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Archive for June, 2010

We have had a few days in a row where the weather looks dicey as it begins to form over the Twin Cities. Reports of flooding, high winds, hail, funnel clouds and even tornadoes have come in from the National Weather Service. These weather patterns have just popped up and stalled over the Twin Cities dumping rain for hours before moving on east.

No. I’m not a meteorologist. I would consider myself a weather enthusiast. Especially when it comes to weather “events” like storms or hail or blizzards. Mostly anything whirly and tornadic, though.

It all started when I was very young. We were living in a suburb of
Minneapolis and we had a big orange couch in front of the picture window in the living room. I liked to stand on the couch and look outside at the busy street and my mom’s big garden. One day, I told my mom to come and look outside and showed her a tornado in the sky. Since the rest of the sky was sunny, she told me that it was not a tornado. Any mom would have said the same thing. She went back to the dining room table where she was having coffee with her friends who had come to pick their kids up from our in-home daycare.

A few minutes later the sky turned green and a storm whipped up. I remember the radio screaming that anyone in the path of this storm should seek shelter in a basement immediately. That the storm was unexpected and had spawned a tornado.

I’m not sure if I actually saw a tornado that day or not. More likely maybe a funnel cloud. But I saw either saw something or it was the biggest freak coincidence in history.

This, I might add, is back in the day when the only time you were asked to seek shelter was during a real weather threat. Usually a tornado that had touched down or at the very least a funnel cloud that had begun to sneak ever so close to the ground. I remember dad outside standing on the picnic table searching the green skies for whirls and twirls and funnel clouds.

Since that day I showed mom a tornado in the clouds, I have been a weather watcher. Ok, my sister and my close friends would call it more of a major fear, but I consider it more of an interest.

But I am disappointed in the weather reporting of today, when sirens sound whenever a dark cloud appears. And people are urged to seek shelter at the first crack of thunder. Now, before you get yourselves all worked up thinking that I would like to see children doing rain dances in a lightening storm, I just want to ask you: what happened to common sense? To assessing a situation and determining what action to take based on your knowledge of weather events? To actually letting your kids dance in a lighteningless summer shower? Or puddle jump after the rain?

When I first moved here our city sounded the sirens whenever there was a severe storm in the county. This is one of the bigger counties in the state, so I definitely heard sirens go off whe there wasn’t even any rain or clouds in the sky. At least that has been revised.

But, have we become so dumb and dependent that we need the media to tell us that it is not safe to play out in a storm? I absolutely, fundamentally disagree with sounding tornado sirens for anything but a tornado or well-formed funnel cloud directly in the path of the city involved. Constant sounding of those sirens is like crying wolf and one day a tornado will strike without warning and people may lose their lives as they cast it off as an impending severe storm deciding to wait it out watching out the picture window, standing backwards on the big orange couch.

(Check out this link from You Tube for footage of the tornado. It was one of the first ever caught on tape from a traffic helicopter.
July 1986 tornado Brooklyn Park, MN )

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On Transitions

First of all sorry I haven’t written in a while. My sister and my little nephew are visiting from Canada and by the time we get our four kids through the day, clean and unscathed, get them in bed and clean up and get ready for the next day, it is late. And we are tired. And that is our only time to visit with each other!

But, for the past week or two, I have had a blog post rolling around in my head. I’m not sure if it’s even any good anymore but here goes! And since the baby is not sleeping tonight. I will type this with two fingers on my iPod at 2 am. 

Anyone who knows my baby J knows that he has been difficult, basically since birth. Well, since shortly before birth, but that’s another story. Recently he has shown some intrest and ability in walking. So, like any good parents, we set him up between mom and dad and helped him toddle back and forth. 

He also continues to be fussy and demanding and needy of my time and attention. I started to wonder what on earth I was doing wrong with this child. Big sister did not act like this. I began hoping that he would learn to walk so he could just follow me around and I wouldn’t have to carry him so much. A typical scene would look like this:
Mom tries to make muffins. Baby crawls over and pulls at her pant leg. Mom says hi and tells baby she is making muffins. Baby begins to whine, scream, throw his head back, tug harder, fuss, yell, etc. Mom picks up baby and continues making muffins one-handed. Baby squirms. Mom walks over to toy box, engages baby and ateempts to walk away. Baby notices. Repeat.

