Category Archives: Parenting

Can School Districts Really Ignore Students Who Need Help?

On Disability Scoop this morning, there was an article on school districts and their obligation to identify students with special needs under the “child find” clause of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  But this school district (in Compton, CA) was more worried about being liable for  “educational malpractice” than getting this student help. This case was about a girl who was promoted to 11th grade after testing below the 1st percentile level and who performed at less than a 4th grade level as a 10th grader. Counselors and teachers noted issues, but no one ever suggested she get evaluated.

Yes, budgets are tight; yes, there are many students who need help, but what are we educating our children for, if not to get an education and not just be shunted through school, grade after grade even though there are signs of trouble.

School District’s can’t ignore students who may need Special Ed services and then claim they had no duty to notify the parents. In this case, “[t]he School District asserts that, because it chose to ignore Addison’s disabilities and take no action, it has not affirmatively refused to act. The School District therefore contends that the notice requirement does not apply… We reject this argument.” Thankfully, the 9th Circuit rejected this argument outright. Frankly, I don’t know how that school district made that argument with a straight face – “we ignored it so we have no duty to notify the parents of an issue???” Really? If that were true, school districts would ignore every issue and claim no duty to do anything about it. THE Court went on to say, “[t]he School District’s wilful inaction in the face of numerous “red flags” is more than sufficient to demonstrate its unwillingness and refusal to evaluate Addison.”

There are many reasons the signs may be missed that a child need special ed services – but something seems off, you just can’t put your finger on it. Sometimes their performance (or lack thereof) may be attributed to behavioral issues or to something the child will grow out of. At the end of the day, we all (the parents, the child, the School Districts, and society as a whole) have a vested interest in educating every child. This case was decided on the pleadings, meaning that facts weren’t presented, that means there aren’t a lot of factual details presented.

The few facts that are mentioned in the case directly: “Addison’s mother was reluctant to have the child “looked at,” and School District officials decided not to “push.” Instead, the School District referred Addison to a third-party mental-health counselor. The third-party counselor recommended that the School District assess Addison for learning disabilities. Despite the recommendation, the School District did not refer Addison for an educational assessment, and instead promoted Addison to eleventh grade.

In September 2004, Addison’s mother wrote a letter to the School District explicitly requesting an educational assessment and Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) meeting. The assessment took place on December 8, 2004. The IEP team determined that Addison was eligible for special education services on January 26, 2005.”

There are many lessons to be learned in this case — put requests in writing, find out your rights as parents (read the handbook that the school district hands you), don’t trust that school districts or school administrators know the law,  inform yourself and don’t stop asking questions about how your child is going to be helped, specifically.

What I find most fascinating in this case is that the Supreme Court is requesting the Obama administration to weigh in on the situation. I think the Supreme Court is capable enough to balance public policy needs versus what the law plainly says and requires.

If you have thoughts on this issue, please share them in the comments.

The Tale of Two Grandmas

My grandmothers are awesome – let’s just state that right up front to start this tale! I’m working on this project where I am writing some guides on how to share photos online and the end-user I have to keep in mind is someone who isn’t that comfortable with the internet but wants to share and print photos with their friends and family. At the same, I had just come home from a visit with one of my grandmothers and we had spent a ton of time looking through old photos and slides. Both of these things got me thinking about my two grandmothers and how polar opposite the are when it comes to computers and the internet.

My Grandma Edith is  going to be 89 in April. She was a nurse and worked for my grandfather’s geology company for years, color coding well core samples. She now does tai chi every day. She plays viola and cello beautifully. She makes incredible jewelry, does intricate silver work, and uses the rocks that my grandfather finds and polishes to turn them in to jewelry. Over the years I have learned many things from her. Using the computer isn’t one of them!

We have tried to set up a computer for her and my grandfather to use (he would actually send emails). But I never saw her use it. We even volunteered to go down to the library and set up a free gmail account, so that she could email us when she went to the library. The whole idea of email is foreign to her. She actually writes letters and makes phone calls. I think she is one of three people that I know who still hand-write letters. I don’t think we will ever get her to use a computer – for email or for any other reason.

My other grandmother, Grandma Frances, is 92 and is the polar opposite. She taught math, shorthand, and other subjects in high school until she retired in 1976. She uses the computer for all kinds of things – she uses Quicken to balance the farm books; she uses it to email all of us family members; she tracks all of our birthdays and addresses – from her children to all of the great grandkids! She hasn’t shared any photos with me online, but I am sure she can figure it out with the instruction sets I am writing! She is the one I credit with getting me interested in photography. She took the time to explain the camera, how it worked, and more importantly, she trusted me to use her Canon camera when I was 10. This trip, we had a blast looking through her old photos and slides. We even got the slide projector up and running to share silly pictures with my kids – like the ones of my dad from the 70’s with an afro, and the ones of our cows, and my teddy bear. She sent me home with a stack of slides and pictures to scan in!

Today’s blog is a tribute to these two lovely ladies who each have their own strengths. These are ladies 3 and 4 in my effort to highlight 30 women this year. Read more about the others: BFF, Michealene Cristini Risley

You Gotta See the Race to Nowhere Movie

After 4 previous attempts, I finally saw the movie Race to Nowhere last night and I later posted a comment on a Race to Nowhere share on Facebook:

Sonya L. Sigler I have been an advocate for no homework for so long – I wanted our school to volunteer to be a test bed for a “no homework policy.” I would prefer that my kids play sports or take music or do nothing or explore the park down the hill from us… and I was lucky enough to see the movie tonight in San Carlos, CA.

By this morning, I had been attacked for my opinion that supported a “no homework policy” that our elementary school district had merely discussed 4-5 years ago.

