Wednesday, May 17, 2017

**cough

Well, after being out every afternoon and evening with school/kid activities last week, I've come down with an almost-summer cold.  It's mostly in my throat and I now sound like some kind of choking seagull.  I thought it was getting better with soup, fluids, cancelling everything, etc, but I was up most of last night coughing.  Blah.

All of which means, I've watched a lot of mediocre tv that I never really meant to watch, like "Jamaica Inn," all of "Dear White People" (which I actually reall liked),  and "Chewing Gum."  I've done just a bit of Zentangle and crochet. not much else.

I'm hoping it improves soon, but at least the weekend is rather quiet.

Friday, May 12, 2017

All's Well That Ends Well

Let me begin by saying that everything is fine.  The threat was only perceived, no real.

So, here's the story.

On Monday, when I picked up the mail, there was a playing card in the mailbox.  A Barack and Michelle Obama playing card, the ace of spades.  I thought this was odd and wondered what was going on.  Bud, who must have been reading about mushrooms, told me it could be laced with mushroom bits that would seep in my skin and kill me.  Huh.  Of course, then I thought of the anthrax scare in the mail that killed a woman here in Connecticut after September 11th.  But Bud didn't know any of that.  Still, I laughed and put the card in the recycling.

On Tuesday, I came home from taking the kids to the doctor for vaccinations and noticed the flag on the mailbox was up, which I would swear it hadn't been when I left.  There, inside, was another playing card.  Barack and Michelle Obama, king of spades.  What the hell was this?  Who was leaving these?  What did it mean?  We've lived here 15 years, have had no trouble with the neighbors.  But, when I posted my question to FB, most of my friends encouraged me to call the police and the postmaster, viewing it, like I did, in a suspicious light.  It wasn't kids--kids were at school during the day.  Why spades?  The ace of spades, I learned quickly, was not only a racial slur but a folkloric indication of death.  Was it a countdown, from aces to king to . . . ?  What would happen at the end of the suit?  But why black racism?  I would understand something to do with our being lesbians and a bi-racial Chinese-Caucasian family, but spades?  Was it a general comment on our being Democrats?  Only people who know us know that--there were no political signs or bumper stickers outside our house.  So, did this person know us?  Questions swirled, fears grew.   It escalated.

The police came and made a report, also being suspicious and cautious.  They handled the playing card very carefully but said there was nothing they could do.  Yet.  The postmaster was shocked and concerned, promising to alert the postal authorities and our mail carrier.  These kind of things often get escalated to the FBI because the mailbox is federal property.

Meanwhile, on FB, concerns and suggestions mounted.  Mama came home and installed web cams so we could find out who was leaving the cards.  We pondered options, decided not to alert the children that we'd received a second one; we wanted them to feel safe in their own home.  I spoke to the school social worker, as a precaution; she was worried.  I contacted our minister, who suggested we leave the person a note.  I called my parents, who were ready to come at a moment's notice; grateful, Mama and I debated when that would be.

It was a restless evening, though I think we faked it well.  Early the next morning, I got a text.  A mom had spoken to a child to see if anything odd was in their own mailbox.  Like what, the kid wondered.  A playing card.  Information came out.  Two friends on the way to the bus stop.  A card found on the way.  Placed in our mailbox, because we are the bus stop house, and I didn't notice right away that it was there.  Another card the next day, again placed in the mailbox, flag up.  I didn't see the flag until later.  The mom read the child the riot act, but I was relieved.  The friend confirmed it at the bus stop.  Two different cards, two different days.  An innocent act that sparked a wildfire of anxiety and concern in the dangerous conditions liberals know that we live in.  Had we acted too hastily?  What if it had not been random and meaningless?  When do you know you are in danger?  To you risk it, with children?  We could have spared ourselves much anxiety if we hadn't worried.  What will we do next time?

We were relieved.  We told everyone that it was okay.  We didn't identify the children.  We were just glad.