At some point from deep in the recesses of my brain, a thought sprang forth. More of a memory, really, of a workshop from Closing the Gap. Karen Kangas talks about transitions to and from an activity being as important as the activity itself. She applies this notion mostly to physically and/or cognitively impaired youngsters. Imagine yourself trapped in an uncooperative body. All around you at school teachers and aides flurry about preparing and teaching. You are listening to a lovely book on tape, one you particularly enjoy. Your teachers and aides are so good at knowing your interests! An aide approaches, turns off the tape and wheels your wheelchair up to another table, grabs your hand, places a glue bottle in it and begins to squeeze. It’s time for an art project, only no one really told you. You are still thinking about the book you were just reading. So the aide continues to work with you hand over hand to complete the project while you think about your book. There are about ten steps in the art project and by about step #8, you recognize you are at the art table and slightly squeeze your fingers on the glue bottle. The aide smiles at you and tells you that you have done a good job. Karen Kangas says that the art activity should start with the transition from reading a book to approaching the table. 

Think about it in your own life. When it is time to unload the dishwasher, do you just randomly end up in the kitchen with the dishwasher open and a plate in your hand? Not likely! More likely that unloading the dishwasher began with a thought while you were watching TV. You probably convinced yourself that you would wait until the commercial. When the next commercial comes on, you stand up and deliberately walk toward the dishwasher. And, as proof that transition is part of an activity, I’ll bet that you had your right hand outstretched toward the dishwasher door before you even got to the dishwasher. And, when you decided to do plates first? Your right hand takes on the “c” shape necessary to grab a plate before your hand even reaches it. 

I decided to apply these principles to my almost-walking, fussy demanding child. Instead of carrying him from activity to activity, I held his hands and helped him walk there. It has been magical. He started leading me to where he wants to go. Started being happier longer at an activity. Started getting stronger at walking. Started using his signs more to communicate. Smiled at his mom more. This made his mom smile at him more, too. And everyone knows: if mama is happier, everyone is happier. 

So think about transitions with your kids… and your grandparents. Take your time. Remember that the plan to do something is part of the actual doing.      

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I am taking a TRIBES training at work this week. TRIBES is kind of hard to describe in a sentence or two, but, in a sentence or two, it is a character education and community building process to use with groups of youth. TRIBES has a ton of neat little energizer and ice-breaker activities and helps an educator eventually put students into TRIBES within their learning community.

During part of one activity today called “Teaching Active Listening” we took the roles of speaker, listener and observer. The speaker spoke, the listener listened and the observer observed and reported on the interaction. While doing this activity, the speaker’s job was to describe their favorite room in their house. My mind immediately pictured my house and searched for a “favorite” room. I must say, I have a lot of rooms that I like in my house, but my favorite right now is my screen porch.

Our garage is set slightly forward from the house leaving a covered patio slab in the back. There is a door from the garage to the patio slab and a patio door entering the house. We do not have another door from the garage into the house. Our first project was to turn the covered patio slab into a screen porch which would act as a mudroom for shoes, coats, backpacks and the like. The screen porch has seen many cosmetic face-lifts since then, most recently while I was away for the weekend. My husband, oh-so industrious, arranged the furniture, brought out a small toy box with trinkets, set up an old coffee table and an area rug turning our “mud room” into an outdoor living room. The Little Cherubs LOVE it! They can go “outside” whenever they want and have new and different toys to play with. There is a coffee table to rest their toys on or use as a platform for building towers. The air is fresh. The view is nice. The baby is learning to use steps by climbing up and down the two steps that go out to the porch.

And, since a picture is worth 1,000 words, here is a picture for you to enjoy. Imagine the kids and I spending our summer days in this cool, breezy outdoor living room.

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I went to Valley Fair yesterday in the Twin Cities. I hate Valley Fair. This is not bad press for Valley Fair or anything, its fine for an amusement park. But as it turns out, I don’t like amusement parks.

I don’t like the lack of temperature control. I’m okay being too warm or too cold sometimes, but usually I can do something about it quite easily – add a layer, remove a layer, snuggle under Rodes*, go swimming, etc. But, at amusement parks, you’re stuck either being too warm or too cold or carting around various layers to add or remove when necessary. 

I don’t like being a turtle and carrying my day’s needs on my back… or in my hands… or in my pockets. The male 8th grade principal had nothing with him. Just himself and his wallet in his pocket. I don’t know why women, especially moms, find it necessary to carry one of everything “just in case.” I don’t like “just in case.”

I don’t like Pepsi, either. Thats all they have at Valley Fair is Pepsi. I’m a Coke girl. I brought my own Diet Coke and drank it in about 2 seconds at lunch time.

