Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rubber Bands and Melted Butter

I have been thinking about rubber bands and melted butter. 

I started thinking about rubber bands when my dad told me, “I am cleaning out my file cabinets, and I need heavy-duty rubber bands.  You can’t buy heavy-duty rubber bands in this town.”  Dad lives in Tucumcari (New Mexico) with 5,362 other people.  Tucumcari is not to be confused with Tumacacori (Arizona), population 393.

Many people do confuse Tucumcari with Tumacacori.  I know this because a man, having learned that my dad lives in Tucumcari, told me that he’d visited the National Historical Park there.  I told him that I was pretty sure that Tucumcari didn’t have a national historical park.  He said I was wrong because he clearly remembered going to the hot springs there. 

I asked my dad if a national historical park and a hot springs I didn’t know about had sprung up in Tucumcari.  He said, “No.”

Then he told me about Tumacacori because several people over the years have tried to convince him that Tucumcari had a national historical park and a hot springs.  My dad is pretty stubborn, so you just as well forget about trying to convince him that he that he’s somehow overlooked a national park and a hot springs in a town of 5,363 where he’s lived for forty years.

So that springs me back to where I started: rubber bands.

I thought I would try to be a dutiful daughter and Amazon dad some rubber bands.  (I may be the first person to verbify Amazon.)  So I searched Amazon for rubber bands. 

Good grief!  I had no idea that rubber-band-buying was so complicated.  Postal-approved rubber bands are #64.  Did Dad need his rubber bands to be approved by the post office?

The most popular rubber bands are #19 and 33.  I was pretty sure that Dad didn’t give two hoots in hell about whether his rubber bands were popular.

I discovered that regular rubber bands come in sizes ranging from 7/8 X 1/16 inch to 7 X 5/8 inches.  That doesn’t include 112-inch-long rubber bands for bundling pallets.  I didn’t even know that people bundled pallets with rubber bands.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want to. 

I learned that you can buy rubber bands that are latex-free.   You can buy them in an assortment of primary colors.  You can buy them in small packages of a dozen or in big boxes of thousands.  You can buy them in handy Kleenex-type boxes so they pop out one after the other. 
Best of all, you can buy them in balls.  I’ve always wanted a ball of rubber bands.  I thought about Amazoning myself one just for the fun of it. 

I wondered whether the guy whose job is making rubber band balls would be 1) a fun guy to hang out with or 2) really, really anal. 
I learned that people do strange things with rubber bands, like Joel Waul, who holds the world's record for the largest ball of rubber bands: an 8-foot-tall, four-and-a-half-ton ball of 700,000 rubber bands.  He sold it to Ripley's Believe It or Not for a ton of money.  Believe it or not.
Some other things people do with rubber bands are even stranger. 

I had forgotten that my home of Hot Springs, Arkansas is home to Alliance Rubber Company (ARC), which makes rubber bands, but I was reminded of it as I was googling.  I learned that ARC is third-generation family-owned and the current owner is a woman.  I learned that ARC was one of two companies to win the US Department of Commerce’s Excellence in Innovation Award recently, and they are civic minded.  They ask people to Buy American by spending one additional dollar per day on American-made goods.  Maybe on their rubber bands.

I learned that ARC makes ergonomically-correct rubber bands.  I never knew that rubber bands could be ergonomically incorrect.

The only picture of the owner of ARC showed her sitting at a table in Nova Scotia with a live lobster. She was pointing to the big rubber bands on its claws.  She said the lobster was one of her favorite customers, Lawrence the Lobster. 

I’d bet five bucks that Lawrence the Lobster wouldn’t return the warm sentiment.  I’m pretty sure that if he could get loose from her rubber bands, he’d pinch her all the way from Nova Scotia to Tucumcari, where she ought to be civic-minded enough to send a ball of rubber bands since you can’t buy them there.  Or maybe he would pinch her all the way to Tumacacori, where she could visit the National Historic Park and treat him to a dip in the hot springs.  And then some melted butter.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Most Important Question

Last week, Mr. Wilson, my like-a-dad-to-me-junior-high-school-band-director, said, “I was wondering this morning what people would say if you asked them what the most important question was that anyone ever asked them.”

