Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Simple play things

I spent the better part of the last two weekends with this lovely boy: Noah, my 5 year old grandson. Together we baked a few dozen cookies and some sweet breads for holiday gatherings, decorated the cabin and worked on Christmas cards. He also played with Legos while I took some time to work on my pile of grading. 

One of the best part of our two weekends was just watching him play with things he found around the house.  Like a string and a little bag with handles. The string became his “zip line” and the bag became his basket for giving his small animals a ride. He spent hours playing with a set of Santa Claus nesting dolls that we have. He made all sorts of games with these nesting dolls, including an intricate game of hide and seek for the animals. He also played for many hours with a couple of milk jugs and an old utility tub. The milk jugs and some ribbon transformed him into “muscle man.”

What intrigued me about his play is how he used next to nothing to play for hours. He was creative and thoroughly engaged in his play. It made me think about this season of giving and spoiling children with so many toys. Noah played for hours with what was available to him. Yes, he  brought a couple of his stuffed animals to the cabin and yes we have Legos, too, but mainly he entertained himself with things that he found around the house. He transformed simple things, like string and a little bag and a couple of milk jugs into a magical little world of play and creativity. It made me think that we adults may have the toy thing all wrong. Noah did not need any of the commercial toys to engage himself for hours and hours. Just a few things he found around the house. He was happy, content and learning, too.

There are plenty of wonderful toys available to children today, including toys that build form a child’s imagination like Play Mobile and Legos. Watching Noah for those few days, made me wonder if all those toys are really necessary. Toy makers would like us to believe that they are, but my evidence form one little boy, suggest something different. Simple things around the house yield great playthings for one small boy.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Migraine headache cycles and me...

Migraine headaches have been a big part of my life for the past 13 years. On January 29, 2001 I slipped on some ice at our hobby farm and landed on the back of my head. I had a moderate concussion with minor head injury, according to the doctors who treated me, over the following months. For me that concussion manifested itself with typical symptoms like fogginess, dizziness diminished cognitive clarity and a feeling that I had a blanket wrapped over my head. As time went on, though, I developed migraine headaches as a result of the injury. 
I do not remember every having migraines before my head injury. But, that head injury co-occurred with two huge professional commitments that I had at the time: full time teaching in a small liberal arts college and full time doctoral student at the University of Minnesota. I am sure it did not help that I took little time off of work and continued in graduate school (although I did miss a few classes). I persisted with both and my headaches followed me through every stage.
I started seeing a neurologist after about two years who prescribed a series of daily preventative that included a beta-blocker and an anti-depressant. There are strong results reported in the scientific literature that the regime helps to prevent migraines.  In addition, I took Imitrex, for acute migraines, injectables (which I had many) and tablets. My acute headaches persisted, although the cycle became longer in between them. When I finished grad school, my headaches became even less. But they were still there and would raise their glaring head when I least expected it.
When I started taking better care of my health in 2010, I thought my headaches would also decrease. They did somewhat. The cycles between headaches would go for many months now, but they were still there. Still there meant that I was incapacitated at times. When my headaches start up, I am incredibly sensitive to light and sound. I get sick in my stomach, too, but usually do not vomit.
            I continued to take preventative medications and of course the Imitrex when they were acute. I rarely missed work. But, I kept looking to see if there was something else that was triggering this insidious cycle of head pain. In January 2012, I went cold turkey and eliminated coffee and caffeine. My body responded with one of the longest migraine/rebound headache cycles I ever had: 22 days. Once I got on the other side of the caffeine withdrawal, the migraines decreased considerably. As a matter of fact, I went from having 6-8 a year to maybe 1. I thought I was nearly cured.
            Enter 2014: specifically summer of 2014. 2014 was a significant year for me because I had several bad bouts with asthma because of the very high pollen counts (I am basically allergic to everything outside!). The summer began with a switch to different series beta-blockers because the one that I was on decreased the effectiveness of my asthma medication. The switch began in late May. From late May until late July I was back in a non-relenting cycle of migraine headaches. I took more Imitrex in the summer months than I did since I gave up caffeine. By the end of June, the headaches had subsided, so I that I was done. But, no. I wasn’t. By the third week July they had started up again. I went to see my neurologist who prescribed a new drug for me: an anticonvulsant. I took this for three weeks, but could not handle the numbness in my hands and the dullness in my head. So, I went back to my other meds.
            As the summer progressed I began reading a great deal about migraines (specifically Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/departments-centers/neurology/overview/specialty-groups/headache. From my reading, I realized that I was probably using too much Imitrex and developed what is known as medication overuse rebound migraines. In early August, I decided to stop all Imitrex for my acute headaches. It was tough, but I did it. At the same time, I eliminated Aspartame in my diet (another trigger).  I noticed that my body would go through a migraine cycle for 2-3 days with about a day in between and then the cycle would begin again. By Mid September, the cycles were getting longer and weaker. By early October, I was having only 1 or so every two weeks. Although it was very hard to power through these headaches, I was encouraged that all together as I went along each headache was less than the one before. This fact made we wonder what might happen if I started to take myself off of all medication. Would I have that same cycle?
By Mid October, 10 days ago, I decided to begin to tapper down my preventative meds. After 13 years, it was fairly obvious that they were not doing what they should have. I was also becoming concerned with some vague wobbliness that I felt might have been related to the long-term impact on my body of these preventative medications. Plus, Beta-blockers are not weight neutral. I reasoned that if I went off the Beta-blocker, just maybe I would be able to work on my last 35 pounds. After my experience of powering through the headaches without any acute migraine medication outside of Ibuprofen, I wanted to see how my body responded. 
It may be coincidental, but over the past 10 days I have not had a headache. I am now off all of my medications for migraines. It is too early to tell what will happen, but I am encouraged by how I feel so far.  After taking daily medication to prevent migraines for over 13 years, plus tens if not hundreds of doses of Imitrex, I feel it is time to see how my body responds on it’s own. So far my head feels good and clear. I am taking good care of myself and keeping up my exercise.
I have been a migraine sufferer for too long to really believe that they are gone. But, at this point, I want to continue to give no medication a try. I respect my neurologist, however, I known that if I had gone back to her in August and reported the unrelenting cycle of migraines, that she would have opted for a new round of different medications, including Botox injections. I am interrupting that medication cycle, to see what happens. I am keeping my fingers crossed that my chronic cycle has also been disrupted. 
I am not a medical doctor. Please take this overview as just what it is: a short history of my own migraines and what is working, not as advice for any reader. I will keep you posted. Michele

