Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Volunteer's Lament

Our learning time together,
three boys and me,
is  somewhat accidental,
but still
special, fraught, loving.

The school year ends,
our time does, too.

We gather together
as usual,
each of us knowing
this won't happen again.

I give them special problems,
they return effort;
we enjoy the struggle
for truth, and solutions.

When the time is up
we bravely share goodbyes.

I pick up the pieces,
leave the school, drive home.
Deep melancholy is
an unwelcome guest.

Dare I believe I'll find
a special set of kids
next year?
I do. I am comforted.

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Convergence 2018 #2

Convergence is a week away, and I have done... nothing.

For starters, I did get my diet on track, but far too late to be relevant for the convention.  Which makes me much less interested in a new costume.  I do have a couple of older costumes after all.  But there is the booze issue.

A big part of the convention has always been the room parties.  They have taken a hit in recent years when they made it harder to get both a room for a party, and a room to stay in.  That made it a lot harder for the people.  This year the new rule is no booze unless you pay some fee, and hire bartenders from the hotel.  That's just not going to happen.

Now you might be thinking that it will be just like last year, with fewer drunk people.  The thing is, there are a lot of people who just won't come.  And when enough people like that don't come, it will completely change the demographic.  This is just my opinion, of course.  I can tell you that there were so many people asking for refunds they had to issue a public statement that there will not be any.

As far as the actual room parties, I don't think there will be any less booze.  There's nothing stopping people from bringing their own booze.  I'm sure I will, just because I can.  Sharing will we social and neighborly.  But I think this will be a low key event.  I will be there, but taking a more relaxed stance this year.

Next year they are switching to a bigger venue, more centrally located, with none of these room party issues.  Or so they say.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Weeding the Garden, 2018

"Is that a case of the older we get the better we were?"

In past posts (  Jane helped me here and weeding in front ) I discussed my enjoyment of working in our yard, on the parts of it that are not grass. Summer has begun and our property is once again in need of some tender loving care … only the weed situation is far worse than ever. Perhaps due to all the rain we've had here. And the warm weather. Two images will demonstrate.

The first is a before picture of the west side of our peace garden last year. You can see there are some weeds among the hosta plants.
Figure 1: West side, weeds among the hosta plants a year ago.
The second image is one of the same location this year.
Figure 2: West side, weeds among the hosta plants currently.
You may be able to see there are some hosta plants among the weeds.

The east side of the garden was as overrun with weeds as the west side, and that is where I chose to begin weeding this year. The task was far more arduous than I recalled from prior years. I was able to use the long-handled tool to uproot the weeds without bending down, but there were so many of them that the next step, separating them from the woodchips and dirt within which they were growing and tossing them into my yard-waste bag, required frequent getting down to ground level. Knees hurt, back hurt, and getting up and down was grueling and demanding. It was hot, sweaty work, and the headband I wore to keep sweat from dripping into my eyes was quite wet, though not saturated so that sweat ran from it.

Perhaps, I thought, if I got down on my hands and knees, pulled the weeds from there, put them in a temporary container, and transferred the contents of that container to my yard-waste bag, I could minimize the up-down motions I had been doing. That worked all right, but I'm not sure it was easier than weeding standing up and working with the weed piles created from that position.

Even though both the temperature and humidity were reasonable, I was unable to finish the task without sitting down on the bench in the garden and taking water. There were plenty of weeds within reach from my seat on the bench, so I took advantage and pulled a bunch, as many as I could reach.

Eventually I was back on all fours, pulling weeds at their level. As I was bagging the last group, my wife came out and stood on the stoop fronting our front door. "How are you doing?" she asked.

"Oh, I'm all right," I replied as I wiped my forehead with the sleeve of my short-sleeved shirt. "I'm tired, and hot, but OK." There was a long
pause … and I added, "You know, I am not enjoying doing this as much as I did last year."

Ever the philosophical type, she responded, "Do you suppose that's a case of 'the older we get the better we were'?"

In spite of myself, I chuckled. "No, I don't think so. I think it's the thickness and height of the weeds this year." I returned to the task.