Susi Crowe OK Sonya, no homework for high school students, really!?? Explore the park down the hill with the girlfriend, a case of beer and country music playing…or let’s make sure kids have time to play, which nowadays means playing on the computer, the Iphone, the Xbox. Great productive plan that you have, let’s you off the hook from being involved w/ your kids homework and spending the time as a parent taking them to activities they are interested in, so YOU have more free time……

It was interesting to me to see that 1) all kinds of judgments had been made (I don’t do homework with my kids; I don’t take them to activities they are interested in; I hold this opinion about homework so I can have more free time; my kids listen to country music..I could go on) and 2) leaps to certain conclusions had been made without even asking for more information or an explanation of why I want my kids to do things other than homework or why I would think that volunteering our school to test the policy was a good idea. I had one comment of support:

Sarasota Homes ‎@Sonya – I LOVE your attitude and thoughts toward education. I was a high school teacher/coach for 16 years. I don’t want my kids “racing to nowhere” and that’s exactly where politicians (on both sides) demand they go…. Kids NEED to be kids. Great support here!

This “no homework policy” that I mentioned was merely a discussion that the school board had 4-5 years ago (three superintendents ago) and it hadn’t even been implemented.  As far as I know, not one of our district schools has tested a “no homework policy.” What I do know is that schools in our elementary school district (San Carlos) and high school district (Sequoia Union) have made strides to coordinate homework assignments and work loads. I posted a further explanation:

Sonya L. Sigler I have a little bit longer explanation about what no homework means in our family and with the school my kids go to AND what the “no homework policy” was that was discussed in our school district about 4-5 years ago. We, as a family, focus on music, sports, scouting, and visiting National Parks. So, it is different homework than busy work sheets and homework given because the teacher couldn’t get to the info in class. Then there are chores on top of that. My kids also go to a project based school so there isn’t a lot of busywork homework; most of the homework assigned is related to a project unit. The “no homework policy” that was discussed in our school district 4-5 years ago that I wanted to volunteer our school for would have looked at a few things: 1) coordinated homework among the teachers so that not every subject had an hours worth of homework every evening; 2) the homework time (targeted time to complete it) would vary by grade level; and 3) the homework was related to reinforcing concepts in the curriculum as opposed to busy work. Thankfully we do most of these at our school already. But I am sure there are improvements that we can make related to homework. My kids are in a K-8 school so we haven’t gotten to the heavy work loads in high school – however my philosophy remains the same for that and the high schools in our area are trying to coordinate the homework assigned among the classes.

I think there is enough work for our children to do in school and in class without giving them more than an hour or two of homework each night. One of the main points of the movie was that after a certain amount of time the point of doing the homework becomes ineffective — I think it was an hour for middle school and two hours for high school students. The high schools in our area ARE trying to coordinate the type and amount of homework given across the subjects. At SCCLC, we have targeted homework by grade level and I think that the time expected to be spent on homework is not excessive as it relates to each grade level at our school.

From a family perspective, it all comes down to managing priorities and choices. Everything is a choice. Spending 4 hours on homework instead of playing baseball is a choice. Spending time playing an instrument instead of doing busy worksheets is a choice. Spending time exploring National Parks is a choice. Spending time with Boy Scouts is a choice. It’s all a choice. We choose to have our kids play sports, play an instrument, participate in scouting, and explore national parks. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for homework, or as suggested in the snarky facebook comment, playing video games. BTW – We do limit screen time of all types – we don’t ban it, we just limit it to 2 hours on the weekends. And, even with a full time job, I do squire my kids around to activities that they are interested in…currently, for my three boys that list includes baseball, basketball, flag football, bowling, rifles, archery, 4H, Scouts, soccer, dance, and music lessons – I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of not being involved with my kids – some would say they are over scheduled and that I’m too involved. But, truth be told they are doing the activities that they choose to do.

Our family has chosen to concentrate our time on the activities that are important to us – sometimes that doesn’t include homework. The consequence of these choices will vary – sometimes my son has to wake up earlier to do homework or stay up later than usual to finish it. Sometimes he may have to spend lunch or recess time finishing up something. Sometimes he may not turn it in at all – this has led to an interesting discussion about doing extra credit work to cover times when he can’t finish his work or turn it in. But, at least we know what the choice is that we are making as opposed to blindly trying to do it all.

Re high school, my thoughts on homework are the same. Don’t kill yourself trying to do it all just because someone has assigned homework. Talk to the teachers, advocate for your child – or better yet, have your child advocate for themselves (or in a group of students)  when it comes to managing homework loads.

Part of what the movie was shedding light on is – take a step back and evaluate the situation. What is right for your child (and why)? The sky isn’t going to fall if your child doesn’t get into “a good” college. Taking AP classes just to get into “a good” college is a prime example of doing something for the wrong reason. Doing well in an AP course is a choice; does it mean that you have to read the entire textbook? No, it means you need to be able to understand concepts and understand the bigger picture – that is what is tested on AP tests. The point of an AP class is that it IS accelerated learning. It requires you to digest an enormous amount of information. If all of your child’s courses are AP courses – you are really saying that they should be in college – becuase those AP test scores translate into college credit. The point made in the movie is – look at what your child is doing and why they are doing it. If your child  is only taking an AP course because they think it will get them into the right college – rethink the situation and make a change, if necessary.

There is one scene in the movie that was particular poignant for me – it was the scene where a boy says that he wanted to quit school altogether because he didn’t get the grade he wanted and now probably won’t get into the college he wanted. In retrospect, I did a lot of things in high school because it would look good when I applied to college. I didn’t get into Harvard or Stanfurd, which were my top 2 choices, and those rejection letters were very hard to take. My mom didn’t even believe me when I called her at work to tell her I didn’t get in to Stanfurd. Ironically, I got into my back up school, UC Berkeley, on early admission, which was based upon my grades and test scores alone.  Granted this was in the 80’s and now admission to the schools in the UC system works slightly differently, but my point is that I survived and I went to a great college anyway even though it wasn’t my first choice. (As a side note – I really loved that there was a clip of the Cal Band in the movie – I spent a lot of time in the Cal Band when I was in college). Did I go to a school that matched what I needed (as the movie suggests)? No, I probably would have done much better at a school like Colorado College that does block learning on one subject per month, not 6 or 7 classes per 15 week semester. I think one of the most important points in the movie was to focus on finding what works for your child!

