Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Teacher stories 13: following your passion

Today's teacher story is with Patricia Kwarciak, who teaches third grade at Huth Road Elementary School.

When did you know that you wanted to be a teacher?
I think that, when I was growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher, but my high school counselor talked me out of it. So I actually was in a different career field, and I wasn’t happy. I was a bank auditor. It wasn’t me and it wasn’t my personality, and that’s the reason that I was so unhappy. So I did a little soul searching, and I went back to school. I am so happy that I did because it was one of the best decisions that I made.

Where did you go to school?
I went to Canisius for my undergraduate degree in business, and to Medaille for my masters in education.

Did you teach in any other school districts before Grand Island?
Actually I was very fortunate. I started out as a teaching assistant about 15 years ago. I started here at Huth Road Elementary School. Then the following year, I was hired as a K-1 teacher at Sidway Elementary School. I was a looping teacher (a looping teacher teaches the same group of students in both their kindergarden and first grade years). It was fun. It was a great group of kids. Actually, they are graduating from high school this year. After two years at Sidway, I came here and taught fourth grade. I had a couple of my former students in fourth grade. It was great to see how much they grew academically as well as physically. I’m going to their graduation in June. I’m looking forward to that.

You were a fourth grade teacher. When did you become a third grade teacher.
I taught fourth grade for a couple years, and then there was an opening in third. I came down to third, and I love third grade. There’s so much that I love about it. I love that the children are independent enough to work on some things on their own. They are so open to learning and being challenged. 

Could you describe something that your class is doing this year?
In my classroom, we do something called genius hour, which was started at Google. Employees are allowed 20 percent of their work time to do a pet project, something that they are passionate about. Basically, it is adapted for the classroom, where students are encouraged to find out what they are passionate about and then learn about it. So they pick a topic, they research it, they find out all about it, and they present it to the class.  

I had a student last year, who wanted to become a chef. Basically, I act as more of a guide so I told her to research a couple of famous chefs, interview some local chefs, which she did, and she put together a beautiful Power point Presentation. She created a cookbook, and then she brought in samples of food that she made for the class to taste. 

When the students have an active role in what they want to learn about, it makes them more enthusiastic about their learning. We’re just starting out this year. We have our wonder wall. The students come up with questions of certain things. One student last year wondered what it would be like to have a pet pig. The student researched everything involved, including what to feed it, how to take care of it, everything that was involved in having a pet pig. Its a lot of fun. The learning never ends in here. Even as an adult, the learning never ends. We are always learning. There is always room to learn.

What makes you happiest about teaching?
I think that I love sharing knowledge. The learning never ends. I love to see how excited the kids get when they’re excited about learning, too. You see their eyes light up in excitement.

What would you like to tell parents?
I think that what we try to do here in our classroom is that we have this thing called the growth mindset, where we like to take on challenges and we don’t easily give up. If we come across a problem that seems a little difficult at first, we just need to figure out a way to maybe attack the problem differently or look at it differently and keep trying. So I would say to parents is to challenge their children at home. Let them become a little frustrated and try to figure out problems on their own. But do so within reason.

What do you like to do when you're not teaching?
I am very involved with my children and the sports that they are in. I have two children, a boy (age 17) and a girl (age 19). If I am not here, I am usually at their sporting events. They are involved in volleyball and hockey. My daughter is working full time, and she is in school full time. She wants to do something in the law enforcement field. My son is graduating from high school this year and his intent is to go into biomedical science. He wants to become an anesthesialolgist. 

I also have two furbabies at home. Two dogs. My little bentley. He’s a King Charles cavalier, and the world revolves around him. He is my little guy. Then my other furbaby is a rescue dog that was actually my mom’s dog.  He is a little Shih tsu.My daughter wanted to keep him because he reminded us of my mom, who passed six years ago.

Now I am going to be doing volunteer work at Roswell Park. I’m going to be a cancer coach for folks that are going through cancer. I have an attachment to Roswell. I am a cancer survivor. Two years ago, five days before Thanksgiving, I had my last chemotherapy treatment. I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I am almost two years in remission so I am very thankful for that. In order to be  a cancer coach, you have to be two years out from treatment.

