Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Yoga lessons

I remember back around... 2006 or 7 or so... when my back went out.  I'd had "episodes" many times over the years, but that one was the worst, I honestly thought I'd broken something. going from laying down to standing up took at least 2 minutes, and even then the most I could do was a sort of bent-leg-lean-forward as if I were about to dive from a platform.  My hips were tilted one way, and my ribcage the other, making it look as though I were a partially melted snowman whose torso was about to slide off to the ground. After visits with chiropractors, sports medicine doctors, and physical therapists, the collective diagnosis was a combination of issues.  I have a type of scoliosis where the base of my spine is twisted and curved, my body compensated for it by putting all movement in one spot on my spine, my muscles were shorter on one side of my back than the other due to the compensation, the twist causes pinching in the disks, and all in all if I moved just the wrong way then a nerve would get pinched, sending shooting pain down my back and IT band on the left leg, and the muscles would lock up tight to prevent pressure on that nerve.

The good news was, nothing was really "broken".

Up until then I'd had no idea that muscles could pull bones this way and that, I thought skeletons were rather static and I was stuck with the curve.  My doctors, however, were convinced I could reverse the effects of the scoliosis through training. Over the years I worked with my physical therapist and trainers at the gym to try to even out my back.  Through core and upper body strength training, and a lot of yoga, I've been able to make great improvements on flexibility, mobility, strength, and "balancing the load".  When I stopped having "episodes", I stopped thinking about muscle structure, and what muscle tension could do to the body.  I had a pretty good balance of strength training and flexibility training, so I didn't have to think about it much.

I've recently been reminded of the power of muscles when I began getting twinges.  My back didn't go out fully, but just walking around a store with my purse over my shoulder would cause a very annoying pinch in my back (same spot as always) and I would have to constantly stop, put the purse down, and twist this way and that to get it to stop.  I couldn't understand why this was happening, I'm training more than ever now... I've been working on an advanced yoga class and steadily gaining core strength, able to hold arm balances far longer than I ever have before.  I also felt like my clothes weren't fitting quite right, the hips seemed to be a little out of whack and I just all over felt really short.  (I know I *am* short, but even shorter than usual)  I spent one night laying in front of the TV stretching this way and that, and managed to briefly "unlock" whatever it was, and spent one blissful day without a twinge in the world... then I worked out and it came right back.

It was frustrating as all get out to try to locate the source of this newly reborn pain.. for weeks I concentrated on opening hips and stretching psoas (because that was the culprit in the past) but it never seemed to be quite enough.

Then last week our yoga instructor ended class with a very basic stretch... (no time to photograph myself doing it, but here is an example that is better than I can put into words)

In the past I could do this stretch all the way over... meaning that top hand would be grabbing my toes and my head would rest on my knee.  Last week?  My hand hovered at about the height this photo shows.

I actually said "Oooooohhhh! DUH!" in class (though not loudly)  I've been concentrating really hard on core strength for inversions, and I haven't stretched my sides AT ALL FOR WEEKS.


Yesterday after yoga class ended I went off to the side mats to do a little extra stretching... I took this pose and held it for about 20 very slow breaths, pulling in with every inhale, and leaning further with every exhale.  I slowly let gravity do the work, and eventually got to the point where my fingers met my toes (still not grabbing them though)  I did the same on the other side (left side is much tighter than the right) and was surprised by how long it took me to return up to a normal seating position... I actually had to lay flat on my back after that and catch my breath.  The result though, was a marked improvement after just having done that once.  I could sit in chairs and cars much easier yesterday, without tension on my spine, and I even woke up feeling taller this morning (although that could easily be all in my head)

At any rate... this is clearly a stretch I need to incorporate daily.

It seems that the more yoga I do, the more yoga I need to do.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Scattered and stunted

Last night I was telling D... "lately I've felt very inarticulate."
His response: "Really?  Can you describe what you mean?"
Me: "Well... no... that's sort of the problem."

I found that amusing.  But truly, lately I've felt unusually scattered, inarticulate, and forgetful.  I'm accomplishing things, though at the end of the day I can't quite remember everything that I did accomplish, and along with every accomplishment there is a "but you forgot to..." item right there next to it on the list.  I've had headaches more often, which I try to alleviate with coffee in the mornings and water throughout the day, but they still slow me down.  E-mails are taking me much longer to write than they should, and when someone speaks to me in person my responses feel so random and choppy.

Maybe it is the full moon/ red moon phenomenon we just experienced?  Maybe I burned up all my words composing that long (and as of yet unanswered) e-mail to the transportation department?  Perhaps I just need more sleep?

