Friday, December 04, 2009

Weighing the Hogs

Teaching Reforms Should be Based on Research and Experience. (

This article may have been written in response to a California legislative move, but it's applicable to schools and school laws across the country. Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, has his head on straight. He says, in a nutshell, that putting emphasis on testing isn't going to improve our schools.

"Anyone who has spent much time in the classroom will tell you that one day’s performance in not a valid indicator of a student’s mastery of his or her school year curriculum and growth."

I could have told you this. My first student teaching experience in my Junior year drove the point home with one amazing boy. He had some learning difficulties, which had not been diagnosed nor even caught (I suspect now that it was ADD) - he was in my mainstreamed classroom and they had -just- started talk of sending him for a few minutes of Title I reading instruction every day. He had also adopted the attitude that he didn't need school at the ripe old age of 9, and insisted that he was going to be a bricklayer like his dad (who worked 60-hour weeks and never seemed helpful with academics, yet would somehow have time to teach his son the trade). So he was a difficult case, and as a first-time student teacher I was frustrated by his lack of attention and disorganization - as was the classroom teacher. Still, when I wasn't presenting lessons I would hover in the back of the room where he sat - keeping an eye out for signs of distraction, prompting and prodding and pulling him along with the rest of the class. He got through a few math lessons that way and actually made good progress... but I was only there for a few months.

I didn't expect anyone to grow attached. I wasn't a great teacher; the lessons were messy and the kids were sometimes bored. Still, on the last day I went home with an armload of notes and cards - most of them hand-made by the kids during study time in between shushing and fits of giggles. I still have all of them but one in particular stands out. It was written by that boy who had already been labeled "trouble".

This is the note (click for an image):

"I had a fun time wall you were hear. you tout me math skille and ss, sin I learnde alot. eavn thou I fallad alot of your tests it was fun you were a verry verry verry nice teacher. Bye!"

Three sentences, from a child who had trouble writing one complete sentence when I started my placement. Even this child, one the system was struggling with, proved that he could learn (and enjoyed it!). And he did so not in one day or on one test but over a couple of months. On a standardized test, he would have been one more failure for the school to be embarrassed about, and there would be no evidence of his growth that year. Tests are great - when properly applied as continuous assessment of single topics. As a general picture of education, they suck.

I also found this to be both funny and sadly true:

"Any effort to close the achievement gap in our schools that does not address the conditions that children grow up in is doomed to failure. Schools can only do so much in the time that they work with students. Until this country closes the gaps in job opportunities with a livable wage, health care, and affordable housing, efforts for improvements in the schools will have limited success.

In addition, you can develop all the best tests in the world but if you don’t improve the conditions in the schools in which students and teachers operate in, the test scores will not improve either. As the famous farmer said, “Weighing my hog accurately doesn’t help it to grow heavier.”"

That 5th grade class lived in a low-income area in which most jobs were blue-collar or agricultural work. The housing in the area was mostly old farmhouses or the cheaply-built homes of the 40's and 50's. None of it was in great condition, a sign of both the area's poverty and the homeowners' lack of ability (or funds) to keep up with the maintenance. The school breakfast program was packed every morning. The computer lab ran old, donated computers that sometimes locked up, and the library was in need of new books. If kids were sick, parents missed work to take care of them... so kids came to school and spent the day in the nurse's office. In conditions like these, can we really expect students to increase their test performance based solely on curriculum changes (which at many schools probably wouldn't be supplemented with new materials)?

Oh, and speaking of low-income education - Race to the Top (link: PDF of the law) horrifies me. Some people are shouting for "underachieving" schools to be shut down, the entire staff fired and new people hired "to show that the district is working to improve the school" and be competitive for federal funding. HAH.

1. The "underachieving schools are often in low-income areas, serving minorities who may also be ELLs (english language learners), and are already understaffed, underfunded and overcrowded. You're going to fire everyone on the staff regardless of the fact that those are the people who can afford to work at the school, who love the school, and who know the school's problems inside and out, and replace them with the people who couldn't get hired at any of the other districts and have no idea what they're in for?

2. Last time I checked there wasn't exactly a waiting list to be hired for inner-city Chicago schools and the burnout rate among new teachers in stressful situations is really high. Do they honestly expect a couple of fresh-faced graduates are going to make a difference before they quit in two years?

3. What will these kids do while their school is shut down for a year because the district can't find a math teacher? Better yet, what will they do when the district hires a math teacher on an interim teaching certificate because they can't find someone "certified" and need the school open anyway? Some of the best teachers I know aren't qualified to teach (officially, anyway) but that doesn't mean that you should be shoving unprepared individuals into classrooms where the message is "Raise the scores, or find the door." That's just cruel, to both the teachers and the kids.

I'd rather They sat down with the current staff, discussed what they're seeing as problems (10:1 odds the teachers cite a rough neighborhood and a need for community resources as part of it!) and then work to fix the cause, not the symptom. Unfortunately, They don't do sense.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holidays with Autism

Holidays with autistic children can be rough. Anyone who's taken their screaming child out of a crowded family dinner, or avoided one entirely, knows this.

For those of us who work with autism, or have a relative with the diagnosis, knowing how to help can save a holiday get-together. And if you live with a child with autism, being able to control or avoid the worrisome meltdowns will make your holidays a little more cheerful.

The first tip, of course, is to know your child. If he/she doesn't do crowds, don't force them to come along to a large gathering. Invite a few family members or friends over at a different time, or arrange child care (there are babysitters who have the skills and experience to care for your child, though they may be hard to find) so that you can enjoy your family gathering.

If your child is ok with family members but can't handle a whole evening, ensure a quiet and calming place for him/her to go. Remember not to leave your child unsupervised in a strange place (this goes for all kids, autism or no), but also remember that other family members are there to help - and if you are that other family member, don't hesitate to step in and sit with the child for a while. Parents need a break sometimes, and having a supportive family can be the best holiday gift.

Preparing a child for the holidays is also a great way to reduce meltdowns. Practice greetings and read stories (social stories or children's books) about the holiday. Discuss expected behavior with both the child and the relatives. If a child is touch sensitive, remind relatives in advance so Aunt Sarah doesn't attempt her infamous bear hug. If they enjoy certain kinds of touch, like tickling or tight squeezes, tell relatives this as well. Arriving early is a good idea. Prepare foods for your child in advance or give recipes to the cook. If your child likes new foods it's ok to introduce one or two but now is not the time to be pushing a plate of ham and peas at a child who eats only chicken nuggets.

Be sure to provide your child with something to do at the gathering, too. Many children with autism do not play by themselves and even though children seem to enjoy self-stimulating behavior (rocking, flicking, head-banging, staring, squinting, and a host of other behaviors), it may actually be a habit that they can not break and no longer enjoy. It's better to prompt them through a couple of games with lots of praise and favorite treats than to assume they are having "fun" on their own. Even a fidget toy is a better alternative than nothing.

Which brings us to gifts: sometimes, buying the right gift for a person with autism is awkward. If you're buying, ask for suggestions. Sometimes a family could use autism-related materials like special clothing, toys or sensory devices. Other times, they may just want clothing made out of materials that won't irritate the child's skin. As a relative, don't insist on buying a gift that the child can't enjoy because "it's what normal kids play with", and avoid gimmicks related to "fixing" autism - they don't work, and they're insulting. As a parent, you can make it easier by developing a list far in advance, and updating with appropriate clothing sizes and a developmental range for toys as the holidays approach. Children may not have the skills (attention span, fine motor, ability to take turns, etc) to enjoy a toy aimed at their typical peers, so choose based on a developmental level, rather than age. That's not to say you can't buy a game that the child will need to work at, but be mindful of the challenge. And be mindful too of the child's ability to open gifts - you may want to simply use gift bags, or expect adults to do the unwrapping.

Not all kids will enjoy or even manage family gatherings. Never feel guilty if you know your child can't handle the holidays the way your relatives wish he could, and do not apologize for your child. Simply work on it for next year, with small steps, including giving the relatives plenty of warning.

If you are a relative, your main goal for a happy and relaxing holiday should be to educate yourself. Don't expect a child with autism to be a perfect guest even if he is high-functioning and generally well-behaved at home. Ask the parents or caregivers about triggers - things that may set a child off. Do your best to reduce them or provide a space without them. Have parents teach you how to deal with problem behaviors, and inform other family members so that you present a united front (this is good advice anyway; kids love to play adults off each other in order to get away with bad behaviors). Make sure there is food that the child can eat, or ask the parents to provide it. Inform any children coming that the autistic child is not "stupid" or "bad", but simply learns differently, and needs more patience to play with. And remember that rule yourself.

Don't exclude a family member with autism, or his/her parents, because you think it will be a "headache" or "too much work". By doing so, you are doing more than hurting feelings. You are denying family members the ability to enjoy the holidays the same way you do, and denying yourself the opportunity to get to know your autistic relative a little better, and provide a wide support network to help him/her improve. No child can improve his or her behavior without support from adults; why neglect the child who needs the most support of all?

Friday, November 20, 2009

NJ Center for What?

NJ Think Tank "The Center for Modeling Optimal Outcomes, LLC", a primarily business-oriented group of smart guys, claims to have stumbled upon a link between a glycine-based stabilizer used in the US version of the MMR vaccine and autism spectrum disorders. Their shortened press release is so carefully worded it's like a goddamn journalistic minefield; they never actually commit to a link, and are careful to insist that this is explained in lay terms and is actually very very complicated (try me - I bet I'd understand!). The longer .pdf linked on their site explains more clearly that the proposed link is only there because someone's pulling a lot of correlations together; no research has been done that wasn't published by someone else, and some of it was shaky to begin with. I quote:

"Based on Wakefield’s* hypothesis involving the MMR vaccine as a possible factor in the cause of today’s iteration of autism (but not all of the disorders with ASD), [the company founder] decided to look carefully at the MMR vaccine as well as others.

