Travel: Shopping in Scotland and England

I didn’t buy too much when I was in the UK. All the stuff in the London shops, I could get in New York City, a mall, or online for the same price. Also, I didn’t feel like lugging around too much. I couldn’t resist some small knit items in Scotland and small items from stores that we don’t have here.

In Edinburgh, I bought some cutie-pie change purses and earrings at Simon Bonas for my nieces.

Earrings with some bling and jingle. The white ones are for me. The others are gifts for the nieces.
Nice change purse to throw into a beach bag. Big enough for dollars and a license.

In Scotland, there are a ton of tourist shops with the full kilt silliness. That traditional man-purse is called a sporran, or as Ian called it, “a dick hider.” The nicest stuff in those shop was Harris Tweed and Aran sweaters, but a little bit goes a long way. The Aran sweaters scream Sister Mary’s Convent Gift Shop; beautiful stuff, but too chunky for me. I did get a pair of lovely driving mittens. The Harris Tweed is fabulous on a wallet.

Very silly.

But a little of bit plaid and tweed is lovely. I picked up some lovely scarves and wallets for Christmas gifts.

On the drive to Inverness, we stopped at the House of Bruar, a high-end store for Scottish Country Clothing. It was kind of awesome. Steve got my birthday present there.

We’re huge suckers for outdoorsy clothes and camping gear. We’re heading out to the woods next weekend, so we’ll give the tents and propane stove a workout.

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Sleepy Summer

Here on the east coast, summer is still in swing. We’re at the point, where we can see and smell Labor Day — that end post for fun — but we’re trying to squeeze out a couple more weeks of relaxation and ignore the guilt about work.

Vespa in Washington Heights Mews

Summers used to stress me out enormously, when I tried to work while juggling an insane camp commute for Ian. There aren’t many camps for kids with high functioning autism, and when I found a good one, it was inevitably very far away. But now, I’ve rethought my summer work schedule. I’m working on personal essays, rather than reported articles. And Ian’s found his place at computer camp, so there’s less driving and less stress.

But I have tons of sympathy for parents who don’t have my flexible work life. Schools should be 12 months long.

Suprema Restaurant in West Village, NYC

Jonah just finished off his second summer class. (Taking summer classes is a growing trend among college students.) It was a super hard science class, so he studied about six days per week and commuted back and forth to his state college. He came home yesterday afternoon with a two-week beard. He’s going to sleep until noon.

I had Ian in some camp or another all summer — some boring (but free) stuff at the high school, 3 weeks of expensive (all day!) computer camp, and a half day class at the community college. The last two weeks of August are full day marching band camp. He likes being super busy, so I even squeezed in some tutoring hours around all that.

People watching the people watchers in Wash Square Park, NYC.

But this week is free. He played Minecraft, and we walked around the neighborhood capturing Pokemon. I took him and a couple of boys to the video game arcade. Then this afternoon, we’ll grab the bus into New York City to go to the museum and meet Steve for dinner. Hopefully, Jonah will wake up and join us.

At this point in the summer, we’re always like “holy crap, the summer is almost over, and we haven’t sucked out all the fun out of life yet. Better get to it!” So, we’re squeezing in a camping trip in upstate New York next weekend. We’ll have to build a fire in the backyard sometime. And get another day at the beach. And eat a hot dog in Central Park.

Beer and Deep Fried Oreos at Jenkinson’s Boardway, Point Pleasant, NJ.

I do have a couple of deadlines at the end of the month — easy ones, but still deadlines. And there’s the perennial guilt that I should be doing more. But I’m ignoring all that today. Off to appreciate life.

Writing Life, Week 2 of August 2019

Random People In Wash Square Park.

I never expected to get much work done in August, but I hoped for slightly more productivity than has actually happened. Wisdom teeth took their toll. Also, Jonah’s comings and goings have wrecked my rhythms. Ah well, family first.

