Sunday, April 29, 2012

New Housemate

 April 29, 2012

On Saturday, Danielle was out in the back yard doing a little weeding to set up our flowerbeds to transplant our little garden experiment.  When she walked by the side of the house, she was a little startled by a bird swooping down in front of her.  When she looked up to investigate, she saw that one of the neighborhood birds had decided to build her springtime home on top of our ladder, rather than the more traditional approach to nest-building in the trees.  The bird was not particularly amused that we were spying on her and her family.  She apparently doesn't like the paparazzi.

Make Over

April 29, 2012

Our home got a little bit of a make-over yesterday.   After waiting more than three weeks longer than the original delivery estimate, our new blinds came in and we finally got to set up an installation date for blinds for the study, the dining room, and the back patio door.  Our old blinds were the thin, plastic white ones that were probably put in when the house was built, and they had definitely seen better days.  Kelly had even managed to break off a couple of slats in the front room to give her a better kitty view on the window sill.  I imagine she'll be less than excited to find that she'll have to find a new vantage point to do her bird-watching.

We couldn't be happier with the new look of our home, although Doug and I were pretty amused to walk in and find this on the coffee table.  It didn't inspire confidence that the installer--the owner of the company, no less--left his "How To" instructions out for easy reference.  To be fair, we didn't actually see him consult the directions, and the finished product looks great.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Beautiful Danielle

April 26, 2012

We went to Family Dinner Night tonight at Famous Dave's (my choice this week), and I just had to snap a picture of my beautiful girl.  I actually had a little flashback to seventh grade me though.  What is it about that grade that universally makes all girls think a single hanging strand of hair, pulled out of a ponytail or a headband, is the 'it' look?  Thirty years ago and today, the junior high set rocks that hair style.


April 25, 2012

Our little garden experiment is starting to yield results!  Perhaps my 'green thumb" actually exists.  (More likely, my daughter is the one with the green thumb.)  Here's hoping for a plentiful crop!

Meeting Miss Rylan

April 25, 2012

I was so excited to meet Rylan the other day.  Her mama, Victory, is one of my very good friends, and Rylan is her second beautiful baby girl.  Here she is at only six days old.  Oh, how I love holding tiny little babies! 
My lovely friend Allison, with whom I shared baby-holding time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Testing, Testing. Who Doesn't Love Testing?

April 25, 2012

My daughter is getting ready to start State Testing next week, and she's pretty excited about it. No, seriously--she is. My son is already in the middle of the high school testing, and he enjoys it, too. So did my older daughter, and frankly, I loved it when I was a kid. (It wasn't the current form of the test, but as 'innovative' and 'forward-thinking' as the testing industry likes to think it is, the tests from thirty years 3ago weren't nearly as different as we'd like to think.)

Are we strange people, that we enjoy all this testing that everyone seems to complain about? Well, yes, we are strange, but not because we like testing. (By the way, I do my fair share of complaining about testing as an educator, but it's really more about the sheer volume and time and weight placed on these things than it is an aversion to testing itself.) Anyway, the reality is that my children all love testing because they're good at it--the same reason I loved it. It gives them a tremendous boost of esteem to face a test--in whatever subject--and feel confident that they know how to tackle it. They know how to succeed in this particular assessment. They compete with each other for percentiles and 'rankings', but really, they compete with themselves. They can't wait to see state test results show up in the mail during the summer so they can see if they were able to raise the Language Arts percentile from a 96% to a 98%, or to move the bar on the graph from the middle of "Advanced" up to the upper end of the chart.

Now, lest you think this is only a thinly veiled avenue for me to brag about my kids, let me assure you this is going somewhere. When my daughter and I were talking about her upcoming state test, I said to her, "I'm glad you're excited about the tests, but you know, not all kids are." She acknowledged that, and we talked a little bit about why that might be. There are some kids who are simply apathetic, but I really think most kids start out caring and we drive it out of them. We drive it out of them by placing so much emphasis on the outcomes of these tests, and making them feel like they're failures if they don't place near the top. This happens fairly early on in education, so by the time those struggling kids hit high school (and even junior high), they've moved past trying. It's easier to not try and not have to own up to the responsibility of having 'failed' than it is to continue to try year after year and still come up short--and have to face that. I believe that's what a good many of our kids feel.

