Dad Paints the Nursery...

...and Mom has cankles. M has been hard at work this week painting the nursery. Because M is a creative man, and also because he has a tendency towards not doing things the simple way, this has required three shades of paint and lots and lots of taping, painting, drying and waiting. But I think it's going to look really great and can't wait to put the finishing touches on it, which include extremely cute monkey decals. Stay tuned for photos of the finished room.

In other news, we had a great time with the family at Pete and Meg's wedding last weekend. For some reason I took only one photograph the entire week, which included my baby shower, several family dinners and the wedding itself. However, there were enough cameras flashing from the rest of the family to make up for that. This photo was taken by Aunt Mary. You may notice that I was forced to purchase some bedazzled flip flops to wear to the wedding, since my feet, and hands for that matter, are a bit larger than they used to be. I also have recently developed pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome (caused by water retention) and my middle finger is permanently numb and tingling. But this is all normal, apparently, and oddly the treatment for water retention is to drink more water. My mother would love that one, as that was her favorite prescription for all of our ailments during my childhood. There's nothing like trying to flush your kidneys when your bladder is squashed into the size of an acorn.

In an unusual fit of nesting, I washed some baby clothes and set up the sleeping/changing area in our bedroom with the pack-n-play that my aunts bought us. Besides that, I've been working nine hour days all week to finish all the training. The one thing I didn't anticipate was how tiring doing all that facilitating would be, and hours on my feet has not been great for the state of my cankles. But overall, it's gone really well with my tutors, and I should finish up tomorrow.

And finally, I've been enjoying the Ken Burns National Park series that's airing this week. Of course there's lots of Ken Burns-y panning of beautiful photographs, but I am also learning a lot about the complex history of the parks, as well as reliving some great memories - like the bear in the Grand Tetons and green lushness of the Ho Rainforest.


Well, we survived the G20....

...and I didn't see one poo-flinging anarchist - imagine that. To the KDKA talk radio hosts who freaked out my family members with your apocalyptic predictions...haha! You were wrong.

However, what happened at Pitt last night is really kind of disturbing.

Pitt's campus seemed to be the hotbed of action during the whole event, although for a college campus there were remarkably few organized protests or anti-G20 sentiments at all. The police clashed repeatedly with students who were doing what students typically do on a warm, late summer night in Oakland...hanging out around Oakland.

I worked on campus on Thursday and there was a very edgy vibe going on at that point, with hundreds of officers in riot gear, boarded up windows, and oddly empty sidewalks and campus buildings. The police had literally nothing to do all day long. So it kind of makes sense that once the students came out for the evening, there would be some kind of confrontation.

On Friday evening, I received this text message from the University's emergency alert system:

"Conditions may be deteriorating in Oakland. Students are advised to remain near their residences."

That was it...no information about what the "conditions" were (terror plot? anarchist invasion? riot?) or what particular area to avoid, so I'm assuming that once thousands of students received this message, out of sheer curiosity they went out looking for the excitement, if they were not already out. I would love to know what administrator made the call to send out this ridiculous message. What were you thinking?

Here's a video of the action, posted by Pitt News.

The rest of the local media was distinctly silent on this issue, by the way. Odd, since they were running around the city for three days declaring every gathering of 10 or more people a "protest".

Who is to blame here? I guess you could argue that the students should have just stayed in their dorms, but there certainly is nothing illegal or out of the ordinary about hanging out on the streets of Oakland at night. The police did issue a call to disburse, but from the video clips, it appears they were a bit heavy-handed in their "non-lethal" arrest tactics. I blame that on boredom and testosterone. And a general culture of acceptance of police brutality in this city.

I'm going to be closely following the dialogue on campus about this incident in the coming weeks. I wonder if it will jump-start an apathetic generation to at least question the state of democracy and free speech in our country. Will Pitt change how they handle future crowd control circumstances? (cuz yinz know we're going to the Super Bowl again this year, and that will surely require some crowd control.)

So what do you think? Are Pitt students jackasses who provoked the police? Or were did the police embarrass themselves with their lack of restraint, tarnishing an otherwise very peaceful few days of Global Summit in our fair city?


