Thursday, December 11, 2008

Online Shopping for Older Gals

OK, some folks may object to the term “gals”. I beg your durn pardon. In my family, we use the term kindly, in the manner of “dames” – slang for women who liked to do fun things, hang out, and occasionally tell an earthy joke.

Nevertheless, we’re hard to shop for sometimes – we won’t tell you our clothing or shoe sizes, we generally have most of what we truly NEED to get through the day, and we have our own quirky tastes, about which we may have developed enough diplomacy to not hold forth with opinions full of clues. Generally, this leaves the well-intended gift giver with two options – a fruit/food basket or bath stuff.

Speaking as a middle-aged gal, I can buy my own fruit and food (although, in my heart of hearts, a modest fruit basket IS nice this time of year), and I have enough bath stuff to last well beyond my life expectancy. So, herein are some starting points and my personal favorites. All websites have been visited recently, ordered from within the last year, if not the last quarter, and shipments or emails have been prompt and polite.

Todd & Holland Tea Merchants : My knitting friend introduced me to their teas, teapots, and general wonderfulness. This is real store that has a delightful shop to visit, if you are ever in the area, and you’ll find that everyone is absolutely, positively nice as they can be. The website can be a tad hinky (if it looks like you’re getting a blank page, scroll allllll the way down), but you can make special requests or ask a question in the “comments”: box when you order, and they’ll call you back right away. They also ship like lightning -- I’ve ordered on a Tuesday and opened my box o’ tea on the very next Wednesday afternoon.

My highest recommendation goes to this tea tumbler which is a thermos for loose tea so you can take your tea with you. It’s great, and only $15.

As far as teas themselves (Teas are priced at their large sized packages. Request the sampler 0.05 lb or 0.12 lb sizes in the comments/special request box at checkout), I recommend: Jasmine Pearls (if you like the scent of Jasmine) , which is a delight for the senses, Northern Lights, a white tea with a wonderful spicy, warm aroma, perfect for chilly days, Goji Xing , a white tea with a mild melon flavor from the Goji berries, and Green Tea with Lemon and Hibiscus , which is very refreshing and light.

If you want to do something really fun and special, buy one of their glass teapots and a selection of Performance Teas . Performance teas are not to enhance your performance, they are small bundles of tea which you throw in a pot of hot water and watch them unfold into beautiful tea sculptures as they brew – which is why a glass pot is recommended. My daughter and I brew a pot of performance tea every Friday and do girl talk for a half an hour or so – it is a very nice experience and time for girl-type bonding, a good bargain at $2.50 per tea bundle.

Also, their Bee House teapots are a joy to use, not only because they are cute, but also because they are easy to clean. The lid pulls right off, the tea strainer basket lifts out, and it couldn’t be easier to tidy up when you’re done.

Faerie’s Finest : I don’t know about their other products, but their flavored sugar is great. I have tried the Citrus Burst and Raspberry Ripple and find them delightful. I sometimes like to use the Raspberry in my coffee, which makes it taste almost dessert-like, and you get good value for your money.

Bath and Bodyworks : Yes, I know what I said about bath stuff. They also have very nice socks and other textiles, and everyone I know uses their antibacterial hand sanitizers, and their antibacterial soaps are agreeable, too. I recommend the Kitchen Lemon for the soap – at $3 each, it’s a nice stocking stuffer, and it won’t make you smell like a pre-teen girl.

If your intended recipient likes wildlife, Whales and Friends has nice products. I have a penguin tote of very nice quality that I got as a gift from them.

For knitters, especially sock knitters, this year’s Patternworks has something new – sock yarn knitted into a scarf , then dyed in a funky pattern, and you knit FROM the scarf into a pair of socks. I’m hoping to get one of these this year.

Their “tools” section has all kinds of spiffy stuff, including Eucalan wool wash and a good chart holder. “Finishing touches” has nice shawl pins, clasps and purse handles.

And, finally, if you want something unique and beautiful that is not in any of the above categories, I recommend a good browse through the Art Institute of Chicago’s gift shop. I have found spectacular silk scarves, jewelry, bowls and other wonderful housewares there. Not cheap, but excellent quality and very memorable.

Happy shopping!

Oddball Word of the Day

boulevardier (BOOL-eh-var-DEER) n. a man-about-town who frequents fashionable places

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Feather and Fan Comfort Shawl

I generally do not encourage, nor practice, any knitting for Christmas after Thanksgiving, unless it’s something I’m already familiar with and which would otherwise be a one or two day project. My main reason for not doing “Christmas knitting” is that the season is already so full of things to do, anxiety and chaos, that sticking a large project in there which must be done in time seems like a recipe for ruining my enjoyment of the season with unnecessary stress. That doesn’t mean that I stop knitting – I pick things that are basically mindless knitting, which I can do in front of the TV, and it’s nice if they look much more spiffy than their ease would imply.

One of these kinds of projects is the Feather and Fan Comfort Shawl designed by Sarah Bradberry, who has a wonderful website with lots of fun free knitting patterns, including this one for the shawl. This pattern is very rewarding for new or insecure knitters because it is easy to make and looks nice, and we “old hands” like it, too.

I’ve made it twice and am working on a third one. The first was made of oddments, looked nice, and I gave it away. This is the second one, made of Wool-Ease oddballs.




The one I’m working on now is in acrylic blues with a sparkle thread (I had a brain spasm) that I bought as a package from Herrschner’s online – Snow and Ice is the name of the color combination. I can tell you from past experience, this is one of the fastest shawls to make that I’ve done. I use needles sizes one larger than recommended for the yarn, which adds extra drape and emphasizes the lacy aspect.

The pattern is screamingly easy to memorize – it’s basically three rows of knit (giving two garter rows on the right side), then a row of knit, a row of purl and a row of knit with the easy doodly pattern, then start over.

When you print out the pattern, it seems daunting because it’s seven pages long. Three of those are pictures for the person who likes very specific visual guides. The remaining pages are double-spaced for clarity. It’s well written with no mistakes or typos (RAH, RAH, SIS-BOOM-BAH!), and the ONLY addition I would make is to add in four markers – one before and one after the feather and fan pattern on row 57 on each side.

I have two reasons for the markers. One, I like a tactile reminder to watch out for the center stitch when I’m aimlessly knitting along (the two center markers do that). The other reason is that the pattern repeats over 18 stitches, and if I want to make mine longer than the step-by-step instructions, adding markers helps me make sure I’ve built up a enough stitches to add in another two repeats. The pattern is certainly well written enough to not need them, if you prefer not.

So, I recommend making a Feather and Fan Comfort Shawl this Christmas, all the way through the holidays, and giving it to yourself when you are done because you won’t mind if it’s late or early or has a mistake in it somewhere (which only you can see, but if you’re like me, it’s the ONLY thing you can see for quite a while).

Wear it in the mornings when you’re having your early beverage, wear it at night when you stay up late to look at the tree, take it with you when you go out to get the mail and sling it around your head and shoulders like a giant scarf. Loan it to the kids as a mini-blanket while watching TV. Wear the daylights out of it and then make another one!

Oddball Word of the Day

stenophagous (stin-OFF-eh-gehs): adj. able to live on a narrow range of foodstuffs (sounds like teenagers)

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, December 01, 2008

FREE Knitting Pattern - Welted Tea Cozy



Welted Tea Cozy
(No sew, knits up quickly, fits a wide variety of teapot shapes and sizes)


Supplies:
Probably 6 oz of scrap worsted - About 4 oz in light color, 2 oz in dark
One pair size 8 needles,
One set size 3 dpns

Finished measurement: unstretched 10 inches around, stretched 18-20, 6” high in welted area, top adds another 2” of height, 5” of I-cord (folds to 2.5”)

SIDE:
CAST ON 25 stitches with size 8 needles in lighter yarn.
Knit 6 rows in stockinette. Turn so back side (reverse stockinette) is facing you. This side of the lighter color knitting will become the outside (right side) of the cozy.
*Change to darker color without cutting lighter color and knit stockinette 4 rows.
Do not turn work yet.
Change back to lighter color, knit one row across, turn, knit 5 rows stockinette.*

(You should now have one sticky-out, bunched-up “welt” in the lighter color, one “welt” in the darker color sticking out in the opposite direction, and a third welt in the lighter color. The work is VERY stretchy. Use even numbers of rows of each color so that the color changes are all on one side.)

Repeat the rows between the asterisks above until you have 5 welts of each color, the last one being dark.

SPOUT OPENING:
In lighter color work first row as above, turn, work 2 rows stockinette.
Next row, knit 8, bind off 12, knit 5.
Next row purl 5, cast on 12, purl 8
Next row, knit 25.

Continue 2nd side as first side above, with 5 welts in each color, this time the last one is light colored.

HANDLE OPENING:
In darker color, knit 1 row stockinette.
Next row, purl 5, cast off 15, purl 5
Next row knit 5, cast on 15, knit 5
Next row, purl 25.

