Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Irony Meter Just Broke

OK, so you all may remember that I am no longer on the School Board. While I was trying to make the decision whether or not to run again, I got a lot of pressure from my political mentor, the Prez of the Board, to sit the campaign out.

At the very last minute, I started reconsidering and asked him to please call me so that we could discuss whether I should pull papers at the elections office on the day of the deadline. That morning, he called me and really put the screws on that it wasn't a good idea for me to pull papers, as he had already promised endorsements to two other people, and he couldn't go back on those endorsements, and it would look odd for me to be hanging in the wind without his endorsement. I ended up in tears over it, but said that yeah, I was too high strung these days with the stress over my son to focus on a campaign. So I bowed out.

What ticked me off was when I learned that No One else had pulled papers. So, uh, where were those people you had lined up? Hmm? There ended up being no election whatsoever for lack of opposition. But really, I'm OK with stepping off.

I'm not really OK with the way the rest of the Board has been cavalier about saying good bye to me though. No one thanked me for my service, stuff like that. But OK.

Yesterday I was on the phone with my mother and the call waiting clicked in. It was the local paper: "Do you have any comment on the Board President's letter of resignation?"


"OK, uh, I have my mother on the other line. Let me call you right back."

Turns out the Prez gave his letter of resignation to the Superintendent yesterday morning and then delivered it to the media with no further discussion. In the letter he thanks the Board for their service, cites lack of time to devote to school board issues due to family and professional obligations and ends the letter by thanking me for my service along with him.

Uh. Gee. Don't know what to think. Sorta gobsmacked really. The whole thing just feels like a con somehow. I told him a number of times that I wanted to be president, but he made it clear that he wasn't giving it up. OK. Fine. But just after I left he nominated another Board Member to be president, so he was OK setting it aside for her, but not for me. And he made a big deal that I needed to serve out my term right to the bitter end of December 6 and not step down on November 1, as I had planned, because "it would cause a media storm" and would "make it look like I was leaving for a reason." So I didn't attend a few meetings, and I left on Dec 6.

But then HE steps down a few weeks later? With letters to the media? WHAT?

So now the Board has to appoint a replacement. I could throw my name in, and possibly get a seat and be able to serve without having to run a campaign, but I don't think I'm really up for it all. Feels fishy. And it doesn't feel as if they'd appoint me up there anyway. Feels like more bad stuff is on its way and I'm not up for that sort of fighting.

So I'm heading back to my committee work. But there's a lot of headshaking going on in my town these days.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

I have had the oddest few days.

HUGE amounts of drama, some cookies, some pumpkin loaf which would NOT come out of the pan, more drama (no, like scary stuff involving the police -- details later), a great Christmas morning, kids successfully sharing a Wii (whoa. That's cool), and some good gifts.

Best gift this year, well, maybe it ties with Cutey the Cat made by my youngest, complete with a story about Cutey that she wrote all by herself, was the gift from my husband.

On the tree was an envelope. And inside was a single sheet of paper with two small sentences typed in the center of the page.

You may have a cat.
Merry Christmas

I'm not sure who was happier, Neo or me, but he got hugs and kisses from us both. (What was funny was that neither one of us believed that he meant it at first. Looking back on it, why in the world would he give that as a gift if he had been joking? Odd thought.)

Anyway, Merry Christmas and Happy Festivus to everyone.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Why ask for feedback if you are only going to respond by vehemently defending your original idea?


You wanted PRAISE. Got it. I'll make a note.

Here's a tip. If you want praise, then you need to say, "I've worked really hard on this idiotic animated logo for the website. Top Priority For Me!! I love the idea of the person in silhouette juggling things which could be navigation buttons or just be symbols that turn up later on the navigation menu or I Don't know, but look! He's juggling! Isn't that what we all do in our lives with our children? Juggle? We've decided that she, or maybe it's a he, (hee hee!) needs to be standing on a compass because we'll need more navigation buttons than the original hearts, stars, and moons. Please don't question us about the Lucky Charms and how they relate to the compass. We've got it all figured out and it will all make sense when the website is up and running. I just wanted to show you guys so you knew that I'm hard at work on it. OK?"

This causes everyone in the room to say, "Awww. Cute logo. What a great job." If you say, "Here's the logo in it's earliest stage. We'd like some feedback from the group," you are going to have to prepare yourself for the people (not just ME) in the room to ask questions about why we are advertising a breakfast cereal on the website for a Special Ed support group and expressing discomfort with the professionalism of such a design. I'm sorry that was so hard for you, my dear. Maybe fighting with your fellow voting members about how wonderful it all is isn't your best plan. You know? Maybe you don't.

Man, that was uncomfortable.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

News flash

So much news, just in the past few days.

Thursday, I stepped off the Board and received an orchid from the Superintendent.

Thursday, Saul's case manager lost her little mind, had a hissy fit, and stormed out of a meeting with the Director of Special Education. The Director was Not Amused. As of yesterday, the Director is now my son's case manager. Whoa.

Also on Thursday, Neo was teased by two boys, one of whom said he wanted her in his bed and that she could have his babies. Neo's friend told the boys to cut it out, and one of the boys told her she could "open her mouth and bob her head up and down." Eee gads. Turns out one of the boys has been, in Neo's words, "Popping up in unexpected places at school" and asking her about who likes her and who's going out with her.

All in all, Thursday was a busy day.

Good news is that when we called the boy who said the most outrageous thing, his parents were immediately apologetic, horrified, and promised to act. The parent of the other kid, not so much.

Monday the Director of Special Ed acted as my son's aide so that she could assess what was working and what wasn't. She told me that she saw the aide who had wrestled Saul to the ground last year, the one who's not supposed to be near Saul but still is, she saw her intimidate and embarrass a Kindergartner whom she was working with. Saul's case manager defended the aide. Oy. Anyway, the Director said that most everything we have suggested as accommodations for Saul have not been implemented (Yes. I know.) and that when she tried them, they worked. (Yes. I thought so.) She says that he's been living in a negative environment at school (Yes. I know.), and that she needs a new team to come in and do basic positive reinforcement with him (Yes. I know.) Believe it when I see it, baby.

Tuesday I found out from the school secretary that my name was in the paper. (Gah! What? What in the WORLD can they write about me now?)

The paper printed the winner of the $500 First Street Shopping Spree raffle. Guess what? It's me!

Tuesday I found out that my youngest has been getting involved with cliques, excluding other girls from playing with them, being excluded herself, and the teacher says that there have been a lot of tears in class. (Why didn't you TELL ME? Why let it go on for a week?) Found out from a friend that while this was going on, her daughter got so upset that she didn't come in from recess, didn't go to lunch, and didn't go back to her classroom after lunch. A fifth grader found her crying in the playground and brought her to class. The teacher hadn't noticed she was gone. At that point the child asked to go to the office to call her mom. When the mom came down to the school, the child told her the story. So the secretary (crabby woman) says to the child, "You have to learn to be more responsible and come in when you're told." Like it's the kid's fault that no one knew she was missing for 45 minutes? What IS IT with this school?

Got myself on a Special Ed advisory committee with a bunch of loonie birds. Some of them are OK, some are looking for their pitchforks and burning torches to storm The Establishment. OK, fine. There's a teacher who threatened the Director of Special Education at the start of the year and who likes to think that my son gets things that her son doesn't, which by the way is an insane idea. Her son's aide is the one who tackled Saul last year, and is also the one the Director witnessed bullying at Kindergarten student on Monday. This teacher is odd. And now I sit on the Special Education advisory committee with Both her and her friend the aide. Oh Joy.

Last night I went to a GATE advisory committee meeting. Trying to do something for Neo, don't you know. Turns out that just by going, I am a representative for my elementary school and the middle school. OK then. Completely forgot about this until I sat down, but who's the Districtwide teacher-coordinator for GATE in the District? Why, none other than my friend the loonie bird, the teacher from the Special Ed wars. Ha! The paranoid flash of her eye was a delight to witness as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction exclaimed, "Suisan! I'm so Happy you're here! What a delight to work with you on this!" God, that was fun. Bad Suisan. Bad girl.

(Just a note here -- why do I keep bumping into the same four teacher and same three parents at every meeting? Where IS everyone?)

Tonight there's another Special Ed advisory meeting. More of the same, I think.

But first, I'm going to go get coffee. I RAN OUT THIS MORNING! The Horror!

Then I am going to pick up my $500 dollar shopping spree ticket. I'm thinking a piece of local blown glass artwork needs to come live with us soon.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

For SxKitten and her daughter

I keep saying, "Don't grip with your knees." And what in the world does THAT mean?

OK, after much Youtube surfing, here are two comparisons for you. (I have to admit, it was surprisingly hard to find the sort of video I wanted, with a young beginner posting the trot, soles of the rider's boots flashing in the sun, and lower legs swinging everywhere. The one I found is almost on target.)

When you sit on a horse, your legs are open, and your first impulse is to pinch with the knees to get your legs back together. No. Don't do that. It creates saddle sores for one thing, and for another it pops you OUT of the saddle and makes your lower leg fling itself all over the place.

