Sunday, May 28, 2006

It's a Dog-Eat-Dog World

Come closer, I have a secret to tell you.

On second thought, just let me have a little nibble of your ear.

So you want to play hard to get, do you?

*these photos courtesy of K - he's quite handy with a camera

My New Project

I've never done this before - take pictures of a quilt project from the selection of fabric to completion, but I decided to do that this time. The reason is, is because I love to pick out fabrics, but I'm never quite sure if I made the best choices. It's difficult to tell when I have a bunch of pieces and it's hard for me to imagine what the end product will look like. So these are the fabrics for my next "rag" baby quilt. The next installment will be after I set the pieces out in the pattern, and then completion. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Book Review: Freakonomics

On the suggestion from a friend, I picked up this book that is co-authored by one economist (Steven Levitt) and a writer (Stephen Dubner). I was not prepared to enjoy this book as much as a did because economics is the one subject I was in danger of flunking in college. Back when I took the course, I thought something was wrong with me because I just didn't "get it", but maybe I should also thank my horrible professor for my lack of interest in economics, too.

The premise of this book is that trends are not always what they seem. The authors did a good job of explaining the difference between causality and co-existence (although that's not the term they used). For instance, it happens that people with decidedly "ethnic" names do worse, in general, versus people with "white" names. It's not the names that caused them to do badly, but the study looked at the type of people who choose one type of name over another and how they are "peforming in life". I like that this book gives the disclaimer up front that it has no clear path, because it did jump around a bit. For example, one chapter was entitled "What Do Sumo Wrestlers and Teachers Have In Common?". Can you guess what it is? I was skeptical at first, but what the authors asserted made sense to me. (No, I'm not going to spill the beans - you'll have to read it yourself). Then, the book jumps to such subjects as "drug dealers living with their mothers" to "what makes a perfect parent"? The latter subject is what interested me the most, for obvious reasons. It's funny because one of the things I've always believed is that, since I religiously read to my son, that affected his literacy skills. To this day, reading is his best subject in school - he is 13 and tests out at beyond 12th grade. But maybe it's just genetics. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense that a certain portion of our abilities is "predetermined". After all, I do not believe that most of the parents of the students I work with have caused their children's disabilities, even the ones who have treated their children questionably. This is especially true since other parents, as much as I can tell, have provided every possible advantage to their child, and their child still has a disability. Yet, one of the questions I get asked the most by parents is "What did I do to cause this?". I think the reason this gets asked is because the question assumes that there is something that can be done to "fix" the problem. Also, most parents I have come across, including myself, have some level of guilt over every little screw-up they've made in the raising of their child.

I think what the authors want the reader to do, after finishing the book, is to question more of the "data" that is presented. It reminded me of one of my grad classes having to do with research - one of our assignments was to read literature in our field and question the results to attempt to find fault with the findings. You know, they never teach you to question things in undergrad, or in elementary school, or in a strict family, or in church. We spend most of our lives thinking that questioning others is a bad thing. As a result of many influences in my life and getting tired of being naive, I question more things - mostly what the media presents to us. I question the real intent of commercials. I question other people, who, for the most part, aren't used to it and tend not to like it. Is the comfortable and "logical" thing always right? I think that's what we're supposed to wonder about...

Overall, I give this book 8 dancing feet out of 10 - it's a good read and certainly makes a person think. Not altogether a bad thing to do.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Our Visit To Carmel

H and I went to Carmel this weekend, which is only about a 2 hour drive from San Jose, but it's like you're in a whole different world. "Quaint and Rich" is about the best way to describe it. It's a place you can go where there really is nothing better to do than get yourself a soda and a home-made cookie, sit on some rustic-looking benches, and watch birds.

There is shopping also, if you like that sort of thing (I'm not very fond of shopping without a specific purpose, though). Most of the stores were clothing, art, or very expensive items that one doesn't need. Carmel also has several little alley-ways with hidden shops and quiet nooks.

We happened to go to Carmel on the weekend of their Art Festival, so we took in some of the sculptures. There were three like this metal horse, which were my favorites. Also, there were several nudes. The most detailed parts of these sculptures were the tatas - they must have been designed by men. The best thing at the art festival was that it was housed in a small outdoor park, where we were able to sit and enjoy the live reggae band.

