Thursday, February 26, 2009

Head 'em Up...Move 'em Out!

Every day I've had to struggle with my students to make an actual line when it is time to line up on the playground to walk down to our rooms. There's a painted dot with our room number on it for the leader. I've pointed out that there's a line on the cement (from when they poured it), and they could stand parallel to it for a landmark so they'd know where we belonged. But I think the real situation is that they don't want to be in a line. They prefer clumps because then they can chat with friends and bother enemies and run away quick. I go up after the bell rings and I always see an amorphous group of students, some of whom are dashing about, either trying to get away or being the chaser. Sigh.

It makes me wish for a cattle dog some days. Let me tell you a great story about recalcitrant herders. (Yes--I did just compare my students to a herd.) We had this big dog who was a combo of several types of big dogs--maybe some German shepherd for the colors and markings, maybe some retriever for the long hair, maybe some Australian shepherd for his work ethic. He was named "Dog"---not much imagination on our part, sorry to say. But he was a terrific farm dog. He protected, he was a mouse-catcher, he was loyal, he rounded up cows. He'd also follow the truck down the highway often and then ultimately give up and come back home when he realized that Daddy was driving too far to tag along. But one day he didn't return home. We knew something bad had happened when the next morning, he still wasn't home. About two days later Daddy found him in the "borrow-pit" (as we knew it--the ditch alongside the highway where the builders had "borrowed" dirt to build up the road bed.) Dog had been hit by a car, we assumed, and had been laying there for a couple of days, unable to move his back legs. He was really, really happy to be discovered.

Daddy brought him back home and made him a nice bed in the straw of the calf pen, and for weeks, we'd move him out into the sunshine during the day, and back into the barn at night. He got fed regularly, and watered, and he seemed anxious to get back to work, but he couldn't walk. One night he got in a tangle with a stupid cow. As I said, he was boarding in the calf pen. When a cow gave birth, we'd put the new calf in this nursery section after about three days with its mom, because by then, her regular milk had come in, and we'd put her back with the herd for milking. Then, we'd just feed the baby regularly by bucket. But the first day or two, the mom was always peeved and would stand mooing at the front of the barn for the baby.

But that wasn't the cow that gave the dog trouble. It was the psycho cow named Gyp who was the culprit. As each and every cow gave birth, Gyp would attempt to claim the calf. She was never successful, but she went through the drama every time. This meant that she, also, would stand outside the calf pen door and make a scene for "her" baby, alongside the actual mother cow. So, there was the dog, lying in front of the barn one night, and I went out to get in the cows for milking. I didn't think anything of leaving him there. It wasn't quite dark yet, (it was late winter) and he was enjoying a relatively balmy day. Stupid Gyp always had to be the first cow in the barn for milking, so the trouble didn't start till I was turning out the first bunch and Gyp left the barn. But instead of heading out the gate, she turned the other way to go to the front of the barn and join the real mother in her calf vigil. Dog barked at her, and suddenly, psycho that she was, Gyp started "goring" Dog with her head! She was pounding him good, and he was growling and yelping. I was terrified. She might kill him! I grabbed a shovel from the barn and ran over to fend her off, she was all fired up and ignored me. I was yelling at her and whacking her with the shovel handle and standing over the dog, and she swung her head at me. Dog scooted like a seal under a nearby fence, Gyp came to her senses. My poor Mom heard all the yelling and yelping and mooing and came running out of the house wielding a broom. It was scary, but over in a minute.

Well, a short time later, I just cannot remember now after all these years what the time frames were, a couple of us were trying to lift Dog and carry him back into the barn for the night, and we dropped him. It was about a two or three foot drop, too. He yelped and cried. We felt awful. So we got him tucked in for the night, and hoped he wouldn't be hurt even more and went into the house. The next morning, he met us at the gate of calf pen, wagging his tail, wagging his whole back end, just as excited as can be! So were we! Apparently, we'd accomplished some type of chiropractic miracle when we dropped him, and whatever was out of place or pinched was realigned and he was cured!!