The girl in the first video has her stirrups too short, but watch it for a sec. Watch her knees, calves, and stirrups. Don't watch the whole thing, just the first minute or so until she starts cantering over jumps.

OK. Check out the posting. She's holding on with her knees and standing UP in the stirrups when she posts the trot. I know this because her ankles are jiggling all over the place and her stirrup irons swing out (when she's standing) and back to the horse's side (when she's released pressure on them). To make matters worse, she's wearing spurs. Agh. So every stride her knees grip, her feet swing out and her horse gets spurred. Noisy leg and unstable seat.

The shorter your stirrups are, obviously the less contact you have with the horse until you're in jockey mode where your knees are in your chest and your butt never hits the saddle at all.

If you lengthen your leg and open your hips, you can learn how to grip the horse with your entire leg. Think of sitting on a barrel. If you wrap your legs around the barrel and grip the UNDERSIDE then you're sucked down onto the barrel. Grip with your knees and it's like gripping a bar of soap in the shower. Whoops! Off you go.

Then when you get to jumping, you can lift slowly and securely out of the saddle using the strength of your legs, not by standing up in the stirrups. If you go over jumps with your knees pinched to the horse, your lower leg swings back and away from the horse's side. And you've got no stability as the horse leaves the ground. Quite dangerous.

In this video, watch the horse acting up at the beginning. Ignore his actions for a minute and watch the rider. Especially her lower leg. I'll comment again after you've seen it.

She gets left behind his movement only once in all that leaping around. And her lower leg doesn't budge. Sometimes she's in the saddle trying to move him forward through the rearing, sometimes she's hovering just above the saddle trying to keep her center of gravity over his, but her feet and lower leg stay still. It's quite a testament to her ability that she can do this.

And then there's this girl. Watch the whole video to see the same horses after she's worked with them. As the horses act up, watch her upper body stay straight and tall. Watch her lower leg stay pretty quiet. Especially with the bucking dun, you can see how her HIPS are the fulcrum here, not her knees. What an excellent rider she is.

Long and low, lengthen into the horse's movements and you'll be a lot safer up there. And you'll get fewer saddle sores. That's why God made BOOTS for your CALVES not knee guards for your pinchy-thingies!

Good luck!

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Letter

Dear Case Manager for my son,

Well, you showed us, did you not? Now that you have stormed out of yesterday's meeting in a huff, I will certainly take your advice and counsel to heart.

I appreciate you waving your degrees in my face, and I have learned my lesson, believe you me. You're absolutely right. My son should want to earn punch-card tickets for good behavior, and he should stop expecting to get the small toys and gifts so often given to Special Ed children for a job well done. What was he THINKING, asking for a reward he could hold in his hand when he stayed through math? That card with the holes is much better!

I am chagrined to think that my expectation that my son's behavior could improve under constant positive reinforcement was wrong. Exceptionally wrong. What was I THINKING?

Also, you are so very right in expecting that I just sign the annual IEP document without reading or reviewing it. I need to respect your timeline in submitting the document to the online server, and should have signed all 16 pages of it at once. After all, the previous two times you gave me copies, which were rendered illegible by the copier not having any toner (certainly not your fault) should have provided me ample opportunity to review the (blank) pages and reach a conclusion that the meeting notes were accurate. What was I THINKING, trying to read what I was signing?

And that pesky Director of Special Services! What an odd duck she is! Telling me that I could take an additional ten days at least to review the document and prepare a parent addendum. All that talk about informed consent. Wow. I guess she doesn't respect your timeline much, you poor dear.

It was so lovely to see you this morning, all bright and sunshiney after the sturm und drang of yesterday. How quickly you recover your good moods! Don't worry, I didn't really expect an apology for your behavior or the blame you placed at my door. You are absolutely justified in your opinions. Thank GOODNESS for strong women! How would we get on without them, eh, Mrs. E.?


A parent.

PS: You are the MOST passive aggressive person I have had the displeasure of working with. No wonder my son says that he doesn't trust you anymore. No wonder his behavior is WORSE when you're around. You know how you always pressure my son to apologize to you? I'm still expecting an apology for your unprofessional behavior yesterday. Waiting. Tapping my toes. Hmmm. So very, very silent.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Jesus Christ is their CEO

A vacuum store in Texas, where Jesus is Lord and every woman gets a flower.

Clearly Jesus has much spare time on His hands after picking lottery winners, stamping out hunger and hatred, and turning all hearts towards the Lord. Running a vacuum center truly must be a high priority for Him.

I actually put this together on Tuesday, and then on Tuesday evening, I found this insanity, courtesy of Pharyngula. There's a group of Christians who believe that I-35, which runs North South through the center of the country is the highway referred to in Isiah 35:8. (Get it? Chapter 35? Highway 35? Get it? Huh? Huh?)

Here's the Bible verse:
And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.
And here's the OMG, I can't believe I just watched that, video:

Christians, and I am one, so I know what of I speak, are so CRAZY sometimes!

Maybe I should send this entry to my neighbor with the big black and white banner over his garage (Black? Festive!) which reads in block letters: HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS

Maybe not.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Body Language

Do horses "enjoy" what they are doing? Do racehorses LOVE to run? Do polo ponies want to play chukkas?

Hard to say. But I'd wager that this horse really does like cutting cattle. Courtesy of a commenter on Fugly Horse of the Day:

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Black Moods and Peaceful Cabins

I'm totally in a pissy mood.

I keep wanting to come and write about it, but even that gets me ticked off. Why should *I* have to take the time to write about what is pissing *me* off? Huh? Huh? Got a problem with that?

After a while, I eventually float to earth like some oak leaf in autumn, sort of lazily drifting down from the heights of nuttiness, floating to the left, taking in the scenery, turning to the right, catching the light, flipping over on my back to get a new view, until I land on the ground and say, "Whoa. Why was I so pissed off?"

If I take a few seconds to examine what's been going on, I can get to the place where I say, "OK, that's justified anger. You've been going through a lot." Or I say, "What else is new? This is the same crap you've been dealing with for about two years now. Get to a solution already. Stop whining and do something that makes you feel better." But most of the time, just reviewing this crap gets me angry all over again. And then we are UP in the stratosphere again. Goody.

A year ago, my son's life basically exploded. And I spent all last year fighting with the schools to help him. Nothing's better. They're still screwing around. His annual IEP review was to have been completed on October 17. After a five hour and an three hour meeting, and a few emails back and forth, I still do not have a legible COPY of the IEP that I can review, so I haven't signed it. December 2. Bit late, no? (That's OK, they don't have the program set up for him yet that they described IN the IEP, so it's all just a shell game.) Monday I'm sending a certified letter of complaint to the Director of Special Ed asking for a Due Process review unless this program is put into place in the next ten days.

Neo is getting grumpier and grumpier. School isn't going well, and she's spending a lot of time in her bathrobe. I've got her going to a therapist starting Wednesday, so we'll see what comes of that. I dunno. She's sort of slowing down --

Phe, the youngest, is just making me crazy. She's entered into the yelling if I can't get it or whining until Mommy's head explodes phase. She's cute. I know she's cute. But I sorta can't deal right now. I wish I had an older female relative who lived nearby I could just push her off on. Here. Take her shopping or something.

My parents left, yay, and my mother-in-law is coming. Gah. I love my mother-in-law, more than my mother actually, but there is going to be NOTHING TO DO with her while she's here. Dec 20 through early Jan. All the performances shut down right after Christmas, so there'll be no taking the kids to the ballet or other such things. Well, maybe on the 22nd, but that's only one day. So we're looking at many days of her sitting on the couch, doing her best to entertain the kids while she exclaims once again at how much laundry I do. (Yes. Eight loads a week minimum. I've counted.) And then we bump into the fact that all three of my kids are different. (There's a shock.) But there's no one activity that will work for all three. So whenever we have guests it becomes my job to cheer up the child who feels left out. Ugh. Great. Let's have more company over.

School Board -- This Thursday is my last day. There'll be cake, and a swearing in ceremony for my replacement. It's good, I guess. I dunno. I have very low expectations for the evening. (Or very high but they've already crashed?) No one on the board is expressing any regret whatsoever that I'm leaving. Which really is lovely, after having served so long and dealt with such crap alongside the rest of the board members. Want some cake? Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Dear Butcher and I have been working with a group of parents to get a support group for Special Ed parents set up. Which sounds like a good thing, and will be a good thing, but we've had to work with a couple of loonie birds to get it up and running. One of the loonie birds REALLY wants to sit on a committee. It will make her feel all important and tingly. OK fine. Turns out there is a defunct committee within the District for discussing Special Ed; all it needs is to be staffed. Once it's staffed, then the District can give it a small budget, and free meeting space, and the committee can sponsor the support group. OK fine. A few weeks ago we all went to a meeting to staff The Committee. I had the bylaws from the old committee, but I hadn't really read it closely. Holy Christ -- this thing calls for SEVENTEEN voting members.

Seventeen? Gee, I wonder why it never got anything done. I wonder why it fell apart. Hmm.

Seventeen? Are they out of their gourd?