BIND OFF as follows:
Turn work inside out (dark welts protruding). Line up the original cast on side and the last row of the final dark welt. Slip the first stitch of dark, pick up the bottom of the corresponding cast on in light and slip that also. Knit both the next dark stitch and the bottom of the next corresponding light cast on stitch as if they were one, pass the two slipped stitches over. You now have one dark stitch on the working needle, the rest of the dark stitches on the holding needle, and the light edge is dangling.

Basically, what you are doing is a three-needle bind off without the third needle – the cast on stitches are being worked in as if they were on that third needle. If you are more comfortable with three needles, by all means, put the cast on stitches on one and continue binding off.

Bind off all stitches in this manner. You now have a cylinder with one shorter slit for the spout and one longer slit for the handle.



TOP:
With dpns pick up 64 stitches around the top. (I make the side with the color changes the top so I can just knit right over the side floats.) This will pull the work in slightly. If you prefer to pick up more stitches, it’s absolutely your choice, # of stitches is not critical, however they should be divisible by either 4 or 6.

Work 1 to 3 rounds even, your choice. I did one.

Begin swirling decrease:
(SKP, K14) four times (60 sts)
(SKP, K13) four times (56 sts)
etc. – knitting one less between SKPs each row until you are down to 4 sts.

Knit the 4 sts in I-cord for 5 inches, bind off, leave a 5-inch tail, pull through.
Weave tail tightly into inside of top.

VARIATIONS: If you want the top to be flatter, decrease by 6 sections (as opposed the four above). For absolutely flat tops, 8 sections should do the trick. Put one row of even knitting in between decrease rows for a wider top.

Feel free to use all one color, different welting variations, whatever.

I used a loop on top because that makes the cozy easy to remove, and I can hang it on a kitchen hook where it’s cute and up out of mess. The loop is not important otherwise.

Oddball Word of the Day

proceleusmatic (PROS-eh-loose-MAT-ik): adj. arousing to action or animation; putting life into; encouraging

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Absent for Cause

My father passed away on October 17th after a long stay in the ICU of the local hospital. I have been dealing with the aftermath and final rites (and my sister) since then. I hope to return to a more active blogging state once I have finalized his estate matters.

I am both sorry and relieved that he is gone. I will miss my dear father, but I am not sorry that he is finally relieved of living with Alzheimer's in a body so frail and fragile that he could no longer sit upright, nor care for any of his own personal needs, nor had he been able to do so for several years.

My sister has been here for a month, and I have been very close to either sticking a fork in my own eye or in hers. I've settled for drinking a lot of green tea, smiling vacantly at her monologues, and telling myself I was doing it for Dad while, in the words of one of my favorite humor writers, Dave Barry, my brain snuck out of my cranium and went off to do something more interesting.

I wish any readers the best and give you my thanks for checking in. Don't give up. I'll probably need to vent (maniacal laughter) in a week or so.

God bless you.

Absent for Cause

My father passed away on October 17th after a long stay in the ICU of the local hospital. I have been dealing with the aftermath and final rites (and my sister) since then. I hope to return to a more active blogging state once I have finalized his estate matters.

I am both sorry and relieved that he is gone. I will miss my dear father, but I am not sorry that he is finally relieved of living with Alzheimer's in a body so frail and fragile that he could no longer sit upright, nor care for any of his own personal needs, nor had he been able to do so for several years.

My sister has been here for a month, and I have been very close to either sticking a fork in my own eye or in hers. I've settled for drinking a lot of green tea, smiling vacantly at her monologues, and telling myself I was doing it for Dad while, in the words of one of my favorite humor writers, Dave Barry, my brain snuck out of my cranium and went off to do something more interesting.

I wish any readers the best and give you my thanks for checking in. Don't give up. I'll probably need to vent (maniacal laughter) in a week or so.

God bless you.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Why Kids Don’t Read

I don’t have this problem. I introduced my kids to literature by reading to them a whole lot when they were babies and toddlers, and they were fascinated by the sound of the written word, the delightful illustrations in children’s books, and by having their imaginations stimulated. I can remember each of their first favorite books.

Spot’s favorite book was a cutout, cardboard book with beautifully illustrated pictures on how to get dressed. It was called Teddy Dresses. Teddy had a lot of trouble figuring out the difference between socks and mittens. Spot used to laugh and laugh at Teddy’s troubles, but I noticed he also took the book to bed with him sometimes and was very carefully (and correctly) clad the next day.

Bunny’s favorite book was the timeless Cat in the Hat. She was lulled by the rhythm of the words, and enthralled by the pictures. She pored over the pictures when I was too busy to read to her and memorized the placement of the disgruntled fish, Things One and Two, and the posture of the misbehaving cat in each drawing.

Doodle’s favorite was a freebie book we got either through a school program giveaway or from some other freebie source, back when giving away kid books was a big thing. It was called Snug Bug. Snug Bug was a mischievous little antennaed fellow who played in all kinds of people places and had to be tucked into bed by his bug mom. It was a good bedtime story; he invariably wanted to be tucked into bed just like Snug Bug.

They’ve all read their way through the Harry Potter (Doodle’s first grade teacher was a good egg – she liked that he was bringing “big, chapter books” to school because it sparked a competitive spirit in her other students and made them want to improve their reading skills, too) several times; they’ve read the Eragon books (and weren’t impressed); they’ve read stories by Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, Anne McCaffrey, Agatha Christie, Nancy Atherton, Stephen King, Meg Cabot, Frank Herbert, Janet Evanovich, Lincoln Child, Douglas Preston, Mercedes Lackey, C. J. Cherryh, Diane Duane, Larry Niven… The list of authors whose works they enjoy reading for pleasure is endless. They come by it honestly because I am a compulsive reader, and I’m pretty sure it’s contagious.

One thing these books all have in common is that they are fun to read, not because they are all silly, although some of them are, not because they are all adventure stories, although some of them are, but because they are written with social, emotional and intellectual skill. They don’t bludgeon the reader over the head with ham-fisted moralizing or coma-inducing manifestos on social ills; they allude to them, assume prior knowledge, or analogize, something which seems to escape learned and erudite literary critics, who frequently seem to assign science fiction, horror, suspense, cottage mysteries, and other forms of popular fiction the automatic label of “unworthy fluff”. What these critics seem to be missing is that it takes an open and agile mind to make a point without sticking that point painfully in the reader’s eye.

What writers whose books are frequently read for pleasure understand, it seems to me, is that people read during their leisure time because they want to go to a magic show, not church. We want to be entertained, enthralled, surprised, amazed, see something new, see a new twist on something old, see something through different eyes, and we want it to be easy to enjoy, we want the escapism inherent in becoming engrossed in a book to be smooth and deftly managed; we do not want to have The Point hammered through our “idiot” skulls like a railroad spike driven home with sledgehammer obviousness.

It’s not that common literary themes are not addressed in popular fiction, it is that they are not painted in such broad strokes that they obscure the art and magic of good writing. It is as easy to understand racism from reading Asimov’s Caliban as it is from reading To Kill a Mockingbird. One is considered “classic literature”, but the other is dismissed as “only science fiction”. The former draws the reader into a world which has not yet existed, requires no additional research, whereas the latter requires the reader to learn more about a specific time period with which they may not be familiar, in order to understand The Point. Which one do you think kids would enjoy reading more?

I have yet to figure out why writing a five-page paper on the literary themes in The Good Earth or To Kill A Mockingbird is considered of greater intellectual worth than doing the same from an examination of The Mote in God’s Eye or The Dragonriders of Pern. The intellectual work is more sophisticated with the sci-fi and fantasy books because The Points are subtler. I do understand that it would not be in accordance with a standard expectation of having read “the classics”. I would argue that “the classics” need some amending. It’s not wrong to think outside the paradigm, which is, in fact, something we’d like to encourage in our children.

And, I’m not alone in my thoughts. An article by a private school English teacher in Sunday’s Washington Post, entitled “We’re Teaching Books That Don’t Stack Up” makes this argument, to some extent, as well.

Way back in the Jurassic, when I was a freshman in college, I took an introductory English class. The grad student teaching the class would habitually put a quotation on the board from some literary work – not all were from standard classics. He’d ask if anyone was familiar with the quotation, and my spring-loaded arm would shoot into the air. After a week of this, and the usual skills assessment first paper, the teacher had me come in to his office, and a few other teaching assistants and a professor or two and I conversed in a general manner while I was waiting for my TA to explain why I was there.

It turned out that he was getting departmental permission for me to go on independent study. I’ve written about this before , but what I haven’t said is that I wrote my research papers on science fiction short stories. It wasn’t a problem either; it was a joy, and it was a joy to me because I didn’t have to hack my way through archaic English, characters that didn’t interest me, situations that were insipid, painfully historical, or drenched in one or another overpowering Points. I got to read what I wanted to read, but I had to make good on that by using the skills of good literary analysis. What I read wasn’t important, how I read it was.

