Friday, February 24, 2017

The salamanders' Big Night

Yesterday evening, the Western New York Land Conservancy hosted a fascinating event at Grand Island Town Hall. The title of the event was "A Big Night for Salamanders." The courtroom was full of people who wanted to learn more about salamanders. People came in groups. Some people brought their kids, who asked good questions and were very interested in the salamanders. In fact, because yesterday evening was the regular evening for the Conservation Advisory Board to meet, we held a short meeting and then all attended the salamander presentation. 

Because tonight or tomorrow night could potentially be the Big Night, the salamander presentation is being held in other places, as well. One that I know about is in the Hudson Valley in the eastern part of New York State. If you're in the Walkill area, there is an event at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, at the Gardiner Library, 133 Farmer's Turnpike. It is sponsored by the Walkill River Watershed Boat Brigade and will feature a presentation by Laura Heady, conservation and land use coordinator with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

This is Nancy Smith, executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy, who introduced the main speaker for the presentation on the salamanders' Big Night.

This is Twan Leenders of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York. He is a herpatologist and a conservation biologist. He spends a lot of time exploring the world of salamanders and talking about them. This is what he told us about the salamanders' big night out.

I will present Twan's presentation on salamanders in a journalistic style. We'll start with the cast of characters and then we'll ask the usual journalistic questions (who, what, where, when, why, and how).

Here are some of the varieties of salamanders that we are likely to see in Western New York include:
  • spotted salamander (black with yellow spots): "This is probably the most common salamander." It lays eggs in a tennis ball-sized clump. One thing that is unique about the spotted salamander is that algae live inside its cells in a symbiotic relationship. The algae get into the salamander eggs and they survive and even thrive together. The salamander eggs provide the algae with a nitrogen-rich environment in which to thrive, while the algae, via the process of photosynthesis, provide the salamander eggs with needed oxygen.
  • Jefferson's salamander: also known as a mole salamander. Its larvae are fast swimmers and are predators. They eat tick and mosquito larvae.
  • four toed salamander: they are primitive and small and often escape detection.
  • red spotted newt: They hibernate in mud. They like vernal pools. Vernal pools are small bodies of water that are not permanent. They tend to be full of water in the spring. Later in the year, they dry up. Thus, no predators, such as some species of fish, can live permanently in a vernal pool. When the vernal pools dry up, the red spotted newt leaves the pool and goes into the wood. It can be recognized by its distinctive orange color.
  • redback salamander: This amphibian has neither lungs nor gills. It get its oxygen through its skin and its mouth. In addition, it has a tongue that can shoot out and catch prey.
  • Northern slimy salamander: It has a very descriptive title, with truth in advertising. It is slimy, not to mention sticky. If you pick one up, it will become glued to your hand, and you'll have to work to remove it. It lives in the woods and on steep slopes. It has no lungs and it uses its tail for balance.
  • mudpuppy: They live in streams and in rivers. They have gills for their entire lives. They eat fish and crayfish.

What? The event is called the Big Night. It occurs early in spring, on a chilly, wet night.

Who: Salamanders. Amazingly enough, all salamanders come out on the same night.

Where: Millions of salamanders emerge from the woods to make their way to vernal pools. Some of them will cross roads to get to their destination. Frogs will come out, too.

Why: The amphibians are returning to their birthplace to breed.

How: By any means possible. They are determined to get back to their birthplace. Unfortunately, street crossings are dangerous for salamanders because of cars. In many place, volunteers watch out for the salamanders, to make sure that they get across the road safely.

So, you're probably wondering,why does it matter that the salamander crossed the road and why do people make sure that the salamander gets to the other side without becoming road kill?

For one thing, salamanders are an indicator of the quality of the habitat. If you come across a spotted salamander with asymmetrical spots, that could indicate stressers in the environment.

Twan said that the redback salamander should be the most common species. There are concerns about the declining numbers of red back salamanders. "If you lose the red back salamander, you lose a whole layer of the food chain. They are critical to other animals in the same environment."

