Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Cousin Is A Ready Made Friend for Life

"A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost."
Author: Marion C. Garretty

I spent most of the late morning today on the phone with my cousin Donna.  We hadn't had a long conversation for several months.  She'd been out of state, and I'd been working.  There hasn't been time for lunch or a long chat.  We had a lot to catch up on, and so we did.  I am so reminded of the quote above whenever we are together.  She truly is a little bit of my childhood that can never be lost.

Donna, my cousin who is and was my ready made friend for life,was born in the same hospital, the old Bethel Hospital in Colorado Springs, just days after I was.  She says that her mother took over the same room my mother had just vacated to take me home when she was born.  Our earliest days were spent together.  We learned to walk, to talk, to ride bikes, to fix our hair, to cook, to do just about everything together.  I barely have a childhood memory that does not have her in it.  Most early photos of me include her in the photo.

We lived within a few blocks from each other.  Our church, our school, our grandmother, the grocery store and the drugstore were all located in that four block sphere of our early existence.

The photo above was taken on our first Easter.  My mother and I are on the left side of the photo.  My brother is in the center.  My Aunt Katherine and my cousin Donna are on the right side.  The photo is taken in the front yard of my grandmother house.  Across the street (you can't see it) is the church where our parents were married and where we went to church.  Next to the church was the school where we attended just as our parents had done before us.

I remember many birthday parties, and family trips to the mountains together.  We picnicked  in the Garden of the Gods together, and scurried up the side of sandstone bluffs together on childhood picnics to Austin Bluffs.  We played for hours in the stream where we built dams when we went camping to our favorite camping spot in the Colorado Mountains.  We called this place, "The Green Spot."  Oh how we loved this idyllic spot where we slept under a beautiful canopy of a sky filled with millions of beautiful stars.  It was here where we tried to pick up the radio station KOMA 101 out of Oklahoma City from the car radio parked at our family camping spot when we were teenagers.

We spent endless summer days playing at our grandparents summer house in Victor, Colorado.  That was a magical place that fed our childhood play acting where we pretended to be pioneers.  All the cousins slept together in the back bedroom where we giggled ourselves to sleep at night.  Or, other times we would try to scare each other with ghost stories.

Other long summer afternoons were spent swinging on the front porch of her house watching the rain come down while we told stories or talked.  Other times, we would go to the library to check our beloved Little House on the Prairie books.  Or, we would play kick the can at night at my house.  Our summer night treats would be homemade root beer that my father would make.  He would bottle his root beer in old beer bottles.  We loved sitting on the front porch drinking from those bottles in hopes we would shock the neighbors!  Or, we would make ourselves wonderful root beer floats and decorate them with olives.  (Yuk!)  We even ate off the same cookie the day before she came down with the chicken pox.  For some reason, I didn't get sick.

When we were in junior high, we walked to school together.  Those were the days when girls wore bouffant skirts.  Our nylon net slips were starched in sugar water and layered under our full skirts.  We suffered for beauty's sake at school.  Those slips were scratchy!  Then, we'd slip them off and carry them home because we couldn't bear walking the long distance in those uncomfortable things.  Perhaps, we only did this once because when our mother's found out, we weren't allowed to do such a thing again.

We experimented with make up, drooled over Seventeen magazine's fashionable clothes, checked the top ten pop tunes every week, or watch American Bandstand together during our early teen years.  We wore our first formals together when we joined Rainbow Girls.

On the way home from junior high, there was a drugstore with an old-fashioned soda fountain.  We'd stop in there to buy a fountain made cherry coke on our home so we could ogle the handsome, soda jerk who had beautiful blue eyes as he prepared our drinks for us.  Later in life, my cousin took me to a pharmacy in town so I could see our childhood crush.  Now, a pharmacist, he was still working in a drug store, but I wondered what we had seen in him back then.