After a day of wandering around Carmel, we decided to go to a fancy dinner at Casanova, which is the only dinner I've ever been to that officially had three courses to choose from. For future reference, their butter and garlic mushrooms were excellent.

My favorite part of the trip was this morning when we went on the 17 mile drive. These pictures are from Spanish Bay, where I could not stop watching the waves crash. I cannot explain it, but I've always been drawn to water - it's like something that was part of me before I was even created.

There were several interesting trees along the way - mostly Cypress. This one below is called "Ghost Tree".
All in all, our trip was very relaxing. We did a lot of walking around, which was nice since we spend too much of our "usual" weekends on our bums. I love the fact that, pretty much everywhere I looked, there were flowers, plants, and trees. The parking is a pain in the ass and the homes were astronomically priced (a fixer upper is about 1 mil), but there are plenty of things to do in the area that would suit almost anyone's interest. If you pay no mind to the "uppities", it would be hard for anyone not to enjoy this place.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Decision Time

It is time again for more voting. I hesitate to admit this, but I was not a registered voter anywhere until I was about 30 years of age. I have never been politically minded, and even now when politics come up in discussion, I'm not very comfortable talking about the issues. It's not because I have to be right, but it's because I really don't want to look stupid, which might happen if I start spouting about things I know nothing about. Ever since I can remember, I've been more socially minded - I have very strong opinions about various issues related to the treatment of people (especially children) in our society. When people discuss politics, especially having to do with economy and political officials, my eyes start to glaze over. Having said that, I pay more attention now to voting issues, even though it's still not comfortable for me, because I realize it does me no good to bury my head in the sand. Also, if I value education so much, why have I been so resistant to educating myself in this area? There is no logical explanation.

So, in the mail, I have received my voter's pamphlet and absentee ballot and have set it aside until I'm ready to focus on it. Here are some of the issues in this election on June 6, 2006:

Prop 81: California Reading and Literacy Improvement and Public Library Construction and Renovation Bond Act

Information from Pamphlet: This would give about $600 million dollars to build and revamp public libraries to expand access to reading and literacy programs in the California Public schools, and to provide more comprehensive services to residents of California. Supposedly, to come up with the funds, the state would sell bonds to provide grants, and local agencies would contribute about $320 million towards these projects. Arguments against this prop are that we already pay $9 billion a year on welfare for illegal aliens (actual wording in pamphlet), and borrowing more money for libraries would make things worse.

My take: I did a little searching around on the internet and found a site called "The Field Poll", which measures reactions to various props and issues in California. The idea behind doing such a search is because some questions related to this prop - are Californians happy with the library system the way it is? How efficient is the library system currently? What percentage of the people actually use the libraries now, and how will the new renovations improve library use? Unfortunately, I cannot find any information to help answer these questions. This website is obviously pro-prop 81, and explains that this measure would help improve public programs for students, seniors, and people with disabilities. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle dated May 18, 2006, libraries have not seen a bond measure passed since 2000, with $350 million allotted towards library projects. On the flip side, this site is against prop 81, mainly because the state is already in debt and no matter how much the bond is for, it will never be enough. That is not altogether invalid, even according to the Pro library resources. Part of the reason why a new measure is needed is because there was not enough money from the last bond in 2000 to cover all the needed projects.

It's not that I would argue that libraries are not in need of renovation and revamped services. Also, they have services now that they didn't have when I was in school - mainly free internet access. I just get discouraged at how high taxes are here in this state, and I wonder "where is all the money going?". I am truly undecided on this issue, but would tend to vote against it due to the overwhelming costs of this measure.

Prop 82: Preschool Education. Tax on Incomes Over $400,000 for Individuals; $800,000 for couples. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Information from Pamphlet: This measure would establish voluntary preschool education for all four year olds, which would be funded by a 1.7% tax on the wealthy. The obvious benefit of this measure is that more children would be able to benefit from preschool education, which would better prepare them for entering kindergarten.