I don’t like over-priced food. $10 for a plate of chicken and rice with no drink? That is nuts. $5 for a souvenir cotton candy for my kids? I am not exaggerating, because it was actually $5.26. Insanity.

I don’t like the shady mid-way games. They give kids hope of winning a guitar by simply knocking over three cups with a wiffle ball attached to a gun. No one sites these guns in. There are no practice runs. Just $2 per shot and the over-confidence of thinking this game looks easy, while the adults know fully well that it is rigged to give away as few guitars as possible. Little eyes wander with envy toward the guitars bouncing around in the arms of the lucky few who beat the odds.

And, I don’t like (read: hate) standing in line. I think I get the idea of how kid with Autism might feel in certain social situations, with their senses overloaded and frustration mounting. I don’t like it when someone stands too close, or doesn’t move up, or isn’t paying attention, or doesn’t have enough money or know what they want before it is their turn. I don’t like when people bunch up at the front of the line so you can’t really tell how long it is or employees who continue to work out of one window when there is a 25 minute line outside. I don’t like it when people stand in line right across the main walkway so that you have people brushing past you to walk down the street or aisle. Don’t people know lines can bend? Really. They can. Form a line along the walkway, not across it.

And, finally, I don’t like amusement park rides. I don’t like heights or drops or speed in an unenclosed vessel. I don’t like feeling dizzy or out of control. I don’t like the suspense of not knowing what the ride will be like. I don’t like thrills.

But, my resentment toward amusement parks was dimmed by the fact that I got to watch some of my 8th graders overcome their fears of the rides and tame their anxieties to try something new. I got to hang out with my friend Shauna who has been teaching these kids for the last 3 years. I got to watch them learn to deal with disappointment from losing a game they were sure they could win, even though the children in line in front of them all lost. I got to watch them realize what their teachers had warned them about with the price of food and drinks and treats. I got to watch them learn the hidden curriculum of waiting in line, snaking around the gates and navigating the different seats and belts and safety latches. I got to watch the excitement and anticipation on their faces when they mounted the ride and hear their accounts of the thrilling adventure they had just taken when they exited the ride. I got to teach them not to make fun of the others if they didn’t want to try a “level 5” aggressive ride (because, really, I hate rides, so I could sympathize with the “chickens.”).  I got to watch them try to read the map to find their next ride and discuss (read: argue) about which way to go. I got to watch them appreciate an ice-cold root beer from their teacher for the long ride home. I got to experience something new with them. When I took their perspective – the excitement and thrill – versus mine – the dread and heat – I could see that the amusement park is certainly not torture for everyone! Thanks for a great day 8th graders!

*There will be a post about Rodes in the future. Stay tuned…

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On Logic

Overheard at the middle school: “I’m nobody. Nobody’s perfect. Therefore, I’m perfect.” Can’t argue with that logic!

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Today I need your help. As a continuing part of the series On Being Green, I want to talk about dirt, especially compost. Composting creates nutrient-rich humus that can be added to your backyard garden or potted plants. It retains moisture, and stays soft and airy.

Composting might be a bigger commitment than some of the my other tips. There are many resources on the web to help make composting easier. If you have a small city yard or no yard at all, manufactured compost bins may work well for you. Get your kids involved! Show them how their peels and scraps turn into black dirt. Or, if you’d rather, try vermicomposting -composting with worms. Let the kids feed their pet worms fruit and veggie scraps. Mmm! See Heidi’s recent blog post on Journey of Simplicity for more information about vermicomposting in your own home.

We used to “compost” via feeding scraps to our chickens, but since we don’t have those chickens anymore, we need to go back to more traditional methods. We have a small area of trees behind our grassy yard that we have simply piled clippings and leaves and let nature compost the pile. It does not compost as quickly as when you use more proper methods, but we have kept quite a large pile of compostable material out of the landfill. We also bury food scraps in the heap, especially during the summer. We have never “turned” the pile, but we have dug underneath the top layers to retrieve compost dirt for planting.

My friend Cara gave me a handy tip recently. She keeps a bucket in her freezer for food scraps so that she only needs to haul her food out once a week or so. Freezing it keeps the smell out of the house and also adds moisture to the pile.

Please share your tips and methods for composting. This is an area that I am not as familiar with because I just dump stuff in a pile all willy-nilly and wait for it to turn into dirt. I look to my readers to help enrich my knowledge on enriching soil.

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