Apple Cider and More

Once again, we were too busy making apple cider to take any pictures and document the process. The end result is delicious. In fact, even though it’s almost November, I might keep my eye on the orchards that advertise windfalls and “not quite perfect” apples. They would still make delicious cider.

Coming up soon: Amigo and his barbershop chorus are warming up for their next level of competition. Take it from me, folks, these guys are sounding good. I’ve helped out a little here and there by assisting with sectionals (when the guys split up to learn their own parts), donating my homemade goods as raffle prizes, and mainly by getting Amigo to rehearsals. I’m looking forward to hearing the chorus sing next weekend!

It’s All School Field Trip Day on Tuesday. I was ready to go to a planetarium and earth science museum. I chickened out. Seriously, sort of, in a way, because I feared settling into the planetarium and having the world start spinning around me again. It might be a meaningless fear, but I just didn’t feel up to chancing it. Since there were plenty of teachers signed up to go, I passed on the Person-In-Charge paperwork to another teacher and put myself on a different trip. I’ll be going on a hayride, picking up a pumpkin and maybe some apples (woot! more cider!) and having a relaxing and fun lunch afterwards with a few teacher friends.

To summarize, it’s been a busy weekend and it’ll be a busy week, too. And if anyone asks me “How d’you like them apples?” I’ll say “As cider, of course.”

Where I’ve Been

Oh, readers, friends, and family – It’s been a rough few weeks. Call it vertigo, BPPV, labyrinthitis, inner ear version of kidney stone, sea legs on land, crystals out of alignment, or whatever you wish, but I’ve spent the past few weeks so dizzy and lightheaded that walking was difficult.

I saw three doctors: the one in the ER, my primary care doctor, and another primary care doctor in the same clinic. They did blood work, an EKG, an MRI, and basic stroke protocol. Oh, they probably did more, but I don’t need to burden you with the works.

Highlights? Let’s see. The radiology tech asked if I was sure I had a stent in my brain. I replied by telling him which artery. He was satisfied then. The three docs ruled out stroke, tumor, or meningitis. I lost a coworker to meningitis – was it really ten years ago? Oh, my – but anyway, I was relieved when the stiff neck went away and I didn’t need a lumbar puncture. Shudder.

Saturday and Sunday (a weekend, for better or worse luck) were the worst ever. I spent most of the weekend reclining on the couch watching a Harry Potter marathon on Freeform. The dizziness and lightheaded feeling were as bad as they’ve ever been. Chuck found me clutching my head and asked “Does your head hurt?” Hurt? It was throbbing so badly that I wanted an ice pack. Or two. Or three. Or seven. I could only read for short periods of time without getting a headache. That, of course, made me worry about…let’s not go into all the worries I’ve had. The list is almost as long as – well, it’s long. Quite long.

When I woke up Monday morning I sat still for a moment – my new routine, to let my brain adjust to being upright. The floor didn’t tilt, and the room didn’t spin. I sat still for a moment longer, wondering if the cycle would begin again. It didn’t.

I brought my cane to school with me, just in case I needed the balance and support, but I didn’t use it.

I came home and celebrated with popcorn from my favorite local fast food drive-through. Evening symptoms included a mild headache, so I took things easy. I rested on the couch and watched television with Amigo.

There you have it, folks, the recent past in a nutshell. I still have a physical therapy appointment on the calendar; if I don’t need it, I will cancel. At this point, I’m still monitoring the craziness, er, dizziness and hoping maybe it’s done.

Maybe my crystals have realigned themselves. I hope they don’t go traveling again; I really don’t want to develop my sea legs again.

Sub Plans

Chuck picked up a piece of scrap paper in the grocery store parking lot. He intended to throw it in the recycling bin when he got home, but something told him to show me the “list” before tossing it out. The slightly soiled paper said – well, here. You can read it.

Heading: (date in April) Thank you for subbing for me!

  • 8:20 Greet students at bus (front door)
  • 8:30 1st grade class Breakfast
  • 8:40 Art
  • 9:40 Georgy Break
  • 10:00 Math Ruby
  • 10:55 warm up Georgy’s lunch, red lunchbox, chicken patty 40 sec mac & cheese 4 min
  • 11:00 – 11:30 Your lunch
  • 12:00 Kindergarten – bring (unreadable) to bathroom

I don’t see a dismissal time. I hope this substitute managed to find the exit when the bell rang.

I’m guessing this is a plan for a substitute paraprofessional, a teacher aide, likely special education. Other suggestions?

Squirrel!

Both of us, Chuck and I, have worked with people who are easily distracted. I’ve taught many, and not just those with formally diagnosed ADHD. Have you seen the tee shirts? “Look, something shiny!” “They just don’t understand – Look! A chicken!” Or our favorite, “SQUIRREL!”

I’m reminded of certain days in class when keeping kids focused was just not going to happen. Imagine the following conversation in an intervention reading group for  an online middle school.

