No sugar for me

I shouldn’t have said it, but I did. I told my daughter. “I need to cut back on sugar, and I will … right after Easter.”

I said it before I left to go supervise the St. Louis grandchildren and I resolved to not nibble away the tedium of travel with sweet snacks.

Before we left, my daughter-in-love Joy sent a message, “Please don’t bring any candy. We are trying Sam and Sophie on a sugar free, gluten free, dairy free diet.”

No problem. I planned to start a sugar free diet myself,” I responded.

I lied. It was a problem. I like going to her house, looking in the refrigerator and finding the jar of raspberry jam she buys for me. I like raspberry jam. I like raspberry ice cream. I really liked the raspberry fluff inside the dark chocolate shell in the marked down Easter candy.

I only bought two this year. One for me, one for hubby, as well as two each of eggs with maple, coconut, caramel and chocolate fillings. All health foods because that shell of dark chocolate is a healthy choice. We ate all of it before we left.

I did not buy any candy to take to the grandchildren.

Instructions for supervising the children included a list of meals to prepare each day: gluten free, dairy free and sugar free (GDS-free) meals for the two oldest and parallel meals with another set of breads, pastas and mixes for preschooler Henry and his grandparents. Plenty of food, just no sugar, no ice cream, no candy or cake tucked in any of the hidden corners. I checked.

The kids ate their GDS-free food and shared some meals with us. Some dishes were not as popular as others. Still, Sophia wanted the homemade beef vegetable soup in her lunch. And Sam’s doubtful acceptance of cashew chicken with broccoli and pineapple over rice turned into a request for seconds.

Henry just asked, “What’s for ‘zert?”

Would you like whole wheat toast, butter and natural honey?” I asked.


My husband also wanted his ‘zert. He went to the store to buy items for the house repairs he agreed to do. He came home with candy bars and told me, “I bought one for you.”

I broke off a small piece and left the rest. The man who says he needs to lose weight ate the rest.

No problem packing GDS-free lunches. Joy left clear instructions and food for the entire week. I found everything except food for snacks: stuff like the raspberry jam and leftover Easter candy. Okay I agreed to not bring candy, but I thought I would find one little piece left somewhere.

Nope. Nada. Nothing. Not even sugar to sweeten the coffee. I was told that the all natural honey and maple syrup used for toast, waffles or coffee did not count as sugar.

I do like maple syrup. I have ever since I tasted the nectar from my Uncle’s sugar bush and the whipped maple frosting my aunt made. It tastes so sweet it made my teeth ache. Excluded from the pricier, gluten free menu, we consumed whole wheat alternatives. My husband made private excursion to his private stash of forbidden chocolate in our car.

With all the resolve to cut back enforced, I sailed through my first week of cutting back on sugar.

After a week of supervising grandchildren on a GDS-free diet, I can barely hear the clarion call of sweets. We’ll see how long it lasts once I return home where I know all the hiding places.

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Misophonia – I don’t want to hear you

I finally figured out my problem. I have misophonia. Or as Wikipedia defines it, “a hatred of sound.” Certain sounds trigger negative emotions, thoughts and physical reactions. One universal instance it is that urge to do bodily harm at the sound of fingernails scraping a chalkboard.

My first clue came as a college freshmen when a date took me to a basketball game. My roommate saw me from the other side of the gym and later commented, “You looked bored.” And probably, I was overwhelmed with the crowd noise and squeak of sneakers.

That was my last basketball game for many years. Sometimes I see a bit of a game when my husband watches it on TV. I prefer it on mute. I don’t need a commentator telling me that the player made a hook shot.

I reached my epitome of misophonia the day I supervised a high school pep rally. At the end, I dismissed my students, returned to my classroom, unlocked the door and threw my wad of keys across the room crying, “I hate pep rallies.” Too many drums, too much crowd noise and too many loud cheers. That was the last pep rally I attended.

My husband knows I am “noise sensitive” as my daughter calls it. Every time he fixes a cup of hot cocoa he stirs the cocoa powder into the fluid with a metal spoon that scrapes, scrapes, s-c-r-a-p-e-s until I yank the spoon away and thrust a small spatula into his hand. Sometimes, I choose a typical misophonic coping technique such as covering my ears or going to another room and turning on a noise blocking audio book.

Research found that 80 percent of the noise triggers for misophonia center around eating. I identify with that trigger and understand precisely why restaurants play background music. It blocks out the sound of crunchy chips, silverware clanking against plates and the slurping of the last remnant of milk shake.