I'm not advocating that we stop trying with these kids--far from it. I'm a firm believer in literacy as a means of mobility and action and self-sufficiency in our world. However, we do have to acknowledge that as a society, we tend to place such a high value on traditional education--an educational system that hasn't really changed much to reflect modern society despite never-ending 'reform efforts'-- that many of our students (and many adults, frankly) feel disenfranchised. They feel their skills, their abilities, somehow don't translate into the same worth in this society. It's what can land them on the fringe, on the sidelines. When one's skill set isn't valued, it's difficult to get excited about playing in the game. We need to do a better job of expanding the game, or better yet, widen the net of games we find worthy.

I'm a very strong student--I always have been. There are skills that I learned in being a student that have helped me to become a strong, self-sufficient adult. But if we as a society didn't value traditional academic education they way we do, and instead were a society that placed all emphasis on, say, construction, or mechanics, or physical prowess, I might have had a very different outlook in my adult life. If I spent all day, every day wielding a hammer, or trying to put together engines, or learning the ins and out of the game of basketball, I would eventually develop some rudimentary skill in those areas. I might even manage passable skills. But there is no convincing me that I would, through repetition and daily exposure, eventually be able to build the next Eiffel Tower, or develop the newest additions to field of transportation, or that I would, with enough hard work, become so strong in basketball that I would make the NBA. These are not my aptitudes. Never will be. But just imagine if all of my schooling--my compulsory education--revolved around these fields, and I spent every day of my young life feeling inept and lost next to counterparts in the classroom whose natural abilities in these fields led them to shine. I would imagine that although I might grow, and might even master specific tasks within that field, if I had been told by some test again and again and again that I was "Below Basic," I might eventually believe that that's where I would always be. And if I believed it every time someone told me "I just wasn't trying hard enough," well, I just might stop really trying--because then at least I wouldn't have to face up to the fact that I was trying, and it still just wasn't good enough. And ultimately, I would get the message that what I do have to offer, my skills and aptitudes and abilities, was not worth contributing, because it wouldn't fit into the 'correct' mold. How could I possibly show my worth if the only way to show worth is a test that doesn't test what I CAN do?

This is the message I think a lot of our kids get. We choose one avenue, one kind of skill set. Yes, there are different subjects, and even among those the ability levels vary. But the goal is the same: in this skill set, the taking of a fill-in-the-bubble test regarding English, math, science, and social studies, bring every kid up to proficient. ("Proficient", by the way, is a random and arbitrary designation, which is a whole other discussion. It's a subjective designation designed to make statistics palatable and easy to grasp, but it is still, at the end of the day, far more arbitrary than anybody cares to draw attention to.) Proficient is the finish line, and they must all cross it together. Some kids start early; some kids start well after the race has begun. Some kids are built for sprinting, and some kids are running with crutches. Some kids don't even know the race has started until nearly the end. There are kids who stop along the way to smell the roses on the sidelines. Regardless, everyone must cross the finish line together at the same time. They all have to come in first, or they have failed. Is this really the message we want to give our kids? Sure, it's a good race, and it lets us know which kids can cross the finish line--this particular finish line. But while we're all off cheering on the kids in the sprint down the final stretch, there are kids off on the sidelines, building bridges and painting masterpieces and singing moving arias and writing computer code that's never yet been seen--but they've failed, because they never showed up to the 'right' race.

