2014

2014

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Time

I've been thinking a lot lately about God's timing.  About how and why we sometimes end up waiting the longest for the things we want most.  See, I believe in a God who gives us what we want if it's at all possible for Him to do.  But wait just a second, you say. He's GodIsn't everything possible for Him?  Yes.  And no.  Stick with me for a minute more.

A few days ago Eden and I made chocolate chip cookies together.  It went like this:
  
I creamed the butter. 
Eden whined. 
I added the sugar. 
Eden whined.
I blended in the eggs and vanilla. 
Eden whined. 

She needed that cookie dough.  I finally found myself saying, "Look, Kid, I know what you want, and I want to give it to you.  But right now,  I'm ignoring you. The dough isn't ready, and you will have to be patient."

I nearly stuck my hand in the mixer, it hit me so hard.  God's no salmonella-fearing meany head who just doesn't want to give us the blessings we seek.  Sometimes what we want simply isn't ready yet. I mean, have you ever tried to eat cookie dough before it's complete?  Not so delicious. God loves us enough to give us the good stuff.

He also loves us enough to give us the stuff that's good for us.  I thought of that too with my sweet little Edie Girl. I don't know what challenges lurk in her future (lucky them...I'm handy with a baseball bat), but I do know that they will require significantly more patience than waiting on cookie dough.  Although it was what Eden wanted most in that moment, greater wants will come.  Thank goodness she gets these small chances to practice patience before the big ones just bowl her over.  Me too.  Stretching our abilities is good.

We're supposed to be good too.  Do you know that Kris and I actually met briefly several years before we started dating?  My thoughts on the encounter:  Cute!  Too bad he doesn't have a personality.  Those of you who know Kris are now choking with laughter at my stupidity. The man is a riot.  But you know (and here's the hard pill to swallow)  I just wasn't ready for him yet. It took three years of begging, pleading, and sifting through the dating sewage dump to incrementally become the woman ready to marry the man. For me it's no great stretch to imagine that whole time the voice of a loving Heavenly Father saying, "Look, Kid, I know what you want, and I want to give it to you.  But right now, I'm ignoring you.  You aren't ready for it yet.  Get to work and be patient!"

God loves us.  And he is all-powerful.  But I believe it is contrary to His nature to give us what we want if it isn't good, good for us, or commensurate with our own goodness.  I'm beginning to think that God's timing isn't merely something to wait on while rolling my eyes and tapping my foot and glancing at my watch to remind Him that I have places to be.  Time is the space He gives us to make these things happen.  And if given, then a gift.  So it turns out I need to work on gratitude too, not just patience. 

Hopefully, I've got time for that. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

18 (Months That Is)

Today Eden is halfway to two.  I know in the grand scheme that's not very old, but it kind of has me panicking that all you people were right and they really do grow up too fast.  This is why it is important to take a deep breath and remember that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  For example, Eden still makes this face:

 
True there is a solid set of teeth in it now, but I recognize her impish declaration of independence from way back.  

 
Of course Eden has developed a lot of new skills too.  Here she is about to throw her famous heater for Hunter (it hits him as often as not, but I think he appreciates the sentiment and recognizes that with a little cultivation, he'll have a fabulous fetch partner).  

 
Eden is also really good at stacking blocks.  She's even better at sitting in their container while I "row" her "boat" around the living room.  But her best trick is toting said container around and using it as a step stool to reach the piano, climb on the computer desk, and scale the kitchen table.


You'll note that her hair is long enough that I have to style it these days.  It usually looks cute for about five minutes, before she has either rubbed some sort of food in it or pulled it out of place.  I can barely get my own hair to look decent, so the next few years are going to be challenging.
 

Here Eden demonstrates the proper maneuver for assuming the position at bum change or attire time. One doesn't simply lie down, one spins into it!

I could go on and on about this girl.  Tell you about how she shouts AMEN at each and every pause in a prayer, steals my purse and waves goodbye as she drags it along, hugs Hunter, squeals with delight each time daddy comes home, etc.  But no one cares that much about the minutia of someone else's kid.  I've (no doubt) already said too much.  Can I help it that I'm in love? And aren't we all fools in love?  I rest my case with no apology.   

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Tale of Two Novembers

I'll refrain from getting too Dickensian on you; this post will not be overly long.  The bottom line is that on Thursday we played at the park in 70 degree weather:



Today?  Not so much.