...Since 1979 the MMR vaccine has contained hydrolyzed gelatin as a stabilizer. This fact may seem unrelated to the problem of autism unless the process of hydrolyzation is understood (i.e. concentration) and the fact that gelatin is a substance high in levels of glycine (approximately 21%).

In lay terms, the glycine is concentrated in this form of the gelatin, so presumably other kinds of gelatin have lower concentrations. Glycine seems to be related to glutamic acid (monosodium glutamate), which is a common food additive. I'm not sure exactly why the chemical makeup of glycine is thought to cause more problems than glutamate, because I'm not a biochemist; I think we can safely assume that since they are in the same family, it would make sense to investigate all of them.

Quote continues:
Is the addition of gelatin to the MMR vaccine in 1979 (US patent 4,147,722 of April 3, 1979) merely coincidental with the increase in the rate of autism soon thereafter? Has the addition of hydrolyzed gelatin to some chicken pox vaccines compounded the problem? The challenges for the medical research community are now clear! Do certain classes of cells absorb substances? If so, the entire science of toxicology will change. If the homeostasis of certain classes of cells associated with bodily functions are disrupted, could the outcome be autism[?]; i.e. the inability of some cells to absorb the critical substances necessary for the brain and
body to function normally? Can a substantial imbalance between glutamate - gelatin/glycine cause autism by slowing or stopping the ability of certain cells to absorb substances in the brain and elsewhere in the body?"

Note the bold - they're not even sure that disrupted homeostasis causes autism (or if it's even correlated, if I'm reading that right). This is yet another unfounded leap. I'm not bashing unfounded leaps - they got us things like the chicken pox vaccine and penicillin, and an uninformed outside observer sees things the educated among us may miss. Still, it's a leap of faith to trust this connection at this point - it'd be like claiming faith in the single steel wire they use to run a suspension bridge cable, before the cable or decking have been put in place. It might hold weight, but it's not well supported.

In fact, nowhere does the release state that The Center is sure of this connection or that it is a single cause of autism:
"Applying The Center’s model for homeostasis of the body’s substances uncovered a few startling facts. First, several imbalances/disruptions in bodily processes appeared to be variables that contribute to autism. It became obvious that these variables have to occur concurrently for a “perfect storm” to cause the disorder. Simply, there was no one cause behind autism."

Simply, the fact that there is no one cause means that even if the hydrolized gelatin in the MMR vaccine turns out to be one single trigger, we may spend decades searching for the next half-dozen links which cause this "perfect storm", and in the meantime, someone is going to be blowing the single link we have out of proportion. One blogger for Autism awareness has already taken it and run with the title "Vaccines Cause Autism!". Seriously? This kind of sensationalism is damaging to the community and especially to already-scared parents who are looking to blame anyone and anything they can on the sudden disappearance of the child they thought they had. Let it go, dude. Vaccines cause immunity. Some unknown inability to process the outside world and/or respond to it in reliable ways causes autism, and denying your child an immunity to a trio of very serious and very real diseases because of some shady circuitous reasoning is stupid at best and possibly inhumane.

*Wakefield's hypothesis has been relatively well trounced since it came out, and is unpopular among many autism caregivers and doctors because it has caused a hole in immunity to MMR, which opens a lot of innocent kids up to serious health risks - these diseases are not gone, folks. They're only rare in developed countries because we vaccinate. See the Wiki entry's "Recent Studies" list for more information.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What is the cost of living with Autism?

On my Google news feed, an article series popped up regarding Autism specialty schools in New Jersey.
This is the latest in the series, but all are linked if you're curious.

The school, named the Garden School, had to fight for state approval just to stay open, and with good reason - it costs $70-80,000 per year, per child for one-on-one ABA-based education. (For those who don't know, Applied Behavioral Analysis is the only study-proven behavioral intervention method for autism spectrum diagnoses, although half a dozen others are well recommended, and are often used in combination, especially when teachers aren't specifically trained in one method).

The article was friendly and had great pictures of the twins they followed, and the school seems to have been successful thus far but I had a shock when I got to the end. One anonymous commenter asked:

"And it costs the taxpayers exactly how much to spend a dozen years to teach one of these children to sweep a floor, or empty a garbage can, or even just to sit still for five minutes?

How many normal students could be put thru medical school for that same money?

Can't p**ss money away fast enough."

So, "blogbat999". Better question: How much does it save the taxpayers to educate these children in basic life skills now, instead of paying for lifelong (70+ years) care? Someone later mentioned that cost of education was "$864,000.00, plus transportation costs." I won't count the transportation costs, because they're a fact of life for everyone with a kid and they're built into any school's budget.

Regardless of the veracity of that number, I guarantee you 12-20 years of early intervention and ABA training will cost you far less than paying for the next 50 years of welfare, disability, and state-run group care homes. This is especially the case in states like PA where Act 62 promises to make regular insurance companies pay for wraparound services (what I do is covered under wraparound). For the money-oriented, that means that taxpayers will no longer be paying so much through MH/MR and state-sponsored insurance for these kids to get the care they need (or that more kids can get the same care as before, with less taxpayer funding per child). Instead, the private insurance companies, which are businesses which have pockets far deeper than our poor state, will pick up the slack and provide a certain amount of care. On the other hand, some families may end up with a co-pay or need to apply for Medicaid to cover the rest; we will see how well things actually work.

Run the numbers any way you like; early intervention and intensive childhood care pay off as a long term investment. This is especially true for less severe cases, where early intervention can lead to a child having a successful job and living outside the home on their own, paying taxes and bills into the system and generally being useful, instead of living with parents on disability pay or being shuffled to a group care home after their parents die - or worse, developing behaviors that can end lives . Ever heard "too little, too late"? It applies to autism very well. The less and later intensive, consistent care is given, the harder it is to change behaviors and make progress. There is no reason for any parent to suffer abuse at the hands of their child, no reason for any child to be hospitalized or jailed (and run up more bills for you loving taxpayers!) when they can be diagnosed early, treated early and improve before they get too big to control.

Note that the commenter, as usual, didn't specify what to do with the kids who are currently going to the school, either. Most of them can not be mainstreamed; they'd be put into special ed classrooms or, if they're lucky, "life skills" classrooms where they'll spend the next 12 years of their academic careers in understaffed classrooms with overworked aides and one teacher (vs the one-on-one the private school can offer), where their progress won't be tracked as cleanly, their needs won't be met as consistently and they'll often be shoved into mainstream classrooms long before they're actually ready, which will strain the special ed room even further as they push aides into the classrooms with these kids to deal with the "problems" that crop up. And do you think the schools, when faced with such an influx of children from these private institutions, will simply sit back and go "ok, we need to re-balance the budget"? In your dreams, guys. More special needs students means more school funding, which comes out of... oh, hey! Your pockets. You're paying for it either way, people.

But of course; it's all about the money NOW. Never mind that an $80,000 investment in your child's future isn't really that much when you consider we pay most sports stars more than that for 30 minutes of play time when some of them have fewer skills than the average autistic kid I work with, and you're paying THAT out of pocket too if you subscribe to cable or FIOS TV, buy tickets to the game, or pay taxes which fund new sports fields. The only difference is that taxes are money we can't choose what to do with; in this case I'd much rather my portion of the state's fat pie go toward education in all its forms than to paying for a new stadium. Wouldn't you?

P.S. I'd also like to note that I find it interesting that this person equates "normal" students with med school (see Temple Grandin, who worked herself through a Ph.D), and thinks it's a fair comparison between a chosen profession and an unasked-for diagnosis, and all the costs that come with each. Please keep in mind that you can churn out all the doctors you want, but until someone finds a "cure" for autism (and I doubt many people would accept a cure anyway), you're still going to have at least 1 in 150 citizens of the United States diagnosed with autism this year (and next, and next... and the numbers keep going up!). Chances are, someone you know already has a child, sibling, or relative with the diagnosis... and they're not getting the support they need because so many of us don't want to "waste" our money. Think about that next time you whine about your taxes. Then go vote for someone who will handle the budget properly, and get your kids the education they so very much deserve.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Watching the Clouds

Wordle: A Teacher's Blog

This is a map of as seen by Wordle. It's pretty cool. The link was found on the NaNoWriMo forums, and I'm pretty interested in how it presents blocks of text as visuals. It certainly gives you a good idea of what I blog about on a daily basis, eh? Books, school and kids all come up fairly often! Maybe I ought to toss in a political entry just to mix things up. ;)

Read Animal Farm today (finally). More thoughts on that later, if I find the time. Right now, gotta take the puppy out for play!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

An Open Letter to The Richmond High School Rape Witnesses

Dear witnesses,

You disgust me. You really do. The entire news story disgusts me; rape is never ok and no one ever deserves it or asks for it, but the ones I blame even more than the perpetrators of the crime are you: the witnesses.

How could you stand by and let this happen? The news says there were at least ten of you. Ten people, standing or sitting nearby, seeing what was going on... or did you turn your heads? Did you pretend it wasn't happening? Did you watch with that same horrified fascination that presents itself at the scenes of brutal car crashes and burning homes? I understand that group psychology dictates that everyone in the group is predisposed to think that someone else will take responsibility. I was taught that the Kitty Genovese murder was allowed to take place because of a psychological blind spot which allowed every single witness to believe honestly and truly that someone else was calling 911. And knowing that, all of that psychological bullshit still doesn't excuse YOU. Any of you. All of you. You all sat back and waited for someone else to act first. None of you took responsibility and stepped forward.

