Pergola Confusion

pergola at Sand Castle Winery-horizontal

Friday, April 24, 2015
Today I am grateful for pergola confusion. Hey, I didn’t even know what a pergola was until I started watching HGTV and everyone and his brother were building one. They are supposed to create shade and coolness, but they are open on top and when it’s 90 and one ray of sun hits me I’m cranky and that is NOT cool. . .in any way.

So when I saw this little one perched at the top of a hill, next to Sand Castle Winery, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, I had to take a picture. I love the starkness of the background, the angles of the structure, the lighting and most importantly the shadows. To me the artistic composition is perfection. But what’s it for? I have no idea. Why is it so little? I don’t know. Do I care? Not one bit. I just like it as art, which is objective to the beholder. . . and I beheld. Call the winery if you are an inquiring mind and need to know. I might, but I might not. So far I haven’t.

For me. . .I’m just glad I got the shot before the dead battery. That way I can continue my pergola confusion right into actual feels-like-spring. . .if we ever get there!

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Unusual Houses

house on river road from road

house on river road from hill-stilts

Thursday, April 23, 2015
Today I am grateful for unusual houses. How would you like to live in a house on stilts, dangling over the Delaware River, which floods violently at least every few years. Yeah, me neither.

If you ever get to Pennsylvania, take the time to drive highway 32 along the river from the north, near Tinnicum to south of New Hope. But don’t do it on the first warm weekend day of the spring because the drivers of every vrrrmm-vrmmmm motorcycle and souped-up, hot-rod convertible are not there to look at the scenery. They’ll mow you down.

I pull over to let people pass if I’m “looking” and they are intense and pushy, but on that road it’s rarely possible. Doesn’t matter, it’s still a great ride with the most interesting, unusual houses!

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Covered Bridges

Covered bridge-cropped

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Today I am grateful for covered bridges. When we moved to Pennsylvania from Wisconsin thirty years ago, we brought my two sons and John’s son with us. I had never lived outside of Wisconsin before so every day was an adventure. I got lost so many times that I declared I wasn’t really lost unless I went over a river. . .I was just disoriented.

I saw my first covered bridge ever while trying to find a short-cut to the kid’s school in Perkasie. I was smitten. I drove across that bridge many, many times and never tired of the thrill. Since then I’ve seen quite a few of these little gems from a time gone by. And as saccharine as it is, I still watch “The Bridges of Madison County” every time it’s on. I don’t care who knows. And it’s not for Clint Eastwood either, I swear. It’s for the bridges. . .because they are sooooo romantic.

This latest was on our “European” trek through the Pennsylvania countryside. I’m grateful I could take a backwards picture from out of my car window. . .before the camera died. If covered bridges could talk. . .

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Tall Ladders

ladder in dining room-smoke detector incident

Monday, April 20, 2015
Today I am grateful for tall ladders. BEEP! Wait. Exactly 56 seconds. BEEP! Wait 56 seconds. BEEP! Repeat 500 times. Just outside our bedroom door. At midnight. After a long day of visiting “Europe”. . .all over Pennsylvania. Add a husband who, when it beeped a loud “I’m gonna die soon” warning a week ago said, “I’m not doing it now. I’m waiting until it gets annoying because it’s a pain in the ass to go up there and change it.”

“We” waited and it is. For me. Not for him. He sleeps, hearing-aids-out-deaf and doesn’t hear it. I shut the bedroom door. BEEP! I turn on the humidifier. BEEP! I turn up the TV. BEEP! I consider hauling out the tall ladder and dragging my sciatica-bulging vertebrate and a bursitis laden hip, up that sucker to change it myself. No way. It wasn’t MY procrastination. I won’t own this one. No matter how close we come to divorce.

I poke him seconds before my eyes glow red and I’m puking green, with my head spinning around in circles. BEEP! I am not yet homicidal. Quite.
“Wha? Wha?” he still hasn’t heard a thing and is exhausted from having to talk and walk and be out and about all day long. BEEP!
“You know that smoke detector that you said could wait until it gets annoying?. . .”
“. . .Well surprise! It IS!
“Wha? I don’t hear it.” Really? BEEP!
“Of course you don’t hear it,” I’m shouting. . .but only because I know he can barely hear me. Honest. “Wait for it.” 56 second pause. BEEP! “Did you hear THAT?”
“Huh? No. Maybe the TV is too loud.”
“Yeah, well I hear it and I will not sleep a wink all night because I’ll be counting out 56 seconds waiting for the next damned BEEP!”
“Okay, okay, I’ll change it.”