I'm looking forward to this weekend, where it will be too rainy to mow the lawn, and I have no particular set deadlines for any projects.  In the last couple of weeks I have managed to switch my digital life onto a new laptop, finish the big year-end for work, collect all the ingredients necessary for both my costume and G's (minus potentially buying new boots for me, although shoes are so hard to fit me that I can fall back on my existing hiking boots if necessary), fully decorate the interior of the house for Halloween, host the neighborhood Ladies Bunco Night at my house (complete with costumes), grab lunch with some fellow middle-school-moms who I haven't had time to visit with since August, and attend every one of G's badminton games.  Oh, and I taught myself to read crochet patterns, because it was just bugging me when I see them on Pinterest and don't understand them.

Having costumes done and the interior of the house decorated gives me the ability to breathe a little and enjoy this fall holiday.  Our plans are to get out to an expansive and beautiful pumpkin patch this weekend to pick out our carving pumpkins, and with that, the main running around shall be complete (prior to the halfway mark of the month!  A new record!)

I am hopeful that this outing will also fan the stunted sparks of my photography.  After having backed up and re-sorting all of my work for the computer switch, I've realized how little I've managed to get out and shoot in the last calendar year.  It is understandable, while I would love to plan photography-specific outings, they never do seem to pan out... so my general M.O. is to carry my gear with me on family outings and find something to shoot along the way.  This year we had precious few outings, due to a large yard project, and issues with our bird's health (she is fine now, no worries!) and the few times we did head out they were in kayaks, which meant no big camera for me.  It is probably beneficial for me, given how far behind I am in editing what I shot back in 2013, I feel creatively stunted. 

I recently received an email for a photography seminar in Seattle, and I'm seriously contemplating going, although I'm unfamiliar with the presenters and the subject matter might be redundant.  On the one hand, a refresher course in visualizing composition might breathe some life into my muse, on the other hand I might get anxious spending an entire Sunday at a basic seminar when I could spend those hours out shooting.  I'm still hashing out the pros and cons of it, but as I think about it I'm also reminding myself that I have a lovely book about landscape photography (which I purchased from photographers whom I do admire) that I have yet to read.  It might do me some good to crack that open in the evenings, and spend daylight hours in the field instead of a library.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Stepping into a new arena... complaining to the superintendent of our schools...

I consider myself lucky that I've had very little to complain about in my daughter's education thus far.  Having been in 5 different schools within two school districts, the experience has by and large been very positive and a wonderful environment for G.  There have been some hiccups maybe, perhaps a slight personality conflict which simply took some patience and understanding to find resolution, but nothing that has raised any major concerns for me.
Until this year.
In short, our buses are overcrowded.  This is not a "slightly stuffy and uncomfortable ride" level, this is to a degree where children are being put in danger - being squeezed in so tightly that they cannot sit on a seat, and some kids are even sitting on the floor of the buses.  I have only received glimpses of this issue because G only rides the bus once a week, and I've reached out to the transportation department about our specific experiences, but other parents have been filling in the full 180 degree view through Facebook discussions. We were repeatedly told that the transportation department is "working on the issue", and I thought it best to be patient and see how they managed the situation.  School has now been in session for over a month, the problem is no better, and my patience gave way to anger on Friday... when a bus driver walked off the job, leaving the kids stranded at the school for over an hour, and the official information sent to parents (4 hours later via email) stated: "...you may have noticed your children arrived home later than usual... the bus driver was unable to complete his route and we had to wait for a relief driver."
Although G was not involved in this (due to being at sports practice at the time) I'm angered by how this message glossed over the reality of the situation, and it only makes me wonder what else is happening back there behind the curtain of the Transportation Department that they are not telling parents?

Here is my letter, which summarizes the experience, and goes into detail about the safety concerns. (I've redacted my full name, a street name, and the name of the school because this is a public blog) I have sent this off to the superintendent, the deputy superintendent, the associate superintendents, the safety/risk management supervisor, the transportation supervisors, the school principal and the associate school principal.

To date, many parents have had little to no success in receiving answers from the transportation department.  My hope is that what I have put together sheds more light on the situation and initiates a proper response from someone.  I'll be updating the situation when I receive responses, and also if I don't receive a response at all.