I suppose I didn’t understand at the time how unusual that permission and resultant independent study was in the context of English studies. I retroactively applaud that TA, and the English department professors, for being astute enough to understand what the real Point of studying literature is – to enjoy the magic show while being able to unravel the magician’s tricks right down to the equipment, props, and the foundations of the stage itself. But it all starts with the lure of the show, doesn’t it?

I sent my daughter, who is majoring in English, a link to the article referenced above. Here’s her response:

“Thanks, Mom! That was really interesting. I can totally identify with this article, too. When we read The Scarlet Letter junior year, I automatically geared myself to hate it due to past experience, and therefore failed to enjoy what I now realize was actually a really good book. So much of what we have to read for school is obviously good literature, but they make it horrible by dragging us through it by reading aloud and mixing it in with so much depressing literature that we can't identify the great works anymore. I realize now that Great Expectations really wasn't that bad, but since I went into it EXPECTING to hate it, that's exactly what happened.”

Ahem.

Oddball Word of the Day

appetence (AP-eh-tehns): n. intense natural desire; craving

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, August 22, 2008

SpEd Tip #2: Keep Your Documents…and In Order

One of the first things I have my clients do is round up all their documents regarding their child – medical records, specialist records, school records, notes from teachers, standardized test results, etc. I ask them to put them in reverse chronological order, with the earliest documents on the bottom and the most recent on the top.

There is a very good reason for doing this – it creates an excellent way for me, and for the client, to review their child’s educational history and how medical diagnoses and treatments affect their educational progress. We can each read through the file, or stack, or mountain, as the case may be, from bottom to top, and get a pretty comprehensive understanding of how the child has arrived at the point where the parent is seeking special education services, and my services as well.

We can see what the school has done, if anything, over time, which teachers were on the ball and which weren’t, and we sometimes, speaking as a parent, find out that we have fallen short from time to time as well. Having the documents arranged and collected in this manner is a real eye-opener.

This also helps highlight which documents are missing, and there will be some gaps. One of the things I do, early in my relationship with the client, is a document review. I check to see if there is a full set of grades, standardized test results, documentation supporting any special ed services, and so forth. There is very rarely a complete set, and that’s absolutely normal.

When that happens, it’s important to fill in the blanks by sending the school a FERPA letter. Further information on what FERPA means and what should be in the school records is here . Here is a sample FERPA letter, which can be altered to fit the child’s specific information:

Your Name
Your Address
City, State, Zip
Home Phone

Date

Mr. , Principal
UNCOOPERATIVE SCHOOL
Street Address
City, State, zip

Re: Name of student

Dear (Principal):

As you are aware, my child is a student at Uncooperative School (or “has been found eligible for special education and related services and currently has an IEP”). In order for me to have a clearer picture of my child’s educational history, please either make available for review and photocopying or send me a complete copy of my son’s entire cumulative and confidential records.

Please be sure to include copies of all evaluations and actual test scores, any electronic communications, computer records or records stored on other media, and any personally identifiable records regarding my child. If there is a cost and policy about photocopies, please let me know immediately.

If you have questions about my request, please contact me at the number listed above.
Thank you for your assistance and quick response.

Sincerely,


, parent

Cc: Name of, Lay Advocate
Name of, Special Ed Director

This letter must be signed by the parent, and it’s important to follow up on it. Usually the school will make copies and have the parent come in and get them. Sometimes they will only make them available and the parent has to come in and review the file and ask for specific copies. Other times they may refuse to make copies, and the parent should bring a camera or hand scanner and get copies that way.

It is often the case that the first letter does not do the job. Some records may have been sent off to the regional office of education, some records are purged annually and are no longer available, and very often schools do not include the emails which mention your child. In that case, I follow up with FERPA letters to the special ed folks, the regional office of ed., and a letter to the school which mentions missing documents and asks for a further search (and copies) or which nicely asks where these items might be.

Schools will not admit to having lost documents, and are often snarky enough to ignore the letter requesting additional or missing documents. It doesn’t matter – if you’ve sent a written request for the documents and/or an explanation, you have behaved reasonably and entered YOUR LETTER into the record. If you don’t get a response within 10 days, send a photocopy, clearly marked SECOND REQUEST (and add the second request date) all in red at the top in large print.

It can sometimes take six months before you can be sure you have exhausted every possible location where a document might be stored and before you are sure you have a comprehensive list of what’s still missing. That’s normal, too. Generally, the first two letters (first FERPA and first follow up) will unearth enough information to make it possible to move forward with reasonable accuracy and efficiency.

Keep copies of all the letters and emails you send, too. This saves time in finding addresses and contacts, and makes your records the best available should legal action become necessary down the road.

This dogged pursuit of every possible document relating to your child is the most valuable thing parents can do to assist themselves, their advocate, or their attorney in getting appropriate and timely services for a disabled child. There is a real wealth of information in longitudinal educational data – charts and graphs can be made showing lack of progress, decreasing scores over time, pinpoint areas of particular concern, show a puzzling relationship between class grades and standardized scores, and so on.

I have used this kind of information with consistent success and gotten real insight into the clients’ children, finding out things they haven't noticed in the face of more obvious problems. Visual presentations of data are winners in meetings, too – it’s hard for the school district to argue with their own data showing steadily decreasing abilities and scores. They don’t do this kind of reporting or analysis, but you should (or your advocate or other helper).

Your stack of paper will become pretty large, and lots of people are surprised by the eventual size of it. Make a copy of everything, put the originals away safely, and then keep the copies, in the order mentioned before, in a big, sturdy, three-ring binder with a divider for each year. Particularly important documents can be tagged with bright sticky notes so that you can find them easily in order to refer to them. You want copies, not originals, in your “working notebook” because you must not punch holes or make marks on your original documents, if at all possible – that’s why you store those elsewhere.

Bring your big, scary binder to each meeting until you have an IEP or 504 that you think is appropriate and complete. Over time, and with successful interactions with your school district, you will be able to retire the early information, since you won’t need to refer to it much. You can reduce your working binder to this year’s and the preceding year’s information, PLUS the complete set of standardized and special ed domain tests (and your visuals) and grades (and visuals). Remember, this is ALL current information to and from the school district and education personnel – your emails and letters, doctors’ note or letters, etc.

Do not, under any circumstances, give in to the urge to purge until your child has graduated high school, or if they have extended services to age 21, until those services expire. I guarantee you that you will never regret having collected, analyzed, and kept all this information.

Oddball Word of the Day

slumgullion (slum-GUL-yuhn): noun 1. a dish of stewed meat and vegetables, 2. any weak, watered-down soup or beverage

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

German Idiom for Friday

die Karre aus dem Dreck ziehen (colloquial): to put things right, to sort things out

zB: Mein Arbeitskollege ist wirklich unzuverlaessig. Wenn er etwas verpfuscht, muss immer ich die Karre aus dem Dreck ziehen.

auf Englisch: My workmate is really unreliable. When he bungles something I'm always the one who has to sort things out.

(from the guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Oddball Word of the Day

prosody (PROS-eh-dee) n. the study of verse form and poetic meter

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Knitting Knaughties

...or "What I've Been Doing (with my needles) On My Summer Vacation"








Making socks... Blue pair above is a Berrocco "Comfort Sock" yarn, 100% nylon and amazingly soft and the yarn is quite fine. The orange and blue striped pair is from some close-out yarn from Knit Picks. The lilac pair is made from Trekking XXL, and is a heavier weight which will be nice and toasty this fall and winter.


Here we have two pairs of socks in my favorite "Jitterbug" sock yarn from Colinette. Boy, is that great yarn to work with -- very smooth, springy, tightly plied, and the colors are fabulous. The pair on the left is colorway "Sahara" and the cuff is a spiraling 3X3 rib, which looks pretty kicky in person. I can't remember the colorway name for the socks on the right.


Then, just this past weekend, a bunch of us Chix left our Stix behind and went off to take advantage of a yarn sale at Peggy's Strands of Heaven a few towns away. What a wonderful
store! It's in a converted bungalow home, with each room having a table of some sort and several comfy seats, plus lots of yarn nicely stored in wall bins, so that you can sit and knit and really enjoy your time there. They were having a sale because of roadwork going on in front of the store, and wanted to unload some inventory and take a vacation until it's easier for customers to get there -- smart idea. I got some lovely bargains, including this FULL POUND of Mountain Colors Weavers yarn in "Wild Flower" at half price (happy dance!), and this other skein of seductively soft sock yarn from Knitting Like Crazy in "Mint Julep". I've been


touching it a lot and it'll probably be my next project. Not shown are a handful of name brand patterns for the amazing price of a QUARTER each (usually priced over $5), and some freebies, all carefully sold in their plastic protective sleeves. I also got a skein of Bearfoot sock yarn in "Ruby River" -- wow!

The gals at Peggy's were running a class on lace knitting while we were getting ready to leave, but they were just as nice as pie, and I can't say enough about their store; it's definitely worth another visit.