The Committee was staffed by putting up big pieces of paper on the walls, and having people write their names under an area they were interested in. So I'm in charge of Publications (Resources was already taken, and I didn't want to step on anyone's toes), and Dear Butcher is in charge of Support Groups along with another woman. So now once a month, DB and I will have to trot off to The Committee to sit in on a Committee Meeting along with 15 other people, where we will vote'm not sure what we're voting on. I can't even figure out what The Committee is supposed to do. Once again, I wonder why the last one fell apart. Ha!

Sucky thing about The Committee is that the woman who attacked my son and wrestled him to the ground last year, even though she was not his aide, a woman who really has no business being around children at all, wrote her name down on a big piece of paper, so she is on the committee. Fuck me. Her best friend, a woman who has no special ed children and who does not work with special ed children, wrote her name on a big piece of paper, so she is also a voting member.

The second woman has a Thing about my son, and tracks his movements at school. If he acts up, even if he's with an aide, she writes a letter to the principal reporting upon his actions. In her last letter (to the Superintendent) she also said she would take it upon herself to inform other parents of "his history" if he lost control again. Great. This is exactly the reason I am a) not on the School Board anymore, and b) keeping him home from school until the his team can get their act together and build an appropriate program for him. And I get to work with these womyn on a trumped up committee, just so I can get a support group going. What the hell.

This is usually where my cabin fantasy comes into play.

One day I plan to live in a cabin. I've had the interior of this cabin marked out in my head for years, down to the scruffy green paint on the kitchen table and the coffee can filled with pencils on the window sill. It has an old fashioned bathroom done in funky tile colors and a large seedy sofa which wraps around two walls of the living room. The screen door, which is wooden, makes that "rrrR? CLACK!" sound when it closes. There's a woodstove on the first floor, and the only bed upstairs is right next to the chimney up in the loft. There are cats, big windows, and lots of comforters.

When I was walking precincts a few years ago, I knocked on the door of a seaside cabin in the old part of town. The elderly woman invited me in for a glass of water (which you are NEVER supposed to take them up on), and I talked to her for a few minutes about my campaign priorities, all the while eyeing her bookshelves which ran up the side of the wedge of her staircase and framed the living room in floor to ceiling clutter. She asked me a bunch of very probing questions on what exactly I meant by "Accountability", as it was a word so often misused. After a few minutes she said, "I'll vote for you, and I'll tell my friends to vote for you. You're a good person."

I thanked her and told her I was very honored to have her think highly of me.

I keep thinking of that woman and that brief conversation. It keeps jumping into my head at odd times. I think because that conversation marked the point in my campaign when I knew that my running wasn't just some made up thing, but that I really DOing this, and that I had a good chance of winning, and that meant that I was going to serve at some point. Somehow the books and and bookcase made it all real. I think I also want to be that woman and live in her cabin. And I'd like to think that a person like that would like me. And that I'd recognize a person like me if she were to show up on my door.

And I'd like to think that a cabin like that, or maybe the cat who lives there, would keep the black moods away.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing

Hey Mom, thanks for inviting yourself to Thanksgiving. Boy, that was a fun dinner. Fun. And you're still here! Fun, fun, fun!

You know what was also fun? Your trying to work on my computer. I loved that.

Remember how you asked me before you left Boston if I had Powerpoint on my computer? Remember that I said no? Remember that conversation? Guess what, I still don't have Powerpoint, and I refuse to purchase Powerpoint. I have Powerpoint Reader, but not Powerpoint itself. Pouting about it doesn't make the program magically appear on my computer.

I hope you enjoyed the day at Starbucks working on your presentation for the doll collector club on your own laptop. (I know you don't believe me, even though I've explained this a number of times, but you do NOT NEED to be inside a Starbucks for the laptop to operate. Really. It's true. I swear. On the other hand, the fact that you're an idiot when it comes to technology did in fact relieve us all of your presence for a day. Silver lining.)

Sure, I'm happy to let you use my printer. (Yes. This is the printer you bought for me. Thank you.)

Well, you need to turn it on first. Yes, the button on the top with the circle. (Yes. This IS the printer you bought for me. Four years ago. Yes. Thank you.)

Yeah, I know the change cartridge light is on, but it starts warning you that the thing needs replacing about two seconds after you put it in the machine.

No. I don't have any extra ink cartridges. It'll be fine.

No. You have to order them from Dell.

No. I don't want to go to OfficeMax today. It's the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I refuse to go to a mall. And I've tried Office Max before -- their cartridges don't work in this machine.

No. I don't have any extra color cartridges. Here. I think I might have a black cartridge hiding somewhere. (Yes. This is the printer you bought for me. I already told you that. Yes. I like it. Yes. Thank you.)

You know, if you're having this much trouble printing, you could go down to OfficeMax and give them the file. They'll print it for you. I got all my campaign material printed at OfficeMax. No. We don't have a Staples near us. Try OfficeMax.

Yeah, the pale lines across the photos aren't from the printer. It works fine. Yes, thank you for buying it for me. Yes. Four years ago. No, the printer works fine. You've run out of ink. Yes, color ink. No. I have to order them from Dell.

Good Grief! 42 full color pages? Uh, yeah. I guess you ran me out of ink there.

(And this is where matricide was almost committed: turns out she didn't LIKE the full page one- slide-per-page format, but only realized that AFTER she had printed 42 pages of them. But she needed to have her presentation printed. So what did she do? Why she went to OfficeMax and had them print it. Alrighty then.)

So I still have to order ink. Sigh.

But she's heading home today. Wa hoo.

She pulled some other odd stunts while she was here. Standing up in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner to announce that she was done eating, she wanted pie, and could everyone start passing their plates to her so that she could clear the table. That was odd. Taking it upon herself to clean my office even when I repeatedly asked her not to, and then bullying my children into helping her while I was in the shower, and then having the nerve to get pouty when I refused to show her where the vacuum cleaner was kept so that she could finish the job. (Thin oriental on the floor of that room -- it gets sucked into the vacuum if you don't' do it just right. She can't vacuum to save her life.) That was odd too. Washing the dishes by swishing soap through them and then putting them on the counter without rinsing. That was odd too.

On the other hand, she didn't talk about My Idiot Brother, which was a relief. (He called twice while they were visiting. So Fucking Transparent.)

This morning she gets on a plane and flies off to her doll club, printouts in hand, to give a lecture on Baby Jesus dolls and religious figures. Then she flies home again. Buh-Bye, Buh-bye.

Every time she comes here I marvel again that I'm as sane as I appear to be after having been raised by her.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's clean

The Fancy living room and the dining room are clean. All surfaces cleared and all surfaces (including windows) cleaned and/or polished.

Well, not the floor. I can't clean the floor tonight because I am unable to vacuum in the living room at night. Just a little bit annoying.

There's no overhead light in the Living Room, and the wall outlets are very sparsely distributed. This means that even though I plug in lamps where ever I can, half the outlets are taken up with the stereo system, and the room is dim and dark. Not romantically dim, just annoyingly dim.

I've lived here since 2002 and I have learned my lesson regarding vacuuming this room. If you vacuum while any of the lights are on, blammo, tripped breakers. Not just the breakers in the Living room of course. The stove in the kitchen trips too.

So no vacuuming after 3:00 pm.

I know what you're going to say next -- That sounds dangerous! Have an electrician come in to check the problem!

Yeah, well, I did. Except he came during the day, and even with my plugging in a vacuum, two fans and turning on all the lights, nothing tripped. Great.

However, when he went outside to look at the main box, he found that our service was coming from the street to the meter illegally. (Or it was set up so that you could splice the house off the meter and never get charged for electricity. Too bad I didn't know about this sooner!)

So instead of fixing the living room problem, we had to move out for three days while he ripped the service, redid some odd conduit stuff in the garage and replaced our main panel.

Three thousand dollars, not including the trip to Disney land we took to occupy ourselves. And look, I still can't vacuum my floor after dark.

Have I mentioned how much I hate this holiday?

Here I sit in my decluttered, dusted and reorganized living room, and I should be patting myself on the back for my work. Instead, I'm looking at the dust on the floor and thinking, "I'll never be able to get back to this tomorrow. I've still got three major rooms to go before Tuesday!"

Really and truly, it would be so great to spend one holiday one time doing something I like to do with people I actually want to be with. Or by myself. God, that would be amazing. A couple Negronis, a turkey dinner, a hotel room with a fluffy comforter, and me. Just me.

The vacuum can stay at home.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fathers and Sons

This is a particularly famous image in the Arabian world. A older stallion to the left, Ferzon, touching noses with his very accomplished son, Gai Parada to the right. Once you start scrutinizing details of the face, you can start to see differences between them; it's not an exact mirror image. But it is a graceful image.

Some years later the son from the picture above, Gai Parada, was photographed meeting his son, Gai Radiant. (Gai Radiant is on the left. Grey horses are born dark and "grey out" over time until they are white. So the less white horse is going to be a younger horse, even if you don't recognize Gai Parada from above.)

Same pose, same stallion in two pictures. Interesting that the second one isn't as successful as the first. There's another picture on the Gainey website of Gai Parada and Gai Seance which I think is more successful, but still not as spot on as Ferzon and Gai Parada.

