets down in the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee for my pants-seeking spouse and one for myself, then went back to the living room to make sure the mole didn’t head up the one step between the living room and the rest of the house.

Hubs came downstairs, clothed, gave me a truly nasty look, and accepted his coffee. “What the hell do you mean, there’s a mole in here?” he asked over the sound of the dog barking gleefully at the mole it had trapped under a cabinet. “There’s a mole,” I said, “under the cabinet. I think it’s a baby mole.”

“How the hell [notice that hubs’ vocabulary has a certain consistency when he’s ticked off] can it be a mole; and if it IS a mole, how can you tell it’s a baby mole?” he asked.

“It has a snout, not much of a tail that I could see, and it’s mole-shaped and smallish,” I replied.

“It’s probably a mouse,” he said.

“If it were a mouse, it would be a rat at that size,” I replied.

“Bet it’s a mouse,” he responded.

“Bet a dollar it’s a mole,” I said, “and I hope you help the dog catch it soon.”

“Where are those buckets?” he asked, “They looked about right for catching it.”

I brought in the buckets, and between the dog’s enthusiastic help, my guarding the step, and hub’s endeavors, he caught it. It was a mole. He made sure to show it to the kids before he snuck over to the nasty neighbor’s back yard and let it loose.

So, anyway, back to current vermin. They’re in the kitchen because they’re not stupid, despite the implications of the big, red X on the reusable trap. The people food is in there, the bird and his flung bits are in there, the dog food is in there; it’s a mouse Wal-Mart in my damned kitchen.

We’ve caught two, thankfully, and this morning when I came downstairs to make coffee in the dark, I heard a clonking noise. Since the parrot usually clicks his beak at me or chirps something sweet at me, I didn’t really think much about it; I figured he was bumping into some toy. The clonking continued.

After I got the coffeemaker loaded up and perking, I realized the clonking was closer to me than Hawthorne, and I had a feeling. There was enough light for me to see a few things, and I started looking. Well, there was a very annoyed mouse, in the reusable trap, thumping around on the top of the stove. The clonking was from when he would bang the trap against the covered grease can I have on the stove, and he was whacking the trap against it and fumbling all over the stove to get loose. I turned on the stove light and he froze, looking at me. I looked back. We stared for a while. He won. I had to go to the dining room for my penalty. He continued clonking once I was gone.

I realized that he might clonk his way loose, and while, if it were possible to just lead him from the house and establish a suitable home for him in the wild, I would, but that’s not the way things work. He’d just come back, breed, and so forth. So, I got a dishtowel, another handy plastic bucket, and a wooden spoon I’ve been thinking of throwing out (I don’t like the length) and managed to get him in the bucket. I put the bucket on my car hood in the garage, covered it with the towel, and weighted the towel down with the spoon.

Once hubs came down, and I clued him in, he said he’d been putting the trap on the backsplash near the stove, which has been successful. I was glad to hear it because I was kind of wondering how the mouse dragged himself and his headgear all the way to the stove in search of something against which to clonk.

So, everything except the reusable trap is now gone. Um, except, there was a Noise in the tablecloth cabinet after everyone else had left this morning…

Oddball Word of the Day

knaggy (NAG-ee): adj. knotty, rough

(from the MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Five Things for Student Teachers to Remember

(from a parent’s perspective)

I did have my talk with the student teacher, and the mentor teacher, earlier this week. It actually went pretty well, mainly because the mentor teacher and I agreed on everything. The student teacher sat there like a deer in the headlights (with slightly alarming modern dude hair). Changes have been made, and my daughter is now a much happier camper. Anyway…

1. Assigned Group Work is horse manure. Note, that’s “assigned group” work, not work assigned to groups. Self-selecting work groups are more effective because good students group with other good students and then don’t wind up having to carry slackers on their backs.

My main problems with assigned group work are:

a) slackers in group don’t do squat,
b) the projects assigned have usually been dumbed down to the least common denominator, so they waste time for good or even average students, they’re insulting, and they generally don’t advance the cause of learning, and
c) unless there is research involved which will mean the group has to meet more than once, you don’t get any work out of the group after about 10 minutes – it devolves into tea time for the loud.

Mentor teacher added that he doesn’t use them or like them because it’s always the bad students who want to do stuff in groups (see “a” above) and because they’re noisy and generally ineffective. Oh, and if each student isn’t graded separately, then suddenly you’ve become an “unfair” teacher, and this is the number one (and justifiably so) complaint from students.

2. Coloring Assignments are for Art Class, and Miming is for Drama Club. Please. Get real. Once the students reach high school, they really don’t need this warm, fuzzy, non-research affirmed crapola. What they need is to learn to perform coherently, effectively, and appropriately within the discipline. They need to learn to write sensibly, to research, use the library and the internet effectively; they need to be able to create polished, finished projects that advance learning the content, and they need the study and life skills necessary to do so.

They do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, need projects that require coloring, miming, creating wordless books for babies, or any other stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid thing your insane ed. school teachers told you was swell. You are wasting their time with this malarkey and pissing off students and parents with it.

