Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's cold. It's early. And I feel good.

T and I just returned home from our early morning assignment for the Tartan Trot. St. Luke's Presbyterian Church's 5k/10k race (this year a Peachtree Road Race qualifying event!) had 600 runners, several hundred volunteers, a large contingent of Dunwoody Police monitoring the route, and our usual frigid, rainy weather.

(One runner asked me if we felt the need to live up to our Scottish heritage - all that knees bared in the snow stuff a la Braveheart. "Yep," I said. "They don't call us 'the frozen chosen' for nothing!'")

Our assignment was the satellite parking and shuttle service at Dunwoody High School. T took one intersection; I fashioned a flag out of a race shirt so I could keep my heavy cold gear on and directed traffic into the parking lot. There was a steady stream of cars arriving right up until race time; then a few stragglers ran towards St. Luke's, hoping to catch the start.

The Tartan Trot is St. Luke's fundraiser for Youth mission trips. Early calculations indicate that we may do very well indeed for the three mission trips and two retreats planned this coming summer. (The tween and I will head to Mountain Top for the first time!)

After our shift was over, we headed to Olde Hickory House for a celebratory breakfast. I pretended I didn't have hat hair or looked like a doughboy with all the layers I was wearing. It was just good to sit down in the smoky warmth and enjoy eggs and sausage.

Now it's warm at home. It's mid-morning. And I feel even better.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Meeting-ed out.

I am meeting-ed out.

Since last week, I've had a meeting every single day and night, for work and school and church. I wanted to attend each one. I even led a few of them myself. But as of this moment, finally home after the Open House at Dunwoody High School, I am done. Over. Way past tired. So many important details to note, follow up on, and my brain is mush. Time for a to-do list.

The best part of all the busy to-ing and fro-ing has been listening to The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I love the smokey and sassy Southern accents of the narrators and the pace of the story as it builds, shifts direction from one perspective to the next, returns to a previous storyline, and takes a leisurely path to the conclusion.

Between now and next Monday, the Knitternall family will have Scout Sunday, participate in making 15,000 sandwiches with St. Luke's, enjoy a Friday night lock-in, cook supper for the Youth Group, and celebrate T's biggity birthday. (I'm not telling - we're just three weeks apart in age.)

I probably should clean the house and finish the laundry, too. Or not.

Someone stopped by the Nature Center today to register for one of the gardening classes we have scheduled and said, with great sincerity, "don't you love this slow time of year to get things done?"

Show me the slow.

And hurry.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Leisure knitting and leisure suits.

I cast on a new project this weekend, the Diminishing Rib Cardigan by Andrea Pomerantz. I'm working with a soft cotton yarn in a pale chartreuse, a lovely texture and shade for spring. There are tricky parts (tubular rib cast on) and easy parts (raglan structure and stockinette). I'm in the slow increase section so chatting during today's knitting circle gathering at St. Luke's should be quite easy.

If I'm not talking with kindred spirits, I like to have a movie on when I'm knitting. But sometimes either my latest NetFlix hasn't arrived yet or Classic Movies lets me down. So I  trolled NetFlix via the computer and decided to watch instant plays of old TV shows from my childhood. What a hoot! Talk about major cultural changes . . .

Last night I caught an episode of Emergency! that had the paramedics come across an accident during an off-duty fishing trip. The injuries were severe, the road was isolated, there was no traffic, and they had to just sit and hope for another car to come along. No cell phones! Here, in my lifetime, we've gone from depending on yourself and luck to being just a cellular call away from help.

Oh, good grief, the hair styles. And the nurses in white . . . now that I miss. When you've confused the cleaning staff with a nurse in the hospital, you know things have gotten way too casual. Huge walkie-talkies, coppertone ovens, large-size newspapers, leisure suits, beyond-tight pants on men and women, dorky shoes, phones with CORDS, writing everything down rather than keying it into a computer, hairsprayed updos . . . amazing.

Bonus: my tween crush Bobby Sherman was on one of the episodes. Wow . . . what was I thinking?

NetFlix also has some really good British shows in its instant-watch playlist. I've visited Ballykissangel in Ireland with a new Catholic priest, escaped reality with Torchwood, a spin-off of Dr. Who, and tried to understand rather thick regional dialects in some procedural cop shows.

The best thing about these instant-watch options? I rarely can watch a show from start to finish - too many must-do's and kid distractions. So pause, even turn off NetFlix and it remembers where you were the next time you sign in!

Now that's convenience.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Read it right here.

My son collects snarky t-shirts. Where once he liked to move under the radar in solid, somber colors he now wears a different tshirt every day. His current favorite? A Christmas gift from his sister:

"I'm just one big  freakin' ray of sunshine, aren't I?"

There are loads of sibling conviction in that one.

I shared that with my mom yesterday, then riffed on what would be fun for her and Dad. Which begs the question: are there graphic t's out there that really hit home for all of us?

