Thursday, June 28, 2012

Whirlwind... Wednesday, wait, um, it's Thursday?

Can't even begin to formulate prose for a blog. So here's a bullet list of what's going on.

  • Got a job offer at a knitting store. Am trying to decide between part and full time. Pros: Get to work with nice people, I get marketing experience and I handle yummy yarn. Cons: Compensation and commute. 
  • Have taken on an exciting freelance grant writing gig. Pros: Fun, interesting and I love to people I'm working with. (And the pay is fair.) Cons: When we get a no, I take it personally. And that, I believe, is where my prose has gone....
  • Have been following the negotiations for the teachers union, but this week I've been otherwise occupied. I LOVED this article in Sunday's Courier. So happy to have seen actual facts, sans spin. 
  • Spent four hours at Macy's today. My husband's grandmother is dying and I was getting the kids their "funeral clothes". Never a fun task. Not sure how long she has (but not much time) but we are ready to fly out at a moments notice.
  • And today I really had a "Gotcha!" moment when I looked on CNN and got the WRONG verdict from the Supreme Court.

Despite my new PT gigs, I am still wondering about my wanderings in the career world. My son, however, said something that made me feel great about the life I am leading. "I think you're the best stay at home Mom in the world!"


That's all the news from Lake Woebegone, NJ. Where the women are occasionally strong, sometimes Stepford, the men are somewhat good looking and the children are raised to think they are above average..... 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A little perspective

Yesterday I had a somewhat sarcastic Facebook status:

I don't quite get why graduating from Middle School is such a big deal in 2012 in NJ, but it is. Very proud of our C. But I was just as proud on her first day of school, before she even spoke much English... September 2003. She's made lots of friends here in Bridgewater - I'm very proud of them too!

Now I am humbled and, I'll admit it, slightly ashamed about my sarcasm. The ceremony began with a moment of silence for a girl (whom C didn't know).  Apparently she had become suddenly and severely ill a few days ago and fell into a coma. I heard that she died yesterday.

Another three children in C's grade all face major health issues (two have cancer).

A small reality check?

I'm grateful that my children are healthy and happy, and I am too quick to forget these things in our busy every day lives.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Weekend plans

Friday night rolled around and I was done. Put a fork in me. We've been rushing non-stop and at 9pm yesterday I still had dinner to make (and no turning back - I'd defrosted fish... so it was cook it or lose it. Fried cod on a Saturday night. A poor substitute for Farfar's ("Father's father", my father-in-law) freshly caught delicacy, but I didn't burn it and it didn't fall apart.

Aren't these cool??? Image from  http://www.madeinnorwaynow.no   
It's a beautiful weekend here. Tomorrow is Father's Day and my 17th anniversary.  Can I knit this hat for him? (Just the hat, the sweater would take me a year).

Can I knit anything in this heat? Hmmm....

I've been so stressed out about the contracts. Every day I've been discussing it with people on all sides. Last night as I was preparing dinner, I said to my husband that I was very stressed out about it. His answer:

Why is it your job to fix this? (An echo to his mother's favorite expression, "is that YOUR problem? - No!").

And he is right. I've spoken my peace, tried to reach out and broker the Oslo Accords of Bridgewater and now I can sit back and live my life.

And so I will.

Last night after dinner, we had "Movie Night" with N. He didn't remember seeing the original Back to the Future... and he loved it.

Today's plan: Yard work, gift-knitting and cooking good food (I treated us to a second trip to Hind and Fore - it's not good for the cholesterol, but I couldn't help myself... we're gonna have some beautiful red meat tonight). A great Saturday.

I hope my readers spend the weekend relaxing and happy.

To paraphrase Yoda, "Let go of your hate, Bridgewater Soccer Mom. It only leads to the dark side of the force."

Friday, June 15, 2012

Peace Treaty?

(If you would like to sign a petition that echoes these sentiments, click here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/get-it-done/ )

Last night I came out of an event at the Middle School to find a pamphlet on my car. Its partial content is available on the BREA website. A green sheet with a mix of numbers and propaganda accompanied it, but isn't on the website (as far as I could see). I'm tired of this back and forth and the rise and fall in my blood pressure.

I'd like to make a no-frills settlement proposal

Healthcare: 
You already agreed. Instead of fighting over who proposed what or accepted what and when, take the offer as it stands and be done with it.

Healthcare is a hard argument to win with the general public.

