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    Of Chicks and Row Covers

    We have reached a new milestone in farming. Our livestock is reproducing itself.

    I went out to let the chickens out this morning and almost stepped on the Buff Orpington hen (she is the same color as the straw). She pecked at my foot and got all ruffled, and as I was apologizing to her, I suddenly heard an unfamiliar noise.

    "cheep cheep cheep cheep"

    I looked down and there was a tiny little Buff Orpington fluffball peeking out from underneath the hen (the rooster is also a Buff Orpington). 

    I then ran into the house and upstairs to wake up the husband (and yes, I am aware that there is a persistent theme in these blog posts of me running in and waking the husband up with some momentous news or another) and tell him that we had a chick! A chick! How did that happen? Where was she hiding it?  And what are we going to do with it? And how are we going to keep it from being pecked by the 20 other chickens? 

    At which point he said, "No more questions until I have had some coffee." 

    I think the husband suspected something was up, because I went out Thursday night to collect eggs (he was at fire training) and he told me when he got home that some of those eggs might be bad because she's been sitting on a bunch of them and wouldn't let him have them. She's been broody for a while. I just don't know where she was hiding the egg that hatched. 

    The husband put a wooden box in the coop so that the mama hen has a place to hide the chick. Maybe we will just let her lay eggs in there and set on them. She is the biggest of the hens and quite protective, so I know she could handle a bunch of babies. And it will be nice to have chickens to replace these when they stop laying eggs.


    My MIL asked for a picture of the fabulous row covers that the husband built to cover the lettuce and tomatoes. Here you go:

    The tomatoes are nice and cozy inside:


    It has been pouring here for the last five days. I did want a salad last night, though, so I put on my boots and my Carhartt jacked and slogged over to the garden to get some lettuce. It's nice and toasty under those covers. I am kind of worried about my grapevines. Conventional local wisdom holds that the grapes do better if water is withheld in the fall, giving them time to go dormant before it gets cold. It's kind of difficult to turn off nature's overhead shower, though, so they have gotten a lot of water this week. At least (according to the husband) it is not supposed to freeze. 

    I'll keep you all posted on how well the row covers work. We are still kicking around the idea of putting up an 18' x 24" greenhouse. 


    I went for my annual physical exam yesterday. My doctor pronounced me "in excellent health" and then asked me how I felt about getting a mammogram. The last mammogram I had was in 2007. Yes, I should not have gone four years without getting a mammogram, but the last time I had one, they insisted on taking a bunch of extra views of the left side. There are three cysts on that left side. I know exactly where they are, and they are visible on all my previous mammograms. At about film #15 (which I already thought was way excessive) I asked them what they were looking for. "We don't know," the nurse said, "but we want to see what we can find." They would have continued on with the fishing expedition, except that I pitched something of a fit and a few minutes later found myself in a room with the radiologist explaining to him why I don't want excessive radiation exposure. I don't even allow x-rays of my teeth at the dentist. I have had more than my fair share of x-rays in my life, and no one can assure me that all that radiation exposure is not why I ended up getting leukemia. I am not going down THAT road again. 

    Interestingly enough, the radiologist agreed with me and not the nurse (who would happily have taken another 15 films), so they stopped. And I refused to go back. I don't do well with nurses who lecture me about the need to allow them to take as many films as they want while completely disregarding my feelings on the subject. However, I understand that mammograms are prudent (and I type oncology reports all day—I know what happens when you ignore things hoping they will go away), so I am scheduled for a mammogram next month. I will probably not resume a yearly mammogram schedule, but I don't think I am going to go four years between again, either. We will see. In any case, we're going to have a discussion up front about limits on mammogram fishing expeditions just because you want to see what you can find.  