3. Your students have been press-ganged into accepting you, and you need to prove your worth to them. If the kids had been asked if they wanted a student teacher, they would have resoundingly said “NO” unless they’re slackers. And so would their parents. No one wants more experimental theories tried out on their high school aged kids. They’re supposed to be in training for college and the workplace. They are not lab rats, they are not idiots, but they are developing from children into adults and they need guidance, not clueless dweebs trying to impress their professors with their “outside the paradigm” lesson plans and techniques. Get back in a box that works, or I will call you, we will meet, and I will come away happy. You may not.

4. Boundaries. You are driving the bus. You are supposed to pick up the kids from their Zero Point, drive them academically to the destination, which, in case no one in your college of education told you, is defined by having students who, at the end of your practicum, are more educated in the discipline, and who have the skills necessary to produce credible work in the discipline (whether they came to you prepared and ready or not). They do not need to like you. They do need to find you credible and competent.

If you are constantly stopping the bus to deal with the loudmouths and slackers, you have ceased making progress towards the destination (and lost control of your classroom). Take discipline seriously from the very beginning. If you are constantly handing out pillows and peanuts by making the classroom and the assignments more “comfortable” or “easier” or more entertaining, you are no longer teaching, and the bus has stopped again. You have lost sight of your goal (making it to the destination) and you’re not doing your job.

And, finally, no one gives one single flying fart if you are happy or fulfilled or not. Do not leave the wheel of the bus to go sit in the back and feel sorry for yourself and whine with the other slackers and wastrels. Get up; grab the wheel, and drive, dammit. Stop wasting my child’s time with your wimpy little ego problems and grow up. You chose this major, this career path, and if you’re unhappy, get over it with grace and dignity because no matter how young you are and how much you don’t want to be in charge, you ARE in charge, and you need to act like it. Do not make the children responsible for your happiness or sense of fulfillment.

5. Respect for yourself and for the students is vital. If you don’t respect your discipline, your content knowledge, your boundaries, your deadlines, and yourself, the students will eat you for lunch, spit out your bones, and grind those bones into dust.

Keep in mind at all times that you are NOT a student when you are at the head of the classroom, no matter how unprepared you may feel. You are a teacher now. Don’t try to be friends with the kids, don’t sympathize with them to the point where you stop being an adult and a teacher, don’t lose control of your classroom, ask for help from your mentor, and teach skills like meeting deadlines, paying attention, and doing credible, worthwhile work. Give honest grades with useful feedback, not those that make you look wonderful.

Every time you get floppy on a deadline, you’ve just wasted my diligent child’s time and taught exactly the lesson you didn’t want to teach – that the students don’t need to respect your deadlines. Every time you change an assignment to be easier, you’ve just taught the wrong thing – that your assignment was ill-considered and that you are not willing to either defend or support it, and that if they push you hard enough, you’ll cave in. Every time you waste my child’s time with an ill-planned lesson, my child will lose respect for you and stop paying attention. When you see the good students zoning out, you are in big trouble.

And, for heaven’s sake, pay attention to time, what needs to be taught in that amount of time, and don’t let them sidetrack you with the thousand different manipulations slackers use to prevent learning – admiring you or asking personal questions, pretending to not understand, asking pointless questions during class, or chatting amongst themselves without consequences while you are instructing.

Teach to the good students first, and the rest will learn more. Cater to the LCD, and you’ve wasted everyone’s time, including your own. My child has only a couple of years to be made ready for college, and you are not entitled to waste it. At the top of each and every day’s lesson plan include this message:

“What am I doing today to prepare these children for college and the workplace?”

If you can’t answer that with a study skill, a life skill, or some advancement in knowledge, then you are not doing your job.

If you do all of these things, you'll become the teacher everyone thinks of as "excellent". It will be worth your time and all the trouble.

And I'll stay off your back, too!

Oddball Word of the Day

crepitant (KREP-ih-tnt): adj. rustling; crackling

(from Laurence Urdang's MMMW)

German Idiom for Friday

Da liegt der Hund begraben: that's the crux/root of the matter; that's at the root of it

zB: Du spielst so schlecht Klavier, nicht weil du wenig Talent hast, sondern weil du night genug uebst. Da liegt der Hund begraben.

auf Englisch: You play the piano so badly, not because you have little talent, but because you don't practice enough. That's the root of the problem/matter.

Origin: Nothing to do with dogs; "die Hunde" was Middle High German for "treasure".

(from JP Lupson's Guide to German Idioms)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Found Humor

I love humor; it keeps me going. I especially like humor that merely comes upon me or I upon it – oddball things in nature, harmless mistakes, and people trying to do their best with whatever they have on hand…

One of my favorite places to look for the humor in life is on those commercial signs where you get a set of all capital letters in black, the sign behind is lit white, and you have to put up the words and letters yourself with a hook, or by getting up on a ladder and doing it rain or shine, cold or hot weather.

Last week, as I was tooling down the main street in town, I came upon this beauty:


Now, it’s not that I don’t understand these were intended to be separate items on the sign, I do. It’s that the first impression that came over me was, “Why are they having chickens hire managers? And why Italian chickens? Couldn’t French chickens hire managers, too?” Which, of course, led to the following train of thought:

“Wouldn’t that be a problem if I went in there and asked for the Italian chicken because I wanted a job? Wouldn’t being ethnocentric like that disqualify me to work in a diversified workplace? What if I didn’t want a managerial job? What chicken would I ask for then? Or would it be a chicken at all? Maybe I should ask for a sheep, an Irish sheep, or a South American boa constrictor? How’s a person to know what livestock to ask for?”