And yet.  This was just a taste of the threats, insinuations, discrimination, prejudice, inequality, and violence that many people in minority and religious groups face now in our country, led by the man who leads our country.  We had a whole community of support, here and across several states; we had resources; we had the cooperation of the authorities; we had options.  This is privilege.  Many aren't so lucky.  The mail carrier told me she'd been through a similar incidence with a Muslim family in town receiving threats in the mail.  What happened to them, I wonder?  And we only had 48 hours of it--long enough for us, and it was innocent--some have a lifetime.  This is not the America I want.  And so my family will take this opportunity to commit ourselves to those who are threatened, harrassed, intimidated, and hated.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Giddy Up!

My troop:  13
Moms:  8
Other Girl Scouts:  300
Horses:  114
Days of rain:  3
Memories:  innumerable

I survived our Girl Scout weekend at Rocking Horse Ranch (RHR)!  I had thought, prepared, and stressed about this weekend for more than a year.  There was the initial decision, all the paperwork, lots of money, and then worries about it all being successful.  I take being a leader seriously and feel very responsible for the girls in my troop.  Thankfully, most of the moms were there so I had lots of help keeping track of girls.  See, because they are almost 12 (some of them are already), we let them have a lot of freedom with only occasional checking in, as long as they had a buddy with them at all times. And it worked.  There was only one drama episode (that I know of) and one tiny injury (a scrape on a water slide.)  This is success, indeed.  Plus, they loved it.

I'm hard pressed to remember what happened when.  So, I'll summarize.


