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Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Revisited

For those of you who have followed me for 5 years, this is a reprint of my memoir of the last Halloween I went trick-or-treating with my daughter.

Halloween Memoir

For twenty years, I have bundled up precious cargo, hopped into the car or walked through a neighborhood, and participated in the ancient ritual called Halloween. I have never objected to its horrific side. I just ignore it and enjoy the excitement children exhibit when faced with large amounts of free candy.

The first year I lived on a farm, I bought bags of candy and waited for Trick-or-Treaters to appear, as they had in my suburban hometown. What a letdown! Not one goblin showed up. People on farms have to make appointments or they will pass each other in their cars. There are side benefits, however. Grandmas and neighbors make up for fewer stops by giving large bags of homemade cookies as well as full-size candy bars.

My favorite Halloween was in 1989. I had moved back to my hometown with three children, two hundred dollars and a college education. While looking for a job, I was a substitute teacher in five school districts comprised of more than fifty schools. With traumatized children and anxious parents, I cried every day over the loss of a farm, friends and my previous job. It was hard to get up in the morning, and the days didn’t get any easier.

October 31 came and we went trick-or-treating in Grandma’s neighborhood, where I had grown up. A transformation had occurred in this quiet middle class section of town. Decorations abounded in the yards, including strings of Halloween lights. One neighbor dressed up like a witch and cackled at the children from the top half of a Dutch door as she dropped candy into their bags. The weather was so warm we didn’t even have to wear jackets, and leaves crunched under foot as we walked. Friends walked together and greeted each other as children eagerly ran up to doorbells and gave their personalized rendition of “Trick or Treat.” For the first time since my loss, I had a sense of community. The children had never gotten grocery bags full of candy before. Although they always missed their father on holidays, they were pretty happy with this turn of events.

The weather didn’t always cooperate on Halloween. In 1995, the weather was the worst I can ever remember. In a pouring rain with a wind chill reading of twenty-nine degrees, I let my youngest child (aged 12) talk me into circling two blocks. The following week, she was sick. I am glad I went, however. The following year she preferred a junior high party to trick or treating. Had I known it was my last trip, I would have enjoyed it more.

©Linda Wallin 1997

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Summer Classes for Gifted Children

I love my job at Summer Wonders! I teach Lego Robotics to children from first through eighth grade. Not all of them are in the same room at the same time, thankfully. The quote of the day was from a second grade girl who was frustrated with the "little kids" at the allergy table. She said, "The trouble with this community is that we are too diverse." She then tried to explain that people with different allergies all eat at the same table, so someone with dairy allergy could sit next to a peanut allergy and they could bring the food the other was allergic to. Of course, the Center for Gifted in Glenview makes sure no one brings any of those things. The people who run this program are incredibly talented and caring. I have been grateful to be a part of it.

I have to say, however, that I was a bit surprised at the perception of this second grader.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Poem for Farmers

When will this stop happening?!
Nine-year old boy dies in farm accident

Last May I wrote a poem about three boys who were involved in a grain bin tragedy. It's time to join Grain Handling Safety Coalition.

Here is my poem:

We Will Appeal

Mount Carroll, Illinois, July 28, 2010

Young Wyatt arrives early at the grain bin,
excited about his new job.
The boss sends him and three other boys 
to the top of the bin to break up moldy corn.
With no training, they don’t know the danger,
don’t know what to do in an emergency.
Wyatt falls in.
Two hundred thousand bushels of corn
suck him down, screaming.
Alejandro (on his first day) and William
jump in to save Wyatt.
As they sink, they face each other, hold hands
and pray for their families and Wyatt.
After Will feels Alejandro’s hands go limp,
he waits six hours to be rescued.
With training, it might have been prevented.
The court ruling finds the grain bin company
responsible for the deaths.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


I will be writing more about public schools, but I took a week to enhance my poetry skills and here is one of the poems.


