I am a retired career elementary teacher, husband, father, Christian, occasional journalist, webmaster, and total Mac nut, not necessarily in that order. At any one time, I'm lucky to be good at only one or two of those things! I taught eleven years in Indianapolis before relocating to southwestern Indiana where I taught for 23 more years before taking early retirement. I'm a graduate of Broad Ripple High School in Indianapolis, Milligan College in Tennessee, and have a masters from Butler University. I took my special education endorsements at 40 years of age at Indiana State University. I also attended Purdue University at Indianapolis (now IUPUI) for a year.
My wife, Anne, and I live in a hundred year old, large, rambling house that adjoins the Turtle Creek Nature Preserve, part of the Hoosier Energy's Merom Station Generating Plant complex. There is plenty of room for the times when any or all of our blended family (six kids and ten grandchildren) are home and always plenty of repairs and chores to be done! The dogs and cats have lots of room. The creek is just a short walk down the road or through the woods, with Turtle Creek Reservoir just a bit further.
I am a person of faith, even though I don't write about it much. I wasn't for a long time, but in the depths of my despair when my first marriage ended and we lost the farm, the Lord lifted me up and graciously granted me a new life and family. Living in retirement with all the problems of aging, there's much to be thankful for. We're blessed to live in such an incredible setting.
Our relationship is "a mixed marriage." Annie is a computer and network troubleshooter for a large Midwestern banking corporation. She has her Novell CNE (Certified Novell Engineer) and a number of other certifications and thrives on the challenges of her job. Possibly her biggest challenge is being married to a former Mac columnist!
Bucking the usual educational trend of moving from special education to regular education, I went the other way and spent my last ten years in the classroom teaching children with learning disabilities. The challenges of special education revitalized my teaching and whole approach to education. The View from the Classroom series of columns chronicles some of that story. What it doesn't tell about is seeing the moment when a child finally comprehends that those black ink splotches are letters with sounds that make words with meaning. On days like that, teaching is the greatest job in the world. Some of the View columns do tell of the frustrations of too many kids with too many desperate needs and too little time and help to meet those needs.
When I started the new job, I found myself without adequate materials and few funds to purchase what was needed. I did, however, have an old Macintosh LC III that went with the job, so I began writing materials specifically tailored to my students' needs. Later, I purchased a Performa 575 for use at home and turned the ideas into what I hope are now organized instructional units. The freeware MATH DITTOS 2 series is the result of those efforts. It was originally written on the 33 MHz Performa 575. After many upgrades to the 575, I moved to a beige Macintosh G3 minitower which speeded a lot of the work. The G3 remained my main computer for six and a half years until I briefly moved to a highly upgraded Blue & White. The Blue & White gave way to a dual G5 Macintosh tower for seven years! My current main computer is a mid-2010 Mac Mini, along with a MacBook Pro.
In August, 1998, an invitation to join the MacTimes News Network as a contributing editor launched my "professional" writing "career." I wrote a weekly features column, That Other Steve..., posted daily news, and generally kept things stirred up there for six months! After leaving MacTimes, I continued to post occasional columns to my Busman's Holiday independent series, which began while I was at MacTimes and continues to this day as my main outlet for online computer columns.
The following fall, I started a new series, View from the Classroom, which appeared for its first year on the Low End Mac site. During its first year (1999-2000), thirty columns appeared under the View banner. As I evaluated those 30 columns, I found that I could only remotely connect seventeen of them to educational computing. The remainder were general Macintosh computing or antique Mac columns. The next year I took View to our then new mathdittos2.com domain and limited that series to educationally relevant articles. The absence of column deadlines, along with crushing caseloads and diminishing administrative support at school probably were responsible for far fewer columns appearing over the last few years, but the quality of columns was considerably enhanced.
During the 2000-2001 school year, Annie and I decided to make a commitment to give a take-home computer to each of the part and full-time language arts students in my special education classroom. Eventually, that commitment morphed into all of our students. Over four years, we placed over 60 older Macs in the homes of my students. Doing so opened doors with students and parents that are traditionally closed to teachers. Several View columns have been devoted to the giveaway.
Towards the end of the 2001 school year, we launched the Educators' News web site, originally just to take up the slack when Tom McKenna ceased updating his excellent G3 All-in-one Stop Shop site. EdNews supplied a daily dose of education news, reviews and analysis of current educational issues, information on the latest freeware, shareware, and commercial educational software, and a good bit of subjective commentary on educational issues in general. While well-received by educators, the site took almost all my free time, and ad revenues usually provided just enough to cover a couple Tootsie Roll Pops each quarter. Exactly two years to the day after its launch, we put EdNews on hiatus, with only occasional postings over several years until I retired for good.