  • Horses:  Of course, we were at the ranch to ride.  Each troop had two separate trail rides, on Saturday and Sunday each.  But first we had a stable tour, learning about feeding and riding regimens.  It's not easy to take care and keep track of 114 horses, including one that was 55 years old!  Sis had so much fun wandering the stables, sniffing her favorite horse smells.  She really was in her happy place all weekend.  And she rode five times!  Girls could ride standby if there was space on a trail ride, and so she and a few friends hopped on three extra times.  She rode Outlaw, Bravo, Brady, and then Lil' Red twice.  One of the wranglers was especially encouraging to her, liking her spirit.  See, the riding was "Western," which is a different saddle and a completely different way of steering the horse.  Sis has been riding "English"--and was wearing her usual riding gear, including her own helmet, boots, and stable jacket--but when the wrangler asked if she would be posting (a part of English riding), she said, "No, I'm riding Western!"  He was tickled.  And he thought she was doing really well for her first Western rides.  She rode intermediate everytime (she can't go from standstill to canter immediately and so couldn't ride advanced, though she tried.)  None of them cared that it rained during a few of the rides; the rides are only cancelled if there is thunder. All of the girls, and most of the moms (minus me and another couple), rode at least twice, even with the rain. A few of the girls even got to see the horses sent out to pasture at the end of the riding day.  They close the roads and parking lot and escort the untacked horses out in groups.  We lined the drive and petted the horses as they went by.  It really was a beautiful sight.  Sis loved it and would have loved to just live in the stables.  I enjoyed being out at the stables and even had a discussion with the blacksmith (Gommie, I could hear your voice in my conversation with him!), who gave me a few used horseshoes, which I gave to the girls who got up early for the Sunday ride.  Sis is going to hang hers up.  (Side note:  the only unpleasant bit all weekend--even including the drama bit with two of our girls--was a dishonest and unfair GS leader who tried to save 15 spaces for her troop in front of our girls at that early-morning standby.  I had pointed out to her that it was unfair, but she insisted and wouldn't give way.  I'm not great at confrontation and so recruited two of my other moms who were much more aggressive, even yelling.  The dishonest woman changed her story several times--first her troop was just waking up and getting changed, then they were on their way, then they had been there before everyone but just playing in the puddles and not standing in line; also, at first they were leaving at two (then her daughter said, "Mom, you said we were leaving at 6!") and then at noon and would miss their ride--one of my moms called her on her lies.  The head wrangler basically promised all a spot--and the leader still had her girls physically cut mine off (they were bigger.) It really was quite appalling.  She knew she was wrong, but people who know they are in the wrong often dig in much harder than anyone else.  And they don't give in to reason or sympathy.  One of the moms was surprised that, being an out lesbian, I wasn't better at conflict.  I told her that perhaps that was why--I have never seen a person's mind change via a quick conversation in a heated moment, especially not with yelling or any risk of embarrassment on the line.  It takes time and willingness and courage to change your mind.  And it is relatively rare.  Thankfully, all's well that ended well.  And it was a good teachable moment for Sis.)
  • Western theme:  I should have guessed that a so-called "ranch" would be western-themed, but I was a little taken aback by all the wagon wheels and horse shoes, faux Indian items (tipis, really?), and cowboy stuff.  Sure, in Texas, we go overboard sometimes with the cowboy-and-Indian stuff, but this was amazing.  It was like the Buc-ee's rest stops, but more so!  There was country music piped in 24/7, even custom pool dividers made to look like TNT barrels, a singing cowboy in spurs, and a caricatured cowboy/miner at a theme lunch.  And, perhaps as a Texan, I was a little bothered by how it was all just window dressing.  I wouldn't quite call it cultural appropriation, but there was something slightly problematic about it all for me, just a vague sense that it was all overdone.  But then, in Texas, I think it's often overdone as well--I know we romanticize the Old West--and that's historically dishonest.  
  • Besides horses, the girls swam, went mountain tubing (down a giant slide), bungee jumping on a trampoline, shot rifles and bows, played on a merry-go-round in a playground, went on paddle boats, participated in pie eating contests and trivia contests, sang karaoke, saw a magic show, went to a dance party.  It really was a wonderful array of activities.  And if it hadn't been raining, there would have been more time on the lake; as it was, our campfire was canceled.
  • And then there were SWAPS!  I love swaps, which I believe I've said in the past.  And I had happily organized our crafts for RHR--we had a lasso, a bandana, a campfire, and I even made clothespin horses for the girls in our troop.  Most of them had never been to a swap meet before and so I helped get them started with the only phrase you need, "Do you want to swap?"  Of course, Girl Scouts can't say no--"be a sister to every Girl Scout"--and so you trade.  But I do advise taking a lanyard or zipper bag for the trades and a separate baggie to keep the ones you don't want to trade away.  Otherwise, you can trade swaps you don't want to keep or have duplicates of back and forth.  There were so many great ones--sleeping bags, owls, bows and arrows, archery targets, beaches-in-a-bag, pet rocks, pet clouds, tic-tac-toe games in a bag, pies on bottle caps, s'mores, etc etc etc.  I will admit to becoming overzealous; I probably should have left it to the girls, but I had fun swapping, too.  Sis didn't tell me to move along, she said, because she could see how much fun I was having.  And I really was.
  • Food.  Yep, lots of food.  Think Cracker Barrel or Golden Corral.  Standard Americana fare.  Better than average.  Copious amounts.  Lots of choice.  But, the moms in my group just couldn't stop talking about food and eating.  It was tiresome--"Oh, this is good.  Isn't this good?  Aren't you surprised at how good this is?  I love salad, I could eat just salad.  I would be full for a whole day on this salad. I could be full for a whole day on this meal. I only need one meal a day.  I never eat this much.  I'm only eating because it's here. We'll have to exercise all of this off.  It's a good thing we don't always eat like this.  I'm giving myself an eating vacation. Look, unlimited soda.  I never drink soda. This is good soda.  I'll just drink this soda now.  I usually only drink water.  I don't drink anything with sugar.  I don't usually eat beef.  I only eat beef occasionally.  This is good beef and I just thought I'd treat myself.  I can't eat any more.  I'm still full from yesterday.  I'll just have one more ice cream.  I won't need to eat again."  STOP.  Mercy, American women often have such complicated and unhealthy relationships with food.  We barely spoke of anything else while we ate.  It was unpleasant.  But the girls loved it.  Sis had french fries, fried chicken, hamburgers, and lots of hot chocolate.  I doubt she had a vegetable all weekend!  And that's fine.  It was a vacation.  
  • In the end, it was just a marvelous weekend.  The girls and moms had a delightful time.  And even though I'm not much into games or sports and I do tend to worry and be a stickler for rules, I had a great time, too.
I can't seem to embed the photos in the text.












Monday, May 1, 2017

Again

Looks like I'm behind again!

