Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Teacher stories 10: V is for a teacher's vision

Note: Today's teacher story focuses on Jeanne Percival, who teaches third grade at Huth Road Elementary School. Jeanne is the organizer of the school's Relay for Life team. I have known Jeanne for more than ten years, as we are both members of the choir at Saint Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church in Grand Island. In addition, Jeanne is playing the role of a plate in Beauty and the Beast with the Saint Stephens Players. Showtimes: Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday (sold out), and Saturday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Jeanne shared with me her experiences and her vision of education. Here is Jeanne's story.

Did you have any other career dreams or did you know from an early age that you wanted to be a teacher?
 At an early age, I wanted to be an actress but my mom wouldn’t let me go to California. I wanted to go to Pepperdine University because that’s where "Battle of the Network Stars" was being filmed.

After my dreams were dashed, I decided to go to Niagara University, and I tried Hotel Management until I realized that I had to work weekends. Then I transferred to the theater department, where I did one show. We did "Oklahoma" at Artpark. However, I transferred again to the education department, and I found my true calling. Then I had to move back home and transfer to Buffalo State College because Niagara University was too expensive.

I graduated from Buff State in 1992 and got a job at Holy Cross Head Start in the city of Buffalo. I was a teacher in a pre-K classroom, and I absolutely loved it. I worked there for four years, and I learned an awful lot about the difference in cultures. It was a multicultural environment. I learned about life outside of Grand Island. I also developed an interest in working with students with special needs while I was working at Head Start. When I was working at Head Start, I went to get my master’s degree in special education at Buff State.

After that, I worked at LaSalle Middle School in Niagara Falls as a special ed teacher. It was a difficult jump because I just had my second daughter five weeks before school started. I had a brand new baby and a three year old and I had jumped from pre K to sixth grade. While I was in the Falls, it opened my eyes again to inner city life and the struggles that students and families have. I was able to work with a lot of families that had domestic violence issues and families that lived in poverty.

And I worked with students that were illiterate. In middle school, they couldn’t read or write at more than the first grade level. They felt like the forgotten kids because nobody seemed to care about them, not even their own families. They were kind of on their own. It was very sad. Many of them turned to violence or other inappropriate behaviors to find where they could fit in.  So I became their mom at school. I would make them cookies, feed them breakfast, give them any kind of encouragement that they needed to find out that they were valued and had worth. 

One of the things that we did was that we would close the classroom door when we did reading lessons because the kids were embarrassed. But they worked hard for me because they knew that I cared. I was the only one who had full attendance on half days because they knew that I would feed them breakfast. So those two experiences made me the educator that I am today because I learned so much about life and that there’s more to students than just test scores. We have to look at the whole student and nurture the whole student and not just focus on the academics. I worked in Niagara Falls for four years.

The next step in my journey was putting my love of theater and teaching together. I was doing the musical, “Mame,” at Niagara Falls Little Theater. Frank Cannata was the accompanist. At the time, he was the principal at Sidway. So we got to talking, and he told me that they were having a big recruitment day on Grand Island for teachers. So I went. While I loved my career in Niagara Falls, my heart was in Grand Island because I grew up there.

I got hired in 2001. My first year was when September 11th happened, and that was terrible. I was teaching first grade at Sidway Elementary School. I’ll never forget my first year for many reasons. The biggest was the jump from eighth grade inner city to first grade suburb. One thing that I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of parental support on Grand Island because I had none in the Falls. It took me a while to understand the idea that the parents here want to help the kids. That was a huge difference. I was an island of one for four years. Grand Island is more of a community learning experience. I was at Sidway for two years. I piloted the inclusion program there. It was a kindergarten inclusion class. At the time, there was a self-contained class, and the kids were ready to be integrated into an inclusive setting. There was no classroom available for them. The program is still going strong. However, I got transferred to Huth after the initial year of the inclusion program. I was at Sidway for two years.

