Sunday, January 29, 2006

Happy New Year!

No, you're not experiencing deja vu - it's the Chinese New Year today! To celebrate, I am sitting on my bum blogging and drinking coffee. We went out with some friends Friday night to Thai Basil in Sunnyvale - great food and cozy atmosphere. My only complaint was our grumpy waitress, whom I've never seen there before. Yes, I realize waitressing is difficult, especially on a busy evening (waitressing was one of my first "real" jobs). However, a big part of waitressing is putting on a smile for your customers even if, in your head, you're telling them "bite me".

I'm a bit new to the Chinese New Year festivities - the most I've ever done is find out my sign (which, because of when my birthday falls, is the head of a rat and, possibly, the butt of a pig). How attractive. Hopefully, as part of the celebration, we can go to the parade in San Francisco in February. I've never been to one before and, even though I shy away from Chinatown because of how crowded it is, I'd make an exception for an event like this. We've not taken part in any other traditional New Year customs, but it's always good to broaden one's horizons. Maybe next year we can try the "sweeping of the grounds" (since our grounds could certainly use some sweeping!) or Lai-See.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Musical Decorations

"Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid. " Frank Zappa

I was tagged by ZombieSlayer about music - songs that remind me of a person, place, or specific event in life.

Ever since I was a young girl, I have loved listening to music. My grandparents and parents had the most influence on my musical taste. From my mother and grandparents, I got a taste of country music, but I didn't appreciate it until I was older. I remember my brother taking me to a country bar when I was in my early twenties and showing me how to country dance - swing, two step, ten step, waltz. We went to this old barn of a place at the State Line in Idaho called "Kelly's", which had a live band, headed of course, by Kelly. Some of my favorite country songs I heard out there while kicking up my heels - like "Fishin in the Dark" by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, "Devil Went Down to Georgia" by Charlie Daniels, and that one song by Hank Williams Jr. about why people drink and roll smoke. Going to Kelly's was always fun and I rarely sat out a dance - I can't help but smile when I hear those old songs. My favorite country singer who is linked to someone I still think about a lot is Waylon Jennings. Whenever I hear "Luchenbach, Texas", I think of my grandfather and the times I spent with him out on the farm. They were, quite possibly, the best and most simple years of my life.

Another song that has special meaning for me is "Close to You" by the Carpenters. This is because H sings this to me sporadically while spinning me around in his arms and holding me close. It's such an old fashioned song and I never had particular thoughts about it before H started singing it to me. Now it's sort of "our song".

I have a huge section on my Nano devoted to "The Oldies", which I should clarify is anything from the 60's and 70's. Anytime I want to relax, I listen to this list because it reminds me of summers out at the lake. My biggest care in the world was whether or not it would be cloudy or who had to help with the dinner dishes. The cabin was a bustling place on weekends in the summer - there weren't too many times when the place was not crowded with mostly family, but also family friends. Grandpa always pulled us water-skiiing behind the boat, we took long walks on the dirt roads in the evening and collected wildflowers, and stayed up late with my cousins talking. There was no decent TV reception, so the radio was always going and oldies were always playing - Three Dog Night, Otis Redding, Diana Ross and the Supremes, just to name a few. Oldies made up the soundtrack for my lazy days at the lake.

Lately, anything about peace and war and the general state of the world today are songs I've listened to and really connected with, like "What's Goin On?" by Marvin Gaye and "Imagine" by John Lennon. I know the songs were written for very different times, but were the times so different compared to now?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I think I have a Syndrome

During some funky hours of television viewing, I came across a commercial that, to me, was hilarious. It featured a woman who was sitting (or attempting to sit) in a reclining chair, but couldn't because of the dreaded Restless Leg Syndrome. Of course, prescription medication is available (and highly encouraged) for this malady. No, RLS is not when your leg gets bored and restless, but apparently that description is not too far off the mark. I'm not denying that there are some legitimate syndromes out there - like Down Syndrome, Turner's Syndrome, and Premenstrual Syndrome. A syndrome, after all, is simply a group of symptoms that characterize a disease or undesirable condition. However, do we really need a name and a medication for EVERY group of symptoms that people have? If so, then I wonder what I would need to lessen the effects of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, which is an MSG reaction characterized by chest pain and a burning sensation all over one's body. I am especially concerned about my Yellow Nail Syndrome that I sometimes get after I keep nail polish on for too long, although it could also be due to bronchitis (although not in my case).