 Here's to a (hopefully) very wet and very cold winter!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fine

At least we elected a President who truly understands my struggling middle-class lifestyle.  I mean, the last time I was chillin' with Jay-Z and BeyoncĂ©, shooting hoops with former members of the Bulls, I was all like, "You rich people shouldn't make so much money, AND you need to pay more taxes," and they were all like, "Yeah."

So at least there's that.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Recent Reads (Nonfiction Binge)

If you're looking for a new page-turner to burn through next weekend, skip this post. 

Occasionally I like those books too, but for the most part what entertains me is what provokes me to thought.  Hence my latest batch of books.  I don't know exactly why, but right now I am consumed with a need to understand poverty and figure out what to do about it. I guess it's because a lot of the people I'm currently serving in my church work are in or near poverty.  And because I'm the daughter of two extremely hardworking people who didn't have two pennies to rub together when I was a kid.  And also because the poverty rate in the first city I served in as a missionary was over 30%.  When you see a mother and a son physically fight over a plate of food, it does something to you.

These first three books are the beginning of my personal study of poverty.  They provided confirmation for a lot of what I'd already observed, but they also added some valuable new insights. 

 
Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty, by Mark Winne
I picked this up totally by impulse off of a display our library had up in September.  It's a fascinating look at the different causes of and attempted solutions for hunger and food insecurity in America.  Winne's main conclusion is that it is the federal government's job to end hunger and that a massive influx of money directed at the problem is the key.    


Our Daily Bread: The Essential Norman Borlaug, by Noel Vietmeyer
I got this one as a free download to my Kindle, courtesy of a heads-up from Sierra. I have to confess that I didn't even know who Norm Borlaug was.  Seriously?  How did I not know about this man whose pioneering work in cross-pollinating wheat more than quadrupled the yield capacity of a single acre, saving the lives of hundreds of millions who stood on starvation's door?  He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.  Remarkable man. There are other works available about him, and the author of this one is occasionally too shmultzy, but the story speaks for itself.  I also found Borlaug's personal journey from abject poverty to educated, middle-class prosperity compelling.  He worked his butt off to get where he did, and certainly possessed incredible drive, but it wasn't without some public assistance.  A pattern?      

The Working Poor: Invisible in America, by David K. Shipler
If you've never spent much time around poverty, this book is a fantastic introduction to the myriad of problems confronting those whose daily lives are less certain than the weather.  Every real person whose story Shipler tells reminds me sharply of someone I have known.  Very stirring.  But although he lays the problems out with grand precision, I don't feel like he gave as much emphasis on solutions as I was hoping for.  I thought the chapter on Skill and Will made some really salient points, but it still fell short.  The premise of this book is that it rejects both the "Republican Myth" (the poor are just lazy, stupid people taking advantage of the system) and also the "Democrat's Anti-Myth" (the poor are all just noble and virtuous souls who fall on hard times through absolutely no fault of their own).  I found Shipler's claim on that front to be mostly lip service.  He does acknowledge bad decisions made by the people he interviewed, but seems to mostly see those decisions as inevitable (i.e. people do drugs because there isn't another choice).  And also, he never really addresses what to do about abuses against the system (which really do occur in some cases).  Anyway, if you are interested in the subject, this is definitely worthy food for thought.   

And now, because not even I can be boring enough to read nonfiction all of the time, two fiction selections: 

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
This is one of the fastest, lightest, perhaps most overtly humorous of Austen's novels.  I've read all of her novels before, but this was a first time rereading this one.  Worth it.

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen
My least favorite Austen.  I thought that when I first read them all, and twelve years hasn't improved my opinion of it.  I find the heroine to be somewhat weak and the center of the story drags.  But still, it's Austen.  Worth one read, but only if you've already read the others and still need a fix. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Warning: I'm Getting Political Here!

Do you ever get the feeling that if you watch the third presidential debate you will end up starting a write-in campaign for Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, because you can no longer see yourself casting a vote for anybody actually on the ballot?  That's kind of where I'm at.  And I come from a long line of staunch Republicans.  The first time I took Kris home to meet the family, my grandpa walked into the room and (mishearing our conversation) growled, "Whose a democrat?"  Then he swiveled those icy blues of his in Kris's direction and demanded, "You a democrat?" All the poor love of my life had the courage to eek out was "Um, I don't think so."  It's a moment we replay often, when we miss Grampy and sit back for the highlight reel of his many hilarious witticisms. But Kris assures me that he later had to change his shorts.

