Saturday, September 27, 2008

Time Warp

I like post-clinch/pre-playoff baseball, usually, but last night was ridiculous. It was like October 14, 2004 all over again.

He Said What to His Wife?

The GOP candidate is known to have a sometimes explosive temper. I knew that.

Some would call this an example of someone who says it likes it is, paint it as a positive, and so on. I mentioned earlier this week that I want a chief executive with a more even temperament than me. I think it's really, really important NOT to have an explosive temper and possiblly "go off" at any time when you have sensitive foreign policy issues to deal with - not to mention your finger on the proverbial button.

The Web page listed here was mentioned in our local paper yesterday. Read them all - but if you want to cut to the chase and find out what the title of this post references, scroll down to #1.

Oh. My. God.

No. No, thank you.

Friday, September 26, 2008


It just occured to me to check the dates in my archives.

Turns out I started this little experiment two years ago today.


I didn't think I had that much to say (and the last couple days I can't seem to shut up).

If She Was Looking for Sympathy, She Made the Wrong Call

My sister called last night very upset.

Seems her middle son has registered as a Democrat.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Another Partisan Comment

So I was reading comments over at Dooce. One of her commenters relayed a comment by a coworker. It was that having Sarah Palin as the VP, and possibly eventually the P, was like having your big sister run the country and wouldn't that be cool.

Given what my big sister is like, it's even more horrifying a thought.

Let's see, if my big sister were running the country we'd have a self-absorbed anorexic adulterer who excuses her every action by claiming it's "God's will" in charge of things. And when she wouldn't get her way, she'd bite people.

No. Thanks, but no.

I don't want a chief executive, or a backup chief executive who is just like me. I want some one smarter than me, harder working than me, more selfless than me, more informed and well-traveled than me, with a more even temperament than me. I don't feel the need to "like" the executives in a "let's be pals" sense. The stakes are much too big for that to matter.

Too. Much. Free. Time.

From the latest police log:


3:05 p.m. A---- St., noise complaint, loud music from field near tennis courts, officer spoke to coach and will turn down music.


1:38 p.m. S------- St., suspicious activity, suspicious male in area, suit and tie, walking back from funeral.

One of My Least Favorite Parts of Being a Grown-Up... having a front-row seat to disintegrating marriages.

A friend called this morning. Her husband has moved out. They've been struggling for quite some time, and probably this will be for the best in the long run, but it's just so, so sad. We know both of them, we know their kids, our lives are intertwined in many ways, and this is a small town.

Their oldest is a good friend of C's. Their 3rd is a good friend of M's. Their youngest (4th) is a good friend of S's.

I hope that everyone involved can find happiness. Meanwhile, we'll do what we can to support and love them all.

Even while feeling utterly sad.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Just yesterday I mentioned the police department and their strong-arm fundraising tactics.

They called again a few minutes ago. I wasn't going to answer because it came up a blocked number, but M answered and handed it to me.

I told the guy that I would not give them any more money until they presented themselves in a wholly transparent and respectable manner.

He tried to tell me I could drop off a check. I said, no, you didn't hear me, and repeated that until they presented themselves transparently - including letting phone numbers through - and respectably when they show up at residents homes, I will not give them more money.

Then he hung up on me.

Yup, hung up on me.

I left a message for the chief of police on this. I don't expect it to help any, but really, it was so unprofessional, especially when an organization wants charitable donations in tough economic times.

Tagged Again

Ruthie has tagged me again.

The rules:

1) Link to the person who tagged you. (check)
2) Post the rules on the blog. (check)
3) Write six random things about yourself. (check)
4) Tag six people at the end of your post. (check)
5) Let each person know they have been tagged. (check)
6) Let the tagger know when your entry is up. (and check)

And the six random things are:

1) The young woman who played pudgy girl in "Square Pegs" in the early 80s (opposite Sarah Jessica Parker) was in my French class in college. She was a much better French student than I was.

2)I once saw John Travolta in the flesh. Pasty white and pudgy and not particularly attractive. Apparently he photographs really well.

3) When I was about 10, I decided I wanted to make chocolate mousse. I gathered all the ingredients and set to it. One ingredient was "1 cup coffee." So one cup of coffee grounds went into the mixture. Yup, you read that right. The chocolate mousse was crunchy and the whole family was up all night.

4) Growing up I was a really picky, boring eater. Really picky. I lived in a southwestern border state, yet would not eat Mexican food. I would not eat Chinese food. I wouldn't eat pasta with red sauce. Nothing. And even with my own history, I lament my children's picky eating. Go figure

5) I adore John Cusack.

6) When I'm sick, I get this really gross taste in my mouth that is not relieved by anything. Anything. It's really annoying and it's how I differentiate illness from allergies. Perhaps TMI, but I needed a number six.