My take: I was listening to NPR the other day on my way to somewhere (I can't even keep track anymore), and they were talking about how the current preschool administrators are wary of this measure for a couple of reasons. First of all, it would make some preschools part of the public school system (do I need to explain why that's a problem?), would force preschool programs to be more academic in nature as opposed to keeping their focus on social development, and would "edge out" the remaining privately run preschools. Even though I am pro-education (not necessarily pro public education), and I see the benefits of when children attend preschool, I think it's one more solution for parents facing the "daycare decision". I have to agree with at least one point made on the NPR program - that having preschools become part of the "sinking ship of public education" is not necessarily the best thing. However, everything I know about childhood development says that the "critical years" are birth-to-five. By the time a child is 5, he or she is entering kindergarten, or close to it. From a strictly financial standpoint (which I previously would not have worried about because I had no finances to speak of), this measure also takes an average of $6800 in taxes per year for a single person making $400K. This is on top of the $160K they already pay in income tax. I'm not trying to protect the wealth of the few people "at the top", but that's not a small chunk of change. If they are going to tax the wealthy, why can't they put those dollars into the current K-12 system, which is screaming for resources? On the other hand, having more children attend preschools where special services are provided (like speech, occupational therapy, etc), might make it so that less children are in need of special services once they hit K-12 grades, which would leave more resources available for school districts. This is because children who are identified early as having possible delays receive services sooner, rather than waiting until problems are more "cemented".

Again, I am undecided on this measure, but would tend to vote for this proposition because of the overall importance of early education and intervention. Too many families are not rich and not poor (those are the families with either their own money for preschool, or those who qualify for government-funded preschool). It's time that the middle-income families and their children stop falling through the cracks.

Democratic Candidate - Steve Westly versus Phil Angelides

First of all, each candidate is the lesser of evils when compared to Governor Schwartzenegger. What I like best about Steve Westly is that he supports a woman's right to choose and that he is in favor of cutting irresponsible spending in order to fund (or at least partially fund) social programs instead of automatically raising taxes. I like the fact that he is a product of the public school system and has children who attend public schools - this tells me that he has a vested interest in what happens to our public school system. He talks about Closing the Achievement Gap for minority groups, and happens to be married to a woman who immigrated here. Unfortunately, he supports the California State Exit Exam, which I do not. I think it has abandoned the spirit of "No Child Left Behind" by leaving children behind, especially those kids who are low-income, African American, and Latino. At least he is honest about the expense of having programs to better prepare our students for passing the exit exam, like providing tutoring and after-school programs. One thing lacking in Westly's stance on education reform is special education and what to do about high caseloads, higher needs students, and even higher-needs parents and the amount of time it takes to address each. I am hopeful about the fact that Westly is for cleaning up the environment and finding a way to reduce our dependence on oil, but there wasn't much information on his website that led me to believe he knows how to accomplish these things.

Phil Angelides' ads also claim that he supports education and public health care. However, I was turned off when I visited his website and the first thing that pops up is an ad that says, "Help Phil Raise $100K" followed by a "contribute now" button. I get grumpy when I get hit up for $10 pledge for foot races, so imagine my distaste at this attempt to get in my pocketbook. As far as education, Angelides called for legislation to approve a $25 billion dollar bond to alieve overcrowding and provide for other school improvements. Both Angelides and Westly promote health insurance coverage for ALL children, which is very helpful, since my kids who are currently on Medi-Cal are denied coverage for services that are deemed "not necessary" by the state. I do like Angelides' "Green Wave" plan to invest more into technologies that will clean up the environment and investing in companies that have "biologically friendly" practices. I also like his stance on building "livable communities", which his history of supporting fair and affordable housing backs up. There is no mention made of Angelides' educational history or where his kids attended school, which leads me to believe that they probably went through the private schools. That and the fact that his plan on education was not as detailed as Westly's tells me that educational issues are not at the top of his priority list.

Let's just say that both candidates have their strengths, but with how important educational issues are to me and how they impact society, in general, I'm leaning towards voting for Westly. Of course, we'll see what happens when either candidate does battle with the Governator.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

If I Lived In South Park....