So, am I a democrat?  Republican?  Let's put it this way.  If politics was religion, then I'd best be described as agnostic.  I have this kind of vague notion that there may possibly exist a time and place when some political platform aligns itself with all of my ideas and thereby becomes "right."  That one day politicians will really tell the truth and get in the game for the greater good instead of the personal glory.  Not that I particularly blame Obama or Romney, or most other politicians really.  They lie because we want them to and reward them for it.  And the issues are so far from simple that the candidates have to rely on other people to supply them with the "truth"; no one can be an expert in everything.  I also believe that both of these candidates do want what's best for our country (even though I find President Obama to also be arrogant and paternalistic while Governor Romney is so married to his talking points that he rarely says anything to further my understanding of what he plans).  A lot of their theories for improving the US of A are simply that: theories posing as certitudes, and my theory is that sometimes each is dead wrong. 

Anyway, that's all just context.  What I really want to talk about is this idea of who is better for women.  Let's do that, shall we? 

1) Contraceptives. Having "enjoyed" nearly five years of "free" contraceptives with no shortage in sight (hello infertility!), simply handing me a gratis NuvaRing doesn't make me think you understand the issues facing women. Now that's pretty selfish of me, isn't it?  So I acknowledge that there are benefits to expanding access to birth control for those in poverty and surely every Fertile Myrtle once paying for birth control is happy to spend that money elsewhere.  I get that.  But can we do something that will benefit ALL women during the middle thirty years of their lives?  Free tampons!  Show me the politician urging that from the stump, and I'll know we've found someone who truly understands me.  Dr. Quinn would do it. 

 
2) Lily Ledbetter.  I have not taken the time to research the finer details of this legislation (which Obama supports and Romney hasn't really said one way or the other) and so am no real judge.  But I'll spout off anyway.  My first inclination is to say that someone should get Lily (whoever she is) some counseling for the serious issues which must result from having been called Lily Bedwetter in her youth.  (That had to have happened, right?)  But as to the issue of making it easier for women to sue over discrepancies in pay...in general I am not in favor of making it easier for anyone to sue anyone.  I think we have too much litigation in our nation anyway. But all people should be fairly compensated for their work.  So...?

3) Binders, yes Binders, of Women. I've actually got Mitt's back on this one.  Object to his phraseology all you want, the point is that he actively sought to recruit women for his administration, and that's good for women. Isn't that what we ask the science and technology departments of our universities to do?  Recruit women and so open the doors for others?  Isn't that why we were so gaga over Gabby Douglas, because where one Black Woman went, others could have a better chance of following?  It's not the magic bullet for improving all issues facing women, but that doesn't diminish the inherent value of seeking out qualified women for powerful roles. I mean, look at the number of lady doctors these days.  That's right: THANK YOU, Gov. Romney and Dr. Quinn. 

4) Fertility Treatments.  Oh, wait.  No candidate is talking about help for those.  Why?  Because helping a woman create a life is expensive.  Helping her prevent or terminate one is cheap.  And therefore a cost-effective vote buyer.  Look, I'm not saying that women should have to have babies if they don't want to, or that we should punish the ones who can because I can't. I'm just skeptical of anyone who comes out and says, "I care about and understand women," but who only wants to help with the easy, cheap solutions.  It feels a bit like those events that have been cropping up at supermarkets lately, where they promise to give you a valuable free gift if you listen to their demonstration in the produce department (a thirty cent juicer, prelude to selling you a bunch of expensive knives...don't say I didn't warn you!).  I don't know if I think the government should make insurance companies help with fertility treatments or not.  It would certainly be a relief to the one in eight US couples (like Michaela and Sully) struggling to conceive, but it might not be the best use of government.  Or it might.  I don't know.  But I do know that no one is even talking about it, and that bothers me. 

Oh, dear, this is frightfully long. And (I accuse myself) completely inconclusive.  I didn't say who is better for women at all, did I?  Or, did I?  That write-in campaign is sounding pretty good!


What do you think about the coming election?
 Issues facing women?
Sully's ruggedly handsome mullet?          

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Corn Maze, Etc.

This last weekend we had a chance to spend time with my parents, my brother's family, and Kris's brother's family.  It was a blast! 