Things that are threats to salamanders include:
  • garlic mustard, an invasive plant species that can change the soil chemistry, making the land less hospitable for salamanders.
  • warmer and drier climates: this results in fewer and in smaller salamanders.
What can we do to help ensure the survival of salamanders?
  • watch and monitor them. Vernal pools aren't always successful. "The salamanders' reproductive cycle is very hit or miss," Twan said.
  • stop using pesticides on your lawn and encourage others to stop. These pesticides create a toxic environment for salamanders.
  • protect the vernal pools. Don't mow anywhere near a vernal pool. The habitat around the vernal pool is critical for salamanders.
  • support your local amphibians. "It's amazing and fascinating. The big night is in the middle of the night. Ideally, the temperature is 45 degrees and it is rainy. Enjoy the big night.  You can't predict when exactly it will be. Just be ready for it. There are amazing things in your back yard," Twan said.
  • support your land conservancy. The Western New York Land Conservancy  has 950 members. New members are welcome. The conservancy protects more than 9,000 acres on 80 properties throughout Western New York. For more information about the Western New York Land Conservancy, check out its website at: link to Western New York Land Conservancy

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Conversation with Grand Island Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray

A week and a half ago, I interviewed Nathan McMurray, the town supervisor of Grand Island, New York, for an article that I wrote for the Island Dispatch about a Western New York Welcome Center that will be built near the Whitehaven exit of the I-190. Due to space limitations, I couldn't put everything into the article from the interview. I asked Nate if I could also share our conversation here, and he was happy to say yes.

How did Grand Island get chosen to be the home town for Western New York's Welcome Center?

We heard rumbling that the governor had put a Welcome Center in Long Island. We reached out to the Governor Andrew Cuomo's office. We asked the governor's office to talk with us, and we said that we really want to have the Western New York Welcome Center on Grand Island. Then we brought in Eric Fieblekorn, president of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce. He was super supportive, and he helped make the case. 

The governor loved it and was so happy and he wanted to do it on Grand Island. I didn’t know that it would go forward so soon. We heard that there would be a green light for the project. When the governor came to UB (the State University of New York at Buffalo) to make a speech, he had pictures of it. We thought  that it would take five years, but Governor Cuomo said that it would happen in 2018. Now we’ve had subsequent discussion with his team, and they are well on their way of developing this thing.
What will be in a Welcome Center?
There will be a market with local products, artifacts, and items celebrating Western New York and Grand Island. There will also be interactive digital displays and kiosks directly connection people to local attractions. Outside, there will be a playground. There will be no gas station and no fast food chains. This is high end. 

Who would visit the welcome center?
Visitors to Western New York. Sixty thousand cars pass this island every day. Millions of people go to Niagara Falls every year. They are not driving down Grand Island Boulevard. They are going over the bridges. This center could get people to get off the road. There could be connections with the West River Connection trail. I would want people to be able to walk and bike to this center. It is a welcome center. Western New York is a welcoming area. This is a tourist destination.

How will this help Grand Island community?
First of all, no one knows our story. People need to know our story. There have two types of businesses that have visited me: apartment complexes and tourism activities. We need to celebrate something that is a natural fit. One is low-impact tourism. Or make Grand Island a dumping ground.  We are turning to a green, family-friendly, eco- friendly, recreation-friendly future for Grand Island. 

How much money will this project cost?
This will be a five to 10 million dollar operation, not including any roadwork. This is a big deal. It is going to be gorgeous.

Is there a concept or a theme to this Welcome Center?

It is the Taste of New York Welcome Center. It may change because the state is cooperating with the Greenway Commission, who would like to have a piece of the title. This will be a building of stature. We are the host community for the visitors center for five counties.
This is going to be virtual museum, with artifacts from historical moments in Grand Island and Western New York history.

