Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Porn Queen and Al Gore: Logical Fallacies and T'shuvah

Honestly! Sometimes I think I am going to "all music, all the time."

N. and I do a bit of driving. We live outside the city and on Mondays we have to drive in for my neurobiology class--which N. attends once a week--and then we meet Bruce who takes N. to dinner and Boy Scouts while I go teach my adult Hebrew class and then go home for a late dinner and an hour or so of peace and quiet before my guys get home.

On Tuesdays, we into town for N.'s science class at the Explora museum. We meet Bruce at the bookstore after that, and then Bruce takes N. home for dinner while I attend my special education law class. We do errands we need to do in town betwixt and between these commitments. Usually, we go into town on Saturday morning also, for Torah Study and Shabbat Services--although some Saturdays we do not.

We have gotten into the habit of listening to our local AM talk-radio station while driving because they play the news, traffic and weather every 10 minutes during afternoon drive time. This is very helpful because there is always road construction going on, and Albuquerque drivers are somewhat insane (not as bad as Israelis, but less predictable), and we need to know the weather in case we need to get home before the roads close. And I thought the "news" would be educational. Well it certainly is, in a counter-example sort of way.

Yesterday, I was zoned out driving when N. suddenly said: "Why is everyone so interested in this Anna Nicole Smith? Who is she? Why is she important? " I said: "I don't know. I don't know. I don't know." N. persisted. So I said: "I really don't know why everyone on the news is so interested in her because I don't know why her name is a household word for people. But that is not important. What is important is that someone has died--a real human being with a family and she is not buried yet. What do you think of that?" And from there, we talked about the importance of accompanying the dead to burial and the importance of giving people what they need in life and in death. We talked about the dignity of the human soul and about why our previous rabbi kept the press away from the funeral of a young woman who was murdered in our town years ago.

N. was silent for a while and then asked me, "Mom, is this what you mean when you say 'body profiteers?'" Well, not exactly! But then these little Aspies are so literal! So I explained about the slavery of the modeling industry and the pornography industry and how others profit from the degredation of human beings. And then my N. said: "So those news people are profiting from the degredation of this lady who died? They have no self-control?"

Exactly! Out of the mouth of a yingele!

Later, as we were driving from the museum on errands, and I was again zoned out on driving, N. piped up: "Mom, is Al Gore really a hypocrite?"

So I gave him a lesson on the logical fallacy of ad hominim attack. Basically, I told him that sometimes when people do not want to hear the messenger, they attack the person or personal life of the messenger. I explained that it is our job as thinking people to look beyond the messenger and ask the right questions. In this case, we need to ask. "What is the evidence for global warming? What is the evidence that human beings are putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? If the earth is undergoing global warming, then what will the consequences be for ourselves and our children? Are there direct benefits to reducing emissions? What other benefits might come from that?"

On a roll, I then explained that no human being is perfect, no human being is on message one hundred percent. We talked about how both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, champions of freedom, owned slaves. We talked about ideology and how it prevents people from thinking for themselves. We talked about how ideologues of all persuasions profit from getting us all upset about things that are not important so that they can carry out their agendas without interference from us.

N. said: "Will Al Gore have to change if he sees that he is a big emitter?"

I joked: "Yep, fewer beans for him!" Then I talked about how we all have to make t'shuvah--which means "turning" when we are shown some area of our life where we are not measuring up to who we are meant to be. But that does not mean that Al Gore's message is wrong. That is a different, and ultimately, a more important question.

N. said: "Then, this news is all a distraction--isn't it?"


So I reached for the dial and made t'shuvah to the "all music, all the time" station.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

His Passion Unveiled

When N. was younger he did a lot of rocking.
He rocked in his little rocker, he rocked on the couch--even when the chair wasn't supposed to rock he rocked.

When we lived in Noth Albuquerque Acres, we had one of those free standing dog runs that stood in the side of our yard. During his disasterous third grade year, when school was really hard and when accomodations were not being made for N.'s disabilities, N. used to come home, climb onto the side of this dog run and rock on it. One day I heard this really strange noise. I asked MLC what it was. She said: "Ask the boy why he rocks on the dog pen. It's kind of weird, don't you think?" So I stepped out onto the deck and looked down and sure enough, there was N. rocking on the dog run. And it happened again and again. And we looked at each other and said: "You think we ought to get him a swingset?" This is sort of like that.

We began homeschooling in August. One of the many reasons for our decision was that N. made it clear that one thing he very much enjoyed about our new home in the mountains was the peace and quiet. And that "Nature is all around, Mom!" I started by using The Well Trained Mind, which I had found at the local bookstore. This had a very well laid out curriculum that seemed accessible to me. One thing that it said about unit study, something that I had used much of when teaching gifted children in the public school, was that in the areas of study, kids would eventually find something of interest and take off with it in a kind of unit study.
So I have been waiting for this to happen since August. At first I thought it might happen with science. We did a lot of cool experiments using How the Universe Works. He played with the idea of the lunar colony model for awhile. No dice. Then I thought it might happen around something we were studying in Ancient History. Maybe something with Egyptian Mummies or Greek warships. Again, gornisht.

While I was waiting for that special interest to take over, our homeschooling was evolving anyway, as I saw what was working and what was not. We modified away from a strict following of curriculum as outlined in WTM, which emphasized outlining and a great deal of writing in all areas. For more details, see my post Creeping Eclecticism.

Lately, we have been working almost exclusively on Brain Engineering with a little math and a little history thrown in. And I have been wondering if N. was going to come across an interest that could become a full-blown unit study. But in the meantime, something else has happened. As we have done the Brain Engineering, we have also begun to move away from the trappings of "school at home"--you know, "it's 10:30, so this must be math" type of scheduling. We have become more and more fluid, as N. has demanded more of a voice in what we are doing. As I have read more, what I realize is that N. has been "deschooling" us even as we have done the Brain Engineering exercises.

I also began reading more about the different forms of homeschooling. A digression. When I was in college, my dad, who was a recovering schoolteacher (he quit and formed his own business) sent me a book by a guy named John Holt called Teach Your Own. I have no idea why he sent it. I wasn't even remotely interested in education, I was a Geology major. I had not children--in fact, I wasn't even married yet. But I did read the book. Then I went to the university library and checked out his other books: How Children Fail, How Children Learn, and The Underachieving School. I was quite fascinated by this man and by his vision of education that was different--and vastly more appealing--than the education I had recieved in the public schools. End of digression. Naturally, as I widened my scope in reading about home education, some of the first books I picked up were those by John Holt. And I expanded from there.