We went to kindergarten through ninth grade together.  We went to college together.  We married and both had five children.  In our early adult years we did not live near each other.  Nearly twenty-five years ago, I returned to Colorado Springs where she was still living.  She found me a house to live in just about a block from her house.  Our Uncle Charles was just a block away.  Our children went to school together.  Then she moved to Phoenix shortly after.

Now, we live near each other again.  We now do such things as talk about how to apply for medicare or adjust to retirement.  I guess you can say we've come full circle.  Only my mother and an aunt remain of the old guard.  All our aunts and uncles and grandparents are gone.  I think at this juncture in life,  we tend to treasure our cousins more than ever because they join us in keeping a part of our childhood alive.

Donna & Sally's First Family Christmas
Donna is held by my Aunt Katherine and her father Uncle Don is holding Aunt K.  My grandmother is is beside my mother who holds me.  My Uncle Charles, home on leave from being a paratrooper in WWII, is holding his wife Betty.  In front are my Aunt Carolyn and Aunt Phyllis.  Phyllis is holding my brother Rell.  My father, serving in the Army and my Uncle Bob serving in the Marines, were not home on leave when the photo was taken.

A few years ago we went to San Diego together for a week.  We had such fun.  I'm so glad we did that.  New memories were made.  Just the two of us were able to have some new adventures and recall the old ones.

Donna and Sally
San Diego
Donna, though technically a cousin, is not just a dear friend, she is like a sister to me.  She is now walking through the difficult task of helping to care for her daughter who is fighting a two-year long battle with melanoma.  She listens to me as I talk about my daughter's death and illness.  We are navigating difficult waters together.  We are in places we never could have imagined in our carefree childhoods, but I am grateful we forged those bonds long ago because they seem even more priceless than ever before as we get older.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Challenges of Motherhood

I hate the helpless feeling that I sometimes get as a mother and grandmother.  My children are grown.  That doesn't stop me from being a mom.  I hate feeling helpless when I know that my children are going through struggles.  I hate to hear that a grandchild has had a serious earache or a lingering cough or a high fever.  I hate to hear the voice of a child, who is an adult but still my child, who is sick and just not feeling up to snuff.

I hate to see what I consider to be bad choices being made.  I want to point out every pitfall that I see.  Yet, I don't want to encourage adult behavior that is more juvenile than adult.  After all, how did I learn?  I learned from my mistakes.

As a family, we've all been through so much emotionally.   I can barely handle it when my children also are physically ill with colds or the flu.  I think of those women during the flu epidemic who lost children, spouses or fought the flu themselves without antibiotics.  I marvel at their fortitude.  I wonder how I would have handled it.

I've often said that I tried to give my children roots and wings.  I have to admit that I have a very hard time with the wings bit.  I know that children must leave the nest and establish their own nests.  I celebrate that, but way down deep inside, I also have a very hard time not being a mother hen.

I used to joke that I wanted to hand in my mom badge.  I really don't feel that way.  I just wonder if a mom ever stops being a mom?  Is this a good thing, or is it really over the top to worry and feel helpless when we see our children suffer?

Life is real.  Sickness hits.  Serious illness causes great pain.  Divorce happens.  Financial problems can strike.  Jobs are lost.  This is all a part of life.  As a mom, I hope I have prepared all my children for the adversity they will face, but oh how I hate to watch it happen.  It makes me feel helpless.

I also know that they are capable and able to solve their own problems, seek their own medical care, and build their own support systems, make their own choices.  I am here for them, and they know it.  I know I also have to be careful not to be too much of a mom.  I sometimes have to step back in order not to cross the line and act like the mother hen that I am.  Do you ever struggle with this?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Best of Pueblo ~ Coyote Grille

The Nature Center

One of my favorite places to go has always been the Pueblo Raptor and Nature Center down by the Arkansas River.  I fell in love with The Nature Center when Jim and I were dating.  Early in our dating life, I was still living in Colorado Springs, when he took me for a romantic stroll along the Arkansas River one Sunday afternoon in late fall of 1991.  After our stroll, I remember sitting in the warm sun on a log under the beautiful gold colored cottonwood trees and watching people enjoy biking, running, and walking along the path next to the river.  In other spots, people were fishing either from the shore or in the river itself.   I found myself thinking, I like this place.  No, really, I love this place.  I can see me living in Pueblo and enjoying this setting for many years to come.