The state is working with a team of historians on Western New York history. They will research Grand Island history. They will put as much as possible in this thing. The design is based on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

You mentioned that you had visited the Welcome Center in Long Island. What were your impressions? 

It has a digital map and  selfie wall. There is a touch map for things to see and to visit. There's a huge digital screen with images of Long Island. They have an I love NY shop, where they sell local farming products, like honey. Playground is decorated around a whale theme. 

What will our theme be and what will the welcome center look like?

Our theme may be buffaloes. The centers will be built around a theme that represents the local community. You will have outdoor seating, warm and friendly environment.  We will have a walk of fame, honoring outstanding Western New Yorkers, such as Tim Russert and Lucille Ball. The state is looking for a theme. The state is in a listening mode, as they reach out to the other four counties (Niagara, Genesee, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua). Erie County is fully invested. 

Are there any problem areas associated with the project?

We are loooking at the off and on ramps of the Whitehaven exit. They are not good. 

Another is the "Route 66 law," that prohibits the states from commercializing the right-of-way along the interstate system." (The highways) killed the local little shops and vendors. To encourage people to get of the road, the law was enacted. The law has been ignored because people wouldn’t get off the road anyway. 

Long Island's center is more a museum than anything that would compete with local commerce. This is directly connected to local attractions, not in a way that manipulates and feels cheap. This center will not hurt local economies; it will direct people toward local economies.

What sort of future do you envision as a result of this project?

We are excited to become host of this Welcome Center. It is enormous for us as well as for the region. 

The West River Parkway will become a multi-use trail.  We are working with the City of Tonawanda to put in a ferry service for bikers and walkers. It will have a path that would connect East River to West River via Whitehaven Road, that would possibly tie in with the Welcome Center. We are trying to bring eco tourism to Grand Island. We are looking at the bike path as part of a bigger picture that will unfold. This is giving us other opportunities.  This center will be the gateway to a host of great activities in the community of Grand Island.

Do you have anything that you would like to add?

I am excited. Buffalo is starting to turn the corner. People are now proud of being from here. Opportunities to tell our story will increase that pride. We need to be able to say that this is the best place in the world to be from. 

Grand Island, this will be a building that will immediately have a positive impact on your property values, the image of the island , and on our reputation. It is glorious. People who are working on this are cultured people who have a deep sophisticated understand of architecture and design and history.

It will celebrate all of the Western New York region. It will be another outlet for the farmers market. The center in Long Island is great. They have local cheese, meats, local everything. They sell local Shoes and wine.  Local wine would be fun.

I can’t emphasize enough how beautiful these centers are. If the town had to build it, it would ruin our budget. Our island becomes the ambassador for our region.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

52 week photography project: forgotten

The challenge for week seven of the 52-week photography project is to tell the story of something that is forgotten. I took several photographs which, to me, have "forgotten" stories to share. There are so many ways to forget. We forget things when we leave them behind. We grieve over those forgotten things. They become more than things. They are familiar and we are sad to be separated from what is familiar and cherished.

We forget, sometimes, to tell people who are closest to us how much we love and appreciated. We forget what love feels like when it's lost and we are left with feelings of anger and even bitterness. Our anger spills over and we start seeing other human beings through the lens of our feelings of abandonment. 

Sometimes, our forgetting is so great that we forget our values. We forget the most important thing: what makes us who we are.  We have lost hope and we have become lost and, we fear, forgotten.

How do we reclaim lost hope?

These photographs tell the story of "forgotten." 

The lost and found box at the Grand Island Dance Center. Things forgotten and left behind cause the box to spill over. The dancers have spun away from their things but, fortunately, the things stay there, waiting to be reunited with their owners.

A lone earring sits, unworn. Maybe, one of these days, I will wear a mismatched set of earring... two earrings that each are missing their mate.

Forgotten and left behind on Valentine's Day. But this bear has not lost hope that love still exists. 

In 2012, my father, Roy Gerard, passed away. He is sadly missed. It is hard to lose beloved humans. 