Life is noisy. I can’t stop the world from eating, playing games, opening a cellophane package or just breathing. So, I endure or leave when noise overwhelms me.

I did not realize how much I liked silence until I began working at the newspaper. The first week, as I typed away at my computer I could almost hear a couple of conversations across the room in another department. The editor sitting next to me rolled his eyes. He huffed and he puffed. Then like any person with misophonia he stood up, looked across the room and said, “Quieter!”

That was too noisy? Bless him, I had found the perfect work environment, a place where I met others with misophonia. Which makes sense. Researchers from Northwestern University found that those who are hypersensitive to particular sounds tend to be more creative than those who are not.

If silence is golden, I should be rich. I raised five sons and a daughter in a quiet home. For years we had no TV and rarely turned on the radio. When a son began buying recordings of popular music to play on his cassette player, I tolerated all but a couple. For those I said, “Please, play that in the bedroom with the door closed.”

Some studies say misophonia tends to appear more in girls than boys and that sufferers are also more likely to have tinnitus. I resemble those remarks. In a totally silent house, I hear a high pitched whine. Perhaps that constant whine wears away my tolerance for any additional noise. For sure it insures I will never be rich because I never experience total golden silence.

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Let’s do nothing

“I want to come to your house and do nothing,” my daughter said before spring break. Her days fill quickly with places to go and people to see. Weekends often include birthday parties as well as her tasks as Christian Education director.

Nothing? I could do nothing. Sleep in late, read books, watch TV, shoo the kids outside to play and eat leftovers. I welcomed a half a week of “doing nothing.”

They came Sunday evening after a family birthday party that afternoon.

“I do want to go shopping for shorts for the girls,” she said that evening.

“Have the kids dyed eggs this year?” I asked.

“No. They could do that tomorrow,” she said. I pulled out eggs to boil. In the morning the children would have to walk to the corner store to buy a set of egg dyes.

Early the next morning, I tripped over children sprawled on the floor holding electronic tablets. Mom appeared; the tablets disappeared. The kids reappeared as short parade shaking a tambourine and pounding a drum and wooden peg board with Katie, 2, trailing behind dressed as a princess wearing one pink plastic slipper.

I motioned to Eli, “I want you to help me make 7-Up biscuits for breakfast.” He measured. Caroline mixed and cut biscuits.

“These are the best!” Eli declared.

“Now go to the store and buy egg dye.”

“But Grandma, where is the store?” Daisy, 6, asked.

“Go right at the driveway, left at the next street and keep on walking,” I directed her.

They returned happy to have gone to the store alone and ready to dye eggs. The dozen I had boiled did not suffice. They dyed the unboiled eggs and put them all together for me to sort out later.

We loaded into the van and shopped until their stomach clocks dictated we head home and start making pizza dough. After that I was ready to do nothing. My daughter decided her energetic children needed to mow and trim our yard. She bribed away their complaints with cash rewards and our yard got its spring haircut.

Tuesday, they went to the Museum of Natural Resources and explored the exhibit on the human body including making embarrassing sounds. In the afternoon, the girls pulled out fabric.

“I want a dress and a jacket for my doll,” Caroline laid out a shiny plaid. Daisy wavered between silver or shiny for her doll. We did not get very far. I said I would finish after they went home from their do nothing vacation.

Sharon tripped and hurt her shin. She needed rest. Katie and I needed a nap. Sharon exiled the older kids, “Go outside and play. Do not come in unless you are ready to lay down for an hour.”

They whined. They complained. They went outside and eventually did come in and read for an hour. Katie slept a very long time.

We all rested, except Sharon who designed a flier for church, answered text messages and emails. She also helped me re-arrange our living room. Munchies and a video put us back on track of doing nothing until bedtime.

They woke early. I slept late, served a late breakfast and sat watching the kids discover the Mardi Gras throws we had collected. They wanted it all. Their mom said, “Four.” They spent hours sorting beads, glowing bracelets and stuffed toys before choosing four. Finally they packed up and headed home.

I laid down for a long nap. I needed one after half a week of doing nothing.

