Friday, October 20, 2006

I'm getting a headache from the political ads. They bombard me from the TV set, radio, newspaper, billboards. My neighbors proclaim their preferences by the signs on their lawns. The trouble is, I don't learn anything about the candidates....what they stand for. ...their opinions on issues...their successes...goals for their continuing career.
I wince to think of all the money squandered on those political ads. If spent on social services, or environmental topics, the money could do a lot of good. All it does now is annoy me.
Candidates snipe at the competition. They lie about the other guy. Emotions run high. The noise gives me a stomach ache.
Politicians are very good at using a lot of words to say nothing. If they take a stand on any issue, they lose the vote from people who feel differently. I am being bombarded by a spider web of words that signifies nothing. I've heard politicians say one thing to one group and the opposite to another group. No wonder We don't trust them. No wonder We think they are two-faced.
The whole process needs to be re-done. A cap should be on how much a candidate can spend. When there is a televised political debate, all of the candidates should be heard....not just the two major ones.
Our founding fathers did not intend that Politics should be a career. Jefferson and Adams went back home to tend the farm. I plan on not voting for any incumbent.
It is clear to me that politics is not about serving the public. Politics is about politicians winning . They are paid too much and there is little We can do about it. Actually, politics is not about money, it's about power. Those in office, don't want to give up their power. I think it should be wrenched out of their fists.
Lawyers have taken over. They write laws that require the services of a lawyer. Our founding fathers intended that the common man, with common sense should be able to participate in the democratic process. This still works at the local level. Our system is flawed, but I will still vote and serve on a jury if called.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Chris came over last night. He was in the neighborhood, purchased a new battery for his Caravan. He helped me move furniture and then we went out to dinner. The moving furniture project is going to continue for some time. I am playing "musical rooms"...moving the contents of one room into another. To do that, I have to first empty the room that is receiving the new goods and new function. The enclosed porch's function is changing from a crafts room to a music room. Andy's bedroom is to become the new craft room. The garage can no longer hold my truck, as it has become the exercise room. I think that after all the renovations are completed, after the excess furniture is sold or given away, after all the cleaning and repainting, after all that, I think that this old house will be a pleasant place for activities. Organized and accessible. The lawn furniture is still on the lawn. Stephen needs to remove his possessions so I can put away the lawn furniture. Musical rooms, indeed.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The family reunion is over. Summer is over. Fall is here and I am rushing to complete all the outside chores before it gets too cold to work outside, comfortably. The nursery has a sale on. Perennials for half price. My kind of sale! My purchases include 3 rose bushes and 3, of course, er, purple...the closest I can come to blue. All six perennials go into the ground. The pumpkin orange mums must be saved. They get planted, too. They may live or die, depending upon the winter. Mums should be planted in the spring, according to a master gardener. Who can find mum plants in the spring? The answer to that question is to find a grower specializing in Mums. Good old internet.
My lawn furniture should go into the garage, but Stephen has his things in that space. The trouble with letting people store their things "temporarily" is temporarily goes on forever. Stephen gets a call to get his things and to help me move my furniture into the garage. He gets one, two, three...maybe four calls. He's busy. My lawn furniture sits on the grass. I am mowing around lawn furniture. I mow and trim both lawns. I see my tenant has mowed her lawn, but left a big swath of uncut grass. Could that piece be on my side of the property line? I think it is. I make a mental note to remove the grass from my border.
Andy has taken the things He wants from the pile I removed from his bedroom. The remains are all over the garage I park my truck in. I can't get my truck in the garage. My job, again, is to go through Andy's left overs and discard them. He has signed a paper stating that what He leaves behind, He is abandoning. I think I will invite Chris and Stephen to go through the discards to take what they want. I had better get started on sorting Andy's things. The clothes go in one pile. Some things I discard. I've only made a dent in the pile .
Over at the Melba Street house: Several days are spent attempting to waterproof the basement from the outside. On the inside, the dehumidifier is working its magic. UGL makes great products for masonry waterproofing. DriLock is used to patch cracks and minor hole. 5% silicone solution goes on the masonry. It gets soaked into the pores of the blocks and dries there. The clear solution becomes a vapor barrier. A sprayed on concrete application is pulling from the foundation...sure sign of water entry. Will my silicone solution work over the winter? I can't tell.