Writing for Hire
On the last day of the 2003-2004 school year, I submitted my letter of retirement/resignation to our school superintendent. It was time to go. After only four months of retirement, I went to work for a college K-12 outreach program as the manager of their "Teacher-Leader" groups. As grant funding for the program dwindled and the teachers' groups went away, I found myself writing web site documentation for the program. I got to do lots of other things there, including creating graphics, brochures and flyers, training materials, PowerPoints, web page tutorials, and lots of "customer service" with teachers. My last assignment there was to create and teach a distance education course on how to use the Moodle Course Management System. Unfortunately, after three and a half years there, I realized that I would never fit into the grant and higher education culture and took my leave.
I grew up in Indianapolis, but even as a kid had a garden in the back yard. My interest in flowers and gardening has always had a way of transferring to the classroom. When I was teaching general education social studies and science, a lot of biology got taught with our plants.
The image above is a composite of some of the gloxinias my students and I grew in the classroom. Gloxinias are easy to grow and gorgeous. We actually hand pollinated them using Q-Tips, with some of my future comedians buzzing like a bee while doing so! The resulting seed proved viable and produced some plants with bloom colors not present in the original seed . It was a great science lesson! The resulting plants often went home as Mother's Day gifts. Our original seed came from Stokes Seeds in New York and Park Seed from South Carolina. Stokes sells the Empress variety, while Park has dropped the Double Brocade variety.
STUDENT: "Gee, Mr. Wood, that sure looks like one of my dad's pot plants."
TEACHER: (quickly looking over his shoulder for the principal, police, or DEA agents) "No, that's a Sensitivity Plant (mimosa pudica)."
Seriously, sensitivity or sensitive plants make great classroom plants. They're never very pretty, but the kids love touching them and watching the leaves and branches fold up. Come to think of it, so do I. The seed is quite inexpensive. They grow well and quickly. We used to grow enough to let the kids take a plant or two home every other year. (Can you guess that I used to be a science teacher?) And...yes, inverted Frisbees make great plant trays!
Outside the classroom, I've always been an avid gardener. My one summer of "early retirement" that I didn't spend preparing for the next school year, we had one of our very best gardens ever, with lots of broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, peppers, green beans, and sweet corn. Now that I'm really retired, our garden gets lots of attention. (More about that later.)
Having worked a few years as a wedding and portrait photographer, I'm thrilled that digital photography has made the whole experience so easy for everyone. While most of the MATH DITTOS 2 site suffers from neglect, one page still gets a good bit of attention, Desktop Photos. After several years of digital and film photography, I finally collected enough lucky, good shots to put up a page of photos to share with the world. A couple of my favorite shots are of some double rainbows and of the hummingbird that dominated our feeder one summer.
Sometimes I miss a photo that turns out to be better than I originally thought or later acquires added meaning. The double rainbow shot (shown above left) was taken in the rain at a baby shower for one of our daughters. The host and hostess were very good friends to her, and the hostess passed away later in a tragic auto accident. The photo, now named Tess's Rainbows, makes me remember how one or two people can make such a difference in the world, one person at a time.
I ran across the shot below when hunting for something to fill out a row of pictures on the desktops page. After adding it to the site, I cropped and sized the photo as an afterthought and threw it in with my collection of desktops here at home. When it came up for the first time, I was surprised at the vibrancy of the colors. It's quickly become one of my favorite shots.
One of the Joys of Maturity
The parallel interests of gardening and photography led to a new venture for us, Senior-Gardening.com. The site currently features my garden blog, some feature articles about gardening, and a few, time-tested recipes. I hope to begin adding senior specific content at some point in the future.
I've tried to model my garden blog after the book Crockett's Victory Garden by the late James Underwood Crockett, sharing gardening lore by the month. I also have specific feature stories on plants and garden tasks and a few recipes on the site. Although long since out of print, Crockett's Victory Garden, Crockett's Indoor Garden, and Crockett's Flower Garden are still the best reference volumes I have on gardening. Fortunately for others, they're still available used at very reasonable prices through Amazon and Alibris. Many of the things I write about on Senior Gardening, such as intensive gardening and grass clipping mulch, came from Crockett's books and the old PBS TV show, Crockett's Victory Garden.
I don't limit myself to just Crockett inspired garden advice, as there are a few things I've picked up from years of gardening and the few years we owned a small farm that may be useful to others, such as using a dry sump to dry out wet spots in a yard. It's really a lot of fun to write. And I find the web site construction and photography a good challenge for my old mind.
With the continuing national economic crisis, I'd guess lots of folks may be growing "Victory Gardens" again. They may be a first garden or just a return to gardening.
At 68, I'm not sure what lies ahead. I've had a good life with lots of friends and varied experiences. Annie and I are looking forward to real retirement together someday, but that is a ways off. She still enjoys her computer work at the bank, and I still enjoy gardening and writing.
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©2016 Steven L. Wood