Now, the Nature Center just got better.  Have any of you been down to the cafe/restaurant since it is now under the management of Jim Beatty?  If not, you should enjoy a wonderful meal at Coyote Grille as soon you can.  I guarantee you will put it at the top of your list of "places to go" for good food, ambiance, and friendly service.  I don't want to sound like I work for Jim Beatty, or the Chamber of Commerce, but really, I just don't know where you can go for a better setting that offers fabulous than the Coyote Grille.
Jim Beatty

Chips & Salsa
Coyote Grille
Let me tell you just a little bit about the owner/operator of this venture first.  We were first introduced to Jim Beatty's food at a graduation party four or five years ago.  Actually, my husband Jim fell in love with Jim B's food when he first bit into a tortilla chip that he had dipped in amazing salsa.  Before long, he was also raving about the guacamole. Now in Pueblo, there are a lot of places to buy great chips and salsa, but in my husband's mind (and mine) you can't beat Jim Beatty's.  These chips are served hot and fresh and are made from homemade flour tortillas.  The salsa is also made from scratch.  I honestly don't know where you can get better chips and salsa.

Jim Beatty's Catering Company
Classic Catering

Jim enjoying a taste of the good food
Jim serving food to the grandkids
When it became time to have Jim's retirement party, we decided to have Jim Beatty's catering company, Classic Catering,  cater the family party.  When you have a blended family of eight children, their spouses, and seventeen grandchildren, you cater.  Anyway, I do.

 The food that was served that day was a huge hit with everyone!  We were thrilled with the food, the cost and service.  All these things helped make our day special.  We didn't have to worry about anything except enjoying our family and celebrating the milestone of Jim's retirement.

Coyote Grille
5220 Nature Center Rd.
Pueblo, CO 81003

We were thrilled when we heard that Jim Beatty had taken over the management of the Coyote Grille.  Yesterday, my husband suggested that we go to the Nature Center so we could check out Jim's new venture, eat some lunch, and go for a walk.  As soon as we arrived at my favorite dining location, I was excited to see so much life.  Folks were sitting outside on the patio of the cafe enjoying the sun, the view, and the food.  Many were dressed as if they had just stopped in to eat after a bike ride or a walk.  
After entering Coyote Grille, we noticed that a number of people were also enjoying their dining experience inside.  Once inside of the Grille, we saw friends and stopped to chat before selecting a perfectly situated table in front of the large windows.  This allowed us to feel connected to the patio and look out to the river.  This particular table was also placed next to the warm, inviting fire that was burning the southwestern style fireplace.  Talk about great ambiance!
We had a hard time selecting from the menu because there were so many delicious sounding items.

We both decided on the dish above.  This was no ordinary burger!  The meat was good, as good as I've ever had anywhere.  The bun is homemade.  The burger is topped with onions, Pueblo peppers, and cream cheese.  (I passed on the cream cheese.)  The chips are hand sliced and made fresh.  The side relish featured some sort of wonderful tasting pickled red onion.  (I think that is what it is.)  Just as we'd been warned by our friends who were eating there, we found the servings to be large.  We both ate every last bite despite the size!

Jim with the manager
A former SHS student
daughter of a faculty member
We decided to go back to Coyote Grille for lunch today.  I didn't have a camera yesterday, and I wanted to get some pictures for my blog.  When I asked Jim Beatty if he minded if I wrote about his new venture in my blog, he said, "I'll have to think about that...for about two seconds. Yes, feel free to write away."  

While studying the menu yesterday, we both wanted to try the quiche and the three bean soup.  Guess what we ordered today?  Those who know me, know that my favorite place for quiche is at Wooglins in Colorado Springs.  I have long maintained that Wooglins has the best quiche around.  That is, until I tasted the quiche at Coyote Grille.  I now have a new favorite place for quiche.