My bad habit: eating breakfast out. At my favorite place, I spy my neighbor and his sister and brother-in-law. We eat breakfast together. Bill is a Greek contractor related to the owner of the diner. Can Bill dry up my basement? Bill and I drive to Melba Street. Together, We walk the property and discuss possible solutions. What Bill proposes, has already been done to the east and north walls of my house. We should do the same for the south and west walls. This means tearing down the deck to get to the foundation wall. I dread paying for this project, but it must be done. The deck is the original one. It was built when the house was built: 1975. I guess 30 years is a good long life for a wood deck. It was starting to get rickety, so now is the time to take it down. Bill will get back to me with a proposal. We agree that it is too cold to work now. The project will take place this spring.
Chris said He would like to move into the Melba Street house this winter. He will arrange for a job transfer closer . He already has some of his things stored "temporarily" at Melba Street. I'm beginning to see a pattern here.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Culture awareness - part two

The problem of lack of cultural awareness, or negative feelings about cultural identification.
At the very least, a child is poorer when he is unaware of his cultural heritage, his roots. It was a revelation to me that the worst thing that the white man did to the black slaves before the Civil War was not beating him, or disfiguring him, rape, starvation, overwork, imprisonment, or any other atrocity that brought physical pain. The worst thing the white man did to his black brother left no mark. it was to take away his name, his tribal heritage. To take away his past left him stranded in a culture that obviously was not his own. But where did he belong? Once freedom was gained, where was "home"? There was no way to find out since the now freed slave had no clues to go on. I'm sure that every orphan, trying to find his family, realizes the feelings that the black man felt: psychic pain.
So, too,some Indian child aware that society puts a premium on blue eyed, blond children, wonders where he belongs. After a dismal try at being blue eyed and blond...or taller, or curly hair...or whatever the TV media and popular culture is promoting that year...his self concept is damaged because he tried to measure himself against a yardstick that doesn't apply to him. Feelings of inadequacy, rage, and frustration develop. Society suffers from the rage and the resulting property damage and other crimes of violence.
Even if a negative concept is not the result, the child, who is unaware of his cultural heritage misses joy, feelings of belonging and the comfort that this implies.
The best of civilization is to be found in diversity...of foods, customs, music,clothing, pageantry, folk tales, art, language, housing and other methodology. To be aware of these diversifications is to be respectful of humanity, and to enjoy that humanity. To know that you belong to one of these groups and to know what this group has contributed through history, that is identification and the end of isolation. In summary, a child is richer and has better feelings about himself if he is aware of his cultural heritage.

Classroom projects in cultural awareness
First, no matter how many projects a teacher may have promoting Indian culture, if she doesn't completely accept the child for himself, the project won't work. If she turns her head away in revulsion when an Indian child climbs on her lap, he will know her feelings. If a negative tone is in her voice, or if she ignores him except to punish, if he always goes to the back of the line and gets the last turn, it will be clear to him that something must be disagreeable with himself or the teacher would like him. Doesn't she show love to the other children? Then, it can't be the teacher's fault. So, it must be his. Ergo, he apologizes for living, or reacts strongly against himself. First, the teachers own feelings of acceptance must be examined.
What projects can be done in the classroom to promote cultural awareness? The resources are the children and the parents themselves. In Syracuse, my parents put on an Indian festival in the classroom. I learned how to make corn soup and Indian fried bread. Our public library supplied folkways records of authentic chants. Since the Indian club was near by, a few children already knew how to do the corn dance. They taught me. That day was so successful that all of the children declared they were Indians, even the blue eyed blond children and the black children. To make this special for in Indian children, i told them they were "pretend" Indians, but ________ and _______ Were real Indians.
When the Corn Festival was approaching, we helped through our parent group to make costumes for the parade the children would be in. The public library also had stories of Indian legends, but we found them too advanced for our age group. However, they enjoyed story telling in a briefer form. We avoided all cowboy and Indian motifs that were basically a "chase" game.
"Social science" projects such as learning about Navajos, were too advanced for 4 year olds. On the other hand, some Indian crafts were very successful. Leather crafts, making headband and wristbands of paper, Pictures of Indians and Indian designed artifacts were also appreciated and it didn't make any difference to them that the bowl was Zuni, the turquoise was Navajo and the wood mask was Iroquois. They knew that the squash racket was "theirs" through their experiences with squash racket making on the reservation.
In conclusion, We are all richer when we learn to accept the special contributions each culture has to offer, and by extension, we are all richer when we learn that each person is unique and has his own special contribution to offer to the world.
In the words of Mr. Rogers (Mr. Roger's Neighborhood), "In this whole world, there is nobody quite like you. You're special. We like you just the way you are."
