This woman SHOULD be the Secretary of Education

Here is a great reblog from Diane Ravitch, a prominent historian of education.  It is strange to think how much I reviled her ideas in the 1990s about charter schools and the like, but her subsequent reversal was most inspiring.  Now my answer to her blog post’s title would be, “yes, please”.

If I Were Secretary of Education…(2).

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The 8 Things I Miss About Michigan

I truly love Montana (or, as we sometimes refer to it with great affection, Montucky).  However, there are still things I miss about Michigan.  Here is my list:

1.  The Big Lake.  Lake Michigan for you non-Michganders.  We spent so many summer days at the Grand Haven State Park, and at our friend’s condo in Holland.  The water is warm, unlike any water in Montana.  I used to say that I wouldn’t get into Lake Michigan until it was a least 70 degrees.  If I waited that long in Montana, I would never swim.  55 degrees maybe?  At best? The waves are big.  The sunsets are spectacular.  I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have such immediate access to such an amazing body of water.

I don’t miss:  when the alewives die off, and green, mucky seaweed in my bathing suit after a really wavy day.

2.  In conjunction with #1, sand beaches.  You should have seen my boys when they saw a sandy beach for the first time. We were at Sleeping Bear Dunes.  The youngest kept stopping to dig holes in the paths.  In Montana, you generally have to wear water shoes whenever you go into the water–rocks of various sorts, from gravel to boulders, decorate the shores.  In Michigan, my feet were so nice and soft in the summers!

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I don’t miss:  sand in every crevice after playing the the beach or in the lake…especially that stray grain that gets in your teeth.  Yikes.

3.  Warm nights.  I am one of those odd ducks who likes humidity.  I don’t always like what it does to my hair, but I love going outside at 10 pm in shorts and a t-shirt, or going for a late night swim…in NW Montana, you bring a sweatshirt wherever you go.  The dry air makes the temperature drop quickly after dark.  Summer nights are usually in the 40s.  Brrr.

I don’t miss:  the mosquitos.  In Montana, the mosquitos seem to go to bed at night.  Not so in the Michigan of my memories.

4.  Thunderstorms.  Big, booming, thunderstorms with non-stop lightning.  Nothing I’ve seen here even comes close.  A few claps of the thunder…and it peters out.  So sad.  When I travel, all I ever really want to see is a really awesome thunderstorm.  The storms must know I’m in town, because they stay away.  Oh…and warm rain.  If it rains in Montana, it is cold!

I don’t miss:  actually, nothing.  I love thunderstorms.

5.  Ann Arbor.  Missoula is an Ann Arbor in the making, but it just doesn’t have the same vibrancy or size.  Missoula is cool town, for sure…but you can’t beat the old university buildings, funky restaurants, art fair, Big House, etc.

I don’t miss:  Ann Arbor traffic

6.  Places from my youth:  Camp Henry, Manistee, Beaver Island, Traverse City, Ludington, Birmingham, Mackinac Island.  Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Holland.  Cascade, Ada, Forest Hills.  Pine Ridge Elementary.  Fallasburg Park (Reggae!).   4 mile.  Freddie’s house.

I don’t miss:  Traffic.  Expressways.  East Lansing.  The Beltline  and 28th Street.

7.  Fall colors.  Everything in Montana either turns yellow or remains green.  It is definitely pretty…but nothing beats the colors of a Midwestern autumn.

I don’t miss:  raking oak leaves

Last but not least, I miss:

8.  My cousins and extended family and close friends from high school.  They are so far away. Or I am, I guess.

My next Michigan/Montana post will be about why I love Montana so much.  Stay tuned!

Michiganders, what do you love most about the Mitten?

Non-Michiganders, what do you miss about your respective home states?

Where is My Snow?

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Those who know me know I love extreme weather.  Not the type of extreme weather like Hurricane Sandy, where people lose their lives and homes, but rather loud crashing thunderstorms or big snow.  Highs in the 90s.  Big waves.  (I desperately miss Midwest thunderstorms…but that is for another post)

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So I was excited to move to Montana and experience huge winters–after all, the year before I moved here, there was record snowfall.  Snow at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park was still “sign-high” by the 4th of July!  I imagined blizzards and being cut off from society for a few days, tunneling out the front door,  losing power for a day or two,  carrying supplies behind me on a sled and camping out by the wood stove–you know, like the Laura Ingalls during The Long Winter.  Making button candles from wagon wheel grease and logs from hay…okay…not that far.   649_42907035885_8056_n

There has just always been something that appeals to me about being briefly isolated from society…living in the log cabin in the woods with nothing to rely on but our wits.  We do live in a log cabin.  There are a lot of Douglas Fir trees around our house…but the grocery store is just two blocks away, and I could holler from an open window across the street to my neighbor.  155073_467992105885_323457_n

