Posted in Sunday photos

My photography journey 16Aug20

We went hiking early last week at South Mountain, a local park with a zillion trails.

It’s been over 110 every day for at least a week, so even at dusk at 7, it’s still over 105.

The trails aren’t crowded.

The clouds this time of year are often amazing, and I’ve been trying to capture them at sunset when they’re still big and puffy but pink.

The Climbing Daddy, The Kid, and I went again last night. I took Sir Nikolas Cameron and stationed on one of the peaks. They continued on the trail.

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Phoenix is called The Valley of the Sun. Most people know about the sun; not as many know about the valley. I took shots in a couple of different directions of some of the surrounding mountain ranges.

The Climbing Daddy can name most of them; I can name a few.

This is Four Peaks, also the name of a local brewery.

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I don’t know what mountains those are (facing east), but it’s as close to the clouds that I wanted as I was going to get.

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I don’t know which ones these are, either (facing south), but I love the layers.

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Dusk.

The mountains on the left are all part of South Mountain, where I was. To the right, you can see a bit of the lights in Phoenix.

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This one isn’t the best but I want to leave it here to measure growth. Because I really like the idea and wasn’t able to capture what I wanted.

From where I was standing, a creosote bush stood between me and Phoenix. I liked the juxtaposition of the bush and the city behind.

When I started, there was enough light to see the bush in the foreground and the lit city behind. Just as I got settings and everything ready, a slight breeze kicked up. While the breeze felt good, it prevented me from taking a sharp photo via long exposure.

I have a handful of shots with much better color and such where the bush is blurry from moving over the length of a longer-exposure shot.

So I threw my flash on and took this one with a fast enough exposure for the bush to be still. But it’s not great.

I will go back up soon and see about getting a better version of this. For now, this is what I got.

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Posted in about me, ebb & flow, exercise, mental health, mindset, motivation, physical health

Depression prepared me for shelter-in-place

First: this is my experience. It might not match yours.

I’ve struggled with depression for about as long as I can remember. In relatively recent years, I’ve learned how to manage it.

Mine seems to be connection-related. When I feel well-connected to important people, my brain chemicals stay happy. When I feel disconnected from people, my brain tries to kill me. Occasionally literally.

There is a limit to how much control I have over being connected to people. Everyone is busy. There is no village. (This is a highly destructive side effect of our “rugged individualism” and so many of us struggle with it.)

What can I do that doesn’t involve other people?

I can run. High-intensity exercise in general is helpful, but running seems to deliver the most immediate and most reliable hit. People in my circle know that if I’m struggling, an entirely appropriate suggestion is to go for a run. It doesn’t magically make everything better, but it does improve my mood and tidy my mind.

The thing is—I don’t love running. It vacillates between pretty good and tedious, depending on the day. I don’t run long distances. (Two half marathons taught me that 13 miles is too many miles.)

On the other hand, I love how I feel after I’ve run.

Between the couch (or the bed) and the post-run goodness, I have to get changed (ugh), I have to wear socks (ugh), I have to run (ugh), I need to wait until I’ve cooled off before I can shower or change or I will get out of the shower still sweating* (ugh), I need to get dressed again (ugh).

(*In the summer here, it takes at least 20 minutes after coming back in the house to stop sweating, but since we put in a pool, I just jump in after a run and refresh that way and that’s definitely not at all ugh.)

There are a lot of places for this to get derailed.

As a result, I’m quite used to forcing myself to exercise when I don’t really feel like it.

Speaking of “when I don’t really feel like it”…

High-functioning depression requires so much powering through. Getting tasks done when I don’t feel like it is a way of life.

Enter shelter-in-place.

I will not be in a good head space if I stay in my house all day.

I get up and get dressed every week day. This still affords me “lazy Saturdays” if I want them.

The weather was gorgeous when this all broke in March. It was easy to go for an afternoon walk and a run some other time and a bike ride with the family in the evening.

And then it was summer.

Afternoon walks stopped.

I learned to get up and go for a run first thing in the morning. And to do something outside in the evening when the sun was low or set. Whether I felt like it or not, because my mental health depends on it.