The workbench is crawling with tech; a monitor, keyboard,
two computers, cords, CDs, wires, drives, speakers and power strips.
You stand there, smiling, with something in your hand I cannot name.
My hard drive has crashed and neither Josh nor John can save it.
You, who always learn by seeing, hook up my drive
to the old operating system on the network, then hook up your drive
to the new operating system on the network.
The data is easily transferred, and you are in your happy place.
“Friggin’ genius,” your counselor would say.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


I traveled to Springfield Illinois for a meeting yesterday and met a woman named Kristy Gravlin. Kristy worked in the Portland Public School System during the years of 1969 to 1997. She was privileged to participate in a K-5 school under the leadership of Superintendent Robert Blanchard, and Principals Robert Harold and Betty Campbell. The Superintendent came to the conclusion that bussing wasn’t working, so he built took six existing schools in poor neighborhoods and revamped them into Early Childhood Education Centers. Bob Harold wrote the program called “Follow Through,” which was a K-3 program which continued what HeadStart programs did. They were set up to take half the population from the neighborhood and half from people who asked to allow their children to attend. The district sold the program by having meetings, talking it up in the media, and taking questions from any interested parties. The program was so successful that there were always about 50% more requests than openings.

They had a full staff, including teacher and assistant in every room, they had music, gym and computers with support staff who were happy to differentiate materials/activities for each student. The parents wanted their children to attend because they saw the students doing well, they knew the teachers cared and there was a parent program to train parents in educating their children. Parents were encouraged to volunteer in the;postID=1120389847388138709school (sometimes several in a classroom at the same time) and babysitting was provided for siblings.

The program ended when Ms. Campbell retired, the district required the same curriculum throughout the schools, and they lost the impetus to integrate. The state also legislature required a scripted curriculum. So why did this atmosphere of trust and experimenting end? I challenge Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and even Arne Duncan to implement some changes that reduce the re-segregation of U.S. schools.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Little Rock Central High School, 57 Years Later: A Weekend Observation

Little Rock Central High School National Park

   Last weekend I was honored to visit two good friends in Little Rock, Arkansas. We raised our kids together and have attended church together for decades, and we have shared viewpoints in a Small Group discussing Current Issues as they relate to Christianity.
   I was 9 when the Little Rock 9 had to be protected by soldiers (soldiers!) when they attempted to attend high school at Little Rock Central with white students. It was a shock to me and my family, and we watched it unfold on our black and white TV set. It was easy to condemn the whites who cursed at, spat on and threatened nine black children just because they were black. I have never understood why someone could be condemned by a circumstance over which they have no control. I have stood my ground when a beloved neighbor said, "Us whites have to stick together." My response, "I'm sorry you feel that way."
   So how is Little Rock School System faring today? Having spent only one weekend there in my entire life, I can't pretend to know that much about it. There has been progress. Blacks are free to buy housing wherever they wish, if they have the money. Black children didn't stare at us when we drove through their neighborhood. Black adults on their porches didn't notice us.
   There is a but. Blacks have adequate housing, but pay white landlords instead of owning. Whites now pay for elite private schools and blacks are educated in an inferior, poorly funded public system. Much of that same trend exists in many cities, including my home town, Chicago. Why is it that my generation - the Hippies and the love children who were going to make the world a better place - have been unable to mitigate circumstances in the slums? Where are the dreamers and social activists that changed women's rights, supported labor unions and fought for civil rights? I hope Sojourners Magazine can locate this generation's social justice leaders on June 18-21 at Georgetown University. It's time for all of us that have been blessed with adequate income stand up for those who have not. I always admired my parents, who were aware of what was going on in the world, even as their hair grayed. Paying attention is the least we can do.

Monday, April 28, 2014


Monday morning dawns.
I rise to the sound of rain.
Worms litter the streets.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Poem for the Month

No haikus today. Instead, I am sharing the poem I read today at the Harold Washington Public Library. Happy Poetry Month.