Eden loves her cousins.  The five we saw this trip were so sweet to share things with her and doted on her every move.  And (call me crazy) I think it's remarkable how much she looks like them.  Check it out:

 
 
Do you know what all three kiddos were staring at?  Me.  Jumping up and down in spread-eagle position, hollering like a banshee.  In public. The things you do to get a decent picture of kids!
  
 
Here's another case in point.  I was trying desperately to get Eden to smile and look at the camera.  Instead I caught her giving her very sweet (and completely undeserving) cousin the stink eye.  At least her uncle is handsome.  
 
 
One of the very best things about visiting Uncle C is that he gives amazing wheel barrow rides.  The kids liked them so much that each one insisted on receiving rides until he collapsed.  Then they impressed into service every other adult present until we were all a bunch of worn out old crones. 
 

 
Later, Nonna spoiled us with a trip to the local corn maze.  This place had it all, from a horse-drawn hay ride to a petting zoo.  Here the kids (plus Uncle/Daddy Kris) prepare for their 4-wheeler train ride.  See how Eden doesn't look like she's enjoying it, but Kris does?  Well this is how they both felt about it by the end:
  
 
Oh, to be young again!  When I was a kid we spent hours diving in the corn silo at Grampy's, burying each other alive and building mountains to slide down.  That silo is gone now, but it was so fun to give Eden a tiny taste of it as she dug around in the corn bin. 
 

 
Two wild best friends preparing to go down the longest ever slide and land in a pit of corn... 
 
 
Jumping on the bouncy thing-a-ma-jig... 
 
 
These last two shots (which are pretty poor, owing to haste and the harsh 10 am light) are of one of four golden eagles that nest on my parent's ranch.  Such cool birds!
 

 
 
Anyway, we had a grand time.  What a blessing it is to have family!
 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Best Pizza of My Life

I only had time to nab a couple of quick pictures, but I am in love with this pizza.  Truly in love.  And how could I not be?  Fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden, sauteed mushrooms, caramalized onions, spicy sausage, and mozerella, all on artisan crust...Perfection, I tell you! 
 

The crust recipe is from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I have a major crush on that book.  You should check it out from your local library, or just buy it.  I've been using their basic bread recipe for years, but now I'm branching out.  Next up is cinnamon rolls.  But, oh! the pizza.   


The dough (which makes enough for 3-4 pizzas) contains 2-3/4 C. lukewarm water, 1-1/2 T. yeast, 1-1/2 T. salt, 1 T. sugar, 1/4 C. olive oil, and 6-1/2 C. unbleached all purpose flour.  Mix it up in a 2-quart container with a lid (cover with the lid, but don't make it air-tight) and let the dough stand on the counter for 2 hours.  Refrigerate.  When you use the dough, pull off a grapefruit-sized chunk and form it into a ball.  Roll it flat on a floured piece of parchment paper.  Then use your hands to stretch it even thinner.  Replace the dough on the parchment and add your toppings.  Use a lipless cookie sheet as a pizza peel and slide it onto your 550 degree pre-heated pizza stone.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until it is brown. Slice and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Summer Fun

Do you know that for the first 28 years of my life I thought that summer ended in the third week of August?  Oh, public school, how many lies you tell!  We have been seriously loving the Indian Summer and trying to pack in as many good times as possible. 


Swinging at the Park.


Hiking.  Well, riding the gondola most of the way and then hiking. :)






And spending time at the reservoir, where Hunter (the 5-year-old LABRADOR) has finally learned to swim.  The water level is so low at this point that it just feels like one giant, very muddy bathtub.  Eden adores it. 

 
During our last trip we had some awesometastic friends along.  Shout out to Mikelle, who looks amazing in sunglasses. Her husband Dave always loves to issue challenges, and here you see me competing in the log roll. I lost.  So did Kris, who also participated in the two-feet-deep swim challenge, the boulder toss, and the javelin log throw. 
 

I will have y'all know, though, that I ran a marathon in under 3 hours that weekend, easily winning it.  And I'm not Paul Ryan. But... it was on the Nintendo 64.  Oh, yeah!  Now that's summer. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Evaluations: Good, Bad, Ugly

The Union and the District couldn’t come up with an agreement regarding salary schedules, insurance benefits, and merit-based pay.  Because there was no consensus, there was also no contract.  What would happen?  For three of my six years of teaching, this was the case.  Thankfully, a compromise was made in each of those years to allow teachers to teach without contracts (keeping whatever pay we had the previous year) while the negotiators continued to slog it out.  School went on as usual, and by Thanksgiving we had contracts and retroactive adjustments to our paychecks. It was only my last year of teaching, when the strike was threatened, that no agreement could be reached until January.  But the dispute was eventually resolved, and NOT ONE STUDENT WAS HARMED.  I’m wondering why Chicago can’t follow a similar model.  School, like the show, must go on! 

