Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Can we all just get along?"

     You may remember Rodney King, the man who was beaten by LA police officers back in  March of 1991.  The title of this post was a question he asked during the riots in LA that followed the court verdicts handed down to the police officers involved (all were acquitted).   This is not a post about race relations or an expose on the verdicts of an incident which happened more than 20 years ago.  It's a post about an experience I had "getting along" with someone in a situation where conflict could have easily been the outcome.  
     I evaluated a student whose family background is extremely diverse from my own in almost every way.  When preparing for the meeting with the parent of this student, the evidence of a particular special education exceptionality was very evident from the testing I had completed, and as I practiced my oral report, I sewed it up quite neatly, I thought.  I gave pertinent information but not too much, and reached a conclusion and that was that.
     My team teases me occasionally, that I'm sort of the "Nazi control freak" where it comes to where people sit in meetings.  I don't really care where most people sit, however, I always insist that I sit by the parent(s).  It's easier for me to show them graphs I've prepared, and it's easier for me to just visit with them about their student instead of giving a clinical report.  So at this particular meeting, I sat beside a mom whose life was one big struggle after another.  Before I met her, it was somewhat easy for me to be critical of the decisions that she made in parenting her children, but you know, sitting beside her, and looking her in the eye as we talked about her student helped me drop all the prejudices that I don't like admitting I have.  I began to view her as someone who simply was trying to survive in a gravely difficult environment and make the best decisions she could for her family - and no, it wasn't what I probably would have decided, but who knows?  I've not been in her situation.
     As we made eye contact and I shared with her about her student, she listened and she asked questions.  Her eyes filled with tears at times, and when I got to the point in the report where I discuss our recommendations, something happened.  Suddenly, the ramifications of the news I was delivering became real as I shared them with this real mom about her real student - and I felt the tears leaking out of my own eyes as my heart was overcome by compassion.  I apologized and forward we went with all the paperwork.  At the end of the meeting when we stood up to prepare to leave, I extended my hand to thank her for coming.  She looked at my hand and brushed it away.  Instead, she took a step forward and expressed her appreciation for what we had shared by giving me a big two armed hug.  Two women, standing in a meeting, as opposite as you can get in almost every way came together in a common purpose and there wasn't a dry eye to be seen.
     "Can we all just get along?" is a plea from a man who found himself thrust in the national spotlight by suffering a beating at the hands of law enforcement, but it's also something that we should strive for every single day.  It's difficult to accomplish that when people do not turn loose of old wounds, old hurts, prejudices, judgments and preconceived ideas.  But I'm here to tell you that it's not impossible.  And the results of seeing people as they really are is life changing.  If I haven't said it recently, I'm so thankful for my job.  What an opportunity for growth I have - I learn more than I'll ever teach.  My challenge for you this week - try to see people as they are, try to not let old notions cause you to judge unfairly, and be available for what God might want you to do in ministry in someone's life - even a 5 minute encounter can be an opportunity for you to stretch your thinking.    