My all time favorite roadside diversion happened several years ago in my previous small town. There was a small pet store off one side of the road, which I never went to since I already had a dog and a parrot, and occasionally mice would creep into the house, and I was more interested in removing vermin than in purchasing any. Nevertheless, this sign:

25 LB. $5.99

really got me. First off “SALE!” is bound to get my attention. Even if I don’t want what they’re offering, I might come across someone who does want it, and then I’d have this valuable information to share. Then I got to thinking…

“Just how big does that hamster have to be to need 25 lbs. of chow before the chow would go all stale and weevilly?”

“Is that a good price on hamster chow? I don’t know. I’ve never bought it in quantities like that. I thought it only came in, like, one pound bags.”

“Maybe it’s not a BIG hamster, maybe it’s a LOT of hamsters you’d need… Just how many hamsters would you have to have around to eat up all that chow before it went nasty? And, why would anyone have so many damned hamsters? What if they got loose?!“

“Hey! Just how much hamster chow do they have on hand anyway to be offering it for sale in 25 lb lots? Holy cow! That must be a lot of hamster chow!”

And “Damn. That’s a LOT of chow.”

I mentioned this wonderful sale to my cousin, who has the same bizarre sense of humor I have. I only quoted the sign. She paused a moment and then burst out laughing hysterically. “Holy crap!” she said, “That’s a lot of chow! How many hamsters would you need….” And we were off. Easy to see why she’s one of my favorite relatives.

If the kids are in the car with me and we spot one of those signs, we can laugh for miles and miles over it, improvising, making up dumb questions and associations, and just having a big time. We were headed south some months ago, and found one where apparently the restaurant owners had run out of all but one vowel, so they used it to the best of their ability…


“Freed chx?” said Spawn. “What did they do? Chase down the road after escaped free-range chickens? What a horrible fate! I can see it now, little innocent chickens, running for their lives, like on a chicken underground railroad, thinking to themselves, ‘Free at last! We’re free at last! Run for it Mabel! Head for the hills, Louise!’ and then, WHAMMO, some big guy in a bloody apron, carrying a rusty cleaver runs them down and makes dinner out of them! Oh, the inhumanity!” We were laughing pretty hard by this point, and then Bunny chimed in.

“I’m more worried about the pets,” she said. “Who mashes their pets? What kind of pets? Is it dog? Eyeeeew! Captured chickens and mashed Boston terrier! Ack, ack, ack!” Aargh! Now we were all hooting, and driving was becoming dangerous. Then, Doodle, in his own deliberate way, added his two cents worth…

“Grevy,” pondered Doodle, “it sounds like something from Dr. Seuss, you know, like ‘Green Eggs and Ham and Grevy’ or something. I wonder what it’s made from? Trees? Ooobleck? Or is it from the runaway chickens and pitiful pets?”

Peeing in the pants became more likely. Once we finally calmed down, we conversationally revisited the sign. “Freed chx, by god,” said Spawn sadly. With fake sniffing, Bunny said, “Poor pets. Ooooh.” And Doodle played, too, by saying, “I sure do wonder what’s in grevy.”

“Wanna stop there for lunch on the way back?” I asked.

“YEAH!” they all chorused.

I love my kids.

Oddball Word of the Day

cachinnate (KAK-eh-nayt): v. to laugh noisily or excessively

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Aargh, It’s Time to Talk About Student Teachers

Oh, boy. Bunny came home from school on Friday in tears. She had been accused of cheating by her student teacher for using bulleted notes instead of an outline form on her US History test, and not only was she called in front of the class, but he hauled her out in the hallway and chastised her for not “liking” him, which put her in tears for the rest of the day.

Now, a little background…this is the second Social Studies course Bunny has taken at high school. For the first one, she wound up with a lead teacher who watched sports on a portable TV while the kids worked on filling out worksheets from their class laptops, and he gave extra credit points to girls who sat in the front of the class wearing short skirts. Then, in came a personable student teacher, female, whom Bunny had hopes of liking. Instead, using what appears to be the latest in education theories, this new, otherwise likable teacher had them:

Color posters and wordless pictures about history
Perform mime skits on the French Revolution
Create a picture book for babies on the concept of “absolutism”
Engage in assigned group work activity where, as usual, Bunny wound up doing all the work
Write a three paragraph essay on how they “felt” about the French Revolution

I tried to get her into independent study – no go. I tried to get her switched to another class, but there wasn’t one. I asked her teacher to give her assignments like term papers, individual projects, alternatives to the coloring (all of these at her behest) – no go. He was perfectly happy with things as they were. She lived through it and looked forward to having an experienced teacher this year.

Instead, the current student teacher has, once again, assigned group work (why does anyone think this works? There are always one or two kids who wind up doing all the work for their entire group, and the others produce crap because no one wanted to do anything! Why not let them self-select and then let the chips fall where they may?), dubbed another student “Hitler” for some remark she made at one point, and that is now her class name, given everyone A’s, including students who weren’t even there or who didn’t participate for an assigned group speech, and now he’s got my daughter in tears.

