The Logs and the Cabin

There’s a plaque in my home office, given to me by a friend who knows me perhaps a tad too well:


Katharine Hepburn is a lot classier than my mantra:  I’ve never met a rule I didn’t want to break.

All of which brings me to the subject my current passion: quilting.

Let me begin by saying there is evidently a long, long list of quilting rules …measure twice, cut once (fabric, not wood); sew a scant quarter inch (which begs the question:  what is the difference between a scant and true quarter inch??), the way to perfectly mitered corners, perfect bindings, etc., etc., ad nauseum…

It’s enough to make me rethink this adventure, except that I’m enjoying the challenge, learning curve and creativity.  Besides, I am only one month into paying off my snazzy new sewing machine.

This morning, at approximately 2:36 AM, I awoke with a start.  I realized I had totally flubbed my newest attempt:  a simple, straight-forward Log Cabin pattern. What could possibly go wrong with a Log Cabin?  If this were real life, my Log Cabin would have tilted and collapsed. In Quilt Land, my logs, such as they were, were all over the place and the colors clashed.

This would have been perfectly fine if I had wanted a wonky quilt, but this was a traditional pattern with straight lines. So, by 2:38 AM, I was back at the sewing machine, ripping out seams, and preparing to replace wonky strips with ones that blended in and had straight lines.  That meant re-sewing the whole lot with an eye to the perfect scant quarter inch. 

At 2:43 AM, the cat stumbled, half asleep, into the room.  BlackJack’s not a particularly nocturnal animal.  He looked at me with his What are you doing? glare, upchucked a hairball and scooted back to my room, and my still warm bed, to resume his slumber.

And people wonder why I’m not in a relationship.

All these quilting rules remind me of a time, way back when I was taking a zillion classes in order to move over on the teacher salary schedule and increase my income following the split with the ex.

While most of the classes were pretty much worthless and added nothing to a professional knowledge bank, I did take one class that has proven time and again to be of such great value, in life, the classroom and perhaps, even quilting. With credit to True Colors, a simplified approach to personality identification, a list of traits was read to the very large class of adult teacher attendees and we all separated into one of four groups based on our answers.  

I should note that while we each have the capacity to utilize all four quadrants, most of us settle on one or two as our primary go-to personality.

The overwhelmingly largest group was Gold, the people who valued tradition, rules, family and structure. They immediately organized themselves into very straight rows and, with folded hands, waited silently for the assignment.

The smallest group was Green, the people who preferred observation, problem solving and engineering/science/math. Those individuals sat as close to the farthest wall as possible, trying to disappear into the wall while not making eye contact with each other or anyone else as they silently observed the rest of the goings-on.

Blue, the second largest group, was the polar opposite of Green, and a group that immediately embraced every other person’s emotions.  They loved nature, peace, poetry, hearts and flowers. They formed a circle of chairs so that everyone in their group would feel included before quietly introducing themselves and making certain everyone felt comfortable.

That left the final group, Red, a small, motley group that formed the opposition to the orderly Gold contingent. We — ahem — immediately sprawled out on the carpet, sharing stories and laughter with our new-found comrades while communally doodling on the provided large poster board paper without waiting for any directions. We were oblivious to the rest of the room, which was probably good as the Golds began focusing scowls and disapproving tsks at our evidently unacceptable behavior.

The assignment:  list all the things that bring you joy; then all the things that drive you nuts.

In hindsight, it was all pretty predictable: 

Blue: harmony, romance, making love, candles, empathy, creativity, sharing emotions, touching, nature vs. conflict, rational reasoning and stark environments. Their poster board was decorated with very sweet pictures and happy/sad faces.  Blues ask Why and they make certain everyone feels good about any solution at hand.

Green: reason, time to process, solitude vs. too many people, touch, emotions, romance, and being asked to express emotions. Their poster board was virtually blank as they were still thinking.  Greens ask How and they design solutions.

Blues and Greens tend to marry each other and drive one another nuts.

Gold: order, predictability, rules, family, tradition vs. chaos, the unknown, people who are late, break rules and are loud and obnoxious. Their poster board was neat and tidy with very straight columns.  The drive-you-nuts list was very long.  Golds ask What and then put the solution to work.

Red: great sex, new adventures, amazing sex, being in “flow” with whatever you’re doing, parties, fun, great sex vs. just ordinary sex, rules, structure, deadlines, no sex, rigid authority.  No one could read our poster board; it was a total mess, but it didn’t matter because we were still coming up with ideas.  Reds ask What if and, out of the chaos, come up with the idea for the required solution.

