Saturday, August 29, 2009

Oh, It's That Time of Year Again!

After a nice long summer we educators are to be well rested up and ready to enthusiastically welcome the new school year. Parents are going broke purchasing all their childrens' clothing and school supplies while the kids are excited about meeting their new teacher and classmates - maybe.

Yesterday I attended a workshop day that was required by contract. The first presentation concerned Differentiated Instruction. The presentation went well and there was quite a bit of dialogue amongst the participants. As I listened I realized that I could have been sitting in a workshop back in the nineties. Many of those present still maintained a competitive concept in grading their students on how well the students were able to regurgitate what they, the teacher, poured into them on a daily basis. Somewhere along the generations of teachers, the idea of teaching kids "how to learn" and "problem solve" has gotten lost.

Between government mandates and ridiculous textbooks' scope and sequences, kids' learning experiences are bottled and served on a silver platter. The kids get 40 minutes to absorb that information. This method goes on over a specific time period before the students have to regurgitate it on a piece of paper that many can't even read or want to read.

Fortunately there are some teachers who are renegades, always looking for unique and fun ways to serve their lessons but they are few and far apart. I was able to find a couple of this rare breed of educator and have some intelligent conversations with them about ways to teach their kids how to learn. This type of teacher searches for successful and experienced educators who understand how children learn; what children want to learn; and how to manage their classrooms.

They are able to fulfill the sharing of knowledge necessary to meet the mandates of State testing guidelines without resorting to the canned lessons provided within textbooks. They utilize alternative assessments to guide their lessons and alternative evaluations to measure their students' learning. They learn from their students thus are flexible and able to spontaneously change from one teaching technique to another within a lesson. They are continuously changing teaching strategies to keep their students alert and motivated. Kids love challenges and of course out maneuvering the system.

I guess my definition of a "Highly Qualified" teacher and the government's definition are certainly different. When I think of highly qualified, I think of someone who has extensive experience and has been successful utilizing multiple strategies and techniques in sharing their knowledge, not as someone who has taken a specified number of credits within a specialized field. Sure the government's highly qualified teacher has knowledge but that's not any good if they can't successfully share what they know.

I can tell you now that I am not the smartest person in the world by a long shot, but I do know how to learn about what I don't know and problem solve obstacles. These skills were sharpened when I went back for my MA as a Learning Consultant in the early 1990's. I was challenged by the "new" student. Technology advances, ADHD and of course the advanced curriculum that they were to learn became challenges to me.

I think part of my success when I returned to the classroom in the early 1990's, after raising my children, was because I myself was an average learner; probably would have been identified as ADHD if that had been around in the 1950's; and I never liked school because it was boring. Additionally, I found the perfect teaching position in a school with very progressive administrators where I was able to test my theories and sharpen my teaching strategies and techniques.

Now I am once more in a district that has progressive thinking towards teaching kids how to learn and problem solve but are still hindered with teachers pre-occupied with assigning grades, obsessed with homework, and ridding their classrooms of behavior problems. Now don't get me wrong, I am well aware of the extreme rudeness of students and the common excuse about the baggage they bring to school, gang backgrounds and the fact that some students just don't want to be in school. These issues are obstacles that need to be problem-solved.

As a born again teacher in the 90's I lived and died by Bloom's Taxonomy and rubrics. Bloom's Taxonomy helped guide my thinking and determine exactly what I wanted to see from my students. His levels for student learning has been revised and now starts at knowledge and proceeds through comprehension, application, analysis, evaluation and finally synthesis. He identified the power words for each level of learning which I used to develop the goals in my rubrics and the specific criteria to meet those goals. I have to admit developing rubrics is not an easy task.

I'm amazed by educators who are always searching the Internet for canned rubrics and expect to implement them within their classroom. Rubrics, however, are like teachers and very individualistic requiring fine tuning to meet the teacher's expectations and teaching styles. They make the teacher ask themselves just what is it I want my students to learn, how do I want my students to learn and when will I have them demonstrate what they have learned.

