Monday, April 27, 2015

I Will Love to See this Temple...

I went up to the Star Valley, Wyoming Temple groundbreaking ceremony over the weekend. It was a very quick trip. I flew into Salt Lake City Friday around 11:00 A.M. My sister picked me up and we left for Wyoming. We hung out with my youngest sister, who lives there, and then went out to eat. The next morning, I was the one who volunteered to stay with our chairs and our other sister dropped me off. Two of them went to a viewing for a man who was a dear friend of our parents. Then, we all rendezvoused back at the alfalfa field for the event. We had one brother, and four sisters there, plus a couple of in-laws and a niece. And...a large assortment of ancestors, I came to realize during the opening prayer.

The temple is being built on a section of my mom's cousin's farm. We were sitting in a hay field all day, which I think is entirely appropriate. I spent so much of my growing up years in hay fields on my dad's farm, and it is symbolic of all the work done by so many people who settled there, and the generations who came after them. My sister-in-law's house is in the mouth of the little canyon just up from the temple site. So, we're feeling rather connected to the whole place.

It's going to be quite pretty, of course, I don't think they make unattractive temples! But what I really like is how it mimics the the old tabernacle (also called the stake center) in our home town of Afton. The single steeple and the square corners bear a strong resemblance.

It was a lovely day, eventually. We awoke to several inches of new snow. But no one was too surprised, because up there in the mountains, it can snow at any time, in any month. But, in a couple of hours that snow had all melted. As I waited there with our chairs, chatting with old friends and new friends, I experienced hail, snow, rain and finally, sunshine. But, seriously, during the ceremony, it was just so pleasant I almost worried about getting sunburned.

Here's one of my favorite public photos of the whole thing:

The dad, on the middle horse, is a dentist who lives there. I chatted with him a bit. He basically became a dentist so he could afford to be a cowboy in his off-work time. He grew up in the cowboy life, a few miles away in Idaho, and wanted to give a rural upbringing to his children. He loves Star Valley, and just thought it would be fun to come on horseback. They had great seats, of course.

This is the view on Friday night, before any of the people came to put up their chairs. Below, is a photo of the shovels, all lined and ready to go. (No, I don't know this kid, but he was as pleased to be there as I was.)

How muddy was it, out there in that field? Well, here's how my boots looked when we got back to my sister's house for lunch. But, we scrubbed them off, and bagged them up and I think I can still wear them. At least I thought to wear boots. I was feeling sad for the girls who showed up in their cute flats.

So, anyway, we had a lovely day, and after a nice lunch with the four sisters at home, two of us got back in her car and drove the four hours back to Salt Lake City that evening. After a short night's sleep, I had a flight home to Las Vegas on Sunday morning at 9:00 A.M. and I walked into my own church at 10:40 to begin playing the prelude music for our ward conference meeting. Whew! (Don't forget that I traveled from Mountain Daylight Time to Pacific Daylight Time--it wasn't a super-sonic jet.) It was a breathless weekend, but totally worth it. I'll plan to stay longer in a couple of years, when they're having the open-house and dedication. The angel-ancestors will be thronging the place, again, I'm sure. I know all their descendants will be!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Loving the Desert

It's a really good time of year to live in the Mojave Desert. It's just beautiful. There are so many flowers in bloom, the days are warm, the nights are not cold. Look how our garden is thriving:

We've got tomatoes on every bush, and one is even turning red:

Look how loaded these short plants are:

All the plants are loving life right now. Here's a little pot of succulents on my patio table:

It's blooming, too! Everything growing is SO happy. The grass is green and lush, the palm trees are blooming and will be covered with dates later. The lantana is bursting with blossoms. It's so nice to live here in March and April. 

I hope you're not freezing or digging out of the snow. Again. But, if you need a little break from snow and ice, Las Vegas in April is the place for you.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

We Did It!

We were able to log into the websites and take our math tests on Friday! In fact, it all went smoothly enough that we asked the students if they wanted to take both sets of tests on Friday. They were enthused and did a really good job. I'm impressed at how diligently they worked.

So, next week, the fifth graders and third graders will take their math tests and the following Monday, fourth grade will tackle the English Language/Reading tests. It is a relief to do it and get it over with. I've read a variety of commentary and news articles about the whole debacle and I will let the bureaucrats work it all out.

The students were ready and willing and wanted to do it. So, I'm happy that it could finally happen.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I Love Technology

But, I'll tell you--technology is not loving our school district this week. This is the week we've been anticipating since the first day of school. Notice I didn't say "looking forward to," or "excited for," it's just the week we knew was on the calendar and we'd have to be prepared.  It's High Stakes Testing Time, here in the desert, and all over the country.

This year, we got a new kind of test. It's all to be done on the computer. The first part of the math testing was scheduled for us on Monday. It is a CAT--computer adaptive test. The theory is that students will get easier, or more difficult questions after they answer a few of the questions, depending on their skill level. The point is not to frustrate the student, but to adjust the level of questioning to evaluate the advancement of their understanding. It's a pretty good idea. The second part of the math testing is a "performance task" --wherein the students would be asked to do multiple tasks in the context of a simulated activity that requires multiple types of math skills, just like real life.