Chicago Pub

Early spring, after a harsh winter,
Chicagoans are finally out.
Cold breezes off the frozen lake
can’t keep us indoors any longer.

In the pub, chicken wings’ bones
and empty beer glasses testify that
one group has started early, 
conversation so quiet I cannot listen in.

A young couple enters, sits at the next table,
his scent so strong it reminds me
of my son, whose pillow comforted me
long after he left for college.

A young man pushes a babe in a stroller,
looks uncomfortable in his new role,
unaware of future choices that
will define his character.

A family departs. The boy wears a hat
with bear eyes, ears and nose,
The girl wears a tutu over her pants and boots.
Their mother returns my smile.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Too busy

Too Busy

Too busy to write.
Errands of life interfere.
Ideas pass by.

Magdalenian Woman

Twelve thousand years pass.
Magdalenian woman
found in Lascaux caves.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Two more haikus


Put my plants outside
Didn't get a lick o' rain
Have to water them.

Easter Families

I remember meals
with mass quantities of food
and family love.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Blood Moon

In ancient times an omen
Blood moon, red from earth's shadow
Eclipse in the night.

 Spring snow

Nature trims the trees
Ice on twigs litters the walk
April can be cruel

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Four in a Row

Although I've been down with a virus, my real excuse is that I have been healthy enough to quilt. Here are the four haikus for the last few days.

The Bench

I sit on the bench
neighborhood alive with sound
soaking up sunshine

One-inch Hail

One-inch hail is loud
the sound of a golf ball
bouncing off the roof.

Sound of Rain

Our first spring warming
Hear the washing of the roof
Bring the cool air in


The house is quiet
Sunday afternoon napping
Listen to the silence

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Getting Older

One of the things I miss most is my short-term memory. Because my family has a history of dementia, I worry that I will become a burden to my children. This morning was a typical example. I sat by my city pond full of trash and tree debris. A haiku came to me. I really liked it, but I thought I would have to recite it over and over if I were to remember it. I got distracted by a new bird call from a red-winged blackbird and forgot the original ending. By the time I had gone a block, I could not remember the last line. So here is Plan B:


I am a promise.
Every April I will come to you
on songbirds' wings.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Haikus for Sunday and Monday


You're here! Three weeks late.
I've been waiting for you.
Green grass everywhere!

Red-winged Blackbird

Red epaulet wings,
Black body on a tree branch,
Strident sound reveals.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Poetry for April

I am committed to writing one poem a day for the month of April. I have been posting on Facebook, but have decided to post here instead. So here are the first five. I thought maybe I wasn't supposed to name them, so that is why the names changed. Anyone know about that? Anyone? Anyone?

1. Sign of Spring

March winds have no bite.
Winter has finally fled.
Green leaves rise with the sun.

2. Fresh

Red, ripe strawberry,
Sweet as a warm summer day
Awakens the mind.

3. Haiku 3

Raw, rainy day.
Wind gusts whip my umbrella
in all directions.

4. Haiku #4

Winter's bite returns.
The air is cold and bitter.
Where is the sunshine?

5. Brains at Work

Teacher and student
bend to the task of writing.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Week with Thomas Merton

