Saturday, June 30, 2012

Checked It Off My List

Many people have a list of things they'd like to do or see at some point in their life, and I do, too. Last week, I accomplished one of them. I circumnavigated Rhode Island! Now, some definitions of that term reference traveling on water. However, it generally means to "travel all the way around" a location. So, actually I did both. I did travel all the way around Little Rhody, and I did travel over water quite often.

As you can see, it is a very watery state. Another of its official nicknames is The Ocean State, and as one drives around, it's very evident that this is an apt choice. I started in Mystic, CT, just next door, and drove on Highway 1 along the southern edge of the state. Suddenly, in the middle of a town, it became Rhode Island. I stopped to chronicle this event, and also send a photo to CoolGuy so I could share my groovy trip.

Rhode Island is not only small, but it is old, being one of the original Thirteen colonies. In fact, I think it was #3, because it was founded as a place of refuge by Roger Williams for people who were exiled by the Puritans from Massachusetts in 1636 over religious differences. Someone was always unhappy with someone else when you study history.

It is a place of old placards and historical markers, and really old, very beautiful historic buildings. The first thing I did was go to the ocean. I love the ocean! It was a gorgeous June day, hot as the blazes for the East Coast, and the beach is the best place. It was packed. It was also private. I just pretended I was a local (hah! Not dressed in beach clothes! But, I was just looking...not staying.) Then I got some lunch, and got back onto the highway to keep driving east.

This looked like a fine place to chow down. It was delicious, too. I was waited on by a 13 year old boy, whose mom was back in the kitchen stuffing lobster into rolls for the customers. I chose the over-stuffed version--hey! When in lobstah land, you should chow down.  I didn't get any chowda, however.

And,  yes, it was super yummy.

So, pretty much Rhode Island is all about water and trees. Like many places in the east, you don't really get "scenery" as  you travel along. You just see trees. There are houses along the small road that I was driving on, so I saw houses, little stores, some schools. It was small town RI. Many signs directed you to turn here for this park or that beach, or this resort or that bed and breakfast. But, again, like Maryland, most of the coast is privately owned. California was my norm, with the coast mostly public land, and all the beaches open and free. Not the east coast.

Then, I got far enough east that I was on the edge of the Narragansett Bay and a huge bridge loomed ahead. If  you refer to the map, you'll see a medium sized island (St. James) that is in the middle of the lower part of the state. The bridge connects you to this island, then you drive across that island, take another enormous and beautiful bridge to a bigger island with the city of Newport and then cross again to the mainland to go north. 

Everything was breathtakingly beautiful. The blue, blue water, the greeness of the islands as you travel over the high bridges. There are stunning mansions in Newport. There are sailboats dotting the bays. Everything was just gorgeous. I know they have wicked winter weather, but June is just fantastic.  

My biggest reason for wanting to take this crazy tour was just that Rhode Island is so small. I've told my students here in Nevada, that the whole state could fit into the valley where Las Vegas is. So, I just had a craving to drive all the way around it, one day. CoolGuy refers to "driving across Texas, one day for a week" and so I wanted to drive around Rhode Island, one afternoon. It took about 3 hours. And it took three hours, because most of the roads I traveled on have a 35 MPH speed limit. Really: RI:  1544 sq.miles.  Las Vegas valley: 1600 sq.miles. Clark County is 8091 sq. miles. How could I resist??

 So, I've done it. I guess I can focus on something else now. Hmmm...Four Corners monument?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Some of My Grandchildren Are Cats

Meet Leroy. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland. He is the King of KittyCats in his world. Actually, he has a Tumblr page called "Leroy Everyday" that you can go to and admire him, daily. I do. He's a totally awesome cat who is the mascot of my son's recording studio. He is beloved by many, including me.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Being Grandma

The reason I moved to Nevada seven years ago, was to be closer to most of my extended family. That included, at the time, two grandchildren. Now, there are four of them, and I drive up the interstate to visit them as often as I can. After spending a week trying to get ahead on my class assignments, I made one of those trips to spend some time with the buddies. I had several agendas.

