Talking about racism, protests, and rioting

With stories all over the news, internet and social media, it is no wonder my son heard about George Floyd, the African American man who died due to police brutality. There is no excuse for the police officers’ actions. And Floyd’s death has sparked outrage and protests.

It was news of these protests that brought our son into our bedroom Saturday night. Now there is nothing wrong with people speaking out, marching, or protesting to get their opinions out about the travesty of what happened and demanding change.

But it is what happened in many cities during the protests that alarmed Jase. And that was the rioting and looting.

We first talked about the May 25 incident that sparked this. We talked about Floyd’s death and how much of the outrage was because Floyd was black, and the police officer was white. While racism has been the focus, I hope that people would be outraged no matter the color of the skin of the victim. It is simple – the police officers’ (all four of them) behavior was wrong. Police brutality is wrong.

But the outrage at Floyd’s death and the protests, the calls for change are not wrong. They are necessary. We need to demand justice. The officer that pinned Floyd’s neck with his knee has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other three officers on the scene will likely be charged too. All four have been fired.

We need to demand change. We need to stop racial profiling. We need to stop police brutality. However, the rioting and the looting is not what is needed. Nothing good comes from this. In no way does breaking into businesses and stealing items, in lighting cars or buildings on fire, or attacking people in wheelchairs, reporters or police officers do anything to right the wrong or change future behavior. In fact, it does the exact opposite.

It is these images of destruction and police in riot gear that concerned Jase. We talked about people having pent up anger at a string of similar incidents and that in the heat of the moment, people do not think clearly. They see the police as opposition. They begin to see fighting as a legitimate choice even if it is against figures of authority. They are desperate to be heard. But fighting is rarely the answer. Nor is resulting to the criminal acts of destroying and stealing property.

While I feel outrage about the death of George Floyd, I am also disgusted by the behavior of these people who chose the wrong course of action in response to a previous wrong action. Two wrongs still do not make a right.

While I am unsure how much of this complicated issue Jase understands, these are important issues that need to be discussed now and in the future in our family and in society. We need to keep working toward a change.

Vacation plans change due to COVID 19

Well most of our summer plans have changed – and even our Thanksgiving vacation plans are in jeopardy – and all due to COVID 19 lockdowns.

Originally we had planned to go to South Padre Island as part of my husband’s annual summer conference. But due to the uncertainty if restrictions would still exist on how many people can gather in one place, the attorney group hosting the conference moved it to a virtual conference.

So, gone was our trip to the beach though my husband and I thought me might take the kids later in July if things improved. This discussion was back in April before Texas started relaxing the Stay At Home rules.

We also had plans to go to New Orleans with my parents and brother. But that has been an area hard hit with cases of COVID 19. We had tickets to ride in at PT Boat but they were refunded when the company said they would not be open to July at the earliest.  We held off cancelling our trip until the beginning of May. But there is no use going if all the attractions we planned to visit are closed and no restaurants are open.

So, that vacation too was cancelled. But that didn’t stop us from changing our plans. Now we have plans to go to South Padre Island with my parents and brother for a 3-night stay. The kids are excited about the beach. And hopefully nothing will happen between now and the end of June to change the access to the beach. As long as there is not a flare of COVID 19 in Texas, I expect they will continue to relax our restrictions and our beach vacation will stay a possibility.

Shanghai Disneyland reopens after closing due to coronavirusOur biggest trip this year was supposed to be a week long trip to Walt Disney World over Thanksgiving break. Of course, right now, the parks are closed and no date has been announced for their reopening. I expect them to open sometime this summer. They may run with a lower capacity and masks may be required. Whether all that will still be in place in November is anyone’s guess.

The kicker is that we booked our room by renting DVC points. This is a non-refundable purchase. I seriously considered trip insurance but this was back in January and at the time I couldn’t think of a reason we would need it. In February, I bought our park tickets two days before they raised the prices for this year. At the time, I was happy that I saved money. Now, even though they are dated tickets, we probably could cancel them and use the tickets at a later date, but we still have our room already paid for so the chances of us cancelling now are low.

Airfare goes on sale with Southwest at the end of this month. If prices stay as low as they have been, I’ll be purchasing those tickets and that will seal us into going as long as Disney World is open. It won’t be the dream vacation we were hoping for but we will make the best of the situation. Of course, it is easy to say that now but in reality, we have no clue what will be happening six months for now. Maybe we will have wasted our money and not be able to go. Or maybe we will go and have a good time. Only time will tell.