Friday, September 19, 2014

Let's Just Calm Down

     I just got done reading a Facebook post from someone commenting about the school her child attends needing confirmation of a dentist appointment when her child missed part of a day.  The post went on to rant that students are no longer allowed to go to the office and call home when they need something, and also when this mom brought something to her school for her child, her child wasn't allowed to come up to the office from class and get it.  The federal government was blamed for these policies as well as "Obama".  She was angry and getting angrier about her "rights as a parent" being violated and schools becoming intrusive into her and her child's privacy.  She made the point that if she wants to come up and get her kid from school anytime for any reason she should be allowed to do that without 1.  telling the school why and 2.  it counting as a truancy on her student's record.
    Well.  As part of the "evil" public school domain, my answer to her would be that if she's so dissatisfied with these policies, she is always free to withdraw her child and enroll in a parochial school (who also have the same policies) or homeschool her child.  Yes, we have these policies in place and for good reasons.  In my building with 653 children, I cannot imagine what it would be like if children were allowed to go to the office and call home for non-emergency reasons.  And no, your child's instructional time is so very valuable to them (and we hope to you) that we do not want him/her to lose even 10 minutes to walk to the office to get a sweater that you brought them because it suddenly turned cold.  We do take truancy seriously and we are sorry that this affects parents whose children are NOT truant, but believe me, if this issue comes up, you would want the school to provide documentation of why your child wasn't there.  
     We do not intend to be "intrusive" with our policies but we do value the classroom time your child has in our building.  We do take care of your kids and believe it or not, most kids want to come to school - they enjoy learning and they like this structure in their day.  I have seen with my own eyes in some situations children who become almost morosely depressed on Fridays, and if you doubt that they don't want to come back on Mondays - stand at any school entrance on Monday and watch them come in.  
     So you do your job as a parent, and by the way, that includes not griping about our new ID scan policies in Wichita Public Schools and every locked door except the front one.  You DO want us to know who is in our building, don't you?  You DO want us to keep careful control of who we have around your children, don't you?  If you'll let us do that, we can work to provide a healthy fun atmosphere for learning and believe me, there's no greater joy for an educator.  There should be no greater joy for a parent to know that their child is learning, is enjoying school, is making friends, and is in a safe environment while doing so.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Writer's Block

     So I'm getting nagged to do a post - okay okay!  I looked back at my previous years of posts and my goodness, I've covered a variety of topics on here.  Some posts are not worth the computer screen they're written on, others are much better.  But nevertheless, writing must continue in some form or fashion.  I'm still toying with the idea of writing a book someday.  I do realize my 60th birthday is approaching, but hey - a lot of older people have accomplished much after 60.
     My 60th birthday.  I can't believe it.  On the inside I feel like I should be about 30.  Maybe 40.  But 60?  I remember when my mother turned 50 (I was 10) and then again when she turned 60.  It seemed like she was "old" - now look at me!  I'm "old"!
     So anyway, tomorrow starts the 5th week of school.  Already!  I am busy busy busy - lots of issues at my base building causing lots of work for me.  No day is ever the same when you're a school psychologist - and flexibility is the name of the game.
     I love fall and finally we are having some cooler weather.  Ready for pumpkins, hot cider, hoodies, and colored leaves.  Snow - now that's another issue.  There's a whole round of stuff on Facebook about how we will get more than normal snow this year.  Then somebody posted the weather forecast from the Farmer's Almanac which said we would get less snow.  Really?  What does it matter - what comes comes.  I'm getting ready to experience my 60th winter and I don't believe I have ever been able to have anything to do with controlling the amount of snow we either get or don't.
     Writer's block - that's me.  I just sit down here and see what comes out - most of the time it's drivel.  But it's thankful drivel!  So grateful for my family, my job, my home, my spouse - so thankful for the opportunity to worship as I choose, so glad to be able to enjoy the company of family and friends.  I'm singing the Messiah again - I believe this is the 4th year I've done this.  Loved it every season and am so glad I have the chance to take part in this community choir.  I'm especially blessed to see my son participating - it will be a great experience for him.
     Until later-

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Perfection

As I alluded to in my last blog post, a common "curse" of being a musician is the expectation that everything you play must be perfect, and anything less is a failing - and failings are many.  Fingers that don't land on the right keys - that's a big deal for a pianist.  Singers who hit wrong notes and sing wrong words - again, a failing.  When we go to an event or tune in to the Super Bowl though, don't we expect the singer to perform The Star Spangled Banner perfectly?  When they don't - our instant videos and communication with millions of people are quick to point out errors.  Just as likely, when it is well done - these performances remain YouTube classics (I am reminded of Whitney Houston's version of The Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl in 1991.  I just went back and listened to it again, and I will not fail to be moved by that soaring beautiful voice.)