Nevertheless, I get so terribly excited when a winter weather advisory is posted, when meteorologist Mark Heyka puts up yellow and rarely, red, in the weather tracker as opposed to boring green.  Invariably, the snow fizzles out over the Idaho panhandle, drops south to the Bitterroot, or is swallowed by the Cabinet Mountains.  We have had a few good snows since I’ve lived here, but nothing even close to what I experienced in Michigan.  Heck, I had more snow days in 2 years working in Grand Haven, MI than in all 15 years in Montana.  Schools never close unless wind accompanies the snow (there has to be “emergency travel only”).  Where is my wild, wonderful west? I am rather disappointed.

My husband says if I went snowboarding with him I’d see big snow, but it isn’t quite what I have in mind.  Again, in my imaginings, no one gets hurt and no one suffers from the storm.  We just live inwardly for a few days, watching the power of nature and appreciating our solid home, stocked cupboard and forced family time.  So bring it on, Montana.  I’m waiting.  Besides, the Midwest and East Coast could use a break.

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View from my couch

Oh Facebook…I Just Can’t Quit You

Recently two friends decided that they were going to quit Facebook. I admire their resolve, and the time has come for me to make a decision about my own Facebook future.  I am ambivalent, though.

I just looked–I have 691 friends…except, I don’t really.  342 of them are former students.  Of that number, some have become my friends in adulthood.  I have fondness for them all, and I’m glad to know that they are doing well, but we aren’t friends outside the FB world.

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Nearly 200 are people I knew in high school–now, many of those are still good friends, but certainly not all 200.

I am proud to say there are only about 10 people on the list I have never met.

There are a lot of positive things about FB:

  1. I can easily post pictures for my families in Florida and Michigan.  I know I could use Flickr or some such site, but this FB provides a really accessible photo album. 
  2. A few people, even though we haven’t been close friends in “real life”, have regular interaction online, and I would miss those “conversations”.  
  3. Some people post wonderful things that I love to read and am grateful that I don’t have to find myself (and I love memes).  
  4. WordPress makes it really easy to publicize my blog to 691 people.  
  5. When I have a need, such as the name of a good specialist, I get nearly instant feedback.  
  6. I find the two games I play regularly a nice way to relax (more on that later).
  7. There are days when it can be a really nice self-esteem booster.
  8. When I’m excited about something, it is a nice place to announce it.
  9. I often use FB messaging in lieu of email.
  10. Event invites are easy.

Now the negative:

  1. I feel enslaved to it at times.  I am always connected:  phone, computer, iPad.  
  2. I definitely spend more time on the couch with my “devices” than being active.
  3. I get annoyed at people I used to really adore, simply because of what they post or how frequently they update their status.  (One example:  Vaguebookers)
  4. The games that I like do suck a lot of time from my life (although the “limited lives” games are better than some  I found myself enmeshed in Castleville at one point…wow.  Talk about time-wasting).
  5. FB provides a false sense of reality…nobody looks that good, and is that happy all the time, right?
  6. Guilt:  I often feel like I should be doing this, or eating that, raising my kids this way or reading that book simply because of what my FB friends are doing.  (Note:  that isn’t always a bad thing)
  7. FB just isn’t always that interesting.

I often wonder, what did I do with all of that time before FB?

Well I exercised, for one.  And you know what?  Even if that were the only reason I quit or cut back, it would be worth it.  I want to be a good example for my kids, and being on my devices all evening just isn’t positive.  Yesterday, I decided to do some Pilates from a DVD my mother sent to me.  My youngest looked at me as if I were a stranger…what do you mean, mom is exercising?  Yikes!  And here’s another thing:  I am noticing that may students are having an increasingly more difficult time figuring out how to interact socially, and I’m starting to believe it has something to do with social media.  I won’t make any rash claims, and I realize I may just be getting old (“back in my day” actually comes out of my mouth from time to time), but I wonder.

What will I do with my free time?  Read more, exercise, spend more quality time with my children and husband, and knit.  I will work on my blog and perhaps write the book that has been knocking around in my head.

Will power is not my strong suit.  I can’t merely say, “I will only check FB once a day”.  It doesn’t work like that.  I will have to, I think, alter what FB means to me in my life and what it looks like.  I will likely pare down my friends list to family and close friends, with perhaps a hidden group of acquaintances with whom I need to and want to interact with occasionally.  I will keep myself available for messaging…former students can still use it to request letters of recommendation or ask grammar advice.

It feels a little bit like quitting smoking, or Diet Coke…which means it is definitely an addiction, at least for me.