You must have been scared. You must have been angry or uncomfortable or felt unsafe. But what did you do about it? You waited for someone else to save your asses, and hers. Now you have to live with the sickness that should rightly come with helping something like this happen. You have to go to sleep every night with the knowledge that you failed to stop a beautiful young woman from losing her self, her entire sense of safety within her own body and mind... and that a single word could have made a difference. You have to wake up every morning with a sense of personal failure - and you SHOULD. Every last one of you should learn to take responsibility for yourselves; you need to learn to step forward and speak up for your own safety. You could be next, regardless of your age, sex, or orientation. You could be the victim of another act of senseless violence, and what do you think you will feel like when you see 10 more faces staring at you, silent and watching as the crime takes place?

Think about that next time you walk by one of the rapists, or a fellow witness. Think about it, and feel disgusting, because you are. You are slime, and screaming for more lights, cameras and security fences will never protect you from yourselves. Only taking responsibility for your own safety and using your own voice can keep you safe. Maybe once you've figured out how to stand up and say something, instead of blindly hoping someone else will take care of it, you'll also figure out how to forgive yourselves.


The blogger who, from now on, is going to make even more of an effort to live responsibly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Countdown to NaNoWriMo!

National Novel Writing Month is coming!

Join us on a 30-day trip through your own imagination. Leave the dishes undone for a few more hours and get someone else to sort the socks and feed the cat. You know you want to write that novel "some day", and November 1st is the day to sit down and start typing, writing, or dictating your masterpiece. Set the inner editor aside and let the words flow!

Click the image or the link above to visit the NaNoWriMo site and find out what this awesome venture is all about and sign up for yourself. If you do, you'll find me there and in the IRC chat (available on the site or at #nanowrimo) as MossAngel. Good luck, future Wrimos!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Home Gardening Strikes Again!

In case you're wondering whether your tiny square of grass will make a difference in the way you eat... this is the harvest I got out of my garden this afternoon. Not included: 2+ lbs of beans previously harvested, the rest of the lettuce bed and one potential pea pod. I chose to pull it all in today because two nights ago we got a frost that killed my bean plants and nipped the potato... and we're low on groceries. The carrots, lettuce and (surprisingly) the two pea vines did ok through the frost, although I doubt the peas will flower before the next cold snap.

Here are my garden specs this year:
Planted: Mid-August
Crops sown: Spinach, sugar snap peas, green bush beans, lettuce, chives, carrots, potato (planted later than the rest - found going to seed in a WalMart bag and stuck in a hill on a whim).
Crops harvested: 2+lbs bush beans, loads of lettuce, pan full of baby taters, 5 carrots (plus 3 more too small to pull).
Hours invested: Approx. 10, not counting random runs to grab a bean/lettuce head and pull 3 or 4 weeds. Includes tearing up entire 14x14' back yard, fertilizing, raking, planting, watering, weeding, and current state of winter prep (tilling weeds into soil and mulching, 1/4 done).

Problems I ran into: the seeds I used were just not up to the challenge. Peas took 3 plantings before some came up. Chives and spinach never showed up at all. Carrots sprouted after I had given up on them, and one ended up in the lettuce bed somehow. For 2 year old improperly stored seeds that I just happened to have on hand, the beans and lettuce came up amazingly well and the whimsical potato planting gave at least a fourfold investment in volume compared to the seed tater - not bad for a short growing season! The bean rows did terminate in an anthill, though - something I ignored when I tilled and planted. I learned my lesson and sacrificed two whole plants plus the beans off another one to the ants.

Improvements: Better bed planning (removing the anthill, putting the carrots in the sandy area at the back, etc) and utilization of space. Getting a big washtub to use for compost at the back of the garden. Adding a proper path through the beds, proactive weed removal (mulch!) and more fertilizer! I'd also like to make it look prettier next year with some nicer row markers and plant cages... but that's something to worry about come January. :D

Looking forward to getting things all done for winter, and very glad I "bothered" planting something this year. It may not have been worth the 10 hours of labor in monetary terms, but you couldn't pay me enough to give up the satisfaction of eating my own produce.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pittsburgh Welcomes the World? Bah.

G20 is starting (has started?) today. El presidente is supposed to be arriving as of a few minutes ago, if I heard right. The news radio stations are a flurry of critiques and snarky comments and Pittsburgh business hates that the entire area around the convention center where G20 meetings will be held is closed off, barricaded and guarded and everyone's lost business and money from the deal. That's not even going into the issues we're having with traffic, what with stopping it on the parkways to let delegates come rolling through the empty streets in their heavily-armored motorcades, half the downtown blocked off and several major throughways being re-routed around the city. It's a nasty mess and honestly, I'm pessimistic about the entire thing, but then I haven't been connected enough to educate myself about what's going on past listening to the radio when I can (10-minute snatches in the car)... so I can't really comment other than to report the unease that everyone else seems to be feeling, and note that the large noisy 'birds' passing by every few hours with binoculars almost certainly aimed at the area below are making me nervous, too.

The mayor has apparently declared a state of emergency as well, the effect of which is to increase police power during the summit and to limit the rights of protesters including the right to open carry a firearm without a carry permit (normally, open carry does not require a permit of any kind - only concealed carry requires the License to Carry Firearms). This means that anyone caught openly carrying a weapon without their LCTF is likely to be hauled away to the jail with the several hundred protesters who have been stuck into cells and the rather upset prisoners rousted from said cells to live in the jail gymnasiums until the summit's over. Did I mention it's a mess down here? But that's politics for ya...

In happier news, I saw two deer yesterday morning while driving to work. Came around the corner of the street that lets out of our little neighborhood, and there they were on the side of the road, looking wide-eyed and utterly confused at the amount of morning traffic, while we stared back at them equally wide-eyed at the closeness of nature. I'm 5 minutes walking distance from a major road through the South Hills and it's amazing to me still that there's a full hillside of grapevine and second-growth forest to block the noise and the exhaust fumes from the houses up here, plus deer, rabbits, groundhogs and other interesting critters wandering the brushy hills.

I think what's kept Pittsburgh green is its lack of flat space. Most cities built near water are on floodplains, from what I've seen; they naturally use every bit of ground available to them. Here where there are cliffs and steep hillsides along the three rivers and where they had to build two incline railways just to move miners and steel workers from their hilltop homes to the industry at the banks, there is still a lot of green space that has been built over, under, and around but not through. It's as though the city isn't so big after all, until you crest a hill and the illusion vanishes in the glitter of a thousand windows staring back at you from the hills. Pittsburgh is a pretty city.

In other news, Mystra the puppy (did I mention we got a lab/retriever/something else mix puppy?) is doing well. She's finally figured out how to bark and we have retaliated by telling her "good speak!" and then shutting her up by handing her a treat and praising her for being quiet. She's picking up on it fast - I hope that by next week she'll know both "speak" and "quiet" to add to sit, lay down, come, potty (only outside - she hasn't had an accident yet today!), and stay (although stay is difficult. Try asking your toddler to sit still some time!). She is also very friendly and our biggest challenge with her is getting her to recognize that not all new people want to have a puppy diving at their legs. She doesn't like to be dragged away from new friends and thinks that everyone loves her!

Lots of fun, lots of running around. My schedule was messed up due to some lack of paperwork last week on the part of the insurance company, but it's back to normal this week and I only lost a few hours so I'm not crying - yet. We'll see how much I have left over after next week's paycheck goes to rent and bills. We haven't turned the gas on since the only thing that uses it is the heat and water heater - pitcher showers with water heated on the stove work pretty well! Honestly, I'm glad we didn't have to pay gas the first few weeks here. It's allowed me to put a little bit more money toward buying things like blinds for the windows. Soon we'll be working on curtains as well! Things are coming together nicely - pictures coming soon!

That's about it - we're using Rick's phone and the tethering service that he's been paying for so that we can connect to the internet at home, but I'm going to make a library run at some point this week to return a few books and pick up some more reading. I'll say one thing - not having 'net at home has really improved my reading habits!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Stuff of Interest

Newsweek has an interesting article about children and race perception, if you have time for a read. It's definitely worth noting that NOT talking about race (or hair color, or gender, or anything else) allows a child to form a bias against those of other races as part of a natural psychological need to categorize people and to form a group in which they feel safe and accepted. Kids gravitate toward those they feel will share their views and opinions (much as adults do) and they are likely to separate each other using the most prominent physical characteristics when they are young, which can lead to a lifetime of unspoken separatist attitudes.

In other news I shot the groundhog (with a BB!) today. He was only nibbling weeds, but I'm not about to let him get cozy in my garden, and Rick thoughtfully left the bb gun by the window. The pudgy critter jumped about a foot in the air when I popped him in the side, and then headed for the shed like the devil was behind him. It made me giggle, but I'm sure it's only a temporary fix. If I could fire the .22 within city limits I'd have aimed for his fat head, but as it is, the BB gun packs a good sting and will make him think twice till I can go digging under the shed and block off his hole.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Walked to the library today to save the quarters for the laundromat instead of feeding a meter. It's a gorgeous day, and I enjoyed it. I might stop for ice cream on the way back, since my paycheck was a little more than I expected it to be (hooray!).

Kitten (I've forgotten to update about her! Oh no!) is doing well at nearly 4 months old and is free of the ear mites that had taken over her darling little ears when we first got her. I've been watching all of the cats closely to make sure no reinfestation took place - so far so good! They're all overjoyed by the couch and spent the morning curled in various positions on and around it and me as I finished off another book. I'm going through this library entirely too fast, but I love having books so close, and I'm trying to catch up on my reading before November, when I'll be deep in work and writing. NaNo is coming again!