This is what I’ve been doing all along. The what and then when look marginally different. When I go back to working at work, running in the morning will stop, because I have a limit on how early I’m willing to get up. I don’t need to worry about that now, though. All I need to know is that this morning, I dragged myself out of bed and went for a run.

 

 

 

Posted in Sunday photos

My photography journey 9Aug20

The house next door has an odd little courtyard-ish area by the front door that might be big enough for a bistro table and two chairs, though there’s no hope of air flow. It used to have a fountain in it. Our new neighbor put in some flamingoes.

The Kid and I took a walk around the neighborhood one morning and brought Sir Nikolas Cameron along. The bougainvillea have outlasted pretty much any other flowering plant and are losing their flowers. (I’ve seen some photos of cacti in bloom now, but those varieties weren’t on our path.) Summer in the desert.

 

While there aren’t many flowers, many plants are, miraculously, still green.

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This one is obviously very cropped. I loved the reflection of the cactus. When I showed this shot to The Climbing Daddy, he commented on it being tall and skinny. I showed him the original (including the house behind it, their trash can, water stains on the block wall, and more), and he agreed that the tall skinny was much better.

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(I can see the whole shot in one look on my tablet but not on my computer.)

The Tall Daddy came over one evening. We went swimming, had pizza, and played Pictionary. I kept Nikki out and took a few shots during down time.

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This one I love in both color and black and white.

 

Finally, I’ve been playing with Photoshop some more, when the intersection of time and brain space permits.

As I’m walking around the neighborhood snapping shots, I don’t want to include people’s house number, license plate, or other potentially identifying information. Which has stopped me from taking this shot for all of COVID.

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Now that I am able to get rid of the house number, I can snap and share with you!

This sign I just noticed the other day and loved it. Ironically, it’s hanging out in front of a house with quite a bit of yard decor.

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Posted in ebb & flow, education, mental health, mindset, parenting, tips

Tips for school-at-home

School has started or is about to start ’round here. For the moment, we’re all online, and many parents are struggling with the situation.

Different households have different dynamics. Parents and kids have a wide range of personalities and interpersonal relationships. Be open to possibilities. Take what works; leave what doesn’t.

As a teacher with decades of mostly-successful experience in classroom management, I’m here to give you some tips that will work with most kids most of the time. My context is elementary-aged people; much of this will work with older ones, too. And with adults. Really, most of this applies to most people most of the time.

Warning: consistency is critical, and consistency is maddening. You have to do it. It will not work without. (That’s actually true of parenting in general, but I’m not going down that rabbit hole.)

Also, it’s important to remember that children are people and have wants, needs, feelings, opinions, good days, bad days just like adults do.

Enough intro. On with the stuff.

Give them space to work

At school, they have their desk or their spot at their table.

Find a spot that is their school space. If you have room, you can have it be a semi-permanent space; it doesn’t have to be. An uncluttered table top that is theirs to use for the day gets the job done. Kitchen table would work, if it doesn’t need to be cleared for lunch. Their own desk, a child-sized table, a portion of a large table, a folding table, whatever. Ideally, it will be something that is their size, but again, if you don’t have that already and don’t have space or means to acquire, use what you have. It will be OK.

Also, many don’t like to sit at tables or desks all the time (which is good—adults shouldn’t, either), so if they’re working on a laptop or a tablet (or working during off-screen time), let them have the flexibility of sitting on the floor. In Montessori, students use mats to establish their work space. A throw rug, blanket, or towel could easily serve the same purpose. This sets boundaries for the child (this is my space) and for anyone else in the room (that’s their space). Again, this can easily be put down and picked up daily.

Give them necessary materials

Typically, they have one or more notebooks, pencils, erasers. Maybe a ruler, colored pencils, scissors, tape, glue, a white board, markers. Make sure ahead of time they have all the materials they will need (ask their teacher if a list was not provided) and keep the materials together in the work space.