Me: "Caution: Does Not Stop for Slow Moving Objects."

T: "Let's do some research on that."

The Tween: "I am NOT too young."

Grandma: "You paid too much for that."  

Grandpa: "Harris Teeter Is My Peeps."

Scooter the Wonder Dog: "Eats, Poops, and Sleeps."
Have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Preschool Phonics

I get to spend part of each week with wriggling preschoolers and words. Both give me much pleasure.

First, we begin with letter sounds. We said "aaaaaahhhhh" to the doctor, "eh?" because we can't hear well, "i! i! i!" because we're itchy, roar "oooooooooooo" like Tarzan, and look skyward with a "uuuuuuu!"  (Short vowels aren't so mysterious after all!)

Then we begin to sing letter sounds together: baaaaaaaaaat!

Soon, we discover that those sounds made words.

bat cat fat hat mat pat rat sat
Now we're playing with rhymes as the children decode words through their rhyming "families."

I love teaching phonics to preschoolers. Whether they're ready to "get it" or will need to hear the concepts a few times before that light bulb glows, they LOVE playing with letters and sounds and rhymes and pencils. Since we celebrate achievements and a can-do spirit through play-based learning, they have a really good time. (The fact that every class ends with a visit to the treasure box certainly helps, too!)

What I see emerging in my little learners are lifelong personality traits. Perfectionists do not like to try, try again. They hold back until they get it right the first time, won't write if their letters don't look like mine, and worry more about the end result rather than taking pleasure in the process. Carefree spirits forget a workbook, skip a page, accidentally knock over a learning center, and live in the moment - worry is not part of their psyche. I get to see the genesis of leaders and followers, scholars and players, those who will give up easily and those who will keep trying until they succeed.

While I'm introducing them to the world of reading, I also impart gentle lessons in trying your best, working with a partner, completing assignments, celebrating your own achievements rather than comparing yourself to others, patience, accepting change, and good manners.

Once upon a time, I taught high schoolers the art of analyzing literature, expressing themselves through writing and speech, and exploring the world through the words of witnesses through the ages. Now I'm teaching preschoolers the art of the word at its most fundamental level.

I am so very blessed . . . and grateful . . . to have the opportunity to teach.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Much debate is raging within the Dunwoody High School community about schedules. At issue: block scheduling, where students take 4 classes each semester, just as in college. Some students thrive with the pace and intensity. Many do not. Some teachers utilize the expanded classroom time skillfully and productively. Many do not.

The discussion is heated, emotional, and sometimes surreal as parents deploy logic, careful respect, ballistic jolts of emotional diatribe, earnest pleas for or against a particular option, and multitudes of emails, telephone calls, and carpool chats.

Why not? Our children are the victims or beneficiaries of the decisions adults make on their behalf.

One of the more interesting discussion points has been that students are the primary stakeholders in the school. Comparing public education to a business model, proponents posit that the most important customer of the "product" is the student.

I disagree.

Any business who focuses its energies on one segment of its customer base - and one that provides no funding or time and talent for the venture - is not going to succeed.

The primary stakeholder in public education is, at the broadest level, the taxpayer. If a school can't convince taxpayers to provide basic funding as well as SPLOST and other special tax supports, then it will not thrive. The community must have trust in management and substantive belief in the quality of the end product - educational excellence.  If schools do their job right, students get to go to college or have the skills for a job straight out of high school, and function capably in day to day life.

Just as a nonprofit has to demonstrate fiscal soundness and success in mission to attract donors, a school must demonstrate measurable achievement in its educational mission as well as those all-important intangibles: parent, teacher, and student satisfaction and happiness.

Dunwoody schools are blessed by a high degree of parent involvement, a factor that research proves over and over again is the critical link in a school's ability to stay on mission and meet expectations. By and large, students do very well in Dunwoody. That fact has caused polarization within the county as the achievement gap grows from district to district. My focus is on my kids' schools. But I'm very much aware of the larger issues winnowing through the hierarchy of Board and administration oversight.

My student is not the primary stakeholder in his school.

I am.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Girl Scout Cookies

Inexplicably, our local Girl Scout council had the girls selling cookies over Christmas and into January. The girls could begin selling the Monday before Christmas, and will wrap up in two weeks.

What a really, really bad idea. Here we have the primary fundraiser for the troop's activities and the girls are supposed to ring doorbells and call friends and family right in the midst of the Christmas holiday.

"Merry Christmas! How about some Thin Mints?"

"Happy Holidays! Wouldn't Girl Scout Cookies make great teacher gifts?"

"I know you're starting that New Year's diet, but two cookies count just one point!"

Just not right.

So we didn't. 