“I know what your question was,” I said.

“Yep,” he said.  “My mother handed me my brother’s old horn and said, ‘Think you’d like to try to learn to play this trumpet and be in the band?’”

“Changed your life,” I said. 

“Yep,” he said.

He took that proffered trumpet, joined the band, and learned to play the devil out of that old horn.

Mr. Wilson’s mother’s question gave him friends he would have never otherwise met, a sense of belonging to something greater than himself, and a band director who became a father to him just like he became a father to me. 

Her question gave him direction to his life, a career he loved, an avocation as well as a vocation, and a way to serve. 

Her question led him to a position of leadership in his faith community: at almost 80, he’s still the Cantor and Director of Music at his church.

Her question even led him to his beloved wife of more than fifty years (a cute little bassoon player who became mother to his seven musical children).

Because he became a composer and arranger, the question that his mother asked Mr. Wilson lives on; both of the bands I play in have performed his compositions this year. 

Because he is a teacher, the question that his mother asked him lives on: he taught music to countless youngsters, a gift that has enriched the tapestries of their lives. 

Because he is a band director, the question that his mother asked him lives on; a thousand students, of whom I am one, grew up to be who they are in part because of who he taught them to be in lessons learned in the band hall, on the marching field, and hanging around in his office after school. 

So what’s the most important question anyone ever asked you? 

I don’t know what the most important question is that anyone ever asked me, but I do know this: the most important question that anyone ever asked my like-a-dad-to-me-junior-high-school band director- Think you’d like to learn to play this trumpet and be in the band?- turned out to be a question that changed my life and made me who I am today.

Thanks, Mr. Wilson’s mom.  We never met, but your question to your son changed my life.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

3- Transition to College for Students on the Autism Spectrum: Don't Skip Class

A parent told me, “My child with Asperger’s has tunnel vision.  He can only see what’s of interest to him at the moment.  The rest of the world doesn’t exist.”  Indeed, the term tunnel vision has been applied to people on the Autism spectrum since Lovaas first used it in 1971.

Keeping in mind the caveat that My Young Traveler who has ASD taught me, “When you know one person with autism, you know ONE PERSON with autism,” I offer what seems like an obvious piece of critical advice to students with ASD who are preparing for post-secondary education.

Never skip a college class.  Not a lecture.  Not a lab. Not a field experience.  JUST. GO. TO. CLASS.

This advice sounds so obvious as to be ridiculous.  But it needs to be said because when our students with ASDs failed their college courses, lack of ability was seldom the reason.  Skipping class often was. 

We never expected that. 

Sometimes one of our students didn’t arrive at campus until after the first day of class and thereby started off in the academic hole, missing the course overview, the professor’s syllabus review, the reading assignment due for the next class day, and a shot at choosing a good seat to reduce potential student-specific distractions (air vent noise, window glare, open door distractions). 

Some students started skipping class the very first week.  Maybe the freedom of sleeping in with no parent to enforce getting to class was irresistible.  Maybe the anxiety of going to a first class where one didn’t know what to expect was the reason.  Or maybe the anxiety of failing to read the assignment given on Monday for Wednesday’s class caused the absence.

Sometimes students skipped class because they were upset about a personal problem.  Sometimes they skipped one class to finish the homework for another class.  Sometimes they hadn’t awakened early enough to have breakfast, so they opted to go eat instead of go to class.  Sometimes they were having such fun with their new friends that they didn’t want to leave the camaraderie.  None of these choices had a good outcome. 

Missing a class the first time seemed to be a watershed moment.  We found that once a student missed her first class, her attendance often cascaded downhill.  Skipping the next class was easier; attending, harder.  A professor told us, “Your freshman is a genius.  Her comments are like those of a graduate student.  But she’s already missed half the classes during the first three weeks, and I can’t allow her to continue.”

So I offer some advice.

1)    Don’t schedule classes before noon.

2)    Try an online class, but don’t fall behind. 

3)    Live at home so your parents can help you stay accountable for attending class.

4)    Go to class even if you haven’t completed the homework.

5)    Go to class even if you don’t feel like it.

6)    Go to class even if you don’t like the instructor.