It’s not supposed to be this way. Good students are supposed to be listened to, appreciated, taught (rather than expected to warm seats while the lame-o’s learn to pay attention for once – in HIGH school). These classes are supposed to prepare them for college and work, not more play time on the recess grounds with bullies and do-nothings. I’m so disgusted.

I contacted the principal, asking for a conference. He basically said that if she wanted a challenge, she should have taken AP History (which conflicted with her beloved French class, for which she has a REAL teacher), and that it’s really none of his business. I should talk to the lead teacher and the student teacher, and I will, if we can find a conducive time.

I have experience in talking to teachers about stuff like this. It isn’t pretty. Many of them are so burnt out that they figure any time no one sets fire to something, it’s been a good day. Others wonder why the hell I care so much, and postulate that there must be something wrong with me for expecting my children to actually get an education in high school; that every other parent is perfectly happy with the bench-warming aspect of school. Others, like the principal, want to argue about something else altogether and develop a political form of deafness in which they respond to their own questions instead of mine.

Maybe this one will go better; I can only hope.

Oh, and I get to go over and remind my Dad, whose Alzheimer’s has reached a new stage, that his wife is dead, has been for 5 years, and that I love him. The distressed midnight phone calls from him, agitated and scared about where she might be, were a little tiring and sad this weekend.

I think I’ll wear red, just to cheer myself up.

Oddball Word of the Day

genappe (juh-NAP): v. to singe (yarn) to remove loose threads

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, November 10, 2006

FIVE NEW RULES for the New Democratic Congress

I’m happy as a clam over the election results, or maybe it’s because a massive hot flash has just abated and I’m euphoric in its wake, but I’m going to get momentarily political and write up my wish list for the new Congress…

1. I want my Constitution back, I want my Bill of Rights back, and I want it firmly entrenched that no President, Vice-President, overblown member of Congress, or any other self-important, short-sighted, dangerously arrogant sumbumminagun EVER, EVER, EVER tries to subvert or avoid any part of either of them ever again. Period. I am mad as hell that you Beltway trolls have treated these documents like badly written cheat sheets for a pass/fail class you don’t really need. What the hell’s the matter with you all? Are you NEW?

These are the only things that make us the “good guys” in a world constantly aiming for personal aggrandizement and corrupted power, and I am done listening to stupid, made up excuses as to why we have to stop at least trying to be the good guys and take a short and very slippery step into “situational ethics”. Bite me and my dog. Twice.

2. We pay our bills today or we do without. That’s the way sensible households are run, it’s the way sensible corporations are run, and a government that runs on pure, unadulterated, short-sighted debt is not something I want to bequeath to my children, my grandchildren, or any other descendant. I can stand a little shenanigizing for the sake of the common good. Social security is sometimes the only thing our elderly people get, and it still isn’t enough, but it is something. I understand that some areas are going to show some debt; some are going to rely, prudently and routinely, on various manipulations of the financial sort. I understand this will raise my taxes, but I want to see the bills paid with those taxes, not more bills run up on my credit.

If we can’t afford huge departments, feckless wars, and more goodies for the White House and Congress, then we have to do without them, not just run the national MasterCard up beyond the limit; the finance charges alone will cripple my children and all their friends. If our current administrators had to pay for the bills they’ve run up, they’d all be living on Mac ‘n Cheese and wearing hand-me-down clothes, and we all know it. Grow up, government!

3. No more lobbyists. Corporations are not people and they don’t vote. Industries are not people and they don’t vote. It has also been legislated that neither entity has to pay penalties for behaving irresponsibly – they can declare false bankruptcy and escape from the responsibilities they foist on individual citizens without restraint. That needs to be reexamined. They pay taxes (sometimes) on what they earn (sometimes). But they don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t vote because they don’t get ill, get old, become disabled, and they aren’t humans with compassion and an eye to the future. They are never children, they are never parents, and they are always crappy neighbors.

No lobbyists, no lobbyist gifts, air plane rides, monies, sticky pads, golf trips, sponsored dinners, nothing. Not even so much as a piece of sponge cake or a Sharpie with an imprint from any lobbyist whatsoever. You Congresscritters can listen to organizations dedicated to the common good, such as the AARP, unions, grassroots organizations, etc., but you take nothing from them more than an understanding of their issues. Same for industries and corporate cronies. Everything needs to be completely transparent, conducted in front of C-SPAN cameras, and available for public review, without delays, upon demand.

4. Shut up, sit down, and get out of the way on issues that influence how people live their private lives. I don’t care if it’s smoking, alternative lifestyles, religious choice, reproductive choice, etc. It doesn’t belong in the public arena. People can sink their own boats, float them, learn their own lessons, or live stupid. It’s up to each individual to do so, and the people in their immediate surrounds, not some Wonkasaur humping for votes and public acclaim from the feeble minded, co-dependent, control freak element of the populace, to deal with and speak up or shut up. You already have my quarter; I hereby authorize you to use it to buy a clue.

5. Education reform. You have successfully legislated us into being the dumbest nation on the planet. We have been outclassed by third world countries using sticks and dirt diagrams to teach mathematics; foreigners living in yurts and wearing animal skins speak better English than 40% of our resident population, and nearly half of Americans earnestly believe that evolution and creationism are equally credible scientific theories. I think you are done looking for the lowest common denominator now, you’ve found it.