Cultural awareness - part one

It was my priveledge to work for 4 years at Delaware Pre-K Center in Syracuse, New York as a teacher of 3 and 4 year old children. This poverty-intervention program, administered through the Syraucse School System, served the inner city poor. Most of the children in the program were black, American Indian, of Spanish sur-name, or Vietnamese. The program itself, was structured similarly to Head Start, that is, the program had has a parent involvement component, health, social service , as well as the educational component. The class of 18 children was taught by myself, an aide and a paid parent. The parents were on a rotating schedule, so that the monetary and educational benefits of being in the classroom were shared by all parents who wished to participate in this aspect of the program...ergo, we had a different parent each day working for us.
There were 2 half-day sessions, 5 days a week. I taught the afternoon session and another teacher taught the morning session.
Administrative offices were in another building, so We functioned self contained. However, central staff were always available by telephone. We also had a regular staff meeting once a month. Totalof 12 classrooms, their staff and central staff met several times a year, so communication channels were efficient and misunderstandings were at a minimum. The Central staff consisted of the director, social worker, educational specialist, speech pathologist, nurse, parent coordinator, and psychologist.
Minority Groups
There were no Vietnamese children in my classroom. They were placed in other centers nearer their homes. The older Vietnamese children were placed in the regular school system. They attended elementary school in the morning and in the afternnon, were bussed to a central location for special tutoring in subject areas and English. Each Vietnamese family was sponsored by a community religious group. The sponsors visited with each family and helped them with the practical problems that arise when one resettles in a new country...problems such as finding employment, housing, social services, need for friendship, communication problems, help in shopping and transportation. I was struck that the Vietnamese fathers were well educated. One was an attorney. However, they were all working at low paying jobs outside their professional area because of language difficulties and different professional licensing requirements. Each family unit was an extended family that included aunts, uncles, and grandparents. They lived in very crowded conditions because of the comfort of having kin close by, because this type of crowding is natural in the Vietnamese culture, and because of economic reasons.
The black families in my classroom were classic in socio-economic reports you've read. A few were inner-city poor working families with father present. Many more were young women raising their children alone. Because Syracuse University has a good early childhood program slanted to researching poverty intervention, there was an excellent program available to pregnant girls in the city. It was called "Y-Med". An Entire building was set aside as a special high school program and infant care center. Pregnant girls continued with their high school classes stressing nutrition and infant care. When the baby was born, both mother and child continued to go to school. The child was sent to the nursery where it was cared for by staff, trained in infant care. The mother went to her regular classes. At lunchtime or during any free period, she came to the nursery and had lunch with her baby, or they played together.
When the mother graduated from high school, she could enroll her child in Syracuse University's infant-toddler program. This was a bussed, day care center for children up to 4 years of age. At 4, they transferred to Syracuse University's regular day care center.
So children could be "in school" from before they are born until kindergarten. Research is published yearlyon the effects of this type of intervention program for mother and child.

The minority group I wish to discuss are the Onondaga Indians. The relationship between the city of Syracuse and the Onondaga Indian Reservation, located just south of the city, is complex. The land is strategically located. Syracuse would like to expand in that direction, but is legally prevented from doing so. The Indians have a love-hate feeling for Syracusians. On one hand, they allow whites to rent property on the reservation. Then they evict them all in one gesture. This included whites who were married to Indians. The half Indian children were allowed to stay. The issue of a Route 8 expansion project...a major highway running through the reservation...brought about a blockade of cars and an Indian picket line with guns. This led to the State Police illegally arresting Indians on the reservation. State Police have no jurisidiction on the reservation. The Onondagans are economically dependent upon the city. Many are farmers or lumbermen. Some of them are construction workers, working on steel bridges and tall buildings high above the ground. Many Onondagans end up living in Syraucse and going on welfare because opportunities to earn a living on the reservation are few.
Like the Vietnamese, they have a sense of family, as well as nationhood. Theylive near their relatives. This tends to socially isolate them from the rest of the community. Discouraged, they drop out of school, continuing the povery cycle.
The Importance of Cultural Awareness
I shall confine the discussion in this section of my paper to the Indian problem, even though much will be relevent to the other groups discussed.
Because their feelings about themselves are negative in part, their socio-economic, political and person problems are plentiful. Alcoholism, wife beating, abandonment, low education levels, welfare, unemployment are all found among the Onondagans. Many young people, ashamed to be Indian, migrate to the city where they try to merge with the general population. They dress and act as "white" as possible.