Salary: 
Split the difference between what the BOE is offering and what the BREA wants.  (Numbers are as per the "green sheet" left on my car entitled "Dollars and Sense?"): 

Year                BREA offer               BOE offer1**   BOE offer2**
2011-2012 :       2.85%                         1.5%                  1.0%
2012-2013:        2.85%                         2.0%                  2.0%
2013-2014:        2.85%                         2.0%                  3.0%
 (Offer 1 is as per "Dollars and Sense", Offer 2 is as per BRRSD FAQs)


Split the difference:

2011-2012:                         2.175% (per BREA sheet) / 1.925% (per BOE FAQs)
2012-2013:                         2.4.25%
2013-2014:                         2.425%

A 7% raise over 3 years is good in these economic times of falling wages and stagnant/high unemployment. This is still above cap, and if there isn't enough breakage (the difference between retiring salaries and new hires) the district could still see programs cut. Taxes will go up for residents regardless.  Enough is enough. 

Teaching time:
This is a hard one for me to advise because I believe the BOE is right. If a teacher in the HS is teaching (as per the info on BRRSD's website) 200 minutes per day, that is roughly 3 hours and 20 minutes per day. I think it is reasonable for the BOE to expect more working time without compensation since the BREA seems to have been getting away with such meager teaching loads in the HS. The BREA would disagree. So let's find an unbiased person to suggest something. With an entering freshmen I'm definitely biased!

In summary:

Take the insurance, BREA, and both parties can split the difference on the raises. If BREA members forgive the BOE for not making them feel appreciated, parents will forgive teachers for the way they've dragged this fight front and center to kids - wearing black on Fridays because they are "in mourning", picketing our schools in front of students and cutting activities that only hurt kids. (And that doesn't include the numerous examples of teachers inappropriately discussing the negotiations in the classroom).

Then all sides can stop the propaganda and enjoy summer! Best of all, everyone gets a fresh start in the fall.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Poem from a non-poet


School Daze with C:


She enters the house, in a flurry of curls, 
Pink nails clicking incessantly on a small cell
Smiling "hi Mom" she heads for the fridge,
In the blink of an eye she's up in her room


From where did she come? I often wonder
Studious and challenging, sporty and fun
Talented and lucky, with beauty like no other
But headstrong, self-assured, too entitled


A fortunate Mom with an organized daughter
I watch her daily departure with friends, 
She's won competitions and failed at little
Too soon she'll set off on adventures unknown


Leaving a Proud Mom behind with a pile 
Of tank tops and shorts, pink, black, size small
To wash and put away...Awaiting for her brief return
I sigh, think "wait, come back!" before she's even gone


Tonight is the night to show off her work
Consciously done every day, a journey toward high goals
Little prodding from me, it's all self-determined
For what more could parents ask? Nothing!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Window opens

2 seconds after I posted today's entry I met someone for coffee...

... and left with a freelance grant writing gig.

Not bad Karma, I'd say! 

Defeat?

Yesterday tried to compensate for a hard day by doing my favorite feel-good things. I made homemade Chicken Soup with pastina (baby pasta) with a chicken from our favorite butcher, Hind and Fore. I broiled "her" and pulled the meat off the bones. And, as the soup simmered, my fresh multigrain bread rose in the oven.

I did something I really didn't want to do: I admitted defeat. How many of us really ever do that?

I gave up my import business. Time to face (what the men in my life have been saying for months) that this wasn't the right thing for me. I don't know what is worse, that I called it off or that they were right? I kept hearing the ABC Sports promo from the 80s with the skier crashing and the tagline "The Agony of Defeat".

But I'm not quite there yet, right? "The agony of defeat"... I prefer:

A door closes and a window opens! 

After reading Dick's blog from earlier this week I'm even more disheartened. Dick doesn't portray the "warm fuzzies" between the BOE and the Union.

It is so hard to explain my opinions about this without being misconstrued. Who in their right mind would say ANYTHING that could incite the fury of this crowd?

A force to be reckoned with! (Dick Bergeron's image). From a previous BOE meeting http://blogs.mycentraljersey.com/bridgewater/files/2012/06/DSC_7454.jpg 
Where's the window here? From the podium (and the press) the BOE gets a one-sided message. Many times I've blogged about teachers going the extra mile and my resounding appreciation for all they do. But how would I possibly face a room of 100 teachers and say "enough is enough!" (which is the quote I got from a teacher as to why they didn't run MARE at my son's school).