The library is full of characters as always. Maybe if I hang out here enough this winter I'll start typing out stories about them, because things are always funnier if shared.

Off to get something tasty for lunch and enjoy my Friday before work! :)


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Busy, busy, busy!

Ok, time to put my fast typing fingers to work, since I've slacked off on blogging till my computer timer says 12 minutes left! Still no 'net at home (of course) - my paychecks are only this week getting caught up to the 15-hour weeks I've been working for the last 3, and I'll be up to 32 or so as of next week (Hooray!). Next month they'll catch up to the 30-hour weeks and I'll actually be making enough to pay that nagging student loan that I defaulted on last month. The office handed me a case with a darling little boy who is one of quadruplets, so I've been told I'll be there as part of a TEAM of TSS's; we each have an assigned kiddo but it'll be good to have backup! I'm excited to get the extra hours and hope that the case is as fun as it sounds (they usually are).

Gardening is going well. I found 5 or 6 teeny tiny carrots sprouting after I'd given up on the entire bed; I don't know if the rest were dud seeds (they were old) or if they just didn't like the weather. Two of my second-planting peas have come up as well. I guess I'll have to content myself with a meager pea harvest this year and try new seeds in the spring.

I also found out what's been digging holes under the fence in the garden - a FAT groundhog. I had thought that whatever it was had been scared off after last week's discovery of holes in the pea bed (which is right against the fence) but I went out this morning to investigate the appearance of 3 more holes (none of which made it all the way under - the other side is paved in large chunks of rock) and as I was scrutinizing the unknown critter's handiwork I happened to glance up... right into the eyes of a very large and very content groundhog. He hurried under the shed as soon as he heard me say "You bastard!", but now that I know what he is, I'm going after him. Anyone know how to set up an effective snare? I want groundhog stew, and this one's big enough to give us stew meat for a month.

Jeep continues to be dead. Rick replaced the starter, and it's not the issue. The engine still clunks and won't turn over. Most likely it'll need an engine replacement but we can't afford to get it towed to a garage just yet so it sits.

Got our couch (half of it, anyway) on Wednesday. Rick went north to see his grandmother after news that she got a good offer on the house and she'll be moving soon. He borrowed her van and brought her down for the evening; we got the couch set up and had a great dinner and a nice visit. She's found a cute apartment near us and her daughter so we'll all be within range for holiday visits and random stopping-by. He's back up today, bringing her home again and cleaning out his old room.

It will be good to have family closer than New York, even if it's not technically my side of the family. I miss everyone back home but no one seems to have time to come visit, and I can't afford time off work yet. Hopefully with the addition of more hours to my schedule I'll earn enough paid time off to take a holiday break. I'm debating the offer of a Saturday client as well, but pending more information I don't think I'm going to take it. 30+ hours a week is good enough for me, at least for now. I'm waiting for a library position to open up, but failing that I think I'll try for a few hours tutoring each week, instead of taking more clients. Variety is the spice of life, after all!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Update #3

Well, we got power on Monday afternoon (the truck was there by the time we got back from the library) and so now we have a fridge, although no gas for hot water yet. My job is going very well; the little boy likes me and is easy to work with although he gets distracted easily so I have to think fast between activities. We spend at least 15 minutes every day outside, which is great fun.

My garden is sprouting, in other news! I checked yesterday morning and the chives, spinach, and lettuce have all sent up sprouts and this morning I counted 3 big fat bean sprouts pushing up through the dirt as well. I'm terribly excited by it all, and encouraged by the big, thriving gardens in some of the neighbors' yards. I like our neighborhood, especially how close it is to everything (30 minutes of walking will get you to a dozen bus stops and almost as many pizza places, a shopping center, the library, and a street full of assorted local shops). We walked up to the library today, which was very nice although it's a bit toasty out there!

In worse news, the Jeep remains dead. We now think it's the engine, which means lots of pain (and money) to test/replace. We took both the battery and the alternator to the local Advance to have them tested and neither seems to be the problem. For now the Jeep is immobile, and the bike is wrecked (again) due to an idiot in an SUV... as if I needed more reasons to hate those lumbering pieces of junk. Rick was out yesterday taking a jacket back to his old employer when a woman cut him off at a merge point, tapped the motorcycle and threw him off. He scraped up his arm and leg pretty nicely... he says he didn't hit his head but I'm glad he was wearing the helmet anyway. She then proceeded to ask if he was ok and drove off when he said yes. The insurance won't cover the damage to the bike and since we don't know HER info we can't put a claim through to her insurance either. Thankfully it's not "serious" - the exhaust just needs to be put back on and the frame bent back into place - but it's just one more more thing to deal with when we're very low on resources.

Ah well. I want to end on a positive note! We're healthy, we've got a roof that doesn't leak, we have cheap shopping (Salvation Army Superstore for clothes, Aldi and WalMart for groceries and home goods) nearby, I like my job and the garden's coming along... life is going pretty well, all things considered.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Powerless update #2

Lots to do, lots to do. 4 hours on Thursday and 2 on Friday of weeding, hoeing, raking, hauling 160lbs of humus/manure (which barely covered my beds... sigh!), planting and watering... but the garden is finally in! I'm sore from my thumbs to my calves, but it's going to be worth it when I can make a salad from my own veggies. I planted beans, peas, carrots, lettuce and spinach, and scattered some chives in the back by the shed. Now I'm crossing my fingers and watching for sprouts impatiently.

Even without power we're doing ok. Rick figured out a great way to make tea involving a small oil diffuser (the kind where you set a pan of scented oil on top, with a tealight on the bottom) and a metal cup. With a taller candle the water gets plenty warm for tea or individual cups of coffee! I'll get a picture of it some time, so you can see the genius of it. Considering I always thought the diffusers were pretty useless, I'm glad we have one now.

Not much else to say for now. Back at the library updating, of course. Today is a market day and the street's lined with little stands selling jewelry, arts and crafts, and neat trinkets. My wallet is thankfully empty, or I'd be dragging home more stuff! There's also a 5k walk/run today, which if I had found out about sooner I'd be interested in doing; as it stands I'm so sore from gardening that I don't think I'll bother. There might be another one or two before it gets too cold, so I figure I'll keep exercising and do the next one.

The Jeep broke down on the highway Wednesday night (I think it was Wednesday) so we ended up getting it towed all the way into Pittsburgh and dropped in front of the house... turns out it's probably the alternator, which will be a $160 fix. Much better than our fears of engine replacement, though. Rick will get working on it soon, I'm sure. The Jeep is the only vehicle we have that's high enough to back into our hillside parking spot without scraping on the curb all the way down, so that spot is empty and with 3 vehicles on the street it's awfully crowded. We have to make sure that the garbage truck can get around everything on Tuesday, or the landlord says they'll be lazy and just skip the house.

Plenty to say but there are a lot of people waiting for computers here so I'm going to finish checking e-mail and log off. :) If you want more news, give us a call! My phone has a pretty good battery life and we'll be going out to Rick's aunt's house this weekend most likely so we can charge everything again. Ah, the joys of nearby relatives from whom to mooch!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Quick Library Update

Well, here's a very quick update! I'm on the library computers, which give you a brisk 45 minutes per login session to get things done, so no long rants for Dawn! The good news is that I found the library, and it's a nice walk from the house to here.

We're moved in with all our stuff (some of which I feel like we should have jettisoned, after having dragged it all into vehicles, out of vehicles, and up and down the stairs. Ugh! We're sorting things out at the house. The electrical inspector will be here this afternoon to check the wiring and then hopefully will get his backside over to the power company ASAP so we can have power - they said we'd get it turned on the day after they got the OK from him. He would've been here yesterday but the landlord didn't call until we had left for Indiana for our last bunch of stuff, and left the doors locked behind us. Oops! We also have to get a gas meter put in on our side of the house as it's nonexistent but we're not as worried about the gas as we are about just having LIGHTS. The furnace and the water heater are gas but I can deal with cold showers for a few days...

I have work, too! The office here has need of more people (yay!) and with my schedule being totally open (at least until I go looking for a library job), I was immediately dropped into a position 15 hours a week in the evenings. I'm thrilled since 15 hours will pay the rent, if not much else, and I'll have more soon - once school starts, since I'm one of the only TSS's without college classes, I'll have daytime work as well. :)

Overall, doing well. Going to try to get some garden work done this afternoon, since I have beans, peas, lettuce and spinach to try to get in and growing before the frost hits, and the "garden" is covered in weeds and is very sandy. If we're lucky we'll get a decent crop out of the tiny chunk of backyard that isn't covered in deck! I'm excited to do anything at all in actual earth instead of pots, although I brought a few pots anyway, since I figure if I can keep the cats off them I might be able to get a late-season tomato started outside and bring it in for the winter, or something. I even have a new hoe to play with, now that I have more than 2sq ft of space to dig in! :D

So there's the update - no power or heat yet, but we have water and I have work (actually, I have orientation at the office in an hour, so I should sign off and walk home!). Will update again in a few days when we have some idea what we're doing with our internet, since the house is only wired for phone right now (no cable?! Oh no!) and we're going to discuss the cost/work with the landlord of wiring the place for cable, at least in the living room/first floor, so we can dive back under the heavy hands of Comcast and its high-speed connections instead of struggling with dial-up. What can we say, we're spoiled!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Moving on...

This upcoming week will be our last in town. We're moving to the Big City, to (hopefully) get better jobs, expand our cultural horizons and avoid the rent hikes that cut painfully into our budget the last 2 years. We're paying less for more space at the new duplex, but it still feels weird letting go of this little cramped apartment. We've been here 3 years, and this will be my first time living in a town with a population of more than 15,000 - Pittsburgh's population is somewhere over 300,000. Naturally, I'm a little apprehensive.

