Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Break?

We're supposed to be on our way to the beach, with my husband patiently stopping at every antique store we pass.  (It's my anniversary present that he doesn't complain for one weekend of the year!) I planned it this way.  We got married on the first Saturday of spring break, twenty-four years ago, with the sneaky intention that at least once a year I would be treated to "no whining antique shopping" and it works, most years anyway!

But, it was raining cats and dogs this morning as we were packing, and I stopped, looked at him and said, "Are we crazy??? Sloshing across the state to the beach with rain beating on the windshield does not sound like a great time. I don't even want to walk on the beach in rain gear."

Instead I called my eldest daughter and we chatted for about an hour, and then I piddled around the house for awhile, and then, I went to school.  Yes, I am certifiably nutso.  Yesterday I couldn't wait to get out of the building and start my spring break. I drug my rolling cart home, loaded with state testing science scenerios and math practice packets (there are only three weeks until the dreaded MSP "Measurement of Student Progress" trials and tribulations).  I intended to haul some of it in the car, and make decisions on which I would use to refresh their little brains, while we were driving to the beach.

Instead, I drug it all back to school today and spent three hours sorting and planning for these next crazy weeks in the classroom.

I know, it all sounds suspiciously like, "teaching to the test" but, it truly isn't.  It's called teaching the genre of "test taking" and, while it is very sad that third, fourth and fifth graders have to be taught, it can't be helped.   We've been practicing with reading passages for weeks now, and I still have some of my smartest kids not filling in the damn bubble, which will cause their perfectly correct answer to be "unread" when the real deal is in front of them.

Written science responses have such exacting criteria, that most kids really flounder.  (My college age daughter was aghast when she read some of the things my kids are expected to do.  She said she wasn't required to know this stuff until high school!) So, we teach the concepts and "practice" all year, but hit them with a serious refresher course the last couple of weeks prior to the testing window.

All questions require a considerable amount of reading, whether they are math or science.  All math questions are what we used to call in the old days, "story problems".  There is very little straight math; instead they have to figure out what process the question is asking them to do, then do the math.  Although there are multiple choice answers, they still need to work out the problem.  All choices are "possible", meaning that the kids could conceivably come up with any of the choices, depending on how they read the problem.  It's tricky; sometimes I read the problem incorrectly and I get the question wrong! I always tell the kids I do it on purpose, just to see if they're on their toes! :)

So, I teach them to read each question carefully, be sure they understand what it's asking of them, and to go back to the text to be sure the answer choices are there.  Everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief when the last test is completed and we're done performing for the state once again. After the testing is over, I jump into our sadly neglected social studies curriculum, with a fun unit where the kids "live" through the Revolutionary War period and finish up with the constitution. We also have one last CBA (Curriculum Based Assessment - also required by the state) where students choose a topic to research both sides and write a persuasive paper. (This paper isn't due until the last day of school.) The school year isn't over 'til it's over!

In the meantime, I'll be spending a good chunk of my spring "break" planning, preparing, and making sure I've left no GLE (Grade Level Expectation) in reading, math or science untaught.

I love my job; I love teaching fifth graders.  I conscientiously and deliberately teach my kids what fifth graders are expected to learn, but that doesn't mean they all learn it.  You throw in ELL (English Language Learners) and kids in Learning Support and a host of other issues, and you can't force feed the learning.  When a student is only able to read at a second or third grade level, it's pretty difficult for that child to decipher fifth grade content, not to mention answer questions. But, according to the state, they should  miraculously be able to manage it. As it stands, testing is based on age, not IQ or capability. Even kids in special education are expected to meet "basic" standard at their grade level.

Education isn't one size fits all.  Someday, the powers that be will figure that out . . . maybe.

Here's to Spring Break!