Jim had the spinach quiche and the three bean soup.  I tasted it, and it was very good.  I had the green salad which was also very good.  The salad was set apart from ordinary green salads by the addition of those yummy red onions and rye bread croutons.  

If you are looking for a great spot for some delicious food, remember to stop by and see Jim Beatty and his great staff at Coyote Grille.  Tell him I sent you.

For my friends who don't live in Pueblo, I'm attaching some photos shot at the Nature Center and the cafe this past December when we took our international students there for a Christmas Party.  (The cafe was under different management then.)  I want you to see the setting that I enjoy so much.  As you can see it is dry in this part of the country, but I think it has its own unique beauty.
Photo's of Previous Visits
Some of the international students, staff and tutors
Nature Center - Arkansas River in background

International Program Christmas Lunch
Nature Center - 2010

Jeanne & Sally
in front of cafe at Nature Center
Wind swept xeriscape grass
at the Nature Center Garden
Backside of Coyote Grille
Structure near Coyote Grille
Bringing Home a Bit of Pueblo's Best
Coyote Grille

Before we left the Coyote Grille today, we bought a homemade cookie and a cherry turnover for our snack for this evening.  I think I'll go make a cup of tea for hubby and me and enjoy the treat we brought home.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Civil Service Exams

Did you know there are books to study for everything these days?  My students want to study for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).  They also want to read children's books in English to practice reading, so today I stopped by the local branch of the library to set up a visit for my class.

On my way into the building, I passed a woman walking out of the library with a pile of books that were study guides for the civil service exams.  I had no idea there were study guides for those exams.

I took the Federal Government Civil Service Exam in January of 1966.  I had just left college before completing my degree in teaching.  I needed a job.  Since we lived in a highly impacted Federal employment area, my father's assistant suggested that I go to the post office and sign up to take a civil service exam.  Desperate to get a good paying job in order to earn enough money to return to college, I took her advice.  I remember getting a notice that several registers were open for hiring, and those interested in getting a placement on the hiring register should report on a given date to the post office to take the exam.  I showed up for the exam without ever giving a thought about preparing to take it.  I don't even know if there were any sort of study guides back in those days.

I do remember that the test was given in a large room filled with people.  We were told that there were few slots available for jobs.  We were then told that our scores would be listed on the registers for those jobs that we qualified for that were available.  Hiring would be done according to score.  The highest scoring applicants would be called first.

A few weeks later, on February 14, 1966, I was called and asked to report to work for the IRS.  I had passed the test, and there was a position within the Internal Revenue Service in Ogden, Utah, where I was living at the time, that I qualified for.  I reported to work just as I was requested to do.  It took several days to sign papers and take some basic training before I actually found out where I would be assigned.

Then, exactly 45 years ago today, on February 16, 1966, I was finally working in my new department. I was assigned to work in the batching and receiving department.  It wasn't very glamorous.  In fact, I wonder why I had take an exam to get the job.  My title was:  numbering clerk.  Yes, I, and about four or five others,  had to stamp every page of every tax return that we received through the mail with a DLN (document locator number).  This was all done by hand!  And, we had to stamp a certain number an hour and batch them into batches to be sent to tax examiners.  I think we were working on stamping and batching 1040A forms on this particular day.

The job would have made a young girl who had a few years of college under her belt and a dream of being a teacher in her heart crazy except that on that particular day, all these years ago, a young, good-looking, charming, and funny guy was also hired to work beside me.  It turns out that we had tied for the top score on the exam.  We both had to be placed before any other additional hiring could be done.  Yep, we tied for first place on the civil service exam.

Six months later,  this same new hire became my first husband.  I guess it was fate that we both took the test on the same day, got the same score, and were hired on the same day.  If it were not fate, it at least makes a good story.

