A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Man Card Validated

My family has been an educational casualty lately. If I had thought about how ambitious it was to enter a 1-year Master's program, I never would have tried. The level of commitment required to work full time while producing Master's level work is beyond normal, it is insane. Naturally, I have not been as available to my family, including my 13 year old son, who really needs a dad, as I would have liked. I've been the absent father and missing husband. Thus, I entered the break with equally ambitions plans to set up a computer for Joe, which involved building a desk, and building a shed. With the end in sight, looks like I get to keep my Man Card.

Instead of buying a desk at Staples, which would have been my preference, I built a custom 37x24 desk for Joe's room using 3/4 birch plywood and soft maple 1x2s that I purchased at the Home Depot. Karen felt that Joe might lose his temper and smash his fist on a glass surface. Nothing is ever easy.

The simple project involved four full days of joinery and finishing. It helped, ultimately, that the associate ripped my plywood to 24", which left one half of the sheet 23-5/8" due to the thickness of the saw kerf. Since the top is slightly wider than the sides, there is a nice offset on the back. I used the 1x2s to cover the edges of the plywood. These were biscuit joined, glued, clamped, then belt-sanded flush with the plywood. Sanded to 220 grit between coats of clear polyurethane finish, Joe's desk is as smooth as a baby's butt.

While I had hoped that Joe would participate in building his desk, Halo proved to be more compelling. Joe helped apply glue to the joints, but he disliked getting glue on his hands. He flitted away back to Halo at the critical moment, just as I was getting ready to assemble and clamp the unit. I hollered. He returned.

Setting up Joe's computer hasn't been simple either. When my computer crashed, Mike, my brother rebuilt it from scratch, including a new motherboard. He retrieved the data from my backup drive, and reinstalled XP Pro. I left the computer sitting for months, with a new 1 terabyte backup drive waiting to be installed. My hope was that Joe would take more of an interest in the project, but reality is no competition for virtual reality.

Since I want to network Joe's computer with my Windows 7 and Karen's Vista computers, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that Joe's computer needs Windows 7. Now, I need to use Windows Transfer to pull my files off the boot drive, install Windows 7, and use Windows Transfer to pull the files back. What a pain.

Since my old friend Ricky had built a wood foundation for the shed, at least assembling the shed has gone smoothly, but it still has become a 3 day project. I never knew that installing a shed required so many screws. Ricky called it an erector set. I had to call in Ricky after I came to the part of the instructions where it said, "Do not proceed further unless you have a full day and two people." When I asked if Joe might commit to helping me, obviously he said, "no," which I fully expected. I called Ricky, who only charges me the friend rate of $100 per day. Yesterday, we assembled the floor, walls, and roof trusses, and fastened the building down before quitting for the day.

Ricky and I discussed installing shelves today, so last night I went to Home Depot to buy materials. I found the perfect material for the shelving, 23/32 Arauco Plywood (Radiata Pine) at $25.97 per sheet. The face is sanded to 220, the core is voidless, and it has exterior glue. I asked if I could get somebody to help me rip it, and an associate tried to help. Thankfully, the manager of the department rescued the associate, who wasn't experienced working a cutting station. My shelves were ripped to 15-1/2", which will make the installation go smoothly.

When Ricky gets here, he doesn't realize it yet, but Karen is going to have him install a new 3-pronged outlet. I was going to "temporarily" use an adapter and pull the bookcase out a few inches. Karen insisted it be done right. Thank goodness, Ricky will be here.

With my domestic duties checked off, it will be a full go on the Master's program. On Tuesday, I will begin supporting a caseload of 14 3rd grade children. My plans are nowhere near ready. I have read their IEP's, but have not summarized their needs. I know we will be working on multiplication and division, but I have not revisited the 3rd grade SOLs. I know that I want to help them construct understandings of how to group and organize numbers, and I know that I want to use lots of manipulatives. I don't have enough time to do it perfectly. At least I got my Man Card validated!

Tonight, after working on the shed all day, we'll drive to Mom and Dad's for our traditional New Year's Eve dinner. Dad starts chemo on Tuesday. Thankfully, last week, Dad opened up a Home Equity Line of Credit to help me get past my impending cash flow crisis. Family to the rescue! Relationships are like equity. Properly nurtured, they can be drawn upon during a time of need.