While N. was away on his boy scout camping trip last weekend, I was reading And a Skylark Sings with Me, as I mentioned last week. On Sunday, I read a section that included a reference to the books of Tom Brown, Jr. I was immediately interested because Papa (my dad) had sent N. one of these books called The Tracker. N. read it in a day and then we had several trips to the library and bookstore so that he could read the others. Well, in Skylark, David Albert mentions a program from The Wilderness Awareness School in Washingtion State, that has been put together by one of Tom Brown's students and that is intensive wilderness awareness and that is a correspondence program. Last Sunday afternoon, N. and I were on line checking this out. We took the "Tourist Test," perused the information about the program, called Kamana, and then N. said to me: "Mom, I want to do that. I want to do that for certification. Can we use some of my Bar Mitzvah gift money to do it?"

On Monday morning, N. said to me: "Mom, I could hardly sleep last night thinking about Kamana." And he called his Papa to tell him about it. He started by saying, "Papa, there's this really cool program that I am going to do and it's going to take me about four years..."

And Bruce and I turned to each other and enumerated the clues. "He's always outside."
"Remember when he taught himself to track snakes and lizards?"
"What about the summer he taught himself the bow and arrow?"
"And remember the summer when he did the bird rescue? We were down at the Nature Center with orphaned birds at least four times."
Boy scouts. The hikes. The time he camped out in the backyard. His nature museum when he was eight. The year he declared the wolf as his totem. Fly fishing.

"Well, duh! You think we ought to make this his curriculum?"

So--it's not classical education. It does have much journaling, awareness training, botany, ethno-botany, ecology, and mapping involved. He will be developing and using many skills that are more conventionally taught in school. But he will be developing them and using them for his own purposes. It is his passion.

Where this might take N. we don't know.

But this is his passion. It has been his passion for a very long time.

Once we were able to unschool ourselves, we were able to see our son.
This is what he needs in order to become the person he was born to become.

What an exciting moment it is when a person finds what it is he has to do next.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Word Magic: About Early Reading

I am currently reading And The Skylark Sings with Me by David Albert. It has been a truly interesting read and I am much taken with the author's story of the homeschooling of his two precocious daughters and also his discussions of the problems with compulsory education.

There is one point in his work, however, where Mr. Albert writes about reading and reading instruction, and he mentions that, in his experience, children who learn to read "early" are often the children of driven, narrowly intellectual parents. That bothered me.

Parents of gifted children who go to school are often accused of driving their children to learn to read before they are "ready" and thereby messing with the "proper" progression of teaching in the early grades. In my experience, these accusations are rarely true. The parents of such children are often non-plussed that their children know how to read and are often apologetic that their children have somehow done something out of step with the educationally prescribed method of learning. I think that's pretty sad!

I will confess that both of my children knew how to read before going to school. When MLC was little, I was a young scientist (desert soil ecology) raising my first child. I had no comparison for her early meeting of developmental milestones and did not waste a whole lot of my energy worrying about them. I was very busy instead chasing around an active toddler who regularly slept a bit less than 5 hours at a stretch (and that only in the deep of the night). I knew nothing about the educational norms that we would soon be breaking.

MLC did everything very early and she was had a deep alert quality that seemed almost spooky from the moment she was born. She was fascinated with words. Of course, like most parents in the '80's (remember "Baby on Board"?) we were anxious to give her the right start, so we read to her regularly. One day in the summer before he 4th birthday, she demanded that I read The Hobbit to her. Thinking she'd be bored quickly and return to picture books, I acquiesced. How wrong I was. We read the whole thing. She talked about different aspects of the book with a child's understanding--but she did want me to stop. When we were a bit more than half-way through the book, she explained that she wanted to see the words (I had been commanded to run my finger along the lines as I read) in order to learn "the word magic." I thought that was really cute and I asked her whether it was helping--I was probably annoyingly patronizing in my tone, too, because she said to me in an exasperated way: Well of course it helped! I've got the word magic now!" And she proceeded to turn to the first chapter and begin: "In a hole there lived a Hobbit." Thinking she had just memorized this when we had read the beginning of the book, I turned to the last chapters. I remember this little blond thing reading about the dwarves and Bilbo traveling down to the lake in barrels so that Bilbo had a cold on his birthday. I was truly astounded. I called my mother to inquire about this. She told me: "Well, you read at about four years old. Don't worry about it." Satisfied that this must be normal, we simply went on about our lives.

When the time for school came, MLC's kindergarten teacher, a young woman just out of college, never said a word about her reading. She just sent home stories that matched MLC's reading level but that also had lots of pictures because MLC liked the picture books. No Sweat! However, in first grade, Nelly, bar the door! I was summoned to school for a meeting. The first grade teacher demanded to know what to do with MLC during reading because we had "pushed her to read early." I timidly suggested that she just be allowed to read what she liked as she had in kindergarten. There was much hurrumphing and it was explained to me that MLC had not learned to read properly and so she would have to complete all the worksheets the other kids did in order to "catch up her skills." This seemed kind of silly to me. It is sort of like saying to kid who learned to ride a bike on her own that she had to go back and learn all of the 236 odd separate skills for riding a bike ( Geek Alert! I just made the number up) before she would be allowed to continue to ride the bike. I said to this group, again rather timidly, in a quavering voice that I thought the worksheets were a silly idea. Then, gathering my strength, I suggested that MLC be sent to 2nd grade reading. "Oh, no!" the teacher said, "She is already reading beyond that!" So I suggested that they send her to 3rd or 4th grade. "But then," enquired the teacher sweetly, "What will we do when she finishes that?" Sorry, no can do. So we settled on letting MLC read whatever she wanted in the reading cozy corner (unused to that point by the kids), while the others did the worksheets. MLC thus read an entire series of books about a girl named Anastasia and her precocious little brother in the otherwise rather lonely reading corner. At twenty-one, MLC does not seem to have been harmed by the experience of "not learning to read properly." She is an honors student taking a BS in Chemistry at a major research university. She still loves the Anastasia books and returns to them from time to time! Of course, she still does a prodigious amount of reading although most of it is not as entertaining as Anastasia was.