PS ~ I do have a fun day planned mid week with my favorite antiquing pal, Deb!  The week isn't a total bummer!  Also, my oldest daughter is coming home for a few days and I'm looking forward to her visit as well!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Travel Plans

Manchester Town Hall

I had despaired that it would ever happen, then took the bull by the horns and called a travel agent last week.  My family has been little help in attempting to plan our European Vacation.  Since no one wanted to help me plan, I made my own decisions and the rest of the family is just going to have to grin and bear it. I told the agent I wanted to see lots of old buildings, quaint towns, gave her a few "must sees" that the family agreed on, and she took it from there.  I also said I wanted to stay at least three nights in at least three places.  Not all the pieces are in place, but she did a fantastic job of doing the work of getting the plans in place, motel and train reservations, and a few other treats thrown in.

We're flying into Manchester, England, near Liverpool, staying a couple nights, then taking the train to London for three nights.  We'll take another train to Paris, stay three nights, then rent a car for a "Normandy driving tour" for the next four nights, staying in three different towns.

Mont St. Michel

Finally, we take a train to Zurich, spend three nights and fly home from there. In between there are all kinds of exciting times.  We'll take a day trip to the Ilse of Jersey (where part of my family originated) and while in Zurich have a full day "Cheese, Chocolate and Mountain Tour"! I have no idea what else.  It makes me kind of tired to think about it, but I'm also getting pretty excited!

Of course, my husband is grumbling about the costs (it is expensive!) but for me, it's been a long, long time coming. I've been saving for years, and, by golly, I'm going to have my vacation in Europe, even if it is brief.

The girls are leaving a week before us, and planning to hang out with Kailyn's boyfriend, Nick, visiting his family in the south of France and going on a short trip into Spain.  They'll meet us in Manchester and the next two weeks will be family vacation time.  With both having boyfriends, and Jess nearly finished with grad school, I'm thinking it may be our last opportunity.  I want my possibly last family hurrah to be one we will not soon forget. Of course getting all four of us in cramped, forced quarters together for two weeks may end up being painfully unforgettable! We shall see! Luckily the girls are old enough to "go their own way" when the familiarity gets too close for comfort.

The air fare has been paid for, the travel itinerary will be completed next week.  In three short months I'll be immersed in a world of gothic architecture, stunning vistas, and hope to enjoy every minute of our European Adventure.  

I started this on Wednesday, prior to the "being sick" post. Thanks to everyone for their warm comments.  On Saturday Kailyn suggested I call the doctor before she left for the drive back to Ellensburg, so she could take me in.  Surprisingly I got in quickly, and they did a strep test, which was negative.  The doctor said I just have a rousing good case of the miserable flu.  Kailyn left, and David was golfing, so I basically slept the rest of the day.

I googled Manchester last night before I went to bed, and discovered it is about 40 miles from Thornton (home of the Bronte family).  This morning there was a brief mention in our newspaper about the Queen visiting in Manchester on Saturday.  

While the aches are gone this morning, I am still incredibly weak and coughing almost constantly.  It will be a slow day, with frequent rest stops, but at least I am feeling like I will survive!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Home Sick

I am home today, sick.  Sick enough that I didn't get out of bed until after 9:00 (unheard of for me). Sick enough that my body aches and I have several "heat 'em ups" placed at various parts of my body.  One wrapped around my neck in my attempt to ease my sore throat. It hurts from the inside out, and both ears.  I'm so grateful that I heeded my body yesterday and found a sub for today. It feels like the flu; obviously a strain that wasn't in the vaccination I got last fall!

My class is on a field trip, so at least that made lesson plans fairly easy to put together.  I'm sad that I'm missing it, yet, glad that I'm home, with a fire going in the pellet stove and my warm comfy's in place.

I woke up feeling great yesterday. I had taken a sleep aid, and gotten a good night's sleep.  My throat has been hurting all week, but it was tolerable, as long as I had throat lozenges and plenty of hot tea.  We had about 1 1/2" of snow on the ground, but I didn't think it would affect the day, so I got ready for work, not bothering to check the news.

Driving to work I thought it seemed strange that there were no buses or kids, but I was a few minutes early so I chalked it up to being "inbetween" bus routes.  But, when I pulled into the school parking lot, there were only four or five cars!  I wasn't that early!

I walked in with the principal, who told me it was a two hour late start.  I happily replied, "Yea! A bonus of time to work on report cards!"  I went to my room, turned on my heater, and booted up the computer. There were only two teachers in the building, so I knew I'd have some uninterrupted time to work.