Okay - so I don't have that many people to tag, but here goes: eba, Pantheist Mom, Softinthehead, Lynne, wakeupandsmellthecoffee, and beba. Forgive me.

Just a Step Too Far

Okay, I'm very pro breastfeeding. Very. But this pushes things just a little too far for me, and I'm having a hard time articulating exactly why.

Now, I suspect PETA is intentionally going really out there to make a point, and there are valid arguments against how much cow's milk products humans consume - but I think PETA also looses a bit of credibility with the mainstream each time it puts something like this out there.

PETA Urges Ben & Jerry's To Use Human Milk

WATERBURY, Vt. -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, cofounders of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., urging them to replace cow's milk they use in their ice cream products with human breast milk, according to a statement recently released by a PETA spokeswoman.

"PETA's request comes in the wake of news reports that a Swiss restaurant owner will begin purchasing breast milk from nursing mothers and substituting breast milk for 75 percent of the cow's milk in the food he serves," the statement says.

PETA officials say a move to human breast milk would lessen the suffering of dairy cows and their babies on factory farms and benefit human health.

"The fact that human adults consume huge quantities of dairy products made from milk that was meant for a baby cow just doesn't make sense," says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. "Everyone knows that 'the breast is best,' so Ben & Jerry's could do consumers and cows a big favor by making the switch to breast milk."

"We applaud PETA's novel approach to bringing attention to an issue, but we believe a mother's milk is best used for her child," said a spokesperson for Ben and Jerry's.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Transatlantic Grief

I couldn't find the phone when it rang this evening, just as I was going to start dinner. M answered it; I assumed it was my husband letting us know which train he was on. But then I could just make out some confusion in M's voice, so I called out to him to bring me the phone.

M handed me the phone and said somewhat quizzically, "I think it's somebody in Norway."

Ah. It was MR.

MR is an old friend of my husband's family. I'm not sure where or how the connection began, but it is going on fifty years, I think. My husband remembers her and her husband throughout his childhood and the name has been familiar to me since long before my husband and I were married. However, I have never met MR - I've only heard rather charming stories and spoken with her on the phone.

We've had four or five calls from MR in the last couple of years after at least a decade of nothing. The first time she called she was looking for help, and she told a rather incredible story.

It seems her husband, who was no longer her husband, had long been maintaining a double life. For much of the time she was married, he was high up on a cruise line and was based out of Germany. In Germany, he had a second wife/mistress with whom he lived openly. When MR and the kids would come for a visit, this woman would move out. When MR and the kids would leave, she would move back in. He would come "home" to visit in Norway as if all was normal. This was an open secret among his colleagues on the cruise line.

When the whole thing came out, MR and her husband divorced. It must have been very difficult, that level of betrayal. I don't know what happened next, but the (ex)husband ended up retiring to a town about 30 miles from where we live now. He had little contact with his kids (now grown, and one with children of his own). Eventually, the (ex)husband was diagnosed with oral cancer, finally married his long-time girlfriend, and died shortly before MRs first call to us.

(Why she called us instead of other family members is still a mystery to us, but at this point it is what it is.)

In that first call, MR was looking for possible legal help. From what she told us (and I don't know if it's true), in Norway, his substantial cruise line pension would have gone in part to the kids, his aging and infirm mother, and even some to MR. Perhaps there were additional provisions in the divorce decree, too. But the current wife was refusing to share at all and since there seems not to be any sort of agreement between the US and Norway on such "domestic" matters, MR was pretty well screwed. While catching up with MR, we tried to direct her to some legal resources.

It was distressing to hear the story, but nice to be back in touch. We had some cards back and forth that Christmas.

But probably three more times in the last couple years, MR has called again, and it's been more than a friendly "let's catch up" call. It's seemed she's really lonely and just needs someone to talk to. I figure with the time difference it's really, really late there and there's no one local she can call. I'm not about to hang up on her.

It was that way tonight. She'd just been in Denmark for the christening of a grandchild and was saying how much like his father one of her sons looks. She went off a bit on how the (ex)husband was a drug-addict, too, and a thief, and all sorts of things. She wasn't making a whole lot of sense.
At some point, it occurred to me that she probably was fairly inebriated.

She sounded so sad. I think this woman is still deeply, deeply hurt by the betrayal of her husband, whom she supported emotionally for decades and who, by virtue of where he died, has left her in difficult financial straits - and caring for his mother. I've never met MR, yet she calls from time to time - just happens to be at times when my husband (whom she knows much better, of course) isn't home and she gets me, just to talk to someone, maybe anyone.

I guess I'm glad I/we can be here for her. I try to ask questions about her life, to pull her away from the hurt parts she can't change. Is that the right thing to do? I don't know. I really don't know her at all. She's a voice on the phone and charming stories. I have no idea what she looks like! It's just such an odd situation.

