Monday, October 29, 2012


Tonight, here in the desert, the full moon glows calmly from the dark sky. The temperature was 70 degrees at 7:00 P.M. The wind was still, the air was resplendent with the scent of grilling carne asada from someone's yard. What a great night!

On Wednesday, I had been scheduled to fly to Providence, RI, then drive south to Groton, CT, where I was to attend my son's graduation from sonar school at the submarine training base there. Then, we were going to dinner with his future in-laws for an introduction all around.

However...instead, I cancelled my substitute, and have been anxiously watching the airline's website to see if I could get a refund. It started out this morning announcing that all flights were stopped for Monday and Tuesday. Then, by lunchtime, it announced that all flights would be suspended for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. After the students left in the late afternoon, the latest update was that all flights to a vast list of east coast destinations were cancelled, and there wasn't any prediction as to when they'd be resumed. Everything depended on the condition of the runways and airport facilities. Please stand by.

Hmmm. The submarine base is closed, the boats were all sent out to the deep water till further notice. The roads are closed. The graduation is off. The sailors will still be "graduated" but there won't be a ceremony. Everyone is just "battening the hatches" and hanging tough until the excitement is over. And since it is a storm that stretches across 750 miles, the excitement might go on for some time. Whew.

It's a very good night to be living in the desert, enjoying the Harvest Moon, and relaxing in the calm night air. I just wish I could identify where that meat was being cooked, so I could go over and invite myself in for supper.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

School Daze

Today, we were doing a pre-writing activity where everyone had their own white board, and we were supposed to list as many active verbs (as opposed to "be" "am" "is") as we could, consulting with our seatmates. It was a three minute activity. I looked over toward a certain fellow's seat, and he'd written "pooping" and was gleefully holding it up for his team to observe. He glanced around, locked eyes with me, and I just said, "Well, I can't really think of how that is going to fit into our poem about autumn or Halloween, so choose another one." And he did.

Remember the Drama Queen who couldn't sit in the desk where her former "Like" sat? Well, my co-worker told me today that she'd come, all teary-eyed, to her this week, with her folder from that class opened to a page. "[a poor dumb boy] wrote this in my folder!"  It said, "[APDB] says "hi!" It was another horrible tragedy --- like stalking or something. Or grafitti or ... we don't know. The teacher said,"Here, erase it." And that was the end of that.
The flyer from the office was all about next week's Halloween costume parade, which we have at 2:30 P.M. (We're lucky to get one at all because our leader doesn't like to have any part of an academic day taken up by frivolous activities that children might expect or enjoy.)  (Sorry...I just think that childhood should include a few moments of frivolity, even if it isn't in our state standards.)So, anyway....we're going over this flyer that was to go home, and one line read:
Students grades 1-5 may NOT wear costumes to school.
But I was prepared for it this year. What it really means, is that those students should bring their costumes in a bag, and change just before the parade. They are not to wear their costume through the entire school day. Kindergarteners do get to come to school in their costumes. (Can you imagine the poor Kinder teachers "helping" all 28 of their little buddies into their costumes, parading around the classrooms, and then having them back out the door, all in the 2 1/2 hours they're in school?) ( not try to imagine it.) 
So, when the inevitable hue and cry arose, WHY CAN'T WE WEAR COSTUMES?! I was prepared to explain. Perhaps I should appoint myself the editor of the Halloween flyer and re-word that part?
You cannot imagine how quickly nine year olds will get totally silent and line up straight when they realize that, instead of taking them upstairs to recess, you, the teacher, have sat down, opened your lunchbox, and started to eat your sandwich. I did that today after cautioning everyone that they needed to stop talking so we could get in line to go to recess.  But, noooo, whatever the 1/3 of them were saying must have been really, really important, because they wouldn't stop talking about it. That is until I started my lunch. As I pointed out, their recess is my lunch. And even if they didn't care where they got to stand around talking to their friends, I cared that I got to spend enough time sitting down, calmly eating my lunch. So, talk amongst yourselves right here, no problem. I'm fine.
 I probably won't have to do that again anytime soon.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Garden--Part 2

Now that the blast furnance of the Mojave Desert summer has abated, we're are enjoying a great autumn in the desert. No, we don't get beautiful golden leaves, unless you drive up to Mt. Charleston. But we do get 85 degree days, with 60 degree nights. I don't swim anymore, because the masonry around the pool has cooled down completely, and the pool water is a little more brisk than I prefer. But, I don't need to wear a sweater or a jacket, but I also don't get all sweaty while directing traffic at the end of the school day. Every day is just pleasant.