On the other hand, others have firmly grapsed their heritage and work hard to preserve it. There is a boys club near Delaware Pre-K center that teaches Indian lore. They have Indian dances, have field trips to the reservation for farm projects and special events, wear buckskin, etc. The Corn Festival, sponsored by the Indian community is televised yearly. Ther are several herds of buffalo owned privately and by the tribe, grazing south of the city.
The city school system is also aware of the Indian culture contribution to the city. Syracuse Schools "special programs" has an Indian cultural component. Indian dancers visit the elementary and secondary schools in the area and perform dances from the Onondaga culture.
The tribe's council is very strong in guilding the communal affairs for the tribe. For example, the land is owned and managed by the council, as are other tribal affairs. When litigation is necessary, the council's lawyers represent the Onondaga tribe with skill and vigor. Solidarity and group cooperation is often demonstrated.
Through my envolvement in Delaware Pre-K, the local newspaper covering Indian affairs, and my religious group's commitment to justice for the Onondagan, I became aware of "the Indian problem". My feelings were that the problem must at attacked on the community level, but it could also be touched by reaching out one to one on the personel level. I felt I was in a good position for the "1 to1" approach.
What could i do in my class to promote a good self-concept for my 4 year old Indian children? A review of early childhood literature in the area of self concept, gave me a start.
Children are incapable of seeing themselves except through the mirror that society and the people around them hold up for viewing. They accept without question what "the mirror" proposes. "You're bad", "you're incompetent", "You're talented in music", "You're competent", "you're pretty", "You're smart", "It's great to be a girl (a boy)" "It's great to be an Indian (an Italian, black, etc.)" To generalize, children accept Values attached to the nationality they belong to, their sex role, as well as to their individualness. It is just as bad to have no awareness about these areas of self concept as to have negative awareness.
Perhaps once a state of maturity is reached, a person may have the ability to analyze, "Hey, wait a minute, perhaps society has a vested interest in convincing me that I'm incompetent." Then comes much work in analyzing one's self to see if it is true. Are they incompetnet? (in a skill area, for example) or perhaps the concept is untrue. Many adults are unwilling to put in this type of work for analysis, for it constitutes a personal crisis. This is difficult for an adult to do. It is impossible for a 4 year old to do this, given that their level of development does not permit abstract reasoning.
Then, the responsibility for developing a good self-concept in young children belongs to the adults around them.
A good pre-school program should have as a goal to promote a good self-concept in each child in 4 areas: sex identification, social competency, individual skills and identification with an ethnic group. Included in the 4 catagories is the area of body awareness.
Since the topic of this paper is cultural awareness, I shall confine myself to this rea, noting only in passing, that as much thoughtfulness and effort must be expanded in the other areas as in the area of ethnic group identification, since we are dealing with the whole child. All four areas are integrated into the child's self-concept. (to be continued)
Andy is gone. He no longer lives with me. But, where does He live? I can't answer that question. Last June, I gave him written notice that His stay with me will end last day of September. I wanted his mother and Andy to have a nice visit. Andy had a four month period to get ready to move out.
All September, Andy did nothing. I asked him if He had called the shelter to make a reservation? No, he did not call. I asked him if He called the Housing Authority to see if his efficiency apartment is ready? No, he did not call the Housing Authority. I asked him if He has sorted through his possessions to decide what he wants to keep and what he wants to discard? No, he hasn't done that either.
The last Wednesday of the month is when his SSI check arrives. Around Noon, He starts on me. Let's get my check cashed. I tell him that the post hasn't arrived yet...and I have a dental appointment in an hour. He'll have to wait a little.
The Mental Health clinic charges Andy a co-pay for his appointments. Andy is reminded that He has to pay up what he owes from this check before leaving my house...He will be given what is left. Andy becomes very angry...probably thinking of the smaller amount he'll have to spend on amusements for himself. Andy really loses his temper and starts to throw things at me. Then He leaves. I call the Police. All I get out of my discussion with the Police is I should get Andy to sign a statement saying that anything He leaves behind, he is abandoning. I agree to do this.
It is Andy's responsibility to clean his room and pack up his things. So, of course, I am the one to do this while he is out. I've taken his key away and locked the doors, per Police suggestion. Up and down the stairs all afternoon, packing his clothes, videos, Cd's, personal items. Possessions are packed in suitcases, boxes, plastic bags...anything I can find. Each package is carried down stairs and put on the kitchen entrance porch. My knees ache.