And, you guessed it… Golds and Reds also tend to marry and also drive one another nuts.

So, you might be asking, what does all this have to do with making traditional log cabin quilts? 

Probably not a whole lot, except that a little wonkiness here and there really doesn’t matter all that much…


Observations: School Safety

In the wake of yet another school shooting today in Ohio…

School safety is a difficult subject.

ComplicatingOstrich things are that many educators, especially administrators, haven’t been trained and are relying on instinct.

Then, there is the stack of mandates. I’ve had more superintendents than I can count tell me they could work 24/7 on the federal and state mandates and not get through all of them.

Safety often gets put to the side, especially as most administrators were never exposed to the necessary training during their credentialing process.

They don’t know what they don’t know and don’t know where to get help.

Many administrators are also afraid of what the parents will say so (why are you doing this drill?  Is our school that unsafe?).  They implement what I call the Ostrich Approach and rely on public safety.

There are two fallacies in the assumption that public safety knows what to do:  First, teachers and administrators are the first responders in a school incident; they need training.  Second, law enforcement knows how to deal with the bad guys. That’s their job. They’re not focused on handling hundreds or thousands of students during an incident. That’s the school’s job.

Add to this, the administrator and teacher changes; people retire, move on to other districts so unless the drills and procedures are institutionalized, the knowledge quickly disappears and is forgotten.

In working with law enforcement, I’ve learned a tremendous amount. Their training is in a “high anxiety, fear-based” mode, primarily because that’s usually the scenario when they arrive at an incident. Even that training, at least in California, is changing with the awareness that a de-escalating, calm approach, especially when dealing with people with mental illness, can get far better results.

Teachers, on the other hand, use a “scaffolding” mode — that is, start with the basics and grow the subject, making certain that students are supported so that everyone can succeed.

Law enforcement uses a “one size fits all” approach; teachers have 30 or more student variables, including students with autism, physical disabilities, processing challenges, etc. They need to know their options.

With law enforcement now conducting most of the lockdown trainings, I have concerns that the standard “run, hide, fight” approach, while certainly the correct response, has been better framed for adults in the business world than for one adult with 20 – 40 children.

My experience is that officers also need a bit of training in order to work effectively with school kids.  You can’t just bark orders. There are those officers who intuitively know; others who need, hmm, some scaffolding in a more appropriate approach.

Parents often worry about drills and the impact on youngsters, but it’s really no different than teaching children not to get in a car with a stranger, not to run out in the street, etc. It’s teaching (and drilling) students to evacuate in a fire, drop/cover/hold in an earthquake, for example, and run or barricade in a lockdown.

The fairly recent research out of Harvard shows that humans are hard-wired to freeze in an emergency UNLESS our brains have been re-wired through drills to react differently.  In 9/11, people froze and died; the exception was the Morgan Stanley office that had been repeatedly drilled under their Security Chief Rick Rescorla, retired US Army.  Rescorla died after returning to the towers to rescue others, but the 2,687 Morgan Stanley employees lived after immediately evacuating.

Fires used to kill hundreds of children in schools; not one child has died since school fire drills have been mandated and building codes updated.

Drills are critical.

Long time past, after the citywide lockdown training had been concluded and the drills were rolling out in over 300 schools, the mayor had a town hall meeting.  I was asked to be there, just in case there was a question regarding the drills.

One young mother stood up, nervous but forceful. She looked the mayor straight in the eye, took a deep breath and told her story.

My first grade daughter came home last month with a note that her school was having a Code Red drill the next day. It was too late to even call and complain. I was angry.  My daughter has been terrified since 9/11 and now, a drill?  I made arrangements to leave work early so I’d be home when my daughter arrived. I was so worried.

My daughter skipped into the house, excitedly announcing that it had been the best day ever in school. They had learned and practiced what to do if a bad man with a gun ever came into the school. They put tables against the door, built a fort, were very quiet and then the officer gave them each a sticker for walking out to the playground without talking after the drill.

Now, her daughter announced, I’m not afraid.  I know what to do.

The parent concluded, I just wanted to thank you.

The lesson, beyond the obvious, is that parents and parent groups are the ones that often make it both safe and essential for schools to train and drill for emergencies.




The Frog, the Terrorist & the Parents

A bit more bactentkground before launching into the three-ring terrorist simulation at a high school with a couple thousand kids…

Our first simulation, a Columbine-type sim, was conducted on a Saturday morning with 400 kids, teachers, administrators, classified staff and law enforcement.  Our learning curve was steep.  We didn’t know what we didn’t know.