We both went on to leave the civil service world a few years later.  In time, we both became teachers.  We also gave birth to five very bright and beautiful children.  We had many good years together and some bad.  We later divorced.

Who could ever have known what would come from taking a civil service exam and scoring the exact same score as another person.  I wonder what would have happened if one of us would have studied.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Small Mementos

The time spent in my classroom teaching international students is truly priceless.  No price tag can be attached to the healing that I experience as I teach.  Even when I am teaching grammar, I am happy.  I get excited teaching such topics as the one we covered today:  past progressive.  I'm in my element when I do this.  I explain.  I draw charts to show the concept.  I give examples.  I ask for the students to give examples.  I wear myself out.  It feels good to teach again.

When I am teaching, I laugh a lot.  I listen to my students making their first few sentences in a classroom that is taught in a language that is not their first language.  I learn about their cultures.  I learn about each student as an individual.  I see growth.  I experience healing.

My mind is not on my loss.  My heart does not feel quite as broken.  I see the future that is in my students' eyes.  I am a part of something that is bigger than I and my sorrows.  It does feel good to teach again.

On a day like today, I leave my classroom feeling upbeat and happy.   I walk across campus to my car grateful for times of peace, joy, and accomplishment .  Our class had just had a small Valentine's Day Party.  As I walk to car,  I see a young mother approaching me.  She has her darling sleeping daughter in her arms.  The young toddler is dressed so cute in a little hat, coat and boots.  I wonder if she can even walk in those cute boots.  She seems so small.  Suddenly, I find I am weeping.  Babies still do that to me.

I think of my darling Julie.  I see her in her dressed in her cute little pink coat and her Raggedy Ann hat.  I see her impish little smile.  I think of how many nights I walked the floor with her because of her persistent earaches as a toddler.  I remember her finally falling asleep in my arms only to wake when I put her down because of the pain in her ears.  I remember what a sweet baby and child she was.  How could I have ever imagined that one day she would take her life.   She was a such a sweet, fun-filled, vibrant, loving child. I want to go back to those days when I could hold her in my arms and make whatever was bothering her all better.  I want to hold her.  I want to carry her.  I want to have her curly head tucked on my shoulder.

After the wave of sorrow washed over me today, I came home and made a hot cup of tea.  I drank the warm comforting brew from a tea cup that Julie gave me a number of years back.  I have not been able to use that cup since her death.  I have been afraid that I would somehow break it.

I've always loved that cup.  Julie knew that I like to drink my tea from china mugs.  She found the perfect one for me.  I always think of her when I use it.  After losing her, I just couldn't risk losing the cup that I loved using.  It is the special tea cup that she had picked out just for me.  Today, I knew I had to use this small memento.  It seemed that the only comforting thing I could do was drink some hot tea from the cup that had been a gift from Julie.

I brought the tea up to my study, settled into my favorite chair, and sipped the tea.  I looked at the rainbow rock that has always been on my reading table.  Julie painted the rock when she was about four or five years old.  She would paint rocks and try to sell them to the neighbors.  She gave her rainbow rock to me.  It has been one of my favorite treasures ever since.  It has always kept its place of honor beside my favorite chair that I have used for reading.  My Julie rock painted with rainbow colors always makes me smile.

My favorite family photos, books and keepsakes are found in my study.  That is where I also have my favorite chair.  This place is the place where I go for relaxation, reading, and reflection.

Julie smiles at me from the photo made on Amy's wedding day.  She smiles at me again from the photo of her, Amy and me that was taken just before a Christmas season parade in Lafayette, Colorado a number of years back.

I then looked at one of Julie's small wallet sized senior pictures.  The photo shows my dear eighteen year old Julie.  She looks so happy.  The truth is, by then she was already suffering from depression.  Usually she was the life of the party.  She had loads of friends who adored her.  She was successful in school.  She ran track and cross country.  She also was just beginning the long, difficult struggle with a disease that would haunt her until her death.