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Seattle to Portland Ride, STP!

On July 12 and 13, I rode 207 miles in the Seattle to Portland Ride with my son Sean. I trained for months for this event, starting in February. It was a tremendous accomplishment for me that would never have materialized if I had not started taking better care of my health. Before it slips from my memory, I decided to write out my own notes about each leg of the trek so that I can prepare better for the next time.

U of WA to Lake Washington (4.7) was a well-marked section, with a few short hills. Sean and I arrived at 5:15, got in line and off we went! The route around Lake Washington was glorious; Mount Reiner and a full moon off to the East with the skyline of Seattle across the lake. 

This part of the route was excellent where Sean and I averaged about 16 mph. Oftentimes (because of the flats around the lake) we were able to draft at about 18mph. Our first official rest stop was in Renton at REI headquarters. They had a polka band, which make the atmosphere festive.  They also had wonderful burrito type wraps with peanut butter.

The next leg took us up to the hill (mainly flats until the hill). The hill was hard, but doable. I maxed out my gears. I was not the slowest person going up the hill, but one of the slowest. After the hill, the terrain became gentle rollers all the way to the Spanaway, where Anne and Jan met us (which was awesome). I had a flat right outside of Spanaway which Sean fixed lickety split.

After Spanaway the temperatures starting getting really hot. I am guessing it was about 90 by 1pm. The route was not too hard, mainly rollers, but the heat was problematic, especially for me. I had a hard time eating anything and drinking did not work either. Our mistake was not stopping every 10 miles to eat and drink. Somewhere around McKenna or Yelm, we found a Wal-Mart where I bought a yogurt, which I thought correctly, might settle my body down. Just walking trough that immense store to find the yogurt cooled my body down. Once I realized how my body was responding to the heat, we began taking many breaks, plus we stood in the misters, too (which were fabulous).

Around mile 72, we started riding on an old railroad trail. For the most part this trail went slowly downhill, which made it great for riding in the heat. The air circulation was not as good here as on the road (bushes and trees blocked he slight breeze), but it was heavenly to be off the road. We entered Centralia around mile 95. We rode about 4 miles into town to get to Centralia Community College (where there was great food!). Our average for day one was just under 14mph!