Out of that learning experience grew both law enforcement training and school training.  We each developed our own training, but agreed to view the other’s and offer a critique. I have to say, sitting in the back of a large room of officers, listening to the lecture, was a pretty amazing experience.  Then, the officers went to the actual practice; I wanted to join in.

You’ll shoot yourself. Or us. No.

It’s a paint gun.

Alas, they knew me too well; the paint gun was off limits, but it was exciting to note that our two trainings were completely integrated.  

The entire SWAT group showed up at one elementary/middle district to listen to my training. They stood the entire hour in the back, in uniform with weapons, arms folded across chests, unsmiling. At the conclusion, they told me it was great and they could now take 2,000 variables (aka students and teachers) out of their equation, which made catching any bad guy so much easier. uh huh.

Every school in the area had conducted numerous “Code Red” Lockdown drills following the training and so, we felt very comfortable taking on this next simulation.

We also thought that it would also be beneficial to bring in 200 or so parents at a Reunion Center, seeing as that had never really been tested and, in actual events, pretty chaotic.  We recruited 200 volunteer parents as well as 200 student volunteers to be evacuated and put parent and child together at a meet and greet a couple of weeks prior to the simulation.  I even recruited a few retired teachers, including Sisters Dianne and Mimi. It was amazing how quickly the new parents and their new kids bonded.

The plan called for the opening shots by our terrorist/substitute teacher and the response by school and law enforcement, including students running to a neighboring school site.  Fire was on standby because of the injuries.  Safety Officers/evaluators were in every classroom and with every police/fire team, noting minute by minute what was happening and able to stop or pause the action if necessary. The local media had also set up shop and were using the event to practice with the three Public Information Officers from the different systems.

Once the terrorist was caught and the area secured, fire stepped forward with their Triage, Treat, Transport area for the injured while law enforcement began the evacuation of our 200 student volunteers and their teachers.

The evacuated students were then bused to the District Office, now a Reunion Center, while injured students were also taken to the District Office and into the large Board of Trustees Room, where our partnering hospitals had set up a mock emergency room.  Every kid had a completed and signed permission slip, according to state law, and their real parents knew exactly what was going to happen.

It was a three ring circus, including a very, very large tent outside in the District Office parking lot to hold hundreds of police, fire, students, educators, parents, VIPs, etc. following the event. We had prepared bagged lunches, speeches and hopefully high five’s all around.

Things began that morning according to plan. It all was going smoothly.

What could possibly go wrong? 

At the Reunion Center, the parent were arriving, having been bused in, a busload at a time to simulate what would probably happen in an actual event. As they started to gather, they were in role, anxious and waiting, talking quietly among themselves.  Then a couple of parents — it might well have begun with Mimi — grew louder, demanding information about their child.

It all became very, very loud and very, very realistic very, very quickly.

I’ll only say that afterwards the police who were trying to maintain control at the Reunion Center said facing armed terrorists were far easier than facing parents and if anything really happened in the future, we were on our own with parents.

There was only one glitch, and it was minor in the grand scope of things.  Law enforcement teams were evacuating classrooms as planned until one group ran into an intersection of hallways.  The team was supposed to turn right and continue with the evacuation.  Instead they turned left and opened the first classroom door.

It was a classroom with a very novice first year teacher and very high need Special Ed students.  The kids knew exactly what to do; hands on their heads and walked out, as directed, in a straight line. No talking; no fooling around. They were great. Their teacher, too terrified to say ah, wrong classroom to a team of well-armed officers, followed along as well.  They all marched right onto the bus and made the trip to the Reunion Center.

Without permission slips, violating a little item called state law.

Fortunately, the administrator at the Reunion Center immediately recognized what had happened. The real parents were called as the kids excitedly lined up for lunch and the scheduled events in the Three Ring Tent.  Pretend parents stepped in to sit with them, and we were back on track again for the closing ceremonies.

I’ll share some observations the next time around…


The Frog and the Terrorist

frogWay back when, after 9/11, our city’s Emergency Manager received a grant from Homeland Security to conduct one of the first terrorist attack simulations at a high school and, for the first time, test Unified Command with police, fire and education. 

We had previously conducted an active shooter simulation with law enforcement. That had been a Columbine type sim, with kids, teachers, administrators, classified staff and SWAT teams.  We had learned an unbelievable amount that led to new trainings for both schools and law enforcement. So we moved ahead with this exercise in order to better inform our work in keeping students, staff and schools safe.