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Brownies are so healthy and easy to make

Chocolate contains part of our daily requirements for iron. If that isn’t a great reason for eating chocolate, I don’t know what is. Plus, darker chocolate has a higher iron content. This explains my meditative moment in the baking aisles as I contemplated the brownie mixes: Milk chocolate brownies, brownies with colorful chips, brownies swirled with marshmallow, brownies with chocolate chips, with nuts, without nuts, rich dark chocolate brownies or gourmet brownies.s

I decided on dark chocolate with a few nuts added from my stash at home. I grabbed a couple boxes because I needed to make a dessert for church, which is always my excuse for making brownies.

At home I pulled out the mixing bowl, the eggs and oil. I stacked up baking pans: a small cake pan to hold enough brownies for us, a disposable pie tin to fill and share and a rack of eight individual loaf pans to give or freeze to eat later. Typically I use the rack to make small loaves of bread to share. That day for the first time I tried it with brownies.

I opened the brownies. I measured out a double dose of eggs. I added a double dose of oil and water and stirred thoroughly as the instructions dictated. I sprayed the pans with oil and carefully poured the brownie soup into the pan. Because so many cannot or do not eat nuts, I only added hazelnuts to our pan of brownies before I slid them all into the oven.

It took me less than 10 minutes to whip up a double batch of brownies. Feeling super efficient, I began clearing off the counters. I washed the bowl, the spatula and wire whisk. I tossed the box filled with egg shells and plastic into the trash and began wiping down the counters with the bar rag until the sight of an intact, unopened box of brownie mix stopped me.

I checked the box twice. Yep, I forgot to double the dose of brownie mix.

Wait. How long had they been in the oven?!

A couple minutes, maybe?rb The pans were barely heated. Grabbing a hot pad, I pulled out the pie tin, the loaf pan and the rack of pans. I emptied the pie tin into the mixing bowl with the dry mix. Holding the pan with nuts, I scooped handfuls of nuts and put them in the pie tin.

To empty the rack of little loaf pans. I tipped and poured chocolate goo. It drooled from the top and the second rows as the bottom two rows poured smoothly. Brownie mix globbed into and outside the bowl and down the counter front to the floor.

I needed a new strategy. I carefully scooped brownie soup from each little trough. Most of it fell into the mixing bowl. I drizzled a couple brownies down the cabinet doors before I finished and stirred the second box of mix into the brownie soup creating a stiff brownie sludge.

I resprayed the pans, filled and slid the baking pans back into the oven and began cleaning up my second, much larger mess. So much for efficiency. While the brownies baked, I cleaned the chocolate-drizzled cabinets.

The brownies emerged from the oven half an hour later with enough nut-filled brownies to satisfy our love of a crunchy, gooey brownie. I carefully eased the little brownie loaves out of their pans onto the wire rack to cool. Before the hour finished, I had a stack of dark brownies with enough iron to allow any health conscious foodie to eat them and enough to share to justify having made them in the first place.

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Little kids need to get out move and explore

The educational psychologist emphasized one concept, “Children kept excessively in playpens or cribs develop a barrier in their thinking. They do not see the options. They do not realize they can explore. Over use of play pens limits them mentally,” he said.

At that moment, I resolved to never use a playpen with my children. Of course, as one of five children born in the 1950s, I grew up in a home with an ever present playpen. My mom used it to keep the youngest babies and toddlers safe from older children tripping over them so she protested my resolution, “Well, I have seen plenty of children climb into the playpen to play.” I heard her, I just planned to avoid the mistake of excessively using the cage.

I could not help but think of that last week when my granddaughter wrote on Facebook, “This morning, trying to sleep in a little bit, I opened my door and put a gate across it so I could hear the kids but they couldn’t come in. Well, Tori, 3, moved the stool from the bathroom to the gate, climbed over and then told Westley, 1, ‘take my hand! I help you over.’”

There is no rest for the mother with an energetic, determined toddler. My son and his wife quickly realized that the day their toddler used the kitchen gate as a ladder. Grinning widely, she teetered at the top before descending into the forbidden kitchen.

Little kids exude energy. At my grandson Henry’s fifth birthday, we only had to supervise three extra boys at the Ninja themed party. That sufficed to keep all adults busy. The moment the curly topped guest walked into the house he spotted a plastic gun that shoots soft disks. He snagged it from the floor and stuffed it into the back of his sweat pants. A couple minutes later, I saw him returning from the ‘off limits’ bedroom with an arsenal of plastic guns stuffed in his britches. We took the toy guns and ushered everyone to the table to eat. Curly Top did not wait or ask to be served. He walked across the room and grabbed food until someone escorted him back to the table to sit.