Day 2
We got up early and left by 5:30am on Sunday morning (along wit a few hundred other riders with the same idea. Centralia to Winlock featured many rollers, with some flats. We again averaged in the upper teens (17-18 MPH) by drafting. The route from Winlock to the Kelso/Longview areas were perhaps the most scenic of the whole trip. Plenty of rollers, some with some grades to climb, but beautiful farmland and open fields. Anne and Jan met us at Lexington Free Food Stop, which was one of my favorites. We stayed there about 40 minutes and grabbed many snacks for later. The weather stayed cool all day (upper 60s. from a predicted 90ish).

We were escorted in groups of 500-700 riders over the Lewis and Clark Bridge. There was a steep grade initially on the bridge they gave way to a long descent. After crossing that beautiful bridge we started one of the most tedious parts of the route US Route 30 through Oregon. This is a heavily traveled route with two lanes of traffic in both directions. The shoulders were sometimes very narrow or nonexistent. The lumbering traffic was noisy and unpleasant. There were plenty of places to stop for food though, including a DQ and coffee for Sean. This part of the route also featured some light rain, which made us both cautious as we rode. Road bikes are not meant for rainy conditions.

That last part of the route crossed one more bridge over the river near Portland. Probably the longest 10 miles of the ride was riding through the various neighborhoods in Portland. I was tired and there were a zillion stoplights that we had to stop at. But we made it. When we were about two blocks away from the finish line, I saw the banners and started to get emotional. It was a LONG two days, but Sean and I had done it (Day 2 averaged about 13mph). 
Four years ago, I could never have imagined doing a ride like this. Even three years ago when I did my first organized ride (the Tour De Cure) for 27 miles, I did not envision that I would do back to back centuries. I still have about 30 pounds that I would like to shed, but that extra weight has not stopped me in becoming more fit that I have ever been in my life.

I also could not imagine four years ago that my adult son Sean would ride this event with me. He was a great supporter and encouraged me when the route or the heat became hard. I think there were times when I surprised him at my stamina (like riding by him when he was trying to keep a slower base). He drafted me across many parts of the route which saved my energy for when I needed it (the hills). Plus, he was just good company. I would never recommend riding an event like the STP without a companion. You need it. Sean, you were the best! Thank-you so much for doing this with me! I will remember this for a long time!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Love January

I love January (especially the fact that I am not teaching in January)! At my college we offer a January term where students take one class for four weeks.  In my experience those are great classes to teach, especially when you plan a travel course, but this January I am not doing either.

This means that I can spend January working on scholarship and other projects. I submitted a revised paper to a journal last week. I also submitted a paper that I am co-writing back to the other writers. My next project is continued work on a disciplinary literacy paper. I hope to have that paper turned back to my team within two weeks. My last paper is one that I am writing with my students using birds as a focal point for developing both engineering and ecological science. 

One of the other projects that I will work on this January term is reorganizing and sorting through all my research files. As a researcher, I accumulate tens if not hundreds of articles, books, and essays while I am writing. You have to do the kind of thing in the writing I do. Every paper uses a different conceptual or theoretical framework and generally different research methodologies as well. The paper that was most recently accepted had 88 (!!) references and this was after I deleted probably a couple of dozen! My goal is to sort though all the videos, audiotapes and my own notes and get rid of most of them now that the articles are in press. I am trying to figure out the best way to organize all the research literature I use or used. I think I will organize them into categories rather than by paper as I have them now.  The next step will be developing a complete bibliography so I know what I have. That last step will be something that one of my lovely student workers will do.

I am off to a conference now for a few days in San Antonio. I am presenting a workshop with other colleagues on supporting students with exceptionalities in science teacher education. It will be nice to reconnect with a bunch of folks I only see at these events.

TTFN, Michele

Monday, December 30, 2013

Winter and writing

It is a frigid night tonight in NW Wisconsin, -9 degrees Fahrenheit!  We are once again in a stubborn arctic air high pressure system. For me this means being very productive with indoor activities... 
We have over 25 inches of snow!
My writing desk at our cabin.

I am finally making some headway in getting published, which is very exciting. One article will appear in Science and Children sometime in the near future. This is an article I wrote about pollinators, specifically bees,  with a couple of teachers and an entomologist. I was the main writer and editor, but I gave first author rights to the two teachers who designed a unit about bees that was the inspiration for the article. With pollinators increasingly in the news, this is a timely article. I am guessing it will be out in late spring.