One of the staff assistants came around, gathering orders for a Starbucks run, and I cheerfully plugged in grades.  I started feeling "funny" about an hour later, and it just kept getting worse.  I was freezing, with chills literally running up my back.  I hunched over the heater, trying to warm up.  By the time the kids arrived, I was wondering if I'd make it through the day.  I did, but I spent my lunch time searching for a sub. Every time I talked for more than a couple minutes I'd have a coughing fit, not very pretty, and the kids were feeling sorry for me.

The director of elementary curriculum wandered into my room in the afternoon while we were correcting a math activity, with kids sharing their math thinking. (I've known him a long time, as he was my principal when I did my student teaching).  When I excused the kids for recess he told me, "You either have a great class or you have them trained really well!"  I laughed and said, "Well, they are pretty good.  Usually pretty chatty though!" (I didn't tell him I thought they were being sweet cause I felt so yucky!)

By the time I got home I was sicker than I remember for a long, long time.  I couldn't warm up; everything hurt. I forced down some chicken noodle soup, tried to read, but mostly dozed, and finally went to bed.  It was a restless night.  It hurt to swallow, and every part of me ached.

My first thought when I woke up (for the third time) was, "Boy am I glad I'm not going to work!" Four hours later, I'm still grateful to be home.

It's been a strange day of attempting to read, frequent naps, and trying to stay hydrated.  Just when I think maybe I'm feeling better, I go into a coughing frenzy that wipes me out. It's barely 7:30 PM, and I'm ready for bed, but worried I'll have another sleepless night.  For some reason it's easier to fall asleep sitting up.

I usually get really cranky when I get sick, and say, "I don't have time to be sick!"  I guess this time, I'm too sick to care about time.  I brought a load of work home, and I still have to finish report cards.  I really don't feel like working on them, and I'm probably not in the best frame of mind!

The thing about being taken sick is that it always stops me in my tracks, and makes me re-evaluate what is really important.  While it's true that I have to be "really sick" to stop going full speed ahead, I always kind of appreciate the breather. I don't know why I have to get sick in order to take time for myself.  I guess getting sick is natures way of showing me, "Hey, you're not in control . . . just in case you needed a reminder!"

Sunday, March 18, 2012


My baby girl, Kailyn, turns twenty-one on Monday.
I'll leave for work, and she will pack her car and head north,
choosing to celebrate this milestone with her first best friend, her sister Jessica, who lives in Bellingham.

Love those 80's glasses! I used to joke that I "wore" Kailyn most of the first 6 months of her life, either in a front pack or her personal favorite, the back pack.
I canned peaches with her on my back that summer!

A rare moment when she was sleeping!
She started life as a twin, 
(ultrasounds in those days were kind of fuzzy, 
and while I still have it, 
I wouldn't know how to download it)
but her sibling died en utro at 20+ weeks.
I had been put on bed rest 
(with a rambunctious 18 month old).
Yet Kailyn's twin died anyway, 
and I spent the rest of my pregnancy
worried about the left over twin 
(who would be Kailyn one day). 
Her daddy looks so young!
 I don't have a photo, but my first memory in recovery 
is of her daddy sitting next to my bed,
cradling her head in his big hands,
softly whispering words . . . I don't recall what,
watching Kailyn stare steadfastly into his eyes,
and silent tears of gratitude 
flowing from my own,
she was alive
she was safe and sound
with all the important fingers and toes
and ears that could hear
and eyes that obviously could see.

Kailyn helping mommy make a cake!
I was old when she was born, 
and as soon as she was cut loose 
I reminded my doctor not to forget 
about my requested tubal ligation! 
I was, after all . . . forty!
Older parenting isn't for the weak, 
yet I've often felt it's what has kept me young 
(at least at heart . . . the body is still very much aging!)