Rubrics make the educational world fair for all students to participate within a classroom or at least give them a better chance to succeed. They are a great communication device for parents to actually see the strength and weaknesses of their children. Rubrics keep teachers from watering down their curriculum therefore meeting the needs of all kids. Rubrics provide reasonable goals for students to achieve.

I've tried to stay away from serious posts in this Blog but because I find myself still battling old fashioned thinking, young teachers who want the perfect class, with perfect students and perfect parents, I had to rant.

Naturally I couldn't keep quiet during the Differentiated Instruction presentation but I don't believe I did an over kill. I did have to take a moment and point out that within the packet given at registration there was perhaps the most important item of a teacher's supplies for the year. Tucked safely in the back was a cardboard device, a Critical Thinking Wheel, that easily displays a revised Bloom's Taxonomy power words and questioning prompts for each level. I wish I had had this back when I was making rubrics on a daily basis.

Meanwhile I have found some sites with pretty good rubrics. They are in Word so they are easily customized to meet an individual's classroom needs. I also believe they provide a nice model of how and what should be included within a rubric.

Enjoy browsing the sites at I keep saying that I'm going to add to the site but somehow I get side tracked and haven't maintained it as I would like.

Meanwhile I am still adding to my educational products page at Zazzle.

For now have a Firecrackin Great Day!!

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Hmm...I remember something about how to relax. Isn't that when you sit in a nice comfortable beach chair in Ocean City, NJ; listening to the gentle lapping of the waves and soaking up the warm sunrays while a soft cool wind gently glides over you? If I remember correctly there was nothing on my mind because I had found my utopia.

Over the years my utopia has changed - a nice tropical island with a hammock, small bungalow, and of course no telephone or TV. I'll still want my computer and Internet because I have found relaxation in creating items and prints from my photography and accidental designs. The nice part of this new found business is that it will provide enough income for my refreshments on the island.

For now I am fine tuning some products and creating some new ones. For the past two weeks Zazzle has had a promotion for ProSellers - 50% off business cards. They consider me as such so I took advantage of the promotion ordering several of my newly developed chubby cards. Ouch, I found some were not what I wanted or expected simply because I didn't abide by keeping my image within the re dotted lines - ugh. However they have now been fixed and are up for sale once more.

The first pack of cards I ordered was the Home Healthcare Information Card. I customized it by saying "Courtesy of" but the info side of the card ran off the sides. I've fixed that now and ordered more.

I also wanted to see my motivational cards I designed for educators. Plus I wanted to give them out to my kids. They basically turned out well but I did refine a couple.

This card was beveled and embossed around the outside edges which really took away from the card. I like it more this way.

The following cards extended too far into the red dotted area making the "Outstanding" annoying to my eye so I changed it too.

I ordered the following achievement cards customizing them with my name, but after doing so I decided the text template for my name was too small so I made that larger. Actually anyone could do that through the customization button.

I was really surprised at how well my Scuba Dog series came out. I ordered the following to preview:

Since these turned out so well I went ahead and ordered a few more:

Scuba Dog
Scuba Dog "Imaginative" Trading Card by Firecrackinmama

As a final card I had to order my favorite just because it was an accidental graphic design:

It's a great feeling when your work turns out the way you wanted it.

Now that I've enjoyed my allotted relaxation time to share my creation, it's time to get on with the real world. So...

Have a Firecrackin Great Day!!!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ah, A Creative Moment!

With everything going on the past few weeks I haven't felt like creating anything. This morning however it was a different story. I was playing around in Photo Shop when all of a sudden I had designed something that I thought was a pretty good idea.

How about back to school canvas tote bags for school bus drivers?

New Jersey School Bus Driver Tote Bag bag
New Jersey School Bus Driver Tote Bag by Firecrackinmama

There are a wide variety of styles and colors to choose and they are easily personalized by adding text.

I'm planning of course to do more with individual states but for now that's what I have.