N. was an entirely different child. He was a baby who loved his sleep (I actually took him to the pediatrician because I thought he slept too much compared to his sister. The old doctor, now retired, must have thought I was crazy. He said: Let sleeping babies lie.") and he was later at most of the developmental milestones. He was not really interested in talking and his first words were strange: Moon and Helicopter and Cement Mixer rather than Momma and Daddy. However, he took apart his crib at about 14 months and escaped from it was he was supposedly napping. (I nearly had a heart attack!). He would get very upset if we varied our driving routine when taking him to or from his three-day a week Gan (nursery school) at our synagogue. He liked to line up all his toy cars by color (and he had a very discerning eye) and was most unhappy if someone moved one of them. He only wanted me to read him non-fiction books about spacecraft and lizards--which he memorized.

N. was a tiny, elfin child--and he is still small for his age. So he was already in school when we figured out that he could read, but he looked like he was about 3 years old. At this point I was being warned that N. had developmental delays and that he might never read or write. Everyone was very worried about his language pragmatics and certain odd speech characteristics. He was a wonderful artist at drawing but his writing was impossible. He had extreme sensitivities to too much light, too much noise, and too many people. I spent a lot of time crying and we all spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to call this disability. I was even told that he was mildy retarded at one point.

It was at this point that the children's librarian at our public library (not connected with the school) casually asked me when I had taught my child to read. She thought he was about 4 years old instead of almost six. I sputtered: "But he doesn't read. He has some kind of learning disability." She said; "Oh, that is just not possible. He has been reading here for at least 6 months. He tells me all about the lizards he reads about. He is really very knowlegable about them." So we found out that N. had also read before going to school, but he did not make it known to us. He says now that he just assumed we knew. (This kind of "mind blindness" is typical of people with ASDs). I don't think they ever really figured it out at his schools. When he was in the 5th grade, I received a note that he couldn't read according to a computerized test and that he would have to attend summer school. I had to laugh. He was reading the first part of James Michener's Hawaii. He really loves how Michener describes the formation of the Islands. At this point, for a number of reasons, I took him out of school completely.

N. can now read aloud or silently in two languages. He loves being read to more than reading silently with fiction. He has much difficulty interpreting and analyzing fiction and he still has difficulty sequencing stories and understanding motivation in fiction. He still prefers non-fiction. He had a melt-down with one of his school librarians about this. She had a rule that the kids could only check out one non-fiction book a month. (This is a philosophical issue of some kind--the library had plenty of books). N. did not "get it" that he should just check out the fiction and leave it in his desk and read non-fiction from the public library. Kids with AS are like that. Naturally, I got called to school. The next day, after he had recovered from this abridgement to his freedom, I instructed him in the fine art of subterfuge.

Some kids learn to read early. Some kids learn to read later. In my experience, most kids learn to read sometime. I think that when kids figure out that "there is magic in them thar' stacks", or that books have important information, they will read in order to learn about other things. Some kids need instruction to get there--but they get there because they want to read. They don't get there because they want to define what a dipthong is--usually. (I have to qualify that statement or my very literal 13 year old will certainly find a dissenting example).

Call me a heretic. Fire up the stake. But I don't think there is a certain pre-determined time when every child "should" read. I don't think I am a "narrowly intellectual" parent because both my kids read early. Okay, okay--I did go to college and graduate school. Twice. But in very different fields. That's called broadly intellectual in my book. But I was not driven--at least not to teach them to read. Oh, all right, I admit it! With MLC I was desperately driven to keep her busy little baby self occupied so that I could sit down now and then--so I read to her. With N. I was driven to figure out what was the problem with my odd little elfin child. But I never did forget that there were many wonderful things about his "maverick mind." I felt vindicated twice so far for my faith in his intelligence. The first was when the librarian told me he could read. The second was when I recently found out that not only is he NOT mildy retarded--(I never thought he was), but in fact, he has a very rare intellectual capacity.

One reason that homeschoolers choose the difficult but rewarding task of teaching their own children is because they know that every child is unique and will best find the joy in learning that comes with an education that addresses that uniqueness. Nothing can match the joy and excitement of seeing one's own child find his passion and purpose in life. But that's another entry...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Be Happy! It's Adar!

Today was the 1st Day of Adar. It is now the 2nd of Adar because the Hebrew day starts at sunset.

We had two days of Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) this month because the month just passed (Shevat) has 30 days.

Adar is a happy month! In two weeks we will celebrate the holiday of Purim, the feast of lots. The children will dress up in costumes and we will all listen as Megillat Esther (the book of Esther) is read. We will use noisemakers to drown out the name of "that evil Haman," who tried to destroy the Jews of Shushan.

Purim is the Jewish version of Carnival--a late winter holiday of hilarity when everything is turned upside down. It is customary for servants to become rulers and rulers to become servants. A play called a Purim Shpiel is often performed in which those in power are roasted. In the old days, before motorized vehicles, one was supposed to drink enough Shnapps or Vodka so that one could not tell the difference between "Curse Haman!" and "Bless Mordechai!" (I presume the old rabbis had asses that knew the way home).

But there are other reasons to be happy it is Adar. It is the last month of winter. And this has been a real winter for us. The days are getting longer and longer now, and the snow has finally melted from our driveway-- and although we are supposed to get more precipitation soon, it looks like it will be rain as the temperature in Albuquerque reached a balmy 63 degrees today. Here, it was in the low 50's, but a warm wind is blowing over the land, bringing with it "Mud Time." So the boots will remained parked by the door for a while. And the unpaved roads in our neighborhood--well--people who must drive them will still need their 4 Wheel Drive.
There are some personal reasons to be happy in our house too! I not only passed my first real academic test in 15 years--I got an 89! In Neurobiology! I am ecstatic. I know that I have said that I was not motivated by grades--but it sure is nice to know that I did learn something.
Also, the bathtub is finally in! Pictures tomorrow. There is still caulking and some tile patching to do, of course--but the tub is no longer in the middle of my bedroom. O, frabjous day!
Today, N. and I picked the following poem to read in honor of Adar:
Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought--
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Out and About

The past few days we have been enjoying a rapid melting as the sun has come out, the temperature has moderated, and the wind has shifted and is warm.

On Thursday evening, N. and I went over to Alta Vista and dug Henry out. I meant to take the camera, but forgot it and it was more than a mile to walk, so we did without.

N. manned the broom and I brandished the snow shovel. We deliberately waited all day on Thursday to give the sun time to do as much of the work as possible. However, the snow-plow had been by to plow the road, so there was still a good 18" of snow to dig through to get Henry on the road. But Henry is now home--safe and sound as you can see from above.