I'm sure MR will call again. Maybe soon, maybe not. I hope when she wakes up in the morning that she can find the ibuprofen quickly, and maybe a local friend. She says she wants to keep in touch and wrote down our email and snail mail addresses again. She says she wants to send photos and see some of our kids. Sad or not, she is sweet. I think she truly means well.

By the way, K, she asked after you and E. She says she wants to keep in touch with all of us. If she ever does email, I'll pass it along.


In sharp contrast to Pantheist Mom's feelings, I was very annoyed when I had to turn on my headlights and turn up the heat as I left the house this morning.

Yesterday, C was given some grief at school about being an Obama supporter (and for the record, he was more wholly behind Obama before I was). He gave it right back to those kids, with facts. A couple of those kids were stunned to learn that there is a national deficit, one that has increased dramatically over the last 8 years, and the burden per citizen is in the tens of thousands of dollars. Among other things. I bet there were some interesting conversations when those kids went home last night. Awesome. But C and I also talked about not expecting any playdates (I don't know what they are really called at age 12, but not playdates) anytime soon, and he seems okay with that. We talked about trickle down economics and other economic and social issues - and I earned some "cool" points (very hard to come by these days with him) when I told him about a sign I made for a political rally in 1992 ("We've been trickled on enough!").

Our town is very conservative even though the state tends toward liberal. Even so, I see very few McCain stickers on cars. It seems people are planning to vote for him just because he's the GOP candiate, not because they are at all excited about him. It makes me so hopeful when I see Porsches driving around with Obama stickers.

Also, C tells me the mother of one of C's very conservative friends (this kid dressed up as Ronald Reagan for the 4th grade "Heroes" project) is considering changing her political party affiliation from Republican to Independent. Yeah, baby!

I met with M's teacher yesterday. I'm much relieved. We have some enrichment plans in place - math challenge packets, independent study packets, and the like. She said she has already been to talk to the teacher who has the high-end learning group about obseving some of her methods to help M and a couple of other kids in her class.

Speaking of learners on the ends of the spectrum, the local newspaper's Web site has shut down the schools forum due to some nasty and inappropriate commenting by a select group - and specifically one mom of a special needs student. I've mentioned this woman before; definitely has some anger management issues, regardless of whether her base issues are valid are not (some probably are - no school is perfect). At any rate, when I saw that a group of special ed parents had formed a committee for interacting with the schools, I steeled myself against what I assumed would be this woman's personal attack committee. I was pleasantly surprised and amused when I realized that this committee was formed by a group who want to make sure that this angry woman does NOT try to speak for them; they want to work with the schools, not in conflict with them. And now this angry woman is ranting against this parent group on a google group as vociferously as she does against the school committee. How to win friends and influence people, and all that.

Finally on the school front, the local paper last week brought the news that the (totally ineffective) principal of the lower elementary school (the one M just left) is FINALLY retiring. There is hope for S's years there. AND I don't have any kids there for the round of "we love you so much" retirement parties that are sure to go on, so I don't have to fake smile at her! Not such a nice sentiment from me, I know, but I think she really did M some disservice while he was there.

We have a small radio station the next town over that serves our suburban region. It's reach is about a 15 mile radius. Like many small stations, they produce their own ads for local buisnesses. All good and well, they are providing a service, all that - but some of the ads are so, so bad. Think of the worst smarmy radio ads you can think of, and multiply it. Among many attributes of these ads, it sounds like they have exactly one female voice they contract for the ads and her voice is so sing-songy and condescending that I cringe if I have the station on for local traffic reports and an ad comes on. And really that's all I listen to it for - the traffic reports on my early office mornings. Other times I've happened to tune in, there are some nasty liberal bashing talk shows ("Any one who votes for a Democrat should be stripped of their citizenship and deported." I wish I were joking.) and lovely stuff like that. It doesn't help that the mother of the annoying neighbor works for the radio station. Most regions seem to have one or a few small radio stations such as this one. What is it about little stations like that? They are so stereotypical that they are almost quaint, yet...not....

Other fun in town is that the police are doing their annual strong-arm fundraiser. They are calling everyone in town to ask them to buy tickets to events that never actually happen to raise funds for programs I've never seen run. But the implication is there: we know where you live and we want some money. My husband answered the phone this year and commited to $35 or something. But when the person showed up, I refused to give it. See, the person who showed up wasn't a police officer. It was this woman in a very ramshackle car who was dressed in torn shorts and dirty tshirt and REEKED of cigarette smoke. It was so foul. She had no identification on her and I asked what her affiliation was to the police department. She said she just knows some of the guys. So I said no, I would not give her the check.

I figure if the police are going to ask for money, they need to have the courtesy to pick it up themselves and present themselves in a respectable manner.