When I finished up, the Peace Garden looked pretty good:
Figure 3: East side, Peace Garden, after weeding this year.
The border with the lawn needs attention and some wood chips need to be added. While I'm glad to report the weeds are gone, I am aware that the hosta bed on the west side ( Figure 2 ) needs attention, as well, not to mention the two flower beds in the rear of the property and that eighteen inch strip of land bordering our parking slab. There truly does seem to be no rest for the weary.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Letter from Grandma

I never really knew my father's mother.  In my experience, you choose your friends, but family are people you know because they are around.  I was raised by my mother, and was never really around my father's side of the family.

In a twist of fate, I ran into a cousin on the way to visit my mother's mother in the hospital.  I found out my father's mother was in bad shape too, but mostly from old age.  She was in her 80's.  I ended up getting a chance to visit her in the hospital, when I would have had no way of knowing she was there.  The 15 minutes I spent visiting her amounted to something like a 25% increase in the total time I had spent with her.  She died a short time later.

At her funeral my cousin gave me a note in a thick envelope addressed to me.  He said she had dictated it to me in her final days.  I couldn't imagine someone who didn't know me, writing so much.  I told him I was a little surprised by that.  He told me she dictated many letters in her final days.  It made me uncomfortable.  Because we never got to know each other, this was a letter from a stranger.  I held onto it, and never opened it.

Then about a year ago I lost some stuff.  Nothing I was using, but I thought the letter might be one of those things.  It wasn't, but it got me thinking.  It's one thing to not open it "today".  It's another to never open it at all.  I told this to a friend, and he encouraged me to open it.  The contents were quite a surprise.

First, the letter was very short.  Just a couple of sentences tanking me for visiting her in the hospital.  It was in fact, a letter to me.  And the reason it was thick were photos.  The photos of me that she owned.  Mostly of the weeks following my birth.

I was quite wrong about it.  I would say I was a fool to wait 12 years, but it really worked out for the best.  It means much more today than it would have then.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Last Day of my First Year: the Day

They saluted and said thanks.

I had spent some time getting ready for the last day of being a Learning Buddy for the first time. Upon greeting the kids that last day, it was immediately apparent they knew it was the second last day of school this year, as well as the last time we'd be meeting together. One of them, the first to arrive, fist-bumped me. And then he saluted, humming the Star-Spangled Banner. The four of us spoke briefly about this being our last time together and I said I'd like to give each of them a special puzzle to work on. Not necessarily math but brain exercisers. They thought this fine.

I gave each of them a sheet with his puzzle, got them separate spaces in which to sit/work, and left them be.

"I can't do this!" almost immediately from Fred ( name changed ), about the logic puzzle. I took him off to a corner, we chatted, he understood what the puzzle's question is, but had no idea whatever how to solve it. I gave him a clue and a light bulb seemed to go on. He began working on his "documentation" while I went to check on the other two boys.

They were struggling, too. I gave them permission to work with each
other … which didn't seem to change very much behavior. Neither of them clearly asked for help from the other and then explained his problem. Pretty soon Fred came … eager to share his solution with everyone.

Jumping on this opportunity for order, I suggested we all work on Fred's problem. Everyone agreed. "Whew!" I gave a copy of the problem to the other two boys, and all three of them read it together. Chaos ensued almost immediately, everyone both talking and wanting to write on the white board at once.

Eventually we had a reasonable facsimile of the problem on the whiteboard; everyone was puzzled. "Can I give them the solution?" Fred asked.

"Not yet … be patient," I said.

I eventually gave the same clue to the boy who was my SPIFF pal this year as I had given to Fred. A similar light seemed to go on over his head and he gave voice to a solution. Fred either didn't have the exact solution or was unable to verbalize it completely … my failure to not know which. He agreed, though, that the just-verbalized solution would work.

We worked together, rather quickly and perhaps too quickly, through the other two problems and it was bordering on time to let them go. "Just a moment," I said. "I have something more." I got out three envelopes with carefully lettered names on them, each envelope containing a hand-written note.

"Oh, cards," one of them said, excitedly ( though maybe I imagined that part ).

I gave each his card, told them that, although we had had a few rough patches, I very much enjoyed working with them this year, and it was time for them to go. They saluted and said thanks; my SPIFF pal hugged me, saying "Maybe I'll see you in a store around here."

Doubting it, as I do not live in the immediate vicinity, I said, "Yes, maybe. I'd be with my wife and I'd like her to meet you."

The other two warmly shook my hand and they all returned to the classroom.

The teacher came to shake my hand and say thanks. "Did the boys keep their Continental Math League booklets?" I had not given them the booklets.