    When I was having chemo at the Cleveland Clinic, they would send us down every Monday morning for chest x-rays. Aside from the fact that it was a totally demoralizing process (they would take everyone from the floor down to the basement at the same time and line our wheelchairs up outside the Radiology Department), I was not convinced it was necessary. I confronted one of my doctors about the need for these weekly chest x-rays. He said they wanted to make sure we didn't get pneumonia. I said I wanted to make sure I didn't get another potentially-incurable disease. A few days later he came into my room and demanded to know if I had been fomenting revolution on the floor, because apparently one of the other patients had also balked at weekly chest x-rays.

    I've often wished I could read what the doctors wrote about me in my charts after I was done having chemo, because I am sure it would have been hysterically funny. I was not a cooperative patient. But hey, I am still here, and still fighting with doctors. 


    Work was much better this week. I have the most patient account manager. I probably would have fired me long ago for making bonehead mistakes like forgetting to include the cover letter to the report (but only some doctors get cover letters and only for some reports—there's that rules things again). I really do enjoy getting up every morning and doing this. The hard part is finding time for things like grocery shopping and going to the bank and cleaning and cooking. I do go to town, but it's usually really early in the morning or in the evening when nothing is open.  The husband hasn't been able to work this week because of the monsoon, so yesterday he cleaned the house. That was a huge help. I still have beets to pickle and I've been throwing the tomatoes into the freezer until I have time to get them all out and make salsa. We bought a second freezer. The first one, which is in the basement, is full to bursting with garden bounty. We got another freezer, which went out in the garage. That's going to get filled with a side of beef purchased from the neighbors, and hopefully a deer or two (or an elk if we get really lucky). 

    So that's all the news from this part of the country. I am glad it is Saturday. I am going to work a bit, but I am also going to take the day and catch up on some things. And maybe tonight I can sit by the fire and knit. 


    Why I Love Learning Styles

    So I am a big fan of learning styles and how they affect people's daily lives. I teach, and believe me, when it comes to learning styles, there isn't a whole lot of difference between a classroom full of first-graders and a classroom full of adults, except maybe that the adults known how to use Kleenexes.

    DD#2 came home with an assignment on learning styles the other night. She had been told to have one of her family members take a learning style assessment test. I've done Myers-Briggs and I know myself pretty well, but she asked me to take the test, so I did.

    Unfortunately, she waved it at me and gave me pretty vague directions, so the first time through, I did it wrong. Her instructions were "rank these words using 0, 1, 3, or 5, depending on how strongly the word resonates with you." Her instructions should have been, "These words are in rows of four words. Rank the four words in each row using 0, 1, 3, or 5, depending on how strongly the word resonates with you," but she's 14 and I should have asked for clarification.

    I came out strongly dominant in the "sensing-thinking" area, which can be summed up thusly:

    The sensor thinker works in an organized, step-by-step, methodical manner.  The ST student learns best alone, thrives on repetitious drill and practice, and has a profound need for timely feedback. These students memorize facts well and often excel at recall tests.  For this student, answers are either right or wrong; "discovery learning" and "cooperative learning" will drive this student to distraction because they crave a clearly defined path to the correct answer.  The ST student should study alone, in a well lit and structured area, with no distractions, utilizing repeated example problems and exercises.  Complex concepts should be broken down into steps or small pieces and each step in the process should be mastered before moving on to the next.

    The husband (who is an NT, by the way) loves to tease me about my need for rules. I like rules. Rules—whether they govern grammar, societal behavior, or the workings of the universe—make me very happy.

    There are parts of my new job that I've really been struggling with, and I feel bad for my account supervisor because it seems like every other hour I am asking her for clarification on one point or another. It's not the medical terminology that's tripping me up—I am nailing that. It's not a problem understanding the dictators, even the non-English speaking ones (who are actually easier to transcibe because they don't mumble.) No, the problem I am having is with the "acccount specifics," the rules that govern how a particular account is transcribed.

    When I was doing my coursework, we were told that they were style guidelines (yay!—and a whole book of them) but that "account specifics" rule the day and may override the style guidelines at any time. That was pounded into our heads, I suspect, to remind us ST's that we should not make an idol out of the AHDI Book of Style, 3rd edition. 