A few days later the phone rang. Caller ID said "unknown." I don't often pick those calls up, but that day I did. It was the police again, wondering what the misunderstanding was all about. So I told him - if you are going to collect money, do so yourself, and present yourself in a repectable manner. Also, from that day forward, I will not give a dime to anyone who calls me from a blocked phone number. If it really is for official police programs, you can call from one of the dozen or so police lines (overkill for our small town), and let residents know who is calling. Be up-front and clear, and I'll consider it in the future. The guy was kind of stunned, but said he'd take my suggestions under consideration.

I'm definitely not the police department's favorite resident right now.

Close on the heels of that episode has been an effort by the state to have civilians run some traffic details at construction sites, thus cutting off a major source of overtime revenue for police officers. The police unions, of course, don't like it. We're one of the only states (if not the only state) that has officers run all traffic details. It's overkill most of the time. In our town the officers often just stand around listening to their iPods for hours at a time on no-so-busy roads. If I could make $40 an hour just standing around listening to music, I would. However, in our current economic climate, I fully support the governor's effort to move this through. Millions will be saved.

And that's quite enough for today....

Monday, September 22, 2008

I Think I Might Need This Shirt

With apologies to any vegetarians out there.

Praise the Lard.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

An Emergency, I Tell You!

From the most recent town police log. Expect the expected, people.

11:22 a.m. M-------- Street, caller reports male walking dogs near (well-known dog walking trail).

11:46 p.m. U---- B----- Road, caller reports neighbor playing guitar.

Angering and Tear-Inducing All at Once

Last Thursday, driving home I heard this story. My jaw dropped and I am lucky I didn't have an accident when I heard this part:

"Leah Moreland, the woman who said she grew up sheltered from prejudice, plans to vote for McCain. Party loyalty is also part of her decision. But her cultural compass also comes into play. She says her gut tells her not to trust Obama.

"I look at Obama, and I have a question in my mind," she says. "Years ago, was he taken into the Muslim faith? And my concern is the only way you are no longer a Muslim is if you are dead, killed. So in my mind, he's still alive."

Although Barack Obama has said repeatedly he is not a Muslim and has never been a Muslim, Moreland is still unconvinced.

"There is something about him I don't trust," she says. "I don't care how good a speaker he is, I just can't trust him."

I was instantly angry and sad at it. I've been trying to figure out how to respond ever since.

On one hand, it's so ludicrous, it seems silly to justify it by responding. On the other, it's a good opportunity to talk about what race and religion does to people, and how it continues to inform our culture. And it's an opportunity to point out how a certain side of the political spectrum is promoting racism and religious bias by putting lies out there.

On the race side of thing, I rather think we are all racist to a certain extent, and those who claim the loudest that "I haven't got a prejudiced bone in my body!" may be some the worst of all because they refuse to see it. I was raised in a fairly racist environment - and thinking about some of the things my extended family used to say makes me cringe. I've made an effort to be aware of prejudice and work against it where I can. I'm the first to admit I still have a long way to go. I don't believe we should be voting for any candidate because he or she is or isn't one thing or another - yet at the same time I am well aware that it does play into which lever to pull or bubble to darken or whatever. I think it will say great things about our country in general if we are able to elect whom I think is the best candidate - but I also worry about what it will mean if we don't.

On the religion side of things, given my religious upbringing, I'm rather aware of religious bias. There were kids who were not allowed to play with me because of my family's religion, and a boyfriend of my sister's broke up with her specifically because of it - and we were a branch of Protestant Christianity! Ms. Moreland's comments speak to her own ignorance about religion, the nature of religious extremism that exists in all major faiths - Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and so on - and denies the declarations of her own religion (I'm assuming she's Christian of some sort or another). Oh, Christian Coalition members, whatever happened to "love one another as I have loved you"? Oh, that's right. You're only "Christian" when it's convenient. And don't forget that John F. Kennedy's Catholicism was an issue in the 1960 election.

There's an intended separation of church and state in this country for very good reasons, and I look to my elected officials to govern appropriately based on that. I'm not ignorant - religion and faith does inform how one views issues - but voting one way or the other because of religious affiliation isn't right. (That said, the one I was concerned about being able to separate religion from state duties was Romney, but he's a whole other can of worms.)

I searched the Web for more on this particular story, and I was heartened to see that this story is getting people talking. People are equally angry and sad at this one woman's comments, but the NPR story as a whole has people looking inward and talking. I think that's a good thing overall.

Though I still feel so sad for how far we haven't come in the US.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Just saw this headline on the New York Times site:

A Sense That Wall St.'s Boom Times are Over

Ya think?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Vacation, in Color

I've been meaning to put up some photos from vacation. These are not in chronological order. Click to enlarge, if you so desire. You can see a bunch more if you click the Flickr stream to the left.

Playing around with long exposures:

That Church Saga Continues

After mostly taking the summer off from church, I was there yesterday. The boys were singing. The senior bishop was visiting. I was ambivalent to begin with, now even more so.