G20..."Protests"?? How to Tell the Difference

If you are watching any of the local news channels to get information on the G20 "protests", you may want to take the stories with a grain of salt, lest you think large numbers of anarchists have descended upon the 'Burgh. Most of the "action" last night was caused by Pitt students, who basically congregated to try and see the President. It's likely that many of them were drunk, and most probably couldn't even tell you what the G20 is for.

The Pitt News has an interesting write-up about the events in Oakland. Really, the only difference I see between what happened after the Super Bowl and last night is that there were hundreds of additional cops stationed in Oakland, and precautions were taken in advance - like all the picnic tables and trash cans were removed by Pitt earlier this week. When I went to work yesterday, it seemed that the vast majority of Pitt students had taken off for the weekend...so I guess it could have been a lot worse if the normal population was there. Nonetheless, I think Nordenberg's light-handed response to students who caused over $100,000 worth of damage in February of this year - only a few students were disciplined - gives Pitt students very little incentive to actually abide by the Student Code of Conduct.

The big march, which is permitted, is scheduled for today. That will be Pittsburgh's chance to see some legitimate dissent. I'm curious to see how the police will act towards these groups.

The supposed "anarchists" - who bore an odd resemblance to young boys playing dress up as ninjas (and were about as articulate when they were interviewed) - were limited in number...although you wouldn't know it from the news coverage.


Seriously. Please don't.



Exciting Month

M and I went to see the midwife yesterday and all's well with the little one...good heart rate, and measurements, etc. I, however, seem to have considerably less energy than her. I had my blood drawn for iron and thyroid levels, but it seems they are normal, so, as the midwife put it, "it's just regular old third trimester fatigue." I worked from home today, for the sole purpose of being able to take a post-lunch nap. I must admit that I spend a good portion of my waking day thinking about the next time I can lay down. Next week, I have to start giving my tutor training sessions, which means about 8 straight hours on my feet, while I talk enthusiastically about literacy. That seemed so doable just last week. My due date is still over a month away, but I will technically be full-term in a couple of weeks.

Tomorrow my sister is coming into town and Mark's mom is hosting a baby shower for me. Then the rest of the relatives will begin descending on us and we'll have all the wedding festivities for Pete and Meg. I can't believe my little brother is getting married! Of course, the wedding coincides with the G20 summit, so I'm sure I'll have all kinds of adventures trying to get to work next week. The administration at Pitt seems committed to staying open, but I'm sure it's going to be impossible to catch a bus and the traffic and parking situation will be terrible.


Rain Could Not Dampen the Spirits...

As you may know, I was really excited to go camping this weekend. Since hiking the AT, I have never come across a mattress I really liked better than my Thermarest. Growing a baby has interfered with my sleep somewhat, but I figured if I could overcome the challenge of getting in and out of the tent to pee, I would sleep just as well as in my own bed at home. The Rachel Carson Challenge was so fun that M registered for another one day challenge hike, the Keystone Trails Association Super Hike. Now, I am certainly not up for hiking 25 miles at a time, but I figured it would be nice to get out of town one last time before the baby comes.

"Are you sure you want to camp?" M asked. Yes, I insisted that camping when 8 and 1/2 months pregnant is exactly what I wanted to do. No problems.

"Are you sure?" He asked again, as it started to rain on our way to check in at the Keystone Trail Club. What's a little rain, I thought. I've camped in worse.

"Are you sure you're sure?" He said when the rain turned torrential, slowing our journey, with darkness falling quickly on windy country roads through Amish country. When we finally made it to the trail club headquarters to check in for the hike, about ten minutes before they closed, the road was halfway underwater. We stepped out of the car and immediately sank into a river of cold, wet mud.

So camping? Maybe not. Much to my disappointment, we found a hotel room in York. Although, especially after I saw the updated report on the Weather Channel, I had to admit that setting up a tent in a campground in a floodplain, and then hanging out all day at said campground while M hiked 25 miles in the rain would not have been fun.

Instead, I did a lot of napping and eating of free continental breakfast while M was slogging up and down the Susquehanna River. When I arrived at the finish line for the celebration picnic, I had two surprises. First, M was in surprisingly good spirits despite the truly awful weather, and second, JEB, a hiker we met on the AT a couple of years ago, was there! There is nothing like running into an AT hiker...it's so easy to just pick up where you left off.