How do you feel about teaching at Huth Road School?
 Well, I went to Huth Road school as a child so I was thrilled to return as a teacher. I loved Sidway but when you get to the new experience, you love that, too. I was a second grade teacher for seven years.  I liked how excited the kids were to learn new things, and the content starts to get a little more involved and just watching them grow. It’s a big growth year from second to third. An opportunity came up to switch grades with another teacher. So I came to third grade. I absolutely, positively love third grade. The students have a desire for learning, and they get my corny jokes. My motto is a day without laughter is a day wasted. Part of my personal mission is to nurture the entire child and foster a love of learning. Kids are more than just test scores, and watching them learn new things is indescribable. It makes me happy. I also try to remind them that there is a bigger world than Grand Island, so we try to give back to the community as much as possible.

How do you and your class give back to the community?
 We make fleece blankets for Project Linus in the spring. At Christmas, we donate to various charities, instead of a teacher gift. In the past, we’ve donated to the SPCA and to Children’s Hospital. One year, we donated a Target gift card to a family that lost everything in a fire. At the end of the year, my hope is that my students leave third grade remembering how much they enjoyed school, loved learning new things, and are ready to take on whatever fourth grade or the world throws at them with a smile.

What gives you the most joy as a teacher?
There’s a lot of things that give me joy. One is when they accidentally call me Mom.  Another is that spark in their eyes when they get what I’m teaching or when we have a dance party.

Describe a typical day in school.
Students come in and get to their morning work. They each have jobs assigned, so they work on their jobs. Agenda checker, lunch counter, calendar person, things like that. After announcements, we start our day with math. Then we transfer into writer’s workshop, which they love more than math. After writers workshop, we have our special for the day and lunch. After lunch, we always have a read aloud, which is my favorite time of day. Currently, we are reading Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The kids are amazed by how life was different in the late 1800s than it is today. For example, in the story, Laura and Mary in their stocking got one penny, a candy cane, a tin cup, and a pastry, and they were thrilled. The kids were like, “What?” It was funny. No electronics? 

After that, we have literacy stations, where the kids work in small groups with the teacher or independently on a variety of literacy skills. I think that’s their favorite. They really like that time. When we can’t do literacy stations, they are disappointed. We follow that up with free time because it is so important for the kids to have a chance to unwind and just play. They work so hard during the day. I think that kids really need play to learn social skills, turn taking, and how to get along with others. We end the day with our social studies or science unit, which is currently Egypt and simple machines.

What have you observed in the students in the course of this school year?
I have observed lots of growth in a variety of areas, both academic and social. They’re not the same little kids that they were when they started in September. Now they tell me corny jokes. They’ve really developed strong relationships with each other, and they truly enjoy coming to school every day.

What afterschool activities do you coordinate?
I am the team captain of Huth’s Heroes. I started being the captain five years ago when my dad passed away from bladder cancer. I wanted to do something to honor his memory and to give back to the community. We have about fifteen team member. We involve the students by having a mini relay, where we raise money for Relay for Life and the playground fund. I find relay very inspiring to listen to the stories of the survivors. Watching the survivor lap brings me to tears every year. I also love the luminaria lighting ceremony and how the track looks when it is lit with the luminaria bags. We’ve been a silver or bronze team for the last five years.

What do you like to do when you’re not at school?
I am active at St. Martin in the Fields, and I sing in the choir. In the past, I directed the annual Christmas pageant for twelve years. I am active with the St. Stephens Parish Players. You can see me as a plate in "Beauty and the Beast" this weekend. This is my third show with them. Being a plate is liberating. I get to dance and sing and be silly.

What would you like to tell parents?
 I would first like to tell parents how much I appreciate their support for their children and much I truly care about their kids. I always tell my parents and the kids that, once you’re mine, you’re mine forever. I want to hear about all of their successes. Keep bringing me birthday cupcakes. And I just want to stay in touch with them. I love to hear everything they’re doing in their lives, where they’re going to college and how school is going. I will always be there for the children, even when they are not in my classroom anymore.

U is for uxurious and other unique, unusual words

I love words. Since today is sponsored by the letter "U," I thought that I would share some of the words beginning with that letter. The words that I am sharing are probably not words that you hear or see everyday. Nevertheless, I think that they look really cool. They are Unique, Unusual, and never Ugly.

Here is the list of ten cool-looking words that begin with the letter "u":

  • Uxorious: having or showing an excessive or submissive fondness for one's wife
  • ubiquitous: omnipresent
  • unctuous: greasy
  • ukulele: a small, four-stringed guitar-like instrument
  • unzymotic: fabulous
  • ucalegon: neighbor whose house is on fire 
  • ulmaceous: of or like elms
  • unberufen: exclamation to avert ill luck following boasting
  • undercroft: crypt or vault under a church
  • upaithric: roofless, open to the sky
OK, let's see if I can write a little story with these words. 