I just feel the need to give back. So our class is making blankets for the pediatric patients at Roswell.

What would you tell someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer?
Stay positive. That’s what helped me a lot. Even though it might seem dark and difficult, we have to keep thinking positive. 

Monday, November 20, 2017


Ten years ago, I had pneumonia and was very sick. One day, my mom walked into my room and asked me how she could help me. All I could think of was how I could fill myself with air so I could withstand the next coughing fit. I was wondering if my life expectancy could be measured by minutes, hours, or days. I did not think months or years nor did I imagine that I would be writing these words ten years later. I squeaked, "I'm scared. Tell me a story." My mom said to me, "I have an idea. I'll be right back." Within minutes, my mom was back with a book of fairy tales.

My mom read to me every day until I recovered from my illness. The antibiotics took away the illness, and the stories excited my imagination and distracted me back to health. 

Stories have power, in addition to the power of healing. Stories make us laugh and cry. They tell us where we came from. They tell us about other cultures and they let us experience the world through another person's eyes. 

On Saturday, November 18th, I experienced Tellabration, an international storytelling event that occurs on or close to the third Saturday of every November, as a listener. I let the stories wash over me and fill me up with many feeling: amusement, empathy, joy, hope, and more. The theme of Tellabration this year was hope.

Here are synopses of the stories, as well as pictures of all of the story tellers. 

Gooseberries to Oranges is an immigration story, told by Diane Evans. Fanny was a little girl who lived in Eastern Europe. She talked about picking gooseberries and little brown pears in the summertime. "With winter came war." With war came disease. Fanny went to America in a huge ship. In America, she lived with her Papa, but she learned that the streets were paved with garbage, not gold. She tasted an orange for the first time and it was good and helped her not feel so nostalgic for the gooseberries and little brown pears of her homeland.

The Tale of Human Pathos on the High Seas and Zombies was set in the 1970s, when everyone was cool, despite their bizarre fashion statements. Blue Sky said that he lived with his family in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, which is a very cool place to live. His mom was into composting and organic gardening. At some point, the food waste was tossed directly into the incredibly organic garden, and the compost heap was sadly neglected until a huge object was discovered there. It was a MONSTER ZUCCHINI! What could be done with a vegetable of that size? Dad got out the chainsaw and transformed the Mutant Vegetable into a dugout canoe. Sky and his brother Sterling got into the canoe and they tried to paddle to Toronto. They used snow shovels for paddles. Unfortunately, beavers started eating the boat. Before long, the beavers consumed the entire boat, and Sky and Sterling were left, bobbing in the water. The Coast Guard came by and issued Sky and Sterling tickets for "unauthorized feeding of a protected species." They departed without rescuing Sky and Sterling, who soon were DEAD! But not quite dead. "Sterling and I were Zombies."

Watch out for Sky and Sterling or you might become... ZOMBIEFIED!!!!

Bobby Minkoff told the story of The Man Who Wanted to Live Forever. A man prayed that he could live forever. An angel asked him if he was sure that's what he wanted, and a bird took him to the land where people lived forever. They ate poisonous mushrooms and took all sorts of wild risks because they said that living forever was boring.
Lorna Czarnota's story was called The Pool. It is a story about your identity and the joy in who you are. 

Craig Werner told a story called Just One Choice, about a couple named Nancy and Jackie O'Gormley. They had three daughters and they wanted to have a son. Other characters in the story included a magical seal, the wee folk, and changelings.

Pat Feidner told the story of a city boy named Michael, who was sent to live in the countryside with his uncle and his many cousins. He discovered his love of mules and he decided to save up his money to buy his mother a mule. He was told that mules don't belong in the city, but that didn't stop him from trying to buy a mule.