Do I live in a lost nation? What kind of values do we hold dearest to us? Do we even know? The news lately has been painful to watch and to hera. It's all about values that have been forgotten. Forgetting values is a deep loss.

Although the "forgotten" theme seems sad and bleak, forgetting is sometimes a good thing. It smooths out the sharp, jagged edges of memory, which can be soothing. It means not holding grudges. Forgetting can be kind, if the thing forgotten has caused pain, physical or emotional or spiritual. 

In "A Chorus Line," the song, "What I did for Love," is about forgetting the pain of being injured while dancing and remembering the love of the art of dancing. "I can't forget what I did for love."

Please never forget my appreciation to you for taking the time to read my stories.

yummy applesauce post

It's time for a food post. Since I made applesauce today, I figured that I would share the process of making applesauce. As long as you have a large pot and a food mill, making applesauce is an easy project.

You start by quartering and coring your apples. For this batch, I used three quarts of apples.

One of the hints that I was given about making applesauce is that it is best to use more than one type of apple. For this project, I chose three types of apple. They are: Ruby Frost, Granny Smith, and Lady Alice (I like the name!). 

The next step is to slice the apples. You'll want the slices to be fairly thin because they will cook faster.

Before cooking the apples, you'll boil water. For today's project, I boiled two cups of water. Once the water is boiled, you'll add the apples, turn the heat down to "medium," and cover the pot.

Check the apples every ten minutes. I always set a timer because I can be a bit scatter brained. The apples will cook down. Above in a picture of apples in the process of cooking down.

Once the apples have cooked down, add spices. For this, I used 1/4 cup of sugar, 2/3rds teaspoon of lemon peel and 2/3rds teaspoon of cinnamon.

Every time you check the apples, make sure that there is enough water in the pot. If there is not enough water, make sure to add more.

This is the food mill. You will process the apples through the food mill. It will make the applesauce smooth. I always ran it through the food mill twice because my mom (and other family members) liked their applesauce to be very smooth. I just put it through the food mill once now.

This is the completed applesauce, ready to be eaten. I served myself some applesauce right away, as the applesauce and my dinner were ready at the same time. When you take a taste test of whatever food you're making, you can see if you need to adjust the seasonings. I decided that the seasoning that I need to adjust was the amount of lemon juice. The applesauce needed more of a lemony flavor. It didn't have enough lemon juice, possibly because the Lady Alice and the Ruby Frost are sweet apples. The Granny Smith is a tart apple. The applesauce does need to have some additional tartness.

Question: What do you like to cook? Feel free to share recipes in the comment section below.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The odyssey of the painted chair

Note:  This is an update of a story that I wrote about a year and a half ago about a chair painting project that I did. This was the first piece of furniture that I've ever painted. It took me three weeks to paint the chair. After I returned the chair, I wondered what happened to it. This is the story of the chair.

A year and a half ago, I painted a chair for an auction. The goal of the fundraiser was to build a playground for Kaegebein Elementary School in Grand Island. It was truly a labor of love. A few months after the auction, I found out that the money was all raised.

A large group of volunteers got together and, in one day, they built the playground. The people who organized the project had no idea that so many volunteers would come. We got free pizza and pop and cookies. A playground for kids and a free lunch. What's not to like?

I had been so happy with my chair. It took three weeks to paint. In that time, I managed to bond with it. I always wondered what happened to the chair. Did it get sold? Did it have a new home? 

I was told that, yes, the chair was sold at the auction to someone in Buffalo, who had recently renovated a house. The homeowner had a room that needed to be decorated. That homeowner purchased four chairs at the auction and the sunflower chair was one of them. I found out that the chair sold for more than $90. I am happy that I was able to help out with the fundraising for the playground and even more happy that this playground is giving kids so much happiness.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Shattered Image Fragments: Singing My Story

Note: Because I am working on  major news article for The Island Dispatch and because today is my deadline, I am reposting a story that first appeared in this blog on October 15th, 2014. This story is an essay about growing up with an undiagnosed learning disability that I had written for an online writing class. Kids who seem "different" are often the victims of bullies, and I was no exception.  