I can see clearly now, sang
the drunken uxorious
man as he staggered
in the wrong direction
A very uxorious man was singing a happy song as he walked home from the neighborhood bar. He had enough sense to walk, instead of drive, because he was completely inebriated. He walked past the place where his beautiful, most radiant wife had planted trees. He especially loved the ulmaceous plantings but she insisted that it was important to plant a variety of species, not just elms. He worshiped his wife so much that he believed that she knew his every secret because she was ubiquitous

Just then, he smelled something suspicious. Even with his drunken nose, he could smell fire. Or was it just bad cooking? Was somebody cooking in an unctuous mess? His unzymotic wife would never create such a stinky, disgusting fire hazard when cooking. Her cooking was always heavenly, a real treat for the senses. Oh! What a magnificent wife! Perfect in every way. He suddenly, in his drunken stupor, realized that he was boasting too much about his magnificent marriage and that boasting could be bad luck. He uttered an unberufen quickly and fervently. 

All of a sudden, the man discovered that he was lost. He had taken a wrong turn somewhere. He regretted not calling a taxi cab. Then, all of a sudden, he saw the source of the smell. It was a restaurant on fire. It wasn't just the odor of the unctuous mess. The roof was gone. The building had become upaithric. Firefighters were rushing to the scene. The drunk man was fascinated by the fire and wanted to see it up close. He was prevented from getting anywhere near it by police, who held their noses when they got close to him. He was so drunk that he was unaware that he reeked of stale beer and tobacco.   The police, however, weren't interested in him and his odors. They had found the ucalegon and they were questioning her. He tried to get close enough to hear the questioning and heard something about concern that her siding was being melted by the conflagration. The cops pushed him to get him away from the questioning session. The drunk man lurched forward and rolled on the ground several times before coming to a rest at the trunk of an oak tree.

"Not an elm," he thought sadly as he staggered and lurched in an effort to get up. Finally, he made it to his feet and walked away, a bit unsteadily. He was uninjured, though a bit dusty. He tried to find his way back home. There was a church nearby. He remembered once sleeping in the undercroft after his wife kicked him out of the house for, he forgot what. It wasn't drunkenness. It was something. They had had a spat. He actually yelled at his most magnificent of spouses. Oh yeah, it was his turn to cook dinner and he cooked something that she didn't like but he forgot that she didn't like it. So he cooked it. She held her nose and told him that he just wanted her to take him out to a restaurant and that he cooked something inedible on purpose. He admitted that it was probably true and that he wanted to show her off in a restaurant. She told him that his obsequious behavior seemed sarcastic and that he could go somewhere else for the night. So he snuck into a church and slept in the undercroft and left before the cops found him.

The uxorious man had a strange relationship with cops, probably because, every time he encountered them, he smelled atrocious. He walked and walked and walked. He saw the sun rise and he wondered how long he had been walking. His feet grew sore but, all of a sudden, he recognized the neighborhood. His house! It was there and still standing! He staggered up the front steps and was surprised to hear the sound of ukelele music from inside the house. He looked inside and saw his wife with a young boy, who was playing the ukelele, slightly awkwardly. He remembered that his wife gave music lessons in the morning. He was much less drunk than he had been before he had gotten lost. He quietly entered the house via the side door and, after the lesson was over, his wife found him snoring loudly on the sofa. She covered him with a blanket and shook her head at her very smelly husband.

Monday, April 24, 2017

T is for tulips and other early spring flowers

It's spring at last.  

These determined crocuses
grow through snow early
in the growing season.
The romance of the daffodils
When I think of all of problems in this world that were created by humans, I feel sad. I am horrified by the violence and by the meanness and by the prejudice. Then I go outside and am confronted by beauty, which gives me hope. I see the baby leaves, popping from formerly bare tree branches. 

Early in the spring, the leaves feel and look like flowers. They are soft and 
translucent. It feels miraculous.
Hyacinths come in a wide variety of colors.
Spring is my favorite season because it is colorful and soft. The harshness of winter chill has departed. The air smell sweet, and the birdsongs can be heard early in the morning. 