Click her to take an unofficial Facebook addiction quiz…

A short article with the “Facebook Addiction Scale”

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Click to actually be able to read this infographic

Do you battle with finding the proper place for Facebook in your life?

Driving in Michigan and Montana

I have lived in Montana since 1998.  15 years.  Seems like a long time.  Of course, to a native Montanan, it is nothing.  In Montana, the first question you are asked when meeting a new person is, “How long have you lived here?”  At first I thought it was just because so many of my friends are transplants–but I’ve since decided that the question is really asking, “Are you a real Montanan?”  There is a lot of distrust here of “foreigners”.  I’m just grateful that I’m not from California–being from the Midwest is a pitied and seemingly forgivable offense.  Not so, if you are from California.

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The Mackinac Bridge

I consider myself a Montanan, even if my neighbors do not.  I have lived here most of my adult life, and I reached that point where I couldn’t really imagine living anywhere else.  I will never lose the Michigander part of me, however–though we definitely got lost in Michigan when we returned two summers ago for our 20th high school reunion.

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Driving in Michigan rain

Granted, my husband hadn’t been there in 11 years, and I hadn’t been there in 10.  Still, you would think we would remember our way around Holland, considering the amount of time we spent there in high school and college.  Holy mackerel, that place has grown!  We drove in circles trying to remember how to get back to Grand Rapids…and then there is this enormous new highway.  It didn’t help that it was raining in sheets.  We just don’t get that kind of rain in Montana.  You forget what it is like (especially to drive in). You’d also think, at our advanced age, we could figure out how to navigate one way streets to get to the Amway Grand Plaza.  That took another few times around the block.  Since we had spent the night before with high school friends at the Lake, acting like we were still in high school and college, we were not in any condition to be amused by our foibles.

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The vast eastern Montana landscape

Understand, driving in Montana really is very different from driving in Michigan.  For one thing, there is only one interstate in the entire state, and it is 2 hours or so south of here.  It is not considered a major trip to drive 5 hours to Spokane–you should see how far my students have to drive for sporting events!  Speech and Debate had to drive 9 hours to Billings for the State tournament.

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Driving to Helena, MT in the winter

Two years ago I drove to Billings for the Montana Judicial Institute by myself, and realized it is actually the farthest I have ever driven by myself.  I used to think it was a trek from Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor.  Around here, for some, that’s going to the grocery store!  On thing that was the same though–when I left for Billings it was 80 degrees.  When I drove hime 3 days later, it was snowing.  That’s a very Michigan-like weather change.

I don’t have any tolerance for traffic any more.  If I have to wait through two lights to turn onto the main drag off which I live, I’m annoyed (then silently apologize to the tourists I am mad at and thank them for spending money in our valley).   The funny thing is, when I was 15 1/2, I learned to drive on the crazy busy 28th Street SE in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Then we had to get on the I-96 and drive to downtown Grand Rapids and navigate the one ways roads.  My husband had the exact same Driver’s Training.  I drove 28th Street, as my eleven year old says (ad nauseum) “like a boss”.  I don’t even like to drive in Kalispell, these days.  I am totally out of practice.  When my family travels, we like to take the scenic backroads as much as possible anyway, so it is not helping us maintain our skills.  

Another thing I had to get used to in Montana was the gravel they put on the roads in the winter.  Very recently, the county began to spray a salt solution on the roads with the gravel, but before that it was just gravel.  Whatever you do, don’t get attached to your windshield if you live/drive in Montana.  You are bound to get a rock chip…I don’t know many people who don’t have one or a dozen.

(For those wondering, the state of Montana does have a speed limit now.  When I moved here, there were certain areas posted “reasonable and prudent”. Those have all been done away with, thanks to the federal government’s power of the purse.)

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Middle Fork of the Flathead River, MT

We get to use studded tires here…and Michigan drivers should get to as well.  It isn’t like the roads could get any worse either place.  I don’t think that has likely changed–just the terminology:  potholes in the Mitten and chuckholes in the West.   People plug in their cars, although I bet there are some Yoopers who do that, too.  In fact, the UP is very similar to Montana in many ways–the back roads (perhaps more paved in Michigan), the water falls (the color of Montana water wins), the number of trees (more deciduous and orderly in MI, and more coniferous in MT).

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Tahquamenon Falls, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

The fact is, I love both places.  My home is in Montana, now, but a piece of my soul is still in Michigan.

This is the first of likely many articles comparing my experiences in Michigan and Montana.  What should the next topic be?