I've been quite inspired by a friend's purchase of Ann Budd's "Getting Started Knitting Socks" book because, even though I already have a wooly clue, she writes in a straightforward, easy to follow manner, with lots of useful illustrations, and the books are always bound so that they can be laid open for reference while your hands are busy with needles and yarn. There's a very good illustration of the "eye of partridge" heel in there, and her favorite ribbing is now my favorite ribbing. I was so inspired and pleased that I wound up buying my own copy.

And, because I have spells where I have to buy more yarn stuff, I picked up a few pairs of Harmony multi-colored wood needles from Knit Picks, and I also gave in and got B. Walker's Mosaic Knitting. I'll report back later on how the needles are in actual use; they sure are pretty to look at. Walker's book is... cool. I like how mathematical the designs are, and as I was flipping through the charts and pictures, I got an idea for using a whole raft of the swatch squares for an entire Mosaic afghan. I may come to pass or not, we'll see.

Earlier this year, I tried out Elizabeth Zimmerman's moccasin foot sock. I was not impressed. It was, as all her creations were, extremely well thought out and it did what she said it would, but I just didn't like all the grafting across the center of the sole, and as I stuck my test sock on my foot, it sure looked like there were a lot of areas which were likely to be under more stress than in a traditional sock, thereby creating, as Einstein purportedly said, more holes. So, I frogged it and moped.

Then, I went a-hunting on Ravelry and found a pair of felted booties, which I will show you when they're done (complete with link) which are being a real logic/topology puzzle to assemble, but the finished product might just be cute. Also in the works, a prototype slipper with a crocheted sole and knit body, which is growing out of my frustration with the EZ MocSock. It's going pretty well, and I'll put it up as a freebie as soon as I feel I've got everything written down properly.

Keep 'em clickin'!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Five Things About Living In The Boonies

(about 0.5 miles from me)

1. Not a lot of traffic, although sometimes the wildlife is both cheeky and stupid. Long drives can be dangerously hypnotic across the flat, flat, flat terrain.
2. Very Big Sky... Which is way cool for those times when you want to lie in the grass or float in a pool or pond and watch the clouds change shape and move on by. It also means tornados, whirlwinds (really!), microbursts, killer arctic winds in winter, and dust storms when it's been dry. And, staaaaaaaaaars, like you wouldn't believe, all year round.
3. Stocking up on canned goods is still a smart idea before the first snowfall.
4. Lots of quiet. Sometimes the loudest noise is the wind.
5. You can let your energetic Labrador off his lead to run and run and run in a straight line, and he'll come back exhausted, happy, and unharmed.

German Idiom for Friday

Das Eisen schmieden, solange es heiss ist.: 1) Strike while the iron is hot; 2) Make hay while the sun shines.

zB: Kauf dir heute noch das Auto. Ab morgen steigen die Preise. Man soll das Eisen schmieden, solange es heiss ist.

auf Englisch: Buy the car today. Tomorrow the prices are going up. One should strike while the iron is hot.

(from the guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Oddball Word of the Day

Weltanschauung (VELT-ahn-shouw-oong): n. a comprehensive philosophy or conception of the universe and of human life in relation to it.

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bleeping Across the Radar Screen

Just a few things that flew by today (w/ links and excerpts, emphasis added)…

Through the EducationNews.org newsletter, a link to an interview with Will Fitzhugh:

Will, why should principals, administrators and school boards be paying a lot more attention to the actual amount and quality of academic work that is being required of students in the schools?

WF: My concern about the decline in the amount of work being asked of students in history grew after The Concord Review Study of the assignment of history term papers in 2002. We found that the majority of high school teachers no longer assign the traditional research paper in history classes. This month, The Boston Globe reported that 37% of high school graduates in Massachusetts state colleges are not ready for college work, including reading and writing. The College Board's Commission on Writing found a few years ago that the member companies of the Business Roundtable estimate they spend more than $3 Billion each year on remedial writing courses for their salaried and hourly employees in about equal numbers. I concluded that high school graduates are having trouble with writing because they aren't doing much actual academic expository writing in school.

First page on a Google scan, link info from 2007:

College Affordability Is Only Part of the Solution

As tuition costs skyrocket, elected officials have begun offering plans to make college more affordable for high school graduates. But better affordability without better preparation will not solve the bigger challenge—making a college degree more attainable to more Americans. America’s college completion rates are deplorably low.
■ Only about half of students who enroll in 4-year colleges after high school manage to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years.1
■ College going is increasing, but college completion is not keeping up. From 1975 to 2001, college going increased 14 percent, but college completion remained at nearly the same level as the early 1970s.2
■ Out of 24 countries, the U.S. was one of only two that showed no increase in bachelor’s
degree attainment between 2000 and 2004.3

Poor preparation is the problem.
■ Many college freshmen have to take remedial classes to learn what they should have learned in high school. Nearly one-third of college freshman enroll in at least one remedial course, a figure that rises to 42 percent in the nation’s community colleges, which educate a rapidly growing number of America’s undergraduates.4 In some states, the problem is even worse:

Same scan, same page:

The Remediation Debate
Are we serving the needs of underprepared college students?

Only one-third of students leave high school at least minimally prepared for college, and the proportion is much smaller for black and Hispanic students. Among those who persevere to college, 35 to 40 percent require remedial courses in reading, writing or mathematics. The courses are intended to address academic deficiencies and to prepare students for subsequent college success.

Oddball Word of the Day

dyspepsia (dis-PEP-shuh): n. chronic indigestion

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

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Haunting Melody

(Some identifiers changed for obvious reasons)

Yesterday was exhausting. I had an IEP meeting to attend with a client in a district over an hour away, and the client has had a brain injury. The subsequent damage has resulted in a number of problems, the most significant and overwhelming aspect being frenetic, excessive verbosity.

This has been tough to deal with because the frantic talking is so severe that meeting with them is like being hit by a tsunami of disjointed phrases and topics so disparate that they simply cannot be connected. In addition, the onslaught is powered by a damage-induced frenzy to produce verbiage at a pace and intensity so consuming to the client that he has to be physically grabbed, redirected and told to stop by his spouse.

The first time I met with the clients, I felt like brick wall had fallen on me. That meeting lasted nearly three hours, and I think I got maybe 50 words in. Nevertheless, after a lot of work, I was successful in getting the child’s IEP revised to the parents’ satisfaction. The school district was thrilled to have someone helping the family create comprehensible requests, which in turn helped defuse a situation that had been becoming increasingly contentious and hostile.

There have been additional meetings since then, and in all instances, I have done what I try to do with every client – work everything out well in advance so that the parents and I present at the meeting as a united front, get whatever hard data we can put together in supportive presentation form, and walk in to the meeting prepared for success in getting necessary services.

However, I got blindsided by my clients yesterday. Dad had decided, while I was driving to the meeting, to utterly revise all our previously mutually agreed upon points, opt out of some services, and pretty much wander off in a whole different direction, much to the surprise of Mom and the student. None of us knew about this before the meeting. I usually meet with my clients in the parking lot before meetings to review our position and any strategy, but the family showed up late, and everyone else was already in the meeting room, so we had to hustle. I got no warning of any kind that any changes were in the works.

I did what I could to recover the situation to the student’s benefit and within my clients’ difficult-to-discern, revised wishes, but I was definitely caught off guard. Mom was staring at me, hands cupped around her face, mouthing, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.” The district was in shock, too. We wound up rescheduling, having used all the allotted time trying to figure out what Dad was trying to say.

I held my clients back after the meeting and tried to get an inkling of what had prompted this abrupt change. It took a while, but I did manage to determine that Dad seemed to be vehemently opposed to one particular service and would do whatever it took to avoid it. It was a service the student wanted, the mother wanted, private service providers have recommended it, the school district was willing and eager to provide it, and it is a service I thought was a spanking good idea.

So, knowing full well what I was in for, I asked “Why?” In rolled the tsunami. I searched for fragments of possibly relevant flotsam, filled up my mental pockets with likely bits, and finally called a halt when there didn’t seem to be any more progress to be made.

I drove home annoyed, venting to the inside of my car. I walked into my house, flopped facedown on the couch, and decided to mentally pull the blanket up over my head and pretend I wasn’t there for an hour or two. After I’d recovered a little, I trundled off to Chix. It was nice to chat with other ladies about a number of things not related to my day.

I awoke this morning with something from the past floating through my head, which for me, is like playing a game of “Connections”. I need to figure out the theme of the memory and look at it from various angles to see why my subconscious thinks it’s relevant today.

BC (before children), I tutored a great deal. One of my clients back then was a girl who had been an above average student who seemed to hit a wall and needed academic assistance. Over a period of a few weeks, she got edgier and more distracted and less able to focus on the tasks. I worried that it was me – that I was not connecting with her, that maybe a different tutor would do a better job. Then I got a call from her mother, asking me if I would be able to continue tutoring, even though the child was now in a locked ward at the hospital as a result of attempting suicide.

I was a little flabbergasted and asked why the school or hospital was not handling that. It turned out that they only provided tutoring up to a certain level, and the subjects I had been covering with the student were not considered necessary and were therefore not included. She didn’t want her daughter to fall behind, and the daughter had specifically asked for me to come and help her stay current. Mom was crying and reaching for a lifeline, so I agreed.