So, anyway, we were scheduled to start on Monday, and then do part two on Tuesday. We've prepped them by having a Saturday Camp one morning last month, and by having the students use the computers in the classroom to do practice tasks. These tests have drop-down menus to use highlighting, calculators, take notes, drop-and-drag functions. It's quite advanced, technologically, and we've tried to give our fourth graders as much opportunity to be familiar with using computer tools as we could. It's the first year we've used an all-computer test, and we really want them to be comfortable with the nuts and bolts. We want all their thinking capacity to be available for the math parts.

Well....speaking of capacity...As we got all of our students logged in, signed up, and I clicked on my computer to accept their log-ins and allow them to access the test, we experienced a large number of failures. Screens just showed us the "circle of death" and other people's screens simply kicked them off. It didn't work. Part of our fourth graders were able to log in and complete the first part of the test. Part of them couldn't.

On Tuesday, it got even worse. We taught a lesson to our students to help them understand the vocabulary that would be used in their performance tests, and then we headed to the computer labs for the real deal. Again, "loading"....until, after 45 minutes, we received the word from the principal that it wasn't just us. No one in the entire district could log into the test site. In fact, the entire state was crashed. No testing today.

So now it is Thursday. Each morning, I've arrived at school and the principal has handed me my secure testing bin and the passwords for the day. Each morning, approximately 30 minutes later, we get the message from her that testing is cancelled for today because the servers at the testing site are crashed.

We have scheduled 3rd, 4th and 5th grade to take their tests over a three week period. But...this week is mostly a bust. So, I do not know what we will do. These are federally mandated tests. I imagine if it comes down to it, that we might qualify for a waiver in our state, if the company who designed, and sold us the tests cannot make it work.

I've been astonished at this. Really? You couldn't have figured out in advance how much server capacity was going to be needed? You didn't realized that thousands of students would all be logging in at the same time? I DO love technology. But this is pretty crazy. Stay tuned...

Friday, April 10, 2015

Today Was a Pretty Good Day

Today, my students were cooperative and actually lined up without arguing and ridiculing. Yesterday, it took us five extra minutes to get ready to go to P.E. because they resisted my insistence that they had to get into their "line order" which I instituted to eliminate certain people always getting together in line and talking and stirring up trouble. It works sometimes...line order, I mean. But, there are a core group who resist and drag their feet.

Today, no one stole anything. Yesterday, we had some special guests at our school who come and teach the students how to create a very fine mask---some years it is an animal, this year it was a masquerade mask with embellishments. They bring templates to trace and cut out from construction paper. They provide craft punches so that we can make the embellishments and, every child goes home with a terrific mask they have made. However, when it was time to gather up the guests' materials...we couldn't find all the parts. We searched the paper recycling bin, in case those few templates had been accidentally thrown out. I asked everyone to look all over, up and down. Still no templates, and no punches. Oh, we had most of them--just not all of them.

I had some suspects in mind. They'd already been prevented from sneaking a big pile of our construction paper into their desks when one of my parent volunteers caught them. But, now it was time for the culminating activity, when all the students meet up in the cafeteria with their masks, and help the guests write a quick song about their experiences, and sing and show off their fabulous creations.  So, I took my class down, but plucked out my three suspects, made them follow me to get their backpacks, and we went to the office. Sure, enough, when they had to empty out those bags on a table in the conference room, what did we find but all the missing items! Plus, big piles of more construction paper they'd managed to steal after all.

I was so outraged. Luckily, I didn't have to speak. That was the administrator's job. I left them with her, and I returned to my other students for singing. Phone calls were made to parents. The stolen materials were returned to the guests. My students were very, very quiet when they arrived at my room just in time for dismissal. I was still so upset, I could hardly look at them.

Today, I received contrite notes of apology. The three of them were model citizens. I was asked by one of them to please call her grandmother. I have a relationship with grandmother from a previous year, with an older sister. She's a very nice woman, we get along well. The conversation after school was excellent. She described the tears, and regrets. We discussed the responsibility of being the friend who should set a good example for others less endowed with stable homes and caring adults. It was a great conversation. I expect I'll have very little trouble the rest of the year.

That's good, too, because I was ready to quit forever after yesterday. That was just the last straw on top of all the back-talk and eye-rolling and disobedience I'd been laboring with the last month with them. I hope it lasts, because in 40 more school days, I won't have to ever think about any of them again. I just want to get there with my Felony-Free teaching career intact.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Grandpa's Birthday

Today is our grandfather's birthday. He was born on April 6, 1889, the year before Idaho became a state on July 3rd. He lived in Idaho, but it was only a mile from Wyoming, where he attended school and church. Most of his life was very involved in Wyoming because of the unique nature of the geography of the little valley in which we were all born. The valley curved in the north part, so that a small section of the community where he lived his life was actually across the border in the next state. The surveyors made straight lines, but the mountains and the rivers didn't.