In the times before the bullies invaded my heart, my world was full of image fragments. The world was all sensation that beckoned to me to touch it, taste it, smell it, and listen closely to its song. It existed without words, and I was part of it.

As language seeped into my inner being, I wondered how I could capture and keep the image fragments of my formerly nonverbal world. But when I tried to use written language, the image fragments shattered, and my stories became disjointed and dull, not reflecting my inner being. I wandered the back yard of my childhood home, touching the trumpet flowers that overtook a tilted trellis. The sharp thorns of the overgrown bushes bit me. The stories, however, did not come. They refused capture, and they resisted being confined to a piece of paper.

My safe world consisted of old pennies, a crawl space under the house where I could hide, photographs of people who looked familiar and unknown at the same time, tall elm trees with knots that held secrets and imaginary friends, stray cats, and star-filled skies. There was a mirror on a door that was always kept locked. I talked to my mirror image and gave her a name. I talked to my younger sister's mirror image and gave her a name, as well. There was an imaginary world beyond the mirror that I shared with my sister and with no one else. My painful world was full of sounds that felt like shattered glass: loudspeakers and screaming voices and scratchy, off-key records, and pounding music that blasted my head and took over my heartbeat.

When I was little and still living in my wordless image fragment world, I didn't know that adults with diplomas on their walls and long strings of initials after their names had peered at me, given me odd tests, said that I suffered from "auditory hallucinations," and pronounced me to be abnormal. Later, when I went to school and stared longingly out the window at the world that was beyond my touch, the abnormal label followed me.

When I was nearly twelve, my family moved 300 miles away from the trellis, the overgrown bushes, and the house with the huge crawl space. We lived in a different house, and I went to a new school. I was the New Kid with the funny accent and the poor social skills. A ready target for bullies. The kids pronounced me ugly and stupid. I looked in the mirror, but no imaginary friend existed there. She was gone forever, left behind in the mirror of the other house that was miles away. Her story would never be told. After a while, I looked at my face with the bullies' eyes. It was an ugly and sad face.

When I wasn't in school, I wandered through my new town, looking at the chipped and discolored bricks of older buildings, wondering what stories they had to tell, if only they had a voice. I wandered through rainy days, watching the water create mirrors in the streets. At night, I went outside and stared at the star-filled skies and wondered what kinds of stories the stars held. But the stories would not translate from my imagination to the paper. Once again, the image fragments shattered into many pieces and were swept away.

The adults with the diplomas on their walls and the long string of initials after their names took over again. They pronounced me abnormal and gave me a name, "emotionally disturbed." I thought that, if only I could write down my story, the adults would understand would say that I was smart and creative, not crazy, lazy, stupid, or any number of names that exist in a text book to describe kids who don't fit into the world of worksheets, tests, and loud, sharp as broken glass voices.

And so, I became an adult because time made me so. I became a journalist so that I could write stories, but they were never the stories that told of the image fragments that shattered and were swept away by my efforts to make them into words. My career sputtered and died, so I worked at various jobs, and the supervisors said words that flowed into each other without meaning. The phones jangled and the machinery hummed and I didn't understand why I didn't understand much of anything. When I wasn't at work, I walked past decaying buildings and I touched the darkened, fractured bricks, and I wondered at the weeds growing in the cracks of the sidewalks. I wanted to write about the broken down city, but the image fragments defied my efforts to turn them into words.

I saved my money and went to Guatemala and later to Ecuador. I learned Spanish in small rooms, where I was the only student. I lived with families who spoke no English, and I ate unfamiliar words and picked oranges from trees. I walked into the ruins of a cathedral, destroyed by earthquake in the eighteenth century and found poinsettias growing wild where there once been a solid floor. Large insects crawled on the ground. Everything was green, vivid, and bright. I tried to write the story but it turned into image fragments.