 

 

Finishing up the school year with distance learning

At the end of March, I wrote my third post about COVID-19 in which I wrote about my kids’ school moving to distance learning. At the time, we thought we would be going back to school on April 24. Then the date was moved to May 4, and then finally the governor of Texas closed schools for the rest of this school year.

This means that the last 9 weeks of school would all be done online. Now, I’ve read lots of articles about parents or students struggling with distance learning. Parents don’t know how to teach their kids or don’t have the time or knowledge. Students aren’t being engaged, don’t have the discipline without supervision or simply are “done” with school (which would have happened even if the students were in school).

But I have not run into these problems. I worked from home before this and while the kids’ distance learning did/does in interfere with my work, I’ve learned to just make sure I am free in the mornings when they might need help. I can always do my work in the evening if necessary. And while I am not an expect on every topic they are covering, I am good at researching online and if it is math, I simply turn it over to my husband. But really, they have not required my help all that much. It helps that they are in middle school and can work independently (mostly).

There is a big difference in the assignments for each kid. Lexie’s homework usually consists of reading something or watching a video/PowerPoint presentation and then answering a few questions. Jase, on the other hand, has pages to write or presentations to create. While Lexie’s school work is done in an hour or so each morning, Jase works three to four hours each day Monday through Thursday, completing 2 classes each day.

Lexie, who has ADHD, is hard to keep focused. Even on her medication, she feels the allure of her phone, YouTube, her sketchbook, her bed and any number of things that call to her rather than doing the assignment before her. Jase needs no guidance.

Domuni - Connecting people through distance learning | DomuniMy only concern – and one Jase shares – is that while the lessons are good, they only have one assignment per class per week. It feels like they could be doing more. It isn’t like they are attending class. Many times, there is no lecture or even no contact with the teacher beyond an assignment posted in Google Classroom. If they were actually in class, I feel they would be learning so much more. Or perhaps not. Much of the final quarter of school is often spent on benchmark or standardized tests so class time is used for review.

And I do understand that the school is trying to work with everyone’s schedules and abilities, but when they were once having seven hours of school (roughly 35 hours a week not including homework), we are now working at 10 to 16 hours of schooling. They are losing so much by not being in the classroom and it isn’t just the amount of time they are working. They are missing peer interaction, classroom discussions, and hands-on learning and experiments. But I know the teachers were thrown into this, so I try not to worry about it.

There are two more weeks of distance learning left. Then it will be summertime and hopefully they will be returning to the actual school buildings next year.

Celebrating Star Wars Day

Today is May 4th – better known as Star Wars Day. For those of you who are not Star Wars fans, May the Fourth sounds a lot like May the Force – as in “May the Force be with you” or as fans say today “May the Fourth be with you.”

History

Now obviously this isn’t an official holiday. You won’t find it on most calendars. This is a holiday devised by fans that grew by word-of-mouth. It now has been embraced by Lucasfilm and Disney (the parent company of Lucasfilm).

Strangely one of the first published uses of the “May the Fourth be with you” was in a newspaper ad by the UK’s Conservative Party on May 4, 1979 during the election of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister.

Now while Star Wars fans may have recognized the day for many years by using the catch phrase or wearing Star Wars shirts, it appears the first organized Star Wars Day happened in Toronto, Canada in 2011 with trivia games, costume contests and showing of fan tribute films, mash-ups and parodies.

In 2013, Disney started observing the holiday with festivities at Disneyland and Disney World. Before this they did also have Star Wars Weekends where they featured special Star Wars themed events (parades, appearances by actors, special costumes for Mickey and the gang) at the parks on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in May and June. This became an annual event from 2003 to 2015.

What to do on Star Wars Day

Many fans of course wear Star Wars shirts or maybe even costumes. They might make Star Wars inspired food and drinks.

TV networks often air Star Wars films. In fact this year, Disney+ is showing all 9 Star Wars films in the Skywalker Saga. They are also airing the series finale of the cartoon series, The Clone Wars, today.

Sports teams such as the minor league baseball teams the Toledo Mud Hens and the Durham Bulls have worn special uniforms when playing on Star Wars day.

What my family will be doing

Jase (my soon to be fifteen-year-old) will certainly be wearing a Star Wars shirt. He is eagerly waiting to see the final episode of The Clone Wars. Most likely by the time you are reading this, he will probably already have watched it. I am guessing he and my husband will watch it first thing in the morning – especially as my husband has to work late tonight.

Lexie (my twelve-year-old, anti-Star Wars gir) will be doing her best to ignore that it is even Star Wars day. She doesn’t even own a Star Wars shirt. She does at least think the Child (aka Baby Yoda) from The Mandalorian is cute.