I have been reflecting on his life this weekend, because of his birthday, and because I found a letter on Saturday that he'd written to my parents. It was to inform them of my grandparents' safe arrival back in Phoenix, Arizona, in early December, 1968. Grandpa and Grandma spent their winters as snow birds, in the warm climate of the desert, leaving our valley in September. But that year's migration had been tragically interrupted by the death of their youngest son, and they had come back to their little hometown in Wyo/Idaho for his funeral.

[My uncle was an Air Force pilot who was training to be an astronaut, and his plane crashed during a super-sonic flight. It gets worse: it was one week, to the day, from his wedding. He was 38, my grandfather would have been 79 and Grandma 77 years old. It was the end of Grandma, as she died just four years later after several years of being bed ridden.]

In the letter from Grandpa, he describes the huge pile of sympathy cards that awaited in their home when they returned, the watchful care from their friends in Arizona who picked them up from the airport, and brought over meals. He thanked my dad again for getting them cheese to bring back to their home in Mesa. Then, he closed with a P.S. that pointed out how gracious it was for my parents to give up their own "private bed" for my grandparents to use while they were in town for the services.

                        "I doubt if I would consider doing that if the King and Queen of England came to our house. Thanks a million."  

He had written it with his signature blue fountain pen, in immaculate script penmanship. He wrote letters constantly. I'm blessed to have found this particular one.

In class today, I mentioned that it was my grandfather's birthday. A few students smiled and asked me to wish him a Happy Birthday. I pointed out that he passed away many years ago. Then, I showed them in a math problem, what his age would have been if he were still alive.
                                                   2015-1889 = 126
They were astounded! How could someone's grandpa be born in the 1800's??!!  Well, if you are a grandma yourself, it can happen, I pointed out.

Later, I realized that my students, who are nine and ten, could actually live until the year 2089. They'd be in their 80's, but some of them could easily live that long. I am the bridge between these generations that span two centuries. I vividly remember my grandpa. He was a lively, active man when I was a child living at home with my family. My students are etched into my brain. It's easy to remember many of them from the last 19 years of teaching school. It's hard to realize that some of my students are married and parents now. The kids in my classroom today cannot even imagine 1889. They can't imagine 2089 either. I wonder how much different their lives will be then from how they are now? We can't possibly predict. No one predicted all the home computers and computing devices we use today, even when I was a child.

Also, my grandfather's life was not significantly different from my childhood. He was a dairy farmer, who put up hay for the winter. He attended church, raised a family in a small town, read lots of books, and enjoyed giving speeches. I was raised on a dairy farm, hauled hay all summer. I attended church, lived with my family in a small town, read lots of books, and enjoyed giving speeches. Once, in high school, I was with a group of students who presented the messages at church one Sunday. We were in the congregation where my grandparents had spent their entire lives, where my mother grew up. It was winter, so Grandma and Grandpa were in Arizona. After the meeting, a stream of people came to tell me how wonderful it was to see that I had inherited my grandfather's skill in public speaking.

Of course, we had a few strategic differences in our lives: his farming career was done with horses; we had tractors. He milked by hand into buckets; we had electric milkers. I went to church in a car, and for many years, he went in a buggy or sleigh. My grandma used to say, "I went to my wedding in a horse-drawn buggy, and now my son flies jet airplanes!"  She marveled at the changes that occurred in the 20th century.

Well, we cannot predict the future, but we can appreciate the past and our heritage. Today, I'm appreciating my grandpa (mother's father) and all the work he did to help my parents to fix up their farm buildings and their house. We were put to work every Saturday in the summer because they came to visit, eat dinner with us, and get my grandma's hair fixed by my mom. He built plank fences, which we painted. He added parts to our house, and to our barn. He and his brother built a hay shed and cow shed (these were enormous buildings....don't be fooled by the word "shed.") We children carried and fetched and hammered and toted, and tried to stay out of the way of these two hard working men who were in their early 70's.

I know that my younger brothers and sisters only knew the old, feeble man who lived, by turn, with his three daughters. By then, his wife had passed, he couldn't be trusted to drive anymore, and he really wasn't able to live on his own. It must have been a trial to have lost his independence. He was a man who was accustomed to being in charge, and making his own way. He was a doer, and when his body declined to the point that he spent his last few years in a nursing home, it was a difficult time for him. He passed away at age 91, just shy of turning 92. He'd had to revise his funeral plans repeatedly, because his friends kept dying before he did.

So, today, appreciate our lineage. Know that we come from a line of hard-workers. Know that he loved learning (he only attended school until 8th grade) and read books all of his life. He got up early to study and write letters to friends and family. He was an avid gardener and a good farmer. His carpentry skills were unparalleled, and he could work you into the ground until he was an old, old man. I'm proud to be his granddaughter.

He simply loved living in a place where he could enjoy blooming plants in the winter.

My grandparents and my uncle, the pilot. I don't know what year this was, probably four or five before he was killed.