The respect afforded a conductor such as Leonard Bernstein, or composers such as Aaron Copland is great - and to deliver a classically perfect performance is always the goal - and it is delivered most of the time to audiences who enthusiastically applaud.  At last year's performance of Handel's Messiah by the Wichita Chorale Society, one particular part of that great work was attempted by the choir, and miserably performed.  Those tenors just took off like a team of wild horses and you should have seen our maestro's face - he went from concern, to greatly concerned, to alarmed, to terrified, to resignation, then, as he delivered the final cutoff, a hint of a smile and a shake of the head as if to say, "Well, there ya go.  It is what it is."  But we survived, and I venture to say not many in the audience caught on.  However, we all knew.  That's the catch.

When I am thanked for an offertory, I now am able to graciously accept those thanks and move on.  Not so much in the past.  I would often reiterate missed notes or comment how I didn't play my best (which was often true).  But really - it dawned on me that thanks were given for a musical expression which allowed for worship, not for a perfect performance.

I'm not saying to not try your best, and to not practice, and to not prepare.  But I am saying, a missed note is a missed note is a missed note.  I had several today in playing the hymns for church and in playing the offertory.  And I always will.  But a part of me as a musician will always want to offer up the best I have for the Author and Creator of all things musical.

Psalm 103, which we studied in Sunday School is a wonderful psalm- read it if you haven't recently. My favorite verses from that psalm are 13 and 14 - "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust."   He knows how we are formed.  Think about that.  God understands that we can only offer the best we have, as imperfect as it is.

And so I go to a family reunion, and reunite with brothers and a sister who are gifted musicians.  And I offer my little gift of two Chopin pieces - as imperfect as I will play them, but I hope that they will bring something to the listeners.  Maybe an appreciation for Chopin?  In the 3 minutes I will play, I hope among the missed notes that a love for my family will flow and they will know how valuable they are to me.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Musical Notes

So today at breakfast, the spouse was discussing my somewhat unique family history in regard to music. All of us siblings played a musical instrument and we all took piano lessons, a true financial feat for our parents to accomplish considering that we were not a well-off farm family.  We didn't go hungry but we didn't have money for extras - however, in my parents' viewpoint, a musical education wasn't an "extra".  It was required, thus, my siblings and I are all musicians with varying degrees of skill and talent.

I am so thankful for this musical heritage.  It instilled in me a love of all kinds of music, from classical to jazz to rock, and, we attempted to pass this love and appreciation of all things musical to our children.

For myself, I enjoy playing the piano at church, but also, at home, I practice on my full-sized keyboard. One of the most favorite things I do for relaxation is play through a book of moderately skilled arrangements of Chopin's short works - preludes, mazurkas, and waltzes.  I'm also working on a piece called "Solace" by Scott Joplin - a slow-time rag featured in many movies - if you heard it, you'd know it.  I hope to play a couple of the short one page Chopin compositions for the talent night at the upcoming family reunion.  To play for my accomplished musical siblings is a big deal for me - they will know every misplaced note and every flub.  BUT, it's not about the mistakes for me.  It's about sharing something I think is beautiful with people I love, whether I play it perfectly or not.  More about that in the next blog post.

I told my spouse today that even at 61, I would almost give my left foot (because I pedal with my right) to be able to transpose as quickly and easily as musicians do.  It's a math skill - and I definitely am not math brained - whereas people like my youngest son can almost visualize the transposed notes before him on a staff and know instinctively what chord structures are needed.  If I transpose even the simplest of melodies at church, I write down chords because I cannot do it successfully without written text.  You know, my better half always has a way of bringing me to reality.  He said, at least you can HEAR the music you are creating.  Beethoven did not have that luxury, yet his genius allowed him to compose masterpieces which we appreciate today.

He's right.  I thought about Beethoven today - about the extraordinary genius which allowed him to hear full orchestral scores in his head and write those notes for instruments and chorus.  Imagine the 9th Symphony - perhaps the greatest piece ever composed, and the soaring melody of Ode to Joy, sung by choir and accompanied by orchestra - imagine that he never heard one note of this masterpiece.  Here on earth.  But I like to think that when he walked through heaven's gates, this music played by the heavenly orchestra and sung by the choir swirled around him and greeted him - in its most pure and perfect form, and for the first time, he heard it through perfect ears!  For him, it was truly an Ode to Joy!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Gardening

Hi all.  What a lovely day for an infrequent blog post!