Happy Birthday to Mabel, who is 4 years old today. When I was working toward getting my Teacher's License, I kept an image of a dog in my head as my reward for getting my first teaching position. We picked Mabel up from a breeder in West Virginia during Spring Break, 2008. She rode home on my lap. Karen calls me Mabel's Foop (Favorite Person).

At least, during the week, Joe thought about getting Mabel a present - that's progress. Joe was perfectly ready to forget about following through on his commitment when it came time to get up off his butt, but on Thursday I shamed him into driving with me to Dogma in Arlington. We bought Mabel a gingerbread man toy. Mabel will have fun unwrapping it. On Christmas, Mabel used her claws to rip the wrapping paper off her present. Joe needs to wrap Mabel's present.

Karen put away Joe's controller to ensure that he gets certain things done. Hurray, we're both on the same page. Having a Man Card has its privileges. Windows 7, $199. Seeing Joe's jaw drop when he sees his controller missing, priceless.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Stepping up to the Plate by Joseph Kurland, age 13

            I shared Joe's narrative because he wrote it without parental help. Well, actually I did intervene last week. Joe tried, originally, to write about video games. My reaction was, "No, Joe, that's Kindergarten Level writing. Not acceptable." When challenged, Joe admitted that he had been looking for the easy way out. 

           This morning, I learned about Joe's feelings for the saxophone. The benefits of playing: it looks good for college admissions. The problems: it hurts his lip to play, and the case is heavy. Yikes! The kid needs to hear some great saxophone playing, live. I told him that looking good for college admissions is not a particularly compelling reason to play an instrument. Over the holidays, I will look for opportunities to take Joe to see some live music.

           How many teens have been conditioned to set their sights low, just like Joe? As a parent, and a teacher, I do my best to emphasize raised expectations in a culture where mediocrity has become the expectation. If, as a parent, I hadn't stepped in, he would have written blithely about his first Gameboy! Arghh!
           “Boom”! The ball flew into centerfield like a lightning bolt. The cracking of my bat really started the season off with a very unusual, although amazing start. When the ball landed, no one was there to catch it because they thought I couldn’t hit a ball that far or even at all. My team and coaches stared at me in awe like I was a ghost as I trotted to first base.

“Wow”, I thought to myself as I tapped first base with my foot. There once was a time where that would seldom ever happen in a season. Last season I only had three or four hits. This was the first game of the season and I had already gotten a hit. How was I able to get a hit?

I can still remember those seasons a couple years ago where I was a beginner at the game and struggled to get a hit. My parents signed me up for lessons at the Virginia Baseball Club and I also practiced hitting with my wiffleball bat in the backyard. The vibration on my hands every time I made contact with the ball annoyed and pained me at the same time. Sometimes I went to the batting cages, but I still felt vibration and struggled to get hits. I mindlessly blamed my bat for my errors when I was frustrated and enraged after getting out. When I look back at that now, I see why I was so mad. I was missing the point. These lessons weren’t enough. I needed more of a challenge.

I went into this spring expectedly at the bottom of the batting order still using my tiny Majors bat. Our team did spectacular in the outfield. I was on an outfielder’s seven game catching spree and at the same time I was on a seven game hitless spree. I was usually glad going into the outfield knowing anything that came to me was catchable. When we were on offense I was terrified of being embarrassed every time I went up to bat. It was either strike three or a small tap.

As that season wrapped up, I still kept up with my VBC classes and I routinely went to the batting cages. The VBC instructors slow-pitched the ball to me and I would always hit it. Cracking that bat every time delighted me, but it didn’t help me improve on my hitting. I took a long break over the summer on traveling to the batting cages and taking VBC lessons. That didn’t mean I took a break from hitting altogether.

I got private practicing on an unoccupied field over the summer under the blazing ninety-five degree sun. I was given a very heavy bat that was high-school level and practiced swinging it. I could barely even lift the bat and I was hitting with it. The first couple practices, I wasn’t doing very well and I was failing to hit the ball. All of a sudden something inside me sparked. Something that could have only came out by pushing my limits on the field. I was actually doing it. Hits started raining that field like hail. I had become a hitter.

