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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ten Ten Ten

The ten-ten-ten movement is asking people to write about what on earth they are doing today. My life can seem pretty boring, but there is beauty in the details. I awoke to the sound of a harp on my iPod, walked downstairs, and heated a mug of water in the microwave oven. My cat, Maximo, the Destructo Poopinator, hounded me, demanding some strokes. Who can resist a feline who throws himself on the bed on his back with his belly open? I read my usual morning books and affirmation cards, ate some Kashi cereal, and put the dog, Tess, on a leash. I was holding the leash in my right hand, looking left, when the dog saw a squirrel and smashed my hand against the door knob as she took off like a shot. It is going to be ugly, but no broken bones. Having survived the lift-off, my morning walk was pretty uneventful. I emphasize pretty, because we are having the most beautiful fall I can remember. The weather this weekend is warm - eighty degrees - and everyone is out enjoying the weather. The trees are red and green and yellow, all in the same tree!

I am getting over a nasty illness, which would have kept me in bed for a week if it were not for antibiotics. My neighbor walked with me last night, since her surgery for lung cancer has healed somewhat and she has more stamina. My cousin received surgery for pancreatic cancer in the winter, and is doing better. Even a few years ago, she would have been dead by now. I am hoping the cancer has been removed and stays away for a long time. In another medical advance, my younger granddaughter was injured on a playground last week and they "glued" her lip back together.

My mother is ninety-five and still lives at home. The three of us children all do our part to take care of her. My father died in 1995 at the age of 80, and mom's family almost all lived until their late 90s, except for a brother with cancer. Unfortunately, there is also a history of senility on her side, and she has escaped its most severe form. As I helped her search for an earring this morning after church, I discovered a box under her bed, pulled it out, and discovered my dad's ashes. It reminded me of the time my brother was drying marijuana under a bed in the 70s and a neighbor's young girl found it. "Mrs. Wallin, what's that under the bed?" "Uh,uh, I'm drying some herbs." I watered some plants, filled the bird feeder, put some shredded paper on the weeds in the garden, and headed home.

I checked Facebook and my email, heated up leftover pizza for lunch and ate on my deck. I have a very large milkweed plant, which attracts monarch butterflies all summer, and it reminds me of the plant in "Little Shop of Horrors," which I saw when my daughter was in college and sang one of the parts. Last night, a group of church members that sang at an Advent Concert last year recorded a group of songs in a recording studio. The equipment that is available now is astounding. We had four microphones for the singers and two more for the group in general. Different cords were attached, depending on the quality of the voices and the quality of the sound the producer wanted. His main board was composed of hundreds of ports, most of which were not in use. If we did a section badly, he could have us just repeat that section and later splice it in. The room we sang in was soundproof, which gave an eerie isolation to each of our sounds. The pianist had a grand piano and is an incredibly talented woman who has adopted four children.

I attend a mainline church, the First United Methodist Church, because it allows a great deal of diversity while staying true to its traditions. We have adult Sunday School, and our class is reading Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea. There is a little awe and inspiration in what this man has done. I have a dream to take technology to Monterrico, Guatemala, but I am not sure if I have the dedication to do what Greg did. Monterico has public schools made of concrete with no books and very little paper and pencils. The teachers are incredibly dedicated people who teach by lecture and any other way they can. There is no special education, that I know of, although my Spanish is what I have learned from teaching Hispanic kids in a special education smaller classroom.

In the town of Monterrico, there is also a dedicated staff who is trying to protect sea turtle eggs. When they are laid in the sand, the workers move the eggs to a protected area. When they hatch out, they are returned to the sea. I would love to see these people online, letting the whole world know what they are doing. Wouldn't it be great to have the local children updating web pages on the school and the nature center? Not far from town is a nature preserve where I got to see the winter nesting habitat of the white herons. It inspired a poem called "Quietude." You can see a picture of Monterrico here.

