Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Have you thanked your child's teacher?

On Monday, I volunteered in a local elementary school in case they needed an extra hand.  (I feel privileged I was allowed to so do.) I made it very clear that I had no personal training in counseling or anything of the sort, but had been a teacher through several crisis in the past (9-11, Columbine, a student-suicide) and knew sometimes it was just nice to have a few extra people in the building for the extra circumstances that might arise.

What struck me was that every one of those teachers, aids and administrators came to school Monday with the underlying agreement that they would take a bullet for any one of our kids.  That's heavy stuff.  I could see it in their eyes.  They would do it.

We have no business fussing at them this week.

In fact, we need to thank them.  Teaching a kid to read is more difficult than rocket science.  It really is.  And they're expected to do this (and teach math, science, etc.) with 20 small kids in a room and cope with the results of all of our individual parenting deficiencies.

It makes a dozen home-made cookies at Christmas seem paltry.  (Which is more than I've done.)  So, I'm doing this.

Teachers need our support.  Immediately -- in the classrooms, by really making sure we help with the homework, and by backing them up instead of undermining them (especially in front of our kids).  With this new merit-based pay idea that NC is proposing, if you as a parent slack on your parenting, it could jeopardize their paycheck and their job.  THAT's NOT FAIR and you know it.  The language in the proposed bill (795) could allow districts to base teacher salary and employment on a single year's (single test's!) results (instead of years of experience or education).

They also need our support in other ways -- like communicating to our legislators.

As non-teachers, we need to make our voices heard in support of teachers---we owe them that for what they give our children.

My representative Ralph Hise supports "expand[ing] the number of places citizens with a concealed carry permit can carry firearms."  (His website.)  Michelle Presnell  (who also represents me) says the following on her website about this issue:  "Your 2nd Amendment right to bear arms----------if it has to do with a gun, ammo, my opponent will vote NO  I am a member of the NRA, I have my concealed carry license and very proud of it."

Let them know what you think our country's gun/ammunition purchasing restrictions or lack thereof.  Now is the time while guns are in the national conversation.

In regards to teacher support:  Ralph Hise is on the Education/Higher Education Committee.  He wants to do away with the pay increase to teachers who have earned their master's degree and completed their National Board Certification.  It should be noted that based on repeated studies since 2005, 4th grade teachers with their master's degree produce higher scoring students on vocabulary and reading assessments.  

Here are some points the North Carolina Association of Educators propose as changes to Senate Bill 795.
(It's being called "Excellent Public Schools Act"... anyone else watch The Daily Show last night?) As a group who studies education in North Carolina extensively and who has teachers' and students' interests at heart, I hope the committee takes their suggestions seriously and makes the proposed changes.

Additionally Ralph Hise has proposed legislature that would remove the cap on the number of Charter Schools in North Carolina.  What's so bad about that?  There isn't solid evidence that charter schools provide improved education.  Before we spend money on unproven education reform, let's spend money on PROVEN education reform.  Read more about charter schools.

The Center for Public Education concludes the following after evaluating the research on charter schools:
 "The incomplete research base behind charters means that many states may be heading into a reform strategy without a clear understanding of how charter schools work best, or how they interact with and affect traditional public schools. Charter schools need more research, oversight, and true evaluation to fulfill their purpose of being laboratories that traditional public schools can learn from."
And FYI, here's  North Carolina's Report Card if you're interested in seeing how we do.

Bottom line is, these representatives need to know where their constituents stand on some of these issues.

If you haven't thanked your teachers this season, you can do so now by writing a short note to your reps and advocating for teachers.

Michell Presnell District 118  Contact Form
Ralph Hise 47  Contact Information

Or find your own representatives and drop them a note.  It'll take less time than a batch of cookies.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Teaching Myself Faux Letterpress

Last year I began doing graphic design for Parkway Playhouse:  posters, web graphics, web ads etc.  Since they were putting on one of my plays, you can better believe that I had a self-serving interest in seeing the posters look good... or at least as good as I could make them.  Lo and behold, they've asked me to design for the 2013 season as well.  (This is either evidence of my general competence or the principle that the evil you know is better than the evil you do not know.)

Not surprisingly, since I am not a trained or "real" graphic designer, one of the design concepts was beyond my capabilities.  It doesn't take much.  However, if I pride myself on anything it's being able to figure it out and, in the words of Tim Gunn, MAKE IT WORK.  Google turned up several tutorials (see below) on faux letter press which were extremely helpful and taught me a few new things about Adobe Elements (which I've been using for nearly 8 years and thought I knew inside and out).

Additional poking around turned up distressed brushes I could load (also below) and always has great new fonts and dingbats.  Now, how to figure out how to keep them loaded and not load them every time I open the program.

A big THANK YOU to all the other graphic designers, artists, photographers, typeface designers, bloggers and YouTubers who freely share their time/talents to teach others.  Further thanks to those who allow some of their work to be used freely. You are an inspiration, in part because of your talent, but also in part because sharing your creativity encourages others to create.  (I do my part to check licenses and permissions before incorporating others' work and I encourage you to do so as well.)

I'm still learning and need to push the limits, but I'm so proud of what I've learned to do, I can hardly stand it.  If I get a new item of clothing, I have to wear it the next day... so I guess this is the equivalent urge.  I have to show you what I've done!  (These still may undergo some changes--since they haven't actually been approved by the artistic director--but still....)