I'm not worried about violence - our current home is statistically less violent than Pittsburgh, but it only has 1/3 the property crimes, and for a town this size, that's a LOT of vandalized cars and broken-in doors, not to mention the issues we have had during popular holidays and especially around Homecoming. I'm more worried about getting lost, both physically and metaphorically. I've been frantically looking up the locations of needed services (doctor, stores, bus stops, my new office) and then double and triple-checking them on the map, looking at distances and running through Google Streetview until I feel less nervous about walking to the library or the mall, but Google Maps doesn't work well as an inner compass. Pittsburgh is farther from most of my friends (who I already don't see much) and I don't have any real hobbies to get me out of the house to meet new people. In an unsurprising spiral effect, not meeting new people will keep me at home even more. I am an introvert at heart, but even introverts need company sometimes and it's nice to have more than one shoulder to lean on.

Since we're changing our address I feel the need to make other changes, too - start a garden in our tiny new yard, start working out again, pick up a new hobby (I was looking at dance classes), change careers, maybe work on grad school applications one more time. Unfortunately, I feel stuck. I'm still too worried about my bank balance, my job, and my health (I need to see a dentist desperately but we just can't afford it, and I should probably check in with a specialist about my 3-month-long sinus infection). All the stress isn't doing anything for my ability to concentrate, let alone stick to another long-term commitment like exercise or grad school. And I know part of me is saying that all I need to achieve my higher goals is just start working on them and believe they'll happen, but another part is screaming at me that I'm being impatient and starting things too soon and that I should sit back and let life figure out where it's going with me, instead of the other way 'round.

For now I'm content to sit back and let life move us along to a new place... we'll see where it goes from there.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Grrr, Argh.

The last few weeks seem to have brought intense frustration down upon my head, and I'm reacting with the usual amount of stress and snapping at everything. Every plan we make seems to fall apart like a house of cards, and I can't take it.

For instance: My loan forbearance application went through to AES, and they sent me back a paper with a list of loans for which the forbearance was granted. They neglected to tell me that 2 of my loans, including one Stafford loan and one "alternate" private loan, weren't included. Why they left out my Stafford loan is beyond me, although the alternate loan makes sense. What gets me is that 1) They never told me I still had loans to pay off this month, and 2) They've got the nerve to call my account delinquent for their lack of communication. I don't have the money anyway, which is why I applied in the first place... so the account will have to remain delinquent until such time as I start making enough to pay. It's yet another stressor, and I wish that it would go away.

The wedding, of course, is a huge source of stress. Mostly, it's stressful because we're (possibly?) getting married on the 16th and we don't know what's going on yet. Rick's schedule changes on a daily basis, or so it seems... his supervisors can't find their ass with both hands and can't give him even a rough idea of when he'll be working that week, so we aren't sure he'll even be here to go sign the paperwork. Mom's not coming down, which means less stress as far as performances go, but more because now I feel guilty for chasing her off. Still, we can't exactly promise a wedding on the 16th when we're not even sure one of us will be free to do it. Then there's the issue of an officiant. PA supposedly allows self-uniting marriages, in which there does not need to be an officiant; originally they were offered to those religious groups who had no ordained spiritual leader, such as the Amish and the Quakers, but a State Supreme Court ruling in '07 decided that a couple whose secular beliefs led them to apply for a self-uniting marriage should be awarded the certificate. When we asked, the clerk said they don't even stock those applications because "no one ever asks for them", and we were later told that unless we were Quaker, we couldn't have one. Which is it? Are there none to have, or we just can't have one? Either way, it's frustrating because now we are searching frantically for an officiant who won't attempt to crack open a bible and drone at us when all we want them for is a signature. PA won't recognize internet-ordained ministers either (they demand that the officiant hold regular services with a congregation!), so I can't even ask my stepfather to perform the honors. I'm PISSED about it, and I'm frustrated that so many things are getting in our way.

So yeah. Financial issues, time issues, and the house we were so excited about renting... isn't ours yet. Apparently the wife didn't know that her husband wanted us to fill out a rental application first, and so she waited 4 days and needed an email from me before sending it to us. Grrrr...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We found a house!

Those of you who know us know that we've been planning to move toward Pittsburgh to ease up the long drives that my fiance has to do for work, as well as to get out of our increasingly expensive apartment and find somewhere a little more... private. We're frankly sick of having neighbors above us, below us, and around us. I'm also sick of not having grass and a garden.

Previously, I'd run a few searches in the Pittsburgh Tribune and Craigslist (To the guy who started it: THANK YOU!), but hadn't turned up much of interest. There were about 3 places out of the 40 or so I initially looked at that fit all our requirements: Allowed pets (without an extra monthly fee), had enough parking/a space for Rick to work on the cars, had enough space, and was under our current rent. I posted a Housing Wanted ad on Craigslist myself, just in case.

About a month ago a very nice woman answered my ad, saying that she had a 1-bedroom house for rent, and although it took us nearly a month to get back to her, she called last night saying she hadn't rented it yet and would we like to come look. Turns out she was holding out for us to see it before she posted it in the paper, and we loved it.

The house doesn't look like much, and it's adjacent to an alley, but there's parking for our vehicles, a small patch of grass, and a little Japanese maple tree in the fenced-in yard. The interior has a wood floor in the living room, ceramic tile in the kitchen and bath, and a full basement newly painted and sealed (so it's dry!) with a work bench and laundry area. There's also a little square of dirt outside that the landlady said used to have hedges, which are since gone (except the stumps). When I asked about a garden she was thrilled - so veggies will be going in outside the kitchen window next spring! I might be able to even coax a crop of lettuce and spinach out of it this year, if the frost holds off. It's small, maybe 5x7, but it's already weed-free and edged!

We poked around, stuck our heads in everywhere, exclaimed over the workbench and the wood floors, and generally decided that we like it. It's small, but it's cozy, and at $200 less than we're paying now, plus privacy, how can we say no? As I told Rick - "I feel like we're moving up in the world. We have a patch of grass!". Next step - something with a barn.

Monday, June 29, 2009

More thoughts on Education.

Someone on Facebook posted a link to yet another news article detailing the excruciating battle between Christian Values and Scientific Learning that is taking place in school science classrooms. Expressing frustration with the fact that yet another class of children is going to be put through Creationism as a theory while ignoring all the other possible creation myths out there. She claims that she's going to put her kids in private school and supplement their education at home to work around this. I said "Homeschool, duh!".

Someone else claims that public school will be just fine for their kid, with parental involvement tacked on the side after the public school day to make sure they actually learn something. That got me thinking, because that's what my father tried to do with us for years.

The problem with putting very bright, home-educated children into an environment like most public schools is that they are incredibly likely to suffer for it at the hands of both teachers (who are statistically the underachievers of their own past high school classes - what does it say that your kid's teacher probably has a lower SAT score than he will?) and kids (who are either jealous or distrustful of a child who knows so much more than they do and prefers learning over making fart jokes). In some ways, having a parent who is active in your academic life either in or out of the classroom is a dividing factor, especially in days when many children are raised by the TV. Even if they claim happiness with this method, there can be no doubt that many of them desire more attention from the two most important people in their life, and realize that in some way when they react poorly to students who show signs of a strong parental bond.

I know - I was one of those kids. By high school, the system had crushed my love of education pretty badly, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones. The educational system is not only failing our underachieving youth; it's failing the overachievers.

With the exception of a few star pupils who are reading so far above grade level that their parents enroll them in college successfully at 10 years old (and make the national news doing it), most "gifted" kids never find the recognition and challenges they desire in public school. I know I was reading at an 8th grade level (coincidentally, the level that most newspapers write at, and the level at which most kids stop learning) when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. I only know this because my parents bothered telling me. No one at the school, that I am aware of(although this could be due to a fuzzy memory - in those years I was reading so much that I lived half my day in a fantasy world of one sort or another), ever told me that I was smarter than the rest of the class. I wasn't placed in any advanced classes, given harder material, differentiated at all from the others. One of my clearest memories of fourth grade is reading Hatchet in reading circle and being so frustrated with the pace that others were reading at that I wanted to blurt out every word they stumbled on, which was most of them. The teacher told us to follow along, but I couldn't make myself read that slowly, so I half-listened to parts I had read 10 minutes ago being sounded out by the slow readers while I flipped ahead. Inevitably I'd be caught and chastised for reading ahead, as the teacher would skip around the circle instead of following an order, presumably to 'catch' poor students who would otherwise attempt to predict their reading passage and pre-read it several times instead of listening to the story. She never did seem to catch the poor readers (they were right in front of her, stumbling over words like 'assumption' and 'porcupine').

It got worse from there, but after my parents split and I stopped getting so many impromptu engineering lessons from dad, my head start faltered and I ended up in the top percentile of my class instead of high above it. I have no doubt that with the right combination of teacher support, parental challenges and financial aid I could have gone to college a few years early, but no one in the educational system wanted to realize that, and my bet is that they didn't like the thought of pulling their student funding until I had been thoroughly wrung dry by the system and they could graduate me "on time". Consider this: The school districts spent an average of $7000 per pupil to educate us in the '99-00 school year [1]. Considering that lovely sum, why would a school remove a student (and therefore, the student's $7k or more in funding) for early placement in a higher grade when they can continue sucking money out of taxpayers and government?