I should note that a simulation is not completely scripted; it’s a lot of pushing dominoes and then evaluating what happens.  What could possibly go wrong, especially when including 2,000 teenagers, a hundred or so teachers, and a couple hundred parents?

Nine months of planning and preparation — a lot like giving birth — and we were almost ready. 

We had met with students, teachers and parents, given them their roles and responsibilities, as well as the opportunity to opt out of the simulation. The same thing happened with elementary and middle schools in the surrounding neighborhood. Very few opted out, which made the event much more realistic. Of course, we had mental health counselors available during and after the event, although they were not needed.

On the school side, we were adamantly opposed a script having a terrorist coming onto a campus; that would give too many idiots too many ideas. So we settled on a substitute teacher, which was a safe choice as subs always get blamed for everything anyway.  The sub was assigned to a science class and then lost it because the lesson plan called for dissecting frogs.

I’d probably lose it too, even though I’m not particularly fond of frogs, but then I don’t carry a gun so my response would have been in the neighborhood of getting queasy and turning green.

Our sub was scripted to have belonged to an organization opposed to dissecting frogs which qualified as a terrorist organization, go figure, so we were covered under the grant requirements.  The sub was actually a former SWAT officer with a disarming smile which was helped because he was going to be “killing” three different teachers before shooting a young female drama student who tried to escape.  And yes, he used very loud blanks to make it all the more realistic.

One of the educational objectives was to see if our students could successfully take charge of the classrooms without an adult after the shooter moved on (the “dead” teachers being comfortably positioned on the floor and trying hard not to nap).  The kids did exceptionally well.

Our young drama student, ecstatic over her lead role, was going to be “killed” in front of audience of city council members, county supervisors, numerous school superintendents, police chiefs and other invited VIP guests who then got to watch the sim unfold while being very aware of our young student-actress sprawled out on the ground twenty feet in front of them.

Personally, I think it’s very helpful to unnerve leaders every once in a while and we did accomplish that.  They were all pale and visibly shaken by the time the exercise was completed.

Our primary objective, however, was testing Unified Command, wherein the people in charge from the participating systems — in this case, police, fire, education — worked together to problem solve issues with the lead agency in charge of rendering decisions. While most citizens would assume that, oh, police, fire, public health, mental health and schools all happily work together, it is not often the case so this sim would be very interesting in testing the newly federally mandated “unified” approach.

First, however, we had to bring all the participating police responders, fire/rescue teams and school administrators together to go over the scope of the sim, without giving away the details of what would get thrown their way.

As we were planning the prep meeting, it occurred to the fire and police commanders that if either one of them, or their chiefs, told the group to not hi-jack the script, the other department would never listen. Fire obeys fire; police obeys police. Evidently, though, they were all still terrified of English teachers because I was handed the task of reinforcing that they all stay on script.

That completed, we were ready to go.

To be continued…




Buzzword Bingo

This past Monday morningBingo, an email from the American Association of University Women showed up in my inbox, inviting me to play State of the Union Bingo with the rest of the nation’s AAUW members.

The objective, other than to have some fun and possibly win a few prizes, was to see if Obama’s speech would help women and girls in the upcoming year.

I immediately flashed back to my years in teaching and so many staff meetings with no objective other than to cover items that could have been better communicated in a short memo.

There were those of us who carried in stacks of essays to correct during the mandatory Monday afternoon Staff Meetings — typically the English Department, but that did not help any of us stay awake during the terminally long meetings. It usually seemed that the presenters just wanted to take the longest amount of time to share the smallest amount of information.

Most of us concluded that many of the presenters just enjoyed hearing themselves speak.

Then, someone (ok, it was Sister Peggy) brought in a nifty little game for the faculty:  Buzzword Bingo.

The squares were filled with the latest buzzwords — a relatively easy task in education as the profession tends to thrive on Flavor-of-the-Day Buzzwords.  Cards were generated and printed and we quietly distributed the Buzzword Bingo handouts among our hundred or so colleagues.

We had great fun.  The game kept us all awake and at least looking like we were paying attention.  The best record ever was somewhat under four minutes and that was for covering an entire card.  I’m not sure that record actually counted because it was during a presentation by an administrator with a reputation for speaking solely in buzzwords without actually knowing what any of them meant.

The game became very popular and made Monday Staff Meetings almost tolerable. The administrators had no idea what we were doing, other than assuming that they were charming the faculty with their endless droning and that we were all dutifully taking notes.