Anyway, it's an iconic pose, one that was recognizable before Ferzon touched noses with his son. But that example is particularly magical. Ferzon's throatlatch in particular has that tension and a particular curve which stallions show off just as their self-control is about to break. He's reaching forward, but he's trying very hard to be a gentleman, but he's posing for this young buck. Very tense. Very elegant.

Gai Parada on the other hand seems to be calmer. In both poses he's just lovely. Gai Radiant isn't working for me at all though. He neck looks posed, as if he's been asked to take that snakey neck, ears forward position so many times in the show ring that he does it no matter what is put in front of him. Too bad. He's actually a decent horse, except for this picture. Gai Parada still hows some attitude of curiosity here. (BTW, the other thing that I find less successful in this picture is the drape of the leadlines going to the handler out of frame. I don't like the straight lines cutting sharply across the water like that. In the original, the background blurs them out better.)

OK, what started this critique?


an example of this classic pose which was not quite as successful.

As soon as I saw it, I knew they were going for the Father and Son pose. But.



Has anyone ever talked to you about backgrounds? Ever? Or, um, the wisdom of handling two stallions nose to nose by yourself when you're about two feet tall?

Yeah. This one doesn't work for me.

Especially since they're cremellos. Yegh. I really don't like pink skinned eyes.

OK, not meaning to snark on the horses, just on the bizarre thought process that led the photographer to have the handler crouch down. "Don't worry! No one will see your bright shiny knees if you stay very close to the ground!"

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Picture Never Lies

Unless you're accomplished at Photoshop.

Over at Fugly Horse of the Day there's been an ongoing discussion of the ridiculous pictures people put up on the web to advertise their horses. (Hint: Don't make your breeding stallion look mangy, poorly conformed or bad tempered. Bad advertising. Also, don't put together a website of your breeding operation with unicorns, wispy clouds, and fairies in the background.)

One of the commentators on FHOTD put up a demonstration of her photoshop skills. Yes, there are "tells" all over the pictures, and she points out what they are, but hey, I'm impressed with the conversation/demonstration nonetheless. Here's her page. And here are the before and after photos. Woah. Check out her page for the rollover comparison.



Makes this older picture of my dear old friend, shot in the days before the web and Photoshop took over horse advertising, all the more impressive. He was about 19 years old in this one. What a good boy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

You're Searching for WHAT?

Just got a cute note from a horsie acquaintance who found my blog and recognized who I am. Hi!! Waving!!

Which causes me to do two things:

1) Check my stats and "keyword activity" and

2) Post a note here saying that my last official day of elected officialdom is December 5. La la LA!! So the Zorro mask now becomes simply a vain affectation. (Right. Like it wasn't before. Hee. I'm NOT giving it up. Sorry.)

Now, about my stats. The three to seven of you who keep reading, thanks. Not sure why you're bothering, but I do appreciate the loyalty even though I've become miserable at posting. And checking my "keyword activity" (what you were searching for when you hit my blog), it's the same old threesome. (Let's type them in again, shall we, so that every living soul on the interwebs can click here and be discouraged.)

  • Namusca (I unequivocally hate this mare and Midwest Arabians who continue to promote her. If you want to read more about my opinions about her, you are welcome to visit these pages. What are we Hiding? and As If to Prove a Point Please, no flaming. I am resolute, I will not be convinced that she's a lovely mare.
  • Debbie's Petland (Why doesn't this business in Braintree, Massachusetts have a website? I used to visit the one in Newton Highlands and wrote about the store I remembered once, long ago, in a post about possible hoarding behavior. There's no point in looking further for more information. Although occasionally I do wonder who Debbie was.)

But at the top of my list today of people who found me via search engines is this disturbing phrase: "Pictures of babies that are sick or beaten"

And that sent you here?

Oh great, it sent you to the ultrasound babies post. One of my least favorite blog kerfuffles ever.

It's just one of those days, I guess.

But hey, Mom of (I don't want to put his full name in here, so we'll just call him) That Ever Handsome Bay Stallion, good to see you here. Now go tell all your friends that they are welcome to visit, but that I have absolutely NO information on that bizarre sexual practice. None.

(Hey Doug, how come out of that entire list of crazy words you put in my blog to drive up traffic, that's the only one that had any impact? No, wait. Don't answer that. I don't completely trust you not to bring up Enumclaw or some other deviant behavior.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Uri, Randi, and the Fairies

Hey Joyce.

The fairies are back. The ones with the gamin faces and the silver wings. They hold their little slender arms out, their sleeves and scarves and bits of flowing fabric catching the breeze. Remember how you tipped you head to the side and chuckled at them? How very silly they were, the paper cutouts? Remember? I do.

I remember when you went up to Lily Dale to meet the mediums. I remember how offended you were that all the spirit guides were some gross stereotype of what whites thought American Indians looked or acted like. Chief Bear Paw and Squaw of the Rolling Hills. The Indians who knew the truth of the world because only they were connected with the trees and the bears and the earth, unlike us, the Anglo-Saxons stumbling though life in our clumping boots.

You wanted to know the Spiritualists so that you could write them into your book. But you came away being thoroughly disgusted with their obvious tactics of trickery and deceit. "How can people be so gullible? Can they not SEE that the envelope reading is a ridiculous fake? The men in particular don't even try to make it look real. Their mouths move as they read the messages. To help them memorize it all I guess."

Remember how we talked about Phario's blind eye? And how if we wanted to we could make up a story as to why he was terrified of trailers? And that maybe he had injured his eye in a trailer accident? And we could set ourselves up as "animal psychics"? I do. I remember sitting at your antique farm table, cradling an iced coffee in my sweaty hand, the red glass pushing its lumpy smoothness into my left palm. It was never sweet, your coffee. It was milky and bitter. Like a Cadbury bar left too long in a desk drawer until the surface blooms white and the texture goes to sand.

Remember how we spent that afternoon drafting Phario's reading? Yeah. That was a good time. Why didn't we write that down?

Joyce, where ever you are now, you should know that animal psychics are all the rage, only now they call them animal communicators. And the American Indians, by way of Gawani Pony Boy, have taken over parts of the horse training industry. Don't bother to teach your horse manners, just commune with him as the ancient and knowing American Indians did. Then you'll achieve a true relationship with your personal spirit guide. Your horse.

But anyway, for all that I laugh at the charlatans, and hate the tricksters, I do somehow love part of all that craziness. As did you, I know. We're all attracted to the depth of a crystal and the purity of a flame.

I don't really completely believe in ghosts. They're too tangible and recognizable somehow. They're too easy to create out of a slip of paper, a camera and a willing audience. But I do somehow believe in spirits. Bad of me, I know. I think we can chalk it up to a deeply Christian upbringing. I can't quite imagine a death without an afterlife. How could something so rich and powerful just end? Pffft. A flame blown out. Doesn't seem possible that there's no smoke lingering in the air.

Hey, but I needed to tell you.

Those bells I heard when I was trying to sort through your stuff? It was nothing major or dramatic, just the small unbroken ringing of an alarm clock miles away when I sat at your computer that hot afternoon in May, hoping that searching all your files would deliver unto me a written record of what the hell you intended me to DO with all those horses you left behind. Yeah, that bell. Is that the sound of fairies laughing? Crying? Or just a touch on the shoulder? I'm guessing you know.

But I needed to tell you that the fairies, or the bell, or the memory of a bell and a chunky red glass of iced coffee, they're all fluttering in the wisps of my hair that won't stay back, won't stay tamed, and keep getting tangled in the hinge of my eyeglasses and tickling the edge of my upper lip.

Call me when you get a minute. I need to tell you something.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

For Kate

Ms. Rothwell asked for a review of Water for Elephants, a novel set in a Depression era American traveling circus.

Why yes, I would love to write one, I said to myself. What an excellent topic for a blog post. Especially since I seem to spend most of my time whining and not enough of my time on here talking about books.

Oh darn it. I hate it when I'm too damned clever for my own good.

I already wrote one.

Recycling posts, the last excuse of a blogger who's run out of ideas.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

This makes me cry

But I'm not sure if it's tears of anger, of sadness and sympathy, or of pure surprise and shock.

Courtesy of Fugly Horse of the Day,

Two and a half years old, overbitted, terrified just standing still, being slapped and yelled at. Jeez. Not even three years OLD? Let the darned thing Grow UP!

There's a horse so screwed up that it would most likely be a blessing if it were to go to the meat market now before it gets more "training". Rearing is impossible to train out of a horse -- and a rearing horse is a dangerous and deadly horse. Judging by the way he's landing, I'm guessing his back is already screwed up by wrenching and falling so frequently. And if you hadn't thrown a long shank craptastic bit in his mouth and held on to the reins so tight (which PREVENTS him from walking forward, you dumbass) and then started yelling at him, he would have reared. Never. Horses don't DO that the first try out.

If you slam the brakes on from the front, and you gun the engine from the back, there's no place to go but up. And hey, now you've abused the horse right into being deadly. And lamed his stifle and maybe ruptured his gut.

He was a cute boy too.

Shit, I hate finding stuff like this.