Yesterday, we took advantage of Henry's rescue to do some long neglected errands. One was the library. N. had a book out on my card that he had not returned but I made him turn his room inside out over the time we were snowed in, and he found it. So we went to the library to return it and get some new books. We are supposed to be studying ancient history, but N. has developed an interest in WWII Navy craft, so he stretched out on the kid-sized reading nitches to read about U-boats. (His book basket, below him, is not yet full, but it certainly was by the time we left. Our library is such a nice, sunny place with good reading corners and, on a Friday morning, there are only homeschoolers in the children's sections. We are getting to know a number of people by sight. When the snow melts and the Outer Limits Park Day resumes, I hope to get to know some of these people personally!

After we did our library "shopping," N. and I had to head to the grocery store. I needed a few items for Shabbat dinner, but mostly, N. had to shop for his Boy Scout Patrol's food for a camp-out this weekend. His interest in the outdoors led him to the Scouts and he is learning more than he knows in the process. Since they have recieved their Tenderfoot, the members of the Bazooka Berserkers patrol must now plan their meals, do the shopping (keeping to a budget), and cook and clean-up after themselves. This time, it was N.'s turn to shop. His patrol had to plan two meals (tonight's supper and Sunday breakfast) for three people. This gave them $6.00 per person, or $18.00. N. had to comparison shop and he learned that planning Gator-Aide would go over budget. I hope the boys are content with Apple Juice--64 oz. on sale for $1.29. Since, they had planned for pancakes, he also had to shoe-horn syrup into the budget--a process that led him to remark: "Now I know why the older patrols have eggs all the time--they're cheap and you don't need syrup!"

We came home and put the groceries away and ate lunch. I had N. practice cooking hot-dogs, but it's not much of a chore with a microwave! Then it was into town to visit the baker, the pet-store (we are almost to our free bag of dogfood), and then a break at Explora, before my class.

N. has his weekly science class there, but this week he was sick so we missed it. I promised we could stop and he could look at some of the displays that he doesn't have time for on class days.

Here he is, checking out a very large and complex version of those children's ball puzzles. They are the ones that you usually see at the doctor's office with the balls on the wires. This one is enclosed and the balls (not on wires) have all sorts of things happen to them--they get their trajectories changed by a variety of forces.

When we came home, after my class, N. packed for the camping trip while Bruce and I made Shabbat dinner. N. is now leading the Kiddush (Sanctification of the Sabbath day) every week and last night, he took over the Birkat ha-Mazon, which is the grace after meals.

We celebrated Bruce's birthday last night at dinner, too. But this morning the two of them had to get up at 5 AM in order to get N. to the drop-off point for the camping trip. This is the first trip that Bruce has not gone on with N. However, N. was really excited to go and the scoutmaster, who had been a guest at N.'s Bar Mitzvah, said: "After that, I know what he is capable of. I intend to push him toward Eagle. He wants it and he can do it."

I think it's so interesting that when I first imagined Homeschooling, I pictured N. and I huddled over books at our dining room table. I did not realize how much of his learning goes on elsewhere in the community: At the library, at museums, at the grocery store, and on scout trips. As I have learned to become more flexible and to follow his interests, N. has become a happier person. He is more engaged and more curious and willing to try many things that he never would have before. He is also a more interesting person, who has a lot to say and there are many adults in the community who really want to hear it. He talks to all kinds of people who know all sorts of things that he is interested in. The community and the world have become his school.

What is interesting is that most school people--like those in my university classes--immediately ask about socialization. But N. is socializing with more people than he ever did at school. They have important things to tell him--things he's interested in.

Anyway, this weekend, Bruce and I have a day to ourselves. Our driveway is turning into a lake--see the dark spots? That's snowmelt. It looks like it's cold in the picture, but actually, it is warm and the day's music has the beat and tinkle of water dripping and dropping and running down the drive.

Gotta go. We were snowed in for Valentines day, so we are going to go out to lunch and then do some bumming around--out and about in town. The snowmelt really feels like spring this time!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sinking the Titanic: Learning Sequencing Using the Special Interest

One of the most important skills for conversing and writing is the ability to sequence. Kids with AS often have difficulty with sequences. N. has been known to jump into a conversation with words that don't seem to fit the subject of the conversation, which makes the rest of the family stop and say 'Huh?' a lot.

Writing is another difficult area for N. He absolutely, positively HATES the whole idea of writing. Part of it has to do with the fine motor skills involved. N. has dysgraphia and tends to grip the pencil too hard, tiring his hand very quickly as he writes. This is one reason he has a hard time getting his thoughts down on paper. However, even with keyboarding, the requirement to write a paragraph (too many words, mom) or a story (NOOOOO! A whole page?) is food for a quiet but effective form of melt-down called a sit-down strike.

As we have been working with Dr. Florance on the Brain Engineering pillars, however, I have learned that N. has highly developed abilities in visual areas. But people who literally think in pictures do not understand sequencing--after all the whole picture is there all at once--every detail. So part of our work is working out sequencing. First this happened, then that happened. Most of the people who work on Brain Engineering do treasure hunts with their kids but N. disdains this for some reason. However, today on his break, he "sank" his Titanic in the snow several times over, taking pictures of each step.

N. checked out the movie Titanic from the library two weeks ago--and he has become obsessed with it. Every afternoon, he watches a certain sequence of scenes over and over again. He has looked up the Titanic on the web and he has read several books about it.
I was getting annoyed with the constant watching over and over--he (and I) have certain dialogue memorized. Then I realized: he is obsessing about the sequencing! He has probably watched that darn ship sink 200 times. Over and over...freeze-framing, skipping parts, and going backwards from the end to the beginning of the sequence.

N. is transfering skills from our Brain Engineering work to his interests. He is beginning to generalize! Those of you who have or know kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders know how important this step is. I honestly want to break out into the Hallelujah chorus in three part harmony. I am beginning to realize how powerful N.'s visual attention and his special interests (the rest of the world calls them obsessions) are for his learning.

Today, when he took his toy Titanic outside and sank it in the snow, over and over, he took another important step in generalization:

Here is the Titanic floating on the water (okay, so it's snow--who ever said he did not have a creative imagination?) just as it hits the ice-berg. (Not pictured).

Starting to sink as the compartments fill.