Many thanks to our San Carlos PTA Coordinating Council who sponsored the evening last night and worked hard to bring the Race to Nowhere movie to our District. I urge you to bring it to your school district! Have a panel discussion. Have schools explain what their homework policy is. Have kids explain how it is affecting them or how they are coping with the work loads. Proactively work at finding a solution for you and your child(ren). I urge you to see the movie if you have a chance.

If you have thoughts on this post or what can make the situation described in the Race to Nowhere better, please leave a comment.

Am I Really a Special Ed Advocate?

Having a child with special needs or special ed requirements can be disappointing, overwhelming, and unexpected. But, as you will discover (or already have discovered), your child needs you. Your child needs you to advocate for them with many people who do not have your interests or your child’s interest in mind. Your child needs you to have their best interest in mind at all times. Your child needs you. Period.

1. Get Over Yourself

I don’t mean to be or sound harsh with this advice of “get over yourself” because you will need to do just that to advocate for your child and his/her needs. I’m not sure how my section title ended up in this giant font size, but I decided to leave it that way because this is the big one; this is the difficult one. This one you have to do before you can do anything else. Get. Over. Yourself. It may take months or years of denial before you accept the role of your child’s advocate, but you will need to accept your advocacy role to do what is best for your child. If you find yourself asking “why me?” or “why my child?” types of questions, you fit squarely in this category. You may need to do some soul searching and acceptance of the situation before moving on. Once you have accepted that your role is being an advocate for your child’s needs and education, you can focus on educating yourself and making decisions about what is best for your child.

2. Educate Yourself

My husband and I spent an enormous amount of time educating ourselves about special ed and the special ed process, but there are so many things that we didn’t know, still don’t know, and probably, don’t want to know. But, in order to help our children, we needed to educate ourselves about the needs of our children and the special ed process within the school district. Thankfully, with the internet it is much easier to find information, people, resources and medical treatment or doctors. We attended seminars and conferences, asked many questions of our doctors, did a ton of reading, but it is still a learning process. Three resources that are extremely helpful in getting started in your own education are:

  1. Top 10 Mistakes Parents Make in IEP Meetings
  2. You Gotta Know the Rules If You’re Gonna Play the Game
  3. Ten Related Services For an IEP You May Not Know About

A word of explanation about these recommendations — One of the most helpful items I ran across was a list of the top 10 mistakes people make with IEP meetings. We certainly have made our share of those! Another article that is very helpful is one that my friend Grace Tiscareno-Sato wrote on knowing the rules of the game. These are just two examples of the type of information that is out there. Take the time to find this type of information and educate yourself – it will definitely be time (and money, in some cases) well spent!

3. Decide What is Best for You and Your Child

You are your child’s own best advocate. You know your child the best, you spend the most time with them – use all of that knowledge, reflect on it, and then decide what is best for you and your child. This acknowledgement even ended up on one mom’s top 10 list of things she learned from having a special needs child. I had lunch with a friend who I wanted to introduce to a special ed advocate, and after the lunch she said “You are right. I am the person who knows my son the best. I have to stop letting others decide for me.” You decide what services are appropriate for your child – there are many to choose from and you may not even know about them. Don’t let school districts, special ed directors, doctors, or anyone else decide for you. Use what they have to say as one piece of information you consider in making decisions, but don’t let them tell you what to do or decide for you.

No parent sets out to become a special ed advocate when their child is born, but that’s what happens when you find out your child has special needs or requires special ed services. Accept it, educate yourself, and do the best you can for your child.

If you have other advice to share about special ed advocacy or your experiences with it, please leave a comment.

Day 8 – PEI or Bust – Oklahoma City to Hot Springs, Arkansas

Day 8 57196 odo 8:14 am

As we are leaving Weatherford, OK, the home of astronaut Tom Stafford, it is VERY foggy and overcast. It always takes longer to roust everyone out of bed and into the car than I think it will. It worked so much better when my brother and I drove across country in 2001 and we would get up around 7 and take showers. I would breast-feed McKinley then we would get on the road and drive for an hour before eating breakfast at some greasy spoon. You always felt like you had accomplished a lot before 8 am.

Getting the kids dressed, fed and into the car by 8:14 am should feel better than it does. Now we are headed to Oklahoma City to see the bombing memorial set up there a few years ago. One of the first things we saw was a license plate that said JASPER on it – an old rust colored clunker, like a Dodge Series K car. We see many pick-up trucks and old American cars and a lot of semi-trucks. Not much else on the road once you get outside of the SF Bay Area. We saw our second Mercedes today of the entire drive so far. We saw our first one driving from Albuquerque, which was a candy apple red one headed towards Santa Fe.

Bryce took one of the best sunset pictures from our trip out the window of our car driving into Oklahoma last night. Driving along the highway, you can see lots of funny things (see News of the Weird, below) including a unique guard rail system with poles and steel cable rather than the metal guard rail. I suppose the steel cable system would work just as well if the cables are tensioned properly. But the poles looked like a Semi truck would just take them with the truck and have a new hood ornament in place. Not too reassuring.