The bishop(s) has been getting more involved - which is mostly good, I guess.

For a bishop visit, it was not a spectacular turnout. There were whole pews empty. The combined choirs were down about about a third.

Before the service began, the bishop talked about how wonderful it was to meet with a group of newcomers to the parish before the service (even amid the tumult, there are a handful of new families). He said he's be around to mingle for a short bit after the service, but then had some meetings with the staff in the early afternoon before attending to dicocesan duties.

The service started, and when it came to sermon time, the bishop said some interesting things. He wanted to thank us for always paying our diocesan assessment.

Then he went on talk about how living in a community is to be forgiving, constantly, and we all know what it means to live in a community, espeically our parish.

I was rather floored at all of it.

First, where were the meetings with the members of the parish who have started to drop away? Where is the outreach? Has the parish and diocesan heirarchy just given up and sees that group as a lost cause? In a time when the Episcopal church as a whole is losing members, should they be so cavalier about membership? The rector has yet to reach out to a single parish member that has fallen away, so I guess I can't expect the bishop to do so. Thing is, with all the people the rector has alienated and/or fired, he probably doesn't even know who is missing.

Second, we can't afford to pay our diocesan assesment this year. The church budget is very much in the red.

Third, while I agree with the discussion about forgiveness and the need to forgive, it leaves out the important other side: that those in the community must recignize that they are not perfect and in fact need forgiveness from others. The sermon was wholly one-sided in that respect.

None of us are perfect, and I've made plenty of mistakes in my life, and in this church saga. I've overstepped a couple of boundaries, pushed some people a little too far. But the other side of the church saga - the rector, R - has yet to admit to a single mistake in how he has done things in the last 15 months. He has yet to take any responsibility for the dwindling attendance. While the bishop wants me to forgive R, R doesn't even recognize that he needs any forgiveness. It was weird.

I talked with a woman afterward during coffee who is just coming to the realization that things are off, way off. I tried to be very careful in what I said to her, not to sway her one way or the other. She talked about how many people are missing, things like that. I had to be even more careful with my words when the rector's wife kept positioning herself near us (we'd move, she'd move, too). I suspect we'll we talking again soon.

I wanted to believe that I could somehow make a difference by speaking up, but I'm feeling more and more thwarted and pushed down and dismissed. It seems to me collars are doing everything they can to protect collars. It's the patriarchal structure at its strongest.

It's extremely disheartening.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Condescension, Hypocricy, Double-Standards and Single Issue Voting

The only thing worse than having a stupid president is, I think, having a president who thinks I'm stupid.

Unlike many people, I don't believe GWB is inherently stupid. He's stupid about some things, yes, but there's a brain in there somewhere. I think he's chosen to use that brain to pull more than a few things over on the American public, shrouding his very bad choices, mistakes, and shrewd, self-promoting and self-enriching strategies in a folksy demeanor, claiming, "Hey, I'm just like you!" But he's not like you or me or most of us; he's a rich frat boy run amok, using his old-boy network (and I mean that in the very worst sense) to play a game that has very real and serious consequences for the rest of us. He thinks he's better than all of us, that standards and rules and laws don't apply to him. He thinks we're stupid; he thinks with a few jokes he can get away with it.

And he has.

I would not be surprised if the following quote attributed to HL Menken is framed prominently in GWB's private office:

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. People can easily be persuaded to accept the most inferior ideas or useless products. "
-H. L. Mencken, 1880–1956

Yes, America, this is what your president and his political party thinks of you.

They think they can talk down to you, and you won't notice. They think you won't notice that their buddies are getting richer by the moment while people around you are losing their jobs and their homes and they claim there's no recession. In light of that, they think they can present you with a candidate who freely admits economic theory is a weakness and it'll be fine, really. It just doesn't matter that he doesn't know the GNP from the GDP.

They think they can call themselves the "family values" party while the two halves of their presidential ticket embody the poor moral choices they wag their fingers at. Infidelity? Check! Drug abuse? Check! Unwed teen mother? Check! Questionable ethics in both business and government? Check and check! Apparently while they wag their fingers with one hand, the other hand is behind their backs, with crossies.

They think we won't notice - or worse, won't care - that they are completely hypocritical. They question the qualifications of opponents while their own candidate doesn't even meet those same qualifications, then try to claim double-standards are in play. Seriously, folks, if you put the Alaskan Hockey Mom's "qualifications" next to a man's name, they would have been laughed back to the farthest ice floes of that state. Note to party hierarchy: You might have had a shred of credibility in claiming double-standard if your female candidate had more qualifications than a male candidate. But she doesn't. And you think the American public just won't notice that.

They think they are being historic and avant-garde by even offering a female on the ticket of a major political party. Geraldine Ferraro, in 1984, had more political experience and more national political experience. They think we don't know history.