So I hedged at the podium and talked about how hard the teachers' non-action had been on our kids. This week C's team isn't having a "Team Day" (the 700+ kids on her team are divided into about six teams with whom they have all their classes and the same teacher teach this cohort of approximately 100 kids). The other ones are. C thinks her team isn't doing it because her teacher is lazy. I think it's because she's buying into the BREA's push for teachers to do only what is absolutely necessary. None of the BOE members (to my knowledge) have kids on C's team, so how would they know? But if I go and complain directly with several hundred teachers in the audience, they wouldn't get my main point:

Knitting a sun didn't make me feel warmth....
Teachers "actions" effect the kids without changing the politics. So please change tactics. 

I did go to the BOE meeting. Tons of people supported the teachers. I support some more than others, but I don't support the union. I just don't like that their tactics aren't doing anything except cutting things kids love and disheartening parents. The public at large is unaware that there is even strife in the community. I wish the Courier or another paper would cover this in a more balanced way than the Patch has been. I miss real information. Both sides are publishing what they want  you to hear. (Which is their prerogative). But the truth is much more complicated and nuanced. It is tied up in a mixture of politics, a need for reform (starting with tenure - too many bad apples stay in the system and poison it for the stellar teachers) and economic realities with expectations that in Bridgewater the community expects high achievement - not just in band and sports!

I also expect a lot from this community, starting with its schools. I truly believe (and have for a long time) that this is going to end with a strike. - And if that happens, everyone loses!

Mother Nature must have seen my knitted sunshine and taken it as a sign that I needed a pick-me-up. The clouds are parting on this Wednesday and the temperature is rising. I hope my blood pressure will lower. Summer is coming. I hope that the sun will warm relationships.

But more likely everyone will end up feeling burned. OK - enough cynicism. You go catch some rays! I'm heading back to create a new outline for my professional future...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Vicarious travel, anyone?

With the other foreign students, Rautalampi, Finland 
Undress me in the Temple of Heaven is part travelogue, part memoir, part time travel. A journey worth reading, I highly recommend you get it for your summer reading. Much less sex than Shades, but long after you've forgotten that book, this book will stay with you. It's got beautiful descriptions, heartbreak, love and friendship, but also adventures in Hong Kong and all over China in the pre-internet days when getting lost meant exactly that.

The vertigo-inducing mixture of jetlag, culture shock, lust and adventure fill every page and remind me of the ying-yang pulling between homesickness and the thirst for exotic experience. The author talked about the competitive tone of the travelers, and I remember my own part in this game, complete with my arrogant condescending tone. We one upped each other with:

  • "Oh, they've ONLY been away for a few weeks...try LIVING with a family that doesn't speak English for a year!"
  • Finnish sauna -  Saunas are more common in Finnish homes than bathtubs. (Naked, of course... "when in Helsinki, do as the Finns"..) Q:  How hot was it? 95? (Celcius). A: Well mine was 100C! Q: You ran around in the snow? A: Well I jumped into a lake - that they had to drill a hole through the ice to open up!  (For the record: I took saunas naked - but with women only.Yes, it was hot. And, although some Finns do run in the snow or a frozen lake (yes, still naked) and then back into the sauna, I lived in the center of the city, so we did neither at my host family's apartment - although I have done both when visiting friends.)
  • How cold did it get? My friend was in Gothenburg, Sweden where her face would freeze on the way to school. But in Finland it reached minus 40.... and that is the same in Fahrenheit and Celsius. -40F = -40C. (The author of Undress Me spoke often of the heat - we dealt with the cold)
And on it went. In the book, the author trumps other backpackers because she had been in trouble with the Chinese military police. "Hasn't everyone?" She asked. 

Apparently the author never had kids, as many international journalists don't. When I traveled in the late 1980s I wasn't thinking about having kids. The book reminded me that my adventurous spirit lies dormant in my current life of carpooling. Today, I know with complete certainty, that I wouldn't trade a life with kids for all the tea in China. I can travel vicarious to my heart's content through reading and plan future adventures with and without them.

In the safe is my passport... with plenty of space for a few exotic stamps. And I still have my blue backpack that I got at the store where my Nonny** worked (until she died at 84 years old)- Carey's Luggage and Gifts. My parents' address is still visible! The store is gone, and Nonny died in 1988, but the sharpie hasn't faded and neither have the memories.



** By the way - Nonny traveled to Asia, Europe, Africa and South America long before it was common. She was one of seven kids and she traveled with her siblings once they were all grandparents. She'd even been to Finland about twenty years before I had. I don't know if she took a sauna, but she remembered Finland (and Russia - very rare in Cold War times) as wonderful, beautiful places and she wrote how proud she was of me. My Mom visited China and Russia  in the 1990s. I'm proud that the women who are my role models have had such influences on me.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lost at sea?