Sinking more. People are starting to worry.
Almost gone!
The lifeboats are away!
Jack and Rose are getting ready to hold their breath...
Almost gone!
After N. showed me the pictures, I taught him how to download them to his pictures file. Then I showed him how to transfer pictures to Powerpoint. He did a 6-slide-show called "Titanic: Ship of Dreams." He is currently working on the annimation schemes for his slides.
He only wrote a sentence or two for each slide. His spelling, capitalization and punctuation still leave much room for progress. But he told a story in sequence and he had fun doing it!
We can work at all that some other time. Right now, the important thing is that we all Oooh! and Ah! over his Powerpoint presentation. This is real progress toward the ability to write a paper or essay in the future.
Tomorrow, I will tell him that he can add sound effects to his Powerpoint.
Hmmm. Not too early in the morning.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Henry, the Lonely Red Truck

Yesterday, as I walked the dogs, our meadow looked like this. It was a frozen fog, which brought an end to our week of "normal" weather. February in NM is generally cold at night, warm in the day, sunny and dry.

I had my weekly conference call with Dr. Florance in New York at 8:30 yesterday morning and I had planned for N. to do a mixed practice page for math and then play a bit with the Microsoft Powerpoint (TM) program because we are getting ready to make a slide show to document his progress with Brain Engineering. But N. was not feeling well--he is having a really hard time shaking this crud he's had, so instead he was curled up in the recliner, reading Theras and His Town. I am beginning to wonder if we are ever going to get into a routine like the one we had before Channukah and Bar Mitzvah!

All morning and into the afternoon, the Fog hung on but the snow warnings were coming from everywhere. I had to decide whether to go to my Special Education Law class by 3 PM. No snow--so I drove into town having given N. strict instructions to: 1) under no circumstances go outside (that fog was bone chilling and cough producing); 2) watch a history chanel DVD about the real Troy, and 3) call me if it started snowing and the snow started to cover the driveway. In town, it was 45 degrees v. our 26, but there was a nasty wind blowing. No snow there. However, just as I was unpacking my notebook, my cell phone buzzed. It was N. It was snowing at home, he told me. I'd better come home.

But...Darn! I'd just got there and it was a once per week class--which meant I'd be missing a whole lot. So I called Bruce at his work and asked him when he was going to head home. He said that he would in about 15 minutes. So I told him: Call me when you get into the canyon if it is bad and you think I should head home. Then class began--and the prof handed out the homework handout right away, "in case the weather should give out on us." I had a hard time paying attention as I kept looking out the window at the mountains. Were the clouds lowering? Was it just my imagination?

Just as we got into discussing the statute IDEA 2004 section 614 (on assessment) and comparing it to the NMAC (state regulations) on the same issue, my phone buzzed again (I had it on vibrate). I slipped into the hallway to answer. It was my dear Bruce, and he told me that it was very windy in the canyon and that the snow was blowing around a bit. He thought that I had better head home right away. But--as I got back into the classroom, it appeared that we were wrapping up the discussion on the assessment part of IDEA--and it was interesting. So what harm would there be in going on just a few more minutes.

I imagine you can see where this is going...It was 5:35 before I left--a full hour after Bruce had called me. I thought to myself: I have at least 40 minutes more of daylight, if I get going I will get up our road before it is fully dark. So I fired up Henry, the big, red truck. But...I got onto I-40 and the traffic was very slow. Although I exited at the next exit, that took time. Then I had to go through city streets during rush hour to get back on the freeway further east. By the time I was entering Tijeras Canyon, the wind was very strong and the road was slippery. So I decided to get right back off again and take Old 66 through the canyon. It was snowpacked, but being lower than the freeway, the wind was not a problem. And it was a good thing I got off, because the radio announcer said that an east bound tractor-trailer had hit the guard rail, slid across the highway, crossed the center rail and overturned in the west-bound lanes. The traffic on the freeway was stopped in both directions! But 66 was very slick and it was all I could do to travel at 25 mph with my right tires in snow on the shoulder.

It was full dark when I turned on our road, which seemed okay until the first hill. It was very icy with blowing snow, and I had to go slow, but I started sliding on the hill. But I made it up that one. However, the next hill, steeper yet defeated me--I got half-way up and started to slide and had to stop. There was no going forward. Luckily, a neighbor in a 4WD SUV, helped me back it carefully into the ditch (so I could get it out) and then drove me up to get Bruce. We brought 6 40lb. bags of pellet stove fuel to put in the back. But Bruce could not get it up the hill, either. Poor Henry, just did not make the grade! So Bruce backed my truck down 2/10s of a mile to a side road that was level. We parked Henry in a pull-out just down that road, locked the doors and our neighbor brought us back home. It was snowing fast and furious by the time we got home last night!

Poor Henry! Abandoned for the night on Alta Vista road!

I am not sure if N. learned anything yesterday--but I did! If I should be in class during another storm warning, I will go home at the first

This morning, we woke up to 10 inches at 6 AM and it was snowing steadily. I checked the closings and delays while Bruce called the NWS to give a spotter report. Sandia was having a three hour delay--so we went back to bed. Bruce made an executive decision at that point that today was a full snow day for him. (The snowplow did not arrive 'til afternoon).

When I took the dogs out at 7:30 we had 11.5 inches of snow on the ground. I measured it in the driveway. I guess we'll not be parking there for a while!
The dogs and I broke trail to the main road, where we walked in already filling tracks of our neighbors 4WD F-250. At 8 AM, when I measured as we came home, we had 12 inches.
By about 11 AM, the snow was slowing down and N. measured 14 inches. We called the spotter hotline at NWS to report our total.

We have plans to rescue Henry tomorrow because it was beginning to clear up and we thought a little sun tomorrow would mean less digging.

Weather Bug just informed me that a new wave of storms was moving south from the northern mountains. We can expect at least two more inches tonight.

Poor Henry! Still stranded. Above you can see Bruce's Nova. Buried.
And all alone. No Henry beside her. Sigh.

Tomorrow: Henry's Rescue.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Ho, Hum! Another Storm Warning

At first it was fun but now it is getting tiresome.
Hello, El Nino!

Today as I was listening to a lecture on Synaptic Processes: An Introduction, my cell phone buzzed. (I had it on vibrate). Turns out it was a National Weather Service Urgent Message:


Apparently, we are to get more snow. We live two miles from I-40 in the corridor between Tijeras and Tucumcari. Sigh. We are weather spotters so I guess I will have something to do while we are snowbound once again.