Big Mamma Boo told the story of A Dog Named Amen. She explained the meaning of her name. Big Mamma is an elder mamma, and boo means love. She talked about the prayer warriors who met at church to do intercessory prayer. She said that her friend's daughter adopted abused dogs. One of the dogs alerted people to a break-in and saved everyone's lives. That was the dog named Amen.

Tom Burger told the story of Pandora. Zeus gave her the gift of curiosity when he breathed life into her. She was beautiful. Pandora means "all gifted." She was also given a dowry in a box. She was not to open that box, but she had more curiosity than common sense. She accidentally let out all of the troubles of the world: hate, disease, prejudice, deceit, poverty, and death. She also let out hope. "I am hope. Hope is already around and behind all of those troubles."

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Autumnal kitchen fun

Not only are pumpkins great decorations for the porch on Halloween, they are also delicious and nutritious. The best pumpkins for eating are the smaller variety, known as pie pumpkins. They can be cut up, baked, and eaten like winter squash. Actually, pumpkins are winter squash. And, speaking of winter squash, you can roast and eat the seeds of any winter squash. It makes for a very tasty snack.

Giant pumpkins are considered to be edible but are not as tasty as smaller pumpkins. So, when I go out to get my pumpkins in the autumn, I always look for a smaller pumpkin that will both look nice on the porch and be very tasty.

Pumpkins aren't the only reason for autumn being kitchen fun season. Autumn isn't complete without numerous varieties of apples. There are plenty of opportunities to pick apples and take them home to your kitchen to prepare in so many ways.

Soooo... this is how I had my kitchen fun. I had volunteered to make refreshments for Tellabration, which is a worldwide storytelling event that is held on or close to the third Saturday of November. In Western New York, the event was held at Trinity United Methodist Church, in Amherst on Saturday.

I made two breads for Tellabration: an applesauce bread and a pumpkin bread. But... before I could make the breads, I had to make the applesauce and I had to bake a pumpkin. OK, I guess that I could go all the way back to growing apples and pumpkins. No, I don't have a pumpkin patch, so I had to acquire fresh pumpkins. I do have an apple tree, and some of the apples from that tree were put into the applesauce.

The first bread that I made was the applesauce bread. I found a recipe in allrecipes.com for spiced applesauce bread. Here is the link: spiced applesauce bread recipe  When I started getting the ingredients together, I realized that I had a little problem. One of the ingredients that I needed was allspice, but I didn't have any. Going to the supermarket for the missing ingredient was not a plan. It was already dark, and there was no way that I could walk to the store safely to buy allspice. So I had to make do with what I had.

I looked on line to see if I could substitute something for the allspice. The internet can be a great cookbook so... substitutions? What I found was... to make a teaspoon's worth of an allspice substitute, combine half a teaspoon of ground ginger, half a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a dash of nutmeg. The second-choice substitute would be to replace the allspice with pumpkin pie spice, which is a combination of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.

I put together my "allspice" and was able to make the applesauce bread.

The next day, I made the pumpkin bread, using this recipe from Genius Kitchen: recipe for Fresh Pumpkin Bread 
There were various suggestions from readers about changing the recipe to suit different tastes.
One involved using molasses, but I didn't have any molasses. Another suggestion was to increase the amount of pumpkin in the recipe from one cup to one and a half cups. I did that.
The recipe also suggested the option of adding half a cup of nuts. I decided that raisins, in addition to nuts, would be a fine touch, so I added a third of a cup of raisins and a third of a cup of nuts.
One of the things about this recipe that made me look at it several times, just to make sure that it was right, was that it called for adding a tablespoon of pure vanilla. Since most recipes that I use call for a teaspoon of vanilla, I was surprised by this. I added the vanilla and...

Yum! Vanilla does make baked goods taste even yummier. I brought the breads to Tellabration, where they competed with donuts for attention. They got good reviews but were not finished. I brought the remainder of the breads to church, to add to the goodies at coffee hour. At the end of coffee hour, the breads had been finished. Seeing my creations finished off was a happy experience.
Thanksgiving is coming and, with it, a baking experience that I've never had. Check later for... adventures in gluten-free baking!!!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Healing and hope

Most of us have been touched by the loss of someone by suicide. It is a heartbreaking experience for both families and friends of the deceased. For today's post, I interviewed Dr. Celia Spacone, executive director of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, about International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, which is scheduled for Saturday, November 18th. Events will be held all over the world, including in the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. 