Keeping seven children sitting lasted barely long enough for them to eat. Then Henry, wearing a black Ninja coat, grabbed a Styrofoam sword, bounced back and forth and waved the sword as he challenged one after another, “Come on, let’s fight.” A whack of the sword felt like a fly landing. Still in his imaginary world it was solid gold.

He was a Ninja. He could tackle the biggest of them. He had fighting to do. He did not have time to sit. Not on his birthday.

Sitting and running both have their time. My friend Peggy, the oldest of three sisters, said she did not understand that. “The first year we all were in elementary, we had recess together. I told them to go over there by the wall and sit down. They did it, too. The teacher came out and asked why they were there. They explained I had told them to go sit there. The teacher came over to me and said, ‘This is recess. They are supposed to get out and move around. They are not supposed to sit down.’”

That teacher knew children perform better in school with time to play and explore outside the cage of the classroom. Which is why I was so determined not use playpens. Certainly, playpens have a use sometimes, but I don’t regret raising ‘free-range’ children.

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The hole in a mother’s heart

I lost my cousin Maretta last week. She entered high school as I entered grade school, married about the time I began learning long division and moved a long way away before I finished high school. Our paths crossed a few times over the years.
My late mother kept me up to date on all the family news, including Maretta’s. Some years before she died, my mother and I sat at the table talking, my mom mentioned that years before Maretta had been divorced, the mother of a young son and pregnant. Looking at her circumstances, my cousin decided to give her infant up for adoption. No dates, no place, just a missing child never seen – yet greatly missed by my cousin, her mother and the rest of the family – even those who did not know.

Maretta went on to re-marry and have two more children. With the advent of the Internet, we caught up with each other first via e-mail and then through Facebook. A couple of times, my husband and I went to visit her. We talked and chatted freely about our families, their successes and failures and our personal histories. I left understanding her urgent need to leave her first marriage. We talked of everything except that missing child.

When she died, I knew nothing more than the fact that in a difficult situation she had chosen adoption over abortion.

Facebook messages posted after her passing told me the rest of the story.

First I noticed a posting by her youngest son, “One thing to share about our mother. For many, many years she repeatedly has said ‘I cannot leave this world until I know ALL my children are OK and happy!’

For those of us close to home she’s lived our tribulations and heartache, been there for advice and also to put us in our place when needed as she so lovingly did!

She recently met her son – whom for personal reasons she gave for adoption. She met his beautiful/sweet wife and loving family. She experienced her three other children become married with children and shared in their happiness!

Mom found her peace! She left this world with what she longed for. – her kids to be happy and OK! We all have grown together in her wish becoming fulfilled!”

Then I read a posting by the one given up for adoption – a son.

“Some of you may know, or not, that I was adopted when I was three months old. I was always told I was adopted but never really cared because I didn’t feel like I was adopted. I look like most of my adoptive mother’s family and I was loved like a natural born child.

“A short time after my parents passed away I saw a story on the Christian singer Jason Upton about his adoption and how he found his bio- mother.

“He said ‘She had a hole in her heart that only I could fill’”.

“I asked my wife, ‘Do you think my bio- mom has a hole in her heart that can only be filled by me”? “She said ‘Yes.’ So I began my search. I hired an attorney in Indiana ( my birthplace) and within two months I was making the phone call to Maretta.

She was thrilled to talk and had a lot to share.

We both cried.

“She told me how to find my birth father and that was the beginning. It was June 15th of 2013, my birthday, when Sonya, Andrew and I drove to Huntington, Indiana, to meet my half siblings Jerry, Brannen and DaVonna along with my biological mom, Maretta.

We had a birthday party and stayed a couple of days then went home. In that couple of days I learned a lot about my biological family history and she learned a lot about me. We had differences and things that were alike. All in all in was a good time and I never regret having searched for her.

“She died yesterday from a short struggle with lung cancer. It’s not in the genes, she was a heavy smoker.

“I pay honor to her today because she gave me life. She made a decision to put me up for adoption and not abort me. She chose life. God has a way with timing. Had I waited just another year and a half she would have died never knowing about the life of the son she gave up on the birthing table and never saw, or knew the sex of – until I was 23 years old and a sorrowful DHS worker told her.

“And I would have never met my siblings or known from whom my heritage came.

“My hope is that she died with that Brent-‘shaped hole filled with peace, knowing that she did the right thing and that I had great parents and a wonderful life.