Buttercups look like little rays
of sunshine growing from the ground.
Every day, there is something new to explore. Another flower has opened. I can see the progress of the peonies as their stems grow taller. I watch the buds on the trees grow fuller, as they swell to popping open.  

T is for tulips
Spring is an adventure and an exploration into the world of color and light.

What's your favorite season and why? Tell me in the comments section below.

S is for story

On Friday, I shared the characters, setting, situation, and character action of a story, which features a cliche master and I invited people to play along with me.  People, however, are busy. So I've decided to do something different. I'd still like to make this interactive. I'm going to write a scene and I will invite you to suggest something that might come next. Be wildly creative and have fun.

First, I'll give the characters names. The restless woman in her 70s will be Edith. The easy going and quirky man in his 60s, who speaks in cliches, will be Bill.

All right. Here goes. 

Edith was traveling by bus, from Buffalo to a small town in northern California, to watch her oldest granddaughter graduate from high school. Edith was excited to travel cross country, as she wanted to see the great tall mountains of the west. She had seen pictures of them but she had never seen them for real. She had read all of the dramatic stories about cross country trips in the past, especially the story about the Donner party traveling to California by wagon in 1848. As she sat on the bus, she looked out of the window at the changing scenery. She was headed west. West toward what? She thought that it would be an easy trip, but didn't the Donner party think that it would be an easy trip...

... until they were stopped by a freak storm and spent the entire winter in the Sierra Nevada. It was then that they resorted to cannibalism. Edith was terrified of cannibals, even though she had never met any in her more than 70 years of life. What if the bus should be hit by a freak storm? Would her seatmate, a lanky man who looked to be in his 60s, look at her with hungry eyes, not for love but for nutrition? The man, who held a giant cowboy hat on his lap, had his head tipped back. Suddenly, in mid-snore, the man gulped and his eyes popped open.

"I'm Bill. Aren't you as cute as a button?" Bill said to Edith. "I was as snug as a bug in a rug. Are we there yet?"

Not Border Patrol cars but still
cops in vast numbers. (more cop cars on the
other side of the street)
"No," Edith said. Just then, the bus driver announced that the bus was stopping in Erie, Pennsylvania. The bus went around a few corners and stopped at the station. All of a sudden, the bus was surrounded by Border Patrol agents. 

"Once bitten, twice shy," Bill said to Edith. 

Edith, who was very literal, wondered why Border Patrol agents were biting her seat mate. She decided not to ask. Bill talked in an odd way and he seemed quirky, but harmless. He fiddled with his cowboy hat as the Border Patrol agents stomped onto the bus.

"Well, boys will be boys," the seatmate said. 

Edith wondered what her seatmate meant by his comments, which just seemed to cliches strung together. The border patrol agents stomped through the bus and questioned everyone who seemed to fit a variety of ethnic types. In fact, the border patrol agents were beginners and they were openly comparing the faces of passengers to pictures on a card with the words on top: "People Who Look Like This May Be Deportables or They May Be Terrorist's." Edith saw the card and wondered why it hadn't been proofread. Everyone else on the bus saw the card.

"Wow," said one passenger, who, apparently looked either deportable or like a terrorist. "You're really blatantly prejudiced. You're not even subtle about it."

"I need to see some ID from you," said the Border Patrol agent. He rubbed his eyes and said, "So tired. We hit three houses yesterday."

The ever-literal Edith said to her quirky seatmate, "That guy needs to go back to driving school if he's hitting houses."

"He'd better go back to the drawing board," Bill said. Edith wondered where a driving school would place a drawing board but she decided not to ask the man, for fear that he would spout another cliche. Edith also wondered why someone on the bus was shrieking and why the Border Patrol was blocking the door. Edith also realized that she had a strong urge to visit the restroom. She remembered that, in all of the cop shows that she'd seen, no one ever had to go to the bathroom. They never slept, ate, burped, or sneezed. Apparently, this was real life because one of the Border Patrol agents sneezed loudly.