We are finally able to drive all the way to the garage door on our steeply sloped drive. That just happened on Saturday because it rained. Well. I just hope I do not have to miss class tomorrow.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Problem with Books that Matter

Wow! I haven't taken an exam for a grade in a science-oriented class for over 15 years.

I studied pretty hard for my Neurobiology exam, but I had a few problems. Seems my old brain just does not want to hang onto nouns like my younger brain did. There were several questions for which I found myself describing structures or processes, but I could not get my brain around the correct term!! At one point, my professor must have thought I was nuts, because I was putting my hands on my head at the appropriate places to name the 4 lobes of the cortex. They are named for the bones of the skull--and I was touching them on my head as I wrote them down. There was one question about a patch clamp experiment that I just did not get! That was the worst part. I just hate that. But one thing 15 years has done--I did not immediately think of dropping the class. What I thought was: "Damn! I really want to know how to answer that question I did not get!" I really want the information, not the grade.

I guess there is something new in my aging brain.
I have been reading John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. The truth is, I ordered the book a long time ago-- before Rosh HaShannah. Someone had said I would be interested in the power of Gatto's ideas about schooling. But I did not read it then--one review on Amazon made it sound like Gatto is a communist and that, although the book was valuable, the reader should know where he was coming from. So, I did not read the book right away. I thought maybe I'd wait because the last thing I wanted to read was a polemic driven by ideology--any ideology. I finally picked up the book last week. And I was completely blown away. Gatto does not appear to be a communist--if anything, I'd say he's a communitarian. But he is not an ideologue. He tells the truth about schools as I experienced them when I taught. And he had the guts to do so when accepting an award as the New York State Teacher of the Year 1990 and 1991.
I am currently reading the essay entitled "We Need Less School, Not More." In the first part of the essay, Gatto spends a number of pages differentiating between community and pseudo-communities he calls networks. He ennumerates a number of important differences between the two. He says at one point:
"Networks ...don't require the whole person, but only a narrow piece. function in a network, it asks you to supress all the parts of your-
self except the network interest part...In exchange, the network will
deliver efficiency in the pursuit of some limited aim. This is in fact a
devil's bargain, since on the promise of some future gain one must sur-
render the wholeness of one's present humanity." (p. 48)
He also writes:
"Networks do great harm by appearing enough like real communities to
create expectations that they can manage human social and psychological
needs. The reality is that they cannot...With a network, what you get at
the beginning is all you every get. Networks don't get better or worse; their
limited purposes keep them pretty much the same all of the time." (p. 53)
He has a different idea about true blue community, however:
" A community is a place in which people face each other over time in all
(emphasis in original) their human variety: good parts, bad parts and all
the rest. Such places promote the highest quality of life possible--lives of
engagement and participation. This happens in unexpected ways...An example
might clarify this. Networks of urban reformers will convene to consider
the problems of homeless vagrants, but a community will think of its vagrants
as real people, not abstractions. Ron, Dave or Marty, a community will call
its bums by their names. It makes a difference." (p. 51).
As I was reading this, I was thinking about the current wave of "political correctness" that has siezed many of our institutions, public and private. Namely, to call every association of people for any imaginable purpose a community. We talk about our "school communities," our "neighborhood communities" and our "religious communities." And yet, as Mark Twain so wryly put it: "Saying so don't make it so!" In our "school communities," teachers and principals are often so busy trying to protect a false image, that we dare not even tell ourselves the truth about what goes on there. Schools are places where people are made to compete for grades and are clearly defined as winners and losers based on the outcome of tests. In our "neighborhood communities," we often don't even know the names of our next door neighbors and bums are strictly not allowed by covenant.
I do not think for a minute that some ubiquitous "they" has done this for insidious purposes in order to fool us. No, I think we are so hungry for something real that we use the equivalent of "new speak" in order to convince ourselves that we have something we really do not have.
(Remember 1984? Hate is love? Slavery is freedom? etc.).
And I am wondering about this need to name a particular institution in my life a "community." This institution has very high ideals but seems unable to apply them when dealing with real people where the "rubber-meets-the-road." Many of us who are members have little say about decisions that appear senseless and even downright cruel. And, although we talk about this among ourselves, many of us feel powerless to express our concern. In the recent firing of a staff member who was brought across the country less than a year ago for the job, members were informed after the fact and the firing was abrupt. (The person was gone within hours of firing. I was a volunteer under this person and had no clue as what had happened until the following week when she was not there).
The culture of this organization seems to discourage self-examination in order to right wrongs and do better. In fact, this one little cruelty has happened several times before. We do not "face each other over time in all of our human variety..." And yet the membership is encouraged to think of this as "community."
What is interesting is that I have always had a gut reaction when the leadership of this instutution has insisted on calling it a "community." I really want to believe that this is what I am part of, and what I am giving heart and soul and volunteer hours to--as they say, "De Nile ain't just a river in Egypt". But my gut knows better. And I am really wrestling with whether our family should remain affiliated with this organization or not. There are many benefits to being a member and there are opportunities to form real friendships with people that we meet there.
But one thing I do know--it is time to acknowlege to myself at least, that this is not a community. It is a network. It is an affiliation of people based on a narrow slice of their full humanity. The person that was fired, for example, was seen as a job-title (an abstraction) and the human concerns that come with migrating across the country, leaving home and family, dealing with a new culture and even a new climate, were clearly not taken into consideration or she would have been given much more time to integrate and to demonstrate her ability to participate.
Gatto says:
[A network] "is a place where men, women and children are isolated
according to some limited aspect of their total humanity...if performance
within these narrow confines is conceived to be the supreme measure of
success, and if the worth of the individual is reckoned by victory or
defeat in this abstract pursuit, will certainly dehumanize [them]." (p. 56)
This person of whom I speak is a very human person. She was concerned with N.'s heart and his soul, and she did not see him as an abstraction. To her, he was clearly an individual and his needs mattered. And yet, as a member of this network, I find it difficult to speak up about that, because I know that my own role there is seen by the organization as a whole as narrowly as hers was. In short, I am sure that I will not be heard. And to not speak up is an abdication of my own humanity and a refusal to recognize the humanity of this woman and of the people who fired her. I guess this means I need to be thinking about how to speak up in order to maximize my chances of being heard.
This is the problem with books. If you take them seriously, you have to act.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Thinking Outside the Box: Unschooling Jewish Learning

This year, N. has been attending a seventh grade class for religious education in a synagogue program called Machon.