I am a parent of a student at [the  Middle School].  My daughter plays fall sports, so since school started she has only had a need to ride the bus home on Wednesday afternoons due to after-school practices/games on the other days of the week.  Of the 5 Wednesdays of the school year thus far, I have been called twice by my daughter to come pick her up due to the bus being beyond capacity.  The first time, the bus driver told her the bus was overfull and she would have to take a different bus.  There is no other bus that comes into our neighborhood so she called me for a ride instead.  The second time, the bus was filled, there were still students waiting on the curb, and the principal had come onto the bus and ask students if anyone had parents available to pick them up so that the students who didn’t have an alternative way home could get onto the bus.
Initially, I had been told by the transportation department that two routes - #A and #B –  have the same first stop in [East], both buses are “at capacity”, and the first overload problem occurred because some kids from the duplicate stop were switching buses.  I was told the bus drivers would be supplied with lists of students who should be on their bus, and as long as the kids ride the bus they are assigned, there would be a seat for every student.  I did believe that, up until this past Wednesday when I was called to pick up my daughter because bus#A had more than 77 students trying to get home, and bus #B had already left, fully packed as well.
This prompted me to investigate the issue further...  beyond our own overcrowding experiences, I’ve seen comments from other parents at the school talking about their kids having to sit on the floor of the bus in the aisle on the way to school, kids squeezing in 4 to a seat, students sitting on the aisle side only being halfway on the seat with their legs out in the aisle to brace them, and students being told they can’t carry their small instruments (which are required for band and orchestra) on the bus due to overcrowding.   All of this is incredibly alarming. In the meantime, the responses from the transportation department have included (among other responses) the following:
"The manufacturers stated capacity for this bus is 77 passengers and we will not overload them, if drivers are overloaded they will call in asking for assistance. To date the highest count is 70 passengers and that has only been on Wednesdays, the other days he runs 15 to 25 students less than that."
“..three to a seat is how the capacity is calculated which is the manufacturers stated capacity and drivers are trained to not overload the buses.”

There is a key word missing from both of these responses.  Three to a seat is how the MAXIMUM capacity is calculated, and that maximum capacity is not determined by middle-school sized students.

The following information comes from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (1) (emphasis added):
“School buses transport passengers in a wide range sizes (height and weight). Accordingly, it is not possible to define the absolute capacity of a school bus under all conditions. The typical school bus seat is 39 inches wide and generally is considered to have a maximum seating capacity of three. This capacity rating is not meant to be a measure of the absolute capacity of the school bus seat for all sizes of passengers. Rather, it is the “rated maximum capacity” as determined by the school bus body manufacturer and specified on the vehicle. This rated capacity is determined by dividing the width of the seat by the number “13,” which represents the 12.8-inch hip breadth of a 5th percentile adult female test dummy as specified in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208, “Occupant Crash Protection.”
[A 5th percentile adult female dummy is approximately 4-feet 11-inches tall and weighs 102 pounds.]
The 1995 National Conference on School Transportation discussed guidelines for school transportation operations which are designed to “ensure safe and efficient student transportation.” For example, it is suggested that a local pupil transportation director route and schedule school buses “for safe, efficient and economical transportation service.”  An integral part of providing “safe” transportation in a school bus, or any other type motor vehicle, is that the passengers be properly seated. From a safety perspective, a person who is either standing or improperly seated in a school bus, or any other type of motor vehicle, is not afforded the benefits of the safety protection designed into the vehicle and is in increased jeopardy of injury in the event of a crash or extreme sudden driving maneuver. Additionally, there must be sufficient space on the school bus seat for each passenger’s body to be completely within the seat compartment. In the event of a crash or sudden driving maneuver, students that are not properly seated within the seat compartment, may not benefit from the passenger crash protection systems built into the school bus under Federal and State regulations.
In practice, school buses transport students of various sizes, typically from pre-schoolers to 12th graders. While a 39-inch seat may safely accommodate three pre-schoolers and/or primary school-aged children, it may not safely accommodate the same number of older children. Since the size of growing children varies, the number of pupils that can safely occupy a school bus seat also changes. Consequently, the “in use” capacity of a school bus varies depending on the size of the pupils transported. The use of a child safety seat for an infant or toddler, or special equipment needed for a child with disabilities, may further impact the “in-use” capacity of a school bus.
Highway Safety Guideline #17, “Pupil Transportation Safety,” as issued by the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration, states:
“(1) Standing while school buses and school-charter buses are in motion should not be permitted. Routing and seating plans should be coordinated so as to eliminate passengers standing when a school bus or school-charter bus is in motion.
(2) Due to variations in sizes of children of different ages, States and school districts should exercise judgment in deciding how many students are actually transported in a school bus or school-charter bus.
(3) There should be no auxiliary seating accommodations, such as temporary or folding jump seats in school buses.”
The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services believes all children riding in school buses, or other buses used to transport pupils to and from school or school-related activities, should be properly and safely seated facing forward. In addition, the State Directors Association believes there should be adequate space on the seat for the child to be seated completely within the seating compartment.
Accordingly, the State Directors Association believes States should establish guidelines for determining the “in-use” capacity of school buses and other buses used to transport pupils to and from school and school-related activities. The State Directors Association further believes States should enact legislation to prohibit standees during the regular operation of a school bus or other bus used to transport pupils to and from school or school-related activities.”