They think America is so biased and racist that we won't vote for a candidate of color just because of color, or because of perceived religious affiliation, and they will subtly promote ideas to that end; they play to irrational and unfounded fears. They think that women can't think for themselves, that we are too clouded by the effect of estrogen, and that we'll vote for a candidate just because she has some, too. They think we won't see past the ploys and the late night conversations that included, "Think we can get away with it?" They think that we'll get bogged down by words and fabricated offense and not hear the issues.

The really sad thing is, they might be right.

But, despite all the condescension, hypocrisy, and double-standards, I believe - wholly - that we are better than this. We as a country and we as a people are better than this. And we deserve better than this.

We can see through this. We can.

We can say no to the games and the bullying. We can call them on their condescension, hypocrisy, and double-standards. Call them on their racism and sexism and religious bias.

We can vote for the candidate and running mate, who, based on a set of qualifications, ideals, and background, will lead us forward. Single issue voting has no place here, and don't let anyone tell you it does. Prove them wrong.

Perhaps no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, but no one ever made our country and the world a better place with such underestimation, either.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Among People I Know, "Hockey Mom" is NOT a Compliment

I'm feeling political and ornery lately. This will result in some political posts, some of which will be rather partisan. If you don't like that sort of thing, consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Miscommunication, Best Intentions and Lost Opportunities

I went to a meeting last night about a pilot project started just this year to address the needs of high-end learners. I had heard rumblings about this project since I went to a meeting last December of some parents who have been concerned that the needs of their kids were not being met. (I alluded to the meeting here. I was shut out of later conversations with this group because I didn't agree with the straight acceleration goal these parents were seeking at the time - and I was laid off shortly afterward and somewhat preoccupied. Also the mother of the kid in this hat incident was involved and I really have trouble dealing with her for reasons above and beyond that hat incident.)

I've had concerns about M and keeping him engaged in school and the learning process. He gets bored with school-work easily and I've worked with his (young, inexperienced and somewhat floundering) teachers the last couple of years to supplement what he is doing in school to keep him engaged in the process. As such, he's doing math several levels above his grade, and reading close to his brother's level (which is already above grade level). It's something I constantly have to keep antenna tuned to. And this is in stark contrast to C, who has had majority excellent, experienced teachers (save one) whom I have felt have addressed his needs well and kept him challenged.

For this pilot program, kids in grade three, four, and five were identified as kids that needed more distinct differentiation of instruction. The kids have been clustered in classrooms, and the teachers received training on how to address their needs within the curriculum. The kids are not pulled out or identified to the rest of the class. The vision for the program is that although a set of very high-end learners will be clustered in one class, more teachers will receive training on differentiated instruction and will be able to apply those skills in all classrooms for the kids at all learning levels. So even if your kid isn't one of the identified cluster, he or she will still get a boost as appropriate to his or her needs. That's the plan anyway. At any rate, right now there are only 14 kids total in clusters over three grades, out of about 800 students total.

M is not in the cluster. Of course I'm disappointed, but then again, I have to be realistic. As a pilot, the program was intended to grab the top 2-3% of kids - up to 8 per grade - and M is in the largest class our school system has ever seen. And although I think my kid is very smart ("He's a genius!"), if I have to question at all whether such a program is right, it's not for him right now.

As an example of the kids they are trying to identify right now: When I was in elementary school, I was in a pull-out independent study program. There were 8 in the classroom. We were all the straight-A, quick on the uptake kids. But there was one among us that was beyond what the remaining 7 of were, and obviously so. Once, when presenting our term projects to one another, this kid's project was to build a model rocket that flew higher than a certain brand of commercial model rocket. When asked how he would know whether his rocket was better, he responded, "Oh, simple trigonometry," and proceeded to write out all the equations that supported his method. THAT'S the kind of kid this pilot program is trying to identify and assist.

That said, I don't think M - and other kids - had a fair chance at evaluation. The rubric used is, unfortunately, flawed in that the relative experience (or inexperience) and understanding of the teachers that evaluated the kids cannot removed. M has had teachers the last few years who are just trying to keep their heads above water in the classroom - lots of potential, but new and inexperienced - but that experience and confidence for them limits some of their abilities to differentiate those way up and out there kids as being just that, up and out there, versus behavioral challenges in the classroom because of their boredom. Was M not looked at properly because I've done so much beyond the curriculum to keep him engaged? Did I hurt the process by being so proactive?

Then again, I don't think parents should have been involved in the identification process, either. If the teachers have a difficult time with subjectivity, the parents will have double the problem. We all think the best of our children. They are all brilliant and gifted. It's the nature of parenthood to believe that about our children But do they all belong in this pilot? No. That's a tough pill to swallow, even for me.