"Hmm, that woman is wearing too much perfume. Also the person third from the left on the Bottom Row looks like he could be her third cousin, five times removed. She must be an Illegal Alien!" Five agents surrounded a tiny woman, who was holding a baby. Her eyes bulged and she gulped in air and gripped the baby.

"Why don't you pick on someone your own size," asked Bill loudly. Edith was amazed because she didn't realize that a man who spoke only in cliches could be that assertive. The Border Patrol stomped to the front of the bus and glared at him.

"You're obstructing justice. I could arrest you," announced the Border Patrol agent who was waving around the card that showed pictures of members of the ethnic groups that were most likely to be Undocumented Terrorists or Documented Terrorists or Appearing in Documentaries about Documented Terrorists or Something Like That. Oddly enough, the name on his nametag was "Donner." Edith gaped at him as he then snatched the cowboy hat from Bill's lap. Was the descendant of Cannibals actually ethnically profiling bus passengers, she wondered.

"I like the hat. I won't bother you if you give me a gift..."

Just then, the bus passengers, who were tired of being ethnically profiled and of being prevented from getting off of the bus, started chanting, "Let me off. I have to go to the bathroom" over and over again. Edith, who had little experience of protesting, was astonished that a protest chant would include the word "bathroom."

At that moment...

What comes next? Please make your suggestions in the comments section below! I will post suggestions in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The 52-week photography project: R is for remembrance

The theme for week 15 of the 52-week photography project was "hard." It is an artistic theme and the people who organized the challenge at Dogwood Photography invited participants to interpret the theme in any way that they were inspired to do so.

Unyielding and unchanging. The loss
of a baby. Just one year on a grave marker.
I thought about the word "hard" and images associated with hard, and I thought of cemeteries. Tombstones are hard, in more than one way. They are unyielding and they can't be changed. They are made of various materials, such as fieldstones, granite, marble, limestone, sandstone, or slate. 

Cemetery marker seen at Maple Grove
Cemetery, Grand Island
From a human, emotional level, tombstones are hard. They are a reminder that a loved one is gone, never to come back. Because tombstones exist, however, they are also a reminder that the person buried at that marker had existed. That person had some influence on the world.
Love means never forgetting.
The tombstones are a reminder that the person is not forgotten and, even after death, is still loved. 

My father, Roy Gerard is buried at Whitehaven
Cemetery. I will always cherish my
memories of him. He was a brilliant
man who could add long lists of numbers
in his head. He was also a father, grandfather,
and great grandfather.
One of the most painful aspects of losing a loved one is the inability to make new memories with that person. It becomes necessary to focus on past memories, to keep the loved one alive. 

Today, I thought about remembrance when I visited two cemeteries in Grand Island: the Whitehaven Cemetery, established in 1865, and Maple Grove Cemetery, established in 1902.

Monument to Grand Island's first
town supervisor, John Nice.
The Whitehaven Cemetery is located near the Niagara River on the eastern side of Grand Island. Spicer Creek is adjacent to the cemetery. Many famous Grand Island people are buried there, including John Nice, who was the first town supervisor. He was elected town supervisor in 1852, shortly after the town was incorporated. The election was held in his house. The cemetery is a peaceful location, surrounded by woods. 

Grave for Grand Island's war hero,
Charles DeGlopper, killed in action
in Normandy during World War II.
Maple Grove Cemetery is located in the interior of Grand Island. The most famous person buried there is Charles Neilens DeGlopper. This Grand Island native was born in November 1921 to Mary Neilens DeGlopper and Charles Leonard DeGlopper. He attended a one-room schoolhouse in Grand Island, called Schoolhouse #5 at the corner of Baseline and Bush roads. In 1941, he graduated from Tonawanda High School. This young man, who was noted to be very tall and very friendly, worked on the family farm until he joined the U.S. Army in November of 1942. He was trained in Camp Croft in South Carolina, and he was sent overseas in 1943.

Maple Grove Cemetery
Charles DeGopper, a member of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, was sent overseas in April 1943. He served in Sicily, Italy, and North Africa. The 325th Glider Infantry landed on Normandy by glider on June 7th, the day after D Day. Two days later, Private First Class Charles DeGlopper single-handedly defended his platoon's position. He kept firing, even after being shot several times, until he was killed outright. He died in La Fiere, France, at the age of 22. He was considered to have saved his entire platoon, while sacrificing his own life. On February 28th, 1945, Captain Wayne W. Pierce, 325 Glider Infantry, Commanding Company C, recommended Charles DeGlopper for the Medal of Honor. Posthumously, Charles DeGlopper was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest honor awarded to any member of the Army. The award was presented to his father at Trinity Evangelical United Brethren Church on March 10th, 1946, by General Leland S. Hobbs. 