I'm surprised more parents didn't object to this selling window. I thought all Girl Scouts sold cookies at the same time, all around the country, then learned that selling periods are spread out and assigned by the national council. Perhaps theirs is a nonsecular strategy, ignoring religious observations and therefore treating them all equally. So be it. As a faithful family, we couldn't conceive of selling during Christmas.  I expect other families have made the same choice during Jewish, Muslim, and other holy days, and certainly respect that. I suppose it just struck home because we have a new selling period and it conflicts with Christmas.

But isn't that always the way it is? Something isn't a problem until it's a problem for you?


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Seeds of summer

The seed catalogs are arriving!

Last evening, I poured over the latest offerings with a cup of tea and imagined overachiever crops of brussels sprouts, peas, garlic, cucumbers, cantelope, and romaine. Rather like Hyacinth of Keeping Up Appearances (my favorite Brit-Com), my imaginings are not linked to reality. ("Dust off the garden, Richard. I don't want the neighbors to think I don't run a tidy yard.") My garden wasn't lush or particularly prolific, but it was pretty darned satisfying for this gardening newbie.

I plan to add a second 4x4 raised bed to my garden this year since the first did well enough with beans and cucumbers. I discovered that I love the smell of dirt and compost, the early morning damp of a hot summer day, the singing of tree frogs in the evening, and the absolute joy of grabbing a few handfuls of vegetables for dinner . . . with the promise of more in the vine and in the ground for days ahead.

Which means that I need this ultra cold snap to ease up long enough to move the original raised bed to a slightly better location and build the second one for its adjacent site.

Snow is in the forecast for tonight, and I expect the dusting and scant 1/2 inch that falls to mean closed schools tomorrow.  Overreacting to snow is a Southern thing. Gotta love it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cold weather brings out the crazy in people and other news.

It's cold:  Day umpteenth.

Pity the on-air news reporters who have to stand outdoors reporting on water main breaks, house fires, ice-covered roads, and icicles forming on yards people are still watering. After this morning's daily dose of "it's really cold, folks," I went to my bookmarked news favorites and found quite a few reasons to giggle or roll my eyes this ultra-cold morning:

Chicken owner knits wooly jumpers for chickens. I kid you not.

Propane tank blows up Winder house. Because the dad thought it would be a good idea to put liquid propane into a natural gas wall heater. It wasn't.

Beware of soon-to-be ex-roomates taking their stuff with them. "The items stolen included a coffee table, camera – and a dancing pole." The View from the Cop is an absolute favorite. Steve Rose's police blotter gives us lots of reasons to say, "bless their heart."

If you own or are coveting a pair of Ray-Bans, get ready to wince.  I wore 'em in the 80's when every ad agency staffer was required to wear them as part of the black-on-black uniform. Oh, yeah.

Polar Bear plungers. I just don't get it.  

Is it better to be hit over the head with an empty beer bottle or a full beer bottle?  Scientists want to know.  "Beer bottles are often used in physical disputes. If the bottles break, they may give rise to sharp trauma."

Two men fall from stands fighting over a shoe. Rams players were tossing away their gear after they lost a crucial game. Folks must have really wanted those smelly, sweaty mementos.

Pulled a gun on teammates in the locker room? Gosh, just kidding!  The Wizards player is giving quite a spin to his armed temper tantrum.

Time to start the day.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I'm cold. When's that half cord of wood getting here?

Well, hello there.

I enjoyed the Christmas break by taking on the persona of a slug: slow moving, content to meander, and just a tad messy. While I worked busily at the Nature Center through the holiday, I spent the two three-day weekends sheltered with my family and doing as little as possible outside of cooking special treats and knitting FIVE prayer shawls. Bliss. We needed some quiet time together after the very stressful Thanksgiving hospital thing. A rainy Christmas Eve and a brutally cold New Year's just added more incentive to staying indoors.

So, everyone who nudged me about the very long gap in posts: yep, I'm a slug.  I'm so glad you missed me, though!

Back to normal now. School began today and I'm consumed by summer plans. Yep - it's time to get the Nature Center's summer camp program rolling, as well as myriad new adult classes (gardening! birding! beekeeping! photography!) and kid classes and family events and . . . . .  At the same time, I'm prepping for the Thursday Preschool Phonics class I have in the Nature Center's clubhouse, checking in with Peachtree Middle School's capable volunteers for upcoming Parent Coffees and tours, and making  plans for our own family's summer camps and fun.

The promise of snow later this week just means getting as much done as possible in a few short days. The Spring brochure has to hit the community's mailboxes in two weeks and printer deadlines don't go away just because the weather isn't cooperating.

Tomorrow I'm rejoining the St. Luke's ROCKers since they now meet on Wednesdays. That's a way better day for me to slip away for a long "lunch hour" with the knitting circle. I've cast on Elizabeth Zimmerman's Pi R Square shawl (the garter stitch version - I'll do the lace one next), a tasty bit of easy knitting that won't interfere with chatting.

It's 2010. Whether you think that's the first year or last year of a decade, it's fun to say (twenty-ten!) and filled with hope for good days ahead. We need them.