 It also means that the tomatoes have revived. I plant tomatoes in March. By May, I'm harvesting delicious orbs of juicy goodness and I can usually keep picking until the Fiery Days of August. At that point, the blossoms can't cope with the heat, so the plants go into decline. I've learned, however, to just wait. I learned it because, of course, in September, I've always been so completely overwhelmed by the start of a new school year, that I don't even think about gardening. Then, when we get into a groove about mid-October, I surface from the maelstrom, and remember that plants are growing in my backyard.

The first year, I went out there and discovered (to my delight!) that some newly grown leaves had appeared on the scorched and withered tomato plants. And--look at that: a blossom or two had peeped out with them! So, we trimmed off the dried, dead portions and let the new, brave leaves have all the space. We were eating fresh tomatoes until December, when the temperatures dipped below freezing one night.

This year, I used my careful technique of horticultural neglect again. On Saturday, I spent an hour digging up weeds, trimming away browned remains of old leaves, transplanting volunteer marigolds and revived my garden again. See the little hardy volunteers on these tomato plants? I also seeded a section of my raised bed with lettuce and spinach. We ate several salads from our plantings last spring. I'm hoping to get a few more servings this fall. 

There are two small tomatoes on this plant, and several blossoms.
This one has a group of blossoms and a hardy collection of new leaves.

These marigolds were just growing as volunteers in the garden bed, so I moved a bunch of them into several pots on the patio.

See, you have to give up swimming, but you gain homegrown tomatoes. I consider that a pretty good bargain. The pleasures of autumn in the desert are just as nice as the swimming in the summer, made possible by my old friend, Mr. Sun.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Solution

This year, due to budget cuts, we can't afford to hire another teacher for fourth grade. So, each of the three of us has thirty-three students in our homerooms. I've never before had more than twenty-seven students. Usually, I've had between twenty-four and twenty-six. Thirty-three is really just a lot of bodies in one classroom. It means that the number of "difficult" students is higher in each of our rooms, because we cannot divide them into more classes. And when you have a larger number of students who are always pushing the limits, then there will be more of those students who are easily influenced and will follow the example of the rowdy people, so you get a decline in their behavior, too.

Today, following a three-day weekend for our students, each of us had four absent students in our homerooms. It was such a pleasant, calm day. Weird. One of the absentees, a particularly out-of-the-box person, is apparently not coming back since mom came in later in the morning and un-enrolled him. Maybe they had to move. But, at the end of the day, we three teachers met in the hallway, and realized what a pleasure it was to have only 29 students instead of the 33 we had all been dealing with so far this year.

So, a new plan has formed. We will write to our parents and have them sign up on a schedule for a rolling absence. We'll arrange for at least four students to be kept at home each day so that we can have the relative serenity we experienced today on a regular basis. Now, how to get this plan approved by the administration...?  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!  But wouldn't that be cool if we could pull it off?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Grandma Time

The number one one reason I took a teaching job in Las Vegas was to live closer to my family. I include in that my siblings, many cousins, (at the time, my mother) and of course...the grandchildren. This weekend was another one of those times that made me happy for my decision to move here.

My daughter and her three children traveled south and I drove north and we rendezvoused at Zion National Park. It is an awesome time of year to visit there, too. There were autumn leaves and mild temperatures and we spent two days in the outdoors. We hiked in scattered showers on Friday, but Saturday was a stunning blue-sky day, showing off the astonishing red canyons where the very tops of the north sides showed the thin veil of snow scattered from the clouds overnight.

We picked up our junior ranger books at the visitor's center and took the shuttle bus into the park and scouted out all the necessary items to fill requirements and receive their badges at the end of the two days.