First, it's summer, so we wanted to do some adventures for which summer vacation is designed. We met up at the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine in the Salt Lake Valley. It's the biggest open-pit copper mine in the world. And it is awesome, I'll tell you. It is a really, really big mine. You feel a little dizzy when you look over the fence, down into the mine. Also, they have some enormous trucks there. The littlest one (2 years old) LOVED the trucks! She was thrilled and would have just spent her whole morning leaning over the fence pointing at the trucks.

However, she wasn't so excited to be near the big tires that those big trucks use. They have one of the tires as a photo-op in front of the visitor's center, and she was quite reluctant to stand near it for grandma to take a picture. Plus, her brother, 6 years old, just loves to be silly whenever asked to pose for a photo. So with her squealing, "Nooooo, no big tire!" and brother laughing maniacally and hiding, it is amazing I got this shot! (Actually, I offered to pay him 25 cents to use in the binocular-thingy if he'd stand there...) (It worked for both of us!)

Big Sister calmed down Little Sister and we got several cute "posed" shots before Brother decided to rush off again! That's Cousin in front of the big tire with the others.

We had a fun day. Then we went to a restaurant to use up my gift card given by a grateful student to me on the last day of school.

After that...I got to attend a minor league baseball game with the Cousin, also known as 1st Grandchild. What a gorgeous night! The beautiful mountains, the clear blue twilight sky, green grass, fun times!!  After the game, we went down and sat on the infield and watched a terrific fireworks show and then---even more fun---any child who wanted to, could go line up and run the bases! We went home and flopped into bed!

The next afternoon, I went back to their house to accomplish my second reason for the visit. I videotaped 1st Grandchild being the "bad example" for my school project. The assignment was to make a movie that could be used for a public service ad about some type of educational issue. So, I planned to make a little video entitled, "How to Raise a Reader."  My grandson, who reads above grade-level in two languages (Spanish and English) was willing to be the bad example: playing on the computer, the DS, the iPad, and his Wii. I strung it all together in the segment, "What NOT to do."  But, ultimately, he was the star in the finale as the Reading Boy, too.

I also taped the other three in various examples of great things to do so your kids will love reading and then I drove back to Nevada and spent a day with the movie-maker program on my computer and made a really spiffy film. I uploaded it  to the professor, washed my laundry and flew off to Maryland the next morning.

(And, sorry, I tried to  load up the video and it wouldn't me, it's wonderful--I got all the points for it.)

And: in case you're wondering: here are my suggestions:

1) Read to your babies and toddlers, everyday!

2) Provide lots of books in your home. (library books are free...)

3) Motivating experiences encourage reading. (ie: library summer reading clubs, school contests, magazine subscriptions in their name)

4) Don't allow unlimited screen time (all the screens--computer, DS, TV, PS3, etc.)

5) Read, read, read---even if you don't read English; read to your children in whatever language you speak, because reading skills transfer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I've Been Everywhere, Man

When I wrote the blog on June 9th, and it was titled, "The End," I didn't really mean it to be the end of my blog. It's just a coincidence that I got really, really busy and didn't write any blogs. I enrolled in my final three elective credits for the master's degree I almost have completed (!!!) and it was an on-line class. That was both scary and, ultimately, convenient.

 A couple of months ago, I bought a plane ticket to go visit my two sons who live on the east coast. Knowing I would be enrolling in a class during the four week June semester, I planned the trip for a longish weekend and was just going to throw myself on the mercy of the instructor so that I'd be able to make up the work for the couple of classes I'd be missing. However, the class I chose turned out to be conducted entirely on-line. So the rule was--turn things in early if you want. Well, I've been focusing on doing just that. I read my articles, I wrote my responses, I prepared my projects. I turned in everything I could, so that while I was traveling, I wouldn't need to be trying to get computer access to keep up.