Quick Knit iPhone Cover

Soon after Christmas, I upgraded from a Blackberry Curve to an iPhone 4s.  That’s a big upgrade–and I am so happy.  I can’t afford the iPhone 5, however nice it might be;  besides, compared to a Blackberry Curve, this is new fangled, high-tech stuff.  Since I have been using a school issued iPad and MacBook Air, the transition was a piece of cake, and I already had a full arsenal of apps in my iCloud.

What I didn’t have was a case.  After doing a Facebook survey regarding insurance, most of the response said skip it, but get a good case.  A friend said I could try an Otterbox Defender before I bought, but before she could get that to me, I needed something quick to keep the phone from getting scratched in my purse.  What to do in such a predicament?  Knit one, of course.  So I did…on the drive to and from Costco (about 30 minutes).  And while it is a little crooked, the bulky yarn does a good job protecting it.1490_10151205931395886_731099881_n

Isn’t it cute?  I love that I learned how to knit.  I find myself examining the pattern of anything I see knit…especially scarves and hats.  I will see something, and think (with a silent scoff), “Why buy that?  I could knit it…”  My husband does the same thing whenever we see anything nice made out of wood:  “We don’t need to buy that; I could build it.”

You, too?

I feel a bit silly even providing a pattern for this…if I could make it up, so could any novice knitter, I think.

But here it is anyway:  Quick and Easy Mobile Phone Case

I have since purchased my own Otterbox Defender.  I love everything about the case but the air bubbles between the screens.  I’ve googled solutions without success.  I may actually cut the protector screen off and use another film protector…or just go back to my knit cozy.

It’s the Time of the Season…to Start Planning my Garden!

Does this happen to all gardeners?  After Christmas, a switch turned on somewhere in my crowded head and now I find myself obssessively planning my garden and my yard.

We are building a garage/shop (“we” meaning my husband) and I just realized that due to “new” shade, I will probably have to move my raspberries.  So if I move my raspberries, I won’t have as much room for my tomatoes and peppers.  Of course, I can’t do anything but think about it–the ground is frozen, and the future tomato/peppers/raspberry area is currently seeing heavy construction use.

This will be my third year growing the rest of my food in our town’s new Community Garden.  It is an amazing opportunity to raise veggies–the soil is nearly rock-free, which is hard to find in my neighborhood. In my yard, I can’t stick a dandelion fork in the ground without hitting a rock.

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Wall O’Waters

The first year, I harvested one 12×12 plot.  Last year, I worked  one and a half plots.  This year I’m going for three plots.     I am a relatively new gardener, but I have already learned a lot.  I learned that in NW Montana, Wall O’Waters are necessary around tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers LONG into June…I learned that there is a reason for the spacing information about tomatoes.  I learned that cabbage worms are gross and a menace (and hard to get out of broccoli).  I’ve learned that you can never grow enough basil.

I’ve learned that cornmeal seems to be a good deterrent for the ants in my strawberries.

I use a garden planning software called GrowVeg.com, mostly because I need something to do while I wait out the long Montana winter.   I have been having much too much fun organizing and designing my garden layout.  This year, we will be growing our potatoes in the Community Garden.  We’ve tried to grow them in the yard, but there just isn’t enough sun…and, of course, we have a crazy Murphy the Newfie who knows where the potatoes are planted.  We are going to try corn this year.  Cukes, zukes and other squash will get their “own” plot.  I spend a lot of time mentally designing bigger and better vegetable supports.

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Tinsley House

Last summer my family took a trip on the Montana Dinosaur Trail.  At Bozeman’s Museum of the Rockies, we toured the Tinsley House, which is a living history farm.  All of the garden cultivars are heirloom, some even 100 years old.  But what I loved most were the handmade tomato cages.  I tried to talk my youngest into making some to sell at our local Farmer’s Market, but he doesn’t seem terribly interested.

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Tomato Cages

I’m also excited for the Community Garden at large.  We are going through some changes, but I think good things are in store.  In the fall we planted our first raised bed of garlic, and this spring we will make another of onions, to be divided among plot holders.  We will set up a green house early, so people can start their seeds.  We will add some raspberry canes, build a raised herb garden, and plant some strawberries and some blueberry bushes.   The new local brewery, Desert Mountain Brewing and Draughthouse plans to grow hops along the north fence.  Eventually we would like to add a gazebo.

I would love to get high school students to design and paint the side of the storage shed.  I am also going to enlist the high school Key Club in helping to plant, maintain and harvest the Food Bank plot.

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The Community Garden

Alas, all I can really do right now is dream.  I need to wait another 3 months before I can start seeds, and another 5 months before I can start really getting my hands dirty.  Until then, I will just imagine the amazing food that will be grown in the 2013 garden!

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Murphy when she was just an itty-bitty Newfie at the Museum of the Rockies