My husband will be wearing a Star Wars shirt, of course. But he must go to work so his celebrating of the day will be low key. Now with our city having a face mask mandate, he will be wearing the Darth Vader mask he created.

As for me, I am looking forward to watching Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, the behind-the-scenes documentary – while wearing my one and only Star Wars shirt. 

Surviving Distance Learning while on Stay Home, Work Safe orders

Two weeks ago, I wrote my second post about the novel coronavirus that leads to COVID-19. As I predicted, that was not my last post on the subject. At the time of my last post, my kids Spring Break had been extended by one week. Later that week, the school district announced the schools would close through April 3. And now that date is April 24.

While there was no learning the week after Spring Break, the teachers and staff at our school jumped into action. One of the first things our local schools did was ensure that students were taking care of. Some students rely on the schools for meals, so our cafeteria staffs put to-go breakfast and lunch packages served with milk or juice. These were available to any student under 19 whether they normally received a free lunch. The awesome lunch staff in our district served over 60,000 meals that week from the parking lot of 32 of our local elementary schools and quickly expanded the program to include weekend snack packs. This past week they served 170,000+ meals and this is just in our school district. Counselors were also made available to the students through the phone or conferencing with Zoom. What a way to make sure the kids physical and emotional needs were met.

As for the educational part, our teachers just had a few days to prepare for “distance learning.” While staff hurried to prepare laptops students could borrow, the teachers set up Google Classrooms and prepared videos, PowerPoint slide shows or informational documents for the students to learn the material and then assignments to ensure their understanding. They also had to create paper packets for those students who didn’t have internet access.

Distance Learning puts a lot of pressure on all of us – parents, students and teachers. As parents, we have to partially be the teacher – more so if you kids are younger. Not only do we have to help them understand the topics/assignments, we have to learn to manipulate the tools they are provided for learning such as how to turn in an assignment on Google Classroom or make sure the sound and video are working for a Zoom conference.

Students at our middle school were thrown off as they no longer were attending their 8 classes each day. With online learning, they can pick and choose which class they want to do first. Each class is only going over one topic for the week but there is the reading material or watching video as well as questions and projects that are due at the end of the week. They can attend online tutoring and can email their teachers, but it just isn’t quite the same as being there in person.

And as I said before, the teachers are throwing this together quickly. They are testing out new ways to get the information to their students and then test their knowledge. Some assignments are done on Google Forms or you upload a document or photo in the Google Classroom. They must make sure their students (180 to 210) are all having their questions answered and needs met. That’s no easy task when you no longer see them daily.

This virus has thrown our lives in turmoil, but I think we are doing well. The kids will adapt to distance learning for the next four weeks. And hopefully, they will get to finish off the rest of the year back at school.

Coronavirus pandemic causes people to behave crazy

Two weeks ago, I wrote about talking to my daughter about the Coronavirus threat and why she should not be worried. And while I thought that would be my only post on this topic, the world has gone crazy. Now we have Disney World, the NBA, festivals and production of dozens of TV shows and movies closing down. We have city, state and national declarations of emergencies. And we have people going crazy stocking up on bottled water, Clorox wipes and toilet paper as well as ransacking grocery store shelves leaving them bare of canned goods, meat, eggs and milk.

The rest of the world may be running around like the world is coming to an end, but not us. As I said two weeks ago, we are not concerned about the virus.

Since my first post, we have celebrated Lexie’s birthday. We typically do something with her friends the weekend before her birthday. This year, we ordered pizza for her and her best friend and did some science experiments at home before going to the movie theatre to see Onward. (Great movie from Pixar/Disney) This was our kickoff for the kids’ Spring Break from school. Tuesday, we went to Six Flags Fiesta Texas and enjoyed short lines for all the rides as fear of the virus kept away the normal hectic Spring Break crowd.

Thursday of Spring Break was Lexie’s birthday, and we celebrated by going out to a restaurant owned by Lexie’s best friend’s parents. It is a Japanese Steakhouse where they cook on your table. The restaurant was not busy at all, though I am not sure if that is because we went early on a weekday or because people are avoiding eating out and/or restaurants with Chinese or Japanese workers. It was a great meal.

And then the next day, everything changed. San Antonio’s mayor made an emergency declaration. The city postponed Fiesta, a 10-day celebration that brings in $340 million to the city, that would have run in April. But the news that mattered most was the mayor banned public gathering of groups over 500. This caused our school district to cancel school for the next week, which is the current length of the ban.