Now, what about the reasons for Chicago’s strike?  I wish that the news coverage was more detailed on this point, but I understand that a primary reason is the role of student assessment results in teacher evaluations.  That’s one sticky wicket.  I’ll try to give you a brief overview of some arguments for and against this model, and then I’ll give you my take.
Pros
·         Currently, most educators in my state are evaluated on nothing more than principal observation.  What a joke.  I had evaluations from three different principles.  The most in-touch principle to evaluate me was in my classroom maybe four times during the school year and required me to demonstrate how my curriculum was designed to improve adolescent literacy.  The least in-touch had never observed me teaching and required me to demonstrate nothing.  All of my evaluations cluelessly read like I was the perfected patron saint of teaching.  All except for one, wherein my principal complained that not enough of my students were receiving A’s (the only grade handed out by the basketball coach I was there to replace).   This is a system that can’t be relied upon to make things better.

·         People like to boil things down to numbers in an attempt to make things less subjective.  Basing teacher evaluations on student test scores feels fair and righteous.

·         The USA is behind in test scores when compared to other developed nations.  If changing that dynamic is your goal, it only makes sense to tie your teachers to those test scores.  Every part of the education machine has to serve your goal. 
Cons

·         In many cases, students are not held accountable for their own test scores.  In effect, there is no real incentive for them to take the tests seriously or perform well.  As a student myself, I NEVER took the math portion of any standardized test until the ACT.  I merely bubbled my way through and resumed reading whatever mystery novel I was currently into.  Pitty the teacher held responsible for that score!  When Colorado’s CSAP test first came out during my senior year of high school, I was also aware of groups of students ganging up on unpopular teachers, deliberately throwing test results to make their teacher look bad.   

·         The equation is not as simple as Student+Teacher=Learning.  In the idealistic world that assumes this equation, Teacher is supposed to be a variable with enough elasticity that no matter the value of Student, the equation always equals 100 Percent Learning.  Now I’m not too great at math (see above), but it doesn’t add up.  As the teachers in Chicago are pointing out, students come to their teacher each year with a wide variety of skill levels, socioeconomic  status, family support, personal motivation, and knowledge gaps.  What they know and demonstrate on at a test at the end of the year has to do with each of these factors, not just the teacher of their last nine months. It feels unfair to hold teachers accountable for factors beyond their control. 

·         Speaking of factors beyond your control as a teacher, other teachers count there too.  What happens if there is a 6th grade teacher who follows the once-a-week movie and Friday game day method of English instruction?  When these kids are passed on to 7th grade, they arrive with skills somewhere around the 5th grade level.  So the poor 7th grade teacher, whose job will depend on these students testing at 7th grade level at the end of the year, has to find a way to cram two years’ worth of learning into one year.  A nearly insurmountable task, for even the elite in the teaching ranks.  And hideously unfair.  And an all-too-real scenario.  (Also, perhaps, a reason in support of tying test scores to evaluations: If the new system worked and actually eliminated those poor excuses for teachers in the first place, teachers down the line wouldn’t be stuck trying to make up for their deficiencies…)
So what do we do?  In Chicago the proposal from the district is to use a sliding scale so that by five years’ end, student test results will account for 40% of teacher evaluations.  Good idea?  Bad idea?  I think it all depends on the finer details of how test results would be used.  In order for such a system to be fair, I think that the District would need to do the following:
·         Evaluate the teacher based on the year’s growth for the individual students in that teacher’s class.  In effect, it’s not fair to look at my class and say, “You’re fired because only a third or your students were proficient but other teachers in the District had half of their students at the proficient level.”  That accounts for too many factors beyond the teacher’s control.  It is fair to say, “A quarter of your students came to you proficient and only a quarter of your students left that way, so you will need to make changes to improve your efficiency and yield greater student growth.” Realistic benchmarks (developed based on actual growth in effective classrooms) could be set for how much students in each tier of ability could reasonably be expected to improve under a solid teacher’s guidance. 