For the next season, I bought a thirty-one inch bat that was heavier and more effective due to a larger barrel on the end of the bat. I was assigned to my first game since the spring without practice with a team. I was immediately put into the cages with my new bat. My old teammates from past seasons told the coaches I couldn’t hit. Once I stepped into the cages their predictions were incorrect. I was hitting baseballs like I never could before. Once I got out of the cages everyone congratulated me on my hitting and wanted to see some of it in the game. I was in the bottom of the batting order thus I couldn’t hit in the first inning. Once it was my turn I confidently marched up to home plate. The pitcher threw the ball in a perfect zone where I could hit the ball without trouble. I just swung and I heard something like a loud ding and looked up. It was the baseball and it was headed for an open area in centerfield. I barely even walked to first base because I didn’t need to worry about anyone throwing the ball last second. Everyone on both teams stared in awe. The coaches, players, and parents looked at me like I was a ghost. The rest of the season was just hit after hit. I never struck out. I didn’t even have an at bat without my bat touching the baseball. I grew, improved, and had a very fun time just teeing off that season. Right now I’m working towards getting hits in a tough spring ahead of me. Besides, I learned that I can do anything if I work hard enough and want it enough.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Colon cancer, a laughing matter

About now, mom and dad are preparing for a drive to the outskirts of Baltimore, armed with a diagnosis. Since around Thanksgiving, a debate has raged about whether dad has lung cancer, or whether, as the chemical markers indicate, the peach sized lump in his lungs is actually colon cancer. Nobody could believe what they were seeing. Why hadn't the cancer spread to other organs? Why did the colon itself seem cancer free? While the debate raged on, the rapidly growing tumor with a sense of humor did not care whether or not colon cancer is supposed to develop only in the lungs. The deviant cells simply decided that normal rules did not apply to them. Now that the deviant cells have been exposed for what they truly are, not lung cancer cells, but colon cancer that has spread to the lungs, thanks to the same oncologist who cured dad's colon cancer before, dad might cheat death a second time. In a race against time, mom and dad have managed to secure an accurate diagnosis, and find one of the few doctors in the world who knows how to attack a rare form of cancer with a cyber knife that can cut in a minimally invasive manner in a place next to the heart where one slip would mean instant death. In an odd sort of way, dad is lucky that his cancer is so interesting, because if it were not so different, nobody would want to experiment on it.

As I was leaving their house last night, having dropped by after class, I told them about how Norman Cousins had cured an incurable form of cancer by laughing continuously for several days. Now, I don't remember whether it was Norman Cousins, but I do remember the treatment worked with somebody. Dad, who has seemed unflappable throughout this process, laughed as he was reminded of Father Morlione, who was the go between between Kruschev and Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cousins had written a book about Father Morlione. A few years before Father Morlione died, Morlione was making regular pilgrimages to our house, engaging in serious discussions about Social and Economic Justice with Dad and Father Ferree into the wee hours of the night, chewing on Cuban cigars, staining his shirts brown from the tobacco juice, loving Mom's cooking, savoring our wine, and joking about how he convinced Niki how serious Kennedy was. Morlione had been working for Vatican Intelligence at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Cousins wrote about it. Now, on the hour long drive to Baltimore, mom and dad will have something to laugh about. Father Morlione was a funny guy. He loved his cigars.

Mom pulled out My Cousin Vinny and for the first time in days, she managed to crack a smile. "We need to watch it tonight," she declared.

Happy Anniversary Karen. Sorry I didn't pick up a card.

Now, to the Final Demo, where I have fewer than 5 hours to cheat professional death, and live to fight another day. Why the hell am I writing on my blog? ADD sucks!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

General Custard

I was giving a spelling test to Chris, a brilliant 3rd grader who reminds me a little of Sam Kineson, when Synthia walked past, along with her PHTA, America, and brightened my day. Seeing little Synthia making her rounds on her "walker" this morning, getting her Orthopedic workout, brightened a bleak, rainy morning where I was feeling a little sorry for myself. Synthia is a beautiful child who is non-verbal, and uses a wheel chair. She loves music, especially Jason Mraz, as I learned yesterday, while substituting in her Special Education  class. She "sings" along with her favorite songs, and despite the choppy Internet connection, I found myself dancing yesterday.

Today, I started my day by driving to the wrong site because I didn't check my list carefully, and had to rush over to the correct site. My GPS was playing tricks on me. My body was aching from a lack of sleep, but watching my little hero doing her thing was like flicking on a light switch from the inside. I forgot about the image of General Custard that has clouded my mood and the rainy weather, and found that happy, resourceful state when I am at my best as a teacher.