We went on two hikes, chosen for their listing in the "easy" category. We came to realize during our time there that the categories might possibly be renamed as "easy: you'll probably not die,"  "moderate: you could die," and "hard: a number of people actually died while on this trail."  Seriously, we chose those two hikes because our party included a 2 year old and a crippled grandma. The signs declared them to be wheelchair accessible. Well, if  you had two guys from the WWF to push the wheelchairs, possibly.

No, seriously, we made it. But we adults realized that we're fairly out of shape. Oh, and when the trail description includes "occasional sudden drop-offs" it references the edge of the trail where, if one would step off right there, one would tumble faaaaaarrrr to the bottom of a ravine. So, it makes one need to seize the hand of the 2 year old who is somehow drawn like a magnet to that very edge. The little person was carried quite often and finally convince that she must walk on the mountain side of the trail, rather than the cliff side of the trail.

It really was beautiful and lots of fun and, even though I occasionally felt like I might need those WWF guys to show up (right now, please...) with the wheelchair, I managed to hike just under 6 miles in those two days. Pretty good for a broken down granny, huh?  We spent a little time in the spa at the motel; we shopped in a couple of gift stores; we examined scat and animal footprints; we played in the mud. A good time was had by all.

Mud...what could be more fun?
Mud from knees to toes--greatest day ever!!
We tried many different "family" poses.
The river was as red as the cliffs, mainly because the cliffs are continuously erroding into the river.

 It is just an astonishing place, everywhere you look, because of the geology.
Cutest person in the park admiring a tortoise statue.
We went from "Don't take my picture!" ... "Grandma, take a picture of me on this rock!"
Fun times with fun people!

The junior rangers, wearing their badges and assorted Halloween headgear.
This was the result after about ten minutes in the car after the second day of hiking.
If you've never visited Zion National Park, then I highly recommend that you go in the fall. It is a stunning geological wonderland. You might take some little folks, too. They'll enjoy the mud and rocks and bugs and deer. Outdoors is a fine place to spend a weekend, no matter your age.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Drama in the Fourth Grade

Two weeks ago, I had a mother approach me during "Goodies With Grandparents." (This is an activity where we invite grandparents to school one morning for a snack and then they join us for our elaborate and wonderful flag ceremony up on the playground.) Anyway, I was in the cafeteria being a good teacher by meeting and greeting, when my student and her mom came over. Their purpose: pressure me to move the girl from the seat she occupied in my classroom. She'd been saying to me that she wanted to move for about a week. Of course she wanted to move, who wouldn't? She was seated across from a serious pest of a boy, who usually ended up with his desk being slid over to a private area within 10 minutes of his arrival in my room. So, I decided I wasn't going to give in to her "I'm not feeling comfortable where I sit" complaints because it was 70 minutes of her entire day. In her two other classes she didn't sit next to him, so I figured she'd probably survive. (And--there are only so many places during that class where I can move people--it's a group with more than its fair share of difficult students.) But, no...she'd gone home to complain to Mom, and so now Mom was standing in front of me pressing her daughter's case. And the daughter was standing there, with tears in her eyes. Sigh. You know I moved her that afternoon.

So, today I get a special little gesture from this same girl, who has now spent two weeks seated at a new desk, away from the pest, and now the new seat has become toxic to her. I said, "Who is bothering you now?"  Well, once again, tears begin to flow. I finally got it out of her that the problem wasn't even a person in the room with her. It was a person who sits in the desk during another period, but whose notebook and folder are stored in that desk, along with her notebook and folder, and a third student from yet another class. Once, she "liked" that boy, but now, she doesn't. And she was all stressed out about having her things be in with his. Maybe he'd "do something" or....I'm not really sure because she couldn't even say his name to me. She was crying too hard. I looked through the desk, and immediately divined who she must be referencing, so I simply moved his materials to a different desk, and put someone else's things in their place. In the class he travels with, it wouldn't matter where he sat. (And now, his nametag wouldn't be contaminating her notebook by touching it in the desk, and she wouldn't have to see his name everytime she reached in to take her writing materials. Okay?)  This calmed her down, and I sent her over to the girl's bathroom to wash her face and regain her composure.

WOW. She's nine years old.

I'm really glad I'm not going to know this girl when she is a teen-ager. That's all I can say.