Go ride a bike, but get off the damned horse.

Edited to add: They pulled the video. But it has been up for a year and shows two yahoos terrifying a horse over and over again by yelling at it. Every time they get on it, the horse flips himself over. The final indignity is when the horse flips himself up and over and then comes down straddling a fence. Rather than breaking the fence apart and rescuing the horse from rupturing a gut, the ignorant owners continue to yell at the horse and beat on it until it lifts itself up off the fence and canters away with a definitively injured rear stifle. Ugh.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The boy needs a hat!

Halloween is coming, yes it is.

Have I mentioned that Saul is going to be Zorro?

Bestill my heart. Ahhh.

As we prepare for The Big Day, let us review.

Black head scarf? Check.
Black domino mask? Check.
Black shirt? Check.
Black cape? Check.
Black pants? Check.
Black gloves? Check.
Black hat? NO.
Black boots? NO.
Sword. NO
Bullwhip? NO.

OK, the kid's not getting a bullwhip. Sorry, but no. (I wouldn't mind a bullwhip should I ever go out in public as Zorro, but the kid's not getting one. The kid says, "But Mom! That's not AUTHENTIC!" My son, all the way.)

Sword? Gonna have to be a stick or a pole covered with that Halloween staple, tin foil. Sorry, but I just can't bring myself to bring one more plastic THING (light saber, medieval sword, light saber, and light saber) into the house.

Boots? Eh. I figure I can cut out a cylinder of black fabric for his lower legs and call them boots.

Hat? Oh good lord, I've lost my perspective. I cannot bring myself to plop a black cowboy hat or "Gansta fedora" (of which there are plenty in the Halloween supply store) on his head and call it a Zorro costume. I'm using the Darth Vader gloves as Zorro gloves, that's fine. And we are recycling his Dracula cape with the bright red satin lining as his Zorro cape, true. However, the hat needs to have a flat brim, a low crown, and no creases or shaping. Sorry. It just does.

So how do you send a nine-year old out as Zorro with no hat?

You don't.

And that's where I've lost it. I'm making the darned thing. I recognize that this project demonstrates that I must have misplaced my last bit of sanity somewhere amongst the dust bunnies, but I know how I'm going to build it, I have the materials, and darn it, I'm making the thing.

Did I mention that I need to make a crown for the Ariel costume and that I'm making a string of beads to dangle from Neo's pirate bandanna? Bizarrely focused on headgear this year.

By the way, Neo's going to look AMAZING this year. Found a fantastic Pirate coat for her. I'm jealous of it actually. I wanna go Goth too now. If going Goth means that I can wear a fitted black coat which sweeps out at the waist and ends at the knees, with silver frogging down the front, WIDE turnback cuffs and a small mandarin collar, then I wanna go Goth.

Or just hop on a nearby black horse in my knee-length dashing coat and gallop off into the sunset. Yeah. That sounds good.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Electric Company, School House Rock, Free To Be You and Me, Bell-bottom denims and ...

Wordly Wise.

This graphic just screams "I am a product of the 1970's!!!"

There was a cover with an owl on it too, now that I think of it.

I used these in Miss Williams' Fifth Grade class, and I think in Mrs. Robb's Fourth Grade class. It is beyond weird that my son uses this series WITH THE SAME COVER in his Fourth Grade class.

Cue Barbra:

Light the corners of my miiiind.
Misty water water color
Of the way we were.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Evacuating from fires

I haven't seen this number reported on CNN or on the AP wires, but I've been reading a newsgroup listing of horse owners. One regular on the list evacuated her horses to "the fairgrounds" (in San Diego? I've lost track of where exactly she is, but can go check again.)

She's reported that the last inventory of horses on that property was 2530.

Not including dogs, cats, etc.


CNN keeps reported "Thousands of animals on Del Mar racetrack", but then they keep going back to all the dogs in crates. More than a thousand horses is just an insane number.

One million people, twenty five hundred horses, thousands of dogs and cats. Can barely get my head around it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Egg Shells and Spiders

Saul left school today. We caught up with him sitting on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street to come home.

Shit. Are we really back HERE again?

I never know quite how to think of myself.

For years at a time, my armor is quite strong. I can remember the details of the battle, Achilles chasing Hector around the walls of Troy, the sun on my back, the weight of the leather shield across my arm, "as when single-hooved horses that are winners of prizes course swiftly about the turning-points." I know what I did in battle, how close a victory it was, and I can give myself strength to move forward, the words and phrases of my own epic echoing in my head, giving me strength. I can even laugh at myself when I trip and fall. Silly Person. Did you not see the banana peel on the sidewalk?

Then there are times when I can feel an itching under the skin, and I realize that the armor's only an eggshell, trying to hold in a persistent bird. There's an egg tooth scraping under my shoulder blades, and I can feel that ugly friend trying to get out. It's wet and its eyes are too big for its head. And it knows that although I'm pretending to be strong, I'm really only that little kid with a bag of coping skills, filled with forty years of experience in saying, "I'll be OK as soon as I get my breath back."

I've had the wind knocked out of me a number of times, falling from horses, and every time it's just as terrifying. Even when I'm talking myself through it. "Muscle spasm. You won't suffocate. Don't try breathing in. Breathe OUT. Breathe OUT. Muscle Spasm." And the blood is crashing in my ears and my chest feels like knives should be sticking out of it. I know now not to focus on the panic or on the pain. But it doesn't mean that they've gone AWAY, just that it's the right thing to do, to tell yourself, "Muscle spasm. Breath out. Calm down." That coping skill takes some of the fear away, but I'm not sure it brings me my breath back any sooner. I hate having my breath knocked out of me. I know all seven times I've experienced it. More frightening than the pain of broken bones or childbirth, not being able to breath.

One of my bigger fights with a certain therapist involved the symbolic idea of journeying down into Hell and walking up out again. It was stupid to fight so hard with her about it, but I really objected to that metaphor, and I knew we were going to keep referring back to her favorite metaphor throughout therapy, so I wanted to get my objections "down on paper" so to speak before we started.

She kept saying that people close the gates on Hell in order to cope, and that now we were going to open them, climb down into Hell, and find all the demons. After finding them, labeling them, and working out why they were still tormenting us, then we would finally be able to walk straight up out of Hell and leave them behind.

I said, OK Fine, I can go with the Hell metaphor if you want, but I don't believe that you can just walk up out of Hell. I think you go down into Hell and wrestle with them for as long and as hard as you can. You get bloody and muddy, and you work out why they are so very powerful against you. Some of them you can recognize as being silly, like the fear of a giant spider living under my bed. Surely if it existed I would have seen Some Sign of it in all these years. So I guess that demon has been vanquished and is longer living in my Hell.

But I don't believe that you can walk right up out of Hell, because there are some demons that can not be pacified and be reasoned with, and in fighting them you can chip away at their strength over you and stench they leave behind in the world, but I'm not sure that all demons can be fully left behind.

I think that when you are strong you can fling open the doors of hell, wrestle with a few demons, and then leave before your energy is sucked dry. You have to be realistic and know that there are some that remain. You turn around the way you came and climb back up out of Hell, cleaning off your pants on the stair, and come back a stronger person. Another day, when you are ready to wrestle, you can go chip away at the big bad meanie living under the floor.

The fight I had with her was that she wanted me to commit to wrestling ALL my demons and walking through Hell. I kept saying, I don't have the energy for that. I'll get to most of them, but I don't believe that you ever fully let go of some, so I'm not going to pretend that all is going to be hunky dory when I walk out of here. "Twelve Sessions! Demon Free! Guaranteed!"

She said that I wasn't committing enough of my energy. I told her that since this was couples therapy, and not individual therapy, I reserved the right to fight some of my demons in private.

We went back and forth.

"You can walk through Hell."

"No. You can slosh around in the muck, and then you can come out a stronger person, but you don't ever walk through it."

"You are refusing to envision a door on the other side."

"This is all made up anyway. Why are we arguing about this?"

"If I don't feel as if you've made the proper commitment to therapy, then I'm not sure that there's much I can do to help you."

"You know? I've been in and out of therapy since I was six. I know how this works. I get it. I object to being the Identified Patient. It has happened in every family therapy I have been in, so don't do this in this couple's session either. I'll commit to walking around in Hell. When we get to the point where we are walking out of doors, then we'll have to decide which door I'm choosing in your mythical construct. OK?"

Stoopid woman. She still gets me angry. And I haven't seen her in years. Humph.

OK, so why am I writing about that woman, a perfectionist Buddhist, by the way?

I think because my armor is cracking. I think the demons are slithering up the stairs and sticking their grimy fingernails under the door, leaving grease stains on the carpet.

I've said to a number of people that participating in the last IEP meeting, that five hour THING, was like a car wreck. I keep reliving portions of it. How could I have said what I needed to say in a way in which the ten other people in the room would have heard me? Maybe if I were more forceful. Maybe if I were less likely to quote research. Maybe if I were more protective of my son. Maybe if I were more aggressive. Maybe if I were more placating. Maybe if I had invited more comments. Maybe if I had been less inviting of comments.

Round and Round.