According to M, highlights from the Super Hike included some beautiful overlooks of the river, lush rhododendron groves, and rocky waterfalls probably enhanced somewhat by the rain. And of course, when he found out at the finish line that hot showers were available, he was all smiles. It was certainly not as grueling as his last super hike, but M still put in a solid seven hours of hiking and his feet were an interesting shade of gray due to all the stream crossings he did. The best thing about this hike was that M got a chance to scope out another set of trails for us to explore with a little hiker in tow next summer. I can't wait.


Young People Silent on Health Care Reform

A commentary on CNN today discusses the silence of Americans aged 18-34 on the subject of health care reform.

Young adults represent nearly a third of the uninsured. I am not among that population at the moment, as M and I both have employer sponsored plans. During our young adult time, we've had a combination of really bad employer sponsored plans, pretty decent ones, a high-deductible HMO we purchased privately, and have gone without insurance. We have no serious medical problems and no pre-existing conditions.

People who oppose reforms show a real lack of understanding about how much it actually costs to purchase insurance on your own, how pointless it seems to even buy that coverage when those companies have the right to drop you as soon as you actually need the coverage and what the job market is like for young people.

At one point, I looked into Pennsylvania's sponsored plan for low-income adults. You still had to pay a premium, but it was within my reach, unlike the plans available on the open market.

I gave up on that one when I found out there were 56,000 eligible people on the waiting list.

I called around some local OB/GYN practices to find out what it would cost for an annual exam and lab work. It was $500 if nothing was wrong. Knowing that if something really was wrong and I required a procedure, I would really be screwed, first because I didn't have thousands of dollars, and second because I would then have a pre-existing condition that if I ever did get on an insurance plan, would likely not be covered for some period of time.

Instead, I crossed my fingers and went a few years in between Pap smears. I now work at a job where I make virtually no money, but do have health insurance...a deal I'm glad I stumbled into before I found out I was pregnant, because, you guessed it, that would have been a pre-existing condition, and therefore Not Covered. And you don't even want to know what it costs to have an uncomplicated, vaginal birth...nevermind the potential for true financial disaster if you need a C-section or the baby has problems.

Many entry level jobs these days, including jobs M and I have held (and we are college-educated) are "temp" jobs. Temping does not mean temporary. You may work in one of these jobs for months or even years, hoping to get a chance at a permanent job within the company. Temping generally just means that you don't get benefits, which saves the company crap tons of money.

I know people who are very qualified to work in other fields but choose employment at Starbucks or Trader Joe's, companies that have more progressive health insurance programs and cover their part-time workers.

When we purchased HMO coverage with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, we had a rather reasonable rate of around $300 premium per month with a $2,500 deductible. This plan did not cover routine care of any kind, until you surpassed the deductible. We paid on the plan for about six months, and then were informed that our rates were increasing. By $150 per month. Personally, I felt that we had just flushed several thousand dollars down the toilet and became very disillusioned with the open market. At least as it applies to maintaining my health.

I don't object to paying for health care.

I don't want a handout.

I just want to know that I can afford routine care, and if I get sick, I won't have to worry about losing my coverage.

The rhetoric over the fear of government "rationed care" is ridiculous. We already have rationed care. It's rationed by health insurance companies. I'm not going to go as far as to call them heartless bastards, but seriously, how else are they supposed to act when there is a profit motive?

My impassioned plea to the opponents of reform and those on the edge is to look past the distracting death panel rhetoric. Rethink the naive notion that your current insurer is going to be there for you when you need it. Imagine a more productive country where people are not mired in medical debt or live in fear of getting routine care because they don't want to be labeled with a "pre-existing condition" when they are in their twenties.


Happy Katahdin Day!

It was two years ago today that M and I made it up Mt. Katahdin and touched that last white blaze on our 2,174 mile hike. I remember it like it was yesterday. The night before, we shared a shelter with Caveman of Ohio, and he was so excited I think he must have got up at about 4 am! If I recall correctly, it was only a 5 mile hike from the Birches campground up to the summit, and the trail started out gently winding through evergreens. But soon, we were above treeline, with misty clouds swirling around us, and we hit a portion of the trail that was incredibly steep. I remember I had to take my pack off and throw it up over a rock ledge so that I could pull myself up on the rebar ladder that was driven into the rock. Soon, we made it to the plateau at the top, crossing Thoreau Springs, and the cloud cover faded away. For the last mile or two, the endless lakes and mountain ranges of Central Maine spread out around us.

