Saturday, May 31, 2008

Another Quarter, Another Color

While I have been preparing to teach reading this summer, homeschooling has continued.
N. has been been reading quite a bit about the ships and airplanes of WWII, as well as working on Kamama Naturalist Training.

And the "carschooling" aspects of N.'s education have also continued. A few weeks ago, N. made the First Class rank advancement in BSA and he finished up the year in Machon Jewish studies with a 6 week study of the Shoah (Holocaust).

N. has been diligent in his Taekwondo practice as well, and last week he tested for advancement from the Purple Belt to Orange Belt. He is breaking boards now, and intrepid as always, he decided to break three boards at once in testing although he had not done so in training. Although he tried several times, he did it only when he remembered to keep his hand moving fast through the boards.

Today, N. participated in the belt advancement ceremony. In the picture above, his group of Blue belts stand ready to bow at the beginning of the ceremony. N. turned to listen to Master Blackman just as the Engineering Geek snapped the picture.
In the Blackman Dojang, children 12 and under study in separate classes from adults 12 and over. N. studies with a small group four who have persisted together. They are becoming close-knit, working together on the forms, Hapkido (self-defense moves), breaking and sparring.

Here, N. is putting on his new Orange Belt, after removing the old Purple one and honoring the work he did while wearing it.
After testing, Master Blackman talked to the group about the circle of forms and sparring, and how one must control the energy of the opponent, and vice-versa so that the energy moves between the two as a circle for practice.
He also talked about the open hand. "You hold your hands close to your face," he said, "And open to show that you do not want to fight. But your hands are ready for different punches or grabs if the opponent insists on a fight. Fighting is always the last resort because even when you win you get hurt."
I really like the confidence and discipline and the ethics that N. is learning in Taekwondo.
One of his teachers, Mrs. Crates, told me that she is very pleased with his progress and intensity. He is certainly doing well. He has advanced from white through yellow and purple and now to orange, all in less than nine months.
We're proud of his progress.
This is physical education at its best!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tov Meod: Towards Order Slowly


Step one accomplished.

The office is set up and usable.

The books are back on the shelf
and the boxes have found corners to dwell in temporarily.

My desk is also set up.

There is more clutter on it now, but everything on the surface of the long part is related to IRD.

Tomorrow I can prepare for my classes this weekend in an office that is set up and workable.

And I even managed a quick trip to the grocery store.

Order is on the way.

; Tohu V'Bohu: Sometimes Chaos is Good

At the beginning of B'reshit (known to the Western World as Genesis), it is written:

"V'ha-aretz haita tohu v'bohu.
The earth was in chaos."
If you prefer King James--which is translated to masterful English--we read "the earth was unformed and void." It was the creative power of the Eternal that "moved across the waters" and brought cosmos out of that chaos. And ever since, human beings--especially female ones--have been laboring to do the same.

That seems to be my task this week.

While I was gone, the Engineering Geek took a week's vacation and installed the Brazilian Cherry hardwood flooring in my office.

He was very good. He disturbed my things as little as possible by simply moving them as they were to other places for the duration.
Now it's my job to transform my office to make it a workable space by this weekend.

On Tuesday evening, we put the dedicated canine daybed back together and in place.
We also put the desk back, and hooked up the computer and speaker phone.
That got me ready for the last day of Distance Training for IRD.

The office was looking pretty good.
Spare and clean.
Too bad there were still books, binders, papers that need to be shredded, and all the accountrements of modern living to be brought in. But it still looked doable. Even with the 6 boxes of supplies helpfully dropped off on our doorstep from IRD.

I got some more stuff into my office on Wednesday morning, since I had started some of the IRD reading and lesson plan study the night before. It was still looking good.

But 45 minutes before I had to leave to take N. to Taekwondo Belt Testing, Fed Ex pulled up. The friendly Fed Ex man got out his dolly. Oh.
Nine more boxes that had to be opened and inventoried right away covered the new floor in my office. And it's a good thing I did not delay! I needed to inform the IRD shipping contingent that I needed more copies of The Fellowship of the Ring and some Level 6 packets, as numbers for that course had gone up dramatically. Those folks were already on it, though, and had already arranged for another shipment.

Here is the state of my office this morning.

It's kind of exciting to be getting the actual teaching materials for my summer's work.
But I'd like one more day to get the office in order so that I can then focus on teaching prep.

And I am not a chaos sort of person.
Order is my specialty.
Which is why I am forever working against entropy to bring order out of chaos.

So I must remind myself that sometimes chaos is good. It is the ground of being creative.
And creativity is one of the aspects of divinity endowed to humanity.