Celia was recently awarded the New York State Suicide Prevention Center's 2017 Excellence in Suicide Prevention Award.

Here are a few statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
  • 44,193 Americans die by suicide annually, translating into 121 suicides per day. It is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.
  • For every death by suicide, there are 25 attempts.
  • In 2015, the age group with the highest suicide rate was adults between 45 and 64 years of age.
  • Suicides cost the United States $51 billion annually.

Dr. Celia Spacone

What is this event about?

This is called the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. On Saturday, it will be occurring. We’ve been hosting it for ten years at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center,  and it is an international event. Last year, they had 350 locations worldwide. Our local event starts at noon at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, in the Butler Rehabilitation Building. There is ample free parking nearby, and it is open to the community, free of charge. 

Registration starts at noon. We actually provide a light lunch because it is a chance for people to be together. There will be resources and some information available for people. The program begins at 1 p.m., with a candle lighting remembrance, and then we show the documentary that the American Federation for Suicide Prevention provides us with, called “The Journey: A Story of Healing and Hope.” The documentary is about people who lost someone to suicide. It was made in 2014. Then they followed up with them to see how they are progressing now. 

Then we have a panel discussion, with two people who have lost family members to suicide and a grief and bereavement counselor. The audience has a chance to ask questions. I usually moderate, but, this year, I am stepping back and asking someone else to moderate. That will be Kimberly Karalus, and she is the outpatient unit chief at Buffalo Psychiatric Center.

How is this event received by those attending?
It usually very well received. People tell us that they find it comforting and a chance to see other people who have shared this experience, which can be a very lonely experience. If you lose someone to cancer or heart disease, people show up at your door with casseroles, and they provide a lot of support and comfort. When people lose someone to suicide, there’s a bit of hesitance to talk about it openly.  It is very hard for the family members to get the support that they desperately need because of the stigma, which is getting better. People are talking more about suicide. It is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.

According to the National Federation for Suicide Prevention, 70 percent of all suicides in 2015 were by white males. The NFSP also noted that the rate of suicides is highest for middle aged persons, especially among white men. Why would that be?
 About middle aged men: there are lots of theories about it. Men in general die by suicide more because they tend to use more lethal methods, particularly firearms. When firearms are used, the lethality increases. The term that we use is completed suicide or death by suicide.

What would you tell people who are thinking about coming to the event on Saturday?
I’d encourage them to come because it is a welcoming, supportive atmosphere. It’s kind of a large auditorium. You can sit in the front and ask questions or sit in the back and be by yourself. It’s a good chance to look around a room and see a lot of people who look like regular people and who have the same thing that you have. It emphasizes that you are not alone. This year, we are going to have another element. We are going to have two therapy dogs present. They are very helpful.

For every death by suicide, how many attempts are there?
Suicide attempt to death in youth is about twenty-five to one; in the elderly, it is four to one. 

Why do more elderly die as the result of a suicide attempt?
The elderly may be more fragile.

What are some of the causes for suicides among youths?
Suicide rates for teens had been declining for two decades, but they rose from 2010 to 2015, and it coincides or correlates with rising social media use. Cyber bullying is one. The other thing about social media is that everyone posts about how perfect and wonderful their lives are. If you’re feeling bad or depressed, you look at it and think that you are more of an outlier than you really are. People post the good things that happen, so it gives them a skewed vision of how everyone else is doing and they might feel that they are much more out of line with what are people are doing.

Are there any gender differences in suicide and in attempts?
Female attempt suicide twice as often as males. They have more attempts, but men are four times more likely to die because they are using more lethal methods.