Me (Teacher): Open your books to page X, “The Prince and the Pauper.”

Student J: Prince died.

Me: (thinking “Squirrel!”) Yes, he did. This story is written by Mark Twain. What do you know about Mark Twain? Have you read any of his other works?

(Student L. logs in late, not using her name, but as “Llama.”

Me: Llama, please log out and log in with your real name.

(Student logs out and returns, using the screen name “Lori Loves Llamas.”

Me: Hi, Lori. I like llamas, too. Open your book to page…

(Lori types into chat): I like llamas because a llama spit on my brother.

SQUIRREL!!! 

Some days, I should just go back to bed.

Education: valuable or dangerous?

I went to the post office one day to mail a book. The clerk was one who knew me as a regular, often mailing my Paperback Swap books on to another reader. As he went through the standard script and asked, “Does the package contain anything potentially hazardous?” I replied flippantly, “No, independent thought is still legal.”

He laughed, thank goodness. I can just see the post service suddenly searching my mail because of my slightly sarcastic sense of humor. Oops.

There have been a few changes since that day.

  • This guy, one of my favorite clerks, has since retired.
  • There’s a new majority on Capital Hill.
  • A recent poll indicates that the new majority, the Republican side, doesn’t value education in general. Worse: the Republican caucus thinks higher education is a waste of time and even bad for the U.S. (See the Pew Study results here)

Independent thought may still be legal, but learning and thinking are less and less valuable to our government. In fact, the impression I get is that the current folks in charge want to keep the populace ignorant, malleable, and easy to control.

This is scary, people. Very scary. Dare I suggest – keep reading, keep learning, and keep connecting with your legislators. Remind them that they work for all of us, not just those who voted them into office. Call, email, send postcards, attend town hall meetings. If you dare, participate in rallies and protests.

Independent thought is still legal. Let’s keep it that way.

 

Goals – inside, outside

It’s summertime – the approximate ten week period that passes for a “break” in our oddly outdated agrarian school calendar. In the old, old bygone days, students would help at home on the farm in spring, summer, and then harvest season in the fall. School terms might be limited to winter or some of the town and city kids might come in early fall while the farm families kept their children home to work the land.

But I digress.

It’s summertime, and the living is relatively easy. I can sleep in, but I don’t. My body clock is set firmly between 6 and 7 A.M. I’m up and at ’em, coffee cup in hand. Up and at what? That’s where the goals come in.

I’ve decided to make one indoor goal and one outdoor goal. Daily tasks such as loading, running, and emptying the dishwasher don’t count. Watering the garden and the containers doesn’t count, either. It’s a necessity.

Yesterday the outdoor goal was to fix up the rock garden. That entailed getting rocks and sculptures and misc. from the garage and placing it strategically in the rock garden. Inside? Clean the bunny cage & replace used litter box with clean box.

The goals are a minimum. I don’t stop there. Having definite goals, no matter how small, keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. “I must get more done! Must accomplish! Must do, go, achieve!” Nope. It’s a long break, and it’s a break. Setting and meeting goals is good for my mental health. Meeting goals allows me to let go of the gotta-get-it-done attitude and relax.

That said, here are today’s main goals. Indoors: laundry. Outdoors: lift pallet garden to a steeper angle. Chuck helped with that one.

And now, while I wait for the first load of laundry to rinse and spin, I can relax.

Readers, do you set goals? Give yourself permission to take care of yourself? Leave comments. I’d like to know.

Last Week of School – encore

Years ago, when I was still teaching in a traditional classroom, the chalkboard provided all kinds of opportunities. My fourth graders loved to create their own drawings with this simple medium of chalk on chalkboard. This one went up on a muggy, drizzly day. The blurry writing in the middle states, “Rain, rain, go away!” Earlier in the day it said, “Rian, rian, go away!” until someone more astute took eraser in hand and played editor.

 Over the weekend, La Petite came with me while I cleaned up my classroom. This was the work of La Petite, age 21, art minor, in colored chalk. 

In truth, the wild bunnies eat my vegetables more than they do the flowers – with the exception of the coneflowers last year. The flowers in this picture lasted longer than the coneflowers did.

Note: the plethora of encores may be due to the fact that it’s the last week of school and any creativity of my own is getting poured into progress report comments. 

Another encore, on a counseling tone

from spring, 2013

My email has been overloaded with courses lately. I’m not sure why. Are the trainers and higher-educators getting desperate for business? I know few of us are taking extra courses or earning higher degrees now because we can’t afford it and because additional training and education no longer pays.

But reduced pay scales aside, this offer came through recently. There’s a lot of public attention to mental illnesses these days, so I actually read it instead of hitting delete.

Dealing with Metal Illness in the Classroom

I could have used this a few years ago, or a few years before that, or – the list goes on. Or could I? Let’s look more closely.

This course is designed for teachers, support staff and school counselors.