If you are an atheist, you may not want to read this. I promised at least one person a few quotes to live by from Thomas Merton. Merton was born the same year as my mother. As a child, Merton lost his mother to cancer at age 6. She had been an interior decorator. He moved to France with his father, who was a water color artist. So his early childhood and early adolescence were spent with artists. His father died of a brain tumor when Merton was 15, and he was sent to private schools by his grandfather. He was kicked out for poor behavior, and started his writing career at Cambridge. He blew his chance at Cambridge with drinking and loose women.  Out of this failure, he chose to convert to Catholicism at the age of 23. After a retreat at Gethsemane (in Kentucky) he chose to join the monastery three years later. Although he entered the monastery to leave the world behind, he grew to believe he was in the monastery for the world. He spoke French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Latin, Greek, Russian, Chinese and Gaelic. Okay, so, here are the quotes:
1. The only real answer to anything is love.
2. Art is the ability to see the inner radiance of things.
3. Viet Nam was an age characterized by destructiveness.
4. When studying Zen, everything is emptiness, everything is compassion.
5. When studying the Spanish mystics, the inner radiance of being.
6. When studying the Shakers, ordinary objects reflect inner beauty.
7. The miracle of mindfulness is that we see what is in front of us.
8. Stop looking, start seeing.
9. Natural contemplation is the intuition of the divine through nature.
10. We find the divine exactly where we are.
11. He saw the camera as a contemplative instrument, to see things as they are, not as he wanted them to be.
12. The way to get a life of prayer is to pray.
13. Agape love is knowing another person without judgement.
14. We are here to be.
15. Be awake to the present moment inside and outside of ourselves.
16. Self exists in the ground of being.
17. Listen to your body.
18. Learn a unified life.
19. Experience what we already possess.
20. The grateful man knows God from experience, not hearsay.
21. To determine your vocation, look for a place where you feel at home.
22. Everything that is authentic and done with integrity is a form of prayer.
23. Spiritual growth is a waking from the dream of separateness. The whole illusion is a dream.
24. Tragic insufficiency of human faith.
25. I intend to become the best Buddhist I can.
26. Truth binds people together.
27. Love is the thread that sews our hearts together.
28. There is love at the heart of things.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Assistive Technology for Reading

 When I first began to think about using Assistive Technology (AT) in the field of reading, I was overwhelmed with the amount of information available. After 22 years of teaching special ed, I gained a lot of skills in the diagnosis of reading difficulties and methods for teaching reading. As a techie, I immediately applied my knowledge to help struggling readers. Sadly, people in the reading field and people in the tech field don’t necessarily collaborate.

Reading is one of the most complex activities a person can do. It involves vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, phonics and phonemic awareness. It is most closely associated with auditory skills (of many varieties), but visual skills (of many varieties) are also factor. Interfering factors besides weak auditory or visual skills can be attention, short-term memory, inability to visualize, and a lack of background knowledge. Reading selection concerns whether the student will read only, highlight only or highlight and read. Whereas reading letters, words, chunks, lines, sentences, paragraphs or a whole screen each pose their own set of difficulties for the struggling reader. Text preferences, such as font, style, size, color, background color, highlight color, affect the reader’s abilities. Reading sentences or chunks can affect comprehension, if the student is still trying to decode each word (sound it out).

There are some tools that can help with very little expense. These are the low-tech reading tools such as colored plastic filters, highlighters, post-it-notes, post-it page tabs, plastic colored page overlays, reading guides and graphic organizers. Color can be an important factor in the ease of reading, although there are not many studies available on this important topic. Tools that are a bit more expensive are tape recorders, audio books, book lights, accessibility features on computers, tablets, and electronic dictionaries,

At the high end, text readers read the material for the student so that they can keep up with the information contained within. Screen readers such as Kurzweil ($1395), Premier ($79.95 to $299.95), WYNN ($99), and Acrobat (free, but will only read .pdf files) can be very expensive. Optical Character Readers (OCR), which take input from a scanner and then read it,  are also on the expensive side. They can translate textbooks into audio for students. Somewhat less expensive is the Don Johnston software
Co:Writer, Read: OutLoud, Start-to-Finish books, and the Solo Literacy Suite. MathPad, Access to Math and Ultimate Reader can change the color of backgrounds, texts and highlighters.

I would be amiss if I were to forget to mention my favorite reading web sites. Tar Heel Readers is a site that has many interesting books. Some are even written by students. Each page has a picture and the text is read to the student.  At Reading A to Z, schools or parents have to purchase access to the resources, but there are many books at each reading level and lots of resources for parents and teachers. Tumblebooks is another commercial site, but it is too expensive for individuals. I also love Goodreads. Teachers can post recommendations for their students or receive recommendations for whatever genre of reading they want.