By the way, happy Pearl Harbor Day. I don't think I'll call mom tonight.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

King Boo

            As an 8th grade student at George Lucas Middle School, Boo nearly made the Honor Roll during the first quarter, since he earned A’s and B’s in English, Honors World History, Honors Science, Spanish II, and Advanced Band. Despite earning a 599 on an 8th grade SOL in Math during 7th grade, however, Boo received a C- in Algebra during the first quarter of 8th grade. According to Boo, he avoided offers of after school help from his teacher, because the teacher is “scary.”
According to those who know him best, Boo has always been an unusual child. He has flashed giftedness, but there have always been signs of persistent social and functional delays. His parents and teachers have long suspected that he is a child with ADHD-Inattentive Type, but never took action because his inattentiveness never seemed to harm his academic performance. An only child, Boo’s parents were unsure of how he compared with other children, and were never overly concerned about him because he consistently performed above average on normed assessments and was always a strong performer on criterion-based tests.
After learning that Boo, a small, shy 7th grader, had been bullied while riding the bus during his entire 7th grade year, and that he had never told anyone, Boo’s parents “came to the realization” that he needed extra support in developing social and functional skills. They hired a professional Life Coach who had come highly recommended by a family member. Rather than taking Halo away, the unsuccessful method the father had been using, Rachel is teaching Boo to self-mange using a behavior contract, with Halo as the reward.
Boo’s assessment data has been consistently inconsistent. According to his Stanford assessment, taken at age 6years, 1 month, Boo was in the 99th percentile on Word Reading (40/40), but his Listening was at the 52nd percentile, noticeably lower in Comprehension, Recreational, Interpretive, and Functional listening domains. His Number Sense and Numeration was high average (12/12), with Geometric and Spatial sense at the low end of average (3/11). Boo’s parents were not overly concerned about the 47 point discrepancy between the highest and lowest areas from his first Stanford test. Boo’s 2nd grade NNAT, at 7years, 7 months, revealed similar discrepancies (105 Comprehensive). He was in the high average range in Pattern Completion and Spatial Visualization and the very low range in Reasoning by Analogy. Believing that Boo was obviously Gifted and Talented, Boo’s 5th grade teacher had Boo take the NNAT. Once again, he was deemed ineligible for the GT program. His Composite score of 111 was unremarkable, but nobody bothered to take a closer look at the discrepancies in the data.
Boo scored 600’s on his 3rd grade Math and History SOL’s, with unremarkable Reading scores. In 7th grade, Boo earned 599 on the 8th grade Math assessment, but experienced wide discrepancies in performance displayed throughout the year.
Having learned to read at age 3, Boo has always been an unusually fluent reader. His spelling has always been excellent, and he has displayed a consistent ability to recall details. He has flashed an ability to make broad connections and rapidly identify verbal and visual patterns. He has strong mental math skills, with an ability to quickly solve complex problems in his head.
Boo first displayed a talent for performing when he grabbed the microphone during a preschool play. In 2009-2010, Boo was voted Class Clown and Most Energetic by his peers. He possesses nearly perfect musical pitch and timing, with a higher than average memory for songs. While Boo avoids practicing his saxaphone, he still manages to win band seating challenges. Boo earned a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, progressing through his belts slower than many of his peers, but eventually “getting it.” He earned a Presidential Reward during PE in 5th grade. Boo joined his first baseball team at age 12. Within 3 seasons, after numerous hitting clinics and trips to the batting cage, Boo went from the bottom to the top of the batting order. During this past season, Boo had zero strikeouts, getting on base more than 70% of the time.
The leader of his church’s Youth Group has invited him back to work with some of younger children, because young children like Boo. Although his 4th grade teacher warned his parents that Boo should never have a dog, because “he lacks empathy,” Boo is scheduled to volunteer at a local animal shelter.
Boo’s reading comprehension scores have been consistently unremarkable. Despite learning to read at age 3, Boo has rarely ever read just for fun. Boo’s parents and various teachers have long suspected that Boo is a person with ADHD-Inattentive Type, but since Boo has always performed better than average academically, he has never been formally diagnosed. Boo has never called a friend on the telephone. On the other hand, Boo has always gotten along well with others in familiar settings such as Tae Kwon Do or on sports teams. He enjoys playing with cousins or when invited to play with peers. He has expressed a desire to do volunteer work with the elderly and read to small children, but Boo is a person with a gaming addiction. According to his parents, Halo seems to have crowded out his needs for anything else in his life.