For now have a Firecrackin Great Day!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


After being in the education field for almost 40 years and having what I think is a sufficient education, I wonder why it is that I can't do my own income tax or understand any of my insurance policies let alone my mother's Medicare and Medigap benefits or lack thereof. It appears to me the essence of Medicare and Medigap are top secret only to be revealed if you can crack the code. Ha, and I think I have.

My enjoyable summer reading has been replaced with a more technical book, "Medicare & You 2009". Boring!!! However, I need to understand the content in preparation for my mother's doctor's visit on Friday. He evidently is the key to opening Horizon Blue Cross/Shield of NJ's coverage for home health aid for my mother. I'll let you know how that turns out.

For now however I have to turn to the good that has come out of this bad experience.

First off I can't even begin to tell you how great my family has been. The day my mother went to the hospital my oldest daughter and husband were there to help and support not only my mother but me as the whole thing unfolded. They remained in contact throughout the day while my son and youngest daughter caught up to us in the emergency room where they were able to meet my once young neighbor, John Stetser (Chip, emergency room nurse). He was wonderful making sure my mother was comfortable and comforting us.

One of the priority items to be completed before my mother returned to her home was the removal and installation of a new air conditioner. I'm glad I wasn't there for that. The idea was to have it delivered and then have one of my son's friends install it. They probably should have waited but my son thought he could accomplish the task himself - not - but I give him a lot of credit for taking the initiative. His buddy that had installed the first one did such a great job that my son had to call my husband to lend a hand. I don't think that went over too well as my husband hasn't been feeling all that well, but he went up to help my son.

Somewhere along the line my brother and nephew stopped by the house after attending the Phillies Business Day game. Now you have four guys working on this poor mechanical air conditioner. I haven't gotten into the details of this adventure so some of the info may be off. I do know however that they called on my mother's neighbor to lend a hand as well. New joke in our house is "How many guys does it take to change an air conditioner?". I should mention that this was the same day my mother was kicked out of the hospital so by the time I got there they were just finishing up. It was a very hot day.

My mother has been at my house now for two weeks while we are cleaning out her house in preparation for her return. She is missing her bedroom, home and her porch socializing with her neighbors. The new air conditioner is working well and refreshing as the only air conditioner upstairs (until yesterday) was in her bedroom.

My brother, sister-in-law and my youngest daughter have helped me sort through everything while my oldest daughter and husband are at home taking care of my mother. I've volunteered to help my mother in the past to do this enormous task but she never wanted to get into it. Now I know why.

As we have made our way through closets, cabinets and our old bedrooms that were turned into storage areas, we have found treasured memorabilia that have interrupted our progress because we must reminisce. Perhaps the biggest treasure found were the very, very old memorabilia my grandmother had preserved for my mother.

Genealogy has always been an interest within our family. For years I asked my mother where her family Bible had gone. Her reply was that my grandmother's step-sister had it. Wrong - not only did I find the family Bible with entries dating back to 1773 in a metal under the bed container but I also found tin pictures dating back to the late 1800's. Identifing those family members is an almost impossible task but I'm working on it. I also found my first pair of baby shoes and my first pair of walking shoes. My mother had her wedding pictures, marriage and high school certificates of my great grandparents and grandparents, a handwritten family tree, Woodbury Daily News dating 1882 and a couple of others within the late 1800's and a box full of old family pictures.

I couldn't resist scanning the tin pictures. They really came out pretty good. I was amazed at the pictures of Ed Glenn. One was taken of him as a young boy and the other was taken in 1862 while he was in the Union Army. Along with the picture a letter was recovered from another relative.

Ed Glenn has a check above him

As I look at some of the pictures taken in the early 1900's, I am able to identify some of the tin pictures. I believe the following is a picture of my great grandfather.

Benjamin Dilks

My Great Grandfather, Benjamin Dilks (Benny) worked for The Constitution and Farmers and Mechanic's Advertiser for over 50 years. He must have been quite a man for The Constitution ran a big article about him in their March 29, 1939 paper. I know my mother adored him.

His first wife, Ella Haggerty, had my grandmother. Ella died when my grandmother was 10 months old. I believe she was 23 years old.

He remarried six years later.