Monday, January 23, 2006

Elton John Is Wrong

"Sorry" doesn't seem to be the hardest word - "goodbye" is most difficult word for me to say. I did this yet again this morning when I saw my son off at the airport. I love spending time with my son, which happens about once a month or once every three weeks, but it's just never long enough. This weekend, we celebrated his 13th birthday by going to The Tech and The Winchester Mystery House. He also got to pick out his choice of birthday cake from Dick's Bakery, so we had a delicious checkerboard white/dark chocolate cake with burnt white icing. As is tradition, he picked out his birthday dinner for me to make - meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn.

It was interesting watching K at The Tech, which is the Technology Museum in San Jose. He paid very little attention to things I thought he'd be interested in, such as the "clean room" and the "internet" area. He ended up spending the majority of his time programming the computer and connected devices in order to rig up a mechanized operation to feed the computerized fish. So, he had a choice of using a button, a motion sensor, or a microphone as the trigger. The trigger then started the motion of either the toy train or the lever - he chose the lever. Tinker toys were connected to set in motion the feeder, which had a mallet at one end to simulate a fish feeder. There were computerized videos that showed different ways to accomplish this task, but K wanted no part in the videos. Read the manual... follow directions? No way! After a few unsuccessful tries, I thought he would give up and wander to another exhibit, but he insisted that we stay until he figured it out, which he eventually did. It made me think a few things - first of all, ever since he was a young kid, K has always been fascinated by how things work. He has always liked electricity and is a very tactile learner. If it's not "hands on", it's not going to connect for him. Also, I always worry when he doesn't maintain attention to a task, even a seemingly enjoyable one. This showed me that, with the proper motivation and interest in something, he can see a project through to completion. This has been a big worry for me as I look ahead to his future and try to envision what the real world will be like for him.

On Sunday, we met up with some friends and visited the Winchester Mystery House. K really wanted to take this tour because he has a love of guns and weird trivia. Personally, I thought the tour was overpriced, but I learned some things. First of all, if you're rich, you can afford to be eccentric (like Mrs. Winchester was). Secondly, there is such a thing as having too many bathrooms. The tour also made me vow that, if I ever have contractors work on a house, I will let them do their job so that, after I die, I won't have people wandering through my house on a tour thinking "this was one weird chick". Of course, K liked the gun display the best. He was amused by certain factoids presented on the tour - like the fact that Mrs. Winchester's favorite number was 13, which is a pattern she used repeatedly through the house. Also, from a kid's perspective, the only thing a gift shop really needs to have in it to be appealing is candy and soda.

All in all, a very good and busy weekend. They never last long enough....

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

What Diversity Means To Me...

When I hear the word "diversity" paired with "racism", I can already feel myself starting to get annoyed. It's not that I'm annoyed with the concepts, but how it comes across. As a preamble to what I'm about to say, this post is inspired by ZombieSlayer's recent post breifly mentioning this issue.

Last Friday was an AB day for me - no kids came to school, but teachers attend workshops. I have no idea what AB stands for, but I know I have to attend whatever meetings/workshops administration has planned. On the agenda for this day was a speech by our superintendent, followed by groups meeting to read articles about "white privilege" and how to teach diversity to our children. What I found unbelievable was that they wanted us to have deep and meaningful discussions about articles that were written in the mid-80's. Furthermore, when I asked about other kinds of inequities that I see every day against my students with special needs, I was told "Yes, but we're not talking about that today - we are talking about white privilege". Now, keep in mind that I'm not denying that "white privilege" exists or that teaching our children diversity is a good thing. However, I'm saying that devoting a day that I could be working with my very diverse group of students or at least doing the necessary paperwork that goes along with providing said students services would have been a much better use of my time. This is because I have noticed that, when one group (for example, the adminstrators of a district) decides to have a workshop about diversity, it is very limited in scope. It is "diversity" on their terms, which on that day, happened to be "white privilege" as it relates to African Americans. There is no mention of "male privilege" or "wealthy privilege". There is no mention made of the inequality that the kids I work with live with every day because of their disabilities. Also, I guess I should forget that the biggest minority group in our school district happens to be Hispanic. But, maybe there are no inequities where they are concerned, or we should not waste our time on those issues. Puhleese!

So, if you want to talk about "diversity" and expect me to take you seriously, then don't be so narrowminded to think that all of public school ills will be cured if we concentrate on making things equitable for only our African-American students. If that happens, we are putting blinders on to all the unfairness that many other people face in this world every day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Open Wide and Show Me Those Choppers!

It's time, once again, for my dental check up. I'm supposed to go every six months, but all I can manage is once a year due to my irrational fear of dentists. My other irrational fear is of any flying insect that can land on me and hurt me, especially bees. But, back to my irrational fear of dentists...