Jasper spotted an elk yesterday and a doe and fawn this morning. We saw more mowers today. We saw  signs for the “Canadian Valley Technology Center” about 20 miles outside Oklahoma City – sounded like an oxymoron all the way around to me. We passed towns names Church of the Rock (or maybe that was just a church name – I wonder what they worshipped), Antlers, Atoka, Muddy Boggy Creek. We saw Broken Arrow (instead of Broken Bow, where my Aunt and Uncle live). We passed Daisy, which had a population of 118 and where the Freewill Baptist Church welcomes you. And that’s where everyone was Thursday night.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial was simple, but moving. There is a long pool of water between gates marking the time of the bombing. We were there right after July 4th and saw a woman taking down all of the red, white and blue decorations. She was unceremoniously dumping the wreaths in a box on a cart. There were an amazing amount of tributes to the bombing victims on a chain link fence running the length of the memorial. It was the same way when we visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

There was a museum at the memorial too. Jasper and Bryce weren’t very interested in going to this one, but by the time we got out of the museum and walked around the copper and glass chairs dedicated to each victim, they were suitably interested. Bryce was very interested in the interaction between your skin, the water and the copper. One of the more moving things at the memorial was the ability to put your hand in the pool of water (about 4 inches deep) and place it on the memorial wall to leave your hand print. It was a nice reminder of how we are all interconnected.

Once we left Oklahoma City, it started raining those Texas-sized rain drops, even though we were in Oklahoma… It started raining so hard, people were hydroplaning about the freeway. I kinda felt like I was back in Hendricks County (Indiana) during one of those freak summer thunderstorms, with hail the size of golf balls. In the pouring rain, we passed the Middle O’ Nowhere Market in Reagan, OK. Somewhere in all that rain, (now I feel like I’m back at home in the midwest and have to talk about the weather), I succumbed to the drive thru at a KFC and A&W RootBeer place to get chicken strips, green beans, a biscuit, and a Dr Pepper that tasted suspiciously like diet coke –  blech – on all accounts! I only made it through the biscuit. Note to self – stick to Starbucks!

Now we are headed to South Eastern Oklahoma and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Not so surprisingly, we ended up on the road that was the most expeditious, which was a toll road – the Indian Trail Turnpike; although it was our first turnpike of the trip, it certainly would not be our last. We have somewhere entered into the Chocktaw Indian Nation. After my foray into the Navajo Nation, I’m sticking to the roads that aren’t faint and dotted on the map. I’m stickin’ to those brighter lines!

We stopped at the Visitor Center at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area to get our Junior Ranger booklets and go on a hike to explore the hot springs. Who knew there were hot springs in that area. During the torrential downpour that followed us the whole day, we had this amazingly lovely green dragonfly follow us on the trail. Then when we turned back, we spied an armadillo. We watched him for a few minutes – I kept getting closer and closer  to take pictures of him because my “would have been very useful at this moment” telephoto lens was in the truck. The armadillo (which has very bad vision as a species) finally spotted us and turned and waddled off. The boys got a great kick out of seeing an armadillo up close! (It reminded me of my friend Alison’s hilarious story about armadillos, more specifically, as she puts it, “blowing on an armadillo’s bum.”)

Soaked, we still had to pick up a bag of trash each to finish the Jr. Ranger program. I like the Jr. Ranger Programs where the kids have to pick up trash… makes them more responsible! We found about 400 cigarette butts. What a nasty habit! Yuck!!! There were so many cigarette butts that we made up our own game –  if you walked over one and then someone else behind you spotted it, then they could ask you to come back and pick it up. The Visitor Center building had been built by the WPA in the 30’s and felt like the heating system worked like it was still in the 30’s. Once I was frozen from the rain and ancient heating system, the boys finally finished their booklets and earned the Jr. Ranger badge. Outside, we spotted one of the cutest things  of the day: two little girls who laid down their giant golf umbrellas and scooted under them to play while they were waiting.

A few days ago when we crossed the Continental Divide and accidentally hit a chipmunk, I made a joke about road kill and a smart ass remark about it making a good dinner in Arkansas. McKinley didn’t get the joke, so that meant I had to explain it to him. Not good when you have to explain your own prejudicial joke to your child. But it did give us a chance to chat about stereotypes and eating other types of animals that you hunt.

Speaking of animals you hunt, we saw lots of long horns today. We passed a town named Frogville, which made me wonder if they had frog jumping contests like the ones in Calaveras County, CA. Last night when we filled up, we pulled into an empty gas station next to an adult bookstore which had a full parking lot. I always wondered what men did in places like that looking for “books.” I’m still wondering… I was already kind of annoyed from seeing these sexist freeway safety ads – “My daddy works here and will daddy be home tonight? Be alert be safe…” Don’t they have any working moms along the freeway? Probably not – they have better things to be doing!

We discovered that Broken Bow, OK is right next to the North Pole near the corner of Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. Who knew… Once we made it into Arkansas, the bridge surface was lumpy and road quality dropped significantly. Thankfully – that didn’t last the entire time we were in Arkansas. We saw a ton more political and campaign ads in Arkansas – most of them were hand painted or spray painted. I was impressed that people cared enough to state their opinion and put it out in their yard. We passed Wagon Wheel Dance Land, which was a dance hall. Sounded like it might be a fun place to square dance! We passed Cane Creek, Mud Creek, and Rolling Fork River – which made me a little worried about what we might find in Arkansas. Can you tell it was my first time there and that I had a lot of preconceived notions about what Arkansas would be like???

We had called to home to make sure McKinley made it back safe and to cub scout camp and my husband, Greg, mentioned that we should go to the Diamond mine and see what we could find. We briefly toyed with the idea of going to the Crater of Diamonds State Park to look for my retirement package. But since it was so late and I didn’t know if they had a campground, I decided to keep going North and ended up going to Hot Springs instead.

We arrived at Hot Springs at about dinner time – with enough daylight to find a camping spot, see a little of the area, and then make dinner. There were mosquitos galore, rain drops kept falling on my head… it was incredibly humid (and made me very thankful I live in a no humidity area). Once we were done with our preliminary look at the Hot Springs main street, we hopped back into the truck to go find the campgrounds. We then found out that the campground was temporarily off-limits because of some multi-car accident, which was blocking all three entrances to the campground. Hmmm, they weren’t able to give us an estimate of when it would be cleared or even if there were open camp sites. Not a good omen.