With the kids asking me not to post much if anything about them here and the rise in my use of FB, I just don't post as much as I used to, though I know that several friends and family members read this first.  So I'll try to do better.

Let's see.  Today, Bud is home with a cold.  I think it's his first sick day in a year or so.  In fact, if the rest of the week weren't so big--school field trip, chorus concert, piano recital--I would have sent him to school.  But as it was, I didn't want to risk his getting worse.

Now I'm just hoping Sis doesn't get it, because she also has the field trip and concert plus a giant two-night Girl Scout "glamping" weekend at a resort.  Wish us all luck.  The weather has been damp and warm, the trees and such have exploded, and everyone seems to be sniffling.

So, what have I been doing?

Well, I went up against the BOE and school administration with other parents in town and defeated an initiative to unlevel middle school, meaning cancel honors classes.  I've composed a long post about this in my head several times because I'm still quite conflicted.  See, there's a huge achievement gap in our town, meaning African-Americans and Latinos score very much lower than their white and Asian counterparts; they are also less represented in said honors classes.  I recognize this as a social justice issue and know that such scores likely indicate albeit unintentional systemic/institutional bias and even racism.  The Democrat, social liberal, and Unitarian Universalist in me wants to rectify this.  But then there's the mom in me that fears that my children's academic achievement would be stalled by a non-leveled class, especially because they've been in the special gifted and talented class for three years (and are still not very challenged academically--how would they fare in an unleveled class??!!)  Certainly unleveling can succeed if properly prepared for, but the district was trying to rush the measure through without invovling parents (without even really telling them) and with little preparation for the changes.  Their instructional plan for high achievers in "regular" classes?  "Raise expectations, provide support, provide understanding."  BS.  That's not a plan.  They also mentioned an honors option, which is really just more homework and projects AT HOME--meaning they don't get instructional time with the teachers and the bulk of their education is independent learning (tough for 7th graders!)  AND then there were mentions that the accelerated learners would help the typical kids.  Great.  Social nightmare for everyone and then my kids would still not be getting their instructional time with the teacher.  So, the parent in me rebelled, took to FB, organized letters and phone calls, and helped convince the BOE not to unlevel until there is a better plan.  We need a better plan and we need to help the students who are being failed by our district.  But I'm still very torn about defeating the unleveling, which is supported by the National Education Association (NEA) and other groups, though several studies say it doesn't change the outcomes for slower learners.  Probably because middle school is way too late to affect monumental change.  It needs to start in preschool!  So . . . . so.  So, we're not homeschooling or sending our kids to private school next year.  And if the district votes to unlevel with a better plan after next year, I will stay informed and involved and maybe even support the plan.  Or take a "gap year" for 8th with my kids and travel around!!

What else?  On Saturday, a friend and I went to a wonderful mandala workshop at Copper Beech Institute in West Hartford and had a lovely, creative, inspiring day.  We walked the labyrinth and had a picnic lunch before class and then made a freehand mandala and a literal gratitude mandala in class.  And I learned how to make colored Zen Gems!  So much fun!  I spent Sunday practicing my new-found skills.




Last week, Mama's office hosted a special "Take Your Child to Work" Day program and so the kids spent 13+ hours following along her usual day!  They were up at 5:30 a.m. and home a bit before 7 p.m.  They had a tour, a special talk on what the company does and how the US's financial system works (they even got money from all over the world.  Ours got Cambodia and the DRCongo), and then went with Mama to her meetings.  They also played Nerf battles with her co-workers, which was their favortie part.  I think they had new-found respect for Mama's long work day and challenging work life.  Sis said, "I'll never think waking up at 7 a.m. for school is early again!"

The next month or so wraps up the year's extracurriculars, for the most part, as well as their time at elementary school.  There will be several special events and middle school orientations.  Plus the school play.  But I'm anxious that it's all coming to an end.  I've really loved their elementary school, especially their teachers, and am nervous about the move to middle school, particularly because most of the kids of my informal moms' network are going to the other middle school.  Which means I sorta start from scratch, just like the kiddos (though, several of the kids in their special class will move on to honors at the middle school; I just don't know those parents as well.)  But we have the summer to get used to the transition.

And I won't even get into all the summer plans . . . .