The second article is one that was part of my original dissertation research. It is a case study about a 7th grade student who chose the name of Wizard as his pseudonym. Wizard was identified with learning and behavioral challenges at a young age. In elementary school he was enrolled mainly in special education classes, so a 7th grade inclusive science classroom was a great place to understand his experiences in learning. The paper that is now in “production” had many iterations over the years. Last summer, I finally landed on an appropriate and relevant theoretical lens of disability studies in education to analyze and synthesize the data. I rewatched all the video tapes last summer, too. This time I used a Classroom Observation Protocol called CETP-COP to help me understand the learning environment across 5 minute intervals. This paper represents such a huge chunk of my life, professionally. Here is the abstract:

This case study reports on a special education student in an inclusive seventh grade life science classroom using a framework of disability studies in education. Classroom data collected over 13 weeks consisted of both qualitative (student and classroom observations, interviews, student work samples) and quantitative methods (video-taped classroom teaching and learning record using CETP-COP). Three key findings emerged in the analysis and synthesis of the data: 1) the experiences in learning science for Wizard are in a position of disability or service 2) the outcomes of learning are fragmented as a result of vulnerable and weak disciplinary literacy, 3) the nature of the inclusion is fragile and functional. Implications for classroom practices that support students with learning disabilities include focusing on student strengths, intentional use of disciplinary literacy strategies, and opportunities for eliciting student voice in decision making. 

It sounds trite to say that I learned  a great deal from Wizard, but I did. Each semester I bring him (figuratively speaking) into my teaching with my teacher candidates. I use his voice to push my students to think more about inclusion with the hardest to reach students. What I learned from Wizard has contributed to my own growth as a teacher educator in ways that I could never have imagined. His story is one that should be shared. I am very excited that it will finally get the press it deserves.

January Term is just about upon me. I have a few more hours of grading to do, and then all of my responsibilities for Fall semester will be complete. I am looking forward to the next 5 weeks of respite from my teaching so that I can more fully concentrate on my scholarship. I have another 4 articles that I am working on. One more for Science and Children, one on disciplinary literacy, a resubmit of  research of my summer work at the U of MN about a professional development program using scientific inquiry and a resubmit of a descriptive inquiry paper that I wrote with some of my students.

Besides all of the Writing, I am also hoping to catch up on at least 15 weeks of the New Yorker and read two books and see a bunch of movies. Love January term! TTFN, Michele

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Slicing Carrots and Other Ruminations

I just sliced up a few carrots for dinner. Nothing special; just cut them into smaller slivers and then made diagonal cuts so they do not look so geometrical. I love the way raw carrots snap and crackle as you cut them up with a sharp knife. I love the color of them, too. Orange. Deep and brilliant orange. As I cut the carrots I wondered what their origin was. Where did these carrots grow and when did we as human beings begin to eat them? So much to wonder about a carrot!
I will throw them in some boiling water in a little while and cook them for just a few minutes until they are done the way I like them (tenderly crispy). Once they are cooked I will savor their gifts of carotene and Vitamin A. Cutting up a few carrots is simple enough and borrows only a little time from my very leisurely day. As I was cutting, I could not help but think about how many people think cutting up vegetables is a chore, including me just a few years ago. When I had a rising family I know the last thing I wanted to do was to cut up some vegetables at the end of the day. Food producers and food processors have taken note of just that as is evidenced in all the prewashed and pre cut veggies that are available at the market. All you have to do is throw them in some boiling water. But, you miss out on that snap and that crackle. You miss the aroma of the raw carrot as it lays slivered up in front of you. You miss out from using your own hands to at least prepare part of your meal.
Preparing for dinner and cooking in general is such a calming aspect of my life now. It was not always so, but as I have taken better care of myself, cooking has been something that I have grown to relish. It is one demonstration of how I care for me and for those who I love. Cutting up carrots today was ruminative.
I am somewhat immobile now because I broke my foot. I did not feel confident venturing out today because of the rain, instead, I ventured in and read through four New Yorkers. The most poignant article came from the May 20, 2013 edition with an article by Rebecca Mead: The Sense of an Ending. It portrayed a patient centered model of care for the elderly, especially those with dementia at the Beatitudes Campus (a retirement community in Phoenix, Arizona).  It is a holistic model of care where the philosophy is: “When you have dementia, we can't change how you think, but we can change how you feel” (p 94). At Beatitudes there are no fixed bedtimes or rising hours and no schedules that residents must be showered by a certain time. The focus is on promoting experiences that are pleasurable because research has shown that such experiences have an effect on persons with dementia even after the experience is forgotten.  The principles underlying Beatitudes stems from the work of Thomas Kitwood, a social psychologist, in 1997. He insisted that people with “dementia, rather than being seen as debilitated should be embraced for what they can teach the cognitively intact” (p. 97). He promoted “person centered care”. He believed that people with dementia invite us “to return to aspects of our being that are much older in evolutionary terms: more in tune with the body and functions, closer to the life of instant.” My father had dementia, thus I feel it is likely that I may acquire this, too. When I get dementia, I hope that I receive the type of care discussed in this article.