I do intend to post about summer plans and exciting changes coming our way in the next few months. After I do the work at hand.
Such as getting the office together so that I can think in here.
And getting a work routine down so that I can focus on the meta aspects of teaching.

And, quoting from B'reshit again, it is:
"Tov meod."
Very good.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Illinois Pastorale


I had forgotten how green and verdant and abundant the wildlife in Illinois is.

New ponds in the developments of east Bloomington have attracted ducks, like this mallard and his mate to backyard birdfeeders and

In the countryside, spreading oaks
and maples, boxwood, chestnut,
Hardwoods all, grow
and spread wide branches
that shade the land.

The Mackinaw river cuts across the Bloomington Moraine,
flowing abundance widely across the land.

As we drove home from Minier after dinner on Saturday night, I opened the window to appreciate the soft, water-laden breeze, and smell the delicate odors from the woods, and the

strong, fertile scent of the dark, rich soils.

In my head, a few remembered lines of the state song drifted past:

"By thy rivers gently flowing, Illinois,

...By thy prairies verdent growing,
Illinois, Illinois..."

That's all I remember. But it fit the mood and the


It's just so incredibly fertile...

And the green is not delicate or retiring...

A softer, gentler beauty than what I have come to love here in New Mexico.

It's so green...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig!

On Sunday we celebrated Memorial Day with a cook-out at my sister's house in Bloomington.

At the cookout we honored two graduations, a new job, and a pregnancy.
The Chemistry Geek Princess (pictured with tiara on the right), and my sister's daughter-in-law (middle), both received degrees in the past few weeks. My nephew (left) got a job as a Livingston County (IL) deputy sheriff. They are also expecting a new baby in December.
The funniest part of this was that my sister and her husband, who sponsored the party, completely forgot that Monday was their anniversary!

The night before the party,
my sister worked for several hours
to frame a picture of the CGP in cap and gown.
She had to use Photoshop and pictures from the internet to get the best picture for the special frame she had gotten as a gift to the CGP.

I think she did a pretty good job!

Yesterday, my sister dropped me at ISU's Bone Student center, where I caught the Peoria Charter Shuttle to O'Hare International.

I got there at 2PM for a 5:45 PM flight. Security was quick though--and the TSA employees in Chicago were amazingly polite and even kind! So I had plenty of time to eat and walk around the airport before catching my plane.

Bruce picked me up at the Albuquerque Sunport at around 8 PM. It is so good to be home.

Even though my office is still chaos!

Actually, the office is not. It is empty except for the stuff on the walls and the newly laid floor.

What is chaos is everything that is supposed to be in my office. But Bruce has promised that we can move the furniture back in tonight so that I will be back in business for tomorrow's last day of IRD Distance Training.

It's so cool! I went away leaving a messy office, and I returned to a newly laid floor!

Nice! Or it will be when we get the tape up and the stuff moved back in.

And it is so nice to be home. I slept well for the first time in ten days.
Those Select Comfort Sleep Number beds are addictive.
As is the husband that belongs in it with me.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

In Normal

On Thursday, I took the train down to Bloomington. Actually, it's Normal. The station was relocated from Bloomington to Normal, IL. But Amtrack still stubbornly calls it "Bloomington."

The conductor came through the cars, calling out: "Next station, Bloomington. All passengers for Bloomington, please check the area for personal items and then step to the front. This train is on time!"

Apparently, the train was on time for the first time in several months.

Normal is called "Normal" because Illinois State University is here.

It used to be called Illinois State Normal School, being the downstate teacher's college.

This picture is Watterson Towers, built on the lowest point of the glacial moraine. The townspeople

waited for years for it to be finished, before realizing that the unfinished look was planned. The town still calls it the ugliest building in central Illinois. It's hard to know what the "gown" contingent thinks. But all the other new building since built look more like they belong on the brick-and-ivy quad.
Although I am here to visit family, I am also going to be meeting Susan from the Corn and Oil Blog.
She lives, homeschools and writes from her home here in central Illinois, and we both attended ISU in years past, although we do not know each other in person.
I will be returning to Albuquerque Monday, and I will begin teaching the following the week for IRD. This weekend is for visiting. And the sun has finally come out.
It may act like Memorial Day Weekend after all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In Training: Chicago, My Kind of Town

Nearly Wordless Wednesday
Travel Edition

It was a beautiful day today in Chicago.
So after training, some of us did the town.

The pictures here are from the internet.
Yes, I brought the camera.
Yes, I forgot the memory stick needed to transfer pictures from the chip in the camera to the computer.

Chicago is truly a beautiful city.
And Navy Pier contributes to it's

Navy Pier is Chicago's amusement park.
When we were at Fermilab in the 80's
we'd head to Navy Pier for
'A Taste of Chicago" in the summer.