What can people do to help prevent the potential suicide of a friend or family member?
People need to have honest discussions with friends and family. They need to understand that depression is treatable. They need to help to keep their friend or family member safe until they can get help, but not have them feel bad for confessing their feelings because you want them to be able to tell you.

Where can people go to get immediate help for themselves in a crisis situation?
The American Federation for Suicide Prevention has a 24-7 lifeline: 1.800.273.TALK
They can text the word TALK to this number: 741741
Crisis services in Buffalo is available 24-7 to do outreach if needed: 716.834.2310. They can even come out and do an on-site evaluation or provide linkages to help you get help.

Is there anything more that you would like to say?
Depression is treatable. It’s about finding hope and finding a way.

If you have lost a friend or family member to suicide, please consider coming to Saturday's event at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. You are not alone.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The 52-week photography project: the view from the ground

What does the world look like when you are close to the ground? What do you see when you are looking at the world at the eye-level of your knees?
Does the world change when you get down on the ground to look at the things that are there, the things that we normally overlook? The theme for week 38 was to "get low," with the instruction to view the world from a different point of view.

I took pictures in the woods, at two churches, and in the high school art room. I did find that the world close to the ground was different than the world at eye level when standing.
One way it was different was that it was more fragmented. I saw the bottom of things, but I didn't see much else.
This included people, furniture, and toys. I was very aware of people's feet. Their footwear was quite interesting, as well as attractive.
Another way was how I saw the natural world.
I saw ground cover readily but struggled with trees.
You have to look up to truly enjoy trees. You have to look up to truly enjoy the sky. You have to look up to see people.

Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed the experience of viewing the world from a different perspective.

Next week: A new theme and a new set of pictures. Come back and visit again.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Humans of Grand Island: the Veterans Day edition

Today is the day when people stop their normal routines and honor veterans. The one that I honor the most is my dad, Roy Gerard, who was a U.S. Army veteran. A World War II veteran, my dad was in signal intelligence. His job was to monitor German broadcasts on the radio. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 92. I miss him so much. I wanted to honor his memory by interviewing a veteran.

I looked around for a veteran to interview, and the first one that came to mind was my friend, Vienna Laurendi Haak. She is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. She and her husband Dale work as a real estate team here in Grand Island. Here is Vienna's story.

What motivated you to join the Air Force, Vienna?
Basic training photograph
I was not a good candidate for college and I had a lack of other alternatives, in terms of moving out of the house and getting a job. Fortunately, in my senior year of high school, my business teacher excused me from class, due to misbehavior on my part, and, as fate would have it, an Air Force recruiter was waiting to speak to anyone who would talk to him. That, as they say, is history.

When did you join?
I joined in the spring of 1993. I was delayed enlisted because of a heart condition. I have an atrial septal defect that was corrected by surgery in 1979, but the Air Force had to put me through a battery of tests to make sure that my cardiovascular system could handle the stress that being in the military puts on the body. Once the Air Force surgeons cleared me, I was good to go and was shipped off to basic training.
Tech school photograph

What was your experience in the Air Force like?
After basic training, I was sent to technical school to learn how to be a cook. Originally, when I went to basic training, I was signed up to be special forces or a cop. During basic training, they teach you how to use an M-16, and I failed the target test. So they told me that I couldn't be a cop. I had to be a cook. Truth be told, I was very relieved. 

Vienna makes friends with a Saudi camel. It turned out to be the only time that she ever had the opportunity to meet a camel.

But, once I got to tech school, I realized that there was more to my position than just being a cook. Our career field, which at the time was called Morale, Welfare, and Recreational Services, included five essential areas of taking care of all military members. We were responsible for feeding everyone by successfully operating all food facilities. We had to ensure that all soldiers remain in good physical condition by successfully operating the base fitness centers. We also ran the lodging facilities, the laundry facilities, the recreation departments, and the mortuaries.
Vienna: This took place in the summer of 1996. The photo shows me standing at the bottom of the building. It was a disastrous situation. We lost nineteen soldiers that day.
Fortunately, I never had to work hands-on in the mortuary, but I did have to carry out the skill throughout my tenure.