It was creepy getting cleared through security, but the aura inside was mostly sad. My student was watching me as I came in, checking my reactions, possibly to see if I was repulsed or frightened or disoriented. When we sat down together in the study area, we looked at each other for a minute or two. I raised my eyebrows, and she shrugged, rolled her eyes a little and brought her scared gaze back to me. I winked and smiled, pulled the first textbook over in front of us, flipped it open and said, “How about we get started?” (Or something much like that, which is my standard line.) I set paper and pencil out, the same way I usually did.

I will never forget her reaction. I heard a light snort and looked over to see her sitting rigid, with tears sheeting down her face, pouring onto her shirt. She reached over and touched my arm very lightly and said, “Thank you. I didn’t know if I’d see ‘normal’ ever again,” and her face showed relief.

That was extent of the memory I woke up with, but since I don’t like to leave anyone in suspense, dark stuff was stirred up, the family imploded as a result, I lost touch, and a few years later I got a card from the student indicating that life was back on track, that “normal” had returned.

I wondered why my subconscious had chosen to plaster that particular memory on the inside of my forehead this morning, as I drank my first cup of coffee and watched a rainy dawn break. Then things started clicking into place – all the services Dad wanted removed were those which would have marked his child as not “normal”. Dad was proposing replacing in-school services with private pay after school services to accommodate the child’s needs in other ways so that the child would have a normal day. Dad was not proposing removing services, just altering delivery times, venues, and oversight because, for whatever reason, he thought having a normal day should be a priority.

I can understand that and work with it. I can sound out the client to see if that’s the case, and we can reorient as a team. It may not be what I’d have chosen or what I would recommend, but it’s not my child. Besides, feeling “normal” is important, too.

Oddball Word of the Day

badinage (bad-ehn-EHZH): n. light, playful repartee or banter; teasing; raillery

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Get Smart and End Hunger

Great website referral from a friend, FreeRice. Use your current vocabulary, learn some new words, and donate rice to feed the hungry. Challenging, very challenging at the higher levels! Check out my Dead and Oddball words for a kickstart.

Also recommended by a friend, for those confused by economics, an explanation of the subprime problems, as told by stick figures. At the site, click on "this stick figure slideshow" to get the lowdown.

And congrats to Lamb and Frog for getting Stinky away from the clinkers and into a place with hope and possibilities. Well fought! Round of applause! (And don’t forget to stay alert and frosty.)

Oddball Word of the Day

pensile (PEN-sill): adj. 1) suspended, as some birds' nests, 2) that constructs a hanging nest, used of birds

(from the dictionary of MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Like a Dog Returning to His Own Vomit..

(Does anyone else remember that line from the movie “The Sure Thing”?)

Well, it looks like my last post generated some feelings, and I think it’s only fair to address them openly rather than letting them hide in the nether regions of the comments. In particular, one response is from David Rice, an English teacher at MCHS.

It’s ironic that Mr. Rice would take the post personally, although I can see how it would offend him, since I did not name names and thereby exclude him in my post. Of all the teachers at MCHS, he is one of maybe five teachers whom every student and parent adores. If all the teachers there taught to his standard of excellence, MCHS would be a world class school, and I don’t say that lightly. He is always enthusiastic, energized, upbeat, engaged, open-minded, and a joy to have leading the classroom. His projects are relevant, challenging, and advance the cause of learning, as well as the understanding of his topic. He uses every minute of the extended block period for instruction and reinforcement, and I’m not alone in my opinion that if he were head of his department, it would change for the better by an order of magnitude.

Also, for the record, I didn’t make these things up myself. I have little classroom experience at MCHS because, obviously, I graduated yonks ago. I have, however, done classroom observations and listened to over 6 years of complaints and worries from my children at the end of each school day. I have, over the years, called teachers, guidance counselors, the THREE principals we’ve had during that time, attended School Board meetings, met with all of the above, emailed and snail mailed them, too, about my concerns, ad nauseum.

And, one day, I had had enough. So, I wrote down a summary of things, largely tongue-in-cheek, reflecting my kids’ complaints about their high school experiences. I don’t pretend these complaints are completely reflective of other children’s experiences there, and I do not speak for other parents either. However, I did ask all three of my kids to read this list before I posted it. I asked for their input, any changes or additions, and got a round table consensus from them about each item. I also incorporated some things that I have discussed with other parents and other students and former students, but cleared it through my kids.

Bunny said she wished some of the things weren’t true, but they are. Spot (formerly Spawn) gave a rueful laugh and said they were all true and some were worse than I had stated. Doodle nodded his head, agreeing with the others, and added a couple of his recent experiences to the pool.

There will always be exceptions, especially to anything written in a sarcastic or humorous manner, to posts that vent and to posts that laud on a non-specific basis. That being said, I am leaving my original snark in standard type, Mr. Rice’s commentary is in italics, and my responses are in bold.

Title: 20 Things My Kids Have Learned at MCHS
(and 20 Things the Teachers Have Learned About Me and My Kids)

1. If enough of your classmates whine about a test, project, paper, or assignment deadline, the teacher will change it.
(And your kids learned how to whine at home, as is demonstrated by your whining in this post.)
It’s my blog. I could post pictures of shaved goats wearing tutus and clown shoes and label them “Entertainment PhDs” if I wanted.

2. If enough kids whine about how hard a project is, the teacher will make it easier.
(See #1)
Your projects are great. You have never required “gilded spaghetti” projects that waste children’s time. I wish that were the norm.

3. If a lot of the kids act like they really enjoy group work, the teacher will let you all do more, including coloring and skits. There’s always some nerd in the group who wants to learn and does a good job, so everyone gets a good grade!
(And was your kid the one who chose to rely on others’ work? If so, what does that say about what he/she learned at home? If not, then he/she learned that people who work can excel, regardless of what their co-workers do. Still a valuable lesson in life. Moreover, maybe one your kids group mates learned something from your kid? Wouldn’t that be a tragedy if kids actually learned from each other, as well as the teacher?)
Homework is a good thing for everyone. Please see:
Aargh, Student Teachers 11/13/06 – Social Studies department quirks
Five Things for Student Teachers 11/17/06 - self-explanatory vent of things I wish student teachers had assimilated before entering the classroom. There are undoubtedly points for/of disagreement.

4. A five-page paper, double-spaced, is the most anyone will ever expect of you in life. Plus, you get to whine about it!
(In which case it is clear your child did not meet the expectations/requirements of either junior or senior English. Hmmm, not meeting expectations. The fault of the teacher or of the student who CHOSE not to meet them?)
All three of my children have consistently been on the honor roll EVERY year in high school. Not all teachers adhere to the requirements for your department, sadly. Even more depressing is the fact that the school year has ended before the papers were graded and handed back. Twice, to my specific knowledge.

5. No matter if the course title is AP or honors, if the teacher is bad, everyone gets a good grade, whether they learn or do anything or not.
(Gee, everyone who qualifies for an honors class gets a good grade? Your kid obviously did not take Honors English I or II! Mr. Rice and Mr. Kein are notorious for the number of students moved out---followed by a great deal of parental whining about how unfair we are because we actually expect kids to meet our expectations or transfer to a different level.)
Please note that I said “if the teacher is bad” as a condition. Neither of you are bad teachers. There are bad teachers, some are in your department. Two of my three children have had honors classes with both of you and done well but got moved to other designations later, at my behest, because I did not want them taking classes with bad teachers and misleading labels.

While this counted against them in the GPA race, I don’t play that game. They have outstanding skills because I made skills a priority, since those last, as opposed to letting them succumb to GPA games, which leave students lacking in skills, but long on impressive-sounding transcripts. I am not making this up. Parents of “honor” students talk. My kids have outscored all but a couple of cohorts per year (on the ACT) in their “honors” circles because I do know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about.


6. If you’re in sports, you get excused from a lot of assignments.
(If your child learned to generalize, they learned it at home. A generalization such as this would be an “F” on an assignment in my English class. Give me a specific EXAMPLE---or go to work for a political campaign for either party.)
Your first statement is specious. Generalization is not limited to my blog and is considered a skill in the category of social language pragmatics. I refuse to name bad teachers who have given up rigor for pacification because they deserve their anonymity, too. Instead, I talk to them and the administration, which I have done and will continue to do. See also Spawn's Small Town 12/05/06 - latter half are his experiences re the HS.

7. If your teacher is a coach, there’s a lot of free time in class and very few assignments.
(And if a student athlete is ineligible, the FIRST call a teacher gets is from Mom or Dad----whining about how we’re penalizing their son/daughter and removing the ONLY reason they come to school anyway.)
Not my fault. I’m the one who stands alone in front of the school board, the principal, and the classroom teacher arguing for greater rigor and higher expectations when necessary. Please see:
The Talk 4/2/07 about high standards, intrinsic rewards, and the quest for personal excellence,
The Letter I Didn't Send 5/29/07 morally questionable selling of academic indulgences,
Plans for Life 4/23/07 – prepping for the ACT and my opinions about high school studies and the early years of college

8. Homework? What’s homework? We do that in class instead of getting a full 90 minutes (block schedule) of instruction or learning activities.
(See #6)
See 6 and 7, as well as:
Notes I Have Sent 5/3/06 humorous notes I’ve sent to elementary, middle and high schools. I think you will find the last one particularly relevant.