·         A meaningful system should also be set into place to help teachers make the necessary improvements, and there should be a clear path for underperforming teachers to take before termination is considered or implemented. 

·          Students need to be held accountable for their own test scores.  I’m honestly not sure of the best way to go about this, but it needs to happen.  In fact, I could hold a whole soapbox (and maybe someday I will) about the woeful state of student and parent accountability in education.  For now, suffice it to say that the people who truly hold the highest stakes in the education system need to be made to feel that somehow. 

·         The remaining sixty percent of teacher evaluations needs to carefully account for teaching qualities that aren’t directly expressed in test scores.  How do you quantify the ability to forge meaningful relationships with students?  Passionate delivery of subject matter?  Innovative curriculum development?  Synergistic collaboration with colleagues?  Caring contacts with parents? I’m not sure.  But then, I’m no great education reformer.  These people need to figure out a way to let teacher qualities count beyond test scores. 
Oh, goodness, this is LONG.  Sorry.  But maybe some of you who are in education can make some sense of it.  Or you parents out there: this stuff matters to your kids.  I certainly don’t have all of the answers.  But it’s pretty clear to me that the current methods for evaluating teachers are ineffective at best and downright harmful at worst.  Although the vast majority of teachers I know are good folks with their students’ best interest at heart, not every teacher is equally skillful.  And there are some who manage to build whole careers around doing nothing.  I think we have to do something to better train the former and let go of the latter.  It’s pretty ironic that the teachers’ unions, those great liberal bastions, are acting like such a bunch of balky conservatives about education reform.  Fixing things is going to be messy, and we’re going to get it wrong some of the time.  But we have to start somewhere, and we have to start soon.         

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Blue Flu

On my first day of teaching at my second and final school, two older teachers dropped by to see how things had gone.  Adjusting to seventh grade after concurrent enrollment was taking its toll and I was so touched to know that someone was there to listen and help.  My tired smile and grateful relief took all of one minute to turn sour.  Why?  Because our whole conversation went like this:

Old Crones: So how did it go today?  We understand you taught for a few years before moving here, so of course you’re an old hat.  But first days are still tough.

Me: Thanks!  I taught for four years at Blah Blah High School, and I loved it.  I know I’ll love it here too, but changing grade levels so dramatically is a challenge.   

Old Crones:  Four years, huh?  Did the District give those to you on the salary scale here?

Me:  Yeah, actually, and I was so—

Old Crones: You know the Union did that for you? We’re here to take your pledge.

I think I stared at them for a couple of minutes before explaining (politely or not) that I had work to do and there was the door. Seriously?  Come to my classroom like you’re there for me, when in fact you’re there for my Union dues and to make sure I’ll tow your line?  I don’t think so. 

And I didn’t join the teacher’s union.  In fact, during six years of teaching, I never did.  For a lot of reasons.  Like a complete abhorrence of their recruitment tactics. As far as my experiences in two school districts can take me, there are two primary ways that the teacher’s unions garner members: 1) small scale bribery and 2) fear. 

It goes like this, a lunch provided for new teachers during pre-service contract days, wherein every new Union member gets a swag bag (you know, really fancy things like pencil sharpeners, highlighters, maybe even a notepad with an apple on it!).  The happy gathering begins with a soapbox about the wonderful food (the Union did that for you) and ends with some speech about innocent old Teacher X who lost his home, savings, family, and career because he wasn’t a member of the Union and no one would stand up for him when false accusations came his way. Do you want that to be you?  Good old Teacher Z is happily living out her retirement in Belize because when the evil schemers of this world tried to tear her down, THE UNION stepped in and put Batman to shame with its bad-guy fighting super powers!  Before you know it, every wide-eyed, fresh-faced newbie with a healthy fight-or-flight response is signing on the Union line and tossing away nearly a third of that first paycheck they’ve been so desperately anticipating.

Except for the few who don’t.  The few like me.  We get dirty looks and nasty comments about “those teachers who are content to sit back and let everyone else carry the burden of protecting their contracts,” and “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”  Then there’s always the yearly fall Union rush, when a few of the holdouts eventually give in because they have reached a place in life with families and assets they don’t want to lose and the Union’s carefully stoked fear overcomes resistance.  

Call me a rebel, but I’m not in to joining an organization because it will give me a goodie bag and a bagel sandwich.  Nor because it will bully me if I don’t.  And no, not even because the Big Bad Wolf will get me without its protection.  If you want my support, you’re gonna need more substance than that. 