But the projects were elaborate! The class is Technology Applications for Elementary Curriculum. I've been making power point lessons, newsletters with hyperlinks, a digital photo-book that tells a story about tech in my life, and a movie. We had to make a public-service digital announcement about some education topic. So, my brainstorm was to video my (brilliant) grandchildren as the actors in a suggestion to parents for "How to Raise a Reader." That required a trip to visit them. Oh, what a sacrifice...

So, every day since school finished, I've been glued to the computer. Then, I went up to Utah to visit the little buddies for a few days. We did some fun things together and I spent some time filming my movie scenes. I came on back to Vegas and labored diligently to get my movie edited and snipped and clipped and organized. (Hey, it turns out that it is easy-peasy with the computer programs I downloaded.) I rushed around, washing my laundry from the first trip, tweaking the movie, then I up-loaded my work, packed my clean clothes,  and flew off to Maryland.

I just got home this afternoon from a breathless trip. And, I've been everywhere, man...  Actually, I went to Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts---all in six days. Whew. So, this week, I'll try and take some time to tell you of my road trip.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The End

It's the end of another school year, at least. It's an important ceremony for the students to stack the desks on top of each other and pile up the chairs. Then, of course, they always want to know if they can lie on the floor! Sure...go's filthy, but go ahead!

I started a new tradition when I first came to Las Vegas. My original school had 100% "free or reduced-price lunch" students. Many of them ate most of their meals at school, and several students were given backpacks filled with food, (like individual servings of pork and beans or granola bars) to go home for the weekend through a program sponsored by a charity.  So, when the last day of school approached, I realized that, because we dismissed before lunch, a few of my students might not get any lunch at home that day. I know, I know...feeding  your kid seems to be a basic function of parenthood. But, seriously, some of our parents weren't into basic functions sometimes. Sigh.

Anyway...we'd also read a story earlier in the year about a runaway pancake, and I discovered that some of my students had never eaten pancakes. Now, before you roll your eyes too far, realize that it was simply a cultural thing: if your Mami made you a delicious Mexican breakfast each morning, you weren't missing pancakes. So, I decided to get two birds with one meal by feeding my class pancakes on the last day of school. Plus, it would fill the hours between 9:00 and noon in a fun way. 

We had the pancake breakfast. I brought in my griddle and cooked pancakes till even my hungriest gordo was filled to the brim. It was a huge success! We had fun, I knew no one was going home to an empty house with an empty stomach, and everyone loved Mrs. [EarthSignMama] for feeding them! I've been making pancakes on the last day of school ever since.

In my new school, it was a bit more complicated. I taught the entire fourth grade----usually 100 + students. But, we cycled them in and out of my room, and the aide helped with pouring the milk and I used two griddles, and it still worked. The other teachers played games with them in their rooms. Last year and this year, a new partner volunteered to feed two of the classes, and I'd feed two, so that is even more awesome and we had an even more fabulous fun time. Seriously, we can never stop this tradition. I have kids who ask on the first day in the fall if we're going to have pancakes on the last day...their older brother or sister was also in our school and everyone knows about the pancakes.

So, we had our pancakes, we played Heads-up Seven-up, we stacked our desks, we passed out report cards, we all hugged and said good-bye. Then, the kids went home and the teachers ate a lovely lunch our principal had ordered in from a local Mexican restaurant (which makes the best enchiladas in the world). Then, we went to our classrooms and ---no! We didn't clean up and go home that afternoon! We'd decided a couple of weeks prior that, instead, we'd have a planning time.

It sounded like such a good idea at the time. We usually hold a "retreat" with this school. When we had more money, we'd rent the clubhouse of a local golf-course and meet there on a Saturday near the end of school. We were fed breakfast and lunch, and we'd spend the time going over what worked and what didn't work from the previous year. Then we'd plan the next year and develop a theme for for teacher training. Really, it was very beneficial and is a big reason I love this school. We're truly on the same page here. I've worked in schools where there were little cliques, or where the administration was in an adversarial position in relation to the staff. But our school---we're in this together. The upper grades collaborate regularly with the lower grades so that we're not working against each other. We help each other across grade levels. We identify kids early so that we can keep track of their progress all the way through. We keep data so we know what works and what isn't so effective. I love working here.