I know what this is, in my logical heart. This is reliving my experience with my parents over and over again. You are reasonable people, how can you refuse to hear what I am saying? Maybe if I try it this way. Maybe if I appeal to your intelligence. Maybe if I fling myself to the floor and whine and whine until you take me off the ice. I don't want to ice-skate on this bumpy pond today. Maybe then you'll hear me.

Round and Round.


I don't like thinking of myself as weak. But then, there's only so much a person can take.

Dear Butcher said to me last night, when I was trying to explain all this, "You are the best person in that boy's life. You are the one who is helping him, sometimes the only person who is helping him, so that he can be a functional person. One day when he's forty, he won't be lying here in bed with these demons picking on him. He won't have had to go through this part. Because you are helping him every single day. Every day. And with your help he'll figure out how he needs to cope. He'll know that there's someone who really gets him and understands how he ticks. He'll have his own demons, but he won't be raised to think that he's invisible."

"But what does it mean for him if the one special person in his life isn't ABLE to get what he needs? They all just sat there and nodded."

"They didn't want to hear you. It had nothing to do with you. They weren't ready to hear you, but that's not on you. That's on them. It's not your fault."

I can hear that, and I can agree in the moment that he's right, but my diaphragm doesn't believe it yet. It's still spasming.

Somehow I know that I'm still doing a good job for Saul.

But on the other hand (what an excellent Greek turn of phrase. On the one hand, men,... on the other hand, deh.... It's called a "men, deh formation" in Attic grammar lessons. Burned into my head as a child. And then again ten years later as a student of Homer. What a digression.) On the other hand, I feel as if I'm floundering. And it makes it all the harder to watch him flounder too. I'm supposed to be lifting him up, but the life jacket won't quite hold both of us.

While Saul was home we did two weeks worth of work in a language arts book. Oddly enough, the same book, With The Same Cover, that I used in fifth grade in a private school three thousand miles away and thirty years ago. Please don't let it be the same edition.

I took him back to school, and he was full of pride at the work he'd done. Twenty four more vocabulary words under his belt. (And dammit, I think it was the same word lists from when I was in school. I fucking recognize the poem in the crossword. Agh!)

His aides were eating lunch, so I stood at the side of the field and watched him during recess tumbling in the grass with Bobby and Anan. Three awkward boys, gawky thin legs scraping the air, rolling in the grass. No tickling, but lots of laughing. At one point Anan rolled next to Saul and draped his arm over Saul's belly. Anan who two years ago could not speak English. Bobby who struggles to this day with the vowels. Saul lifted his head, saw Anan's arm across his hips, and gently patted it with his hand. Then he reached out with the other hand and patted Bobby on his dark shiny hair. Everyone else was running around after balls, swinging off the jungle gyms, and out in the middle of the field were three boys lying in the grass, looking like puppies at rest.

I wish he hadn't run off from school.

And I especially wish his aides could have stood at the field to see how he returned.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Talka tikky talka talk

came back from a five and a half hour IEP.

Not functional after five and half hours of conversation on the same topic.

Need a nap.

(Generally it was a non-confrontational meeting and we're going to get what we want. Eventually. After we meet and talk some more to iron out the details. And meet with the ones who weren't in the room at the end. And get it on paper. And then talk some more.)




Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I was tagged

Because I don't bloghop that much anymore, I didn't realize that I had been tagged.

Cindy tagged me to do a screen capture of my desktop.

I try to keep the icons away from the center of the screen, and I'd sorta prefer an olive and burgundy layout, but I like this desktop too.

Neo and I share a computer, so when she's done with an art piece, she saves it as my new desktop. The next time I turn on my computer, wa la! Art!

This is Genre, and you can read more about her and what Neo thinks of this piece on her blog, which is over there ------ > on my side bar.

Originally I set up my desktop to highlight an autumn picture of my handling a chestnut stallion, but it hasn't been on my desktop for years. I somehow always expect it to be when I start the puter up. Hmm. Here it is, just because. He was a grand old man, that guy. Unhandled his entire life until he came to us. (It's a bad picture of a stallion handler, that's fer sure. I had him all set up, four square and perfect, and then someone brought a mare out of the barn. I wasn't comfortable controlling him with that wimpy Indian leather show halter, and I overreacted. As it was, he just pranced in place. I still get embarrassed at my aggressive face and body language in this picture. Gah. But it is a beautiful picture of Tirf's power and autumn in New England. I think I was 23 when it was taken. I think he was about 23 too. I'm so young and he's so old.)

Can't think of anything else to say about my desktop except that I'm glad that Neo feels comfortable enough to shift it around when she wants to.

I can't think of anyone to tag. I'm terrible at memes, come to think of it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Building a house

What books have I read lately?

I downloaded and read the entire content standards for fourth grade from the California Department of Education website. Enjoyed reading those. Quite intriguing, actually. More on that later.

I've read two books on Social Deficits and Social Deficit Training by Michelle Garcia Winner, and now I realize that I really need a third book by her before Wednesday. Ha! Not happening.

I've read huge portions of the Conduct Disorders section on Special Education Law and techniques for documenting IEP requests. As I go, I take notes on those and then scoot over to Wrightslaw to research California law. I take notes on those.

(As a research geek, can I just put in a plug for the beauty that is Wrights Law? Every topic is hotlinked and they maintain on the website all the opinions from all the court cases they reference. They'll talk about a Supreme Court Case, and then, viola, there it is. It's not only their interpretation of it, but there's the opinion itself. I'm such a goof. I was actually GIGGLING the other day when I read a Supreme Court opinion regarding "stay put" orders. There it is in black and white, the Supreme Court justices telling the State of California that there was no exception for "dangerous" students because, nationwide, school districts had looked for loopholes to segregate disabled students from their peers, AND that the Supreme Court and Congress did not trust school districts not to exaggerate the danger posed by disabled students in order to segregate them.

Lest you all think that the Supreme Court wants dangerous students in schools, no, they don't. But they do want the District to be responsible for the behavior of their disabled students, not blame or punish the students for being compromised by their disability. Wow. Once you've walked down this road that I have been on with Saul, it's almost an indescribable feeling to read that on paper. Chills, giggles, and tears, all at once.)

So where is all this going? For what am I preparing?

Saul has his annual IEP on Wednesday, where we set goals and objectives for the rest of this year. Last year his IEP was essentially scribbled on the back of an envelope and I signed it so that he could start receiving services. The goals were never met, and now as I look back at them, there was nothing In Place that would have helped him build to that goal. (Forget about dragging him through hallways or giving him untrained aides. They went from, "This kid can't stay in his chair" to "Saul will stay at his desk in the classroom 80% of the time by the end of the year" with no details as to how this could be accomplished. Wonder why it didn't work.)

I'm not doing that again this year. This year we're going to be much more benchmark and objective based. Legally, they have to have "reasonable" and "measurable" goals in place for him. I'm not going to go back to what doesn't work and try to make it work. Saul has demonstrated a number of times that when he says he's not going to do X, he really and truly means it. Is it Oppositional behavior? Is it Anxiety? Is it an as-of-yet-undiagnosed processing disorder? Honestly, I don't really care. Truth is, he's not going to do it. Fighting about it for the next forty-eight hours ain't going to do no one no good no how. Let's try something that works!

What's working? Mr. Ho, his at-home instructor. Oh my lord, I do love Mr. Ho. I'm not sure why you sent him into our lives, Lord, but I silently thank You every day that he rings our doorbell and shuffles into the house carrying his canvas bag full of exciting projects. Mr. Ho is a retired engineer who became a Math and Science teacher for the District in his retirement. Mr. Ho does not believe in long division or rote learning of the multiplication tables. He believes in applied math and problem solving.

Here's an example: Mr. Ho heard from Saul that he Hates Writing. He asked me what I thought the problem was. I explained that Saul seems to have a physical problem with pencils on paper -- the paper crumples, or the letters doesn't look right, or sometimes his anxiety about proper spelling gets in the way of him writing anything. On the other hand, Occupational Therapists have evaluated him and said that his pencil grip is appropriate and that he doesn't rise to the level of disability.

The next day, Mr. Ho started talking about Ancient China and pottery and kilns. Then Mr. Ho started talking about soot, and the development of ink. Saul offered that he had once had a feather quill pen but that the tip had broken. "Oh, yes. They are very fragile and always breaking. Have you ever seen a metal tip pen?"

Out of his canvas bag came a pot of ink, some smooth paper, and three metal dip nib pens. Saul dived on them, and with Mr. Ho's quiet tutelage, Saul was able to write some letters in a consistent script. Mr. Ho left him the materials and wrote a note to Saul on the practice sheet. "Saul, you are a very smart student and a very sweet boy. I like working with you very much, Mr. Ho."

Mr. Ho commented to me as he left the house that day, "Saul can write, and he does beautiful work when he slows down, but why aren't his texts on a computer?" I shrugged and said that so far the District had been unwilling to have him learn on the computer because when he was frustrated he banged on the keyboard. Mr. Ho said, "I can teach him to type. That shouldn't be a problem!"