"No," I replied, "I kept them between our meetings and had not gotten them out this time."

"I think they might like that," he said.

"Well, sure."

Before I finished my reply, it seemed, the three boys were swarming in search of their booklets. I gave them to them, and they returned to the classroom. I noted they left behind all the sheets I had so carefully prepared with today's problems and solutions.

I gathered that material up, put away the white board and its markers and eraser, and slowly left the area. Melancholy accompanied me to the office. It was with me still as I arrived home.

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Waking Up on the Floor... Again

Almost two years after the last time I woke up on the bathroom floor, I find myself there once more. Last time I ended up there it was the result of seeing quite a bit of my own blood.  I fainted.  At least I think that's how I ended up there.

About a year before that, I bumped my knee while taking a seat at McDonald's.  It might seem like quite a different experience, but it felt very much the same.  I felt light headed, dizzy, and sick to my stomach.  In addition, I also felt prickly all over, and became a sweaty ball of mess by the time the feeling had passed, maybe 20 minutes later.

Yesterday, I bumped my knee again.  This time it was while taking off a pair of pants to take a shower.  It wasn't even powerful enough to leave a bruise.  I tried to put the pants back on so I could go lie down, and the next thing I knew I was waking up on the floor.  I woke up, and successfully made my way to my bed this time.

I really didn't want to go to a hospital, but it would be crazy to ignore a problem that leaves me passed out on the floor once in a while.  I did a quick search, and came up with Vasovagal Syncope.  It's medical jargon for people who faint easily when their blood pressure drops.  Often this can be caused by the site of something that makes them squeamish.  But bumping a funny bone, causes a drop in blood pressure too.

So the short answer is, I'm just a fainter.  If I feel that way in the future, I need to sit down, or lay down, before I fall down.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Last Day of my First Year: the Plan

"This sounds great.  See you Wednesday!"

As the school year approached its end, I approached the end of my first year of being a DARTs Learning Buddy. ( For background, see Me, a Reading Buddy?, Becoming a Reading Buddy, My First Learning Buddy Assignment and My First Day with my Students. ) I had developed a real affection for my three students and I was fairly sure they had similar feelings for me. The big question, then, "What are we going to do on the last day?" I am rather old-school, all about rules and such, and, left to my own devices I most likely would have anticipated the last day being like any other day ( in terms of activity ), but more emotional.

Several people in my life spoke about this, but in a way I would say was "sideways," suggesting I might want to do something out of the ordinary, but only suggesting and being vague. A grad student, Irene, who had been observing me with the boys and whom I was planning on having there on the last day asked, "So maybe you would like to be alone with your students on that last day … No? If so, that would not hurt my feelings and I'll be done as of this week." Bless her heart.

Of course I had wanted to make the last day memorable … that thought had been rolling around, rather unformed, for some time. It included giving a good-bye card to each of the boys but it bounced against my "of course we'll have our regular math agenda" instinct. Irene's suggestion focused the question for me … and I took her up on that offer, thanking her for both focusing the question and being willing to leave me alone with my students that day. All that was left, then, was the hard part: figuring out what to do.

As is my custom, I took these ruminations to prayer and was rewarded with an inspiration. I was reminded of three puzzles ( logic, math, trick ) that I could take to the last class and somehow work with my students. These puzzles are old ones, possibly over the head of my kids, but, I thought, it would still be fun to work on them with my kids. As a group, the puzzles were only loosely related to what we had been doing, but it did work the brain and I thought it would be all right for our last time together.

"Don't you think you should clear that with your teacher?" my wife asked me.

"No, I'm sure I'm on solid ground." As sure as that answer sounded, her question worked on me.

I found each of the puzzles on the internet, sparing my having to create the text to set up the problem. I sent an email to the teacher, including the URL of each puzzle, so he could check them out if he wished. I told him my plan and asked both if that conflicted with his plans for that time and if he had any other thoughts. He responded very quickly, "This sounds great.  See you Wednesday!"

I was more relieved than I want to admit that he thought this a good idea. My plan evolved: I would make three copies of each puzzle, three copies of each solution, give each boy one of the puzzles and have him work on it, alone for a while. Then I'd allow them to work with each other, freestyle, on the puzzle of whichever boy was able to get the most help. Then I'd work with them. We'd talk about the puzzle and its meaning. And its solution. Eventually I'd give all boys all three puzzles and their solutions. I looked forward to the class.

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