Not long after Julie's death, I decided to reframe this particular photo, one of several that were her senior pictures.  The old frame had become tarnished.  I found a frame that I thought the photo would fit.  It had hearts on it.  The photo was just a bit bigger than the frame, so I trimmed a small amount from each side.  That is when I noticed writing.  Quickly, I turned the photo over and realized she had written on the back.   She had written:

This is one to show my happiness & I would like you
to show it to me when I'm down
to show me that a smile
lights the world.
Even though you make me feel better just being around.

Thankfully, I have these small mementos.  I can pick them up and remember the beautiful child that gave them to me.  I won't ever have new photos of Julie.  I won't ever receive another card with her sweet message written inside.  I won't ever be able to make it all better for her like I tried to do for so long.   I won't ever see that smile again, but I promise you, that beautiful smile did light up my world. 

All I have now, are those mementos, many photos, lots of cards, and my precious memories.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Weighty Issues

My weight is an issue.  I'm not terribly overweight, but I need to lose about 30 or 35 pounds.  My health is the issue here.  I recently learned that I am pre-diabetic.  Also, my BMI and my waist measurement is not within the healthy guidelines.  I would love to look better in my clothes.  I would love to wear a smaller size again.  I would love to get rid of my muffin top.  The bottom line is:  my weight is something I need to address seriously.

Weight was never an issue with me.  I had five children and always was down to my pre-pregnancy weight without even trying within six weeks after the birth of each child.  I guess in my twenties and thirties I was way too busy chasing toddlers, and carrying babies around in my arms to gain any weight.  I cooked heathy meals.  I grew much of our food, and I canned what I grew.  I made homemade wheat bread.  I was very conscious about feeding my family the required servings of fruit and vegetables every day.  We could not afford junk food.  We did not drink pop.  I never even gave weight gain a second thought.

When I went through a divorce in my late 30's, I was so upset by the divorce that I lost 14 pounds in 14 days.  I didn't have 14 pounds to lose at the time.  I simply was too upset to eat.  In the beginning couple of years of being a single mom, I was extremely thin.  I finally put on enough weight that I looked heathy, but thin, when I attended my 20th class reunion.  (I am the brunette on the left in this photo.)

For the next ten years or so, I never worried about weight.  I walked a great deal.  I went dancing.  I hiked occasionally.  I worked a full-time job, went to school full-time, and I was a single mom.  Who had time to worry about weight?

My sis and I went on a road trip to California when we were in our 40's.  We had great fun driving her husband's Jaguar from Colorado to California to visit our younger sister.  We could still turn some heads on that trip.  I kept telling my sister that it was the car that we were in.  Still, we looked pretty good, slim and trim, way into our 40's.  (Sis is on the left, and I am on the right in the photo.)

In my late 40's I married my wonderful husband.  All of a sudden a few things happened.  I developed thyroid problems, I started menopause,  I married Mr. Candy/Cookie King, and we began to eat out a lot.  I immediately gained 30 pounds.

About seven years ago, I joined Weight Watchers.  I successfully lost the 30 pounds and reached my goal weight.  Slowly the weight crept back on.  Even a few years ago, my weight was reasonable.  I wanted to get back to my WW goal, but I was not concerned about my health...yet.

Now, I am concerned.  The doctors say I really must lose the weight.  They are right.  I don't like not feeling good.  I don't want diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and all those other things that I am racing towards.  I want to be healthy more than I want to fit into those size 8 pants.  Ok, I really want to wear size 8 pants too!

DJan, a blogger friend, is writing about her goals to work on making a slight weight adjustment.  She's inspired me.  Now, I have made my decision public.  I hate that I have done this!  I will join the fight.  I will go back to Weight Watchers.  I know this works for me.  I will do it again.  Hold me accountable, please!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Attending a Teacher Conference After Retirement

On Thursday, Friday, and part of Saturday, of this past week, I attended CCIRA (Colorado Council of International Reading Association) in Denver.  This was the second time I attended the conference.  Even though I have been an English teacher and an English as A Second Language (ESL) or an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher for a number of years, I had never attended this particular conference until last year.  It seems surprising that I'd never gone to a reading conference until after I had retired.