Finally, there is a web site called Readability that will let you download an add-on button to your browser (Firefox) toolbar that simplifies pages so they are less distracting and simpler in appearance.

There is much, much more, but I will never get this published if I don’t stop at some point.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Help for Frustrated Writers

Writing is a subject I could spend a lot of time on. It consists of several processes, any one of which can have various idiosyncrasies. First, writing begins with thought. Students who have language disabilities can have difficulty with word retrieval, vocabulary, grammar and syntax or spelling. They can have trouble generating new ideas, organizing, and elaborating. Summarizing and concluding  involve higher order thinking skills that many students with disabilities are not taught. Then there is the motor planning component. Holding a pencil correctly, forming letters and holding on to a thought can be exhausting for some students. Keyboarding isn't much easier.

Brainstorming and organizing are essential to the writing process, but so is spelling. Students who have learned some basic phonics principles may have trouble spelling, so they need some assistance in that area. Some do well enough just by using spell-check features of word processors, but there is a program that is excellent and adaptable called Co:Writer. It’s fairly expensive - $290 -but the good news is the app is only $17.99. Co:Writer accepts the input of the student and gives up to 6 choices in a drop-down menu. If the student is unsure about which word is the one she wants, she can mouse-over the words and the program pronounces them one at a time. In addition, you can enter special dictionaries of your own to teach about specific topics such as anatomy or paleontology.

I always tell my students how important their writing is. There is no one else in the world with their viewpoints and we won't know what life is like for them if they don't tell us. The world needs to hear from each of us, for we each have something important to say. Are you writing? A journal, a blog, a book, or just grocery lists. They all tell the world about you.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Teaching AssistiveTechnology

I am making my students post on their blogs every week, so I shall do the same. One of the problems I have when teaching this course is the same as for every technology course. There is so much out there and developments are occurring at the speed of light. A simple search for my students' blogs returned eight million, one hundred forty thousand results. Where do I start? Well, if you are new to AT, as we say, I will start with a simple overview. Assistive technology is "…any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. (29 U.S.C. Sec 2202(2)) (Assistive Technology Act of 2004,, 1/14/14). In other words, any device that helps you do things you couldn't otherwise do. A good example of a device we all use is the TV remote. The laws have gradually over the years grown to specify what schools and the government have to do for individuals with disabilities.  Some people object to this - I remember hearing a church goer complaining about the money that had to be spend to bring the bathrooms up to new regulations for wheelchairs. I could only comment, "Yes, it's hard to imagine what it must be like to be confined to a wheelchair." Some of the students I have taught have been the most courageous people I know. 
At any rate, students in P-12 are protected by the laws to the extent that school districts comply with them. I first took this class in 2008. Needless to say, there has been an explosion of growth in this field. Gratefully, many teachers who have been even minimally exposed to this information get hooked and find ways to expand these methods.
Assistive technology is generally categorized in three levels: low-tech, mid-tech, and high-tech. Low-tech tools are things such as pencil grips or pictures for language communication. Mid-tech tools are things such as electronic dictionaries and tape recorders. High-tech tools are computer programs that read eye scans or hearing aids that magnify only the sounds within voice range. If you know someone who is disabled, follow along and maybe you'll discover something of use.
You can find my two students' blogs here:Assistive Technology and Assistive Technology. Leave them a comment!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Twin Killing by Marshall Cook

One of the benefits of the Green Lake Christian Writers Conference is learning from writers who are successful. Marshall Cook spoke last summer and I bought at least three of his books about Monona Quinn. She's a modern woman who is concerned that her husband will not stick around if she continues to do detective work. Like most detectives, she is always busy, and her life is periodically threatened. In this episode, she goes to her sister's house to help her nephew, who has run afoul of the law. It seems innocent enough until someone is murdered. The author did a good job of developing the characters and the plot had a twist. It's a good, wholesome story with enough mystery to keep you reading and some refreshing wholesome values to encounter in a mystery. Thanks, Marshall!