This is the Sears Tower, now the third tallest building in the world. I remember going up on the skydeck.
I have no idea if it is open to tourists.
It was not when we were here in 2004.

Training is over tomorrow, and immediately after, I will be heading down to to Union Station from the North River IRD office to catch a train to Normal-Bloomington to visit family.
I am looking forward to a weekend of reading and visiting.

I also have arranged to meet Susan from Corn and Oil.
It ought to be a good weekend.

On Monday, I will take Peoria Charter back up to O'Hare for the flight home.
Don't worry, I'll write.
Next week.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In Training: The Heart of It All

Today in training we had a special treat.

In the afternoon, the director of the teaching division of IRD was with us, and he spent an hour talking to us about the importance of reading to the development of a child. It was an informative and passionate talk that reminded us all of why we had chosen this commitment, delivered at that time when we were all feeling more than a bit tired, albeit willing to soldier on. But we needed the philosophical justification to balance all of the technical teaching nitty-gritty that we had been focused on.

I remember the tone more than the actual words, but here is some of what I do remember.

Fifty years ago, and more, young people 18-22 were the demographic group that read the most in the United States Now, they are the least likely to pick up a book. To me, this is sad beyond words.

There is a great deal of research that shows that the paths of readers and non-readers diverge after the summer between 4th and 5th grade. Those kids who love reading will begin reading voraciously--and over the next year read tens of thousand to a million words. These readers will gain more and more fluency and reading speed, and will come to love immersing themselves in books, and thus gain very important cultural, personal and spiritual value from their reading. Those kids who do not love reading will read only what is required and never for pleasure. They will lose ground in many important ways, and are likely to never experience the joy and pleasure of reading. They are also far less likely to develop the value systems that come from immersion in reading of great fiction and literature. So our students who are entering the 4th or 5th grade next fall, and particularly those who are struggling readers, present a small window of opportunity to us to help them become readers relatively painlessly. We do work with older kids as well, but in those situations we must do a great deal of catching them up in their technical skills as well as teaching them to love books. This presents a far greater challenge, although it is doable.

I will have more to say about this in the coming weeks but I really wanted to share this tidbit with you.

Also, as I had my fingerprinting done--all of us must have a background check to work with children--the technician out from IRD's Novato office noticed that I had been a school teacher before teaching for the institute. He said, "My wife's a teacher, and she sometimes comes with me on these trips and hears some of the training you are doing. She says that all teachers should get this kind of training."

I had to agree. It is difficult for those of us with old habits that must be changed, but the more I grok (remember that word?) the logic of the curriculum, and the beauty and economy with which it is put together (there are no superfluous words or activities in the lessons), the more I can imagine the transformations it can accomplish with our students. I am learning so much about teaching that will transfer to any other teaching I will ever do.

I am still a novice, but I am learning to teach reading from the philosophy of immersion.

Every lesson, every word we will say has the ultimate aim of developing in our students the capacity and the desire to immerse themselves in books.

Today, I am feeling grateful to have the opportunity to learn like this.
Today's Chicago picture is of the Chicago Theatre in the Loop.
The small picture here is the same--I accidently posted the thumbnail version, and I can't figure out how to delete pictures.

Carnival of HOmeschooling 125: In My Opinion...

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at Po Moyemu--which means
"In My Opinion" in Russian. Silvia has posted a great carnival,
with blog entries about education, family life, and other topics of interest to homeschoolers.

You might want to mosey on over there to check it out.
And while you're at it, check out Silvia's blog in general. She is a homeschooling/unschooling chicken farmer, gardener and nature libertarian! So she's always got something interesting to read!

Monday, May 19, 2008

In Training: Shifting Time Zones and Back on Track

Remember when your mom would comfort you by saying: "Well, tomorrow is another day?"

Today was a better day. I think I shifted time zones. I am tired enough to go to bed at a reasonable CDT hour, instead of retiring at what feels like 11 PM, but is really 12 Midnight CDT. This morning I had less of the feeling that it was 4:30 AM which is what it was in MDT when I woke up at at 5:30 AM CDT.

I actually enjoyed being in Chicago, even though it was not as clear as it was when this picture of the famous Chicago Watertower was taken. This is the only structure that survived the great Chicago fire.

Although I was still tired today, I managed my congestion with Pseudophedrine rather than Benedryl. And what a difference that made from Monday. I was tired but not foggy.

Training today went better as well. Our trainer put me into a different group--one in which there a fast talker and a slow talker, as well as two people who are more direct and two who are not as direct. I can see my opposites and learn from them, and they can learn from me. It is far more comfortable for me this way, as I know I can learn and I feel like I can contribute as well. And, of course not being in a fog makes that learning much more likely.