There is a reason for that:  I am now the co-editor for this association's newsletter, "The Colorado Communicator." I was asked to do this job by a dear friend of mine from college days.  She and I were both Sigma Kappa sorority sisters back in the day at what was then Colorado State College.  We reconnected about six or seven years ago and have been fast friends ever since.  Now, we co-edit a newsletter together.  This means we have some connection time when we work on the newsletter and when we attend the conference once a year.

Attending a reading teacher conference after retirement has caused me to make a few observations.

  1. There seems to be a disconnect between what I see being highlighted and spoken about at reading conferences and what I know is happening in the classroom.  Teachers come to conferences for fresh ideas and new strategies that they can take back to their classrooms.  They come for an infusion of creativity and inspiration.  They come to meet the authors of their favorite childhood literature.  They come to learn about new literature that will turn their students on to reading and writing.  They come because they are professionals who are always learning and looking for ways to improve their teaching.  Unfortunately, in today's teaching environment, teachers are being forced into scripted reading lessons.  They are not allowed to implement these fresh ideas into the classroom; they must stick to the script.  These conferences must be painful reminders of just how much their hands are tied and just how much of a disconnect there is between best practice and what is the reality of what is forced on them as teachers in today's classrooms.
  2. There are not many teachers attending these conferences.  They are not joining the professional organizations like they used to do.  I think there are a number of reasons for this.  There is not enough money in school district budgets for professional development.  This means the teachers aren't sent to these conferences.  Professional development is being done in top down approach in school districts.  This means that teachers must attend the training the school districts select and pay for.  They can't choose to go to conferences.  School districts won't pay for substitutes, nor will they pay for registration fees so that teachers can attend these conferences.  
  3. Conferences are expensive to hold.  State organizations are having to trim budgets which means that it is difficult to attract speakers that the teachers want to hear.
  4. Too many textbook publishers are taking over conferences by offering presentations that only highlight their approach to teaching.  The textbook publishers and their staff presentations are making huge profits, and I think they control the types of materials available for the teachers to see.
  5. I saw almost no freebies.  I remember going to conferences for both English teachers and ESL teachers ten years ago when I came home piled high with sample books that I could use in the classroom, and even a few free novels.  Publishers are not giving away freebies these days as far as I could tell.
  6. Consultants are taking over education.  They are paid big bucks by school districts to come in and train teachers.  They have no true accountability.  They rarely have real answers for education's problems.  They have no real buy-in to the local school district.  They really don't have a 'silver bullet' to offer, but they sure do make a good pitch and a lot of money.  
  7. I am getting too old and too jaded to attend these conferences.  I see the reality of what the teacher faces in the classroom.
  8. I was very inspired by many of the presenters.  I wished I could teach in a place and time when I could go into my classroom, close the door, and teach.  I wished I could try out a lot of what I thought was truly creative and would actually work in the classroom.  Perhaps I will try it out on my grandchildren.
  9. I have great hope for the teachers that attend these conferences and who face great odds in the classroom.  I hope they have the courage to teach what they know works best for kids.
10.  I was again stunned to remember that the only entity that is benefiting from No Child Left Behind is McGraw Hill.  This company, the one who publishes the test materials to see if we're leaving kids behind, has made 1.4 billion dollars from their contract to create these tests.  Think what it would mean if this money was actually being used to teach kids to read.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Weather Extremes

Never again will I brag about warm, springlike weather in January.  I am singing a different tune now.  After experiencing 70 degree weather  last Thursday, schools were closed today in Pueblo, Colorado and Colorado Springs because of temperatures that ranged from 0 to -4 degrees.  In some areas, the wind chill factor made the temps feel like -45.  That is Colorado for you.  This is a place where you can experience all four seasons in one day.