Since school's been out, my days are spent outside in the yard.  Almost every morning I'm out there raking, pruning, weeding, and the hundred other things that one does when one enjoys this type of thing. Despite my efforts, however, the vegetable garden is not doing the best.  Early on, I battled (and this is no exaggeration) thousands of elm tree seedlings which sprang up overnight in almost every square inch of my flower and vegetable gardens.  I have pulled out them out by hand and still do not have them all.

Asparagus was a bust this year.  What little grew, I ate, and most of it right out there in the garden.  The green beans came up, but some sort of insect devoured the leaves and left stems.  I pulled them out.  The beets didn't come up very well, I have 5 beet plants.  The garden table my brother made for me which was supposed to support early veggies like lettuce and spinach - hardly anything came up and what did was stunted and shriveled.  I'm treating the tomatoes for fungus and the cucumbers for an insect infestation which has damaged lots of leaves.

My zucchini plant has all male flowers, so no zucchinis from it.  From the internet which is *never* confusing, I learned that:  It's because the soil is too dry.  It's because the soil is too wet.   It's because there's not enough sun.  It's because the plant always produces males first, then females.  Who knows.

On the upside - I have tiny yellow summer squash.  Strawberries continue to produce, enough for me to eat some every day.  The watermelon plants are doing ok, and I found a tiny tiny watermelon on one vine.  I have enjoyed several grape tomatoes, and the pepper plants have produced.  Early in the spring, the peas did pretty well.  Potato plants did well and I'm getting ready to dig the rest of them up.  The container corn is getting ready to stalk.  One set of cucumber plants are flowering mightily.

The flower bed is looking pretty good.  A volunteer mammoth sunflower came up and it is as tall as me now.  My Peace Rose is steadily blooming.  The shasta daisies are looking well, as are the other perennial daisies I planted.

I told someone the other day that I don't garden because it saves money.  On the contrary, it costs me lots of time, energy, some cash, and frustration.  But on the other hand, if I want to grow tomatoes and stand out in the yard and eat them right off the stalk, or sit in the yard swing and eat the strawberries I've just picked, or shell a pea pod and consume those 5 peas raw right out of the shell - I'd almost rather do that than anything in the world.

And here's how I know it's something I don't want to live without:  I'm planning for next year.  I'm going to plant a blackberry bramble along the fence and I'm going to try two rows of regular sized corn and see what happens.  Also, I'm going to keep the second bale of straw that Jay brings over for me!

My puny little garden is not a showstopper, but it's mine and I derive great joy from the work and sweat it takes.  My working gardening clothes are a white t shirt and a pair of shorts and I've got my hair pulled up in a ponytail - but who cares?  A little dirt under the fingernails never hurt anyone.

The big joy was having my grandson discover a ripe strawberry growing there just for him!  As he looked at me with one strawberry in each hand and juice running down his chin, this grandma was filled with a deep sense of peace and gratitude.  The garden makes the world right, one fruit at a time.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Evening II

It turned cold!  The front came through with wind and rain and dropped the temperature about 25 degrees.  It's supposed to freeze tonight and tomorrow night - how are gardens supposed to grow?  Brought the hollyhock in that I bought, as well as some strawberry plants my daughter gave me.

Looking so forward to this week being over.  I have several meetings and lots of testing to get done.  Lots of kids to see, lots of reports to write.  Many educators are looking forward to the end of the school year, but I'm not there yet.  I can only do one day at a time.

Yes, one day at time.  Sometimes, it's one hour at a time but you just do the best you can.  Will write more this week.  Take care all.

Sunday Evening

Word for the Day:

UNGULIGRADE  a.  Walking on hoofs.  As a horse or cow.  "Great shoes darling!  Love the extra height those platforms give you!  Now you are truly unguligrade!"

From The Superior Person's Third book of Well-Bred Words, by Peter Bowler.