And I am getting the wisdom of IRD's very structured program into my head and gut.
I keep reminding myself, this is very scripted because it is not really my classroom this summer--as it would be if I were back teaching my gifted kiddos--but IRD's classroom.

They have worked very hard on the lesson plans so that the teachers need not waste a single word. One downfall of school teachers is that we tend to talk too much. This is especially true when we are nervous and have not yet gelled with a class.

But in the IRD programs, we have only five classes or ten hours to teach the skills we have agreed to get across to the students. The parents, with our coaching, tutor their kids at home for another 20 hours during the session, and continue over the next school year. This is not a lot of time, and yet the program, which teaches certain skills over four levels of reading development--from pre-reader to adult speed reading--is remarkably successful at helping people become skillful and passionate readers. Today I had a sea change in my thinking while listening to two other group members practice the lesson plan for parent coaching in assisted reading for 6-8 year olds. One of my fellow teachers is like me, quite wordy and I realized how snowed under parents must feel with this plethora of information. The other follows the script very well, presenting only the needed information. I said to her, "I just realized from you how much less is more!" That has become my mantra. Less is more.

Another important realization is that I am letting my perfectionist self get in the way of the good teacher I normally am. I let go of the lesson plan way too early, dealing with it like I would the much more free-from suggested plans in the science texts I used when teaching Physical Science, Biology and Chemistry. In those fields, I am very knowledgeable about the content, and have spent years honing my skill in teaching it. But I am a novice at teaching reading. And I know very little about the field. Oh, with my gifted kids, I taught literature--but that is different than teaching reading. So how ridiculous it was of me to think that I could perfect the skills of a good reading teacher in a day! So I let my perfectionism get in my own way. It was really quite painful yesterday, but today sans Benedryl, I can look at it for what it is and move on.

The Hasidic Masters say that the Eternal One endows everyone with a major gift and a persistent flaw. The gifts display the beauty of humanity and the glory of G-d; but the challenges created by the flaw are what drive us to draw near to G-d. Perfectionism is that flaw for me.

So tomorrow is still another day.

Having got myself into a more comfortable place as a student of reading instruction, I can now work on the skills the IRD program requires so that I can teach their curriculum.

I was impressed with the IRD program and philosophy on an intellectual level, but now I am beginning to make connections between the program on a more gut level. Like many Geeks, I tend to live in my head--and I definitely retreat to intellectualization when I am under stress. Getting something on a gut level is good. It means progress on my part.

Now that I have gotten myself out of the way,
I am ready to take on the mission I gave myself when I took this summer job. It is two-fold: to share my love of books with people who want to learn to love them too and to learn as much as I can about reading instruction.

I can see that this training is not only an intellectual challenge, and it is more than the opportunity to learn a new skill. It can also be for me a kind of spiritual boot camp in which I can see clearly the consequences of my perfectionism and develop some strategies for coping with it and growing towards a more gentle approach. (Notice that I did not say "eradicate it from my life." I have learned something in my nearly 50 turns around the sun).

Now, I can also enjoy Chicago.

This picture of the El coming into the Loop is one of my favorites. There is something so cool and unpretentious about a city that names its downtown after a noisy, bustling form of transportation.

I really do like this matter-of-fact city by the lake.

If I had to live in a city, I would probably choose this one.

But cities are not my first preference as a place to call home.

Chicago is a really nice place to visit.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

But Is It Education?

So, I've got the angst off my chest. Sniffle. I feel much better now.

And while surfing the homeschooling blogosphere, I happened upon an interesting post by Dana over at Principled Discovery about higher education and what has been termed the "educational industrial complex" by none other than Paul Peterson, Harvard's Education Policy and Governance chair.

I have had some grave concerns about the differences between my own college education, and the college experiences that my daughters' generation is having. I have thought for a long time that such universities have neglected undergraduate education and have forgotten their mission to truly educate students at that level. In my experience listening to and mentoring young people in college, I have learned that the university bureaucracy, which is mitigated for the sake of graduate students, has become a daily ordeal for undergraduates; sucking up their time and their money, it often costs them extra semesters of study to get their degrees because of adminstrative lack of concern and sheer, unadulterated incompetence. Harsh words I know, and certainly not applicable uniformly upon all adminstrators, and yet how else does one explain advisement by administrators rather than professors, or the frequent, repeated loss of paperwork?