But, this year...we're broke. We had a little staff training money left over, so we agreed that we'd spend the afternoon on the last day of students doing our collaborative planning in our grade levels. When we were officially off the clock at 3:45, we'd be paid from our last bit of staff development funding from 3:45 to 7:45 P.M. Then, we could go home, come back on our last official workday on Friday to clean and pack up our rooms prior to check-out for the year.  About 5:00 P.M. fourth grade hit the wall. So we went over to Sonic and got some tall slushy fruit drinks and came back to keep on trucking.

But! It was great!! We started using the new Common Core State Standards this year, and they were confusing to most of us. So this gave us a chance to look them over, and figure out how we were going to teach them and how to help each other. Since we're departmentalized, it is trickier. We don't have a science and social teacher, so we have to integrate it into our other subjects. I use information they read in their Nevada state books in reading class for writing prompts and I make up language and grammar lessons using that text, too. Then, the students are using the same information several times and it helps to develop vocabulary and teach them about their state and country. We're so good. We planned some Science Fridays, too. They'll read and write about it during the week, we'll do the labs on Friday, and then reflect and read and write some more another day. I'm actually really pumped for next year! I don't have to think about school at all this summer now, because we spent the time and we're organized. Whew.

I'll close with my favorite shirt from the last day of school. I laughed so hard when I saw one of the fifth graders wearing this. I insisted that he stop by my room first, so I could take this photo. It's a perfect sentiment for the Last Day of School:


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Size 12

You know, after all those months of hobbling around with one messed up foot and then another, and then spending all that time lying on the couch (both times) convalescing, I've gained a few pounds. Blah. I am appalled to know that the last time I weighed this much, I gave birth the next day. That child is now 27 years old, so I can't blame it on post-partum-ness. In fact, I lost all the baby weight and was svelt and slim with no effort until I hit about 41. Then, if I wanted to be slim and trim, I could still do it, but it involved gym memberships and bicycling and lots of work.

What is different now, after living the life of a cripple, is that I'm not merely overweight, but it is all flab and I also have NO stamina---zero, zilch, nada. I walk upstairs at my school to get my students every morning and I'm panting by the time I reach the door. I simply have no get up and go. I know that one loses conditioning much faster than it can be regained. I also realize that it is harder to be energetic and go-go-go when one is still walking very carefully. I really do think about my steps. It is too easy to limp or shuffle along and favor one foot or the other. But when I conciously think about walking heel, toe, put the foot down, lift it up, do it the right way, then, I have a more comfortable pace and I feel the benefit to my leg muscles, back and abs. But, I'm slower than I used to be. CoolGuy likes that. In the past, he'd often urge me to remember that I didn't need to use "teacher walk" when we were out together. He sometimes has to wait for me, lately.

But--in reference to the title of this post...I tried on some new jeans capris in the store tonight. Typically, I wear size 12 jeans. I'm apparently shaped differently than many woman. Size 14 droops off my hips and looks baggy in the derriere. But the waist fits. Size 12 fits like I prefer around the fanny and thighs, but I usually unfasten the button and just pull the zipper up tightly. This spring, however, I pulled out my jeans capris from the drawer--pants I've worn for several years. I got them pulled up over the hips and found that I can't even get the zipper edges to meet, let alone the button! There's no way I can close the zipper...Well, tonight, I tried on some "size 12" and they're very comfy. They're a stretchy model, but even the button closes. Hmmm...I like the way they fit and look---no droopy bagging anywhere. But, size 12?? Seriously?? Are clothing manufacturers fudging it a little bit lately? Actually, I don't care if they are. I like the pants; they fit; I'll take them. If I'm "size 12" ---well, then, I guess I'm size 12. Yeah...riiiigght

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Jury Duty

Sorry it's been so long between posts. There are only four and a half days of school left, and that makes every day after school, busy and very valuable---plus people keep scheduling things and I end up getting home really late. Sooo...