If you could have heard the vitriol last night, you'd have been shocked. There were parents who could hear no good in what is happening, could not fathom how it will benefit all the kids. There were parents who claimed this was the schools telling them they are bad parents for not advocating in a certain way for their kids (please check your martyr complex at the door next time). There was a guy grumbling about how we shouldn't do anything new until standardized test scores stabilize (don't get me started on that and the teaching to the tests mentality). The principal of the school, whom I like very much, was getting battered.

There have been emails flying around town - which I thankfully haven't seen (it's an advantage to not be a joiner sometimes). People were prepared to tear the program down completely. It was shameful, really.

There were musings on what this would do to the school budget (it's been funded by grants so far), and how would we justify this when it will be a long while until we have metrics to qualify the success or failure of the program? Getting the budget through already is a challenge every year.

There was this one guy I wanted to punch in the face. There were women who were just plain nasty to those they perceived as members of that parent group (right in one instance, wrong in another - and I'm glad I was out of that group at that point). There were parents just sure that these clustered kids were going go around taunting other kids with, "I'm gifted and you're not, nyah, nyah!" (Puh-leeze - I can't say for certain, but I will bet that none of the kids have been told they are one of the "annointed" as one irate mother called them.) It was a rough night.

There were also people thanking the schools for finally doing something, even if their kids weren't in the clusters. There were people pointing out that if we were talking about kids on the other end of the spectrum, there's no way parents questioning spending money on a project would be tolerated, much less allowed to go on for hours.

The schools have made two major, major errors in how they implemented this pilot program. First, they didn't say anything to the general population. It was only when someone stood up and mentioned it at a school committee meeting that they'd heard a rumor about it that the superintendent came clean to the town as a whole. It was only last Thursday that the principal called each of the cluster kids' families to let them know they were a part of the program. Yeah, you read that right.

As it happens the kids of the four main families who went to the schools last spring asking for something are in the program. But they weren't notified until Thursday, just like the other 10 kids. I know a couple of those kids. It is absolutely appropriate that they are in the program. Still, on the communication front, they really screwed up, and will have a hard time recovering from that.

The second major error was in the identification process. It is very, very flawed. They do know that, and are trying to address it. Whether or not they allow "parent nominations" of kids into the program appears to be a sticking point already. I kind of hope not. If we can make this as objective as possible while knowing that it will be difficult and a *process*, I think that's preferable. We all think our kids are geniuses, but are they all really geniuses? No.

I like to think that my approach to involvement in my kids' education - and M in particular in this case - would not change with involvement in the pilot. (I hope) I would still watch for the behavioral signs of boredom and address it as I can.

The school's intentions are good. While some may argue that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I hope they don't back off. The pendulum in our town has swung so far to one end that we really need this small move back to the middle. I really do think it will be good for all - or most - of the kids over time. Much as we want it to be, the schools can't be all things to all kids, and they don't have bottomless budgets. They are doing the best they can, making mistakes along the way. Just like all the parents in that room.


Monday, September 08, 2008


Our schools have a very strong music program. On the arts spectrum, we are a music town and visual arts are much less strong (I've mentioned that before). Music is so promoted here that it's not unusual to see the varsity athletes dressed for the three yearly band performances.

Two years ago when C was starting fifth grade, there were many meetings about the program and its benefits and all that. The kids were encouraged to choose an instrument. The school would provide small group instruction during school hours and had partnered with an outside vendor to supply quality instruments on a rent-to-own plan (though the people at that vendor I am less impressed with - another story for another time). Excellent, wonderful, all that.

C chose French Horn, one of the harder instruments. It's been challenging, but he's done well. The small group instruction was often one-on-one as the other French Horn player in his grade was less than committed (and has since quit). At the end of last year, he was selected for green band, the more challenging of the two bands at his school. Also, his teacher wants him to move up to a double-horn, at additional cost, of course. Great, super, all that. We'll manage to absorb that additional instrument cost.

But then a couple of days ago, C brought home the information sheet about this year's band. What the music director failed to mention two years ago was that this small group instruction at school only lasts through 6th grade. Starting in 7th grade, kids are required to have outside weekly private instruction (at our own cost of course, and they aren't cheap), and the input of those outside teachers will affect grades for the class.

I went back to the materials they handed out back then (the advantages of being something of a pack-rat), and nope, no mention of this. I feel a bit snowed. They simply did not mention how costs will continue to increase. Oh, and don't forget to join the local music promoters group, and participate in all the band fundraising that is in addition to the school fundraising.

When I was growing up, we had small group instruction through 8th grade, and at the high school level was when things began to differentiate. I just assumed (I know, my mistake) it would be similar.

We'll make it happen, of course. But I'm just...annoyed. I'm feeling very nickeled and dimed right now with all the start of school year expenses. Our town is a well-off town, but not everyone in town has a mcmansion on the bay with deep pockets. There's a reason the average town income is an average.

I wish I'd at least known.


I am alone in my house for the first time since early June.