Up he gets. Padding to the garage to get the tall ladder. I grab a flashlight. He goes to the basement to fetch the batteries he bought so he could change all of the smoke detectors when the time changed. A month ago. At least we had batteries or he would have been out to the all night Walgreens to find some. Usually he doesn’t pay attention to how he takes the old one out, but this time, in the middle of the night, he did, so the new one went in without having an attitude.

I know my lines here so I yammered about how incredibly stupid it was for the powers-that-be to put smoke detectors on a HIGH ceiling. . .in a 55 plus community. He knows his lines, too and said they had to be at the highest point for safety because smoke rises. My next line is, “I understand that, but is it safe for geezers to climb tall ladders for such a simple thing?” We have recited this script for over ten years. We’re good at it. He didn’t hear my lines anyway.

After the debacle, we move the ladder to the dining room so I will have some paint left on the walls. As he’s heading back to bed he says, “I think I’ll change the batteries in ALL of the smoke detectors tomorrow.” What a good idea. Why didn’t I think of that?

He was sleeping within 10 seconds of head-hitting-pillow. I was poised for the after-new-battery warning beeps. BEEP-BEEP! Wait for it! BEEP! Deep breathing. Watched some TV. Counted to 56 a few times. . .just in case. . .and. . .in my drifting-off exhaustion, praised the tall ladder. . .more than the sleeping procrastinator. No divorce. Dodged another one.

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Travels Through Europe

Forsythia w-water and bikes in background

Sunday, April 19, 2015
Today I am grateful for travels through Europe. Yesterday we went to Europe. . .driving around in Bucks County, PA and New Jersey. It was a spectacular day, with bright sunshine and temperatures that hit the low 80’s! And we were led by whim, getting lost over and over and loving the experience. Just like when you’re on a big vacation.

I wish I had pictures of the entire day, but my camera died about a third of the way into it so alas. . . not too many pics. At one point we were driving in the Black Forest in the German countryside, winding through narrow creek-side roads, half crumbled away from a bad winter, when we happened upon a perfect replica of a Bavarian chalet, complete with carved railings and window boxes. Germany.

Then we whisked ourselves off to an Italian winery and swilled the grape for an hour or so with a sommelier who was from southern Italy and yanked up his pants to show us the exact location on his own boot. Too funny. Each time he popped a piece of chocolate in my palm to taste between sips, he said, “Izz make vine tasss lak chiscike. You lak chiscike?” My response, “Do I LOOK like I like chiscike!?” It was a party! His accent was so strong it was almost contrived making us feel like we were in a film written by Christopher Guest! “Zees vine is parfeect vees siffood!” Loved it. Italy.

Next we drove over the Delaware to have lunch in New Jersey, except for us it was Stockton, Austria. Is there one? I don’t care. We sat outside, in the sun, practically at the curb, with fresh forsythia on the table, bicycles parked everywhere and dogs out walking their sticks and masters. We were transported in time and space. Just as I was about to take a picture of my bowl of mussels, the camera blinked, “low battery”. When I heard a large “woof” above my head and looked up to see a gorgeous, gray and white, Olde English Sheepdog hanging out the window above me, huge mitten-like paws dangling over the sill saying “Hey” to his friend the Doberman across the street, I couldn’t take a picture. Boo-hoo.

When we got to New Hope, PA, the crowds were unbelievable. Paris on a warm spring day! Perfect. The town was hopping with motorcycles and dogs and kids and lovers of all combinations and people in various stages of inebriation and life. Just like Paris. For a minute it didn’t look like we would be able to stay because there was literally no parking. We decided to do a loop and voila. . .a space right on the street. Good.