Helpful Sites& Credits:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Designing E-book Covers

Lately I've been doing more design work than writing... So here's an example of one of my favorites.  Finally, the bad habit of judging a book by its cover pays off!

Above the Caprok

The ebook is available from (for your Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (for your Nook).

Friday, December 7, 2012

Surprise Subbing!

Surprise! I subbed today.  I didn't get the call until 7:30 am, seconds before walking out the door to take my kids to school, still in my pajamas.  OK, I said, but warned that I was unshowered and would roll in just before the bell.
ASIDE:  This is better than my last "surprise subbing" experience when the surprise featured a child spewing vomit all down the hall and me as the only adult in sight having to field getting the poor thing cleaned up enough to walk to the nurse's office -- all the while fighting my own urge to vomit with repeated stomach-clenches that reached into my throat.  
Back to today, though, because I don't care to think about the former surprise too much... It ended up being an easy day thanks to good kids who know their routine and an assistant who did all the heavy lifting.  I did get a chance to work on some poetry, though.  The second-graders worked on rhymes and how to write sentences that end in the rhyming words.  Then we reviewed their work with some standards in mind (1 - did it really rhyme, 2 - did it have to do with winter/Christmas, 3 - the quality of the sentence) and chose our favorites to put together as rhyming couplets -- just like they'd been studying in several versions of the classic "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

I typed the class poem up with some clip art to color and left the teacher some evidence of their creativity and hard work -- plus a little something for them to color later.  It just figures that I'd be a sub who'd leave the teacher busywork to do when she gets back!  HA!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Living here for the last 10 years, I have started, expanded and rearranged many new beds.  I moved the failing-to-bloom daylilies which were running for sunlight out from under the double-flowering cherries and into a sunnier spot where we'd cut out overgrown spruce bushes.  The kids and I transplanted ferns from our slopes down into the shady bed and divided hosta.  When the fake rock to cover our new well pump plunked itself into the middle of the yard, I extended a peninsula from an existing bed to incorporate it like it was an intentional feature.

But this is my first lasagna bed.  Unlike a "salsa garden" this bed will not support the ingredients to make lasagna, but is built lasagna-style in layers.  You don't till or turn the layers in such a bed, but add the necessary raw ingredients to create rich soil.  The nutrients typically last 3 years.  My friends at MiLo Acres recommend planting leafy things in the first year.  Fruit bearing crops might be too happy producing leaves and growing willy-nilly to settle down enough to produce fruit.  So we've got it earmarked for chard, kale, spinach, romaine and the like.

Typically the first layer is cardboard, or newspaper, but since I use office-paper-shreds in my chicken coop, I opted to continue recycling.  (Now all that stuff normally slated for the landfill will be growing vegetables!)  The addition of chicken-poo to this layer is excellent and the hard chicken-poo-paper-mache will work sufficiently to keep the weeds down.

The next layer, as you can see, is comprised of corn and okra stalks (vegetation with no weed seeds is bonus).  I'm never sure what to do with these anyway.  Last weekend, my daughter added another 6-8 inches of rotting hay we had housing mice under the barn.  Next will come manure, though, without a pick-up truck, this will be harder to acquire.  The saving grace is that I have all winter to build it; two feet of materials. Come spring, it will begin to rot and decompose properly and be ready for planting (with pockets of potting soil directly around the roots).

Last night, I made another startling discovery about beds.  I make mine every day.  Not only that, I make my husband's side too--without complaint.  I never would have suspected, based on my childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and feminism that I would ever become such a person.  Sometimes change comes ever so slowly, you don't recognize it until you're staring at your about-faced self.  Like how paper and poo and cornstalks and rotting hay will cease to be individual entities and become soil.  Good habits and bad habits alike form slyly, decay of one thing giving way to growth of another.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Year Already?

I guess I knew it'd been a while since I've posted here in this blog, but it startled me to see it'd been an entire year.  (Blogging over at Between the Tackles filled some of that void, but still...)  I must have composed a thousand blog entries in my head which never made it to the keyboard.  A friend of mine even emailed me a guest-blog-post about getting back into the groove... and I didn't manage to cut and paste it here.

But now I've got a new design, and a renewed commitment to posting again.

Perhaps I will begin with some of what I've read in the last year:

The Night Circus Erin Morgenstern
The Book of Three  Lloyd Alexander*
The Black Cauldron Lloyd Alexander*
Chocolate Joanne Harris 
Dogs  Abigail DeWitt
Bossy Pants  Tina Fay 
I’ll Fly Away Wally Lamb 
The Door Through Space Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Year of the Big Thaw Marion Zimmer Bradley
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Jonathan Safran Foer
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Strange Case of Finley Jayne Kady Cross
Things Fall Apart Chinva Achebe 
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairlyland in a Ship of Her Own Making Catherynne Valente
Inheritance Christopher Paolini
The Big Beautiful Pamela Duncan
The Night Bookmobile Audrey Niffenegger
Charlotte's Web E.B. White

There may be a few more, but I just can't remember right now.  Books I would very much recommend are The Night Circus, Circumnavigated, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  Just look at the beautiful covers!