We had unusual weather that day...it was clear with very little wind, which gave us an opportunity to sit and enjoy the panoramic views with our friends: Lucky and Packrat, Caveman, Hemlock and Rio, Umbrella Lady and Habitual Hiker.

And then...the Holy Crap moment....what do we do next? With no more white blazes to follow, no food left in our pack and forty miles from the nearest town, we couldn't sit on that mountain all day. We went down the other side and stuck our thumbs out when we got to the parking lot at the bottom.

And the next thing we knew we were homeowners with a baby on the way. I've wondered often what would have happened if we had made different choices on that journey away from Katahdin. Maybe we should have followed Caveman to the Hiker Feed in Monson. Or gone to Harper's Ferry and volunteered for the ATC for a while. We could have headed back down south to Damascus and joined the motley assortment of hiker trash that worked the hostels and bummed their way up and down the southern stretches of the Trail.

Instead we hitch-hiked to Bangor and rented a car, and followed the AT back through New England, crossing over the trail many times. It felt so different moving at 55 mph. At the time, I was simply reveling in daily showers and wearing clothes that didn't smell like plastic and old sweat.

I remember thinking how strange it was when it started to rain in Vermont and I was inside the car...I could see the rain, but couldn't feel the dampness, or smell the fertile stench of wet bark and decomposing leaves, or hear a million tiny drips all around me. It was like watching a movie of rain.

Two years later, I know the way I usually talk about the AT is somewhat romanticized. The pictures show a series of tan, strong, grinning hikers perched on impossibly beautiful rocky outcroppings and lounging next to clear mountain streams. But that's just because we never took the camera out when it was raining or foggy or we were desperate to get those last few miles in before camping for the night. I never stopped to take a picture of myself when thunder started to rumble, or my feet hurt, or when the only water source for miles was a yellowish-brown beaver pond. I have no pictures of uneven campsites or soggy tents or poison ivy. But those memories are just as real as the scenic stuff.

From Springer Day to Katahdin Day in 2007 I have six months and six days of incredibly vivid memories...pleasant and unpleasant. I can take myself back there like it was yesterday...my first glimpse of the Smoky Mountains, stretching out in gray-purple waves across the horizon; hopping over tiny, neon-bright red efts laying all over the trail after a rainstorm; and of course, running my fingers across the weathered wood of the Mt. Katahdin sign, on my very last day as a thru-hiker.


Please Print

There's a crisis in our schools and it has nothing to do with Obama's speech.

Schools are not teaching handwriting. I was thrilled to see this issue raised by the New York Times this week.

When I was in elementary school, the rumor was that our principal had earned his master's degree in Handwriting. That's how serious handwriting class was at Central Elementary. We learned technique for print and cursive and did a lot of copy work from the black board to practice. In middle school, I learned keyboarding, a skill I later developed by copious use of AOL messenger when I entered college. LOL. As a result, I can print legibly, make beautiful, loopy script on invitations or when signing my name, and I can type really, really fast. When I need to take notes on paper, I can actually read them later. My handwriting is not always the neatest, but without too much effort, I can write pretty quickly.

In the last kindergarten room where I taught there was no time built into the lesson for handwriting instruction. Students were not encouraged to form their letters in any particular manner. As a result, students invented their own methods. As long as their letters approximately matched the print on the phonics cards, it was acceptable. The problem is that many students did not develop efficient or clear methods of letter formation. This was fine as long as they were only writing a word or a short sentence. But enter second grade when they suddenly needed to be able to write paragraphs, and getting anything down was a painstaking process for about half the kids. It's a little hard to get kids to think about the ideas in their writing when they are still struggling over the mechanics. For instance, it's a lot more efficient to form print letters top to bottom, but many students, unless instructed otherwise, will start at the bottom line. Everybody eventually develops their own, unique style of handwriting, but learning one method first helps this to happen faster.

Handwriting, like phonics, is one of those critical, building-block skills. Handwriting and phonics are not writing and reading, but without those skills, children will fail to write and read competently. (Unless they figure it out for themselves in spite of poor instruction by the teacher, which, in my opinion, is how about half of all kids learn anything at all in school.)