But in my opinion, what is even more damning in the 'Educational-Industrial System' is the lack of understanding by those who ought to know better about what teaching really means at the level of "higher" education. Instead of being a mentoring process that nurtures and challenges young minds, higher education at the undergraduate level, like K-12 education, has become a conveyor belt in which thinking has been replaced by the reflexive desire to treat unequal things equally.

And we all know the result of such an education for conformity:


In talking to young students that I know and mentor, I hear stories on a regular basis of upper division classes being taught by first-year graduate students, many of whom do not know the content they are expected to teach the students with no supervision from professors. I hear tales of professors who refuse to meet with students that want to know why they did poorly on exams and papers. I have heard of professors who spend class time discussing their political views and thereby making short shrift of the content the students have paid to learn. In the eyes of many of the young people I have talked to, therefore, a college education has become a series of hoops to jump through as efficiently as possible rather than an opportunity to participate in the Great Conversation of our culture.

Being in an academic setting, I have heard professors lament that "students these days" do not care for the knowledge that they could take home, but only for the points needed to make the grade and graduate. But I seldom hear these professors lament the lost opportunities to teach their students to think differently. The undergraduate system is set up in such a way that students must care about points more than knowledge.

Among many university professors, there seems to be an attitude that "raising standards" means acting as gatekeepers to diplomas, rather than mentoring students to help them achieve their best work. This spring, a number of students, some of whom are academically quite talented, were refused graduation under rather unreasonable circumstances. For example, a student who choses a difficult and challenging course for this last semester of the college career, and who struggles with the material early on, may earn an A on a cumulative final and still fail the course.

During my college days, such a thing would not happen. A professor who is truly concerned about students would consider that, yes, the student struggled at first--but the learning curve is logarythmic--rising slowly at first, and then reaching an inflection point and then taking off to heights previously unattainable. (This is how Dr. Reiter, my P-Chem professor explained it to me when I wanted to drop the course back in 1980). If you aced Dr. Reiter's cumulative final, you would pass the course, even if you had flunked a test at the beginning. This was so not because he was giving an undeserved grade. Nor was it because he did not care about "standards." It was because a person who can ace a cumulative final has mastered the material in the course and has earned a passing grade. So I was taught--mentored--by my old chemistry "prof" not to be afraid to take difficult courses and learn very difficult material.

Students now are afraid of the hard courses. And with good reason. Lose one too many points out of the total, and no matter how much one may have learned, it doesn't matter. A person could have spent much money and lost many opportunity costs, only to come out with nothing except the label failure after four years.

When I was responsible for student grades as a graduate instructor for genetics, I thought of it this way. Two people climb a mountain. Maybe one starts out at a different point than another, and encounters a more difficult course. That one slips, slides, groans and gets back up, trying another way. And maybe another. Both reach the top of the mountain. Both has "mastered" the mountain. But which one knows that mountain better? It may very well be the one that struggled, and fell numerous times, scraping his knees, losing skin from his hands on the ropes. That one left pieces of himself on the mountain and received pieces of the mountain into himself. Likewise, it is the student who struggles who often knows the content of a difficult course the best.

These are the students who, like Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman (z"l), (who almost did not complete his Ph.D.), often have the most contribute to the field. Thank goodness Feynman had a mentor who did not dismiss him as a failure; instead he entered into a discussion with him, and they walked it through to completion.

But what of the Feynmans of tomorrow? They cannot afford to risk four years, all the money and opportunity costs, and thus may play it safe and do what is easy and predictible.

And those who do take risks may very well be labled failures for the very characteristics that give them the most to contribute to their fields.

Yes. It's still college. But you can hardly call it an education.

Training Update: In Which the Author Questions What She Is Doing

My first day of In-Person Training here in Illinois was a humdinger of a day.
Tired from all the excitement yesterday--a graduation, and a celebration luncheon,
traveling felt to me like an another full day in its own right, and I did not get to sleep until after midnight local time. And today--today!--well, let's just say that after more than 10 years as a school teacher, and years of other experiences before that--today I felt like I did not know a darn thing about my profession. I am having my doubts about my ability to do this.
I was inordinately tired and running on caffeine and nerves, with ears that stubbornly refused to clear, all which is a very bad combination. I am currently wondering about whether I am too old, too set in my ways to do this. So I did the only logical thing. When I went to Jewel to buy lunch stuff, I also got some Tahitian Vanilla Gelato. Ahhh. Life is good even if I am terminally bad at figuring out what the trainers want.

A few notes on the training techniques.

Overall, I think the trainer we have is very good. She understands the curriculum and she always points out what we are doing right first. And yet, everyone--rookies and teachers more experienced than I am --everyone seemed more and more nervous as the day progressed. For some of us, the problem is learning something new, but for me, some part of it is unlearning habits--and I do mean habits--that were inculcated either deliberately by our teacher education programs, or that were picked up unconsciously from other teachers.