Back at home, I went to professionals with diplomas on their walls and long strings of initials after their names. They were kinder than the other professionals. They told me that the pain in my ears wasn't imaginary and that my not understanding the sharp, jagged voice of the loudspeaker did not make me abnormal. They told me that I could live and even thrive with conditions that they called "auditory processing disorder," "sensory processing disorder," and "hyperacute hearing." They told me that I was smart and creative, and they helped me to banish the bullies that had occupied my head and my heart and who had turned my mirror image ugly.

I still live in a world of image fragments that defy all efforts to capture them and to turn them into words on a page. But that doesn't stop me from hoping that, one day, they will be caught and they will turn into magical words that sing my story.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Valentine for you

Note: Happy Valentine's Day! Thank you for visiting my blog and for the comments. Today's blog post is a Valentine for you, with photographs of flowers that I took last spring and summer and with sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and William Shakespeare. 

Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forebore---
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

Sonnet Number 6 from Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? 
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date: 
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; 
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st; 
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Sonnet Number 18, by William Shakespeare

I thought once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was 'ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove, ---
'Guess now who holds thee?' --- 'Death,' I said. But, there,
The silver answer rang, --- 'Not Death, but Love.'

Sonnet Number One from Sonnets from the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Sonnet Number 43 from Sonnets from the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Monday, February 13, 2017

Teacher stories 7: "People learn from stories"

Today, I am sharing Celeste Angelo's story. She teaches fifth grade at Huth Road Elementary School in Grand Island, New York. This is the seventh story in my series about teachers, their work, the things that they share with their students, and the things that bring them joy.

I understand that teaching was not your first career. Tell me about your career path.

Many years ago, I attended the State University of New York at Buffalo. I thought that I was interested in education or law. The year that I went there was the year that they dropped the education program. I graduated with a degree in psychology. I loved being a psych major. I loved how people learn. I am fascinated by people. My favorite class was child psychology. I’ve always loved kids. During that time, day care was becoming very popular. I wanted to own a day care center. I had come from a family that was always self- employed. Owning a day care business all fit in with my love of kids and my desire to be a teacher. So I immediately went on and got a masters in early childhood education, with the intent of opening a day care center.

But life has twists and turns. While I was pursuing my masters  I had job in sales. I sold fundraising to schools. Then I became the manager of the Niagara Falls Racquetball club for four years. During that time, I got married. My husband and I stated an auto wholesale business, where I worked for 15 years. My husband would buy the cars. We painted and transported them and sold them to auctions. We had 30 employees so we had a pretty big business. I drove the cars and was the jack of all trades. While I was doing that, our four children came along. I was a room mom at Huth Road Elementary School. My heartstrings were getting pulled back to my original goal in life, which was to work with kids. I found out that all I had to do was student teach. I had a masters. I did that. When my youngest children (a set of twins, brother and sister) entered kindergarten in 1994, I got a teaching job. I was hired to teach fourth grade in the City of Tonawanda. I was so happy. It was what I wanted to do my whole life! The next year, a second grade job opened up at Huth. I interviewed and I got it. This is my 22nd year at Huth Road School. All of my children were in this school.

When I got my job at Huth Road school, the twins were at Sidway. The other kids were in third and fifth grades.

How long have you lived in Grand Island? Did you attend Grand Island schools?

I moved in Grand Island when I was in seventh grade.

What grades have you taught at Huth Road School?

I have taught all of the grades here at Huth Road. This is my eighth year teaching fifth grade.

What do you like about teaching fifth grade?
I love fifth grade. You can talk to the students, and they understand. You can talk about things in the world. You can talk about politics, natural disasters, or other events. Here’s where I bring my background into the classroom. I talk to them about what it takes to be successful because I come from the business world. They understand hard work and taking responsibility and ownership and they get my jokes. I let them know that you have to be motivated. You have to be willing to work hard. You have to be reliable. You have to be responsible. I teach them this through all the things that I have seen and experienced for all of these years. I continually tell them stories about cars that weren’t repaired correctly and just things that they can understand. They like stories. People learn from stories. I have many stories. The greatest thing is that they come back from middle school. They walk into the classroom and they say, everything that you told us is true! We’re having a great year. It is so rewarding.