Teachers really don't help; students seem to despise peers who achieve better than they do. I had friends, but mostly I had competition. By fourth grade it was clear that some of use were "smarter" than the others, and our small group competed within itself for the honor of highest grades and most teacher praise. I remember being especially envious of one boy whose father had helped him with a civil war project. Mine was a clay figure of Abraham Lincoln holding a tiny, painstakingly copied Gettysburg Address in his little clay hands. Mom couldn't find modeling clay so it was the cheap Crayola clay, and it fell apart quickly. The boy (who I also had a crush on) had a plywood board painted as a battlefield, complete with plastic hills and two opposing armies of blue and grey toy soldiers. It was a masterpiece of elementary school projects and I hated him for it. But back to the point - the other kids hated all of us "smart" kids. So we tried our best to stay quiet and not achieve too much, lest we be tormented mercilessly (I bet those kids didn't even know how to SAY merciless at that point!) by the peers who were either jealous of our success or hurt by it.

In a school situation like that it's not hard to see why I'd prefer my children, if I have them, to be homeschooled. I know that even if I adopt, my kids are not going to fit in with the educational system by the time I'm done with them, and I don't want them to. The schools have failed us, and I want them to know this. I don't blame parents who want to send their kids to a better school because they don't think they can homeschool a child. Not everyone is a teacher, and not everyone has the time and energy to play teacher to a bright and curious child. However, I don't think we should be giving bad schools any more support than is legally necessary (keep payin' your taxes, folks), and in fact I think we should protest every board meeting that goes by without improving the situation in our schools... if more of our children were getting a proper education, and not just shoved into boxlike rooms and told to behave for 6 hours a day, I think a lot of our other "problems" would start to fix themselves... but that's another post

1. Gross, Martin L. Conspiracy of Ignorance, The. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. Back to post

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tales from the Library

For those of you who haven't been stalking me lately, I've started to volunteer at the library two days a week, shelving books. It's a great way to spend 2 hours a day, although that goes really quickly when you're trying to shelve a cartful of children's literature. Kids' books are always first priority because they're the library's most popular item and there's almost always a lot of them to re-shelve.

Of course, when working anywhere there are people, there will be fun stories. Today I found a lot of interesting bits in books. Someone left a note saying "hi" on one of the shelves upstairs, for starters. Not terribly exciting, but there's always the little mystery of who left the mundane notes one finds, and for whom?

In the children's cart I didn't find much of interest other than a book that was mildly sticky (watermelon and books don't get along) and two falling out of their bindings (promptly handed over to be fixed. The poor books!). The adult section was full of wonders today, though. I found no less than 5 checkout slips (they're printed out every time you take out a book or pay a fine, as a reciept and to remind you when it's due, since our library doesn't use a card system any more). The slips have the library user's full name, the date and a list of their currently checked out works... paper trails that make it easy for a finder to make up stories about why they checked out that particular series of books. One girl had checked out the same book I just returned - Three Cups of Tea. I also found, in a time management book, someone's printed weekly schedule and handwritten notes regarding mailing out cards. Looks like the book wasn't as useful as they hoped, since they must have been in a hurry to return it!

The best find, though, was an envelope which fell out of the back of one of the nonfiction books. It said "Sorry, Dad was in the hospital. Hope this covers the fee!". It was a mundane enough task to report it to the desk after a brief period of wonderment that someone would be so considerate as to put their late fee in an envelope before using the night drop box, (and that the librarians had missed it - apparently they don't check the books before putting them on the carts). Still, it was a neat sense of mystery to have to look up the nameless patron who had last checked it out and make sure that his late fee was labeled with his name so that the librarians could absolve him of the crime of returning a book late (one I often commit, I am ashamed to say). It was also a touching reminder that library patrons are not nameless and faceless, despite the fact that as shelvers we are far removed from the act of choosing the book or returning it and will likely never know who took out Jane Austen's complete works. I really hope that patron's dad is ok.

So overall, it was an interesting day at the library. I really like it there.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Well, I -was- feeling pretty good...

It's hard to feel poor when you have 6 meals' worth of turkey soup and homemade bread (albeit a bit overdone) sitting in the kitchen... until you remember the electric bill for making all of it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thoughts on Weddings

It's funny how things can change. When I was a little girl I wanted the fairy-tale wedding that I think all of us dream of at least once: the white horses, the gilt carriage, the gleaming cathedral and a spectacular, shimmering, seed-pearl-embroidered gown. I didn't bother thinking about the cost; as a child anything was possible. I hung on to that idea of marriage for a while mostly because I hadn't been faced with serious thoughts about it, so I had no reason to accumulate more useful ideas or opinions on the subject, other than some mild amusement at the thought of $99 Vegas weddings.

When I got to college and was informally introduced to the big wide world, I met a bunch of people - married, engaged, and life partners - who pointed out that there were a great deal more ways to get married than the traditional Christian ceremonies. I cataloged them, fell in love with the idea of handfasting for a while, and then went back to wanting the white dress. The fairy-tale ideal wedding got cut down a little bit, but I still expected something really pretty - a park with an arbor draped in flowers, a gorgeous dress, and rose petals strewn on the grass.

When I got engaged, I started planning. I still wanted a park for the ceremony. I had ideas about a simple dress (I even had one picked out), the right color scheme, a proper set of bridesmaids (I asked them, too). Two or three months in, as my mother was trying to get me to call her local florist and I was researching the cost of catering, I did one last Google search and threw the fairy-tale out the window, realizing once and for all that the cost of flinging even cheap artificial rose petals onto the grass of the town park was absurdly out of our price range. I still have the red cardstock that I was going to use for the invitations (I might still make a few, just to see, and send them out more as keepsakes than anything else), but so far that's all I've spent on the wedding - about $20 in card stock, silver paint markers, stamps and embossing powder. Even a "proper" DIY wedding is out of reach, with my work hours dropping and student loans due.

So we're getting married at the courthouse. He has a black button-down shirt and I have a natural linen halter dress I bought in Mexico. We're not having a reception, though if friends can make it we'll probably go out to dinner. I'll be paying maybe $30 for sandals and a strapless bra, plus the cost of a daisy bouquet from Wal-Mart (unless I can find them growing wild). That, plus the license and officiant's fees, is all I plan on paying for this wedding. I'm even debating on the necessity of rings, since the reputable shops are expensive even for plain silver.

In a way it actually feels a lot better not to be worrying about catering and seating charts. I've been thinking about it and tonight I found a new way of looking at the whole thing. "Traditional" weddings are absurd because the bride is relying on hundreds of strangers and acquaintances from the dress shop to the catering company, all to enjoy one single day which they insist isn't supposed to be about the dress and the food in the first place. I've never been good with strangers anyway; I can't imagine the stress it would have caused to force myself to depend on a dozen of them for every detail of my wedding, and then have to tip them all for it afterward when I could have done things myself. Instead, I'm sitting here after a good dinner with a short list of things to buy for myself and not stressed at all. I can invite a few people to share our ceremony and enjoy my day with the knowledge that I won't have to worry about the photographer showing up late.

Oh, and if you'd like to show up, we're still planning on July 16, probably early afternoon. We'll update if anything changes.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

It's funny...

I know on some level that hatred is a pretty useless emotion, and I know that I have a lot of things to improve in my own life before I go nitpicking at someone else's decisions, and I know that Jesus said "love they neighbor" and "turn the other cheek"... but I still hate everyone who was involved in the current auto company "situation", alongside the others I've come to blame for our current economy and the slow loss of our rights and our dreams. It's hard not to, when every day is news like this:

Chrysler isn't paying back its initial bailout loans, and the Treasury Dept. is sitting back and saying (And I quote): "While we do not expect a recovery of these funds, we are comfortable that in the totality of the arrangement, the Treasury and the American taxpayer are being fairly compensated". Canada isn't even getting their money back. How's that for foreign policy?



I'm sorry, but the auto industry shouldn't have had any bailouts at all. Screw the unions, screw the workers, screw everyone who has struggled to keep the "Big 3" from biting the dust a decade ago. It was their idiocy and their greed that got them to this point and I see no reason I nor anyone else uninvolved in this circus should pay for their mistakes. Let the employees bail out the company if they love it so much and want it to survive. Let all the people who are screaming about supporting AMERICA! (when these companies have as much overseas business, if not more, as they do here, and Honda is manufacturing cars almost wholly in the US now) go ahead and whip another few billion out of their pockets. Otherwise, let them all fall and let them all suffer, because if I'm going to have to default on my paltry $40k in loans due to the economic "downturn" and I'm going to get chased down for every damn cent, the jackasses in charge of Chrysler, AIG, General Motors, Ford, and Fannie/Freddie had better be suffering the same fate for every cent of taxpayer "loan" they can't repay plus interest.

I am one of probably millions of people who are struggling to pay the bills every month. I fulfilled my education with a promise from Them (businesses, my school, the government which loaned me the cost of my tuition, my mother, and many of my classmates, teachers, and friends) that I should and would be able to pay it back, if not make piles of money, upon leaving school. Maybe I should've seen it coming 5 years ago when I applied to these colleges; maybe it's my fault that I got so deep into debt just as the economy tanked, for the sake of a bit of paper that says I dealt with 4 more years of academic bullshit. But I'm still bitter that everyone else was parading around with their heads up their collective asses, pretending that everything was still fine, and letting thousands of students and young families work their way into debt with cars and mortgages and high-cost colleges, thinking that we'd all be able to pay it off soon, and taking our credit cards and offering us MORE, because hey, why worry about credit risks?

I like to be responsible for myself. I like the idea that I could be self-reliant, and not have to depend on loan forgiveness. I want to be honorable and pay back every cent I borrowed, although I'd skip on the interest if AES would let me. But when every large company I can name is getting bailouts left and right from the government for making a mistake big enough to bring down the entire economy when they actually fall (and fall they should, and would if we didn't stop handing them crutches), I have to wonder: Where's my bailout?