The more I see of the IRD curriculum, the more impressed I am with the ideas that it represents. It is singularly focused at all levels on one primary goal: getting people to become absorbed in what they read so that they will read books and obtain pleasure and an education from reading. The curriculum is very structured in order to achieve that goal.

Finally I am being told that I talk too slowly and am too deliberate.
I think that's funny after all the years that I was told to slow down.

I spent years learning the Hilda Taba discussion format: a gentle, slow way to guide students towards generalizations.

Maybe it comes from teaching high school chemistry.
If I went even a bit faster than a deliberate pace, I could count on losing more than half the class. For most of these young people--even those who are very good students--chemistry is extremely difficult for them to get their heads around.

Maybe I have finally become--at last--a mostly native New Mexican.
Manana will come. And those people from the east (here defined as anything across the Pecos River), well, we all know that they talk way too fast. And anyway, why rush through life.

But maybe it's because of that dreadful anomia that comes with Tamoxifen.
At the time I had to write down every term I would use in a lecture because I couldn't count on remembering some of them, even though they were as familiar to me as my own name. Words like photosynthesis, chlorophyll, or natural selection.
And for me, although it got better, it has left me talking more slowly,
as I struggle sometimes to get certain words out of my mouth.

And it is really, really frustrating because I remember not struggling like that.

I know that I am an intelligent person. I love academia. I enjoy getting my head around new and exciting ideas. And that excitment of grasping something new, even before I can formulate the words, is extremely pleasurable to me.

And yes, that does mean I am likely a Geek.
Just last week someone said to me: "I think you misunderstood the question. Isn't what you are saying really that certain reading methods are useful?
How can reading a scientific paper be pleasurable?"

I love books. Reading is almost as important to me as breathing.
And, to paraphrase Thoreau, if I had two dollars, I would buy bread with one to feed the body, and with the other I would buy a book to feed the soul.

But perhaps I am not right for this program.
It is not feeling like a good match.

Oy, I am so full of angst.
And here I thought I was too old for that!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

From ABQ to ORD via DFW: Travel Day

Today was a flying day.
I am not really fond of flying anymore--or better put, I am not really very fond of the rigamarole with TSA, luggage limits, and so forth.
When the plane is in the air and I am next to the window, it's all okay.

Today, after packing and loading the car, the Engineering Geek and N. drove me into Albuquerque. Today was a little cloudier, and there was no snow that low on the Sandias,
but this photo from the ABQ website shows you why I love New Mexico.

After having Italian for lunch with the CGP and her boyfriend, my guys took me to the Sunport.

I really did not want to leave home.
I have not recovered from paper writing, IRD distance training, and that multiple choice final in Child Psychopathology--though I think I did well on that! And now I was on my way to Chicago for five intense days of In-Person Training.

But we parked--Parked!--Bruce actually paid so that N. could "take Mom into the Sunport and see her off."

Five hours later, after transfering at DWF (Dallas-Fort Worth), I landed at ORD (Chicago O'Hare International), which is one of the truly great airport buildings in the world. (Not quite Orly, but stately and modern nevertheless).

My ears are clogged despite my attempt to stave it off by cosumption of (real) Pseudophed twice during the journey.

It was raining and dark when we landed in Chicao, but maybe tomorrow, I will see the city looking more like this:

Sunny and shadowy. But I doubt it.
I have heard about rain and more rain for this week.

We'll see! But now, I must to bed. It doesn't feel like 12:20 AM on Sunday morning. But the clock says it is.
Of course, that's CDT, whereas my body in on MDT.

But I doubt that the Institute of Reading Development is going to run an hour earlier just to please me.

Tomorrow is a busy day, so nighty-night.
"Sleepy tight...and all that jazz!" as CGP used to say!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Touch of Green to Gladden the Heart


It started like this at the very end of April...

A touch of green,
tightly wrapped,
not yet ready to venture out.
It could still snow...

and did a few days later.

And in the first week of May,
tiny leaves venture out,
testing their flexibility in the wind.

And then, suddenly, it seemed,
the leaves though new, are full,
dancing in the Mother's Day breeze!

And the door garden,
so recently dormant,
has become abundantly,
fruitfully green.
Spring comes in May in the Sandias.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling 124: Didn't Make the Deadline, but...

...I might still have time to read a few entries.

It's up over at Mom Is Teaching (wearing our pajamas to class).

There is no theme, but whenever I think of Mom Teaching, I always imagine the little guys poring over American History and Algebra in robes and slippers.

It gives me a warm, fuzzy sort of feeling.