... I would get to drink alcohol in the staff lounge at lunch when I'm really stressed out
... I would get to say what I really think, including swear words, without repercussion
... My hair would look as good as it does in the picture above
... I would steal Mr. Garrison's lunch out of the fridge just for spite
... I would make up bullshit assignments and my students would have to do them
... I would have a personal assistant to do my bidding
... My pet potbelly pig would be allowed to come with me to work
... Changing my clothes each day would be as easy as creating the image above
... I might be sent to Mr. Mackey for an "attitude adjustment"
... The "classroom helpers" list would consist of things like "clean up after teacher's pig" and "run and fetch teacher's 'special elixir of life'"

P.S. Thank you to Sadie and Laura for helping me "recreate" my SouthPark self

South Park Character Creator

Monday, May 08, 2006

It's Hard to Say "I'm Sorry"

At work, I happened to spot today's edition of the Mercury News. First of all, I almost never have time to peruse the contents of our staff lounge, but I made an exception due to all the home-made goodies that were there to kick off "Teacher Appreciation Week". Anyway, back to the article I found interesting - it had to do with ways to say "I'm sorry" to other drivers when you inevitably do something stupid. One picture, in particular, cracked me up - it showed a man holding up a "peace" sign with his fingers and the caption underneath read: "Be sure to include both fingers". This article also included at least six other suggestions of what you should do to communicate with other drivers, ranging from a simple closed-fingered wave to blowing a kiss. I'm not sure about anyone else, but there is no way in hell I'm going to blow a kiss to another driver. Another gesture that I don't think would be taken well is the finger rotated beside your ear (the universal "cuckoo" sign). Supposedly, it's to admit that you, the driver, are cuckoo. But I traditionally use this sign to indicate that someone else is cuckoo, and I would think that another driver might misread my intent. I can see using some of the others that were suggested - like mouthing "I'm sorry" when you make a mistake. The thing is, is that it's hard for me to tell if someone is really sorry, or if they're just saying that so as to avoid the harsh unpleasantness of someone else's wrath. At any rate, I usually don't spend time on the road trying to communicate with other drivers, especially since I'm usually on the freeway and have to pay attention to what I'm doing. I also have to wonder why the Mercury News is printing such an article when there are bigger traffic issues out there, like people driving drunk (which H and I witnessed yesterday on our way home from a BBQ) or people running red lights. In my mind, when I don't feel safe and feel that the most likely cause of my own demise will be from driving in this area, the last thing I'm going to worry about is traffic etiquette.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Don't Dumb It Down

Okay, I have several pet peeves (one of which I "inherited" from my mom - don't chew with your mouth open). But high up on that list is when I see mothers "babytalk" to their kids. I'm not talking about simplifying language for a baby, but I'm talking about doing the cutesy sing-song voice. I was a witness to such fowl language the other day at work when a mother came in to the work room to make copies. First of all, babies aren't supposed to be in the workroom, since there are many dangerous things for them to get into. But worse is when I have to listen to this parent "dumb it down" for her child. Since when is being direct with children a bad thing? I've actually been criticized for my direct style by a parent of a student I work with. When did it become preferable to treat children like they are lesser human beings? By talking down to children, aren't we sending them the message that they are not smart or capable enough to understand what adults are saying? If you start out in the beginning expecting that your child will learn the language he or she is exposed to, without "cutesy-ing" it up, they will more than likely rise to the occasion. For more information on how to encourage language development in your child, here are some useful links:

American Speech Language and Hearing Association
Hanen Centre
Chart on Emergent Language Skills at Various Ages

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Prince Sings Country Hits

I'm sitting in a crowded bar with very high tables enjoying my margarita. I have taken great pains to get myself ready for this very special night - I'm wearing the tightest pants I own, black leather boots with the little fringy thingies, and my hair is a mile high, thanks to my friend Aqua Net. All of a sudden, the person I've been eagerly anticipating appears on stage - it's Prince in all his purple glory! All I can hear is the applause from the crowd as the lights dim and I see him grab the microphone. My body tenses in anticipation of what will come next. Very soft music accompanies his first words - "Blame it all on my roots, I showed up in boots and ruined your black tie affair....". I become even more excited as Prince is apparently doing a cover of Garth Brook's "Friends In Low Places". Most of the people in the place yell their "boos" as they quickly make their exit. This does not deter Prince, but instead brings his focus to the one person who is singing along with him while silently swaying her body to the music - me! He points his finger at me from beneath the pristine ruffles of his shirt cuff and sneers wickedly while singing the rest of the song to me. He ends the number by grinding his hips against the microphone stand, then throwing the mike to the ground, only to have it bounce up again into his waiting fist. Just as the stage lights fade to dark and Prince makes his way slowly off the stage and approaches me.....

I wake up and growl at the alarm clock. :-/