    Lucky me, I landed on an account with pretty vague specifics. And I have to give props here to my account manager—she is aware that this account has pretty vague specifics, and she's doing her best to clarify them (probably so I will stop pestering her). I was thrown into the worst kind of situation for an ST to be in and it has caused me no end of angst for the past 6 weeks. Instead of being given a set of clearly-defined expectations, which would allow me to concentrate on creating an accurate report, I was give a set of guidelines that went something like, "The rule for this situation is to do XYZ, unless it's this subset of this situation, in which case you need to do ABC, but if it this subset of this situation, you do 123, and if Mercury is in retrograde and there is a full moon, you should probably just have a glass of wine." 

    Arrrrggggggghhhhhhh . . . . . 

    I can give you an example that illustrates this perfectly: I was told that the doctor may dictate the date of dictation (and he or she usually does), but I was not to assume that the date of dictation was the same as the date of service (which the doctor does not always dictate). Usually the doctor does dictations the same day or the next day, but sometimes they may get behind by a couple of days. Okay, great, a rule. I carefully jotted down the rule and what to do in that situation: I am to mark the report for client review so that the client can make sure it has the correct date of service on it. 

    There are two levels of review for a report. The lower level is QA, which is my account supervisor. I send the report to her if I have questions about terminology or I can't understand what the doctor is saying. The higher level is client review, which is reserved for things like date of service, missing parts of transcription, etc. This past week I happened to send a report marked for both levels. I had a question that I knew my account supervisor could answer, but I had also marked the report because the doctor dictated the date of dictation but not the date of service. I got a note back from her saying I should not have marked it for client review, because the doctor said, "Today's date is . . . " and that should have gone into the date of dictation field. "But," I said, "I was told not to do that." "Yes," she said, "but you can assume for this doctor that the date of service is the date of dictation." "For this doctor only?" I asked, and she said, "Well, for this doctor and for this doctor, but only these doctors."

    Rules, with exceptions to the rules. I have a Word document open on my desktop in which I am trying—not always successfully—to create a flow chart for each doctor so that I know what the rules and the subsets of rules are, because if I violate a rule I make my account supervisor unhappy. She has people breathing down her neck, too. I have kicked around the idea of asking for a different account—one with clearly-defined rules—but I really really really like this particular specialty so I am just trying to suck it up. I am now at the end of week 6 and I finally feel like I have a handle on what the rules are, which means that it's about time for somebody to change them again. 


    There is another side of this coin, too. Not only am I an ST learner, I am an ST teacher, and I have to remember that when I have a room full of knitters. I try very hard to give the "big picture" and the goals for each class and each swatch, so that they people with other learning styles get their needs met, too. I will give opportunity for people to take off on their own and experiment, because some students want to synthesize concepts themselves.

    The challenge for me are the people who stop listening when I say, "Here are the instructions for this swatch . . . " as I start to go over them, because those people don't like rules and guidelines and like to puzzle things out for themselves. They are also the people who aske me lots of questions on rows 2, 3, and 4, because they didn't listen to the instructions. Oh well. Class would be boring if everyone were like me. 


    The funny ending to the story about DD#2's homework assignment was that she had to write a summary of what she learned by giving me that test. She wrote, "My mother needs to have directions clearly explained to her and I did not do that, so she screwed it up the first time." 

    We all learn.



    I am beginning to see more and more information cycling about the drawbacks of modern wheat as part of the American diet. The problem, as I said to the husband, is that I cannot tell if I am really seeing more information cycling or if I am seeing more information cycling because I am self-selecting what I read. I am sure the latter plays a large part, although the SixServings blog of the Grain Foods Foundation recently got hammered with 114 comments in defense of a wheat-free diet. Someone said to me recently that "wheat is the new tobacco." I don't know if I would go that far, but the tide seems to be turning.