I can’t say I wasn’t expecting it to happen, but it still wasn’t something I wanted. Yes, I know the reasoning behind the closures – to delay the spread of the virus. A surge of sick people needing medical attention would test the limits of our hospitals. But it is hard to see everything close when the virus doesn’t seem as catastrophic as the media is making it out to be. Of course, the numbers are definitely off since testing has been low in the United States. More people probably have it than are being reported. The good news is that if there are more unaccounted for cases of the virus, the death rate should be going down.

As of my writing, there is only two cases of COVID-19 here in San Antonio. Both are travel-based. One had traveled to Japan recently while the other came from a trip to California which has been hit harder with the virus. In the U.S., there are 1629 cases with 41 deaths, half of which come from one nursing home. There are roughly 327 million people in the United States. The number of those affected by the virus (even if it is much larger than reported) does not make sense with the amount of society’s panic.

Yes, we need to take precaution (stay home if we are sick and wash our hands often) but it doesn’t explain the fights over TP and bottled water. Or explain the hordes descending on the grocery store to buy every loaf of bread or canned vegetable.

Luckily, I bought my groceries – doing a little extra stocking up – a day before the crazy people started shopping.

I’m not saying my kids won’t enjoy another week off from school though they do realize that they may be making up these days in June. I’m just wishing that people would stop over-reacting. You can be concerned and even prepared without going overboard. There is no shortage of supplies or food. And even if you are quarantined, there are ways to get these items to your house. You will not starve.

I hope this is my last post on COVID-19, but I am not holding my breath. With all the closures and the people who are now not getting a paycheck, I expect there will be economic and financial repercussions from these events that will far outlast the virus. So we will see if I post again on this topic. Until then, I hope everyone stays safe and healthy while we wait for this crazy time to pass.

Technology changes since my daughter’s birth

Lexie turns 12 this week. Two weeks ago, we were watching an old episode of Phineas and Ferb, the Disney Channel cartoon, when Lexie mentioned the characters were using antiquated items. Specifically, she was commenting about a character using the flip-style cellphone.

My first thought that this wasn’t antiquated. It wasn’t that long ago that flip phones were “normal,” before they were replaced by the smartphone. Ok, so this was mid-2000s which is when the cartoon show in question came out. Even though Phineas and Ferb ran for 8 years (2007 to 2015) – the technology shown in the show didn’t advance.

But Lexie’s comment of “antiquated” had me thinking about how much has changed in the 12 years since she was born.

Obviously, cellphones and tablets have come along way. When Barrack Obama was elected in 2008 (the year Lexie was born), he relied on his Blackberry, the favored communication device of the business and political world. The iPhone was just a few months old having been released in June of 2007 and many thought it might just be a passing fad. Boy were they wrong. Not only has iPhone taken off, but now most cellphones are smart phones which is like having a mini-computer in your pocket and allows the user to work remotely – or work all the time, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Cellphone cameras have replaced regular cameras. Gone now are the digital cameras and video cameras. They have all been replaced with our cellphones. Even movies are being shot on smartphones by prominent directors.

Online shopping is up while shopping at brick-and-mortar stores is down. Heck, we even now store our information, photos and personal documents on cloud-based systems such as Dropbox, Flickr and Google Docs.

Social media also has grown leaps and bounds in the past 12 years. In 2008, Facebook had 100 million users (compared to 2.5 billion today) and Twitter was just starting. Now we have Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook Live. YouTube which was just a few years old in 2008 has grown to 31 million channels with 5 billion videos watched daily. People find out about news on social media. Of course, you have to watch out for the fake news or misinformation spread by these same sources.

Gone now are the days of GPS devices. Now the units are built in our cars or we use apps for our directions. Our use of cabs is down as now we call on someone else to drive us though Uber and Lyft.

When Lexie was little, we were still buying DVDs. But now gone are most places to rent those. But we do still have Redbox, where I just rented two DVDs for this past weekend. Even Netflix has changed from a DVD subscription service that began in 2007 to one of the larger streaming services (though they still offer the DVD rentals).

It now is all about streaming services which are offered by companies such as Amazon, Disney/Hulu, Sling, Netflix and YouTube. These services offer movies as well as TV shows. Now we watch what we want to watch when we want to watch it.

There are plenty of other changes that I don’t have the time to list all the changes in the past 12 years. I did find this article on Washington Post that shows what technology you grew up with and you can customize your experience by selecting your birth year. Check it out here. And as for Lexie, let’s just see how many changes are in the next ten to twelve years. I’m sure it will be just as astonishing.