When he was first injured, it hadn't taken the cows long to become complete anarchists when they realized that all the whistling I did ultimately did NOT produce the snarling fangs of Dog when it was time to round up the cows in the evening for milking. The first few days, I could whistle, pretending to call in the dog, and the cows would pull their heads out of the feeders and step lively toward the barnyard gate where they waited for their turn in the barn. But after a week, they'd just look at me, chewing, with that "Yeah, right..." look in their eyes, knowing that no dog would respond to my signal. No nipping brown streak of furry lightening would be coming to encourage compliance with my call to leave the hay and come over to the yard. I had to go to each cow and pound on her, and pull a few tails, and really holler.

It was quite fun that first evening when Dog was healed. It was late enough in the winter that it was still light at 5:00 when I headed out to get the cows. I walked out to the feeders and yelled for them. (Maybe you didn't know that cows can be called for--some of them obey.) A few of them raised their heads and started to saunter over to the gate. But the usual ones just stood there, munching and ignoring me. I whistled. I could see them almost chuckle..."As if--" And then, streaking across the frozen landscape came DOG. He headed for their ankles and yipped and nipped and a couple of them actually banged their heads on the feeder as they backed up, so shocked that after all this time he was back! It was hilarious to watch. They jogged to the gate that night.

Dog kept rowdy boys from vandalizing Daddy's school bus on Halloween and the last day of school. He kept the usual suspects from stealing gas out of our big tank in the yard. He kept skunks away from the chicken coop, and Dog even challenged the badgers who tried to dig craters in the alfalfa fields. But a couple of years after the healing, Daddy found his gunshot dead body along the fence line. There was trail through the grass where someone had driven on a dirt bike along the fence to get to our tractor left in the field one night. They were there to siphon gas. Daddy was pretty sure who'd done it, but there was no way to prove it, and nothing to be gained from the accusation.

Dog was the only dog I could remember having on our farm in my childhood. You need a dog on a farm, so we got another one some months later. I graduated from high school the next year and I guess there were several other dogs after that. But I'll always remember Dog, and today, I was kind of wishing he could come and help me round up my students, minus the heel nips, of course. But he'd come in handy many afternoons.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Birthday, Birthday

Here's my favorite reaction to a birthday:

Now, I don't feel that way myself--I fully embrace my Crone-ness! And so should all of us women of A Certain Age. We've earned it!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mother's Little Helpers

I gardened today! These little friends helped me. (get it?? Mother Nature's Little Helpers...) Just more evidence that my soil is happy. You can see the radishes growing that I planted just before the snow fell in December. They grew anyway, and now that it is warming up , they're taking off. It was sunny, and I dug a bunch of compost into my bed and then smoothed it all over and planted two rows of beets. Yummmm...beets. Next weekend, I'll plant peas. I'll get all the cool weather vegetables eaten before the hot starts.

I also pulled up many weeds from the rock-covered area around the pool. Weird--we put down landscape cloth, we have drip irrigation to the few plants we have growing there, yet because of the heavy rain a couple of weeks ago, we have a zillion tiny weeds popping up between the rocks. So, I decided before they grow into big monster ugly weeds, I'd sit down with a little digger and get them all out. It was very theraputic sitting in the sun and plucking. I haven't spent that much time outdoors in a long time. It was fantastic, and very vitamin D replenishing.

Then, we went on the motorcycle for lunch at the taqueria. They have a dish called caldo de rez which is a beef broth in which shanks or oxtail or some very tough part of a cow has been simmered for hours until it is tender and succulent. Then they put in a whole potato, a Mexican squash, some carrots, a little chunk of corn on the cob and a bit of cilantro and cook them till they're done. It is served in a big soup bowl, with a side plate of Spanish rice and a large pile of chopped onions. You dump the rice and onions into the steaming bowl of soup, add a little salsa, and stir. The broth is boiling hot and it cooks the onions a little, and the rice gives a little body to the whole thing. It is beyond delicious. It's a meal that fills you and stays all day. I've never seen it before in restaurant (but maybe I just didn't know what to ask for) and now it is my favorite food at the taqueria. They also serve killer shrimp tacos.