We went to visit our grandson for his birthday over Memorial Day weekend, but had to get back to Las Vegas on Monday evening because, of course, it was school the next day. I had an extra little wrinkle, too, it turned out. I'd been issued a summons for jury duty in January that would have required me to appear the day before my scheduled foot surgery. I begged off, citing the pending surgery, but mostly because I didn't want to be out of school any more days than necessary at that point. I had things to do and things to get ready and, even though they'd have given me a pass, I would still have had to show up that day at the courthouse. So, my new jury date was Tuesday, May 29th, and---sure enough---when I called the phone number to see whose badge numbers were being called in, I was on that list.

I drove downtown to the parking garage they'd designated (in the Fremont Center experience) and parked. Then, I hiked the three (huge) blocks to the courthouse to see a line of people that went out the door, down the steps, around the corner and then half way down the next block. We had to go through an airport-like screening procedure. I don't blame them---two years ago, a disgruntled man came to the federal courthouse a couple of blocks south of the county court building. He had hidden a shotgun under his coat, and he just walked in without saying a word, and began shooting. It was crazy!! A security guard was killed, another was wounded, with the gunman himself being killed nearby, as he attempted to run away. So, there is no question that security procedures at Las Vegas courthouses are not academic.

But, I was dismayed to see that there would be a long wait to get inside the building. I hoped they wouldn't be too pesky about my being late for my designated arrival time. However, my little concerns about jury duty were eclipsed by the young woman standing in line behind me. She had a deadline, too--an appearance at 8:00 A.M. in a court--as the defendant. She complained to all around her about the length of the line. She smoked a cigarette. She complained some more. She smoked another cigarette. The line moved steadily, but it was such a long line, that we weren't going to get in that door before the top of the hour. As we were moving up the granite steps, edging ever closer to the door, she got on the phone to someone. It wasn't clear who. It could have been a lawyer. The woman pointed out that she WAS there! She was in line! It was a &%$## long line!! Did she miss her appearance?? OMG!!! How can she have a warrant already?? She was TRYING to be there!! She was stuck in this *&^%*$ line!! OMG!!

Just then, I saw another person with a jury summons in their hand walk through the glass door marked "Staff, Attorneys" so I went up the steps and entered there too. I still had to walk through all the metal detectors, removing my shoes, putting my watch and purse, etc. in the little bin to go through the X-ray machine. But, I didn't have to listen to the distressed rantings of the woman whose life had just gone from bad to worse.

As I stood in the line, I realized that I live a sheltered existence. In my line of work---school teaching--I am rarely in the presence of people who smoke. There are very few people with visible tattoos (except at the end of the day when I supervise the crosswalk and various family members come to pick up their children). And I rarely hear profanity. But, as you observe the variety of people entering the county courthouse, there were some patterns. People are either quite professionally dressed: business suits, with the women wearing heels and deliberately coifed hair, or the people are dressed very casually in commonly seen motifs (sagger pants, wife-beater shirts for guys, and skin tight jeggings, snug, cleavage revealing shirts for the ladies) with an abundance of visible tattoos,  and lots of nervous smoking. Lots. Oh, and conversations using words that will get you recess detention in fourth grade. There were a few scattered folks who were somewhere in between: not dressy, but not quite as casual---most of us clutched a jury summons.

I didn't get chosen for a jury. That's good, because I really didn't want to miss more days of school. I was hoping that I could plead that I really needed to be in my classroom, if I'd had to make a case for it, but, since I wasn't chosen, I just left at the end of the day and I don't have to worry about it for another eighteen months. I  would really like to serve as a juror sometime. I think it would be very interesting. CoolGuy served once in California, in a robbery case. Any other time I've been summoned for jury duty, I had preschool children, and that excused me from having to appear. Someday, I'll get called up again. I'll hope it doesn't happen during the last week of school and then I'll get a chance to stay there and immerse myself in a whole new world.