But I’d better pause a moment here and acknowledge some things.  First, I have many friends who are involved, card-carrying Union members.  These same friends are really excellent teachers and human beings.  Second, there are genuine examples of hapless teachers whose lives have been ruined by spurious accusations, and other teachers who (in the same circumstances) have come through due to support from the Union.  I’m not saying the Union has no value as an insurance against false claims, but as far as I can tell that value is greatly overstated as a stick for beating teachers into the ranks.  Third, the Union does negotiate with school districts regarding contracts, and I thoroughly enjoyed some of those perks.  This post isn’t saying that the Union benefits no one.  Any discussion of teachers’ unions and education as a whole is far more complicated than “bad union, good union.”  I’m also not saying that school districts are worthy of explicit trust because they would never try to take advantage of teachers.  This discussion is also more complicated than that.  And (for the sake of the miniscule readership this blog has) I’ll refrain from getting too far into all of those complexities.   

Let’s cut to the chase.  All irritation at Union tactics aside, there is one big reason why I never joined.  One little word that’s rocking Chicago right now: STRIKE.   Whatever a strike gives to teachers, it hurts kids.  Period.  No matter the mumbo jumbo about “if it’s good for teachers it will be good for students.” Even if that’s true in the long run, that’s not good enough for now.  Right now, this instant, every student is either gaining or losing academically, and if they aren’t in the classroom…well, you do the math.  And once a student is behind, the aftershocks are often permanent.  So when the Union in our district started talking strike over contract issues two years ago, I looked our representative in the eyes and told her to count me out.  She was incredulous.  “You mean to tell me that you would cross our picket line?”  Um, yeah lady, if your line stands between me and the students I promised to teach, I’ll cross that sucker like it’s the Golden Gate.  But—why I would never be one—Union members don’t have that option.  Once you’re in, you’re in, and you give away all immunity to the Blue Flu. 

I guess you can tell that I’m not the Union’s biggest fan.  I feel like they use fear to swell their ranks and are so focused on protecting teachers that they allow the ends to justify some ugly means.  And I’m a little afraid to say so online.  I mean, what if I retire from motherhood one day and want to go back to public education?  Once I hit publish on this thing it’s public.  And permanent.  And bound to be unpopular amongst the educators on any future hiring committees if they read it (paranoid, right?).  But even though I haven’t worked in education since Eden was born, I still care about it passionately.  I guess I just want to weigh in a little on what’s happening.  So the Union members in Chicago are on strike because the bosses said so.  Who knows how long it will last?  In my next post I’ll give you my take on the issues over which they are striking.  I know, I know, you can hardly wait! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Worm

Eden is a week shy of fifteen months now, and she's a constant crack up.  Her favorite activity is reading.  As you can see, she knows just how to get the books and sit down for a cozy few minutes of bliss.  She often babbles out loud while she looks at the pictures, which is pretty cute. 
 


It's a common occurrence for Eden to find me at the sink doing dishes and when I look down in response to her tugs, she has a book for me to read to her.  I have a personal rule that if at all possible I will drop what I'm doing and read whenever she asks me to.  Hey, I can think of worse ways for a toddler to get Mom's attention!
 

But the other day when we were taking one of our reading breaks, Eden surprised me by exiting my lap and taking the book away mid-story.  Do you know what she did with it?  Strolled over to her daddy, crawled up into his lap, and finished reading it with him.  Can you say, "Wounded mommy pride"?
  

I love that Eden loves her daddy, though.  And books!  The English teacher in me thrills at the sight.  And one day, yes one day, we will learn to read them right-side up!     

The Roof, The Roof...

No, it's not on fire.  But it is finally finished!  Actually, it was finished a few weeks ago, but I'm just now getting around to an emotional place where I can think about it again.  I tell you, that was one beast of a three-month project!  And although Kris shouldered the brunt of it, I did spend quite a bit of time up there before Eden was awake and as soon as she went down for the night. 



These are the only two pictures I took of the whole affair, which show none of the five tons of shingles and wood shakes Kris removed before we replaced the decking, tar paper, drip edge, flashing, and shingles.  Several friends and family members made huge efforts to help, but for the most part it really was the Kris Show.  During the hottest summer on recent record.  Ouch!  What a handsome lad, though, eh?  And his handiness saved us a ton of money.  I'm really proud of my Kris!