Then, second semester arrived and with it, a new crop of young and enthusiastic student teachers. As required, they all trooped into their first Monday Staff Meeting. One sweet young teacher, having been handed a Buzzword Bingo card without any of the cautionary ground rules, started playing the game in earnest.

When she had covered the requisite squares, the young teacher jumped up out of her chair, waving the Buzzword Bingo card high in the air and shouting BINGO!! at the top of her lungs.

Alas, it happened smack in the middle of the principal’s presentation.

And with that, like so many other good ideas in education, Buzzword Bingo came to an abrupt and untimely demise.




The Bag of Boobs

Our sister Mimigift 3 (1) had two sons.  The eldest was the Good Son, who would never think of doing anything wrong or, if he did, was smart enough not to get caught, and the other, well, let’s just say he was a lot like his mother, which is another way of saying he drove Mimi nuts with his antics. 

It was against this backdrop that we entered the Christmas season.  While we celebrated at one get-together after another, we also had fun at work.  Our English department hosted a Secret Santa Gift Exchange in December for any staff member that wished to participate.  The rules were simple:  you couldn’t spend more than $7.00 and there had to be a series of gifts over the two weeks of gifting for your recipient.  That meant we had to be very, very creative. 

We were very creative.  Gift giving became very personalized through limericks, poems, crafts and baked goods. Very few store-bought items were found and we all had an hilarious time trying to figure out who was whose Secret Santa.

Mimi had drawn Patrick, the youngest addition to our department and a bachelor.  Being very creative, Mimi jumped into being his Secret Santa. Day after day, another usually humorous gift would show up on his office desk or in his classroom.  Most of us had figured out the connection but still enjoyed both Mimi’s off-the-wall gifts and Pat’s reactions.

Then, The Son who was just like his mother committed the ultimate crime. While cleaning, Mimi found a stash of Playboys and Penthouses hidden beneath his bed.  He was only fourteen years old. She hit the ceiling. The rest of us with older sons tried to reassure Mimi that this was normal behavior and that the elder Good Son had probably just hidden his stash of magazines with more care, but she was not to be calmed.  Still ranting and raving, Mimi confiscated the stack of magazines while grounding The Son for life. 

As she bundled the magazines for the recycle bin, Mimi got a bit curious and began thumbing her way through the pages of a Penthouse.  It was then that another creative idea came to her.  Grabbing a pair of fingernail scissors, Mimi proceeded to cut out every boob in the rather large pile of magazines. The boobs all went into a very merry Christmas sack.

When her task was finished, Mimi gave the bag a good shake to thoroughly mix the boobs and tied a bright red ribbon around the neck of the bag. She drove the gift bag to school early one morning and sneaked it into the English Office, where she casually dropped it on Pat’s desk.

That morning, the office was a hub of activity.  Not only were we getting ready for classes, and secreting in gifts, but we were also opening our Secret Santa gifts.  Other teachers participating were dropping by both to retrieve and drop off gifts and see what the rest of us were opening.  It was an especially lively time for a group that typically didn’t wake up until at least a cup or two of strong coffee.

Pat wandered in, spotted the very merry gift sack, and started circling his desk, checking out the decorated bag from every angle. He wondered aloud what it could be — donuts, a bomb, lunch?  The science teacher, an adopted member of our office, joined in, offering his seasoned eye on what the bag could possibly contain.  A lab specimen? A dead mouse?

The theorizing continued until all eyes were fixed on the bag.  With exaggerated theatrics, Pat untied the red ribbon and peered inside.  He immediately closed the bag.  He looked inside a second time, and then, closing the bag, quickly looked around the room trying unsuccessfully to catch a smirk or smile from his Santa. Pat opened the bag once more.  By now, we were all dying to learn what was in that bag.

It’s a Bag of Boobs!! Pat announced and burst out laughing.

Our science colleague immediately grabbed the bag and the two men sat down, with the bag between them, trying to match the boobs into pairs. It was quite a sight to behold, two grown men surround by boobs and debating sizes and shapes as they attempted to pair the boobs.

Unfortunately, no one had counted on a substitute teacher wandering into the laughter and chaos that morning, in search of a cup of coffee.  She took one look at pile of boobs, our boob-pairing duo, the rest of us in the boob cheering section, and huffed, I’ve never in my life seen anything like this.  This is totally unacceptable.  I’ll never teach here again.

Just as well.  You really need a sense of humor to be around teenagers every day.