Friday, September 05, 2008

EpiPen Nation

I was so careful when the kids were small and I was introducing foods. I crossed my fingers and held my breath, hoping we would not have food allergy issues. I breathed a sigh of relief with each non-reaction. I thought we had dodged that bullet.

This summer C reported a strange feeling in his throat after eating some of our favorite steamed shrimp.

I think you know where this is going.

I had him tested a few days ago, just to be safe. Yup, he's allergic.

We're going to head off to an allergist soon for a more complete workup, and prescriptions for EpiPens have been faxed to the local pharmacy.

This should not be an onerous issue (we have shrimp only rarely), but it is a new set of issues on which to educate all of us.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Crime Spree in Suburbia!

From the local police log:

Sunday, August 24th

9:46AM T---- F--- Lane, vandalism. Motor vehicle wrapped in plastic wrap and shaving cream.

12:09PM T------ St, missing property. Twenty-one chickens missing from pen.

Thoughts on the Families of Politicians

Excuse me while I step on a soap box for a few moment.

I'm watching the current political circus with interest, in part beacuse I am the child of a politician and public servant. I grew up in a southwestern state that, at the time, was fairly small (it's grown exponentially since then), but still a microcosm of the national political stage.

From the time I can remember anything, I had it drilled into me that although I was "just" a kid, my actions and choices would be scrutinized more closely than other kids. And indeed they were. My father's position was invoked more than a few times to call attention to what, for anyone else, would have been nothing.

When, during softball tryouts in sixth grade, I managed to get a good piece of the ball with my bat but that line drive hit Mara L in her braced mouth because she wasn't paying attention, and even though it was completely unintentional, my father's position was called out. "Can you believe that judge's daughter did that?"

And that is just one minor example.

I was, whether I liked it or not, a representative of my father and his positions, and my actions were seen as reflecting his values, no matter what. Sometimes it really sucked.

As such, I was expected to behave with that in mind and act with greater care than those around me. I was not always successful, and paid the price for those mis-steps - although my mis-steps were not very severe, relatively speaking (I was too afraid/aware to risk too, too much). Never once did I benefit from my father's position. If anything, the consequences were more severe.

In the end, this was one of the component reasons why I moved across the country, away from anyone who knew (or cared) who my dad was.

"Fair" or not, that's the way it was. Although I did not ask for this role, I had it, I had to deal with it, and, by the way, those public dollars were keeping a roof over our head. Like it or not, my actions were seen as a reflection of how my parents, and in particular my father, raised me.

When my parents split up, the newspaper called. Was it fair for the local media to get involved in my parent's divorce? No. But my dad was a public servant, sitting in judgment of others, and the media was taking the role of making sure there was no abuse of the power of his role during the proceedings, making sure he was consistent.

I have to wonder why many of the current crop of politicians aren't drilling this into their children (I assumption, I admit). I'm talking about politicians on both side of the aisle, but (at this particular moment) one side in particular, and both parts of the ticket (though one part is doing a better job of keeping their crap hush-hush). Although, like me, these kids didn't ask for these roles, these lives, they have them. Fair or not, they are living in the public spotlight, as a reflection of their parents' values, and must learn to deal with it and be accountable for their actions, youthful mis-steps or otherwise.

In addition, for politicians to ask that families be left out of scrutiny? That's two-faced bullshit, and they know it. They knew full-well when they entered the fray that the family would be a part of it. They did. They need to be up-front about that. With the public AND their families.

I'm not saying no one can make mistakes. More it's that they need better guidance and understanding about how the consequences of their mistakes will have a greater impact, like it or not. All parties need to accept this, and act accordingly. I think once that happens, the families actually will be much less of an issue.

OK, done now.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Mutant Kitty

I think we have a mutant kitten.

You know how kitties are fastidiously clean? Unless there's some health issue or cleanliness of facilities issue, they can be pretty well depended upon to, you know, "go" where they are supposed to, keep themselves clean and all that. Even within the realm of their facilities, they keep things neat. Keep things covered. You know.

Our kitties do all that - mostly. One of the two seems to be missing the "cover" gene. The instinct to cover his business in the box. The kitty - and I am not sure which one - does not cover at all. Just goes and leaves - albeit in the box.

I've discovered this because occasionally when I walk through to the study it smells remarkably like, well, shit. At first I was sure the dog had had an accident somewhere and went sniffing around looking for the evidence. Honestly, I shouldn't have to look that hard as the dog is a pretty good size, and so the evidence should be pretty obvious. But no canine evidence, and it still smelled. Then I figured that the litter box was in need of attention and perhaps it was a protest outside of the box by one of the cats. So I'd go check the box to address that issue - and see the uncovered feline evidence out for all to smell. Ick.

I've never had a cat not make any effort to cover. It's amusing on one hand, annoying on another, and all around smelly. So all I can conclude is that we have a mutant kitty.

But an awfully cute mutant.