    

Friday, July 13, 2012

Knocking About in Millinocket

It's about a six hour drive from Annandale to Millinocket.  As you can see, Eden occupied the time wisely, alternately enlarging her brain through devotion to rigorous intellectual study (mostly sucking on fake fur in the beloved touch and feel book Grandma Bell gave her) and sleeping quite soundly.  Blessed, blessed child!


Our hotel in Millinocket was possibly the weirdest hotel in existence.  You can only access it by cutting illegally through the parking lot of a grocery store.  There are only like three windows.  And our fellow guests could be counted on one hand.  But it did have an indoor pool.  So Eden got to have her first swim.  See me in the picture below?  That's as close as I got to actually entering the water.  Turns out that junk was COLD!  But Kris braved it and Eden did too.  She got a kick out of splashing her feet. 


I won't lie, we didn't do much in Millinocket.  Our somewhat hazy intentions of going hiking or canoeing dissappated quite rapidly in favor of what Kris considers "real" vacationing: lounging around in bed, reading.  Not much to blog about there, but it was relaxing. 




We did make it out of the hotel long enough to drive up to Baxter State Park, where we foraged for wild berries until the hummingbird-sized mosquitoes drove us off.  Then we had dinner at a lovely little lake front restaurant.  The view of Mt. Khatadin was nice, but the crab bisque tasted something like crab steeped in sweetened condensed milk.  I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but sweetened condensed milk does have its limits! 
On our way back to Portland from Millinocket, we drove the coast instead of the freeway.  We really enjoyed all of the little towns, but the best part of that drive was our rest stop at an organic fruit stand.  Perhaps not surprisingly, there were more hippies in that little shop than I've seen at one time since the Rainbow Gathering of '89. It was all Kris could do to tear me away.  Man, I LOVE hippies!  Eden loves strawberries.  But I was not about to let her eat those in any article of clothing she owns, so...


Dear Future Eden, I am sorry for posting that picture.
 



We had lunch at this little shack, winding up our tour of Maine with a lobster roll. Still not a huge lobster fan, but when we set out to do a thing, we set out to do it!




We stayed the night in Portland and flew home the next morning.  Eden learned to move beyond just steps to full-on walking during our three hour layover at LaGuardia.  The airline desk personnel were placing bets on her distance, and she never let the high bidders down.  Too cute. 

Did I mention that a big part of the reason we got to take this trip was a crazy generous joint birthday gift from my mom and dad?  THANK YOU, Mom and Dad!!!! It was money well spent! 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

P.E.I. Favorites

Yeah, I know that this is the fourth post from our vacation and I have officially entered the realm of that old guy you know who makes you watch slides in his basement of everything from his nephew's baseball game to the time he saw a pigeon in Time Square.  But I'm not sorry.  We'll be able to afford a vacation like this again sometime in late 2089, so I'll milk this one for all it's worth!

And it was priceless. So our three favorite things on P.E.I.? Well, first up is the beach.








Eden cried for the first twenty minutes, so unsure of this sandy, wavy, salty thing.  But after her dad snuggled her and brought the beach to her one handful of sand at a time, she warmed up enough to eat every rock and bit of seaweed we encountered. The tourist season hadn't started yet, so we had three miles of surf all to ourselves. It was absolutely idyllic.



These two pictures are from our second favorite feature of the island: the Festival of Small Halls.  There were two fiddle acts the night we went, and holy cow could those boys saw it hot!  Sorry Georgia, but I think that the Devil had best beat it on up to Canada if he's looking to give away any more fiddles of gold.  Kris describes the whole experience as "The closest I'll ever come to attending Bilbo Baggins' birthday party." We didn't get any pictures of the musicians, but this is the small hall it was held in and the intermission refreshments.  We thought it was so quaint that they served cheese cubes and biscuits, which is traditional there, instead of cookies or cake like you'd have at an American event.

So what was our third favorite thing?  We found a restaurant that we actually liked.  Loved, even.  Do you know how rare that is for Kris and I?  This is possibly the first time it's ever happened. Ordinarily we walk away from eating out thinking, "We could have made that better and cheaper."  Not so, 21 Breakwater in Souris.  I will live a long time, attempting to replicate the braised beef and haddock.  Sorry, no pictures. 

Ok.  Only two more posts to go on this trip subject.  Next up, Millinocket, Maine.