9. Ninety minutes of silent reading while the teacher is on the computer is considered a good use of our time at school.
(See #6)
See 6 and 7

10. We guess you can learn a lot from movies. We sure see plenty of them, including the same ones year after year or stuff we’ve seen at home already.
(See #6. Gee, this is getting boring! Do you already work for a Presidential campaign, or are you just a talented amateur at this?)
(Snort) See 6 and 7. Then go talk to the librarians about how many movies they plug into the system over the course of a semester. I have. It might open your eyes to what your cohorts are doing. Doodle saw 5 movies in his first term of English, none of which were relevant to the course, nor were they reviewed, nor were the students tested on them, nor were they discussed in class. Bunny saw three in her senior English class, only one of which was relevant; the rest were time fillers. In a different English class, they saw two, also not discussed, reviewed, or accompanied by assessments of knowledge.

You have no idea how sad it makes me to know that my charges, even phrased tongue-in-cheek, are true.

Last Sock in the Nerd Hamper 3/5/07 – a humorous take on validated giftedness
Nerdliness Further 2/13/07 – living with gifted children, and memories

11. If you’re involved in enough activities and can’t keep up in class, get your parents to complain and the teachers will lower their expectations!
(Are you talking about YOUR kids? If not, how can you be sure that the information you have is accurate? I’m sure that every time your kids tell you, “But ALL the kids are doing it!” you accept that and give in, right? Then why do you assume that their version of what happens in my class is accurate?)
If it were YOUR class, I would not have this complaint. Sadly, you remain a statistical outlier on the scale of teacher excellence, along with a few other teachers. I have no problem with you defending your own conduct, but I would advise you to be careful of generalizing the other teachers’ classroom conduct and expectations, just as you have cautioned me on my generalizations.
Really, do you have any idea of how demoralizing such behavior on the part of teachers can be to the student ?
I urge you to read some of my other posts before assuming you know the basis for my snarky remarks.


12. If you get a tough teacher who makes you learn and work, you will remember them fondly forever, and, regardless of the class, it will be what you wish for in every other class you ever take.
(Just like every worker remembers his/her good bosses fondly. Again, a lesson in life. Another one, though, is that not every student is inspired/motivated by the same teachers. For every student who thinks Teacher “A” is the worst teacher ever, there’s a student who thinks that Teacher “A” made school bearable/interesting/exciting. Again, is YOUR child’s opinion of a teacher the only one that matters?)
Nope. I never said so. I am answerable for what I say, not for what you think.

13. Never complain about not having enough work, hard enough work, or expectations being low because then the teachers will give you a lower grade to “prove” you wrong.
(See #6. And then ask yourself if you actually brought your concerns to the TEACHER and or the PRINCIPAL with specific examples that someone could actually address? Probably not. It’s a lot easier to blog!)
And, it’s a lot easier to pretend you know who I am, who my children are, what I support, and what my expectations are, rather than reading my previous posts… Which are pretty clearly categorized.

14. If you have to read a book for a class, it will be depressing. If you already don’t read for pleasure, this will help make sure you never do.
(Gee, nobody ever learns anything from books like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or ROMEO AND JULIET. They’re so depressing. Hey, let’s read CHICKEN SOUP books, instead! They’re inspirational, require no thought, and teach everyone that mediocre writing can become a best seller. And then we’ll all pretend that the folks on AMERICAN IDOL are just as good as Yo-Yo Ma or Frank Sinatra or Maria Callas or the other great artists of the 20th C.)
Well, that’s certainly a leap without any basis. And, let me lob this one back, that must mean that there are NO books worth reading, or genre worth exploring, which do not involve graphically depicted violent death, racism, suicide, or mental illness, and those which fail on the “depressing” scale are therefore are intrinsically unworthy of being analyzed for literary merit.

15. If you are smart and non-conformist, someone will call your parents to discuss your “problems.”
(Hmmm. Non-conformist. Is that the student who refuses to follow the classroom assignment to keep a binder with his/her papers in neat order, to aid in studying/reviewing because that’s not her style? Or is that the student who wears the t-shirt with the inappropriate message? Or the one whose smell is so bad that every student in the class BEGS you to talk to the nurse? Again, a bit of specificity on how your darling is a “non-conformist” might help!)
You might recognize one of the references in the following:

My Kids Aren't From Stepford 4/29/06 -actual calls I’ve gotten from schools, and my responses. In reality, I did say these things, but followed them up with more situationally and socially correct remarks as well.
Or here:
Notes I Have Sent 5/3/06 humorous notes I’ve sent to elementary, middle and high schools

16. If you hate school – go anyway! Make sure to take classes with coach-teachers to keep your GPA high. They’ll give you a diploma just to get rid of you!
(Again, a non-specific charge with no support. Hope you don’t have a job which actually requires you to back up your opinions. Or do you work for Dick Cheney, in which case neither logic nor support is required.)
ROFLMAO! (wiping tears of laughter from my eyes, and then…t-i-c again…) Oh, so poorly fletched an arrow poses risks to birds a-wing! Take a look at MCHS’s school report cards, which indicate, quite objectively, that the majority of students graduating fall BELOW the PSAE benchmarks across the board, and the ACT scores which show students averaging below college readiness benchmarks in all areas excluding reading.

17. If you want to know if you’re prepared for college, refer to your ACT score, not your high school transcript. That’s what colleges do.
(And is that OUR fault?! Or is this sarcasm? As with all the other inane generalities, your failure to actually give a concrete example makes it impossible to respond. Of course, that’s the point of this diatribe, isn’t it? After all, it’s SO much easier to sling mud in large quantities rather than accept the fact that your son/daughter may have thrown away innumerable opportunities to excel, to participate in the myriad extra-curriculars this school offers, or to take the BEST of our EVERY class, regardless of whether he/she like the teacher.)
No, it’s systemic and nationwide, but it is also local and therefore relevant. See above for objective references. Also refer to The Talk .

18. If you want to know what college work is like, ask a parent or a college student. Don’t count on your teachers or classes to help prepare you for it.
(It’s amazing what an incredible percentage of students we have failing out of college, isn’t it? Oh, wait. We don’t. Well, in that case it’s amazing what an amazing percentage of students we have who have learned EVERYTHING they know in the first 2 weeks of college! Gee, your darling is a genius, just like you told everyone when they were 2 and knew all their colors, even “Fuschia”!)
Not sure where you’re getting your data, which appears to be largely subjective. I think you should instead, for anecdotal purposes, poll the graduating students and find out what percentage are going to have to take remedial courses when they start college. And see the above references. Nationwide, 40% of incoming college students require remediation (Journal of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed.), and over the last 10-15 years, colleges have had to institute competency tests in order to place students in appropriate math and English courses, which is a sad, sad statement on the ability of high schools nationwide to prepare kids for college. There is no shortage of information available, if you choose to seek it out.

And:
The Mind of Spawn 8/23/06 about dealing with gifted children and their thirst for knowledge,
Phrase Migration 1/10/07 – last third, school encounters
Holding Forth 8/28/06 – teaching language skills from the get-go

19. Friends are great. Sometimes they’re the only reason to show up.
(Friends and family are the only reasons ANY of us survive in this world. How is that a problem? Rather, that is what keeps all of us going through good times and bad. It’s called life.)
See: The Talk

20. The lunches still suck, but there are fewer pizzaburgers and less mystery meat.
(And how many times during your sweetheart’s junior/senior year did he/she choose to partake of the haute cuisine at Mickey D’s, Burger King, Dave’s Dawgs, etc.? You want your kid to eat healthy food, stay on task, and reach his/her maximum potential? Take away the car and the video game, put the computer in the FAMILY ROOM where you can monitor what he/she is doing on it, and give him/her a curfew. Then while he/she is working on homework, fix a FAMILY MEAL and require the WHOLE FAMILY to eat together.)
Well, that response certainly went off at an obscure angle, but I’ll be happy to answer your deflection. Not very damned often, since I make them pay for that (and gas, and the insurance if their grades drop below a B average) out of their own pockets. I restrict the use of automobiles, and I remain final arbiter in whether or not they get to use the computer, the internet, and videogames. In addition, all of those privileges are earned privileges, not rights, and they are expected to do household chores on a regular schedule and a consistent basis in order to earn them, in addition to doing their schoolwork. We are also famous amongst my children's friends for routinely having family dinners, some of which my children cook from scratch themselves, because I consider that a necessary skill and have spent many years (and gamely eaten many odd things) teaching it to them.

And, now, it’s my turn to have my say…

You have held forth a great deal about my assumptions and how erroneous they are, but I think you have failed to address the beam in your own eye. You did not read my prior posts to see what sort of a parent I am; you made assumptions that I am the worst sort, the kind that throws obstacles and fictional objections in your way. I am not.