    Certainly all it took for me was one bowl of soup thickened with flour to know that I shouldn't be eating the stuff.

    I've learned a few things in the past couple of weeks.

    I have figured out that I can have some carbs in limited quantities. One of the meals we love is burritos. Obviously the flour tortillas are out, but my burrito filling has rice and beans in it, along with ground beef. I made it the other night, and enjoyed a bowl of burrito filling topped with cheese, Wholly Guacamole, and sour cream. Yum. And the scale hasn't budged. I am hoping that I will be able to do beans a couple of times a week, as they factor heavily into my winter soup menus. 

    I discovered that Greek Gods full-fat plain greek yogurt has fewer carbs in it that the non-fat (remember what I said about adding sugar for flavor?). I was so trained to grab the non-fat variety that I will have to make a conscious effort to pick up the green carton instead of the blue one. I like my greek yogurt with a bit of stevia and some blueberries. 

    Cooking is not as difficult as I thought it would be. Cooking for me is easy. Cooking for me and the husband is realtively easy. Cooking for me, the husband, and a picky 14-year-old is a challange. However, she is absent at dinnertime three times a week (see comments below), so on those nights I go hog wild and make the kinds of things I know she won't eat (like Indian food, which I made last night). 

    We have friends who own a packing company here in town and make a wonderful line of sausages called Redneck Sausage. We eat Cheddar Dawgs (sauage with cheese), Hot Hens (chicken sausage with jalapenos, the husband's fave), and Italiano Reggiano, which goes into my pasta e fagioli soup. I happened to stop at the grocery store one morning around 6:00 after dropping DD#2 off for cheerleading practice. Who should be there but my friend, restocking the shelves with Redneck Sausage. He commented on my new diet, and I said to him, "You know, the best part of this diet is that I am allowed to eat Cheddar Dawgs. How could that be bad?" (Their stuff is so good that my family always requests a Redneck ham for our Christmas dinner.)

    So on balance, I am not missing the wheat or the sugar. I did get a craving for something sweet last night, but a bowl of strawberries took care of that. 


    Cheerleading season continues apace. One of the things I have had to come to grips with is that DD#2 is bopping around town with way more frequency than her sister did, due in large part to her cheerleading schedule. 

    The husband, of course, latched onto this right away and said to me, "You don't have any angst about allowing DD#2 to do things you never would have let DD#1 do at that age?" He and I are both eldest children, and we've had many sessions of lament about the fact that we had to wait to do certain things, only to see our younger siblings given the green light for those same activities at a much younger age. I swore I would never do that to my children—but practicality wins out over principle, at least in this case. 

    These are also very different children. DD#1 was much more cautious and introverted at that age. DD#2 is ready to go out and embrace everything the world has to offer and could she please have a tall vanilla latte with whipped cream with that? In that respect she is much more like me and I just have to suck it up and remember that I raised my children to be compentent people and they don't need a hovercraft mother watching their every move. If I feel the need to set a boundary, DD#2 (so far) has been gracious about honoring it. She's cognizant of the fact that she has more freedom than her sister did at that age, and she's not about to risk having it taken away. 

    Besdies, the husband and I are getting glimpses of what our life will be like when we don't have kids at home any more, and we rather like what we see. 


    My Modern Pterodactyls

    I went to my office fairly early this morning to do some work. I have a couple of new-to-me doctors and I wanted to work on their reports while I was still pretty fresh (I tried yesterday afternoon and it was an unqualified disaster). While I was sitting at my desk, I caught sight of a pileated woodpecker flying through the yard. It's actually kind of hard to miss them—they look like pterodactyls flying through the trees.

    I went to look out the window and realized there were TWO—no, THREE—no, FIVE!—pileated woodpeckers out on one tree in the front yard. Three were males and two were females. I wondered if perhaps it was a family and mommy and daddy were teaching the youngsters how to find bugs in the trees. From what I have heard, pileated woodpeckers are fairly territorial and I can't imagine that FIVE of them would have been in the same tree if they weren't related.  