Sally Louis Dilks, Benjamin Dilks
left Edythe Dilks and Florence Dilks

The following pictures are somewhat of a mystery. I haven't scanned all the pictures I've found so it may take a while for me to be able to identify them. One of the other good things coming out of this transition for my mother is that she has her long term memory still in tact so maybe she will be able to identify some of these photos too.

I found it amazing that no one seemed to smile. They all look so, so serious. Solving the mysteries of my new find should keep me out of trouble for a while.

Off to do trial exhibits.

Have a Firecrackin Great Day!!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Wake-up Call!

Nothing like finding your mother curled up in a ball on her bedroom floor to sound the bugles that she can no longer take care of herself. Although we knew this was coming and had tried to absorb stories from friends about their experiences with elder care, we still weren't ready for what followed.

My mother has always been concerned about placing a financial burden on us so she not only had medicare and medicaid (I'm quickly learning the difference between the two) but she was sure to have Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey Medigap Super 65. Yep, like I really know what that covers.

To make this very long story short, my mother entered the hospital on a Tuesday through the emergency room. When the EMT's arrived they started asking her a load of questions which were difficult for her to answer - she didn't remember specific details such as her age, but she knew her birth date, how she fell, or any of the twelve medications that she takes. Therefore they looked to me. Yeah, like I know the different medications she takes. I just make sure she takes them every day. So I ran downstairs and quickly gathered up the bottles, juggling them in my hands as I hurriedly ran back up the stairs. One of the EMT's copied the name off each container. They then placed her in a chair gurney an proceeded to take her downstairs to the ambulance.

The highlight of her first and hopefully last trip in an ambulance was when the EMT's lifted her from the chair gurney to the flat gurney. By that time my husband had arrived at the house with all her medical cards and was standing next to my oldest daughter. Oh, and all the neighbors were out in concern of her health wishing her well. At any rate, she looked up at the two good looking EMT's (that's how she described the "doctors") turned her head towards my hubby and said to him, "Billy, I told you not to push me down!" then laughed. Yo, Mom, that's not funny!

I beat the ambulance to the hospital so I was the first face she saw when they opened the doors. Panic attacks are not uncommon with my mother when she has to go to the doctor's but God forbid the hospital could have caused her to have a heart attack!

It's amazing how fast you get service when you enter on a gurney through the emergency room. A physician assistant and three nurses gathered around her and immediately started firing off questions directed at her. Her confusion and anxiety were evident so I loudly cleared my and redirected them towards me. Hah, like I had the answers. How did she fall? How long was she on the floor? What is her previous medical history? (I knew most of that) Does she do this or that? Has she ever had this or that? What medications does she take, how much and how often? What is her insurance? I muddled through the Spanish Inquisition. However because of my experience I decided to design the Home Healthcare Information Card.

This is postcard size with a picture on the other side so that it's easily recognized and can be hung on the refrigerator or some other accessible place. Then I thought about it a bit more and redesigned it so that a picture of the patient could be placed on the other side. Now it would be easy for EMT's, doctors and nurses to match the image to the patient, turn the card over and have all relevant information.

I think this card is a perfect size for home health aides and others who service the patient in a home environment. If an emergency should arise they would have all relevant information.

Ok, I'm off topic as usual. It took over eight hours for them to decide to admit my mother. My son and youngest daughter waited for the longest time with me while my husband and oldest daughter held down the home front texting for updates. I remember the EMT's and everyone else asking me if I had noticed any change in her. Initially I hadn't but after six hours I could definitely say I had. She wouldn't stop talking. Anxiety, disorientation, and physical illness were taking their toll.

Once she was admitted and taken to her room they made her walk from her gurney to her bed. Ok, I know it's important to get the patient up and walking but she was extremely, and I mean extremely weak. They literally dragged her against protests of, get a wheelchair will ya? My youngest daughter and I remained while the transfer nurse asked us the same questions we had been asked three or four times before. I was proud of myself. I did maintain a professional demeanor but there was definitely an edge on my voice as I once more answered the redundant questions.