It all started with her unselfish decision. Thank you Maretta Kirk for giving me life.”

(Joan Hershberger is a staff writer at the News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and Other Columns from the El Dorado News-Times.” Email her at

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Keeping track of the year’s deductibles

Our first year with Cub Scouts the Den Master admonished us, “keep track of when and where you help out, and what you buy for the Scouts. The expenses and mileage add up for non-profit deductions.”

That good advice from the early 1970s is still good advice. Of course, we ignore it and trust our memories and monthly credit card receipts.

Last week hubby began compiling information to figure our non-profit mileage for tax deductions. Pulling out a calendar, my tax man began marking travel dates when we could not report for our volunteer activities.

I heard him muttering and flipping through the monthly statements from three separate charge accounts.

“What were we doing in Florida in March?” he asked.

“Using up timeshare points, visiting Little Free Libraries and driving to an airport to fly to Puerto Rico,” I said. “Was that in March? That’s earlier in the year than I remembered. No wonder it was cold and rainy on the beach.”

“It was March. After that I went a couple times to work at church camp. Here are the charges for gas in Malvern,” he said and scribbled a note on the calendar.

He did not have to ask me about the June gas charges in Utah. He will always remember the day he finally reached Dinosaur National Park and checked it off his bucket list. The only list I could check off was that I missed teaching Sunday School a couple weeks in June and July.

“We went to the funeral and then went on to New York in October, so we were not in church for Awana, right?” He asked me that at least three times as he held his pencil over the calendar.

Three times, I reminded him, “No, dear, we went to Indiana for the funeral in November. In October we gathered up Christian literature in Michigan and New York before taking them to Love Packages in Butler, Ill. to ship to third world countries that use English. On that trip we missed a couple Wednesday nights and Sundays. I think, we only missed Awana and Sunday School for the funeral.”

“What is this hotel night just a few miles north of my brother?” he asked.

“Oh, that was the night we thought we would put in an hour or so of driving into Michigan. Then it rained so hard you could not see where you were driving and you were suddenly very tired. We took the first hotel we could find, fell into bed and got up early the next day instead.”

“What were we doing at Office Depot in Little Rock in the middle of the week? And at a pizza place?” he asked.

We both thought a bit before I recalled, “That’s when we went to babysit grandkids while their parents went to a seminar. The kids had saved all their fast food prizes and discounts to use with us. They had fun and we had no fuss meals.” He checked off another time we missed Awana.

For days he tracked our travels and the times we missed church with our gas and food purchases: Florida and Puerto Rico in March; Utah, Colorado and Arizona in June; Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania in October, and finally St. Louis and Branson in December.

“We traveled a lot last year,” he said ending the interrogation and stacking the receipts. Yes, we did. Having endured those hours of interrogation, the Den Master’s notebook sounds much easier. This year I aim to earn the “Organized Tax Receipts” badge.

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Filling food

Wiping my mouth and tossing the Styrofoam plate and bowl into the trash at the motel, I gather up my suitcase, pocketbook and laptop. Time to hit the road for another day of traveling to see the family. Seeing the family is great. I love to have the face time with them..

Traveling down the highway past one restaurant after another, glimpsing huge, delectable pictures of sausage filled biscuits or three scoops of ice cream on a waffle cone may explain ‘why’ I return from most trips weighing five pounds more than when I left.

Having fueled our bodies with the breakfast at the hotel, we needed to fuel the car. We stopped at a station a few miles down the road with huge ads for pumpkin latte and pumpkin shake.

I wanted both. My stomach didn’t. It sank like an anchor and held me in the car. No way could I eat anything else right then. I had reached “full enough.”

Still it looked so good. And that is the problem on every trip. We hit new cities with new foods and every bite looks temptingly delicious.

So I welcomed my son’s invitation to a tasting event for every dish offered at a chain restaurant with 16 basic entrees. We skipped lunch and waited for the early supper. The brightly lit restaurant featured a colorful display of food options. Lucky us, we did not have to choose anything. The manager had set aside a corner booth with a “Reserved” sign on the table and a card showing all of our options. We could have anything we wanted on the menu.

“I usually skip the salads and soups and begin with the appetizers,” he said. We glanced at the salads and agreed we knew Caesar salad and vegetable soup. We took about half of each appetizer and placed the rest into carry-out boxes.