Monday, October 08, 2012

How To Have a Stress-Free Day

I went to see the doctor about the knot in my shoulder muscle where it meets my neck. She could see the lump when she examined me. I'm to get an X-ray and a blood test, and she subscribed some medication. I finally got the one prescription filled this weekend. I hadn't been rushing to take it because the pain has started to settle down a bit. So, I didn't use it, even though it was in my cupboard.

Last night, however, after I'd spent many, many hours hunched over school papers, checking them and entering them into my computerized gradebook, I was developing a familiar ache in the left shoulder. So, I thought, "This would be a good time to take that muscle relaxer that is sitting in the cupboard."  I thought I'd take one just as I went to bed, so that I could spend the night relaxed and by morning, I'd probably be feeling fine.

Oh, I was "FINE" all right. I didn't feel too strange as I dressed and combed my hair. I ate some oatmeal, packed my lunch and drove over to school. However, as I walked around my classroom, I began to be aware that I felt weird. I felt fiiiiinnnee. Wah.... Oh dear. Even though it was now 8 1/2 hours since I'd taken this pill, and on the bottle the dose is 1 pill every 6 hours, I was still completely stoned on that muscle relaxer. I was sooooooooooo relaxed.

I worked with a group of students for the first 50 minutes in a small group. I was mostly pleasant and calm. After I took my class to Art, so I could prepare in my classroom for the rest of the day, one of my co-workers walked into my room. She greeted me and I could "see" her words move through the air like a beautiful wave of sound, rippling across the space between us. I started to laugh, and I told her what was going on. She laughed right back at me, because she knew exactly what I felt like. Last year, she'd had a pinched nerve in her arm and had to take a muscle relaxer for two weeks. We giggled there for a couple of more minutes.

Then, I walked up to the office and copied some papers, and fetched my students from art class.  We had a really nice morning. Got lots of work done, Mrs. [EarthSignMama] was soooo nice. About 1:30 it finally wore off. I felt less groggy, more alert, more irritable. The last class I had today, from 2:15-3:25 had the teacher who was fully awake, a little grumpy and without patience.

I'm going to have to be in excruciating pain before I'll take those little pills on a school night, ever again! I really don't know how someone would function on a regular schedule. The bottle directs one to "take 1 pill every six hours as needed."  I'd be stretched out on the classroom floor snoring if I tried them only six hours apart. At the very least, I'd only take it if I knew there was going to be 12-13 hours for my body to cycle all of the chemicals through and out before I had to go to work again. I guess it was a good day to wear my sandals and tied-dyed skirt. My clothes and my brain were channeling the '60's. Groovy, man.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Tree of Life

The view from my church steps is one of the most spectacular in all of Las Vegas. My church is located on the east side of the valley, high up the slope of the desert bowl in which the city sits. So, on a beautiful, clear day like we had yesterday, there is an unobstructed vista of the whole scene. To the north, the mountains open up and you can see to the horizon. The earth's curve is clearly visible. To the west, the tall shimmering buildings of Glitter Gulch march down the Strip, dwarfed by the stunning red rock peaks that line the western side of the valley bowl. To the south, you can see where two mountains almost touch, forming the canyon that leads you down the highway to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.

Sunday was a gorgeous day here. It was quite warm, but not hot. The sky was brilliantly blue and a small breeze stirred the fronds of the towering slender palms that frame the front doors of the church. As I walked down the sidewalk toward my truck, I passed another tree. It was covered with  purple flowers that are about the size of an adult finger. But, despite their smallish size, these flowers are apparently extremely attractive.


 I was carefully stepping down the slope of the sidewalk on my unsteady feet, when my eyes were drawn upward to all the motion. Bees were swooping in and out of the upper perimeter of the greenery. Other insects were flitting from blossom to blossom. Butterflies of varying sizes were rising and floating all over the tree. A hummingbird was hovering, then moving from bloom to bloom. The whole tree seemed to be vibrating with movement. I was just delighted by all the life forms that were clustered around this single tree in the church yard. I stood and admired the frenzy for a few minutes, the sun warming my face. God's creatures were enjoying His handiwork--especially me.