Having taught all of those grades and having my own children, I know where they are going and where they are coming from. It helps me to be a stronger teacher to have taught all of those grades. You see an increase in vocabulary, a willingness to tackle lengthier and more comprehensive books. I once had a third grader tell me, ‘I don’t do chapter books.’ Yes, you do chapter books in third grade. That’s what is so fun. Three years is like eons… to see the growth and to know. My children are through college. I know what they have to do as high schoolers and in college. Having my own children go through college has given me an awareness. That’s only eight years from now. You’re going to be in college. Do your homework! The kids have older brothers and sisters, and they see. In eight years, you will drive a car. . They understand that. My hope is that you have the kind of life that I have. I have choices because I worked hard in school and in college. I took responsibility and now I have a great life. I have the job I wanted and went to the college I wanted. That’s all I want: for you is to have choices, to do what you want them to do. That resonates with them.

What do you see as challenges for fifth graders?
Social media is a huge challenge for students. I have empathy/sympathy for their parents. The kids are so savvy. They spent an inordinate amount of time with social media, to the detriment of school work and of reading. They are cognizant of the things that kids say about them on social media. I have to resolve problems that happened outside of the classroom because of social media. We talk about being responsible. Pictures on snapchat do not disappear. You are leaving a digital footprint. Kids say, “Everyone has to have a cell phone.” No. Everyone does not have to have a cell phone.

When you aren’t teaching, what do you like to do?
I have all kinds  of hobbies. I love sports. I’ve played sports my whole life. I have a volleyball game tonight. My husband and I are big boaters. I water ski. I snow ski. I cycle. I love music. I played cello through college and beyond. I attend a dozen concerts a year. I like all music. Classical, pop... I like it all. We like to travel. We went skiing in Lake Tahoe last year. We are going on a cruise in a couple of weeks. I explored a cave in Belize. I showed the kids pictures, and they were amazed. I went to Las Vegas last year to go to Corvette driving school. I read. I have fun with vegetable gardening. I have a lot of fun. I get to visit my kids who are all over the world. I have a daughter in London, trying to start a business. My daughter in New York City is working for a startup. The company vets women to serve on corporate boards. Big corporations pay people (minorities) to be on their boards. I met Gloria Steinem and other big powerful women. My daughter in South Carolina, gave me my first granddaughter, Waverly. She is the best. Six months old. My son is local. He is finance.

What can parents do to support their children?
They have to allow their children to make mistakes. They to allow their children to fail and to stop rushing to their rescue. It is a very hard thing to do because we don’t want our children to struggle. That’s where learning occurs. You learn from your mistakes. I don’t believe that everyone gets a trophy. You earn what you get. That’s where the reward comes in, knowing that you worked hard and you achieved. I’m constantly using sports analogies in my classroom because I love sports. On Monday (February 6th),  we talked about the Superbowl. The Patriots were down and out and no one expected them to come back.  Tom Brady never lost hope; he never gave up and he was rewarded because of that attitude.

When kids run to parents and say, “I don’t get this,” ask questions. Ask: “what did you get?” Your second question: “tell me what you didn’t understand.” You have to verbalize the part that you don’t get. Then they will say, “oh, I get it.” Parents want to rescue them and make it easy for them. By giving kids too much help, it hinders them. We are trying to create kids who are outside the box thinkers. Parents need to talk to their kids, not talk at them, engage them in meaningful conversations. Take them places and talk to them about the experiences. What did you learn there? Let them see your mistakes and how you go about solving your mistakes. So when your car breaks down, explain to them how to solve that problem. When you run out of an ingredient, what can you substitute? There are so many ways to show children that life is full of bumps in the road and how we, as adults, handle those bumps in the road.