After seeing my neighbors on a picnic in the sun last week, I ran into them again yesterday at the grocery store.  They were dressed in boots and heavy parkas.  I asked if they had dropped by to buy food for another afternoon picnic.  No, they were going home to make soup.

I'm not really complaining about our temperatures here because I know many of you are dealing with snow that just will not stop.  I worry about my children in Boston.  I know how difficult it must be to deal with such large amounts of snow when the main modes of transportation are public transit.  So many live in the small towns outside of Boston and must take the train to town in order to go to work or school.
Leadville, Colorado

When I was a senior in high school, we lived in Leadville, Colorado.  Leadville's elevation is two miles high.  It has the nickname of City in the Clouds.  It is an old mining town situated over one mountain from Vail, and over another mountain from Aspen.  Breckenridge is nearby; you just have to drive over a mountain pass to get there.

In the winter it snows a lot.  I've even seen it snow on the 4th of July.  The snow plows begin their work early in the day in Leadville.  I remember hearing them out about 4:00 A.M. when there was a big snow storm.  They had to clear the roads so the miners could get out of town and make their way to Climax to work in the molybdenum mine.  In the 60's when I lived in Leadville, the mine was still going strong and provided the town with its main tax base.  This meant that the roads were plowed early and often.

Snow would begin to pile up down on the main street of town.  Since there was not place to put the snow, the plows would dump it down the middle of Harrison Avenue which was the main drag through town.  You could barely see from one side of the street to the other.

Snow never stopped anything in Leadville.  I have seen pictures of the old high school in Leadville that showed a tunnel like path to the school door.  Snow this deep was a new thing to me when at age 17,  I moved to the mountains after living in the flatlands of Pueblo.  The first things my father bought me after we moved to the mountains was a warm coat, a Pendleton, with a lining that looked like a heavy plaid blanket, and a pair of fur lined boots.  He said I would need them if I were going to live up in Leadville.  That coat was wonderful!  It did keep me warm when I walked home from school.  Most mornings, with the thermometer hovering around 0 degrees, he drove me to school.    School never was closed due to the weather.  Never.

In the last year or two, it was in the news that schools in Leadville had closed for the day because of snow.  That was a first in many, many years.  In fact, it may have been a first ever.  Like I said, nothing stopped in Leadville because of the snow.

I remember my father telling the story about the time there was a terrible snowstorm in Leadville.  He worked for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, and he had an important meeting in Pueblo at 10:00 in the morning.  It started snowing during the night, so he got up early and made sure we had coal (yes, coal) in the furnace that heated the house.  Then, early, around 4:30 or 5:00, in the morning he started making his way to Pueblo.  He drove through ice packed mountain roads until he was finally down on what we called the flatlands near Pueblo.  Finally, he could relax a little.  The snow was not blowing and drifting.  In fact, it was barely snowing.  It was much warmer.  He would make it to the meeting in time. He got there just before the meeting was to start.  No one came to the meeting.  He finally found a phone and called to see where everyone was.  They had cancelled the meeting.  Those who lived in town didn't to get out and drive in the snow.  It had never occurred to him that they would cancel the meeting, and he would never have called to say he couldn't make it.  He loved to tell that story whenever he talked about how tough the people in Leadville were.

Things are different these days.  For one thing, there are more people living in our cities in Colorado.  The roads are more congested.  People live in Colorado who did not grow up here.  They don't know how to drive in the snow.  The big cities across the country also have a lot of congestion on the roadways.  People live in suburbs or in surrounding small towns and work in the city.  They must rely on public transit.  They have long commutes.  Local governments can't handle snow removal in our sprawling cities.  Parents work and can't always drive children to school when it snows.

So, as they say, the new normal is:  When it snows, schools close.  Schools are closed here just because of the freezing temperatures.  I think that is ok.  I don't want kids standing out waiting for a school bus in this weather.

I think when it gets like this, it is just a good day to put on a pot of soup, make cookies, and curl up with a good book.  Stay warm!  Stay inside if you can.