And that's something I need right now.

I like the very idea of pajamas.

I'm counting down. Two more days...about 50 hours...

There are two more days of "Distance Training" for the IRD job.

It's been intense but interesting. More on that later...

And my multiple choice final (Oy!) for Child Psychopathology is Thursday evening at 7:45.

I imagine that I will be done with that by 8:30, thus the 50 hours estimate.

Of course, I'm not really done.

Sunday I start IRD "In Person Training." In Chicago.

There'll be five days of that, and then I am catching the train down to McClean County to visit relatives over Memorial Day Weekend.

The Engineering Geek, N., and the CGP have some fun planned while I am gone.

"While the cat's away..." they say, grinning wickedly when I ask what their plans are.

Too bad the cat has to work!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Heresy: A Little Dennis Music

Normally on Friday afternoons, we get ready for Shabbat and have a late dinner at home.
And we would attend services on Saturday morning with some regularity.
Sometimes, we would go to Friday night services, though that was less common.

Since N.'s Bar Mitzvah year ended last summer, and his classmates have all finished up, we have not been going to synagogue services with much regularity at all.
Oh, I chair the Women's Torah Study once a month.
We take N. to Machon on Wednesdays or make sure he gets there--it's rather complicated this term! But when I pick the East Mountain boys up, I arrive just in time to get them.

The truth is that we are feeling uneasy about some things that have happened at the synagogue, and we just do not enjoy the services very much. A beloved pre-school teacher there nearly 25 years was fired suddenly 6 months before retirement.
She taught the Chemistry Geek Princess and N. both. CGP now refuses to go there for any reason at all. She says, "It just doesn't feel Jewish."

I suppose if we lived in town, we would likely still go more often, but it's really hard to justify driving 30 miles for services that feel just sort of lackluster. And yet it also has the quality of being a performance instead of prayer. Maybe. I can't come up with the word I want here. There is a forced quality about it, and I feel like every move I make while praying is scrutinized for correct davening technique. Anyway.
We don't go anymore.

And then there's N. If we decided to go into services, we'd have to leave him alone on Shabbat. He will not step into the sanctuary with one particular synagogue employee unless forced. He says he puts up with this person once a week during Machon and on High Holy Days, and that's all we can ask.

But I also found that I was missing the singing. I mean the singing when we were allowed to sing along. The feeling of peace when I could be lost in singing and sometimes just close my eyes and listen to whatever was behind that singing. There is something about that part, which created a sense of transcendance. But that has not been happening recently. It's hard to transcend on command.

And really, I have not really known what was missing. Or that anything really was missing.
There was just some slight sense of a piece being out of place.

Until Friday night.
Last Friday night we found out, quite by accident, that my teacher and
our friend Dennis was playing at our local Borders Books.
Dennis is a talented musician. He plays guitar, he sings, and he composes.
But Dennis is not a performer. I mean he plays, he cuts CDs. But somehow he is a vessel for the music. It's almost like the music is playing him.
And yet it's definitely his way with the music.

He doesn't tell you what the music means.
He doesn't force you to sing along at certain points.
He doesn't try to orchestrate your reaction to the music.

But he also doesn't mind if you do sing along if the spirit so moves you.
In fact, I'm not sure he notices. He gives you the music, shares it with you in a way that lets you have your own private moment of transcendence.
It's not a performance, and yet it's what performance ought to be all about.

So, since it is now light 'til late, we could have our music and Shabbat at home, too.
And so we went. And I sat down in the leather chair, no book in hand, just a cup of carmel tea, and put my legs over the arm, and closed my eyes.
And Dennis played.
We heard Dan Fogelberg, Beatles songs, Dennis' own compositions, and Paul Stookey.
1930's blues, U2's "40." The Wedding Song.

And I felt it. It was back. That sense of peace and oneness.

Then we went home and I lit the candles.
It was Shabbat. Complete as always.
But more so.

He plays there once a month on a Friday.

I think I've found a different kind of Shabbat service.
No sermon. No lecture on when to bow. No forced explanation of what it all should mean.
Just. Music.
The words stand for themselves.
The music without words is just what it is.
And like Pippa, I sense that "...and all's right with the world.'

I guess I just needed a little Dennis music.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Even In Australia: Multiple Choice, Hitting the Wall, and Henry Huggins

Yes, the things listed after the colon in the title really are connected, but only in a way that makes sense among the sleep deprived.
And I am soooo there!