Due to the number of times I was asked the same thing over and over I decided to go one step further with the new Home Healthcare Information Cards.

These come in packs of 100 and are business card size. They can be easily carried in your wallet. Hmm... does anyone really need 100 cards for the same patient. After my first experience, yes. I'll be leaving information that may change blank but I'm certainly going to fill out 10 at a time so I have them handy.

As I finished designing this card I thought it might be better to design this business card sized without a patient image. That way they could be used with multiple family members.

Finally, I rethought this whole idea again and decided to keep the postcard size but put two on the card thus simply cutting it in half. Economically this is probably the best way to purchase as you can order one to whatever number you think is necessary for your situation.

Easily add images to the template on other side of the card. I'll be ordering each of these newly designed cards to verify which one seems to work the best. I think I like the two postcard sizes best for right now.

Back to my first experience with serious elder care.

The next day Mom was scheduled to have a physical therapy consultation. I tried to get up to the hospital in time to view it but of course I missed it by about ten minutes. However I was able to accompany her back to her room. Not before learning that she did much better with a walker then with her four legged cane. Not a surprise since my youngest daughter had been telling us that all along.

It's amazing how little information we could get. We knew that my mother had an infection that was made worse by her lying on the floor for an extended amount of time but we were clueless as to how long she would remain in the hospital and the results of the physical therapy consultation. A home health aide case manager had been assigned and I was able to speak with her assistant. By the way the assistant was very helpful and understanding of our situation - needing time to make arrangements for when my mother was discharged.

Since Mom's long term memory is her strength and she feels safe in her home, we intended to have her return there. She was and is adamant about not living with my brother or me. Due to her debilitated state we were hoping that she would be transferred to a care center for further therapies thus giving us a chance to get her house in order. As of day two she remained sitting in her chair watching TV or working on her crossword puzzles.

Day three I received a telephone call from her doctor. He is very good but limited I learned from Medicaid guidelines. It turns out that a patient must be hospitalized for 3 nights, require long term therapy and something else. Well, her blood levels indicated that she was on the mend and no longer required IV treatment. The PT's report suggested that she could receive home treatment thus she was not eligible to be transferred to a care facility. In short Mom was being discharged from the hospital - right. However the doctor forwarded her case to the Home Healthcare case manager for review.

So we sat again awaiting the final decision as to whether she could go to a care facility for a few days while we organized her return home. Now I ask you why should anyone think this was going to be easy. After a third day of Mom sitting in her chair and I in another awaiting her fate, it was determined that she did not meet the Medicaid guidelines and she was discharged. Oh, we could have appealed but if we lost we would have to pay the hospital bill - we're not lucky at gambling.

To add to this questionable move the Physical Therapist changed her report after Mom's second session indicating that she really did need long term therapy. Ah, my mother couldn't get out of her bed without help, she couldn't stand up without help and she could barely move her legs while using her walker. The only time during her stay in the hospital that she even walked were the two times she had physical therapy and to go to the bathroom! Didn't matter she was outta there! In all honesty I was rather relieved. After all they weren't doing anything but leaving her in a chair all day and if she did go to a rehabilitation facility, I wasn't sure the same thing wouldn't happen.

A very nice nurse from home healthcare came in to let us know that a walker and porta potty had been ordered but wouldn't be delivered until the next day - the store closed a 5:00 pm. She continued indicating that they would be in touch with the visiting nurse association of our choice - yep, like I know all about that - and they would call the next day to make arrangements for visits.

I called home to let everyone know. The new game plan was for her to come and stay at my house until we could sort this out and have her return to her home. That in itself is another story and will be shared in the future. I should call it "Adventures in Home Healthcare" or "Home Healthcare 101". Whatever name I settle on, I hope it might help others who may be in our same situation.

In closing, after our real first experience with government health insurance, I plan to examine President Obama's health insurance plan much closer.

For now have a Firecrackin Sunday!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal Concert

The first time we saw Bonnie Raitt was back in the early 70's (maybe late 60's) when she did a show at Glassboro State College, which is now called Rowan University. If I recall she performed in their gymnasium with a packed crowd of young enthusiastic kids enhancing the performance with pot filled room fresheners.