Over the weekend, Saul tried to use the metal nibs, but ended up bending one. He was very embarrassed, angry, and frustrated. Mr. Ho came back and asked how the practice had gone. Saul bowed his head and said, "I dunno what happened. I got angry or something but I broke your pen."

"That happens all the time! That's why they only cost you a few cents at the art supply store! Now. Do you think the Ancient Chinese used metal tip pens the first time they discovered ink?"

"No. Didn't they use brushes or something?"

"Yes. They did." And out of the bag came an entire brush calligraphy set, with an ink stone, ink stick, water spoon, brushes, and a brush rest. Saul literally fell off the kitchen bench onto the floor.

As they ground the ink and tested it for consistency, they talked about relative hardness of materials (a Fourth Grade science standard), the types of animal fur used in the bristles, what section of the food web the animals represented (Third and Fourth grade standards), Chinese history (Eight Grade History), the emigration of Chinese laborers to California, and the growth of California as a state (Fourth Grade standard). They measured the perimeter of both the stone and the ink stick, calculated the area of each (Fourth Grade standard) and discussed why the stone needed to be so much larger than the stick if the stick needs to be ground on the stone. They also talked about water, water conservation (Third and Fourth Grade standard), and a recent newspaper story about an anniversary celebration of a dam nearby. They talked about the condensation cycle (Fourth Grade standard) and presented various questions to each other about why the dam was curved and not straight, and discussed the erosion of canyons over time.

Mr. Ho wants to build an entire program around Saul, covering all content areas, presented in a conversational style, with access to technology for research, writing, and for assessment of accomplishments. He wants to teach Saul how to use a calculator, how to type, and he wants to school to help Saul learn how to cope with being in a group. Every day now that he comes to the house he says to me, "Parents I work with always tell me their kid is bright, and they're right. But generally the kid is bright in ONE area. I talk to my retired friends about what I am doing with your son, and they cannot believe that I am working with a fourth grader. Saul is exceptionally bright across all areas. He always ends every conversation with 'But what about...?' He needs an advocate, and I want to be his advocate."

It's a long speech, usually given at the door on his way out, but he says it every time.

So, on Wednesday, I'm proposing that the District provide for Saul's needs and that they stop focusing on what isn't working: sitting in class bored out of his skull to the point that he explodes and asks to go home. He is going to need to be trained in social skills, how to wait for a pause in conversations, how to operate in a group and let others take the lead from time to time, etc., and he is going to need to be given access to technology and trained in how to use it.

The District is quite focused on having him come to school, and that's fine, he needs recess and lunch with his peers. Mr. Ho is fragile and cannot be made responsible for Saul for the entire 6.5 hours of the school day, but on the other hand, Saul's day needs to be "chunked" as it is. He needs PE instruction (Fourth grade standard is the manipulation of other objects, balls, bats, frisbees, and an understanding that games have rules), music instruction, social skill instruction, and free reading time. Mr. Ho doesn't need to be available for all of that. But Mr. Ho has already said that he's happy to put together an entire curriculum for Saul as long as the District works with him to develop a means of measuring Saul's achievement. This is going to have to be some sort of technological accommodation or testing method.

And how will the District provide the all important "Social Skills" instruction? Well, that's why I've been reading the books from Michelle Garcia Winner. I'm also bringing my own expert on Social Skills training, a counselor from the camp Saul went to this year. We're going to lay out a curriculum that the District can follow, one that has discrete IEP goals, daily progress goals, and weekly assessments, to help Saul learn how to cope with other people in his environment.

So, by next Wednesday, I need to put together a environmental plan (where he will learn), a time chunking plan (how long will he spend on each topic during the day), a social skills curriculum (in what areas does Saul demonstrate that he needs help), and an argument (a calm one) regarding why the District needs to provide for Saul in this manner. I'm leaving the educational plan up to Mr. Ho.

The most obvious argument is that Saul hasn't yet learned a single thing in his current classroom setting, and therefore needs accommodations to achieve at the levels that No Child Left Behind mandated for disabled students. The second argument is that Saul is not the only child who has this type of disability, lack of social awareness. The District is going to get more, they already have a number of them on campus right now, and it would be in the District's best interests to get their collective butt in gear to address the needs of all those students. Saul's program can start as a pilot, and as he gets more confident in his abilities, the program can serve the other kids on campus by the end of this year. Then there's the more legal argument that the District has to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education for Saul. I have met with experts and I have talked repeatedly to the Director of Special Ed on this topic. There IS no private placement for Saul which would be appropriate. So, that means that legally, the District must provide.

Still, I'm not sure that the District is eager to walk down this road.

More reading ahead.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Educating the Kidlets

So y'all have heard the various stories about trying to get Saul a decent education, one that doesn't involve high drama, phone calls to the police, or aggressive/violent outbursts. There's good news on that front. I'll write another post on that later. But let's spend some time on Neo, shall we?

At the beginning of the year, Neo said that she wasn't going back to Middle School. Too much bullying, too boring, and there really was no point. She's a GATE student, meaning that the school district gets grant money to level-up her education and provide for her "gifted" status. (I have to put gifted in quotes, because there's a huge controversy brewing right now over the way we identify these kids in our district. One multiple choice test in third grade. No teacher recommendations, no class grades, etc. Ummm. Surely we are missing out on a raft of kids whose parents, like us, did not even know to TAKE her to the test in third grade. She was identified, through testing, at the start of her fifth grade year. She's now in seventh grade. So far, her GATE education has consisted on one field trip in fifth grade, and one trip to a paint-your-own-pottery studio in sixth grade. Wonder why she's bored in class. Hmm. Can't imagine.) OK, so forget about GATE for a sec, let's just focus on the fact that she as an individual doesn't want to be in school.

Just before school started, Neo and I met with the VP, and he immediately switched all of her classes so that she would be in sections with her friends. He also took the names of the kids who were bullying her last year and promised to, as much as he could, keep them away from her and her friends. During the second week of school the VP called together a meeting with all of her teachers and me to discuss Neo, what made her tick, and what each teacher could do to keep her engaged and interested.

Her math teacher suggested moving her from seventh period to third, as her kids in third were quieter and more focused, so Neo wouldn't stand out in the crowd as much. Her second period "applied industrial arts" teacher commented that since his class was based on hands-on learning, she was going to be pretty busy during the class as it was, but that he would keep an eye out for her.

Her Science, English, and History teachers all, independently of each other, brought up that they could assign special projects for her to do, either in school or at home, which would be linked to the curriculum. We spent a fair amount of time during the rest of the meeting brainstorming what those projects might be.

Science: The teacher needs an updated list of useful websites for her students. Neo could research her current list, write up reviews of the websites (see if they are still active) , search out new ones, and write up reviews of those as well. Since Neo is also an artist, perhaps some exploration of vertebrate anatomy and drawing of bones and muscles could be done too.

History: Neo is very interested in Asian art and culture. Perhaps Neo could do more research in the school library on the culture of Medieval Japan, comparing aspects to European culture of the same time period. Since she's an artist, perhaps she could research some of the clothing and costuming of Medieval Korea, China, and Japan and prepare a report for the class, with drawings.

English: Neo needs more practice in all forms of writing across the seventh grade curriculum. Short essays she can do in class while the rest of the class is doing grammar worksheets. Essays relative to the research she is doing in other classes. Further reading in whatever genre the class is currently focusing on. Start her on literary critique -- looking for symbols, themes, archetypes, and plot devices.

Excellent. Great to have you all on board. Sounds like a great plan.

Neo received her first progress report the other day, so a quarter of the year has passed. I asked her, as I was complimenting her on her grades (all A's, mostly ranking in the top ten to fifteen percent of her classes), "What sorts of special projects have you done so far? I haven't seen any."


"Wait.... None?"


"You're supposed to be doing extra stuff in class, especially after class tests. What do you do in class?"

"Math homework. Homework for the other classes. Read."

"Has anyone ever sent you to the library to research a topic while the rest of the class was working on worksheets?"

"No. And they're STILL doing that stupid reading aloud thing. I hate listening to the rest of the class read out loud. I'm not supposed to read ahead either, but I've already read the entire History textbook, most of the Science text book, and I'm always reading ahead in English."

"Has your English teacher given you extra things to read?"


"You SURE?"


"OK, then."

Called the VP.

"Hey, Bill. You know that meeting we had at the beginning of the year?"

"Yeah! How's that going?"

"Ummm. Neo says that she's never been assigned extra work. I've never seen any, but I'm not always sure what's standard and what's extra."

"But they said they would!"

"I know."

"OK. I'm going to call them together again. I'm not going to tell them I spoke to you, but I'm just going to say that I want to get an update as to how Neo's doing and what sort of response they've gotten from her as to the projects they've done. And I'll call you back as soon as I can."

"OK. You handle it how you think it's best. Maybe they have. Maybe Neo's just being snarky, I don't know. Maybe the extra work they've assigned wasn't challenging enough, and they need to bump it up another level, but I'll tell you that she's still complaining of being bored. When she does that, she separates herself from the rest of the class, because she starts calling them, 'those idiots.' It's not a great pattern to get into."