Do you run any after school clubs?
I have the homework club, which allows kids a quiet space to work on their homework, and I provide a little support if they need it. We are a very eclectic group. There is a variety of ages and experiences.

What brings you the most joy as a teacher?

It's that moment when you see the aha look on their face, when they come up to you and say, “I didn’t understand this last year but now I really understand it.” When you see them feeling so proud because they got it. Being at this school because of the wonderful camaraderie with all of my colleagues. I’ve always felt supported by everyone in this building. I think that’s what makes Huth Road such an interesting place. We come to school and we laugh at each other, with each other, and that shows you what a secure place it is. It it is for teachers, students, parents. I follow kids’ careers as they grow up. I’m really invested in them. They know that. I care about them.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Images of the Grand Island winter farmers market

The Grand Island Farmers Co-op held a winter market at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Items that were available for purchase included hot soup, fresh popcorn, meat, honey, eggs, baked goods, and Grand Island souvenirs. It was a social event and many people enjoyed each other's company over a bowl of hot soup. Here are some of the images of the market:
This sign says it all. Support the agriculture in your community. There are a number of reasons for this. Local is best because the food is fresher. It is transported shorter distances and it is not kept in storage for long periods of time. Also, when you buy local food, you are supporting your community and you are supporting families within your community.

When you go to a farmers market, you are buying directly from the farmers who produced the food. You meet the people who provide the food that goes on your table and you form relationships. I have found that to be true for me. I buy my eggs from Tom Thompson. I know where those eggs came from. When I walk past his farm house, I often see chickens running around in the yard. So I know that they are free range chickens and are not cooped up in very small, claustrophobic spaces.

Local farms mean that open space is preserved. Open space means more room for native animals and plants. Too much development takes away habitat for these native species. While it's good to have some development, it's also good to protect open space.

Showing off the wonderfully fresh eggs. I consider myself fortunate enough to buy all of my eggs from local farmers. I know that my eggs are fresh and that they will be tasty. Sometimes, when I break open an egg, I find a double yolk, which is an added treat.

This young man chose farming two years ago. In the summer of 2015, at the age of thirteen, he was looking for work. He had mowed lawns, raked leaves, and shoveled snow. He observed that these were all seasonal jobs, and he wanted to do something that he could continue year round. His father told him that he should try raising chickens. His father raised chickens as a teenager. That is just what he did, with the support of his father. He said, "My dad was happy to share his knowledge and experience with me. We started in October of 2015, rebuilding one of his old chicken coops and order 40 chickens for delivery in March of 2016... six months later, we had our first eggs." His goals include producing maple syrup and raising bees.

Robin has bee hives on her property, an 1864 farmhouse. Here she is with one of the lovely bottles filled with delicious honey. There are debates about whether local raw honey will actually help alleviate pollen allergies. Honey is a good source of antioxidants and it is healing. It helps with digestive issues and it helps in relieving the pain of a sore throat.

Also, adding honey and lemon to a cup of tea makes for delicious tea.

Did I mention that the packaging is really cute?

Mmm, look at all of these delicious baked goods

Try before you buy... lovely and most delicious taste tests.

Here are some wonderful teas for your next tea party.

Natural remedies, hand made.

souvenirs of Grand Island.

And, of course, something romantic. Valentine's Day is on Tuesday!

Here are Robin's candles.

This is Steve. He also sells fresh eggs. During the growing season, he grows a great variety of produce, including lots and lots of garlic. 

Steve and Trish collect rocks and they always bring some of their collection to all of the farmers markets that they attend. They are beautifully labeled and quite colorful. The rocks, like the food that we eat, come from the earth, which gives us all that we need to live healthy lives.

All in all, it was a good way to spend a very wet afternoon. I hope that you, too, had a good Sunday. What made your day interesting? Tell me in the comments section.