Vienna and her superiors at an Air Force hangar in Ta'if, Saudi Arabia, discussing U2 aerial recon.

After my training, I felt really good about my new position in life. I was permanently stationed in Las Vegas, Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base. But I was able to do some traveling overseas. I've spent time on the island of Haiti. I was stationed for a short time in Ta'if, Saudi Arabia, as well as a few bases around the continental United States for training purposes. Overall I have no regrets on my choice to join the United States Air Force.
Vienna: This is me, trying to keep my chin up after a huge storm came in while we were hosting a peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

How long were you in the Air Force?
I served two tours of duty and was in for eight years. There are some days when I wish that I had stuck it out for a full twenty or even thirty years. I separated from the service in 2000, and I moved back to Grand Island to be with my family. I brought back with me a new husband and a six-month old daughter. I would encourage any high schooler to sincerely take some time in investigating what serving their country can do for them as an individual.

What has serving in the military done for you personally?
I feel very disciplined. I am a do-as-I-say, say-as-I-do style person, and I may have been like that in my youth, but I didn't discover it until my military service. Serving your country builds very strong character. You learn selfless duty and responsibility for all your community.

Is there anything else that you would like to say?
I would like to thank all of my brothers and sisters who have served and who continue to serve. The military community is in itself an enormous loving and strong family. I miss all of my fellow service members terribly but, thanks to Facebook, we all remained close. I would also like to encourage all of my fellow Americans to continue to support all military branches, regardless of their political affiliation. Seek out community groups that are sending out packages this Thanksgiving and Christmas. Support from back home, no matter what type of support it is, is crucial for all soldiers' morale. God bless America!

Thank you, Vienna, for taking the time to talk to me and for supplying the photographs to illustrate your story.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Forever wild in Grand Island

On Wednesday, November 8th, I was one of several members of the Grand Island Conservation Advisory Board to join Kathleen McCormick of the Western New York Land Conservancy in walking through two town-owned pieces of property, which are maintained as "forever wild." One of the properties was in the southern portion of Grand Island, and the other one was more to the northeast. We went to look for such things as invasive plant species and tree species.

The mission of the Western New York Land Conservancy is to permanently protect land with significant conservation value for future generations. This includes wetlands, forests, farmland, meadows, creeks, marshes, grasslands, and more. 

In the southern Grand Island property, as we entered, we found several invasive plant species, which includes periwinkle (also known as vinca minor) and buckthorn.
Perwinkle is invasive but it isn't especially harmful. It was brought to the United States from Europe in the 1700s. It produces "a pretty blue flower in the spring," Kathleen said. It grows in clumps and is considered to be good ground cover. "It can't be sold now, but it has been sold as a landscape plant for years," Kathleen said.
It will grow in just about every soil type, and it spreads dramatically. Because it spreads so much, it is considered to be invasive.

Buckthorn was introduced to the United States in the 1800s. It was sold as hedges, although buckthorn can be shrubs or small trees. Not long after buckthorn was introduced to the United States, it was found to be an invasive species, and, in the 1930s, nurseries stopped selling it. Buckthorn is especially invasive in wetlands, and, because it is not a native species, there are few, if any insect or animal species to keep its growth from going out of control. It propagates itself with the help of the wind, as the seeds get scattered.

We noticed something that looked as if it might have, at one time, been a trail. It could have been a farm road or a deer path or, quite possibly, wagon wheels came through the area.

Here we noticed a variety of trees, including shagbark hickory and eastern hophornbeam.

In the other property, which runs along Gun Creek, Kathleen and I discussed tree species there. We observed that there was mostly oak, maple, hickory, beech, and some ash. 

In both locations, there were also interesting looking mushrooms and other

fungi growing on tree trunks that had long ago fallen to the ground.

It was a sunny day, but it had rained quite a bit, and both properties were very wet. The ditches resembled creeks.
Despite the dampness and the full creeks that needed to be crossed on foot, it was a good experience, and I learned a lot of interesting things about wild Grand Island.