Undeterred, I drove back out the way we came in and then to the south side of town to the entrance way on the other side, and waited. Actually, I didn’t wait very patiently,  I parked and got of of the truck to go talk to the Ranger holding up traffic.  I’ve never been one to accept the stock answer that it can’t be done… as I was walking over to the Ranger, what turned out to be the last tow truck, brought out a very mangled car. He yelled something at the Ranger who then opened up the roads — just like that, we were in. We decided to camp in an RV space because the only two tent spaces left looked dicey, as they were next to guys working on their motor bikes and they did not look like they were going to go to sleep too soon even if there were kids next to them.

We figured out their automatic camp site payment machine and then went to find a grocery store to get something for dinner. The boys decided they wanted to grill hot dogs. We learned that you don’t want to raise (or lower) the grill with the hots dogs going the same direction as the grill slats… you end up with hot dogs in the grill, not grilled hot  dogs. Nothing a little water wouldn’t fix… The camp site we picked turned out to be sheltered from most of the rain… I slept a little bit uneasily waiting for the mosquitos to quit buzzing around me – for some reason they really like me – and I was trying to discern if the rain was heavy enough to come through the trees and get us wet enough to hop back into the truck (because we didn’t have a tent). Well, about 7:30 am the next morning, we found out that the rain WAS heavy enough to come through the trees and get us wet. And we also found out that the boys can get dressed, packed up, and back in the truck in 5 minutes flat when it really did start raining on us!

News of the Weird (and fabulous facts):

  • Why is Diamond Bank’s logo a star?
  • A sign rusted so badly that we had no idea what it actually said
  • Gas was $2.49/gal. in Weatherford, OK
  • International Paper in Oklahoma
  • Gas is only $2.34/gal. near Hot Springs, AR
  • Awesome horse farm outside Dierks, AR
  • Amazing white column house and horse ranch outside Pearcy, AR
  • Weyerhauser in Arkansas means tons of logging trucks and mills,
  • McKinley Hardwood truck
  • First non credit card gas pumps I have seen in years
  • Ambush Adventures for River Rafting (not sure that is who I want planning a river rafting trip…)
  • Sign – Do not drive into smoke – what are you supposed to do? Stop and wait? Yup! Too many grass fires to know what you’d be driving into.
  • Sign – Drive Friendly – not sure what this meant? Don’t flip anyone off? Don’t tailgate? Wave to everyone? Find a driving buddy?
  • NM drivers in NM don’t move over, but they do move over in other states.
  • License Plates spotted today – SC MS

Remembering Birthdays and Anniversaries

This blog entry is inspired by my (dear) husband who forgot our 18th anniversary Monday. Our kids and I accurately predicted that this would happen. So, today’s blog is about remembering birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates and how you can help yourself!

Use a Calendaring Program – Using Outlook, iCal or something similar to track birthdays or anniversaries in your calendar is a great start to remembering those important dates. There used to be a plethora of websites to help you remember important dates, but I find that my address book and calendar work just fine together to show those dates. I like seeing those dates highlighted on my calendar  and automatically filled in from my address book. I love having them on Facebook. It makes it so easy to send that special person a message about their special day. It only takes a moment. If you are sending an actual card (or electronic one), you can set your alarms or alerts to remind you a week ahead of time to (get and) send a card.

I loved seeing my step-sister’s message to her mom and my dad on their actual  anniversary last week and I especially loved seeing the comments to her post. It was a sweet reminder that you never know what will work, and a not so subtle reminder that I forgot to send a card 😦 even though our family calendar has their picture squarely on their anniversary date of Feb 4th!

Start a Tradition – Traditions are important in helping you remember an event and plan for it – like giving everyone new PJs on Christmas eve, or serving breakfast in bed on your child’s birthday, or having your child (or spouse) wear a birthday crown all day on their birthday. I started a tradition for our anniversary of inviting close friends and those in our wedding party to dinner at our house on our anniversary (or the weekend before or after). This dinner tradition led to some pretty funny stories being repeated year after year – like my husband diving into the pool naked at one of his (supposedly) raucous parties before I met him. (We actually received a card with this picture on it one year for our anniversary, so I know he actually did that, but I’m still not sure about the veracity of the tales about the raucous parties.) One of my favorites was our 7th anniversary dinner where Greg’s best  friend and former roommate, Karl, gave us a meat cleaver with a message carved into it – G & S Happy 7th K & K and on the other side, “The Unknown Future.” The story behind that gift was that Greg and Karl had been roommates for a long time and that by our 7th anniversary, I was now the person who had lived with Greg the longest and the gift was Karl’s way of passing the torch (or meat cleaver in this case) to me. It was a funny reminder, and still is.

My friend Grace has a tradition of skiing on her (January) birthday. One year I played hooky at the last minute, left my house at 7 am, picked Grace up and made it to the slopes by 10 am. This year we had to postpone skiing on her actual birthday, but we did get to have lunch at a very cool place in Half Moon Bay and we will go skiing in a few weeks!

Be Vigilant –  It is important to not forget the little things that may have been started in jest or as a joke or just as a simple reminder of something fun or important. When my parents were married, I never, and I mean never, ever saw my dad give my mom a present. Paula, my dad’s wife (of 27 years now) doesn’t let him get away with that. He even sends me and my kids cards on Christmas and their Birthdays. I love that he does that! Now I just need to tell him that! In our household, my husband (usually) gets forsythia and tulips or freesias for me on our anniversary – these were some of the bulb flowers we had at our wedding. We also planted all of the flowers from our centerpieces at our wedding in our garden. When we moved, we dug up all of those bulbs and planted them at our new house (that was in 1994) and they bloom every year around our anniversary. On Sunday, during the Superbowl, mind you, my youngest child just went and picked them for me and put them in a vase – now that was sweet!