The problem for him is that the class consists of 27 students sitting down to take notes from a power-point outline as the teacher lectures. This goes on for an hour and fifteen minutes. Although the teacher addresses several different topics during this time, these transitions are verbal only, and the students do not do any activities that would reinforce what is being taught. There is a quiz over the last weeks material given verbally at the beginning of every class. In short, if you wished to design a class that would frustrate and overwhelm a child with Asperger Syndrome and Central Auditory Processing Disorder, this one would win a prize.

At the beginning of the year, after N. had attended one class and come home in a melt-down state, I met with the teacher and requested accommodations for him using methodology more compatible with visual learning. The teacher does not get it. He told me that the outline in powerpoint constitutes a visual intervention. (Reading off a screen is still reading and is a primarily auditory activity. Writing alphabetic language is still auditory). He is also overwhelmed, I think, with 27 students and no pre-developed materials to use for them. He then demanded that I attend the class, too, and make sure that N. takes notes. I did at first but two problems quickly developed. One was that N. became isolated from the other students and the other was that he really did not want me to be there. I talked to the Director of Education, who had formed a relationship with N., and she agreed that the situation was not good. However, she did not feel that she could ask the teacher to change his style. So we have been driving into town once a week for N. to go to a class that is overwhelming to him. He comes out agitated and frustrated and it takes several hours to calm him down when we come home before he can sleep. This is turn is disrupting his learning the next day.

You may ask: What is the purpose of this exercise in frustration for all of us? Believe it or not, it has taken me until now (February) to ask myself that question. I have been inside this particular box: We want a Jewish education for N. He has committed to continuing his Jewish education post-Bar Mitzvah until a Confirmation ceremony at the end of grade 10. In order to have a confirmation ceremony, he must attend the synagogue program. It took me until last night to really assimilate a confusion in my thinking. Is the goal Confirmation? Actually, the goal is Jewish learning. Just as the Bar Mitzvah ceremony is a symbol of the attainment of a certain status (adult in the community) by demonstrating certain skills (lead a service, give a sermon, publically read Torah), so is Confirmation a symbol. It is not the goal--it is a symbol of attainment of the goal. The goal itself is that N. continue his Jewish learning. (The unschoolers reading this are probably saying: Well-Duh! We we wondering when you were going to get it!).

N. is committed to continuing to learn Judaism--and that is a life-time pursuit. He has many questions and wants to be able to do many things. The problem is not his motivation--it is in the structure of the classes he must attend in order to be allowed to have a Confirmation ceremony. But if Confirmation is not, in itself, the goal, then we can get out of the box that has become a problem for N.'s learning. The purpose of Jewish education is ultimately to live a Jewish life. That means Torah study, observance of Shabbat and Holy Days, and participation in the life of the synagogue. Confirmation is meaningless if it leads away from this goal rather than toward it. If we continue to put N. in a situation that is exceedingly frustrating to him and that does not further the goals listed above, then we are actually inhibiting his ability and desire to practice Judaism.

Once I came to this realization, a little thought and a 15-minute discussion with DH was all we needed to come up with other ways to meet these goals that are more compatible with N.'s learning differences. N. is already one of the few students in his Machon class that regularly observes the in-home rituals for Shabbat and Holy Days. He also prays the morning service each day, laying t'fillin, which is extremely uncommon among Jews who affiliate with Reform institutions. So the goal of Shabbat and Holy Day observance is being met.

Torah study takes place as part of our in-home Shabbat observance, too. However, N. needs the cross-fertilization of ideas to be found in study with others. Therefore, we are going to do two different things. One is to commit to attending Shabbat morning synagogue services on a more regular basis than we have been lately. The other is for him to participate in a small Torah study group for boys 13 - 15 years old that happens bi-monthly on Sunday mornings at another synagogue in town. N. found out about this from the rabbi there because he called this rabbi to ask a question. (One problem with our synagogue is that it is so programmed and professionalized and clergified that it is difficult to just call and ask a question. I guess this is what the president of the congregation meant when she discussed a "systems synagogue approach" last year. We are underwhelmed by it). This will also cause him to participate in the life of the community in meaningful study and discussion. The only other issue we need to resolve is how to have participate in the community through just being there. We think that if we can find a way for him to do something useful at the synagogue this might be a way for him to learn through service to the community. Didn't some actor once say that half of life is just being there? We want to find a way for him to "be there" for informal learning. (My own connection to the synagogue comes because I am a volunteer adult education teacher and because I show up to services that are needed in the community--to be "a body" for a Shiva service, for example, so the mourners can pray at home). This kind of participation is about being a Jew and learning through that process.

I have not quite given up on Confirmation, even though I have changed my perception of it's purpose. I am stepping out on a limb by requesting an alternative religious education program for N. due to his learning disabilities. This will largely be what I outlined above, but can grow and evolve because N. will participate in tweaking it to meet his needs. I am hoping that by having N. document his participation in these various activities and reflecting upon them, he will be allowed to demonstrate his continued Jewish learning and thus be allowed to participate in Confirmation. At the same time, now that I have articulated for myself the purpose of a ceremony like Confirmation, I do not see it as intrinsic to the goals outlined above for being a Jew. It is a nice marker, but it is not the thing itself. (Confirmation is not even a normatively Jewish ceremony--it was developed as a religious graduation ceremony in the Reform movement and was originally intended to replace Bar Mitzvah, which the early reformers wished to remove for a number of reasons). So, if we cannot come to an agreement on the alternative program, then we will have to forgo Confirmation.

It isn't always easy to venture outside the box. But the well-being of N.'s spirit demands that we cross some boundaries. After all, the original word for our people, Ivri means "boundary crosser."

Monday, February 5, 2007

Do They Still Play the Blues in Chicago?

Oy--Da' Bears!

I guess I am used to disappointment. Since the Cubs were my first religion, I know the meaning of hope in the face of contradictory evidence. "Maybe next year" was said in the homes of Cubs fans with the fervor of a rabbinic text. I really thought that "See ya' when the Cubs win the pennant" was probably somewhere in the wisdom literature of the Bible.

Poor N.! Being raised in Albuquerque, he is just not used to coping with sports angst. By the third quarter of the game yesterday, he was taking little breaks to skateboard down the driveway--while the rest of the country is caught in a cold snap, our snow is finally melting. He was getting overwhelmed by his emotions as it became very clear that although the Bears defense was keeping the score close, the offense was just not in the game.

After the game, he would not eat dinner. He called his dog for some "fuzzy therapy" and he went to bed. I, on the other hand, screamed "What a Bummer!" and then had a Sam Adams.