    I was so excited that I rushed upstairs and rousted the husband out of bed and made him look out the window. While we were watching them, two of the males flew to a tree right outside our bedroom window. Then the third male joined them. I ran back downstairs to get my camera, but by the time I got back upstairs, only two were still in the tree. But I got a picture (it's kind of grainy because I took it through the screen):

    We've had pileated woodpeckers here since we bought this property in 1994. They are some of my favorite birds. We have a very tall tree at the back of the property that I refer to as The Woodpecker Tree because the males will go sit at the top of that tree and call to the females. I have forbidden the husband to cut it down, even though it is very dead. If he cuts it down, the woodpeckers will have to find a different tree and none of the rest of the trees are as tall. 

    So that was our wildlife excitement for this morning. DD#2 and I saw a black bear the other day at the jobsite where the husband is currently working. He tried to tell me it was a Newfoundland dog that's been hanging around, but DD#2 and I aren't buying it. I've seen enough bears (and enough Newfoundland dogs) to know the difference. It was a bear. 


    A Conundrum

    We received a pamphlet in the mail the other from our high school. It states,

    The federal No Child Left Behind law requires me to notify you that [name of high school] did not fully meet the federal government's targets set for school-wide progress last year. This measure, known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is composed of 41 different indicators.

    [Name of high school] missed targets in the area of reading for its students identified for special education services and for students who are economically disadvantaged. Achievment level targets in mathmatics were also not met. Additionally, [high school's] graduation rate fell below the targeted level.

    I read this pamphlet and said to the husband, "Surely this cannot be the same high school from which our daughter graduated with an IB diploma last year?" But surely, it is. And this just totally and completely reinforces my longstanding assertion that it should not be the job of the public school system (especially at the 9-12 level!) to correct problems that should be dealt with by a) parents and b) society at large. 

    I've seen kindergarteners come to school without breakfast (and without a lunch, for that matter), wandering in late because mommy or daddy just couldn't be bothered to bust through their hangover and get them to the bus on time, and unable to stay awake because they didn't get to bed until after midnight (courtesy of mommy and daddy's wild Tuesday night party). I've heard 6th graders cussing at their parents on the phone because "You forgot to make sure I brought my homework to school!" I've seen children with horrible home lives disrupt entire classrooms for hours (sometimes days) on end because they have nowhere to direct all their anger and frustration. I know kids who have been hauled from school to school to school (sometimes 5 or 6 different schools in one year). I even know kids whose parents kept them out of school for months at a time because it was just too hard for them to get them enrolled after they moved to a new district. 

    And when years and years and years of neglect and bad parenting pile up, it's the schools that get blamed because Johnny can't read and Susie can't add 2+2. And the loudest criticism comes from those people who haven't set foot in a public school classroom since their own graduations. Schools aren't places of learning anymore. Now schools are places where teachers have to fix childrens' OTHER problems before they can even address the ones that have to do with learning. In addition, they now have to deal with the burden of demands placed on them by the federal government to prove that they can still teach what needs to be taught—all of this while making less per hour than a general laborer without a high school diploma (oh, the irony!) makes working a construction job. 

    My children got an EXCELLENT public school education, even in a so-called "poor" state. And they got that education because their father and I took seriously the job of raising our children. (And guess what—it wasn't that hard!) We laid the foundation for learning and they and their teachers built upon it. It is ridiculous to expect teachers in this country—especially at the rates they are paid—to do the job that parents should be doing. And if parents are finding it too difficult to raise their children, then other social issues need to be addressed instead of dumping all the blame on the public school system. 

    If schools were filled only with children who came to school well-fed, well-rested, and whose parents took an interest in what was happening in their kids' lives, THEN we would have reason to criticize schools for abysmal test results or low graduation rates. That isn't the reality of the public school system, though, and we need to stop punishing teachers for it.