I’d love to hear what others do to remember birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates!

Just What the Heck is a PractiGal?

Well, to get to the point – PractiGal is the name I have chosen for my personal blog. But, you say still – just what the heck is a PractiGal – well – that’s what the rest of this blog post will attempt to explain…

When I had my first kid, I went out and bought things I didn’t need because these darn baby books had lists and lists of things you needed for a a new baby. Well, it turns out that you don’t really need all that much for a new baby. One example is the giant diaper bag I had bought and used for exactly ONE day. I used it for only ONE day because the latch was flaky AND because it didn’t fit under my stroller in the (very small) basket. So, I went on a hunt for another diaper bag, that would actually fit in the basket under the stroller. More about that diaper bag solution in another blog entry. After a few of these incidents, I told my mom that I wanted to write a book called the Practical Baby so I could tell people what the baby and mom really needed – not all this other stuff. She laughed and laughed, for a long time. When she stopped laughing she said, “There is no such thing as a practical baby!”

Well, she’s right – there is no such thing as a practical baby. But, there is such a thing as a practical mom who can figure things out and make them work better, no matter what the situation. That’s what a Practical Gal is. That’s me, and that’s what I write about.

Today I joined the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog and my first task is to write an elevator pitch. Now, I’m not a marketing person  by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, my same smart mommy that I already mentioned above, told me I need to take my lawyer hat off when I am trying to write marketing oriented stuff, otherwise I just get in my own way… We’ll see…

Day 1 Task: Write an Elevator Pitch for Your Blog

The practical mom with the unpractical kids and husband

Am I a super hero? Nope, Just a Practical Gal

Am I wonder woman? Hmmm.. more like ElastiGirl…
Or PractiGal – The practical wife, mother, and woman…

Just a woman trying to hold onto a shred of sanity with a job, husband, 3 boys, and many hobbies…

The areas I have/want to write about are:

4 Moms – products, ideas, work, family, me
4 Families – travel, recipes, food, places to visit, national parks
4 Fun – hobbies, books, movies, (and families too)
4 Green – products, ideas, gardening
4 Good – charity, fundraising

So, it seems like I’ve focused on finding a tagline more than an elevator pitch… Let’s try again…

PractiGal is a lifestyle blog focused on finding a practical way of doing things – from traveling with small children to cooking dinner every night to running your own business to planning your next vacation.

PractiGal covers practical advice for Moms, Families, Fun, Going Green, and Doing Good.

Welcome to the PractiGal blog – please share any practical advice you may have!

Day 7 – PEI or Bust – Albuquerque to Oklahoma City (Almost)

Day 7

56728 odo 9:37 am

Off to the airport from our conveniently located hotel – the Homewood Inn & Suites near the Albuquerque ariport. After the kids favorite hotel breakfast of make-your-own waffles, we took McKinley to the airport. We were sending him back for cub scout camp. With McKinley traveling as an unaccompanied minor, we had to wait with him until the plane actually took off. In his case, the plane he was to be on was very late coming in from LA or Salt Lake City. That meant we waited, and waited, and waited at the gate. We played cards, wrestled, played scrabble, wrestled, lost part of my shoe, chewed gum, wrestled some more, separated all the kids, wrestled some more… you get the picture.

Finally about three hours, and many Scrabble games (Jasper won, which is completely unusual) later, McKinley was able to get on the flight and go on his merry way. It seemed like we waited in some weird twilight zone for three more hours before the desk attendants finally told us that his particular plane had taken off and we were free to go. Finally, McKinley was on his way back home to go to WEBELOS camp.

Next stop, back to Frontier Restaurant to pick up some of those famed cinnamon rolls. I sent Jasper in to pick up to rolls because we couldn’t find any parking. He came back with a frozen package of cinnamon rolls… so much for having a cinnamon roll for lunch! OK, the frozen rolls are a problem to be solved later…Next, we visited the Apple store to pick up a wireless keyboard and cover for my iPad. I was afraid they weren’t going to let the transaction go through on my credit card now that we were even further away from home, but it worked. While we were at the giant mall (which was under construction, making parking a challenge) we found lunch at McAllister’s deli, which had semi-healthy sandwhiches and soup. Using my handy dandy iPhone and favorite App – the Starbuck’s finder – we found a Starbuck’s in the mall and were able to get a Chai Tea before heading out of Albuquerque.

Finally, it’s 1:18 pm on we are on the road to TX and beyond, more specifically to Oklahoma City because there is nothing, and I do mean  NOTHING to see in Eastern New Mexico and the top of the Texas! They put curves in the road just to keep you from falling asleep. Once we actually started driving, somewhere in the two blocks between the mall parking lot and the freeway, it started raining, big, fat rain drops. We’ll have to go back to New Mexico one of these days – for many reasons, but one of them is to see the nuclear science museum in Albuquerque.

OK now it’s lightning (Is that a verb?). Not something I really want to drive in. Reminds me of the time Greg and I got caught in a sudden thunderstorm in Indiana right after Jasper was born when the roads flooded, power lines came down and sparks were flying across the road. There was no good way back to my grandmother’s house that day!

The weather continues to deteriorate the further into New Mexico we go. Gusty wind signs actually mean what they say. I might have rewritten the sign to say: (Seriously) Gusty Winds!!! As we passed a place called Clines Corner, we saw snow — I am NOT kidding — snow in July, in New Mexico. Snow in July really threw the drivers for a loop and it took about three seconds to find an overturned truck truck on top of his own trailer. Not a pretty sight. Not a predicament that burly guy wanted to share with his friends – “Huh, huh, huh. My extended cab, double tire pickup truck ended up on top of my race car trailer…”  I called 911, and noted the mile marker, 232, as the dispatcher said the police were only 5 miles away (somewhere in the desert looking for donuts among the cacti- OK, I made up that last part). Unbelievably, it was now 48 degrees in the snow and slush with crazy drivers sliding everywhere, pulling off to the side of the road, generally creating mayhem and making themselves road hazards.