Later at night, Andy comes back. He is in a better mood. He even apologizes for throwing things. I had driven to the Mental Health Clinic and paid the co-pay for Andy. His money was used, as it was His bill. He does not give me a problem over this. The door is still locked. Through the glass in the door, I explain about the statement he is to sign. He agrees. I'd written it in readiness for the moment. The door is unlocked. Andy signs the statement. I give him his uncashed check, the cash I'd saved for him and the receipt for his paid bill.
He is so happy to get money to spend. I'm sure He'll soon be broke and on the streets. I suggest that he return tomorrow and go through his possessions , possibly give some away to his brothers and repack what he wants to take with him.
I offered to drive my grandson to the Red Roof Inn, as it is an inexpensive place to stay. Andy says He's staying at the nearest Howard Johnson's Inn. He walks away.
Going through my mind are possibilities now discarded: Having a party saying goodbye with his brothers. Moving into the efficiency apartment. I had planned on giving him some of my living room furniture.
Six days later. Andy has not returned for his possessions. I don't know where He is.
addendum: Nine days later, I am in the garage, looking for my tools for a planned repair to the foundation of my Melba St. house. Andy's things are still stored there, but some one has been in them. The neat packages that I packed, have been opened. Clothes are everywhere. Andy has been here, looking through his possessions. There He is. "Hi Andy". He's been looking for his wallet, birth certificate and ID card. He finds them. Andy tells me He's on his way to cash his check and take a taxi to the bus stop. I bite my tongue to stop myself from offering to help him with his tasks. Leaving the town where his family is now relocated, is a big mistake.
Instead, I suggest that my grandson call his brothers to say goodbye. Would he like to e-mail his mother? He says yes. I go into the house to turn on my computer. When I go outside, Andy's bag is gone. So is Andy.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

LivinginOz did a lovely job of describing our family reunion, so I shall not repeat the events. Instead, I remember some family gatherings when I was a child. One thing they did very well, was to stick together. We celebrate Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July...together.
My mother, her two sisters and their spouses and my cousins would all gather at some one's house. Sometimes it was at my youngest aunt's house. Sometimes at her mother-in-law's house. At other times it was at my other aunt's house. We had our pictures taken with a little Brownie camera. The black and white photographs are family treasures. At the most recent family gathering, our group photo was taken with a digital camera and sent to family members around the world via e-mail.
The women would sit in the kitchen and talk as they prepared the holiday dinner. The men would be in the living room, garage or the basement. Lord knows what they were doing. It usually had something to do with machinery. One Christmas was spent at an honorary aunt's house. My uncle was talented in mechanical things. He put together a Christmas tree stand that revolved without getting the lights tangled. Our trees were always a real tree. I can smell the pine in my memory. When uncle plugged in the tree, it revolved faster than He had anticipated. The ornaments stood out parallel to the floor. Then they flew off the tree and smashed all over the living room. This uncle was an engineer. He understood the problem and fixed it. The tree then revolved slowly, showing off its ornaments...the new ornaments.
Christmas at other people's houses was interesting to see how other people celebrated. One house, all the gifts were on display under the tree. The boxes were opened with the top on the bottom. It looked a store display. Our house was a mess of toys and wrappings. At our house, We always used tinsel. Other people did not. We had a long needled tree. Others had a short needled tree because it smelled stronger. Those memories are so dear to me, that I will not use an artificial tree. I don't have any tree. Instead, I decorate with garlands, candles and incense. Special table clothes and napkins come out only at the holidays. I've given my ornaments away to my daughters. They still put up a tree.
The men at the latest family reunion spent a lot of time in the living room watching DVD movies and using the computer. They stayed out of the basement and garage.
The fourth of July was at my aunt's house. We were outside in the back yard all day. We played with our cousins...mostly running around and exploring the area. We ate watermelon and spit the seeds out on the ground. My uncle set up a grill and we ate hot dogs and drank more soda than I had all year. All the men had illegal fireworks. They were little boys again...shooting off fireworks. There is no difference today, except that I am a senior member of the tribe, watching the youngest members doing exactly what I did when I was their size.
When I was little, I enjoyed the holiday feast. I remember one thanksgiving that I ate so much turkey I made myself sick. The holidays are a memory of abundance....plenty of food, plenty of company, plenty of familial love. I overheard one grandson at our last reunion, state that I always put on a good meal. Some things never change....except I serve good wine whereas my parents served beer.
God bless my parents for making holidays special. I hope I am doing the same for the next generation.