Tonight we saw Slumdog Millionaire -- sensational! If you haven't gone, you should. If it doesn't win the Oscar for best picture, I'll be surprised. It is a terrific movie, even if you haven't been on the Millionaire Show...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Family Ties

Today is my dad's 86th birthday. He died 25 years ago from leukemia exactly one month after he turned 61 years old. It was a rip-off that he died so young, because he and my mother were just getting to a point in their lives where they had begun to experience a little leisure. They were married about 36 years and the first 29 of those were notable for the unrelenting labor they performed to turn their little dirt-patch into a prosperous farm. And, the prosperity may have been a mirage, for all I know, because I didn't notice any particular up-tick in their life-style. However, because there no longer were any tiny children living at home, occasionally my dad and mom would go off on a weekend to watch one of my brothers at an "away" wrestling match. Of course, my dad drove the team bus usually, and so he could get paid to be a fan. There were a couple of children still at home who were old enough to milk the cows for one night, and my sister lived next door to help keep an eye on things. These little pleasures (an over-night trip periodically) were a big deal to a dairy farmer.

Mostly I remember my parents working relentlessly. As a child, I didn't recognize how much they did. It was just normal life. They got up early--he milked, she fed the chickens, then fed us. He drove the bus, she washed the milkers and washed the dishes. He came home and fed the animals, she stayed home and cooked his dinner and washed our clothes and baked bread. In the fall, we were likely to come home from school to an empty house, with our mother up in the fields driving the grain truck, or bailing straw. However, there was always something baked awaiting our hungry bellies when we got off the bus, even if the cook was now farming. Daddy worked ridiculous hours. If there was a full moon, he just baled hay until the job was finished. If it was his water turn (irrigation canals were shared property) then he stayed out there moving the canvas dams until the turn ended days later. When he owned ewes, lambing was a 24 hour job. Farmers don't punch in and out on the clock. It turns out to be excellent career training for motherhood, I found: you're never off-duty in that field either.

Farming had benefits. When I went to college, one of my roommates came to visit for a weekend, and she marvelled on our way back to school that we'd eaten every meal with my dad. Her dad was out of town a lot. She barely saw him as a teen. My dad taught me lots of things: how to drive, how to milk, how to work, how to make up silly words to songs, how to saddle a horse, how to stack hay, how to treat people who were in need--strangers or friends, how to dance (he was great, I was a poor learner), how to clean a barn, how to lift a hay bale, how to show your wife you love her, how to harrow, how to carve a whistle out of a green willow stick, how to fish (even though I didn't like it) how to start a fire, how to put gas in a car, how to treat new born calves.

He showed me how to be a good in-law, and a good family member. He lost his family when he was a little kid, but he was invited to live with another family and he treated them well all of his life. He even went out of his way to maintain ties with his brother and sister although they didn't get to live together since they were small. He made dear friends with his in-laws, and his step-family, and I never noticed any distinctions between his own blood and all those family members he acquired over the years. He was genuine with all of them. It was the same when we began to marry and added even more people to the family web.

I guess the biggest sorrow of having him die young is that he didn't get to enjoy the harvest. You don't know if you're any good as a parent until your own children begin to be parents. Then, you can see if your influence was positive. My dad had a large group of tiny grandchildren before he passed on, and he loved being Grandpa. It brought out his better nature: he actually cleaned up his barnyard vocabulary for the grandchildren. He'd been working on that for years, but the little kids really motivated him. Plus, he just loved little kids. He was a school bus driver for 30 years--he really loved kids. Grandchildren were just fabulous to him. But, he would have loved that parade of Eagle Scouts and missionaries and brides and graduations. He would have been the proudest great-grandpa of all. He and my mom would have been to every event to mark every occasion. Well, come to think of it, lots of times--he was. We knew it...someone always knew it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Whenever Valentine's Day comes around, I have a great time at school. Many people don't realize that it is a very important holiday for kids. It involves candy, for one thing. But another is that children have serious crushes from the time they are little, and so when the valentines get passed out at school, much attention is paid to who gave what to whom. I happen to love Valentine's Day. I get to wear red and pink all week, and I have cool heart-shaped jewelry as well. Also, there are a lot of fun times associated from when our children were younger. We always made heart cookies, or heart-shaped pancakes. It was a time to share the love. Here are some really awesome photos of those good times. The girls decided one year to make all their valentine cards. I believe that one girl is a second grader and the other is a first grader. Please note the little helper:

A closer view of The Helper:

So enjoy your day of love, and remember to love everyone. It is a good policy and will create more happiness in your world.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Exceeding Standards

I don't remember if I've whined about our new report card yet on this blog. I've whined everywhere else. This year we're piloting a standards-based report card. Meaning: we're not writing A, B, C, D, etc. on it. Instead, there are only the lists of state standards for each trimester in each of the core subjects: math, reading, and English language arts. Then, we mark each individual standard with emerging, approaching, meets, or exceeding.

For example, you would not get an overall Math grade, but you would receive one of those designations for 3.4.4b use money notations to add and subtract given monetary amounts. In a trimester there would be 9 or 10 standards you would be studying and being assesed for. Science and social studies are still graded, but not in specific strands yet, just an overall grade.

I like teaching using specific standards. I write a rubric in kid-friendly language so that they'll know exactly what the criteria is for meeting the standard, approaching it, and exceeding it. It makes it very clear to them what is acceptable and adequate and fabulous. I refer to the rubrics all the time, and I put them right on their test, so when I'm checking and grading, I just circle what their achievement level was. They understand it and it works well to get them to know what they need to improve on and how they stand.

It's more complicated on the report card, however. If you were to give a B, that means 80--to 89% approximately, and a C means 65--79%. On this standards-based report card "meets" is that entire range--and that is quite a stretch: 65----89. I don't care for that aspect of it. We're still wrangling over it at my school.

But, the purpose of this post is to tell you about a person who totally Exceeded Standards today at my school....Cool Guy. I went up to the office at lunch to turn in some papers, and there I found these lovely things:

And the envelope read:

So, my co-workers, who were all coming through the office en route to the teacher's lounge at lunchtime, too, were treated to the correct way to celebrate Valentine's Day with your sweetie. They all agreed that this was definitely rated: EXCEEDING STANDARDS.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Welcome Home

I went to Salt Lake City this weekend to see my son and his family. My grandson plays basketball with some other Kindergarten and First Grade boys on a pee-wee league team. It is very benign. They get together for 10 minutes before the game to practice. Then, the players all wear colored wrist sweat bands so that they'll know which guy on the opposite team to guard (they all have corresponding writst bands) and the baskets are lowered for them. It's very cute. They have referees whose main job is to call which team is to throw in the ball from the sidelines. There aren't any fouls, or traveling calls, or double dribble calls. They're adorable and have a lot of fun.

Quite by coincidence, it was also the weekend that my nephew and his wife, both in the Army, returned home from almost a year in Iraq. They were helicopter gunners. And they, and their teammates all got home today safely. Whew. It was nice to be there and see the fine reception staged for them at the Utah National Guard Base. Here's a sweet picture:
My sister hugging him, with Dad looking on. Here's another one of my brother-in-law with her.

So, Welcome Home Justin and Chevy!!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Paying Attention in School

We have been blitzing our students in all the grades with a new writing concept this year, and it includes really hammering it home that you must enhance your writing with lots of imagery. It seems to be working:

One of my co-workers told us this story about her Kindergarten son (who goes to our school):

The Big Brother (5) and the Little Sister (2 and a half) were playing on the sofa under a blanket, laughing and goofing around. Suddenly the Big Brother came up for air and yelled, "Ooooh, [Little Sister] farted!!"

So Little Sister jumped off onto the floor and laughed, "Yeah, I fawrted. I smell like a pig!"

Big Brother replied, "No, [Little Sister], you have to include DETAILS: "I smell like a pig in mud!"

She told us this story and we totally died laughing. And then we were really excited--he's been paying attention during writing! Yeah!!