At this point, I am really checking out Toby’s truck – Am I really in 4WD? What do I need to do to get this thing into a lower gear? Should I pull over and drive slower until these crazy people stop driving? Should I drive faster to just get out of that snowy mess? Those of you who know how I drive already know the answer to that one… We took a couple of pictures (not me, I was driving) and kept it to a respectable 70 mph to whiz past all those snow-less experienced drivers. You’d think that was the end of this crazy part of the driving for this day but it wasn’t.

There were two other drivers who had made the same decision I had made  – to hightail it the hell out of there! One was a Subaru from Florida or somewhere else far away (we ended up being driving buddies through the next two states, and I remember thinking he has a long drive home) and the other was a semi driver, with a royal blue soft-sided truck, which is VERY easy to see even in the low visibility impossible weather with rain and snow, and fogged up windows.  (Toby, I hope you aren’t reading this!) OK – I thought slowing it down to 70 was a prudent way (read: fastest) to get through the snow and crazy drivers. But, these two drivers weren’t interested in slowing down at all – they had obviously done this before or just didn’t care. So, they proceeded to tail gate me and try to pass me on the right, even when there wasn’t a smidgen of space for me to get over safely to let them PASS me. Once I found a space big enough of me to get over and let them pass, most of the snow and crazy pulled over or slow drivers has subsided. Whew! And to think that only 20 minutes later it was 84 degrees and beautifully sunny, like we had dreamed up all of this snow stuff…

56889 odometer as we filled up at a dubious truck stop called Love’s in Tucumcari, NM. (say that three times fast). Sounds like a recipe for nothing good to happen. Well, we did find that they served Dairy Queen cones of soft serve ice cream (a treat we would proceed to find many times on our trip.)

Now entering Texas – One of the things I am amazed by during our drive thorugh Texas is the junkers we see sitting in the yards and farms. You always see stories at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance about finding a Mercedes, Gull Wing or  Dusenberg or Model-T in some barn in the Midwest that has been restored to a pristine condition. Well we saw quite few interesting ones in front yards along the highway – including a 57 chevy and a model t or at least what looked like a Model-T. But these “finds” were all rust, which seemed to make them better candidates for pimp my ride, rather than concours restoration.

We used my favorite app to find the closest Starbuck’s and while we were getting a snack, we found out that McKinley made it home, but not his bag…that’s why I never check a bag!!! I did bring a bigger bag on this trip and a couple of others for games and computers so no one was dragging all of this as a carry-on (more on that in a later blog).

Driving through Texas, it started raining on us again. These raindrops were the size of Texas! Or at least apricots and nectarines, still pretty darn big! We even say guys fixing antenna towers that were 7-10 stores in the air. Not a place I would want to be in this type of rain that sounded like paint balls hitting the car. This all happened as we passed the biggest cross in the nation. Not sure if Bryce got a picture of it, but I did get a picture of it when Shane and I drove across country in 2001.

Driving through the top of Texas didn’t take long, now we are into Oklahoma, where the wind comes roaring down the plains. One thing we have learned besides Oklahoma is very green in this part is that merge doesn’t just mean merge in Oklahoma. Merge really means “merge now” not when you see the barrels ’cause by then that’s too darn late . They only give you 20 feet of diagonal barrels to move you over. I guess that will keep you alert.

We are now in the Cheyenne Nation. We keep seeing a lot of truck advertising. I guess marketers are getting more and more creative about where to place ads. We found a “Three a day” slogan on truck flaps – milk, cheese, yoghurt. We  also saw a giant flap between trailer axels the entire length of the truck at car level with ads on them. I guess the advertisers don’t want the driver to have to look up to see the side of the truck! We say many, many “how’s my driving” signs. I wonder if any one actually calls them? And what, if anything, happens to the info when you do call one of those #s. You could spend your whole day calling those #s or maybe it is a secret porn network?

Last bit of randomness for today – McKinley called Jasper a “Great Dane” today and not in a nice way. (that was before we sent him home on the plane by himself… that’ll teach him!) The sunset in Oklahoma was amazing tonight. I love to see the sun streaming through the clouds after a huge rain storm. Dang gotta watch for those left hand exits in OK. I think Bryce and Jasper watched 14 movies today and were bummed that they forgot to send the viewed movies back with McKinley. Now they’ll have to take them back when they go home for boy scout camp. We saw a sign for Memory Lane Antique Mall in Clinton, OK. That’s a B. K. activity, (Before Kids). HAven’t done much of that lately and we don’t have any space to put really big, lovely furniture anyway:(

We stayed the night in a small town about an hour outside of OK City. With the time change, we weren’t going to make it to OK City, find a place to stay, find dinner and cool off in the hotel pool, so we stayed in the hometown of some astronaut – at least that’s what the sign on the Highway said. The hotel pool was very nice, but not the big bugs that came with the warm OK night air. The cinnamon buns (from Frontier restaurant this morning) made a good dinner…

New of the Weird (Or things you should be concerned about…):