I have had a lot of dental work done over the years, but probably my most painful was when I was a child and had to have several teeth removed due to overcrowding. One visit, in particular, went horribly awry when the dentist started pulling my tooth out without first checking to make sure I was sufficiently numb. My resulting scream probably scared the living shit out of every other kid in the dentist office at that moment and was my first traumatic dental experience. Ever since then, I take the maximum amount of laughing gas, relax medicine, and whatever else they offer me whenever I've had teeth pulled or fillings. I even contemplated trying to score a Xanax from someone at work for today's visit (although I'd have no idea who to ask) so that I won't care when they start scraping. I'll tell you this much, if my dentist clicks her tongue at me and says "we must do something about these gums" and then doesn't proceed to tell me what we must do about my gums (this is what my last dentist did), then I won't be making a return visit.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

An Affair to Remember

I've been loving Netflix because I can browse for movie titles I'd like to see and I don't have to go wait in line. We've seen some pretty good movies this way that I'm not sure I normally would have rented (or even been able to find). Some good ones I've seen lately are "Motorcycle Diaries" about a South American med student on a journey to "find himself" and how it leads to him becoming a rebel and supporter of Castro. I also really enjoyed "City of God", which chronicled the life of a photographer for the paper in a very rough area and actually lived to tell his story. Last night's movie was "An Affair to Remember", which I chose because I figure that I need to diversify my movie-viewing/choosing habits and get acquainted with some of the classics. I remember taking a course in my first two years of college called "American Film Classics", so I was exposed to some films I normally would not have been interested in and learned to appreciate why they were considered good for their time.

"An Affair to Remember" was pretty good, but nothing spectacular. I was struck by the corny dialogue and how quickly the two main characters "fell head over heels" for each other (eye-roll). Also, keep in mind that, since this movie was made in the mid-50's, it is not very explicit. They don't even show you Nickie and Terry's first kiss! Also, it's interesting who they cast in these films. Apparently, the role for leading lady was originally supposed to go to Grace Kelly, but I think Deborah Kerr did a fine job and was appealing in her own way. A sign of the times really showed up in this film, which was the fact that, at several different points in the movie, different characters commented on the "niceness" of Deborah Kerr's character (even though they had only known her for a few moments). Because of the subject matter (two people meet on a cruise ship and fall in love, even though they are both promised to someone else), I think the film tried very hard to make the characters likable and the situation something that people could, if not identify with, at least empathize with. Even when the two planned to marry and broke it off with their respective partners, things remained very civil between the cheaters and the cheated on. That would never happen in a movie this day and age - we have movies like "Fatal Attraction", "A Perfect Murder", and countless others that seem to want us to think that it's okay to turn into a psycho-murdering bitch/bastard because you've been jilted. H pointed out something that I guess sums up my observations about the movie pretty succinctly - that some points of view and dialogue just don't translate well over time.

I would recommend this movie to people who want something light-hearted and need a breath of fresh air from the grit of today's films. I give this flick seven out of ten dancing feet.

Next in my queue? Reservoir Dogs, The Graduate, Annie Hall, Goodfellas, and Chinatown.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

If You Can't Say Something Nice....

As a result of being increasingly annoyed at my students' conduct towards one another lately, I decided to do a social lesson today for my groups. It was about "being nice". I explained about how we are around some people we like and some people we don't like, and that it's okay if we don't like everyone we meet. It's funny though, because I teach these things through a series of yes/no questions that I ask the kids. It goes something like this:

Me: "Do you like everyone you meet?"
Kids: "Yes." (while nodding their heads in an automaton fashion)
Me: "Well, you know, it's okay if you don't like everyone you meet - that's normal."
Kids: (silence)
Me: "However, even if you don't like someone, is it ever okay to say mean things to them?"
Kids: "Noooo" (while moving their heads in a cross between an affirmative nod and an emphatic no-shake that ends up looking like their heads are moving in a circular motion)
Me: "Have you ever heard of the Golden Rule?"
Kids: (Baffled questioning stare directed at me)
Me: "It means to treat others how you want to be treated."
Kids: (Nod their heads sagely)
Me: "Let's practice so that I know you understand."
Kids: "Okay, Miss Jen"

Following their "okay", I write on the white board a list of "nice things to say to others". The kids try to contribute, but need help in saying appropriate things. So, I break it down further and I tell them statements and they are to tell me if what I'm saying is nice or mean. What I was hoping to follow was for the students to start telling me nice things to say. Instead, I received requests for "mean things we shouldn't say". I frown because that list could easily become longer than the "nice things..." list. In the end, I end up saying, in several different ways, that if you can't say something nice to someone, you should say nothing. Internally, I'm having difficulty figuring out how to explain to them (keep in mind this is a group of first and second graders who are some of my lower-functioning students) that you should only say nice things if you mean them and how to look for the subtle differences between two statements that contain the same words, but can mean very different things. I guess, for the moment, it's good enough that I got promises from the children that they would say nice things to others or not say anything. We have to start somewhere....