If you have space and want to be fancy and use different containers and label and/or decorate them, etc., go for it! (Hats off to you, Pinterest-y mamas!) Involve the child in the process. Remember: it’s their school space, not yours. If you just have an Amazon box that seems like it’s close enough to the right size, use that. (Letting them decorate a plain cardboard box can incite buy-in, especially if they are younger or artsy. Older kids could make collages with magazine cutouts, if you want to go there.)

One of the things you’ll see in any well-run elementary classroom is a place for everything. The kids know where stuff is. The teacher doesn’t need to fetch everyday items for students, and students don’t need to ask where something is every time they need it. You can have this fluidity as well. Create it.

Establish a schedule

Kids like to know what to expect and when. Routine and consistency are critical.

The schedule will, in part, be delivered by your child’s teacher. I am assuming that some of the work will be done in real time with the teacher “present” and some of the work will be done without the teacher.

So let’s say live classes are at 8, 10, 12:30, and 2 each day for 30 minutes each. The child’s schedule might look something like this:

  • 7:00   Wake up, do morning things (clothes, food, teeth, potty, etc.—whatever your normal morning routine includes)
  • 7:40   Turn on computer, make sure internet connection is working. Assuming all is well with technology, play time (ideally outside) until 7:55.
  • 7:54   One-minute warning that playtime is ending—helps the transition
  • 7:55   Get a drink, go to the bathroom, settle into class
  • 8:00   Class
  • 8:30   School work (maybe more specific, if you have more information). This will not necessarily be sitting still and might shift between the table and the floor, or different positions on the floor.
  • 9:30   Play, snack, drink, bathroom
  • 10:00   Class
  • 10:30   School work
  • 11:00   Lunch, play, bathroom
  • 12:30   Class
  • 1:00   School work
  • 1:30   Play, drink, bathroom
  • 2:00   Class
  • 2:30   Finish any unfinished work from the day
  • 3:00   Play, snack, drink, bathroom

And schedule the evening however evenings go.

Schedule some one-on-one time with them (during the day or in the evening), even if it’s not for very long (10-15 minutes), and give them undivided attention during that time.

Schedule yourself some alone time, even if it’s not for very long (10-15 minutes), and set boundaries around it. It is non-negotiable. (You need this.)

Having a schedule for the school day lets kids know what they’re doing when and for how long. If they can’t tell time yet, set alarms. (Or set alarms regardless. I’ve been able to tell time for a long time—I don’t even need numbers on the clock face!—and I still use alarms regularly.) Teach them how to turn the alarms off if they don’t already know. Let them practice that more than once in more than one sitting.

Put the schedule on a piece of paper and hang it in the school area so they have it available. If you put it in a picture frame, you/they can write on the glass with dry erase markers. So they can, for example, check off each time block as it passes. Or you can make a note next to a time block for something to remember that day. Or write today’s lunch. Or write a note of encouragement.

Establish procedures

Elementary teachers do this for weeks at the beginning of the school year. We set the procedures and we intentionally practice them. Kids don’t remember all the stuff in one pass, and they’re not going to by you telling them once, either. Habits are not formed in one try. The first Monday after the first weekend is the worst.

What do you need a procedure for? Everything. If you have a procedure for everything, and you practice them at the beginning of the year (or before, since you have that advantage), they don’t need to ask nearly as many questions once it’s all established. (That will take time.)

Refer to the schedule for starters.

  • If they’re working independently, what do they do if the computer and/or internet isn’t working?
  • How do they know when the times on the schedule are arriving? (Are you watching the clock? Are they? Are there alarms? Are they allowed to take the device with the alarms outside if they play outside?)
  • Where do they put their written work when they’re done with it?
  • Can they have a drink at their work station? What kind of drink? (Water only, please!)
  • What is available for snack? Do they get it themselves? Do they clean it up after? (What does “clean it up” mean/include?)
  • What do they do if they need help?
  • What do they do if they’re finished their school work before the “school work” time block is up? (Read, draw, write a letter, practice another skill.)
  • What can they do during play time? (I strongly recommend no screens and extra moving during the school day.)
  • Are they allowed to listen to music during their work time? What about TV?
  • Are they allowed to text or otherwise engage with friends outside of the class time during school time?
  • What if they need to go to the bathroom and it’s not bathroom time? (I put bathroom breaks on the schedule because the bathroom is a well-known and oft-used place to spend time when you don’t feel like doing your work. And since at home, they can’t ask to go to the nurse…)

Practice them. Role play them.