We walked the towpath along the Seine (canal) under the old red wooden bridges, with the steam engine tooting and gasping as it hauled tourists and reminisced about when we first moved to Pennsylvania and they still had mule barges traveling the canal. Along the path we sat on a bench, admiring the new construction in such an old town and marveled at their outside spaces and views. We were our own House Hunter’s International Show. Walking further was the amazing engineering feat where one canal passes over the other, (John had to explain it to me) then runs into the Delaware. Sorry, I don’t have pictures.

At one point in the walk I stopped short with the beauty of the view. The reflection of a large, still bare tree making a perfect “V” in the calm canal below, with the banks carpeted as far as the eye could see with bright yellow buttercups was breathtaking. “Oh I wish I had the camera!” I gasped, as we sat on concrete benches surrounded by tall daffodils, some already wilting. . . a memorial to a much-loved woman. I don’t remember what her plaque said but it was beautiful. We thought of her. . .someone we didn’t know. . .with the sun on our backs and we watched the hustle and bustle on the street below in the distance, so close, but yet so far away. . . the Bucks County Playhouse and Delaware River in the background. I am sure this was just what they wanted to happen when they created this memorial space. Sorry, no pictures.

No day in Europe is complete without ice cream. Don’t judge. No documentation of this, either, except on my hips. . .and guilty smile! Didn’t last that long anyway.

Might as well go to Jolly old England and take in a flick. So we did. In Doylestown at the old County Theater, we saw a wonderful movie, “Women in Gold”, with a great story line and an excellent cast. It was a perfect cap to a great day. I bawled. No, duh!

Always looking for the deep meaning in things, on the way home I said to my husband, “What a wonderful day. I wonder what it means that the camera died and I didn’t get pictures of everything for my blog?” His answer? “It means you didn’t charge the battery!” BING! Heartprint!

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Saturday, April 18, 2015
Today I am grateful for honest to God SPRING! The forsythia, magnolias, daffodils, hyacinth, crocus and grass are all blooming. I wore myself out writing yesterday’s blog so we are spending the day exploring someplace where we can watch them grow! I hope spring has found you, too. Celebrate!

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bubble sheet with pencil

Friday, April 17, 2015
Today I am grateful for head-writing. My son, who is a teacher, posted something on Facebook this morning about the teachers/educators in Atlanta who are facing prison sentences for their roles in a test cheating case. He asked for opinions. Hah! Be careful what you wish for. I’ve been head-writing my opinion all day long.

When I lived in a house in the country every spring we’d get a horrible stench in our den, which was the former garage. The first year we tore apart furniture, lifted carpet, moved every book and blamed every animal or family member. Each subsequent year we went through similar machinations, but we never did find a definitive original source of the foul odor. The stink would appear, someone would say, “It smells in here.” We assumed a mouse crawled between the wall and avoid the room for a couple of days until it rotted enough to dissipate.

That phantom stench was just like our current educational system and the test-cheating scandals that are shaking communities all over the country. There is a stink and I refuse to believe it’s generated from the teachers! Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Jail time? Racketeering charges? Stricter sentences because they did not plead out and admit wrong doing? Were they all wrong in the first place? Sure they were. Even if you feel your back is against the wall and you do wrong, you still know you did it. But do two wrongs make a right? Get real. Throw the Enron idiots in jail! Throw the child molestors in jail. Throw drug dealers and rapists in jail. Throw the No Child Left Behind Act in jail! For these people to get serious jail time makes our legal system reek as much as the educational system. The system! Not the teachers!

From the on-set of No Child Left Behind there have been problems. Big problems. No one seemed to know how to make it work. No one! The idea of all kids getting a great education seemed okay, but that’s in a perfect world. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen a perfect world for a long time, now. . .if ever! I’m still not sure what it’s all about, but I do know that when any change is made it costs money. In my opinion no big government money was earmarked to help No Child Left Behind succeed. The opposite happened. Local school districts were asked to “find” the money. State governments balked. Local taxpayers complained. No one wanted to finance any part of it. No one thought it out! But it was mandated! End of discussion! Do it! Just make it happen! This is an example of the playground bully at his/her most powerful position. Now there is a stench source for you!