Monday, January 09, 2006

Nickel and Dimed

I just recently purchased my first audio book - "Nickel and Dimed - On (NOT) Getting By in America". I'm just over halfway through it - I've been listening to it on my way to and from work. The premise is that the author, who is obviously a writer by trade, did an "experiment" by taking minimum wage jobs and living the "minimum wage" lifestyle and then reported on it. You might think it dull, but actually is very good. I love some of the terminology she uses, like "repetitive injury of the spirit" to describe how she feels when she attempts to hold two minimum wage jobs in order to make ends meet. Her first job is waitressing, which I have done before. My hat is off to TSHS, because, until I cleaned rooms at a Quality Inn, I did not know there was a less thankless job than waitressing. I'm listening to the part right now about her experience during the weekdays as a "Merry Maid" or equivalent (she does not use real names) and a dietary aide at a SNF on the weekends. I cannot relate to the nursing facility experience, as I have never worked in one, but I can sympathize with her experience as a maid. Up until listening to this audio book, I had forgotten what it feels like to be a maid, in particular. No minimum wage job is glamorous, but maids seem to be in a class all by themselves, which is not a good thing. Her description of the three different types of shit splatters (I won't go into them here) that she has to clean up left me nodding and cringing at my not-so-distant memories of similar tasks. That is nothing compared to her realization that there is hardly any way to make ends meet by being a minimum wage worker in America, even if you can hold down two jobs. Before this book, I did not think the minimum wage needed to be raised, but I have since changed my opinion on that. Like H points out to me, if the prices of housing and such goes up, why doesn't minimum wage increase accordingly? Why should only the rich be able to keep up with inflation? I don't agree with everything the author puts forth. After being a maid, she asserts that she would never hire a maid because she does not want that type of subservient relationship with someone. However, I have been a "cleaning lady" for myself and found it quite enjoyable. I was able to set my own wage and pick who I wanted to clean for. As a result, I had a good clientele who treated me well. The experience did not sour me on hiring a cleaning person. I'll post more when I have finished the audiobook, but I do have one drawback to this method of taking in information. When she quotes sources or states statistics and I cannot remember them, I don't know how to go back and find them. Also, I'm in my car, so I cannot write them down, whereas with a regular book, I get out my trusty highlighter and dog-ear the pages I want to refer back to. Curse my memory!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Expanding Horizons

Today we made the trek up to San Francisco to see our friends and visit Japantown. I've been around San Francisco a little bit since we moved to the area in July and I've been to Chinatown, so I was curious to see what Japantown had to offer. This is especially since our visit to the Japantown in San Jose was so disappointing. We had a pretty good visit - I enjoyed most of the things we did except for the fact that Japantown is enclosed in a mall. However, the mall was pretty nicely kept. Instead of only having stairs and elevators, they also had arched bridges that you could walk across to get from one set of stores to the next, complete with water ponds and greenery surrounding. I liked the different feel of Japantown, compared to Chinatown and places like Ranch 99. It didn't feel as crowded and small and difficult to navigate. I'm not a small gal and I don't enjoy walking through a place where my ass hits everything I walk past.

In the elevator, I noticed this sign advertising Samurai swords for sale. I couldn't help thinking of the Kill Bill movies and the importance of the all-mighty sword. I'm wondering which three pieces come with the sword set. I can visualize two - the sword and the hilt. Maybe it also comes with a do-it-yourself wound-tending kit for those who are not skilled in the ways of the sword.

The best thing I liked about Japantown besides the quirky shops featuring everything from kimonos to Anime' porn (yes, it does exist), was the soda. I've never had anything like the berry soda we picked up from the vending machine. It was very sweet and tasted sort of "creamy", but with fizz and berry. I think offering me the soda was H's master plan to get me to go back to Ranch 99, since we could definitely get more of the soda there.

We'll save that trek for another day when I'm feeling particularly brave.