Last week and weekend I spent my time feverishly finishing papers and studying for a multiple choice test in Child Psychopathology.
Generally, I do not like multiple choice tests.
I overthink the questions almost every time.
For example, consider this question:

"Down's Syndrome occurs more often with older mothers than younger mothers because:
a. chromosomal nondisjunction increases with maternal age
b. women's ova generally become less healthy with age
c. older women are generally less healthy than younger women
d. none of these"

Here's how I tend to think:
Me to myself: "Hmmm. Well, the book is an undergraduate text, so it probably says "a". However, that's not exactly right. It's not that nondisjunction--and isn't that spelled wrong?--occurs more often in older women, it's that older women are more likely to carry a fetus with a trisomy for small chromosomes--21 and 22--to term. So the real correct answer would have to be "d". But of course, she wouldn't expect the undergrads to know that, sooo...."

In my vast experience as someone who is addicted to taking courses, er, I mean a lifelong learner, I have learned to ignore the overanalytical part of my brain, (If I am not sleep deprived) and just go with the simplest answer. And I did that on Thursday and did well on the test.

But I hate multiple choice tests.

And I am now officially sleep deprived. This week, in order to keep up with the 8-9 hours of (paid) training for my summer job, as well as completing the semester's work, and educating N., I have been getting up before the sun and going to bed well after it sets.
I used to be able to do this kind of thing twice a semester--when I was in my 20's and 30's.
Now...well, ah, let's just say it's worse than 'Mommy Brain.' It is more like 'Mommy Brain' and 'PMS Brain' put together.

So today, I was cruising along in my training, and unwisely decided to take a MULTIPLE CHOICE QUIZ while sleep-deprived and before eating lunch.
"It's only a few more minutes," I rationalized (to myself--I'm not quite talking to the walls--yet). "Then we'll take a nice break."

Famous. Last. Words.
The information was somewhat complicated. The assessment system I was using had gotten a step more complex, and so I dithered over the answers for half-an-hour. That, as Bronowski says of Galileo, was my first mistake.
Then, just as I was about to submit the Quiz, I changed my answers.

Those of you who know the conventional wisdom about changing uncertain answers on a multiple-choice quiz are now groaning and throwing popcorn at the screen.

"How could you!" I hear you yelling. "WIth all of your experience being a student! "
Never. Never. Ever. Ever. Change. Your. Answers. When. You. Are. Uncertain.
The first response is most likely to be right.

Of course I did very, very poorly
I have an excuse. The training video, with its emphasis on "opening doors" for kids, and moving kids at this level along if there is the slightest reason to do so, misled me.
But, if I am completely honest, there was not the slightest reason to do so. And there were some other clues in the video.
The real problem? I made the right decisions the first time.
And then I changed my answers out of sheer, sleep-deprived paranoia. How could I be so certain? Was I not willing to give these (thankfully fictitious) children a chance? Etc. Etc.

Judith Viorst said there'd be days like this. Even in Australia.

The only sensible thing to do is take a break. Read Henry Huggins, and go get my hair done.

And speaking of Henry Huggins, have any of you read it recently?
As I do, I get the sense that times have really changed.
In this day and age Henry would probably have been detained by the TSA for attempting to bring a large, wriggling box onto a mode of public transportation.
His parents would have been charged with child abuse for letting him gather night-crawlers after dark in a public park.

Oh, and as for actually selling them? That would probably be doing business without a license.

See what I mean? Definitely sleep deprived.

So, it's off to town soon. I've got to get my hair done.
And turn in another paper for Child Psychopathology.

Did I mention that the printer is out of black ink?
Does that ever happen on days like this? Even in Australia?

Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Road Construction Update: Almost...but Not Quite!


They're coming to the tail-end of the construction of the new road.
But there are still quite a few little details that must be done before they can
lay the asphalt.

The short extension of our road, the part that comes to the T with Los Pecos Loop,
is smooth and flat. It appears to be ready.

But the back part of Los Pecos Loop,
up in the high meadow, still needs work.
Yesterday, they actually started laying stone
in the borrow-ditch next to the road here.

Last week, they took the forms off the concrete
sides of the utility boxes.
The cable conduits have been labeled with
mysterious numbers indicating what is being delivered
by them, and to which lot.

This week, the boxes are on the concrete,
and have been labeled with the voltages
and a power company serial number
to identify them for the linemen.
To the left is the round water access.

It's begining to look like they could finish any day.
Now we just need good weather, and I will be able to post pictures of the road being laid.
Almost. Done.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling 123: The Mother's Day Edition

The Mother's Day Edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at Melissa's Idea Garden.

There you will get some interesting facts and history of Mother's Day,
and some great reading for your--all too rare--spare time!

I intend to indulge in the evenings this week, when my Institute of Reading Development training has been completed for the day.

Happy Mother's Day!

So go! Read, already! Enjoy!