I’ve been reading best seller type books lately to counteract my tendency to overthink my writing and get too esoteric. Nobody wants to read anything from a college professor. So, I’ve been reading Nora Roberts books for the past week. I like her stuff, because she’s so prolific, and I haven’t read her stuff before before, which means lots of backlist. I could go through a trilogy a week and still have more to go. I read Year One yesterday, which was sort of like The Stand and The Road, but with witches.

In response to the recent romance novel plagiarism scandal, she wrote a Facebook post about her writing process, which is super interesting. I always like to learn about how people write. (The best book on the subject is Stephen King’s On Writing).

I admit that I found that Facebook post, because I googled Nora Roberts and ghost writers. How does anybody really write four books per year without a ghost-writer? Well, Roberts explains in her Facebook post.

Roberts may not get help with her books, but other best selling writers do. One of the moms in town told me that her brother is a ghost writer for one of those big named authors. She said her brother has a big house in Connecticut with horses and writes for five hours a day. Would you do that?

Ian’s doesn’t have any camp this week. I’ve got some tutors and playdates scheduled for the next couple of days, when I’ll squeeze out some words, do some virtual meetings, and start some research. But then I’ll walk again from it and probably take him into the city to visit some museums later in the week. We still have several more weeks before schools start around here; until then, there is no routine.

I have to go over to the other blog, the one I only use for professional purposes. People have been leaving me both nice and awful comments over there. I suppose I should handle it. Sigh.

There are some people who read an article that they hate all the way through. Then they find the author and compose a note to the author just to tell them how much they hate what they wrote. Who does that? I should just ignore it, but I felt like someone walked into my house and pooped on my carpet. I can’t ignore it.

I’ll be back later with some links.

On Going Viral, Writing Week, First Week of August 2019

This week, two articles were published. I’m completely exhausted.

I always put a lot of time into publicizing my articles when they come out. I post info on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and two websites. Then I monitor who’s saying what about me and retweet/link/thank when necessary. Those chores are par for the course with any article that I do. It usually takes a full morning to do take care of that business.

On top of those usual publicity chores, this Monday, I had an article go viral. On 9am on Monday, HuffPost published a personal essay about traveling with my kid and dealing with some intolerance about his autism. They put it on their front page under “What’s Hot” for half the day. And they simultaneously sold it to Yahoo News.

It was shared far and wide. It may have been the most shared article that I’ve ever written. (Note to self: personal essays work you.)

I dipped into the long comment threads on both websites and was a little horrified. Yes, most people loved it, but there was some people who thought that I was evil or made up the story. A few people recommended violence to my child. One guy said that I should beat him, another said he should be drowned in a bathtub. Several said that he should have been aborted.

I’ve been writing for the Internet for a loooonnnnggg time, so I’m used to people telling that I’m an asshole. It’s yet another lovely part of doing business these days and doesn’t bother me in the least. But I’ve never had anybody discuss hurting my kid in such graphic language.

I thought I was going to puke.

But I’m not going to stop writing. F@ck ’em. (It does help that my kid has a different last name than me.)

My other article was about students who are completely confused about the college process and don’t get enough help. I really like those kids. We need to do better for them.

It’s a short day for me, because I have to go see Ian’s final computing showcase mid-afternoon; he made the Pong Game, using C++. I have time to do some work on the newsletter. A fellow special ed mom in town is a marketing guru, and she’s going to make a logo for me. When I’m done, I need to use another part of my brain. I’m going to hit some estate sales and look for treasures.

Have a great weekend, y’all!

Too Few Guidance Counselors, Too Little Information: Why Community College Might Be the Best Path for High School Graduates — But They’ll Never Know It

Natalie Hamilton, left, Northwood High School counselor, gives college advice to senior students Bianca Schteiden, 18, at Northwood High School in Irvine. The University of California is starting waiting lists for its freshman application process. Hamilton feels the students don’t need any more anxiety that the lists will produce. (Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Sometimes a community college is right for students, for financial or academic or career reasons, but they aren’t getting enough info about community colleges in high school. Here’s my article on the topic:

Despite a stellar high school record with great grades, Advanced Placement classes and leadership positions on the debate team and in marching band, Jennifer Hernandez was completely unprepared during her senior year to choose a college or even comprehend the jargon that surrounds the application process.