It’s time to think about what really needs doing in order to make our country strong, full of justifiable pride in its education, and make it stick. Real math with real tools and concrete results. English language tests that are not subject to fuzzy politics when dealing with extant literature. Compound-complex sentences that are diagrammed and understood. Science that is replicable and internationally credible. Learning support for the intellectually disadvantaged.

Oh, and while NCLB’s smooshy goals were kind of a good idea, you left out the accountability benchmarks. “To state standards” isn’t good enough, since we all know that the bureaucrats will merely lower the bar so you can see them easier to praise them. There is one, very unpopular solution, but it’s long past due. Unambiguous, extremely specific, national standards for teacher qualifications and student benchmarks of progress. Get over the states’ rights issue on this; we are a nation of nomads, and my middle school needs to know what the new kid from Miami can do, so they can place him properly and help him really learn, not just warm a seat.

Yee-haw, and I've got my eye on you all!

German Idiom for Friday

wie warme Semmeln weggehen: to sell like hotcakes

zB: Waehrend der Hitzewelle im letzten Monat gingen die Kinderplanschbecken wie warme Semmeln weg.

auf Englisch: During the heat wave last month children's paddling pools sold like hotcakes.

(from the Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Oddball Word of the Day

uxorious (uk-SORE-ee-uhs): adj. excessively fond of or submissive to one's wife (I like that one)

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Blogger to the Woodshed

Well, I've tried for two days now to get Blogger to upload the pictures that make my Thursday post less stupid. It won't happen, so I'm settling for stupid and hoping you all have a sense of humor...

Knitting into the Nowhere

I’m in knitting limbo this week. I have a dozen or so large projects in progress, and while I’m making progress on many of them, I’m not done with a darned thing.

I had started this sweater some time ago, then put it aside to work on lighter weight stuff when the weather was hot. I have been taking it to my weekly Chix w/ Sticks group, but it was 70 degrees yesterday, so I pulled out a little baby sweater to work on.

insert mental picture of complicated looking black and white raglan I started some time ago...it looks good but undone

Last Spring, I started working on a Fishmonger’s (or whatever it was called) shawl from Cheryl Oberle’s book. Because I am me, the Head Donkey of Substitutions, I used a yarn I have handy, which happens to be gold DK weight wool. I got it from Web’s in the Grampa’s Bargain Bin area, on a cone, and it was a good deal. Very soft, but now I’m kind of zoned out on the fishtail edging.

I think this one is self explanatory

Then there’s this afghan, which has been in limbo for a while. I think I mentioned earlier on that I was working on it for my son, who chose the pattern and the yarn, but I think he’s reconsidered it and just won’t say anything. He just looks at it funny from time to time, and I’ve lost the spine to either ask him about it or continue it, what with all the other projects in progress.

OK, it's a light blue flame stitch sort of pattern about14 inches done

Urk. I’m pretty sure I need a donut to decide which one I’ll finish first. Then again, I could always knit into DeNial and start something else new!

I had a donut, and Blogger didn't work any better. Dang! What's a girl to do?

Oddball Word of the Day

periapt (PER-e-apt) n. a lucky charm for wearing on the person as a bracelet, etc.; an amulet

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Doing Nice Things for Yourself

In my women’s group, we talked about what we do when we get hit with triggers or bad feelings or are just having a short blue spell. I don’t know if everyone goes through these things, although I suspect a large number of people do. They may or may not be tagged into them the way we gals are, or they might try so hard to identify the cause that they get caught up in the blame aspect and forget about looking for a cure or an exit. I don’t know.

Anyway, one of the ladies was talking about three people, whom she can’t omit from her life, who tend to trigger blue spells for her. She asked for suggestions as to a mantra, a procedure or a list of some things to do so that she doesn’t spend the rest of the day feeling down. There were a lot of suggestions.

“Just mentally tell them to go to hell,” was one idea that got a lot of nods and laughs.

“Wear your favorite outfit or colors when you know you’ll be seeing or talking to them,” was another idea.

I suggested doing something small that you like to do immediately afterward to take your mind off the negative event and redirect it. That got a lot of “ooh, that’s good one” responses. We talked about the small things we like to do that cheer us up.

I like to go read the funny cards in the Hallmark store or the drugstore. By the time I’ve worked my way through the “you’re my friend” section of the ShoeBox greetings, I feel much better. I may even buy a couple of cards or finger the little doo-dads in the store. If I’m in the drugstore, they usually carry gag gifts, like singing and dancing monkeys or otters or Santas, and I like to press the button on those and smile at them as they dance and play their recorded songs. I also like to smell all the new liquid soaps. I do usually buy something while I’m there.

Another lady likes to go to our local Dollar Store and just look at stuff, thinking about what a good bargain such-and-such is, or pick up something to donate to a charity or school. Another one likes to shop for used toys at the thrift store, which she then uses when teaching a pre-school class. Yet another one likes to go to the fabric store and see what’s new in prints for quilts.

Quite a few of us like to go to the library, where it’s always quiet and friendly, and we can look up things we don’t normally encounter in our daily lives and read about them, or just have a quiet moment thumbing through magazines. I like that one, too.