In a desperate attempt to finance the debacle, many districts hinged the bonuses of principals and administrators on test scores. This caused the stench to waft. If you think for one minute that student test scores alone determine whether or not a child is getting properly educated, then you need to get out of your chair and into a school. And to make it a straight across the board edict is unconscionable! Really?

So if I am a principal in the “hood” where most of my students have one parent or less, who is working three jobs trying to stay above water and siblings are caring for siblings, with no help for any of them. . .those kids better get high test scores or my bonus is cut or worse, I’m out of a job? Does it matter that I am spending day after day, night after night trying to find services to help them on more levels than reading and writing? Nope. Because their TEST scores don’t measure up, so I’m penalized. That’s wrong.

Or suppose I’m an administrator/principal in the burbs, in a great school district, but my particular school has socio-economic issues and a high population of English as a second language students, or many children with special needs. If their test scores pull the percentage down, then I’m out of a job, losing my pension and my insurance and my self-worth? That’s wrong, too!

It is also wrong to take matters into my own hands and BULLY. . .yes, I said, BULLY my teachers to go against every ethic they have striven for and change test scores. “You will lose your job if the scores aren’t high enough,” does not have to be actually said, but merely implied! And it will scare the crap out of every teacher out there.

That’s bullying! If I was one of these teachers, I might not be proud of it, but I might be thinking. . . I’m an honest teacher with integrity, but my son is sick and I need my insurance and without a job we’ll lose our house and I can’t afford to lose my job because my mom had to move in with us and where will she go if I don’t have a home? So what am I going to do? I won’t like thinking it, but there it is.

And if I’m five years from retirement and scared to death that everything I’ve worked for will go up in smoke because I’ve dug in my heels to make a point, will it be worth it? Will anyone even notice that I’ve maintained my integrity? Maybe I’d get the eraser and make a few changes. I don’t know. I might. Is it wrong? Yes, of course, it is wrong. I know it’s wrong. My stomach is sick and my hand is shaking. . . but if it’s a choice of my family or an erasure. . .and they are TELLING me to do it. . .then. . .

It’s a very slippery slope.

Yeah, I don’t know either. I just don’t know. We have children with grave mental and physical challenges being mainstreamed into regular classrooms making it difficult for everyone. . the child, other students, teachers and administrators. There are children from foreign countries who start school here at all ages, not speaking or understanding one word of English. They are passed to the next grade each year and some even graduate without ever really understanding English. Graduate. How do they pass the tests? Did you ever try to take a test in Arabic? Or Bengali? Or Hindi?

Probably adjustments are made for all of these students in the form of extra time or exemption from testing. I’m a bit out of that loop myself at this point so I’m not sure how that’s handled. But are their scores still included in the pass-fail percentage of their school? How do you equalize that part of the system? You can’t.

There is a horrible stench in the air regarding education and we need to find the source! This odor is not going to dissipate in a few days. We need to start pulling up the rug and tipping over the furniture and find the dead-mouse-in-the-wall causing it. We need to stop placing all of the blame of a broken education system on teachers and test scores. We need to start treating people in education with the respect they deserve. The respect they used to have before they became the scapegoat for every problem within a broken down system.

I sucked at standardized tests. I’m glad my teachers were not bullied into changing my scores. I’m glad I grew up in a time where that sort of thing wasn’t even considered and their jobs did not hinge on my ineptitude. Not all change is good. I believe those teachers who made that horrible, wrong choice, cared too. You never know how you will react until you are backed into a corner with the stench all around you. I sentence Judge Berry Baxter, the one throwing teachers in jail because it’s easier than fixing a broken system, to one year in a low-scoring school! Now wouldn’t that be fun?

FYI- I just checked and only one person besides me commented on my sons post from this morning. One. My sister. Why? I’ll tell you why! There is not a person in education who wants to touch this subject without a flak jacket over a hazmat suit. They can’t. Their jobs depend on them NOT having an opinion. If our government stops being the playground bully, then they would have to admit they botched this one big time. Isn’t gonna happen.

That’s why they have me! I am angry and incredulous, confused and opinionated and have been head-writing all day long until I could find the moment to put digits to the keyboard! I am able to do this because I had teachers who cared beyond my test scores. Thank you! And you’re welcome!

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