The following information is from the Washington State School Bus Driver Handbook (2) (emphasis added):
“Student Seating
A key safety system of school bus construction is the passenger seating system called “compartmentalization”. This seating system is the reason that school buses over 10,000 lbs. are not required by federal regulations to have seat belt systems installed for passengers. Compartmentalization includes the padding on the back of student seats, the construction standards for the seats, and the height of the seat backs. In order for this seating system to work the way it is designed, the students must be seated, facing forward, within the seat space. This means students should not be turned sideways, not facing the rear of the bus, not half in the seat and half in the aisle, and certainly not standing.”

The following information is from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (3) (emphasis added)
The Number of Persons That Can Safely Sit on a School Bus Seat
Federal regulation does not specify the number of persons that can sit on a school bus seat. The school bus manufacturers determine the maximum seating capacity of a school bus. The manufacturers use this number, which is based on sitting three small elementary school age persons per typical 39 inch school bus seat, in the calculations for determining the gross vehicle weight rating and the number of emergency exits. School transportation providers generally determine the number of persons that they can safely fit into a school bus seat. Generally they fit three smaller elementary school age persons or two adult high school age persons into a typical 39 inch school bus seat.
NHTSA recommends that all passengers be seated entirely within the confines of the school bus seats while the bus is in motion. Federal motor vehicle safety standard No. 222, "School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection" requires that the interior of large buses provide occupant protection so that children are protected without the need to buckle-up. Occupant crash protection is provided by a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs. Persons not sitting or sitting partially outside of the school bus seats will not be afforded the occupant protection provided by the school bus seats.”

Stated plainly, all evidence and experience showcases that the “in use” capacity of our buses is below this absolute maximum capacity stated by the manufacturer. I implore the transportation department to stop repeating this line about 3 to a seat/77 kids per bus.  We know that it is incorrect, illogical, and unsafe.  Our students riding these middle school buses are not elementary sized kids, and in addition to their larger physical size, the capacity calculation must take into consideration their school supplies (large backpacks, instruments, etc…) for both weight and bulk.  It is unsafe to take our middle school students, and all their school supplies, and press them into and on top of each other in an attempt to maintain this idea that three to a seat/77 students to a bus is the only threshold to worry about.  We are talking about the safety of our children, this is not the time to play a game of semantics. 
The conclusion is this: The current transportation solution is unsafe and inadequate.  There is not enough space on the buses to transport our children to and from school safely.
My question is this: What, specifically, is being done to resolve this issue?
We have been told multiple times by multiple people that the transportation department is “aware of our concerns” and they are “working on the issue”, however communication beyond this statement has been poor.  I would like to know, more specifically, what action is being taken to provide safe transportation for the students.
[my full name] 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Realistically speaking...

I try to set realistic goals for myself when it comes to projects.  As I continue to gain experience, my estimations on time do improve slightly... but one can never contend for the unexpected delays in life, even when you add a "buffer zone" in your estimation.

For scrapbooking, I've reached the point where I'm editing photos from 2008 for the digital scrapbook.  If I want to reach my original goal, I'd have to complete this, plus 7 more years of scrapbooks, plus a few vacation albums (because I took too many photos to fit in the regular annual book) by New Years.  This is not happening, but I'm not too disappointed.  I have at least made some good strides forward in this project, and have settled into a groove.

Going back through the photos has been an interesting journey... there are whole events that I cannot recall, even with the photos sitting directly in front of me.  And yet, other photos trigger memories of very small and specific events - the dinner I prepared that night, the 2.5 hour wait for the ferry to cross Puget Sound and how the bathrooms at the ferry terminal smelled like wet dog.  It is interesting how my mind is wired.

As motivated as I am to complete these books and get caught up (if for no other reason, just to prevent the swiss-cheese holes of memories for future books) I realistically re-set my goals to keep in mind that the holidays are coming.  Halloween, G's birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years... it all passes in a whirlwind of family visits, decorations up and down and up again, parties, projects related to the holidays, and oh so many big fancy meals (with all the associated dishes to clean afterward)

Maybe before I turn 40, I can get caught up.  Maybe that will be my present to myself? That gives me another 3 months past the holidays... or maybe that's what I should ask for as a birthday celebration - just a nice 4 day retreat someplace where I can finish my books.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Been way too long...

New computer... new schedule... and a renewed commitment to digging myself out of my Hole of Non-Communication.  So I'm attempting, once again, to return to blogging, though the entries will likely be brief - hopefully they won't be so fleeting.