I also like buying one piece of fruit that I normally wouldn’t buy, like a pineapple or a horned melon or star fruit. I feel like I’m getting double-return on my investment – healthy fruit and something new to try out and share with the kids if they want any. Working crosswords, word finds, or Sudoku puzzles are other ways I can take a short exit from a rough moment and re-center myself.

I’d love to hear about your way of taking a quick break for a re-charging, cheering up moment, if you have one! If you don’t mind, I could share it next week with my group!

Oddball Word of the Day

recrudesce (RE-croo-DES) v. to break out anew after lying inactive, as a sore.

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting in a Small Town

We vote at the church here in my district. It’s a big, evangelical church. I don’t go there because they tend towards religiotainment, but it’s nice of them to loan the local voters one of their large rooms.

We have a cadre of little old ladies, most of them significantly past 70, who are our election judges and volunteers, and they’re usually joined by one or two teenagers who are volunteering to help out as part of their required Community Service for graduation from high school. It’s pretty obvious that the teens function as ears, electronic “experts” and fleet feet.

The little old ladies are in charge of slowly but surely paging through the voter rolls to find my name. I usually wind up having to holler my name out loud enough to make it clear to everyone that I’m there and I’m voting. Then they ask me how to spell it. Most of the time that doesn’t bother me, since my non-BoS name is one of those “what?” kind of names. Sometimes they seem a little deafer than usual, and the teenager has to come over and yell in their ears as to what my name is. Everyone else at the volunteer table is sitting there knitting, crocheting, twiddling their thumbs or paging carefully through something. It’s a little like a quilting bee with paperwork.

I asked for a paper ballot, since I want my vote to be countable in the event of a recount. After watching “Hacking Democracy” and visiting the website http://www.blackboxvoting.org/ I think it’s important to personally take as many precautions as possible to avoid potentially playing into the hands of hackers and cheaters. So, anyway, the teenager was kind enough to ask me if I wanted “paper or electronic” as if she were handing out grocery bags at the Jewel.

There were a couple of observers, making no noise and not being the least bit intimidating, a table full of baked things, possibly for sale for some charity, or possibly there in case one of the little old ladies needed a sugar fix. I don’t know. I kind of got tangled up in my privacy curtain on my way into the voting box, and had to whack at it a couple of times rather ferociously.

I marked my ballot, came out, shoved it in the box, making sure that it was counted (it was). I looked around and noticed that there was no line, and one lady was making disgusted noises at one of the electronic voting machines. She had to ask for help, so all the little old ladies looked at the teenager, who was starting to look a little frazzled, and the teen girl got up and went over and very cheerfully and a little loudly helped out the befuddled e-voter.

On my way out, I read the signs taped to the wall about needing to be a citizen, showing ID, etc. I hadn’t had to show any ID, just holler out my name and reproduce my signature accurately. I did have to sign a second sheet identifying myself, though. I thought about sitting in the lot all day with a sign in my window, “ASK FOR A PAPER BALLOT” or “YOUR ELECTRONIC VOTE IS HACKABLE” but decided against it.

I had a bunch of errands to run, and as I was driving around, I noticed that the town looked deserted, except for polling places. Their lots were full, cars and voters moving briskly and confidently through. They were the busiest I’ve ever seen in the decade I’ve lived here.

I was glad to see so many people voting for a change. Sometimes I’ve felt it was just me and the old people heading for the polls. I’m glad I didn’t have to wait in a huge line, deal with angry people or busted machinery.

Last year, Spawn was a teenaged volunteer during the elections. When he came home, he was amazed at what an amateur operation it was, but he was also amazed at how seriously his fellow volunteers, the little old ladies, took it. When it came time to tally the votes in the tiny, tiny district he was in, the old ladies had trouble with their calculators. They had trouble with pretty much every piece of machinery requiring good near vision or electronics. They did not have any trouble following rules, making sure everyone else followed rules, making sure voters were given privacy and as much time as they needed. All the supplies were in place, and they guarded those votes like they were gold-plated. Every last one of them, doddering and squinty as they may have been, stayed there until well past midnight, dealing with the complications of their machinery and calculators, double and triple and quadruple checking whatever it was that needed checking.

While Spawn did chuckle over the technical problems, he respected the little old ladies, and he had listened to them, their mutterings, their reminiscences, their serious manner of addressing such an important task. He takes voting and the proprieties very seriously now as a result.

So, I don’t mind the “voting bee” at all. I feel pretty sure my vote was in good hands. I hope that such was the case everywhere.

Oddball Word of the Day

thrasonical (thray-SON-i-kuhl):adj. boastful, braggin

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hair Lab

I love my yellow Labrador. He loves me, too. Whenever I wear a color darker than white, he loves me all over my legs. I have to store my darker sweaters in the car if I intend to wear them in public because he loves me so much. Last year, I had to throw out a black cardigan because he loved me so much the sweater needed washing to remove the love hair, and it met up with a facial tissue in the wash. It looked like a snowstorm in pen and ink. I tried picking, shaving, and lint-rolling the mess, but then calculated how much time I’d spent pulling hair/tissue wads off and made a better cost/benefit decision.

My Labrador loves our couches, too. He lies around on them like a Furboy, and if he could get the remote control to stay in one paw, it would be a real toss-up as to who’s lollygagging on the couch – hubs or Hoover! This creates a problem for Spawn, whose black and red Pizza Hut uniform is so covered in dog hair that they won’t let him cook. They’ve tried lint-rolling him, too, (I wish they’d comb his hair instead), but it doesn’t get enough hair off of him. So, of course, he comes home and rolls around on the couch, and when he gets up, one side of him looks furry.