Young kids can have significant independence. Teach them how.

Change your hat

This is theoretical. I made it up. I haven’t tried it. Yet.

Our kids often interact differently with their teachers than they do with us.

So perhaps as part of procedures, establish when you’re the teacher and when you’re the parent. Maybe literally wear a teacher hat. (I mean, not a hat made of teachers, which I guess would literally be a teacher hat. But a hat that you establish as the “I’m the teacher when I’m wearing this hat.”) Maybe make a different name for that character. Something (or a set of somethings) to separate the role of parent from the role of teacher, both for you and for them.

(It doesn’t have to be a hat. It could be any piece of clothing that is easy to add and subtract to whatever you’re wearing. A jacket. A cape. Fake glasses. Cat ears. Whatever.)

Follow through and be consistent

Consistency is key. Patience is necessary. It will take them longer to learn procedures than you think it should. If you have multiple kids at home, having similar procedures for all of them will help everyone to remember them.

Because this is new (unless you got it all figured out last spring), the plan might need tweaks. Have an intentional conversation about the tweaks.

Outside of that, when they whine, refer to procedures. If you give in after they bug you long enough, they learn that they just need to bug you long enough and then you get bugged more. I tell my students (and my son, though not often because he learned this a long time ago, and his friends), “You can ask me as many times as you want. The answer will be the same.”

Skip shaming

Shaming is not good for behavior change. It also does not promote growth. (Have you made positive change in response to being shamed?) While snarky comments might be the first nine things that pop into your head in response to something not getting done/understood (or finally getting done/understood), please keep them to yourself.

You know all of those negative tapes that play in your head about yourself? Many of those were planted by people earlier in your life shaming you. Those are not the seeds you want to plant in your children.

(Sometimes this is the hardest one. Sometimes I text my friend and tell her I didn’t even get a trophy today for not saying xyz. Because there’s no pat on the back for staying quiet when you ought to. If you need one, let me know. I will empathize and give you an e-trophy. Because it’s so hard, and it’s worth it.)

A last note, just on mindset and vocabulary…

This isn’t homeschooling. When you homeschool, you create (or find and adapt) lesson plans, scope and sequence; you create assessments; you grade the materials. Parents with kids in remote learning, you don’t have to do these things. Silver lining: those tasks are not on your plate.

I’m not saying that what you’re doing isn’t hard. Just that it’s not everything.

And also: you can do hard things. Good luck.

 

Posted in Sunday photos

My photography journey 2Aug20

The Kid loves all things space and astronomy, so of course, we’ve been on the lookout for Comet Neowise. None of us have been invested enough to get up in the middle of the night and drive to a less urban location on the hope of seeing it. Less than an hour’s drive, but more than dragging your butt out of bed and shuffling into the yard for a few minutes.

Without success, we’ve biked to a few locations very nearby—trying to catch it just after sunset—and finally went for a drive one evening. (Locals, we went up near Saguaro Lake.)

Success! Couldn’t see it with our own eyes, but Sir Nikolas Cameron with a 30-second exposure could see it, and The Climbing Daddy found it with binoculars.

My photos of it are not at all good and I’m not going to share them with you. I did get a nice shot of the sky and the mountains and a cactus, though! Lots of stars!

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Starting the school year online, I needed a good shot to use in beginning of the year, introduce myself documents. So I set up shop with all the instruments I have here and got an OK shot. Good enough for why I needed it.

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The Kid has a subscription to Kiwi Crate and was thrilled with the project in this month’s box. One of the pieces was two little dolls that “dance” on a stage. He asked if we could take some photos of them.

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He was happy but not content with the shot.

“They need stage lights.” So with a box and a flashlight, we got two different shots.

 

Then he wanted a long-exposure shot of them falling and standing back up. We still have some work to do, but we were both happy enough with this one for now.

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“I love the ghosts, Mom!”