Monday, April 23, 2012

This is the Way All Disagreements Should Be Settled

April 23, 2012

Doug got an old school Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot set this past Christmas at a White Elephant gift exchange. Danielle has been after him to get it out and set it up, and the other day he decided he and Danielle needed something to do with their Saturday afternoon while I was in cleaning mode. The giggles and belly laughs they shared was infectious. Nothing like cleaning house to the sounds of laughter! I just can't help but think a lot of our world's problems could be solved much more amicably if we allowed a little Rock 'Em Sock 'Em to be the 'decision-maker'.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grammar and Punctuation Fun

April 19, 2012

A little something to brighten the day.

Play It, Joe

April 19, 2012

At Christmas, I was so excited that I managed to get Doug tickets to see Joe Bonamassa in concert before he even found out that he was coming to Fresno. After months of waiting, tonight was finally the night. I love getting to have a special date night mid-week--it's kind of like we get two weekends that way. Bonamassa is unbelievably talented, and his show was a solid two hours of amazing guitar playing and powerful vocals. Unfortunately, the sound was so loud that at times the music was too distorted, but it was still a great concert, and I'm excited that we got the opportunity to see him live.

Let's See What Comes Up

April 19, 2012

Our new experiment: Danielle and I decided to try to start a little garden. If anything actually sprouts, we'll transplant into the flowerbed in the back yard. We're both novice green-thumbs, so we'll just have to see what happens. It would really be a lot of fun to get a real garden up and running eventually--cucumbers, onions, peppers, carrots....all kinds of things. We're big veggie eaters in our family. Since Doug and I like to cook, I think a little herb garden would be great, too. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what comes up!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake!

April 17, 2012
My Facebook Status Tonight. The picture above is the cake in question. (I am apparently easily amused.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Five Years Seem Like the Blink of an Eye

April 15, 2012

We just celebrated our five year anniversary. It seems like it has flown by, and yet it seems like we've been together for ever, too. Every day I'm thankful that I get to spend the rest of my life with someone who loves me for who I am--the good and the not-so-good--, who makes me laugh, and who respects me. Our anniversary day was low-key, but a very full day, nonetheless. We took the kids to roam around the Big Hat Days festivities in the afternoon, and we chose our gifts for each other while we were there. We've been following the traditional anniversary gifts so far, and the fifth anniversary gift is wood. This one was a little challenging for both of us, so we decided to pick our gifts out together. (Doug will point out here that he shouldn't have been difficult at all to find a gift for, since his two primary hobbies are playing pool and playing guitar, both of which, conveniently, have to do with wood. However, as we are on a budget, and good guitars and pool cues cost hundreds of dollars, I was still at a loss.)

Anyway, at the Big Hat Days street fair, there was a vendor selling miniature guitars--the perfect size for him to take onto his truck for lulls in work or for his lunch hour. We also found a vendor that made lovely wall hangings (framed with wood, naturally), and our gift-giving was complete.Later that night we went to our sentimental sweetheart dinner spot in downtown Clovis--DiCicco's. Doug had called ahead for reservations and told them it was our anniversary, so we were welcomed warmly and treated like VIPs. We go there every year for our anniversary, but they really went all out for us this time. They even set aside the front window table just for us. Later, we met up with several of our friends for karaoke and sang until closing time. Pretty close to a perfect day, if you ask me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Story Behind the Picture

April 12, 2012

This may seem a random time and place in my blog for this particular entry, so I'll give it a little context. I'm working with my students on descriptive writing right now, and we're doing a photo essay assignment. So as to illustrate the difference between describing what they see in the picture as opposed to describing the story behind the photo, I chose one of my own pictures and used it as an example. This picture of my brother and me happens to be one of my favorites, so this is the one I chose.

Here's the basics of my photo:

Who? My brother Gary and me

What? Opening Christmas presents

When? Christmas, probably 1969

Where? My house in Oklahoma

Why? Well...because it was Christmas!