(Click here to see pictures and a description of MARE from 2011).
Eisenhower's hallway during the 2011 Mare carnival

Apparently Eisenhower school is not running Ocean Week or hosting its annual MARE Carnival night (according to the BRRSD calendar, Roots and Shoots Forest Festival took place at Hillside School on a Saturday). Eisenhower's teachers don't want to run it. This frustrates me. I spend a lot of energy highlighting my perceived inequities between our two Intermediate Schools (Eisenhower and Hillside). Normally I'm bitching about class sizes and the impact that so many more kids have on the building as a whole (library, nursing, cafeteria, etc.). This "inequity" upsets me more because it is the choice of Eisenhower's staff not to run the Carnival.

Hillside School promoted Roots and Shoots at Bridgewater's Eco-Blast last month -  with no sign of Eisenhower's MARE program)... Again Hillside is doing something (albeit, something small - having a table for a few hours) but it was the teaching staff that chose to make this happen. Where was my son's school? MARE is just as impressive a program, and just as ecologically-focused.

After spending months on a committee to bring back extra-curricular activities after budget cuts, Eisenhower's most academic and enriching of all, MARE Carnival night is not happening. Families got excited about Science. MARE, which was open to families, welcomed incoming siblings to intermediate school. I haven't read the teacher's contracts - maybe this interdisciplinary extra stuff is beyond the scope of some teachers' contracts (the coordinator(s) would be paid through student fees and I believe the PTO contributes to cover other costs), but I think that it was a great example of "kids first" and a general support of enriching our curriculum. The MARE carnival highlighted the interaction of social sciences and physical sciences with the arts and exercise. Children showed off their school's curriculum with pride. Parents got a rare glimpse of teachers interacting with students. A very worthwhile effort - but an effort nonetheless.

These tactics that turn empathy AWAY from teachers. If anything, the BREA and its members should see this collaborative effort as positive PR during times of strife. It took a long time to get MARE Carnival to run in the first place. I understand that teachers are bagging this intentionally to demonstrate what they do, but the target is missed. None of the 9 BOE members has kids in Eisenhower. The target audience of these tactics (ie the BOE negotiations committee) won't even notice.

Their first exposure to dissection? RIP Squid. (From MARE 2011)
I understand that the teachers want to highlight all they do BEYOND the scope of their contract. I understand that they are tired of the negotiations. I understand that they don't want to take on extra things when they don't feel appreciated.

None the less, it isn't NOT the BOE that feels the loss. It's Eisenhower's kids. Eisenhower boasts some very dedicated teachers. The librarian just ran a week-long Book Fair - a stressful and disruptive enterprise - that doesn't make 1 cent for the school. Instead she ran it because it offers buy-one-get-one books so that kids in her school can get access to inexpensive reading for the summer.

Every time I enter the school, I meet teachers who smile. The Principal is nice. The Vice Principal is respectful. My son's and daughter's (former) teachers (for the most part) taught my children with care and concern. Of course, there have been exceptions, but we've been pretty lucky. Despite huge class sizes (29 or 30 kids in all his academic classes) my son is learning. A lot. Proof positive that the teachers are going the extra mile in the classroom. A larger student-teacher ratio means more work to reach individual students.

Not running MARE/Ocean Week may incur a financial loss to the District. The school has received competitive grant funding for this program, an honor to the community. That alone should be reason to run it. Why would a funding organization ever give money to Eisenhower again, if they get a reputation for not running things when there are BOE vs. Union-issues? In general, contracts are renewed every three years. (And budget cuts can make things unpleasant in the interim, as we've seen in the past).  Grant funding organizations often look at how recipients spend other funding - even if they aren't the source - to see if they are worthy and trustworthy causes.  If that is the case, not running MARE jeopardizes Eisenhower's future students, as much as it hurts the current students.

As I said, none of the BOE members (to my knowledge) have kids currently in Eisenhower. They probably aren't even aware that this has been canceled. But I am. But I'm just one mom.

And I'm disappointed. I get the teachers are mad. I just wish the union would stop convincing teachers to do things that the kids feel but the BOE doesn't even see. It doesn't help. It probably doesn't help morale. (Does it make the teachers feel better to cut programs?) It doesn't help with negotiations. (I assume.) It probably doesn't help with parent-teacher relationships. (Why would parents take part in committees to bring back programs, if the teachers won't support them?) And it certainly doesn't help kids. (They are the ones that are feeling the cut and this is the biggest 6th grade class in years.)

It's really a shame. In my humble opinion...