Our Labrador loves Bunny’s bed, too. He likes to crawl up there while she’s at school and make a dog nest in the pink afghan on her bed. Bunny has given up on being dog hair free at school. She now sits with other people who have yellow Labs during lunch so that no one wonders why she’s covered in fur. They all understand. No one asks where the hair in their lunch came from, they just assume they brought it in themselves and it free-floated into the mixed vegetables.

Hoover loves to go to the library. It’s not that he gets to go in the library, but he likes to go for drives, and when the kids were littler, we’d all head for the car in a mad dash if I called out “LIBRARY”, including him. He’d sit in the car, smelling the exciting downtown smells while the rest of us perused the racks. He shoots fur when he gets excited, so by the time we got back to the car, it was well insulated in dog hair. One time, I was bemoaning the excess of dog hair in the van, while the kids and Hoover were sitting in the back in a sunbeam. The kids pointed out to me that he was shooting fur, like a porcupine shoots quills. I went back to look and, sure enough, sitting there, happily ensconced between two book laden children, the sunshine showed him clearly shooting an endless stream of fur in three dimensions.

When we had Chow-chows, I thought the dog hair problem was bad. They’d blow fur, and I mean, BLOW fur once, maybe twice a year. It came off in puppy-sized wads, lurking in corners and clogging up the vacuum cleaner. If I took them out in the yard and brushed each one for an hour each day for a week, though, the hair problem was usually solved.

Not so with a Labrador. His hair has given our Oreck a case of chronic bronchitis, causing it to spit, huff, and occasionally shoot fur OUT of it instead of sucking it up. Smaller vacuums generally give up after a week, and we’ve killed carpet sweepers in a matter of hours. We finally bought a Shop Vac, which will not only suck up a perpetual stream of short yellow hair, but will also remove Legos, socks, and cloth napkins from the general traffic pathways. It doesn’t much care for pencils, though; they jam up in the pipe.

There are times when the June Cleaver lurking within me wishes we didn’t have pets. Sweeping up parrot debris, which is either crunchy or chunky, gets tedious. Wearing an unending stream of dog hair enhanced clothing is kind of depressing. I may occasionally vaguely dream of a never-never day where I’m sitting in an apartment (also, apparently free of children and their spots) on a cream and flower patterned couch with Persian throw rugs on the floors, and nothing is covered in fur. I look happily at a sunbeam coming peacefully through the window, and all I can see floating in it is a bit of dust.

And then the door slams as someone comes barreling in yelling, “MOM” or “BoS,” or Hoover pads over to me and lies down on my feet or rubs his face against my knee and looks adoringly up at me. Hawthorne will hoot out a “Wheeeee! Gimme a chicken waffle!” in the background, and I know that a June Cleaver clean house will never be a part of my real future.

I wouldn’t mind a discount on Shop Vac filters, though.

Oddball Word of the Day

alopecia (al-uh-PEE-shuh): n. baldness

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Five Bad Ideas for Commercial Food

Jon Stewart got me started on this strange idea the other night when he reviewed a new (wonderful!) product -- sausage link wrapped in a chocolate chip pancake -- on a stick! Can it get worse? I've tried. My ideas for Bad Food Concepts...

1. Biscuits N Gravy Cereal: Just in time for all you true Southerners who don't have time for a hot meal. Combine your Momma's favorite breakfast with the fastest food available without a drive-through! Eat the Lo-Fat version by using skim milk instead of whole!

2. Grits Patty on a stick: Great for early NASCAR races! And, just in case you or the person next to you is wearing dry-clean-only white, pull out the optional packet of Catsup for extra flavoring! Coming later this year -- Grits Patty with Sausage Bits, still on a handy stick!

3. Liverwurst RollUps: Ahh, the wonderful memories of opening up your brown bag lunch in elementary school and finding an tasty meal consisting of a liverwurst sandwich with a slice of onion and Miracle Whip, a Tupperware container of room temperature sauerkraut, and an oatmeal cookie. Mom sure did love you! Bring back those warm, fuzzy memories with your own Heat N Eat Microwaveable Liverwurst Rollup. Our rollups have a sweet Bavarian sauerkraut center, a side package of Miracle Whip, and next year we'll have them available in the Kid Pack, complete with a squeeze bottle of V8 and an oatmeal cookie.

4. Squeeze Cake: You'll think you're 8 years old and dreaming of life as an astronaut all over again with our handy Squeeze Cake. Comes in a hard-to-handle foil packet and must be squeezed into the mouth. Available in Chocolate with Chocolate Frosting, White Cake with White Lard Frosting, and for holidays, our own special Squeeze Fruitcake! (no rum)

5. EZ Ham: Too harried from a long day at work to make dainty canapes for your dinner party for 24? Well, just haul out a can of EZ Ham to go along with our popular EZ Cheese, break open a package of party crackers and let the good times roll! We like to add a delicate sprig of parsley or pimento to ours for those super-formal parties, but even if it's just you and the guys and a football game, EZ Spray-on Ham is always a favorite!