And if I don't get any help, I who am supposedly the spirit of our great nation, a well-educated young woman looking to better the world around me, willing to work, eager to help, and proud of my freedoms... what does that say about how much They value people like me?

I wanted to own land some day. I wanted an actual garden, not a bunch of wilted plants in containers on a second-story porch. I wanted to be able to put a little bit into savings, to own more than a ten-year-old bicycle and a couple of books, to have an apple orchard and a horse and a house that I helped build. So you'll excuse me if I'm a little bitter when I've ended up working 20 hours a week from a badly insulated apartment, trying to find a place we can afford to live this fall, and struggling to keep our services turned on, pay the rent, and avoid the creditors all at once, while Chrysler is taking part of my paycheck to cover its ass without so much as a thank-you. So I hate them, furiously and helplessly. And by hate, I mean I have wished upon them various and terrible things, but mostly that they all suffer at the hands of a market that won't take them back when they lose their jobs and their houses and their company cars, and that they end up in a squallid concrete-block basement apartment somewhere in Detroit, and have to live with the fact that they put themselves (and the rest of us) there, and that they won't be eligible for help. I admit I want them to die unhappy, and I ought to feel bad for that, but right now I can't say I feel anything more than a bitter satisfaction at the prospect. Misery loves company, and I'm pretty damn miserable right now.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Cat Who Made Trouble*

Hear and attend and listen, O Best Beloved, and I shall tell you a story about another Cat, only this one was not so wild and wily as the first, but in spite of that he made a great deal more trouble for his People. He was a shadowy stripey little cat with a round little belly that he was quite proud of, and little grey pit-pat paws with claws in them ever so sharp, and a wild and waving tail which appeared to be quite all that was left of his ancestor from the wild woods. We shall call the man who fed him Man, and we shall call the woman who petted him Woman, and do not believe that they did not have names, Best Beloved, but it is only that the Cat, who was not so wild and wily but awfully stripey and shadowy and round about his furry little tummy, did not particularly care what their names were, so long as he was fed and petted. And they all lived together in a small 'partment, which was rather like a house only colder and more cramped.

The Cat, for he was a true cat, took it upon himself to make Trouble occasionally, to remind Man and Woman that he was still a Cat That Walked By Himself, and 'specially that all places were alike to him, including the table and the countertops and the birdcage and the desks and that warm spot on top of the kitchen cabinets, and as I am sure you can guess, O Best Beloved, that vexed the Woman and the Man terribly. For he was also a Cat of 'satiable curiosity (rather like the Elephant's Child) and he asked ever so many questions, one of which was: "Can I go there?", which he asked with his little pit-pat paws and a trilling meow like a little babbling brook and to which the answer was usually "No", and another which was "Will you feed me now?", which he said in his loudest and most protesting meow. Man and Woman did not speak Cat, of course, for this was no longer the time when animals and people all speak alike and when everyone could understand each other. But they knew what he meant, all the same, and he knew that they knew, and if they did not get up and feed him when he asked, he would get out his 'satiable curiosity and go wandering and waving his wild tail in the 'partment till he found a suitable place to make Trouble by getting into Things (which means, Best Beloved, that he would poke his little pit-pat paws where they weren't supposed to be, and make messes, and ask ever so many questions), and there he would go - up on the table or the desks or the bed where Man and Woman slept and snorted and snored and he would ready his little grey pit-pat paws. He left his claws retracted, Best Beloved, because he knew better than to claw up the furniture or the People. THAT would have gotten him put out on his wild waving tail, and no more food! And when he had ready his little grey paws and had sat on Man's chest and had purred in Woman's ear, for those were ways he had of getting them out of bed, then he would tap-tap-tap just so with one paw on Woman's face, and meow in his loud and protesting meow: "Will you feed me now?". And Man would roll over and Woman would pull the covers over her ears and they would both go back to sleep, and the Cat would go to find another place to make Trouble, waving his wild tail and complaining about his empty dish.

Then he would get up - on the desk or the dresser or the counter, where there were many nice Things that the Man and Woman had gotten, and he would plan and plot and ready his little pit-pat paws. And when they were ready he would tap-tap-tap just so on the boxes or candles or papers and they would fall to the floor just so: THUD! CRASH! And Man would wave a newspaper at him, and Woman would snap her fingers and say "DOWN" in her most you're-in-trouble voice that she saved all tucked in her throat for really serious occasions. And when the Cat had listened (for if he did not listen he would be out on his wild waving tail, and no more food!) the Woman would clean up the mess and go back to her work and the Man would go back to his reading because the Cat had only just been fed and they didn't see why he should be hungry, but the Cat would find another place to make Trouble all the same. It mattered less to him when he had been fed, only his bowl was empty, that was the main thing. So you see, Best Beloved, why Man and Woman would be vexed, at all the Trouble the Cat made for wanting food. But that is what Cats do, and they do it well.

Often when the Cat made Trouble Man would say to Woman, "Did you feed him today?", and Woman would say to Man "How many times has he eaten?", and the Cat would say "It doesn't matter, my bowl is empty. How am I to stay shadowy and stripey and ever so round about the tummy if there isn't any food?" And they would sigh and shake their heads at him and say "It would do you good to lose some weight anyway!" but they didn't really mean it, because they liked his little round tummy. So the Man and the Woman made a deal with the Cat, which was this: He would have to be good and be quiet and leave them to sleep when they liked, else they would be awfully cranky and yell more than usual at the Cat, and throw things as First Man threatened to do. And they, seeing that he was good and quiet and had left them to sleep, would feed him and pet him when he wanted. So the Cat would be quiet for a while, but when he had had enough of being quiet and good, and it was nearly time for Woman to wake up, and his bowl was not yet filled, he would go and threaten to make Trouble again and wake her up anyway, and vex her terribly and she would be cranky. And someone would feed him eventually, for that is what People who care about their Cats do, when the bowl is empty and it's been hours since lunchtime, but the Cat still made Trouble, for that is what Cats do to remind us they are Cats That Walk By Themselves, and that all places are alike to them - 'specially the ones we don't like them being in.

*Can you tell what I've been reading lately?
Author's Note: Yes, the Cat did wake me up in the middle of a nap by getting into Things (by which I mean knocking them all onto the floor) on my desk again.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Here goes nothing.

Added a "Donate" button. As soon as I find a better, fee-free way to give me money I'll put that up as well. Obviously checks or money orders work, if you know my address.

Putting this button up is an acknowledgment that we just aren't going to make it on our own. My debt could have bought me a small house already, and it will take a lot of work to get free of it. I'm not begging, and if I had anything to give back other than words of gratitude, I'd offer it. As it stands we are struggling with a lot of things including some very uncharitable neighbors, and I thought maybe seeing a few cents trickle in here and there would help me keep my head up and my eyes forward.

Here's hoping all of us can keep working toward the future.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Look out, World!

Apparently knowledge beyond how to use a current M$ desktop environment is dangerous these days. At least, if you're a college student in Boston. I'd pray that the ignorance shown by this group of uniformed thugs doesn't extend to other areas, but previous anecdotes from friends and associates online have proven the point already. Watch who you brag about your new Linux box to...

Also, for those of you who use Blogger, you'll notice a new little tab/link named "Monetize" has gone up! I haven't logged in for a few weeks so this may be old news, but I'm mildly amused by the sales pitch going on here. Google gets a fair share of revenue from its advertising partners, I assume, and it's only natural to want to enhance their chances of getting even more exposure (and entice the good users of Google's fine products to make a few cents on the side), but why would I ruin my layout with ads whose content I can't control, and bother my few loyal readers with stuff they don't need? If I want to make money via my blog, I'll put up an unobtrusive "Donate" button like so many other people do. Heck, I might even use Google Checkout to do it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Look what I made!

My latest swashbuckling kitchen adventure involved the ever-fascinating rising yeast and its companions, the sweet but sneaky cane sugar and the strange beast called flour! Pounding the combination into the table and heating it yielded some fantastic results, and this pirate came away with booty to share! Behold - the taming of the baking ingredients!

It's delicious, too. Not whole wheat, as we didn't have whole wheat flour, but for bleached flour it turned out well enough. The crust is deliciously crispy and the inside is soft and light and chewy. I did an egg wash over the tops, as suggested by a friend online, and the tops turned a gorgeous shiny golden brown. One loaf suffered some mild discoloration where it came into contact with a rust spot on my cheap bread pan (sadly, I only have one good glass one) but having spots in no way diminishes its edibility.

So far I've done bread and butter as a late-night snack (I started baking late, and the loaves came out rather close to midnight, but I couldn't resist cutting off the end and crunching happily through it), thick-sliced toast in the morning with jam, and another slice for dinner with turkey and mashed taters 'n onions. I suspect both loaves will be gone by Friday, but that just gives me an excuse to get some real whole wheat flour and do it again! Thanks for the recipe, dad. ^_^

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Help the Homeless

Just found this site and thought it was interesting. Some people see it as abusive or exploitation, but my honest opinion of any site that helps people get off the streets and makes sure they stay that way is a great thing, no matter what you call it. They've raised quite a bit of money so far and have put one man through a full detox and job training, and are on the road to helping two more, with plans to expand the program to multiple cities. Think it's worth it to Pimp This Bum?

In other news, I've been caught in the crossfire between parent and school on one of my cases. The school wants to kick me out entirely, and the mother wants me to stay there and is fighting tooth and nail with the school to keep me there. I'm with the mother - the school says they're overstaffed with me there and that they have complete control over what's going on and don't need me, despite the fact that they're not doing for the child what they say they are (and what they should be) even after 7 months of fighting with them over sensory breaks, PECS interventions and IEP goals.