Okay, the focus is good. School counselors have been cut way back, though, due to the usual and customary budget constraints. When a student needs counseling, the teacher is the first and sometimes the last to handle it. If the student is lucky, his/her teacher will have had at least some counseling training. Next, please.

Participants will learn about the diagnostic characteristics of the various types of mood disorders and the other types of mental health disorders that mimic the symptoms of each.

Now they’ve lost me. Teachers can’t and don’t diagnose illness, whether physical or mental. We may recognize head lice and flu, and we might be the ones monitoring behavior that suggests attention deficit disorder, but we do not diagnose. Training us in “diagnostic characteristics” isn’t the right direction at all.

If we teachers are to help students with possible mental illnesses, we need to have opportunities to refer these students for real diagnosis and treatment. We need to have the connections with medical professionals, and we need permission to contact them. We need administrators who take our concerns seriously, and we need time – yes, time – to meet with and call parents so we can work as a team. We need school psychologists who take our concerns seriously, school social workers who do more than push papers, and most of all, administrators who care about our safety and well-being.

We need coworkers and support staff that will work with us. We need the public to respect our knowledge, our experience, and our observations.

Most of all, we need this because the students, the ones who need help, need us.

 This is an encore from 2013. All, for better or worse, is still very true. Public trends are leading toward the need for more services in schools, but budgets don’t match the need. Until then, we teachers will still be the front line for those kids who need help.

Cleaning the Classroom – Encore

I attended a graduation party for a former student, a girl I’d taught in fourth grade. She had just graduated from high school (my alma mater, no less), and was preparing to head off to college. I reminisced on the way home. 

One year my fourth grade class decorated the chalkboard with flowers during the last few weeks of school. I liked it so much that this year, I assigned them the task. We were gearing up for a field trip to see a play based on the book Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. I helped prepare them for the story by reading about urban gardens, learning about plants, planting their own tomato plants in little pots made from toilet paper rolls, and more. One day I presented them with several shades and lengths of green construction paper, told them these were their stems, and challenged them to create flowers using our bin of paper scraps.

They outdid themselves.

The flowers were lovely, each as original as its creator. My young students (ages 9-10) decided to write their names on the board to claim their work. They wrote and drew and made more flowers, and I was glad to say Yes to saving their work from the cleaning staff. I knew Di, the cleaner who keeps my room spotless, would love the classroom flower garden as much as I did and would be glad to leave it untouched by rag or vinegar cleaning spray.


When a student moved the week before school let out, she made sure to pick her flower from the board. On the last full day of school, plucking the flowers was a high priority for the young paper gardeners. By then the chalk was getting dusty, but the paper work was as unique as ever. High art? Nope. Just right? Absolutely.

The Twenty Minute (Vegetable) Gardener

I was gifted with the book The 20 Minute Gardener a while back, and I finally found the time to read it. Despite being more about flower gardening than my forte, growing vegetables, I’m thoroughly enjoying the stories and the advice. It’s a little like Click and Clack Grow a Garden, if you’re a Car Talk fan.

I spent much more than 20 minutes a day over the weekend. I came indoors Saturday night tired and sore, very sore. Sore legs, sore feet, sore back, sore thumbs – you name it, it hurt. A tall gin and tonic eased some of the pain and provided some much needed rehydration, and a Harry Potter marathon let my mind settle.

Sunday, silly me, I did a lot of the same. It’s been crazy busy and crazy cold in the past two weeks, so I grabbed hold of the weekend sunshine while I could.

Monday I did a lot of walking, but not so much bending and twisting. I joined La Petite and her friends in a visit to Hippie Tom’s Serendipity Farm. We had lots of fun and found (surprise, surprise) lots of crocks! Anyway, Monday was a short day (or evening) in the garden. After a 2 hour drive home and a short break for supper (Chuck’s German potato salad – Yum!), I finished planting the tomatoes and spent some time watering.

Back to the book title: The 20 Minute Gardener’s philosophy is that a lovely garden is potentially possible with an investment of only 20 minutes a day. It’s the end of the school year, and that means that 20 minutes is all I have most nights. In Tuesday’s twenty minutes I planted herbs in some of the smaller crocks. Thyme and two kinds of basil took up the 20 minutes between arriving home and starting to cook.

Tomorrow I may have more than 20 minutes (no barbershop rehearsal on Wednesdays). Watering everything, turning a little more soil, planting lettuce and root crops, spreading mulch (a.k.a. pine bedding that the rabbit no longer needs) – that plan sounds like more than 20 minutes.

The main reasoning behind the 20 Minute attitude is to lessen the stress. If I can commit 20 minutes a day, I don’t have to feel guilty about not spending more time at it. I can feel good about what I do, rather than feeling down about what I didn’t get done. If I only get the mulch spread and the tomatoes watered, that’s enough.

The side benefit? Simple: I’m away from the computer and the television news for at least 29 minutes every evening. That’s stress relief right there.