I am data driven, with a background in the hard sciences, financial analysis, and special education law. I am a tireless researcher with outstanding credentials in a wide variety of fields. And, I am a parent who invariably supports and applauds teachers with high standards, high expectations, and the grit to continue in the face of public and systemic pressure to lighten up, dumb down, or phone it in.

None of the “charges” I’ve made are based on slapdash, haphazard assumptions. Not all of them are the results of statistical data, either. They are what they are – some are based on objective measurements, some on widespread, nationally applicable criticisms and observations, and others are a result of combined anecdotal input from a variety of sources, not by any means limited to my own family, and including other parents of honor students, the students themselves, past students in the same category, web searches and blog analysis from students and the hardships they encounter when they go off to college after graduating from MCHS, and newspaper or other journal articles, locally, regionally and nationally. I have no problem dismissing things that are clearly personal whines, nor do I have a problem in recognizing patterns and similarities, nor am I unable to choose whether or not I consider them relevant and worthy of further investigation.

I have also made sure to gather data directly from MCHS, the school report cards, requests to administrative personnel for longitudinal data on AP scores, ACT, and PSAE scores. I have been doing this for 7 years, one year prior to my oldest child starting at MCHS, because I believe that research and information are exceedingly important.

I have made all of these points over the last 6 years, to all three principals at MCHS, to a number of teachers, and to members of the school board. I have stood behind what I believe, and what I have researched, and I have spoken directly to those involved in the most egregious offenses, ONLY when I had substantive data to back me up – because it wouldn’t be fair otherwise.

And NONE of that means that I don’t get to vent, blow off steam, or express my opinions on my own blog. As I stated at the beginning, I could put any variety of witless, fictional fluff I wanted, and it still wouldn’t mean I was in violation of anything. You can read it, you can agree, disagree, move on, never visit again, whatever. I don’t care. It’s up to you.

P.S. One thing MY father taught me is that anyone who is afraid to stand up and take responsibility for his/her opinion and uses the “anonymous” label isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit. That’s why I’m glad to sign my response.David M. Rice, Proud MCHS English Teacher.

Potpourri and Reasons for Anonymity 8/5/07 self-explanatory

In no particular order, the following is a list of relevant prior posts. It is not comprehensive or all-inclusive.

The Talk 4/2/07 about high standards intrinsic rewards, and the quest for personal excellence
The Letter I Didn't Send 5/29/07 morally questionable selling of academic indulgences
Potpourri and Reasons for Anonymity 8/5/07 self-explanatory
Spawn's Small Town 12/05/06 latter half are his experiences re the HS
The Mind of Spawn 8/23/06 about dealing with gifted children and their thirst for knowledge
Notes I Have Sent 5/3/06 humorous notes I’ve sent to elementary, middle and high schools
School Supplies 4/30/06 – a humorous parody of notes sent home from school for additional supplies, elementary and middle school years.
My Kids Aren't From Stepford 4/29/06 l – actual calls I’ve gotten from schools, and my responses. In reality, I did say these things, but followed them up with more situationally correct remarks as well.
Plans for Life 4/23/07 – prepping for the ACT and my opinions about high school studies and the early years of college
Last Sock in the Nerd Hamper 3/5/07 – a humorous take on validated giftedness
Nerdliness Further 2/13/07 – living with gifted children and memories
Phrase Migration 1/10/07 – last third, school encounters
Aargh, Student Teachers 11/13/06 – The Social Studies department quirks
Five Things for Student Teachers 11/17/06 – self-explanatory vent of things I wish student teachers had assimilated before entering the classroom. There are undoubtedly points for/of disagreement.
Holding Forth 8/28/06 – teaching language skills from the get-go

Thursday, May 01, 2008

20 Things My Kids Have Learned at MCHS

1. If enough of your classmates whine about a test, project, paper, or assignment deadline, the teacher will change it.

2. If enough kids whine about how hard a project is, the teacher will make it easier.

3. If a lot of the kids act like they really enjoy group work, the teacher will let you all do more, including coloring and skits. There’s always some nerd in the group who wants to learn and does a good job, so everyone gets a good grade!

4. A five-page paper, double-spaced, is the most anyone will ever expect of you in life. Plus, you get to whine about it!

5. No matter if the course title is AP or honors, if the teacher is bad, everyone gets a good grade, whether they learn or do anything or not.

6. If you’re in sports, you get excused from a lot of assignments.

7. If your teacher is a coach, there’s a lot of free time in class and very few assignments.

8. Homework? What’s homework? We do that in class instead of getting a full 90 minutes (block schedule) of instruction or learning activities.

9. Ninety minutes of silent reading while the teacher is on the computer is considered a good use of our time at school.

10. We guess you can learn a lot from movies. We sure see plenty of them, including the same ones year after year or stuff we’ve seen at home already.

11. If you’re involved in enough activities and can’t keep up in class, get your parents to complain and the teachers will lower their expectations!

12. If you get a tough teacher who makes you learn and work, you will remember them fondly forever, and, regardless of the class, it will be what you wish for in every other class you ever take.

13. Never complain about not having enough work, hard enough work, or expectations being low because then the teachers will give you a lower grade to “prove” you wrong.

14. If you have to read a book for a class, it will be depressing. If you already don’t read for pleasure, this will help make sure you never do.

15. If you are smart and non-conformist, someone will call your parents to discuss your “problems.”

16. If you hate school – go anyway! Make sure to take classes with coach-teachers to keep your GPA high. They’ll give you a diploma just to get rid of you!

17. If you want to know if you’re prepared for college, refer to your ACT score, not your high school transcript. That’s what colleges do.

18. If you want to know what college work is like, ask a parent or a college student. Don’t count on your teachers or classes to help prepare you for it.

19. Friends are great. Sometimes they’re the only reason to show up.

20. The lunches still suck, but there are fewer pizzaburgers and less mystery meat.

Oddball Word of the Day

puce (PYOOS): adj. purplish-brown in color; of the color of a flea [from the French word for flea]


(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Doggie Diversions

Gracie may be nearly a year old now, but she’ll always be Baby Gracie. Hoover has finally gotten used to her and her ways, for the most part, but the Baby has one toy that still drives him nuts. (For Hoover, being driven nuts means that he raises his head, looks at her, looks at me, looks back at her and snorts disgustedly, as if to say, “Do you see what she’s up to? Honestly!”) It’s her pink squeaky dumbbell. She loves that toy. She hasn’t put so much as a tooth through it because she loves to run around squeaking it at everyone.

Shortly after we’d first adopted her, and she’d worn out poor old Hoover, she’d grab her pink squeaky, walk over to him, lay the toy on his EAR, and then squeak it like mad. This was a game to her. To Hoover, it was possibly cause for deafness. I only saw him show irritation once – he sat up and growled at her. She peed in submission, put her tail between her legs, and went to hide with her squeaky in her crate. Hoover looked ashamed of himself.

As a result of squeaky overload, we have to ration Baby Gracie’s squeaky time, or we’d all growl at her. When she’s particularly bored (read “dumpster diving and gnawing dishtowels”) I give her back the beloved toy for a few hours.

Last week, after the kids had gotten home from school, Baby Gracie was showing all of us her wonderful squeaky. Hoover was sick to death of it, but he just snorted a couple of times at her. Bunny got tired of the squeaky and diverted Gracie with a tennis ball and a game of indoor fetch. While Gracie was off getting the tennis ball from another room, Hoover ambled over to the squeaky, carefully picked it up and ambled into the den. He was gone a couple of minutes. When he came back, he sat down near me, looked at me, and laughed. He also looked smug. I looked at Bunny and said, “I think he just hid Gracie’s squeaky!”

Bunny went to check and found that Hoover had not just taken it into the den, he had put it behind a box, where it would be hard to find. She giggled with laughter as she was telling me about Hoover’s craftiness, and gave him a big hug and a scratch. I was going to put it down to mere luck that the squeaky toy wound up behind a box, but later than evening, Gracie found it again.

She came leaping and bounding through the living room, flying around the room, squeaking for all she was worth. After about 20 minutes of loud squeaking, hubs got a little tired of it and tried to take it away from her, but she stayed just out of range. Hoover had been lying on the couch, watching her in disgust. He finally oozed off the couch and ambled out of the room. I said to hubs “Guess he couldn’t take the squeaking any more.”

About 3 minutes later, with Gracie still on the squeaky warpath, Hoover came back into the living room and sidled up to hubs. He dropped a tennis ball next to his foot and, clearly not intending to play fetch, went back to his couch and lay back down. I was a little surprised, and told Hubs about the tennis ball diverting Baby Gracie from her squeaky earlier, and what Hoover had done with it. He said, “I think I can take a hint!” and the next time she dashed by him, he chucked a tennis ball for her. She dropped her pink squeaky and went for the ball. Hubs grabbed the squeaky and hid it behind a couch cushion. Hoover let out a sigh of relief and went to sleep.