The state of special education in Illinois is mixed. Because of the budget crisis in the state, brought on by a collapse of financial markets in 2007, we are not even getting paper or pencils ourselves this year. The state of Illinois is paying bills so late that many businesses are not accepting credit any more. Some businesses are looking at failure because the government is six months or more behind in its bill paying. Teachers in general are doing massive amounts of paperwork that were never required before, but special education is particularly hard hit. Class sizes are mushrooming, more services are being provided, and everything must be documented. Staff members skip breaks and take short lunches because we have children going in an out at all times for special classes such as art, PE, music, and library. For every piece of assistive technology that we use, we have to track its use for the administrators. Since I am a huge advocate of AT, I write a few hours a week just for that purpose.

The economic crises has created a great deal of conflict in the country at all levels. Everyone is blaming everyone else, while millions of people are out of work or underemployed. President Obama has taken steps to shore up the nations laborers, after Bush bailed out the huge banks at the end of his term. The gap between rich and poor is growing. I am grateful my children were able to get college educations, even though it meant we all took on large loans. I hope to pay off my school loans before I retire in two years. At this age, my parents had paid off their house.

Colleges are becoming prohibitively expensive. I would like to pay for my granddaughters' educations, but fear there won't be any way for them to go, since even loans have dried up now. Our family is composed of many moderately or highly gifted people, so I feel it is really important to get the children educated and serving society. The state of gifted education is not good, with no money being appropriated in the national budget.

The arts are alive and well in Chicago. Apparently, we place theater, art, music and dance in a relatively high position. Poetry is definitely experiencing a renaissance here. Although we lost many theater groups, opera companies and dancers, I think we kept the majority of these types of groups performing. It is not a good time to look to the arts for employment, however, so my daughter has given up on singing for now.

I am always amazed, however at the extremes of wealth and poverty when I go into the city. The central area has huge skyscrapers with thousands of rooms, while the streets have at least one homeless person per block, begging for money. When I was a young girl, we could see homeless people on West Madison, which was our "Skid Row." That area has been taken over by upper middle class urban professionals and rebuilt into expensive, vertical condos. I first became aware of the poverty in Chicago when my brother, Paul, worked for Catholic Charities, building low-income housing for seniors in nineteen neighborhoods. That's nineteen neighborhoods that are at or below poverty level! (For a further treatment of this topic check out this Blog.) It is so inconceivable to me that people freeze in the winter while architectural masterpieces lay vacant. Many churches have stepped in with a program called PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter), which provides a meal and a bed to a homeless person.

So many things to talk about, and not the least of which is one of my favorite topics: technology. I sewed all day yesterday on a machine that performs exact stitches based on which buttons I push. I carry my iPod for the calendar, Internet access, podcasts, pictures it holds. My phone can dial family members at the push of two buttons, and I received a text from a friend this morning that her business phone has changed. I have Skype on all of my computers, although I find Apple was much easier to use - I still haven't gotten my PC camera to work! I can't imagine what computers will look like even 50 years from now, or how companies will ask permission to access the chip in our heads for advertising. My mom saw the development of electricity, cars, planes, plumbing, tractors and combines, telephone, and Internet. Family gatherings have gone from large dinners, cooked by women (and cleaned up by them) every week, to holiday gatherings with as many people as can make it, cooked by whoever is around. (Funny, the women still do most of the cleanup.)

To finish on a positive note, it is hard to slog through everyday living sometimes. We forget that no matter what mankind goes through, we still manage to survive as a species. Whether that will be true for my children and grandchildren is still a mystery, and adventures in space, in nanospace, in the oceans and at the poles will provide a limitless supply of change and anxiety for the next generation. As a teacher, I would like to think that we can teach each generation what it needs to survive, but I think that must come from the spirit of the country. We can teach skills and facts. We can discuss ethics and social relationships, but ultimately it is up to our families to overcome the greedy, the cruel, and the uncaring attitudes that are plastered in the media every day. Are we going to adhere to the ideals that all people are created equal, all people have a right to achieve, and all people have a right to good health, a place to live, food to eat?

What are you doing on 10-10-10?

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