My supervisor tells me this school is the worst in the district and I believe her; I'd never send my child there after having seen how they work. The worst part is that they're so passive-aggressive about it; they tell me nothing and ask me nothing directly, and then send letters to the insurance rep stating that the child "seems irritable" around me on top of me being a third wheel in the classroom. It's not that it's personal; any TSS would be a thorn in their side... but now that they've opened up this can of worms, I'm going to take great pride in watching this child's mother remove him to another school next year... because I don't mind having to move to a new client if my hours get dropped, but I worry about the child and how much he's being ignored in that classroom. No kid deserves to be the victim of a school system that thinks it's too good for advice from outside.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Procrastination Station - The train will leave.... eventually!

I'm rather frustrated with myself today.

I hate paperwork. This is no surprise, really. I've never liked bureaucratic measures of self-reflection and my progress notes are as bad as they come. As much as I understand the need to keep records of such things as a child's progress within the system, it's painful to be spending 3-6 hours per week of my unpaid at-home time doing so, especially with my habits of procrastination.

Take today, for example. I tried staying up late last night, thinking that numbing myself into brain-deadness with lack of sleep would help, but all it did was make me less able to focus, and I've been having tons of trouble focusing on anything already these last few weeks.

Then I tried getting up really early after very little sleep in an attempt to just force it all to be done before the deadline (which was this morning), but I felt like I was coming down with the flu this morning, slept 2 hours past my alarm, and dragged myself up at 5:30 only to get a text message from my client's mother telling me he's still sick and won't be in school. I tried to shrug that off and finish the paperwork anyway, but having been let off the hook for the entire day, I gave up after two attempts at sitting down and crawled miserably back into bed where I've been all morning.

This afternoon I tried again. I really did. I cleared off my desk yesterday so my paperwork is all on there nice and neat and surrounded by clean desk instead of piles of distractions. My computer is still in need of repairs so I don't have to worry about sitting there and staring at that little Firefox logo on the screen. I put my iPod on random and turned it to the perfect background noise volume to drown out Rick's little snores (because he worked 2pm-7am) and made sure I was warm enough and had food and tea.

And then I sat there, finished calculating my hours on my timesheet, put a header on a progress note and stared at the black LCD on my desk and wondered whether I should go get a cloth with water or alcohol to clean off the fingerprints on it, and decided to come over to the living room to blog about it.

It's not that I have no willpower. I managed to get the dishes done yesterday, did the laundry, cleaned the litterbox, and spent about two hours on and off cleaning my desk and filing the resulting piles of paperwork, as unpleasant as that was (some of it had been there since March of last year, when I had my little upheaval and gave up on everything), but I only wrote out two notes (that's about 7 minutes of work) all day, despite not having anything else to do because my client that afternoon called off too. It's just that when it comes to this damned paperwork, it gets harder and harder to force myself to do it every week to the point that I find myself actively searching for other things to keep me busy just so that I have an excuse for not doing it. It's not hard, per se, and it only takes about 15 minutes per sheet, but I just can't sit down and do even one sheet at a time, even with taking breaks or rewarding myself (rewards are their own problem because all I want is to get away from the paperwork. Food doesn't help, media is too distracting, craft projects are hard to put down halfway through to go back to work).

I know I should just sit myself down and DO IT, but my frustration level is getting really high just thinking about it. I suppose I should at least try, before I end up doing it tomorrow morning at 4am.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

What's Cookin'

We're not exactly rolling in money especially since my student loans came due, but thanks to Uncle Sam we were eating enough, most of the time. My biggest struggle has been finding food that is quick and easy to make, but keeps well because I have 3 days a week where I'm home for 10 minutes in the afternoon after a 6 hour day at school, and want to eat before I run back out the door for another 3-4 hours. Usually this results in Ramen being used as a stopgap meal till I can get home for a proper dinner. Well, today I found out that we've lost our gov't subsidized meals (aw, shucks) and I finally got fed up... and made enough to feed both of us all week!

We had a ~20lb turkey sitting in the fridge thawing all last week, waiting for a roaster pan (and waiting for me, apparently, because Rick isn't a turkey fan and wanted suggestions). We don't have a roaster pan and our largest baking dish is too small for a large turkey. What to do?

What I did was get up enough motivation to play butcher, which was both amusing and educational (ever had to find a turkey's shoulder joint and cut through the ligaments to separate it?). We thankfully have the right kitchen knives for this task, and none of the blood spilled all over the table was mine (for once - remember kids: always cut away from yourself when using a sharp knife!). In the end, the carnage was complete - the turkey's chest cavity was halved and re-stacked with potatoes and carrots and green onion inside and around him in our little baking pan, and he was buttered up and tucked in the oven (it's going on 4.5 hours now - he's almost done and juicy as can be!). Drumsticks (both thighs and shoulders) were ziploc'd and re-frozen for later meals. The wings, the neck, and all the innards were dropped in the crock pot with another potato and carrot, some water, seasonings and about a cup of black bean broth from the beans I'd been simmering all morning in a fruitless attempt to soften them (the few beans that made it into the crock pot with the broth did soften up, so there's hope for the rest!).

When I came back from 2 hours at work, the house smelled like heaven. Now I've got several servings of crock-pot stew to freeze for later, and another couple servings of turkey and veggies to serve over rice or with biscuits and turkey gravy from the pan, or what-have-you, and I'm more pleased than the cat who ate the canary.

I guess there's really something to say for this buying and cooking in bulk thing (although the turkey was a Christmas gift from Rick's company, so it was technically free). I used:

2 old potatoes
2 old carrots
a handful of old green onions (peeled and diced, threw out the wilted tops)
Spices (pepper, salt, paprika, onion powder, oregano on the baked turkey and sage and a bay leaf in the crock pot)
A free christmas turkey

...and I got enough to feed our family of 2 for at least a week's worth of lunches and dinners, with a little more left over (still 1 carrot and 2 potatoes left - thinking of stuff'd baked potatoes later this week).

Rick's been experimenting with bannock, too, which is a terribly heavy flatbread and so quick and cheap to make that we'll eat well even without any money for food... which is good, because while we're making too much money for assistance programs, we're still not sure where our food money is going to come from. But hey - as long as we can make do with homemade bread, rice, black beans, and the leftovers from our turkey, we'll eat for another month, and probably much healthier than the neighbors!

Saturday, February 14, 2009


While link-surfing tonight and educating myself on the psychological signs and effects of panic, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of interesting stuff; if I wanted to I could be up all night reading, and pondering, and researching just for kicks.

Three articles on (by Malcom Gladwell, journalist and author of "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking - a 2005 NYT Bestseller which I sadly haven't read) caught my eye tonight, all along the same lines - success; notably, how to predict it. Most Likely to Succeed, Late Bloomers, and The Uses of Adversity are all fascinating looks into what makes success, and why our methods for picking out potentially successful people may not always work - especially in certain fields. Teaching is apparently one of those (who'd have guessed? *cough*).

Late Bloomers thoroughly explores the stereotype that genius is destined to be recognized in youth, with examples like Robert Frost, who published nearly half his great works after the age of 40... and compares the kind of slow, perfectionist, directionless learning practiced by older "masters" of an art with the fast-paced, goal-oriented, immediate results of young genius. I place myself firmly in the former category both with relief and regret - I have always felt like I wasn't living up to my potential and wondered if I could have been a smashing success by now, but it feels good to know that I might still have time to work out the kinks in my presentation.

Adversity ties nicely in with that theory of late blooming, telling us that sometimes, it takes an outsider to scramble one's way up to the top and stay there, as opposed to the well-cushioned, well-bred and well-intentioned Yale grads who make it there and then fall off the pinnacle, much to the surprise of those around them.

And I'll leave you with a few quotes from Most Likely to Succeed, because Mr. Gladwell sums it up in a better manner than I can, even if he is verbose about it:

"Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year's worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half's worth of material. That difference amounts to a year's worth of learning in a single year.

...many reformers have come to the conclusion that nothing matters more than finding people with the potential to be great teachers. But there's a hitch: no one knows what a person with the potential to be a great teacher looks like.

...Educational-reform efforts typically start with a push for higher standards for teachers—that is, for the academic and cognitive requirements for entering the profession to be as stiff as possible.

... A group of researchers—Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard's school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress—have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master's degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom."

...Perhaps no profession has taken the implications of the quarterback problem more seriously than the financial-advice field, and the experience of financial advisers is a useful guide to what could happen in teaching as well. There are no formal qualifications for entering the field except a college degree. Financial-services firms don't look for only the best students, or require graduate degrees or specify a list of prerequisites. No one knows beforehand what makes a high-performing financial adviser different from a low-performing one...

...Ed Deutschlander, the co-president of North Star Resource Group, in Minneapolis, says that last year his firm interviewed about a thousand people, and found forty-nine it liked, a ratio of twenty interviewees to one candidate.

...Deutschlander interviews a thousand people to find ten advisers. He spends large amounts of money to figure out who has the particular mixture of abilities to do the job. "Between hard and soft costs," he says, "most firms sink between a hundred thousand dollars and two hundred and fifty thousand dollars on someone in their first three or four years," and in most cases, of course, that investment comes to naught. But, if you were willing to make that kind of investment and show that kind of patience, you wound up with a truly high-performing financial adviser.

...What does it say about a society that it devotes more care and patience to the selection of those who handle its money than of those who handle its children?"

If you have the time, I suggest reading all 3 articles in their entirety - I'm going back for more.