I’m pretty sure our old dog has taught us a new trick.

Oddball Word of the Day

feckless (FEK-lis): adj. reckless; inefficient, incompetent; without worth or spirit; indifferent

(from the dictionary of MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

SpEd Tip #1: Stay Frosty

This is the first piece of advice I offer anyone about to enter the labyrinth of special education, related services, and 504 plans. Most every parent who gets to the point where their child is getting in trouble, getting poor grades, clearly not able to do grade level work, and admits to themselves that the kid might need special ed, gets mad. They’re mad because they think, rightly, that the school should have spotted it, should have done something about it, should have taken steps.

Maybe the parent is mad because they’ve been asking, year after year, for help for their child, and the school district has been delaying, dallying, denying, and generally dinking around, while the child is falling further and further behind. Maybe the school district has lied outright to them on any number of issues.

You’re mad because of a betrayal of expectations. We expect schools to know what they’re doing, know what they’re supposed to do, and then we expect them to do it, by gum! We expect them to be knowledgeable professionals with the best interests of our children as a priority.

We don’t expect them to lie, be incompetent, refuse to help a child in need of assistance, or to make excuses for why it’s OUR fault and not theirs. We don’t expect them to squirm like snakes to get out of providing necessary services. We don’t expect them to complain that they can’t afford help for our children because there are so many other children with greater needs. We don’t expect them to be stupid or malicious.

But they are. And that is why parents get mad; normal expectations have been betrayed, and we are hurt, hyper-alert, and angry.

So, my advice is to “stay frosty”, in other words, get cooled down and stay there while I fill you in on the reality of school districts. There are some good ones who know what they’re supposed to do and do it without even blinking. If your child were in one of those districts, he’d already be in SpEd, and you’d be reasonably well-informed and engaged in the process of getting services for him. Many school districts are not like that.

The problem is rarely malice. It’s usually a combination of ignorance and inappropriate gatekeeping. There are very few people in schools, administrators, teachers, nurses, or others who actually know more than a thimbleful about special education and the law. They only know what they’ve been told, and that’s not much.

Administrators have next to nothing to do with your children. They are the logistical planners for schools – they arrange transportation, days off, negotiate for supplies, review bills from utilities, manage office staff, call for substitute teachers, and deal with similar things. They prepare reports for the school board, report to the superintendent, and are supposed to be well-versed in the general laws regarding schools. The assistant principal may be in charge of the mechanics and procedures of formal discipline. Administrators tend to be fixated on cost containment and will do their gatekeeping (preventing your child access to special services) on that basis.

Teachers are used to dealing with “average” students. The average student acts up occasionally, responds reasonably well to consequences, gets reasonable grades, and is kind of predictable. Teachers feel themselves to be primarily responsible for teaching average students, the middle 80% of children – they rarely know what to do for a gifted child or a child with special needs. They can get belligerent if they feel they’re being blamed for your child’s poor performance (and they always feel that way). They don’t like having to do extra stuff, or complicated stuff, or things that are “more” than what they’re doing for the 80% because they feel like they’re shortchanging their “real” students. Fortunately, they can be very cooperative if the parent knows this and accommodates the TEACHER’S needs, too. Teachers will resist and gatekeep if they think you’re asking too much of them.

The only people in the whole school system who have even a moderate understanding of special needs, disabilities, and services and programs are the people in the Special Education department. Therefore, it’s important to get through the other gatekeepers, the teachers and administrators, and get to the SpEd folks. They will be gatekeepers, too, in kind of a microcosmic reflection of the regular administrators and teachers. They are always understaffed, underfunded, overworked, and you’re always asking for too much for no good reason. Oh, woe is me.

However, it is their job, and their responsibility to know the laws, to follow them, and to get your child the services required. And, eventually, they will, God willing, and with the help of research, good friends and sound advice.

Now that you know that, you need to blow off all the steam that built up while dealing with the gatekeepers in regular education. If you take your anger with you into the SpEd department, it’s only going to make you look hysterical and unreasonable. Stay frosty, because for the SpEdders, special services are their everyday business. Asking for appropriate programs should be done the same way you’d ask the butcher for a pound of good, fresh pork chops, or the greengrocer for oranges from the latest shipment. It’s really no big deal, they have to follow the law, and this group of people knows that.

Then, as legal requirements click along at a pre-determined pace, like a train on the tracks, it’s easy to get frustrated and let all that residual frustration and anger come back again. Don’t do it. Let the process flow; remain frosty.

Remember, as long as you are the coolest cucumber in the room, you’ll last the longest.

Oddball Word of the Day

caduceus (Kuh-DOO-see-ehs) n. the symbolic staff carried by Mercury as herald of the gods, now used as a symbol for medicine

(from the guide to MMMW edicted by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Startitis

Every knitter knows it, and lots of us suffer from it. It’s the uncontrollable urge to put down whatever project you’re working on right now and start something new. Maybe you want to get your hands on a different color, yarn weight, texture, something sparkly, something not-sparkly, something bland you can knit in the dark, or just something NEW. Even knitters of extraordinary character and will power may hear the siren call of Startitis – they’ll hang onto their current projects like moray eels until they’re finished, but they hear the wilding call nonetheless.

I kind of gave up fighting Startitis a decade or so ago and decided to call it either Knitting BiPolar Disorder or Seasonal Affective Knitting Disorder. Mine cycles, and, fortunately for me, while I don’t spin fleece, and can spin words and ideas. My KBPD/SAKD (see, it’s official – it has an acronym!) goes like this…

September: It’s still warmish out, but the leaves are starting to change color, so it must be time to knit. I start and finish sweaters in September. I finish up leftover projects from earlier in the year.

October and November: I start thicker sweaters, the kids start asking for them, and then I want to knit them. I think about knitting myself a sweater and may even go buy some faboo yarn for one. (Years later, it will wind up being a sweater for someone else.) I knit hats and scarves and work on trickier sweaters. I get a Great Idea for using up oddball yarn in Yet Another Afghan. I finish up the last of the hangover projects, but I still have four or five things on the needles.

December: I knit things that are not for Christmas, but that I can put down easily without forgetting what I was doing, such as socks for myself, mittens, hats, and Knit for Kids sweaters for donations. I do not take requests for knitting during the month because it’s already completely knuts around here.

January: I start hating all my works in progress. The scarf is bulgier than I like and doesn’t show off the yarn right. The thick sweater p*sses me off because the yarn is color pooling or I found twigs in it, or I’m running short. I have so many pairs of socks that I don’t want to start another pair, but then I find really excellent yarn that I’ve been looking for all my life, buy it, and cast on a sock. I’m tired of the afghan for some reason – too heavy, too random, the stitch is too fussy for my short attention span, something. I don’t like any of my yarn and start window shopping on Ebay and online yarn stores.

February: I’m depressed. I have all these projects and nothing’s really DONE. I’m still convinced they’re worthy, so I don’t frog them all, but I can’t stand to work another stitch on any of them. I buy another skein of sock yarn, just to look at and touch. I eat too much chocolate and cook comfort food. My whole family sleeps too much from carbohydrate overload. Right about the end of the month, I’ll pick up some project I sidelined last fall and finish it.

March and April: I realize I need to finish the heavy, winter stuff before it gets too warm, so the mojo kicks in and I knit like a bat outta hell to get the afghan, scarf, sweater, and fancy patterned thing done. I set aside lighter weight projects to work on later. I might buy more needles, “to complete my set of…”

May: I’m depressed. I still have at least one project that I know I won’t get to until the thermometer dips into the 30’s, so I put it in the Naughty Closet. Sometimes projects go there because they were naughty and ticked me off; sometimes projects go there because I was naughty and didn’t finish them during the “right” season. I notice I have too much yarn and way too many patterns. I sort through the yarn and match it up with patterns. I throw out a few patterns. I think really hard about getting rid of some pattern books. I rummage through all the rest of my yarn and realize I have some nice stuff, so I move it to the front or top of its storage zone.

June and July: Mornings are mindless knitting. I knit things from cotton or non-wool – dishcloths, coasters, mini afghans of washable fiber for my dogs, small clothes for Bunny’s beloved Theodora bear, and maybe a couple hats from sock wool.

August: I’m out of cotton, which is good because I hate it now. I can’t stand the sight of another hat, another mitten, or another sock. I cast on a shawl to work on because by the time it gets heavy, it’ll be cold out, or so I tell myself. I box up donations and ship them out.

And then it’s September again....

My family thinks I have wooly caterpillar DNA because they watch what I knit and when. If I’m already starting a sweater in late August, they start airing out their parkas and checking felted hats and mittens for pest damage because they know there’s a cold winter coming. They want to get their requests for repairs or replacements in early.

Me, I’m just glad I’ve learned to find a way to make my KBPD/SAKD work for me – stuff does actually get finished before people grow out of its size, and I do cycle through my yarn pretty well.

I’ll be posting pictures of what got knitted after it gets washed and blocked. We already wore most of it since this has been a right nippy winter so far.