Whitehaven Cemetery,
Grand Island, New York.
Grand Island residents consider Charles DeGlopper to be their war hero. There is a park named for him, and he is pictured on a mural on the wall of the Grand Island Plaza that faces Baseline Road. The park is currently undergoing expansion. Those honored at DeGlopper Memorial Park will be Islanders killed in action, Island veterans, and Gold Star mothers. 

Note: The story that I planned to post today will be posted tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Q is for quirky characters and cliches (creative writing exercise, part one)

I had once tried to write a story with a character whom I called the cliche master. Everything that came out of his mouth would be a cliche. 

Unfortunately, in the attempt to conjure up that many cliches from memory, my brain froze and went into auto shutdown mode. So I gave up the project. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology (I think that may be a cliche), I have found a website with a listing of 681 cliches for writers to avoid. As a result, I'm bringing back the cliche master! 

The interpretations of the
theme "lily pad" by the painting
class at Stella Niagara in
Lewiston, New York
This post is a creative writing activity in two parts. Today, I will set up the story, and on Saturday, I will share my story. You are welcome to play along with me and write a story, too. I think that every story, using the same character descriptions and scenarios, will be very different, sort of like when I go to a painting class and we all paint the same subject, but each person paints a very different painting.

So... back to the cliche master... and the listing of cliches to avoid in writing. In this story, I would guess that I'm going to use as many of those cliches as possible. This is how I'm going to give the cliche master a voice. I'm also going to use a random plot generator to come up with characters, a setting, a situation, a theme, and character action.

Main character: A woman in her seventies, who can be quite restless.

Second character: A man in his sixties, who is very easy going and quirky, yet has nothing original to say (the cliche master). 

Situation: Someone telling the truth is not believed (would you believe someone who is quirky and who spouted nothing but cliches?)

Theme: It's a story about rebellion 

Character Action: Your character has some questions to answer

OK, two days to play! Ready, set, go!!!!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

P is for predator-friendly farming

There are nonlethal ways to protect
your farm animals from predators.
On April 15th, my topic for the day was "nature's cleanup crew." Lesley Sampson of Coyote Watch Canada, who came to Grand Island to discuss better ways for humans and coyotes to co-exist peacefully, mentioned the term, "predator friendly environment." 

Coyotes eat mice and ticks. They do not
eat dogs. They see dogs as competitors and
they may attack an unleashed dog.
"Coyotes in the landscape help farmers by eating rodents and by keeping out other coyotes," Lesley said. 

Lesley said that humans can be good neighbors by being "attractant free." She said that, even if people did not purposefully feed coyotes, they could be unwittingly feeding them. Coyotes, she said "love pumpkin and birthday cake" and just about anything that humans throw away. They also enjoy feasting at unsecured compost piles. Coyotes also like eating cat food or dog food that people leave out for stray animals.''

Here are some of Lesley's suggestions for predator-friendly farming:

  • Make sure all compost piles and garbage cans are covered and secured. Raccoons will pull down garbage cans. An open garbage can will attract foxes, skunks, and coyotes.
  • Make sure to remove dog and cat food bowls that are left outside for stray animals.
  • Keep the pet dog on a leash. Lesley suggests not using leashes that extend. "A lot can happen with that leash." Dogs are seen as competition for food and as a danger to coyote pups. 
  • Do not permit dogs to chase coyotes or any wildlife.
  • Keep outdoor grills clean, especially the oil pans. Dirty oil pans will attract rats.
  • Leave intact coyote family groups alone. If one or both members of the alpha coyote pair are killed, the family unit will suffer. The other members of the family will mate and will produce large litters. Unrelated coyotes will invade the territory, which will be less protected without the alpha pair.
  • Use fencing to keep out undesirable animals. Fences will have no effect on predatory birds, as they have the gift of flight.
  • Try aversion techniques with coyotes. This is called "hazing." These are nonlethal methods of keeping coyotes away your territory. They mainly annoy coyotes and would include:
    • punching balloons. You could put jingle bells or beads inside the balloons.
    • getting something called "Nite Guard Solar Predator Lights." This item activates at dusk and it produces flashes of light during the night.
    • getting bear spray. You might feel safe. It is likely, however, that "you'll use it on a human long before you'll use it on a coyote."
    • shaking cans full of coins.
    • popping umbrellas.
    • snapping garbage bags.
If you come into contact with coyotes, here are a few tips:
  • Do not allow domestic dogs to chase or harass coyotes or to disturb dens.
  • High five your companions for safety.
  • Stop to pick up small children and small pets.
  • Stand still.
  • Shout and wave your arms above your head. Do not scream.
  • Slowly back away.
  • Never turn your back and run from any canine.
  • Share the experience, but do not exaggerate the story.
If you need expert advice on coyotes or other predator species, contact Elise Able. Her contact information is on her website, Fox Woods Wildlife Rescue, Inc., which is located in East Concord, New York. This is the link to Elise Able's website

You could also call Coyote Watch Canada's hotline at 905.931.2610. They are located in St. David's, Ontario. this is the link to Coyote Watch Canada.

O is for overcast skies

rural Wisconsin, June 2015.
The sky is considered to be overcast when clouds obscure at least 95 percent of the sunlight. The sky appears dark, even at midday, and any body of water will reflect the grayness of the sky. During the winter, the sky is frequently overcast. In Buffalo, New York, overcast skies are more common during the winter than during the summer. Buffalo's cloudy season generally begins at the end of November and continues until early May, which is almost half of the year. 

Buffalo, N.Y., January 2017
Storms and other bad weather will result in very overcast skies at any time during the year. The advantage of those is that the sky clears up, once the storm is over.

Living in an area where the skies are so frequently overcast makes it necessary to take vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin D is essential for the body to absorb calcium. One way to get sufficient vitamin D is by getting exposure to sunlight.
North Tonawanda, N.Y., January 2017
People also are more prone to seasonal affective disorder when the sky remains overcast for long periods of time. Even on days of insufficient sunlight, it is still a good idea to spend time outdoors. 

Grand Island, N.Y., steel
gray winter sky
December 2016
Eventually, the sun comes back. It's not a UFO in the sky. It is really the sun, even if you don't recognize it anymore.

Edit: Here is the voice of science, as offered by "Overcast- from clouds- does NOT obscure the ultraviolet irradiation. That is the reason why so many folks are shocked that they got sunburn, while at the beach on a cloudy day.
Pollution (some of it) can obscure (or, more correctly, absorb) some of the rays- but not the water vapor in clouds."

Monday, April 17, 2017

N is for the Niagara River

I live in Grand Island, New York. It is in the middle of the Niagara River. It is a river that flows north from Lake Erie To Lake Ontario.
Niagara Gorge in Lewiston, N.Y.
The two largest islands in the Niagara River are Grand Island and Navy Island. Grand Island belongs to the United States, while Navy Island belongs to Canada. Navy Island is uninhabited, and is maintained by Parks Canada as a National Historic Site of Canada. The biggest tributaries of the Niagara River are the Tonawanda Creek and the Welland River.
Sunset, Grand Island, N.Y.
The marsh and the various creeks of Grand Island are also tributaries.These include Woods Creek, Big Six Mile Creek, Little Six Mile Creek, Gun Creek, Spicer Creek, and Burnt Ship Creek.

The golden hour reflected in
the river
The river has a great history. It was the site of the earliest recorded railroad in North America, built by John Montresor in 1764. It had such names as the Cradles and the Old Lewiston Incline. Carts were filled with goods and they were pulled with ropes uphill. The river was also the site of many battles, during the French and Indian War (1754 to 1763), the Revolutionary War (1775 to 1783), and the War of 1812 (1812 to 1815). Later, the Niagara River became a major crossing point for runaway slaves seeking freedom and a new life in Canada.

Winter along the mighty Niagara
Niagara Falls is amazing. It is a series of magnificent waterfalls that can be seen in both the United States and in Canada. The falls include the horseshoe falls, the American falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls.