As I cleaned up the kitchen, I sang: "Do they still play the blues in Chicago, when baseball season comes around? When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play in their ivy-covered burial ground?" So you see, I am looking forward to the new season with...resignation. The true depth of faith of the Chicago spirit.

When I went to listen to his Shema and give him a good-night hug, I taught him the essential prayer of the Chicago sports fan: ..."Maybe next year."

Sunday, February 4, 2007

New Year of Trees: Tu B'Shevat, Changing Seasons

On Friday morning, February 2, (Groundhog's day) I took a picture of the sunrise from our front door. I took a similar picture on December 21, the winter solstice. On the solstice, the sun rose over the tree in the middle-right of the picture, in south-south-east of our view. On Friday, it rose in the south-east, about 22 degrees to the north of the solstice point. The days are getting longer! Groundhog's day comes from the pagan holiday that marked the coming of the spring-Imbolc. In the old calendar, this would have been the beginning of spring and the vernal equinox (around March 20) would have been mid-spring. Groundhog's day is known as Candlemas to Christians, who added a Christian gloss to the old holidays, assimilating them into the Christian calendar.

On the Jewish calendar, we have a holiday that comes near to this time of the year--falling sometime within two weeks of Groundhog's day. This is the Holiday of Tu B'Shevat--literally, the 15th of the month of Shevat--and it is Rosh Ha-Shannah ha-Ilanot--the New Year of the Trees. The holiday is based on the following commandment:

"When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise Adonai. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit." (Leviticus 19:23-25).

The Tenaim (Rabbis who wrote the Mishnah) wondered how you count the years? When do you start so that you have counted three years? They determined that the New Year for Trees must occur when the sap rising in the tree in spring is entirely from "new water"--that is water from the present year with no water from the previous year mixed in. They decided that that occurs four months after the New Year for Water. In the Mishnah (part of the Talmud) they said:

"There are four new years... the first of Shevat is the new year for trees according to the ruling of Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel, however, places it on the fifteenth of that month." (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1)

The disagreement between the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel comes from a difference of opinion about when the New Year for Water occurs. Shammai says that it occurs on the Birthday of the world---Rosh HaShannah--which is the New Year for Creation, which is 1 Tishrei--making 1 Shevat four months later. Hillel says that the New Year for Water is on 15 Tishrei--the first day of Sukkot, because on the Sukkot the ceremony of water pouring occured in the temple and the prayers for the season were changed from summer to winter. This would make 15 Shevat four months later. The law always goes according to Hillel until the coming of the Messiah, when it will become according to Shammai.

So, on the full moon of Shevat, four months after the full moon of the Ingathering Harvest, we celebrate the New Year of Trees. In the land of Israel, it is a time to plant trees at the beginning of spring. In the 15th century C.E., the mystics of S'fat in the Galilee began the custom of a Tu B'Shevat Seder, connecting the the changing seasons to the Mystical Emmanations of Kabbalah--because these Emmanations are depicted in the form of a tree--the Eitz Chayyim--the Tree of Life. The Tu B'Shevat Seder has become a sort of Jewish Earth Day--a day to consider how we guard and protect Gan Eyden--the garden of Creation.

This year, N. and I collaborated on a simple ritual for the Tu B'Shevat Seder, based on several formats we found on the internet (the customs are still in flux since this is a relatively new ritual). There are four cups of wine (or grape juice), just as there are for the Passover Seder.

One cup is drunk for each season. The first is for winter (Atzilut, the divine energy of creation) and is all white wine. The second, for spring (Yitzirah, the divine energy of birth), is mostly white with a little bit of red. The third, for summer (Beriah, the divine energy of flourishing) , is mostly red with a little bit of white. And the last, for autumn, (Aysh, the divine energy of fire) is all red. N. led the blessing for each cup of wine.

We also different kinds of fruits for each season: Winter is hard on the outside, but nourishing on the inside (almonds), and reminds of the protective and healing power of the atmosphere. Spring is soft on the outside, but hard on the inside (olives and dates), reminding us of the life-sustaining power that emanates from the soil. Summer is soft throughout (figs and grapes), reminding us of our inextricable relationship with the Earth and the fullness of G-d's abundance that sustains the world. And autumn is tough on the outside with sweet fruit within (oranges, melons and avacados), which reminds us of the sweet fulfillment of harvest and the study of Torah--we must dig a bit to uncover the sweetness of the fruits of Torah.

Here is our table, set with the abundance of fruits we used in the Seder. The Pomegranite spice-box hangs from a tree shaped Havdalah candlabra. Since the Seder was done as the Seudah Shlishit (Third Meal) on Shabbat, we concluded the ritual with Havdalah, a ceremony for separation of the day of rest from the six days of work.

At the end of the Seder, we and our guests told the story of Honi ha-Maegel (Honi, the Circle-Drawer), who said: "Though I will not live to see the fruit of the carob trees I now plant, I plant them for those who will come after me." So we do not always see the fruits of our study and effort in our lifetime, but we must labor for those who come after us. As we ate our meal--Pizza made of whole wheat (another fruit of Israel) with cheese (milk) and vegetables, and our desert of honey (the land of milk and honey!), we talked seriously about the coincidence of the International Panel on Climate Change meeting in Paris and the conclusions they are soon to publish about it. We talked about the importance of having the moral strength to labor for those who will come after us. We all pledged to find a way to reduce our emissions in our families and to hound our government to find ways for us to do so as a nation.

After Havdalah, we had planned to plant parsley seeds in window gardens. In northern climes, there is often snow still on the ground, so it has become a custom to plant parsley, which will be ready to eat for the greens dipped in salt water at the Passover Seder. However, we got to talking about Global Warming, so we never did plant! N. and I will do it this week. We ended the evening by reading and discussing the following:

Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai taught: If you have a fruit-tree on your hands and someone says to you: Here is the Messiah. Go and finish planting your fruit-tree just the same, and afterwards go out and welcome the Messiah. (Avot d’Rabi Natan 31).

The Tree and the Mashiach by Danny Seigel

No matter what reasonable people or foaming enthusiastic youth tells you: that this messiah or that messiah is imminent –plant!

The Mashiach is in no rush.When you have planted down the last clods ofdirt, And watered your pines, your cedars,your gum trees and cypresses, he will still be wherever he is supposed to be,and more than happy to admire the sapling with you.

Messiahs don’t come to uproot things .