“I did not know where to start,” she said. As a first-generation student living in the Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows, Illinois, she didn’t have family who could decipher the terminology or take her to visit college campuses. Nor did she get that help from an adviser. Like many high schools around the country, hers did not have enough guidance counselors, she said. And the counselors the school did have were too busy to support students who needed extra help, like her.

With no one to guide her, Hernandez applied to a number of four-year colleges — some local, some chosen at random — not realizing until she received her acceptance letters that she could not afford them. She then scrambled, on her own, to apply to a community college later in the spring of her senior year. Her school counselors, she said, again didn’t help with her application, or provide much-needed information about how she could eventually transfer to a four-year school. With the stigma associated with community college, Hernandez said, she felt demoralized. “It was pretty rough,” she said.

More here.

Free College and Student Loan Forgiveness in the Democratic Debate

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., talk during in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Last night, education policy was front and center. But only higher education. Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have various proposals that aim at reducing the burden of college students and recent graduates. On the table are free college and student loan forgiveness.

Now, college tuition rates are insane. Some colleges are $73,000 for full cost of attendance. Yes, there are tuition discounts for merit and need, but lots of students pay full freight. That’s their sticker price. And some students do rack up significant amounts of debt, particularly if they tack on masters degrees, take a long time to graduate, and just make bad decisions.

You know that I’m highly sympathetic and have ranted about those issues for a while. But I’m worried about blank checks for college for a number of reasons.

It penalizes people who made hard choices to avoid debt: A school teacher who doesn’t take vacations but puts money in 529 accounts for her kids since birth. A college graduate who takes a boring job, rather than the dream job, to pay off the loans. A student who attends a community college for two years, before transferring to a four year college. The kid who goes to an in-state public college, solely because of cost.

It does nothing for students who can’t finish college, which may be even more of a serious crisis than debt.

It does nothing for students who need a degree from a trade school. Or don’t attend college at all, but still need training and employment support.

It does nothing to stop the cause of the problem – colleges. They are allowed to keep raising tuition, even at in-state public colleges, without any checks. Even, as they do in my state, waste buckets of cash on losing sports teams. And there is no pressure on them to improve quality. They keep replacing full time faculty with adjuncts.

There is no distinction between public and private colleges in their plans. A public college is a right, a private college is not.

As many have pointed out, it benefits the middle class without much trickle down help for working and lower class citizens.

Steve and I attended a grad school program that didn’t provide any funding for its grad students. Not even tuition. (Yes, majorly stupid, but let’s move on.)

I kept my loans manageable by working part-time, sometimes full time, at a policy institute at the same time as taking classes and writing a dissertation. I also taught a few classes. Steve taught a great deal, while doing his classwork. While students at other universities were building their CVs, we were ghost writing papers and teaching 50+ students at the Bronx Community College.

Even with all that, our combined student loan debt when we got married was over $75,000. We paid it off around my 50th birthday. We’re better off than most of our classmates, who were looking at bigger numbers. That debt was awful. It had a big impact on our careers and other life choices (children, homes). Grad school was a MAJOR financial train wreck. (I’m not even going to talk about the impact of beginning to save for retirement in your mid 30’s, rather than your 20’s.)

So, I am highly, HIGHLY sympathetic to anybody who wants to ease that burden on others. Yet, I’m not entirely happy with the current proposals, because they don’t check the colleges themselves, don’t distinguish between public and private colleges, penalize good behavior, and don’t help people who choose alternatives to college.

Flying With Autism

Midway through American Airlines Flight 101 from Heathrow to JFK, shortly after our microwaved meatball dinners were tossed out like frisbees, the flight attendant asked my son Ian if he wanted another beverage. He intently played his Tetris game on the backseat video console without replying or glancing her way.

Missing most of that exchange, I looked over in time to hear the flight attendant loudly exclaim, “Well, how RUDE is that?” She glared at me.

I recited the textbook response I give whenever Ian does something that inadvertently annoys strangers: “My son has autism, so we try to be understanding.”

More here.