German Idiom for Friday

Daumen drehen: to twiddle one's thumbs

zB: Wenn du dauernd Daumen drehst, wird der Brief nie fertig.

auf Englisch: If you just sit there twiddling your thumbs, the letter will never get finished.

(from the Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Oddball Word of the Day

hoi polloi (HOI puh-LOI): the majority; the common people

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Just Knit Pic

Just not a lot to say today. I've had these two projects hanging on my den screen, and I figured I'd finally take a picture. The shawl is from Iris Schreier's Modular Knits book, and the purse is a Scallop Shell Purse from Oat Couture. I just like 'em!

Oddball Word of the Day

Pyrrhic (PIR-ik) adj. relating to or denoting a costly victory. [after Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, who in the 3rd century BC defeated the Romans but lost most of his army]

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hocus Pocus

Another Halloween has come and gone. This year was rather different for us. In the past, my most consistent memories tell me we’ve had five or six clumps of trick-or-treaters, since we live pretty far off the main drag. It’s either first thing in the evening when they come or at the very end of the night. My husband used to take the three kids through town while I stayed at home, handing out candy, preparing a warm dinner for the sugar warriors to eat before they really dove into their candy.

I liked looking at all the different costumes and the faces of the kids, some so small they could barely say “Trick or treat”, others, older, scampering through on a quest to fill their bags until they were too heavy to carry. I’ve watched my kids go through the same phases. Always cute, always eager, and with costumes of varying stability levels.

My husband was working late this time; his depression has so absorbed him that he forgot it was Halloween, he forgot I had an appointment for a follow-up mammogram, and he forgot that he usually takes the kids out trick-or-treating. I guess.

My daughter didn’t want to go out, she’s getting a little old for it, in her opinion (and sort of – sort of – in mine, too). So, Bunny and I stayed home, manning the fort for potential treat seekers. We wound up reading, listening to our tricky automatic jack-o-lantern haunt the breeze in front of our house, and talking. Most of the kids on our street are older now, like our own, and we had no trick-or-treaters at all this year.

Spawn wanted to go, but he’s getting older. Many of his friends are no longer in town, off celebrating Halloween in their college towns, getting sloshed (or not) and behaving badly (or not). Or, the ones remaining are having parties at home, for which they seldom dress up. There was a costume contest at his college, but it was a dud. He’s growing past the magic of the night.

Doodle wanted to go trick-or-treating, so Spawn went ahead and put on his sorcerer costume, loaned Doodle his warrior stuff, and off the two of them went. This was a change for them. In the past, they’ve been at odds most of the time, not getting along, not wanting to share the spotlight. This Halloween Doodle was Spawn’s ticket back into the fun and fever of the dark holiday night. When they came back, Spawn had an interesting look on his face. I asked how it went, and Spawn told me that Doodle’s bag had broken, so he had given him his own to use instead. He walked with him, in the role of parent or guardian, in his costume, and saw Halloween from a very different perspective. He still did a little trick-or-treating, but it was very different for him. He was quiet, but happy, as if he had grown a little.

Doodle was so pleased, not only by his haul of candy, but also by being treated as someone special by his older brother. They shared candy, something they’ve never done before. It was interesting, it was good, and, in some ways, it was a little melancholy for me. It surprised Bunny, who still has feelings of sibling rivalry for her older brother. Doodle just took it in stride, in his own wonderful way.

We ordered dinner in this time. Last year, we switched our fast food night to Tuesdays, relating to an aspect of the worst of my husband’s mid-life crisis at that time. So, we ordered Chinese food, which was still hot, since we ordered late, when the Warrior and Sorcerer came home.

My husband came home from the office earlier than we expected; his late appointment had not shown up, which happens a lot in the insurance business. It took him a moment or two to notice that there was a lit pumpkin on the table, a bucket of candy to be handed out, and that only Bunny and I were here. He was taken aback for a few seconds, realizing he’d missed what will probably be his last chance to take any of the kids out candy hunting. Maybe.

And I had had a scare of my own. When I went to get my follow-up mammogram, they took quite a few photos. I saw a lump/spot on the x-rays myself. They rushed them to the doctor, who then sent me over to ultrasound to get more views of the spot. When that happened, I picked up a pamphlet on what to do when you have breast cancer that was sitting there in a basket in the mammography room. I tried to keep positive – it doesn’t run in our family, but fluid-filled cysts do.

The ultrasound went on and on. And on. The technician took the results to the doctor ASAP, as I lay there, exposed and in the dark, wondering what the next step would be. When the tech came back and told me I could go ahead and get dressed, I asked her, as I wiped off the gel and pulled the gown around, if I should expect another call soon for additional procedures. I didn’t say “cancer” or “lump” or “prognosis”. She looked me in the eye and said “no, you probably won’t be getting another call any time soon” and we both knew that was good news.

It took about an hour for the adrenaline to leave my system so that I could feel calm and focus on my children the way I normally do. And my husband never asked, so I told him. The gap between us seemed very wide.

So, hocus-pocus. I’ve pulled another year of health out of the ether. Not the one I had unconsciously expected, but, my hub’s depression aside, one I can deal with nevertheless. Life goes on, with magic in different places.

Oddball Word of the Day

refulgent: (rif-UL-jent) adj. shining; resplendent

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)