Monday, January 21, 2013


I feel like I am on a mini-sabbatical right now. I will stay for the bulk of the next three weeks at our cabin in NW WI to focus on writing and research analysis. I planned and protected these three weeks so that I could do just that. It means that I am away from my family and the grandbabies, but I am hoping that I can make good progress in my writing goals so that it will be worth it. I am working on two papers related to inclusive science education. My brain is swirling after spending the bulk of the day reading and reviewing literature to help me shape the theoretical perspective that will undergird the papers. I enjoy this work immensely and find it creative, inspiring and thought provoking.

I read a novel over Christmas break which is unusual for me: Anna Qunidlan’s Every Last One
I found it to be riveting, compelling and tragic. I had not read anything by Quindlen before, but this book sure did get my attention. I enjoy novels, although I rarely take time to read them because of all the professional reading that I do. I found another novel that I will start tonight by Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna. I read the Poison Wood Bible many years ago (good read) and have read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle with my students (a great read with lots of recipes). I like her style of writing so I was delighted to find the Lacuna at the local used bookshop.

Speaking of reading: I share a subscription to the New Yorker with a friend. I adore this magazine. They are published weekly, but I rarely can read one weekly. Instead I save them up for when I have a long break from school, like now. I like to read an issue a day while soaking in a hot bubble bath when I am not bound by the constraints of the academic life (i.e. breaks like the one I am having right now).  Two great articles from issues published last summer really caught my attention. Being it was Inauguration Day today, one of the articles featured an overview and an analysis of what the second term of Obama might lead to.  Given that this issue was published over 7 months ago, it made for interesting, relevant and probably (although only time will tell) realistic depictions of what he might get done. For me it offered a brief education of the politics of a second term. According to the New Yorker, he will have about 18–24 months to make advances in any of his campaign policies before the focus turns to the election of the next President and all the politics inherent in just that begin (sorry, I passed this article on so I can not give you the title). The second article was a personal history called “The Aquarium” by Aleksandar Hemon about a child’s isolating illness. A poignant story written by a father with poise and wisdom.  I do not think about death often, but I do think about the fact that what there is left of my life is much less that what I have lived. I am aging and that is no secret. This piece resonated with me as a mom, a grandmother and a human being. Here are two of my favorite sections of text, used without permission.

There is a psychological mechanism, I’ve come to believe that prevents most of us from imagining the moment of our death...It would be unbearably obvious that death is inscribed in everything that constitutes life, that any moment your existence may be only a breath away from being your last. Still, as we mature into our mortality, we begin to gingerly dip our horror-tingling ties into the void, hoping that our mind will somehow ease itself into dying, that God, or some other soothing opiate will remain available as we venture into the darkness of non-being (p. 54).

One of the most despicable religious fallacies is that suffering is ennobling-that it is a step on the path to some kind of enlightenment or salvation. Isabel’s suffering and death did not nothing for her, or us, or the world (p. 62).

Finally, there was the lovely piece (June 13 & 20, 2011) titled: Where I learned to read by Salvatore Scibona. The author attended  a college where the curriculum was very liberal arts-ian and students read books by authors like Copernicus, Aristotle, Einstein and Darwin rather than reading books about them. He sums up how these great works impacted him with this text: “In retrospect, I was a sad little boy and a standard-issue, shiftless, egotistical, dejected teen-ager. Everything was going to hell, and then these strangers let me come to their school and showed me how to read. All things considered, every year since has been a more intense and enigmatic joy” (p. 105).