Handwriting should be taught in an explicit and systematic manner. This means, I show you exactly how it should be done, give you a procedure for doing it, guide you as you try it out, and then provide lots of practice until it becomes automatic. You could do this in 10-20 minutes a day, and should definitely occur in Kindergarten through Third Grade classrooms.

I've had luck with Handwriting Without Tears for students who really need a lot of support.

Otherwise, I think it doesn't really matter which font you teach, as long as it's consistent across the grades.

No matter how common computers get, there will always be a need to print.


Since when are American kids too stupid for politics?

Or maybe it's just their parents who are too stupid.

As you may have heard, President Obama intends to address school children in a speech tomorrow.

Not everybody likes this.

"Thinking about my kids in school having to listen to that just really upsets me," suburban Colorado mother Shanneen Barron told CNN Denver affiliate KMGH. "I'm an American. They are Americans, and I don't feel that's OK. I feel very scared to be in this country with our leadership right now."

Um, ok, Shanneen...you don't think it's ok for your American kids to hear a speech from their American president?

This baffles me even more than the health care reform debate. Which is kind of saying a lot.

For some the concern lies in the lesson plan materials developed by the Department of Education to accompany the speech focus more on President Obama than on the the topic of education.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I thought it was just a little bit of a big deal that an African-American was elected to the office of the president. And not somebody from an established political family. And somebody who came from relatively simple means. A story that could maybe lead to a discussion on the evolution of voting rights in our country. Or issues in immigration patterns, forced and otherwise.

But we wouldn't want American school children to be exposed to rubbish like that, would we? They should be studying reading and writing and math. So they can pass the test.

Anyway, the Department of Education says that this isn't a policy speech anyway:

During this special address, the president will speak directly to the nation's children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.

We rented W. this weekend. However, we watched only about 30 minutes of it, and then realized that there was no reason to relive the Bush administration. It's still a little fresh in our minds, if you know what I mean.

See, if George W. Bush had wanted to address school children on the topic of education, well...that makes more sense to raise parental concern, in my opinion. "Ok, kids, don't worry, if you mess up a bunch, and receive marginal grades, and need to rely on your father to pull strings to get you into elite institutions, and then quit a series of jobs your family helps you to get...you too could be the president some day!"

Very inspirational.

But at least he's a Christian. Unlike Obama. Oh, wait.


Gearing Up for the Superhike

After completing the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge this year, and riding the wave of disbelief at my having completed it at all, I immediately booked myself into another ultrahike: the inaugural Susquehanna Super Hike, sponsored by the Keystone Trails Association.

It's 25 miles and +/- ~8400ft. At the time, that seemed pale in comparison (RCT was 35.2 miles and an absurd elevation change of 18,009 feet (+9,084 / -8,925) according to this blog post. However, that's still a long way to walk in a day. I'll need to hit the stairs this week.

Good news, K's been cleared to come out and camp with me, despite being 7 1/2 months pregnant. Also good news, it's in Lancaster County (which to me means Shoo-Fly Pie - just the thing to refuel after a long hike).

I'll post pics and a GPS from the other side...


A Chill is in the Air

After a few short weeks of hot temperatures and oppressive humidity, the 'Burgh has cooled off considerably. Am I the luckiest pregnant lady in the world, or what? Now school buses roll by our house in the morning, and I'm on the watch for the first sign of leaves changing colors. Fall is just around the corner.

The half bushel is nearly all processed. M took half of it and canned them as crushed tomatoes. I took the other half and made sauce. Some of the sauce is in the freezer, and I'll make up a lasagna or something this week, which we will also freeze. Our goal is to have enough pre-made food in the freezer that we won't have to cook too much for a few weeks after the baby comes.

School has started once again. I'm taking two classes...one on teaching multi-cultural literature and the other one is my master's thesis. My job for the fall is to train tutors again. It's only ten hours a week, so I'm mostly sort of a housewife. I'm trying to pick up some private tutoring clients, but it's kind of tricky when you know you're going to need like a month off, but you can't predict exactly when.

We go to our How-To-Have-A-Baby class on Saturday, and the following weekend is one final pre-baby camping trip to central PA, while M completes another "super-hike". Then it's a baby shower and a wedding and September will be gone. Just like that.

Time really does fly once you hit 30.