"I appreciate that. I'll remember to bring that up too, that maybe she needs to go even more in depth. This is also really important too. You know, for GATE, not just for Neo."

"That's a whole other kettle of fish. Let's get this one part settled first and then we can get into GATE."

VP called me yesterday evening, sounding more dour than I have ever heard him before. He apologized at least five times before he ever got into the meat of the matter.

None, as in not one, teacher has given her an extra assignment. The Math teacher says, and I think she's correct, that Neo seems engaged, interested, and challenged by the level of work in front of her, so she hasn't prepared anything extra. That's fine, I'm OK with that, and I told the VP to let her know that that approach was OK.

But this is where the VP got upset. The English teacher said that she didn't know how to present more complex ideas or extra work to Neo. The History teacher said that there wasn't anything else that she could have Neo working on, other than the text that the rest of the class works on. Quoting the VP, "I'm just so disappointed in my staff, Suisan. They came in this room and talked about all the great things they were going to do for this kid, and now they think it's OK to let her flounder. How can they NOT KNOW how to do this?"

"Look Bill, it may very well be that they don't know, but then they should have said that up front. And, I'm sorry, if a History teacher doesn't know anything other than what is in the text, than she doesn't know the curriculum well at all. As for the English teacher, no excuse. If she can't figure this out, then she needs to get a High School English teacher on the phone and get this kid some High School level materials and instruction. Now."

There's all sorts of trainings districtwide to get teachers certified in GATE instruction. If you're certified, then you can apply for an extra stipend, considering all the extra time and energy you'll be putting into these GATE projects. Want to know something extra super funny?

Neo was put in this schedule with this group of teachers because she's identified as GATE and every single one of these teachers has expressed interest in having the GATE cluster in their class. I didn't know this until yesterday. These are the teachers who want to be working with these kids. Only one of them has taken any GATE training. One class out four. One teacher out of six has taken one class out of four. (I'm not sure that PE really counts as GATE differentiated instruction, so let's make that one teacher out of five has taken one class out of four.)

Lest y'all think this instruction is new, we've been offering GATE-cluster sections for at least seven years. This is the first year that we've offered classes towards additional certification. Holding an additional certification allows the teacher to apply for a stipend on their yearly paycheck, which is the carrot for getting them to attend classes.

And, since I now know that Neo was placed in a GATE cluster, I also now know, looking at the staffing ratios, that in at least three out of her five classes, there are three to four more students who are as bored as she is.

Ye gods, what sort of a system is this?

The VP is meeting with the Director of Curriculum and Instruction on Monday to address the teachers' claims that they don't know how to teach the curriculum in any greater depth. Then he's meeting back with the teachers, along with the Director of C&I later in the week. If necessary, we'll need to set up a Section 504 plan for Neo which would allow her to learn on Independent Study until such time as ALL her teachers have ALL their classes under their belts.

And I have a lengthy IEP meeting for Saul on Wednesday to prepare for.

And then there's always laundry. And dishes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A working relationship

I have to go back to yesterday's post and the comments there.

Anonymous says:

I'm a teacher who found your site through educational blog rings about a year ago. I read because I appreciate hearing the perspectives of a Board member, and, more importantly, those of a parent with a special needs child. At times, however, it also demonstrates a pattern of dealing with educational conflict that I find can often cause more harm than good.

This post certainly describes a teacher who made a bone-headed decision that put Neo in an uncomfortable and unfair position. I don't defend the teacher's actions one bit.

But I do wish you would reconsider your approach to situations such as this one. Certainly call the teacher. Certainly express your disapproval and concern. But please also ask her for any further information that you may not have (I'm not sure what it might be in this case, honestly, but should always be asked as a sign of good faith), and give her a chance to work through the matter with you personally before you call a VP. Not because I don't want her to "get in trouble," but because she is an adult, and she deserves for you to express your displeasure to her personally. It's a far more effective and professional first step to take. If it's not solved at that level, then I'd be the first one to call a VP at that point. But everyone makes a bone-headed mistake. Give this person time to make it right with you and Neo herself. That's what I would want for my own friends and family when they make mistakes, and I have no doubt you would want the same for yours.

Best of luck resolving this situation. I hope it is addressed successfully for all parties involved.

October 09, 2007 8:13 PM

To which I replied:

Suisan said...
Thanks, but I have to call the VP to find out who the sub WAS on that day.

And the VP is the only person at that school who is actively looking out for my kid, Board member status be damned. He was the one who set up the SST meeting for her at the start of the year, he's the one who checks up on her at lunch to make sure she's OK. I'm calling the VP.

In most situations, I'd email the teacher first, ask for her phone number, and talk to her. But, I'm sorry if you don't want to hear this, this situation pissed me off, and I am going straight to the VP with it. The teacher will simply have to deal with hurt feelings and be a professional in his/her job.

I'm pretty much done with teachers and staff refusing to accept criticism by saying, "But I have feelings too and you should have helped me lick my wounds." The VP is her supervisor, and that's who I would report a rude store clerk to, the manager. I wouldn't try to chase the clerk down and get her to express her side of the story.

Man. I wish teaching wasn't all about the emotions of the adults. Because the kids have emotions too, and the adults who complain about hurt feelings are at the very bottom of my list of worries.


And if you really think that EVERY conversation I have with EVERY teacher on EVERY topic is spelled out here, you are very mistaken. I send flowers to teachers, I give them hugs, and say great things about them in front of other parents. I nudge them towards getting better training, and I let them know what the larger public thinks of their efforts, good and bad. But I don't chronicle that here. Sorry if you thought I did.

Sometimes someone does something so boneheaded that they truly deserve to get their feelings hurt.

Signed, an angry parent and a frustrated to hell and back Board Member.

OK, here's the thing that sent me over the edge, just so you all don't think that I'm some sort of raving lunatic. Perhaps it will better explain why parents get so easily frustrated with teachers, since I'm going to assume that very few of you out there are Board Members who get complaints from parents about teachers, and who have had to navigate this particular quagmire.

My child's teacher is a professional.

My child's teacher sees my child for more hours of the day than I do.

My child's teacher is an employee of a professional organization.

As a parent who is concerned for her child's well being, I expect the teacher to act with the utmost professionalism at all times. Most of what Anonymous said about solving it at the one to one level makes some sense, but on the other hand, Anonymous said, "Give this person time to make it right with you and Neo herself. That's what I would want for my own friends and family when they make mistakes, and I have no doubt you would want the same for yours."

This is the attitude, this one right there in that sick purple color that drives me right over the edge. This teacher is not my friend, nor is she my family. Because you hang out with my kid does not make us friends, and I'm not taking her out to coffee to patch something up.

How exactly is the teacher going to work out a solution with ME? I'm not the one she pulled to the front of the class. Do I want her to come back into class, put more attention on my child, and explain that it was a mistake? No. Do I want her to apologize to my kid? Maybe, but Neo never wants to look in her face again. I want her to recognize from someone in authority that if she ever does that again, she could seriously jeopardize the integrity and reputation of the District, if not her own teaching abilities. It's racist. It's stupid. And I shouldn't have to explain this to her.

Maybe she could have told me over coffee that she was planning to use my daughter as a class example, and then I could have told her that it was a stupid idea, not to mention some sort of racial profiling. But she doesn't treat me as a friend, letting me poke around in her lesson plan, and I would be shocked if she did so. She has a job to do. In her job, she has a boss. Her boss evaluates her, keeps her on target, and corrects her when she's drifting off course. As I said in the comment, if I ran into a store clerk who said something odd, I wouldn't follow the store clerk and get her side. If a more professional person made an error, perhaps a lawyer or a nurse, I wouldn't necessarily take it up with them either, if they worked for a large company. I'd report what I experienced to that person's supervisor.

A doctor or a lawyer who is self-employed, well, that's an entirely different story. That's more like a marriage.

Teachers are perhaps the most emotional people I have ever encountered in a place of business. Sometimes it's great. Sometimes it is all so very inappropriate. As a rule, teachers do not like to think of themselves as employees in a large corporation. Teachers, as a rule, do not like that they get evaluated. They do not believe that principals, former teachers, should have the ability or the right to tell them that what they are doing in class is on-task or appropriate.

The back side of that is that it is very, very, very hard to dig a bad teacher out of the system. Not an abusive one, or an aggressive one, just a bleh, lazy one. The evaluations generally are not particularly honest or in-depth, because an honest evaluation is usually met with great lumpy tears and exclamations that feelings were hurt.

I am coming to the end of my term as a District leader. Soon I will just be an obnoxious parent. If you want to know why parents get their backs up, it is because of experiences like mine, where I have bent over backwards to make myself available to my children's teachers, asking them to call if they have any questions, setting up informal and formal meetings, and the teachers don't really WANT to be all that communicative. Then I'm supposed to give them the benefit of the doubt and not report a problem, a problem which could be repeated on other children can cause everybody a lot of angst, because I'm supposed to project onto the teacher how I would want my family to be treated.

My family understands that mistakes are made and that they answer to their employers. A good working relationship with their employers is a primary concern, not hurt feelings because someone caught you out making a mistake.

Damn, that touched a nerve.

Need Coffee