Today's question: What is the most interesting place in your community and why?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Images of Easter 2017

daffodils growing in a newly cleared
space behind St. Martin in the Fields church
Happy Easter. Here in Western New York, it was a sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy sort of day. For me, it was a busy, colorful day. I started the day with the choir at Saint Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church in Grand Island. The church was packed.  
The floral cross
A four-month-old baby was baptized today. He was cute and very easy going.

After church, the wind howled. My sister gave me and my mom a ride to Hamburg so that we could sit at the shores of Lake Erie and watch the big, white-capped waves roll in.  It was something to see. The wild waves have always been a common phenomenon in that part of Lake Erie. In the past, there was a lightship called Buffalo Lightship 82 to warn sailors of the dangers that awaited them if they should try to find land at night. Like a lighthouse, the ship had a big light on top that glowed at night. Unfortunately, in November 1913, the Great Storm of 1913 struck. Tall, crashing waves fueled by 80 mile per hour winds proved to be too much for the lightship, which sank. The light went out, never to be rekindled. 

Years later, a plaque commemorates the spot near to the place where the Great Storm of 1913 unleashed it greatest fury.

back yard fence
In the evening, I was fortunate enough to be invited to share Easter dinner with some friends and their entire family, which included the four-month-old baby who had been baptized just that morning. I got a tour of the garden and a delicious dinner, surrounded by friends, old and new. It was also a birthday party for Jimmy, age three, and for Erin, age 29 (mom of the baby).

Mmm, cassata cake. A cassata cake is a
Sicilian delicacy. According to
Wikipedia, it consists of a round
sponge cake moistened with liqueur
or fruit juice and layered with
ricotta cheese and chocolate chips.
As Mr. Food used to say, "Oooh,
it's so good!"
What a beautiful day. I hope that your day was happy, as well.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

M is for "mother nature's cleanup crew"

Coyotes have a bad reputation for stealing chickens and killing small pets. Is it deserved? Are coyotes intruding in space that humans have carved out for themselves? Should they be removed? Do we need coyotes in our environment?

Coyotes are an important part of the ecosystem, whether people like them or not. In Grand Island, there has been much discussion and debate about what to do about coyotes, including trapping on public lands. I don't think that trapping on public land is a good idea. I went to a presentation on coyotes on March 22nd and was requested to write an article about that presentation for the March 24th issue of the Island Dispatch. 

Lesley Sampson of Coyote Watch Canada
Lesley Sampson of Coyote Watch Canada was invited by the Citizens Coalition for Wildlife and the Animal Advocates of Western New York to give a presentation on how humans can co-exist with coyotes. Lesley provided a lot of information about the world of coyotes.  She also pointed out that Grand Island has a "beautiful community of wildlife."

Here are a few coyote facts:
Anyone interested was asked to
submit coyote artwork. Many did,
including a group of fifth graders. This
is my portrait of coyote.

  • coyotes are born blind, like puppies and kittens. Their eyes open when they are about ten days old. The mortality rate for coyote pups is high. If they survive, the pups are taught by their parents the skills that they need to function as coyotes. 
  • orphaned coyote pups cannot survive.
  • the gestation period for coyotes is 62 to 63 days. Coyotes are able to breed in their first year of life.
  • coyotes are pack animals. They live in stable family groups. Coyotes mate for life. Only the alpha pair mate and they produce somewhat small litters. Both coyote parents help to raise their young. The female feeds the babies and the male hunts for food.
  • coyotes are territorial. They maintain their territory and they protect it from coyotes that are not part of their family.
  • coyotes eat rodents, fruit, and insects. They will eat anything. They also eat ticks. They clean up carrion. "They do a great service. They are mother nature's cleanup crew. They are so in tune and connected with the land. We can learn a lot from them," Lesley said.
  • coyotes are "resilient, curious, and creative hunters and foragers. They are opportunistic omnivores and are adaptable, intelligent and resourceful."
  • Unfortunately, the reaction of human beings to coyotes is "fearful and lethal. We don't want them in the community; move them out."
To be continued. Check out "Predator Friendly farming" next week.

Teacher stories 10: V is for a teacher's vision

Note:  Today's teacher story focuses on Jeanne Percival, who teaches third grade at Huth Road Elementary School. Jeanne is the organizer...