Not much of a story, huh? No emotions there, nothing to draw the interest of an objective 'reader' of the picture. So what's the story behind the photo? Why is it meaningful to me? Here's a fuller 'picture' of the picture:

I love the smell of pine needles. It means Christmas to me, and Christmas means a great many things to me: love, family, joy, magic. From the time I was a cherub-faced little tot, I have anxiously awaited Christmas morning and all of the gifts, both literal and figurative, it brings. Many, many years ago, before our family was a family of seven, we were a tight-knit group of four, and my older brother, impish and fiercely intelligent, was my hero. On Christmas mornings, I'd follow his lead: he'd listen intently at the door to hear whether or not Mom or Dad was stirring, which was our cue. We were not allowed to open our door until we knew they were awake. When he heard the coffee pot brewing, we'd run out to the living room to see mounds of colorful presents piled high under the festive tree, manyof them bigger than both of us, and stockings filled to the brim with sweets and trinkets.

As a young boy, Gary was, like me, filled with the joy of Christmas. There was a sweetness and an innocence in his face, and always a twinkle in his eye. He played with me, a sense of tenderness in his touch as he patted me on the head and helped my chubby little hands rip at the shiny paper that would reveal a dolly or a stuffed bear for me to love. He was protective of me, and wanted me to be happy.

Later in life, when he succumbed to the demons that haunted his later days--depression, bi-polar disorder, addiction first to alcohol and later to prescription pain killers, and eventually the cancer that ended his life, it was hard to remember the sweet little boy who once took me by the hand and led me through our childhood. When I look back at pictures of our family in our younger days, I can see again the sweet little boy who, for a time at least, knew happiness, and I'm forever thankful for those memories.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter to Us

April 8, 2012

Even though the kids are 13 and 15, the Easter Bunny still stopped by our house on Easter to deliver chocolatey goodness and jelly beans. As a matter of fact, E.B. even left a little basket for me to pack up and ship off to college for Brianna. For Easter lunch, we all went over to Lisa's house to celebrate with the Smith side of the family. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and just perfect for hiding Easter eggs. I thought Danielle and Nicholas might want to hide eggs for Jonathan and Zoe, but the look of disappointment on their faces told me they weren't ready to move to the grown-up side of the egg hunt yet. Sometimes, even when they're 'old and mature,' they still want us to see the kid inside. Besides I'm not sure I was ready to let go of the tradition for my kids yet, either.

Bouncy Trampoline

April 8, 2012

Bree's spring break ended just as ours was starting up, so we decided to take a little road trip to take her back to school. On our way back, Nicholas and Danielle and I stopped for the night at Lisa's house, where the kids just had to test-drive the trampoline Devin and Bailey had built. (Honestly, if I didn't feel like we needed to get back on the road back home, I'd have been right there with them, instead of trying to coax them off.)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Buchanan Bird Brains

April 6, 2012

I have been so incredibly impressed with the Buchanan Robotics Team--The Buchanan Bird Brains--this year. Nicholas, as a freshman, has been welcomed whole-heartedly and he feels completely at home in that group. In many organizations, the seniors might ignore the younger kids or find them superfluous, but the kids in this organization have made a pointed effort to be inclusive and to really mentor and train the underclassmen who will eventually carry on their legacy. And what a legacy it is! It is utterly astounding the level of expertise and professionalism that is evident in this organization. These are truly the kids who are going to go out into the world of engineering, programming, marketing, architecture, computer animation--any number of fields--and find themselves on the cutting edge.

Nicholas at the Central Valley Regional tournament. His job at the tournament was scouting out the other teams' robots to find optimal partner options for the alliance rounds. His experience this year expanded his interest from just the build team to CAD (Computer Aided Design) and marketing as well.

Grandma, Aunt Margaret, and Me

April 6, 2012

I just love it when Aunt Margaret visits and I get to spend time with her and Grandma. Before Aunt Margaret had to head back to Texas, I took them both to our favorite restaurant, Giuseppe Gallo's. We must have been there for at least two hours while I heard all about their road trip to Sacramento and the coast. I could listen to them tell stories for hours!