My husband, I don't remember if he was my husband then or not, was and is a music lover who took charge and continues to enlighten me about wonderful musicians. He thinks I'm an alzheimer candidate because I can't recall some of the specifics of my past. I blame it on so many things occurring in my life that I don't have room for all the specifics at this time. Perhaps when I'm retired those specifics will resurface and I'll get to live all those wonderful times again. Ok, I'm off topic.

I can only say Father's Day is a terrific idea. One of my daughters bought him a new ipod thingy - holds years of music - while the other two split on tickets to this concert. Hubby decided to take me although I did ask one of the two if they had intended to go right before we were ready to leave.

The first stop was a nice dinner at the Telford Inn where he indulged with a steak and I a broiled seafood combination entree. We topped that delicious dinner off with dessert thus creating a very stuffed and uncomfortable feeling that was later worked off.

Using that marvelous GPS we found our way to the Mann Center in Philadelphia. Unknowingly we parked in a great spot however it was a bit of a walk to the Center itself. Our tickets indicated that we were to sit in the balcony providing us with a complete view of the stage. We merged with the crowd and found the entrance to the balcony without a problem.

Prior to proceeding I had a good look at the lower level and then found myself craning my neck way, way back to look up at the balcony. We started up and I can say it was like hiking up the side of a small mountain. The trek was definitely a good exercise to rid the dessert calories. I wish I had taken a picture on my way up but I was afraid I'd fall backwards like a snowball and roll back down taking everyone behind me out - hubby would have been the first. However I did take a picture of a small portion of our descent.

One of the staff indicated where our seats were located. Taj Mahal had already begun his performance so it was dark but we slowly made our way and carefully climbed the steps to our seat.

We settled in and took stock of our view. Turns out our seats were center stage with a wonderful panoramic view of a sea of blue heads bobbing and bouncing to Taj. I don't think anyone at that sold out concert was younger then 40 - ok maybe a few.

I couldn't help but sneak a picture of Taj Mahal performing. He was absolutely great - I enjoyed his performance both by himself and with Bonnie Raitt.

A zoomed in view

I was totally fascinated by the stage and lighting effects. They changed continuously making the show similar to a video. It appeared to me that the lighting engineers (or whatever they are called) didn't miss a beat.

Apparently we only missed a very little of Taj's opening. Then is was time for Bonnie Raitt. From our seats she hasn't changed from the first time we saw her.

I know my hearing has degenerated over the years. I was able of course to hear the music but not able to understand all the words. That didn't keep me from bouncing, bobbing and clapping in my seat though. However I think it's time to look into it.

We had a wonderful time however I couldn't help but compare this concert to those of long ago. In the old days no one would have been sitting in their seats bouncing, bobbing and clapping. It was more like standing through the entire concert, swaying, clapping hands above your head and most of all - singing along with the performer. Now the legs won't hold us up that long; clapping our arthritic hands hurts; and our old voices ruin the music we came to hear.

During the duel performance Taj was able to encourage everyone to stand, sway and clap their hands. That lasted through two songs but it was fun! Hubby stood but he didn't sway or clap his hands. I could tell he was enjoying himself as his eyes and attention were riveted on the stage.

The coolest part of the concert was the second time Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal performed. Both bands accompanied them. I was awestruck watching each member play. Not once during this concert did the band music overide the voices of Bonnie Raitt or Taj Mahal. This was definitely a class act.

Then it was over. This was perhaps the saddest part of the show. In the old days the audience would remain and demand the performers to come back on stage for one or two more tunes. I don't think I recall any performer not accommodating the crowd. This time though, as soon as the show was over, everyone clapped enthusiastically but immediately left the auditorium. No encore.

We sat in our seats while the crowd dispersed.

Definitely a memorable evening. We located our car which was parked right at the exit so we had no problem exiting and getting home.

I should note that there were no room fresheners.

Have a Firecrackin Good Day!