  • One of those fabulous facts – its 373 miles across NM which is almost equidistant with Arizona.
  • Would you eat at some place called Squawkers???
  • Two trucks carrying huge things with 6 ribbed nozzles on them.
  • Truck carrying three RV trailers in small, medium, and large. I wonder what kept that last one on the trailer .
  • Mowers all along the highways in Texas in threes, usually.
  • More cows in the first 32 miles of Texas than we saw in all of NM. And horses too.
  • Round bales lined up with phone # on them $125 a ton for hay.
  • Gas is $2.75 in TX.
  • Wildorado is pretty run down; even the silos are rusty.
  • Rodeotopia  – is that a cowboy’s utopia?
  • Happy Tracks Horse Motel across the road from Love’s travel stop on Arnot road – makes me want to say “are too…”
  • Huge flame near Exit 53 like a natural gas flame outlet. (Have to google map that.)
  • Truck with three pod campers on the back. This one was similar to the small, medium, and larger trailer, but these were tear drop camper pods.
  • Now my hand and shoulder are cramped from text/typing.
  • Lots of lonely windmills in the fields along Hwy 40.
  • A truck full of train axles.
  • Gas is similar price in OK ($2.59.)
  • It is sooo green everywhere in Oklahoma.
  • A sign For Hext – is that next to text? Nope, it’s next to Sayre.
  • Elk City is the home of Miss America Susan Powell

We always play the license plate game in the car – spot the 50 states, each letter in order, etc. I usually have a laminated map and dry erase marker so the kids can keep track or road sign bingo cards etc. But, driving someone else’s car across country means you don’t have all of your own things in the car. However, the laminated map was not one of them; I had made a point of bringing that. It is an endless source of entertainment with state capitals, bird, trees, etc.  This trip was no excpetion. The day we played state mottos was very funny – mostly we made up what we thought the state mottos should be (it seems like the Economist cover renaming all of the states – like Califorclosure, for example.)

Personally, I like the veteran and military license plates, the purple hearts, etc. because it is a small way to honor people who deserve it, even though they rarely are recognized for it! My other favorite license plate — for a couple of reasons: 1)  becuase you rarely see it, and 2)  because if its bold and audacious slogan, is New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment. What does that slogan mean anyway? It’s desert, and mountains, dotted with casinos alternating with extreme poverty. With snow in July, and 20 minutes later its 84 degrees – this is enchanting?

License Plates spotted today:


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What does being a friend mean to you? When I think about being friends with someone, I think of having fun and laughing, doing goofy things we might not do alone or on our own, and sharing and helping each other through things.

One of the things I ran across yesterday while cleaning (I know…, miracles can happen) was a laminated picture of Milagro, my BFF’s oldest daughter. On the back of the picture, Grace had written “you are an angel to me, my mommy and daddy. 2002.” I knew what this meant and what is was referring to. Grace had her first baby at only 26 weeks gestation and the baby weighed a mere 1 pound 2 ounces and Milagro fit into her father’s hand. My kids were all 10 pounds so Milagro’s tininess was unbelievable to me when I finally saw her in the NICU when she was only a few days old.

Grace and Genro had been at our house on Labor Day to check out our third baby boy, when she started leaking amniotic fluid and I was on standby to hear what the doctors had to say about it – “Don’t expect a live birth. Prepare yourselves.” How does one prepare for that? Grace refused – that weekend, she sat down, and kept still, (which WAS a miracle) and she drank as much water as she could hold to rehydrate her pregnant body. Despite all that effort, she ended up in the hospital on bed rest a few days later. Immediately, I went to check on her in the hospital and was surprised to see her doing crafty things, like crocheting. Now, I like knitting and love to share it with everyone, but I had not been expecting to see Grace taking up such a similar hobby, given that her hobbies were much larger endeavors, like building projects or flying military aircraft… or just about anything else other than sitting down and crafting something. But you do what you have to do when you are in self preservation mode (or rather preserve your unborn child’s life mode).

A few days later, Grace had an unplanned C-Section. Milagro was just not able to stay in that protective environment any longer. We found out later that Grace had many, many fibroid tumors and they had grown too big to be a conducive environment for pregnancy any longer. I made it up to the hospital to see Grace and Genro and their baby. I was not prepared for what I saw. Now, I had seen my own first born under the oxygen tent and gasping for air on day 2, but this was different. This scene was a different scale of alarm. I stood and held Grace while we cried together. Finally, after a long, long time of hugging and crying, I said something to her. Later, I got to see Genro hold the baby on his chest — skin to skin contact is good for the baby, you know. That wasn’t the standard operating procedure when I was born three months early and weighed a whopping 3 pounds 2 ounces. At the time I was born, my mom wasn’t allowed in the room with the incubators. Imagine not being able to touch your baby for a month. Thankfully Grace and Genro were in an amazing facility, with amazing medical care and personnel.  Many months later Grace and Genro were able to take their daughter home – more details of their story can be seen at Milagro’s website – and continue their miraculous journey.

Years later, Grace reminded me of what I said to her in the hospital that day – “We’ll get through this.” Simple, powerful, and reassuring. Yet, I had no recollection of saying those particular words; but, Grace remembered it; Those few words meant something to her. Then and now.

We’ve been through a lot together and apart, but at the end of the day it comes down to support and love and what you remember. That’s what being a friend means to me. Grace is pictured here receiving a Latina Style award for innovation this past year.

Happy Birthday Grace!

PS – For those wondering, Milagro does mean Miracle in Spanish.

PPS – One of the topics I want to highlight in my blog for 2011 is 30 extraordinary women doing ordinary things. Grace is my first blog entry for this topic – look for the other 29 throughout the year.

Male Autoresponder

I think the male brain is wired with an auto-responder. Did you wash your hands? Yes. Did you take out the trash? Yes. Do you want oatmeal for breakfast? Yes. Then the oatmeal is served; and I hear a chorus of, “but I didn’t want oatmeal.” This happens over and over in our household. So, it makes me wonder if there isn’t an auto-responder programmed into the male brain… Jasper, who is twelve but already heavily into puberty, has started saying yes or OK in response to most of my requests and then NOT doing what he just said yes or OK to. This is what my mom says her sister used to do in response to their mother’s requests. It would drive my mom nuts because her sister wouldn’t do what she just said she would do; she just said yes to get their mom to leave them alone! I can’t tell if this is what Jasper is doing or if his testosterone flooded brain just shuts off after he says yes?