Friday, January 06, 2006

To Die For

Okay, I never thought I'd use the phrase "to die for" for something that is non-chocolate, but I found this yarn (pictured above) at the local quilting shop and about shit bricks when I saw the price (almost $18 per ball). Any knitter knows that you need at least two balls to do any decent sized project. So, for the last hour, I have been scouring the internet yarn buying sites to find the cheapest price for this yarn (which is about $11 per ball). While I pine away for fine yarn like this (because it looks like a vine with little flowers are on it, which I find very feminine and dainty), I wonder why I want it so much since I have no idea what I'll make with it. Also, it's not like I'm a "dainty and flowery" type of gal, so I would not wear anything made with this yarn. Nothing this pretty would go with my normal mode of dress - khakis and plain colored t-shirt. That means, like so many of my other knitting and sewing projects, it would have to be given to one lucky recipient for a birthday or special occasion. Okay, now on to more scouring the internet to find just the right project for this lovely little yarn....

Thursday, January 05, 2006

My Role as a Speech Language Pathologist

One of the reasons why the job of a speech language pathologist appealed so much to me (in my naive college days) was the autonomy of the profession. Most of the time, it's true - my immediate supervisors are not aware of my comings and goings and I have free license to do my job as I see fit, so long as the children are getting their services, the paperwork is submitted on time, I get along at least decently with my co-workers, and the parents are happy. The last part is tricky sometimes. As a preamble to launching into my spiel about difficult parents, let me just say that the autistic population is booming, especially in high tech areas. Where do they come from, you ask? Well, they come from somewhere and when you meet some (NOT ALL) of the parents, you nod your head sagely and inside your brain say "Bingo!". The prevalence of autism and causes for the recent boom to be discussed in some other blog entry down the line. Back to the parents.... now it appears that my job title has shifted from "a professional who leads the student to the proverbial water" to "the professional who not only leads the student to the proverbial water, but shoves his face down in it until he has all but drowned". Let me just say that, for you parents out there, it is not (most of the time) that educators are opposed to listening to parental input. I think the major roadblocks come when parents dictate every aspect of a child's educational goals to the teaching staff instead of working together as a team to come up with realistic, attainable, and practical goals. It assumes the parents know way more about the educational system than the teachers ever could and that teachers and support personnel cannot and should not be trusted to ever teach children. My general wondering is, if this is really how parents feel, why not just homeschool your child? I don't agree with homeschooling, but I don't pretend to have all the answers. As a parent, I've gone through my own disillusionment regarding the public school system after watching my son fail a year of math while seeing the school offer no support and leaving it to me to shell out the big bucks for Sylvan (and over 3K later, he still failed). Even though that's an aside, it emphasizes that I'm not completely blind to what parents go through in dealing with the public school system.

What it comes down to is that, even though I am used to autonomy, I enjoy working in a team. But a team is not when one person (whomever that may be) is in control and does not value anyone else's input - especially if it contradicts their own beliefs. What upsets me even more is to see that parents want goals like "so-and-so will internalize x". I'm not new in the field, but how the hell does one teach a kid to "internalize" something? Why are the goals that I'm working on with child X dictated to me as if I have no insight to offer? Does the fact that I love working with kids and I bust my ass to do my best for them count for anything? Does anyone care that I care? Why am I doing this job, again?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Potty Mouth

I'm usually not a prude when it comes to language, but when I'm at work I mind my P's and Q's. I work in public schools, so not only is it important to refrain from swearing, one should also not mention kids or parents' names (or co-workers for that matter). This is especially true if you want to bitch about them to other co-workers in very public places (like the lunchroom or the copy room or the hallway). I work with this one gal who is old enough to be my mother and she gives "cussin'" a new definition. It would not bother me if she did this behind closed doors, but she does this any old place in the building and seems not to be bothered by the fact that people can hear her. She gives me the evil eye when I try to give her the "shush" sign (you know, finger held vertically in front of slightly pursed lips). You probably wonder why I care so much, but it's mostly because she is complaining about parents/kids who I work with as well. I feel like I'm guilty just by association. I can respect that people should be able to express their frustrations in their own ways, but sheesh, there is a time and a place!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Gentle Reminder

So I come back to my home from my visit to my family for the holidays and I return to this (pictured above - a view from my small patio). Gray skies, wind, occasional rain. All gentle reminders of why I don't live in the Seattle area anymore. It's funny because sometimes I get "homesick" for Seattle. I miss my friends a lot and it was easy to make the four hour drive to get back to Spokane. However, days like this were all too common, which made it almost impossible for me to leave the house without a scowl on my face. That's if I was able to work up enough enthusiasm to get out of the house in the first place. It's days like this that make me realize that I am not suited for a crappy (meaning mostly rainy and windy) climate.

I say that this is a gentle reminder because it's not nearly as cold or wet as what I'm used to. Although, I'm thanking my lucky stars that we don't live in Sonoma county right now. The worst I have to deal with here in San Jose is the realization that fixing my hair this morning was an exercise in futility because, once I step outside, my hair will look much like it did when I first woke up.