One of my favorite pictures, Jess was the dress up queen.
But you can tell by those rosy cheeks who the wild one was!
 Jessica was barely two when she received her built-in life-long sister-friend, alternately cooing at Kailyn or informing me importantly, "Mommy, my baby sister Kailyn wants you!" or pushing the cradle or the swing so hard 
Kailyn nearly toppled out!
Once she walked up to her infant sister, as I was holding her, calmly reaching for Kailyn's tiny hand. I thought Jess was going to kiss her little fingers, but instead she chomped down hard! In a shocked, strangled voice I shouted for my husband to "get that child away from here!"  Perhaps Jess was merely demonstrating her alpha status . . . which I'm now told was firmly held until she left for college. 

Apparently, forgiven . . .
The girls telling their Dad, "We want this tree!"
which is several feet too tall for our living room!

High School Graduation!

 Today,  21 years later, the bites and the fights are distant memories.
Kailyn's first choice to celebrate this day is to drive across the state
and spend it with Jessica, (who has been given doctor's orders to rest,
thanks to a recent diagnosis of mono!)

In another week, Kailyn will be back in Ellensburg
and I'll be back in my classroom without her
and I'll be missing her calm assistance;
her patience working with students.
The entire class will surely be in mourning!

Having her choose to stay home unexpectedly
I was remembering dreaded moments from high school days
high drama
sleepless nights
constant tripping over too many shoes . . .

there was peace
long adult conversations
frequently coming home
to a tidy, organized house
dinner cooking (or waiting)
welcome company and
valued assistance in my classroom

There is a saying
"When God closes one door, He opens another."

Kailyn's choice to not return to France felt like a closed door.
Instead, it was an open door opportunity to
get to know my daughter as a person,
not flesh of my flesh, but as an individual, separate, unique.

I've always loved her; I always will.
But, over the past three months I've discovered that I really like her,
enjoy her company, value her opinions; appreciate her insights.

I thought it would get old having her in my classroom for three months.
I thought she would get bored of it, or sit and read (like she used to do!).
After watching her, and listening to her, I am thoroughly convinced,
she's going to be an amazing teacher.

What a gift the past three months have been.  Kailyn is not just my daughter, she's become a trusted friend. I'm really going to miss her, yet, ironically, I doubt if I'll be sad when she leaves.

Instead, I'll be happy that my friend is returning to her studies (and her boyfriend!) and, like any good friend, I'll look forward to good times spent together in the future.

Nick, Kailyn and David.
 Last Friday night we went to Nick's jazz concert.
On Saturday we spent the day seeing Ellensburg,
the surrounding areas,
and took a walk along the Yakima River. 

Kailyn and I enjoy our hikes, and one of our favorite ones is at Moulton Falls.
I'm already looking forward to our next adventure.
 Milestones . . . birth, special events, and birthdays
Turning twenty-one is a big one!

Happy Birthday Kailyn!  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chipmunk Visit

When my daughters were young, we had a favorite book called "The Chipmunk Song" (written by Joanne Ryder and illustrated by Lynne Cherry) that I read to them over and over.  The illustrations were gorgeous and the verse so lyrical and beautiful, we've all had a soft spot for chipmunks ever since. But, while there are copious amounts of squirrels hanging around the neighborhood, chipmunks aren't common in our area.

Then, a couple of years I caught a glimpse of a cute little chipmunk on the deck outside the kitchen window.  It was just a baby, really not more than a few inches long.  I was mesmerized watching him, nibbling at the fallen seeds on the deck from the bird feeder hanging in the lilac tree.  I told my husband and some neighbors about seeing him and no one believed me.  

Last summer I bought him peanuts and sunflowers seeds to entice him to visit. I filled a little red bowl, hoping to catch him and get a photo.  But, I just wasn't quick enough.  I'd grab my camera, yet each time, he'd get away and I'd be left with no proof of his existence.  I hadn't seen him for several months and figured he was either hibernating (do chipmunks hibernate??) or had left the neighborhood.

Then, when I was home on President's day, I saw him out the window, hanging from the lilac tree and eating from the bird feeder.  I'd caught squirrels hanging around before, but hadn't seen the chipmunk at the feeder.  I quickly got my camera and managed to get a couple photos.  Unfortunately, my dog Nikki was whining at the slider to get out and chase him off her property, so the chipmunk didn't hang out for long.

When I downloaded the photos I was surprised at how precarious his position is!
I don't know what is keeping him from falling! 
He sure is a cute little thing.