I should have stopped then and there. I didn’t. When would I ever again get a chance to have just a taste of every dish on the menu? Never.

Clearing away the empty appetizers the smiling manager brought us our first four entrees. Dishes from the Orient. We each grabbed a dish and began scooping out a small serving – a taste. A taste usually infers at least a teaspoon, no more than a tablespoon of the dish. We did not stop with one, we took two and sometimes three. We should have stopped with one.

A taste for all still left plenty of food in each dish. Adding four more boxes made a small stack of carry-out containers with 12 more entrees to test.

Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, the manager brought us four more entrees. Mediterranean this time. We tried a taste of each. The stack of take-away cartons grew taller.

He brought four American dishes. We looked at each other desperately. Could we do it again?

We did. We ate one tablespoon of each and four more boxes topped the stack of take-aways.

We declined two of the final four entrees as too common to taste. We miserably, quietly groaned when two more offerings of food appeared.

Finally, barely able to burp, we accepted a take-home dessert from our host and waddled away. My son took home all but four of the boxes.

We drove away holding our stomachs, whispering, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”

We headed for the Interstate and hit the road hard. We added many miles stopping only for gas. Even well into the next day not even the pumpkin spice latte looked tempting after our tasting feast.

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When elephants strolled the streets

The deserted mansion risked vandalism from neighborhood kids in the town where elephants once walked the streets. For reasons unknown, the three story mansion built in 1905 by Al Ringling in Baraboo, Wisconsin escaped wreckage during its 10 year abandonment.

The curious did come. They found an opening, entered and explored. The trespassers climbed the grand staircase to the bedrooms. In the attic the trespassers explored the Ringling family cast-offs. In the library and parlor the curious studied the stained glass windows of the cupboard doors. Looking up, they viewed the heavenly mural on the ceiling of the ladies’ parlor. Some ventured to stroke the keys of the boxed, grand piano near the tall windows.

Even though the homeless slept there, the house remained intact from 1926, when the last Ringling lived there, until 1936 when the Elks purchased the house as their lodge. For the next 75 years, the Elks enjoyed the building. They added a large auditorium/ballroom on the back and a bowling alley in the basement. To create a bar, they remodeled the dining room by building over a window without removing its expensive glass windows. They also remodeled the butler’s pantry. Otherwise, the house stayed the same. Family furniture and memorabilia remained intact in the attic until 2012 when the Elks sold the property to serve as an overnight guest house with daytime tours and a venue for special events. Area brides love making their formal pictures on the grand staircase.

Recently we enjoyed a tour of the house. The Elk’s bar is gone. A master carpenter stopped his task of converting it back into a dining room to talk with us. He said the original plans for the house had been found. He developed ways to match the existing cabinets and anticipated the arrival of new, stained glass which will match the existing windows.

Across the grand hallway, we admired the vintage pool table surrounded by a large collection of carved and molded elephants. Elephants were the signature animal act of the Ringling Brothers Circus. Pictures of elephants walking the streets of Baraboo reflect the uniqueness of living where the circus spent the winter.

Our tour guide said, “An older man took a tour of the house. As he walked through, he studied everything closely, nodded his head and said, ‘it’s just like I remember it. Nothing has changed.’” He said as a child he had sneaked in and explored the abandoned house. He helped validate that little had changed in the house except for the rooms the Elks remodeled.

In the attic, the new owners discovered the untouched, portable, wooden wardrobes designed for the Ringling family to use during their months of living on the train each year and an oversized chair for the tallest of the brothers. Upstairs the guide pointed out the rocking chair and the window where the ailing Al Ringling had sat as he watched the construction of the Ringling theater he built for the community. He only lived long enough to attend the grand opening of the theater before he died and left the house to his sister. As with his home, Ringling spared no expense in building the theater. It is grand, gilded in gold with box seats for the special guests and an orchestra pit.

Our theater guide said he personally owns and operates the bright yellow two-story bed and breakfast we saw as we entered Baraboo. We remembered the sign in front proclaiming that it too is a former Ringling Brothers home. A claim only to be made in Baraboo – where elephants once walked the streets.

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Principal Burnie HIbbard speaks about school shootings

The Florida school shooting again leaves us asking how to end these senseless deaths. Veteran high school principal Burnie Hibbard posted the following commentary on Facebook; he just happens to be my brother.

The first step in fixing shooting at high schools in America: There needs to be a better provision for principals at all levels who believe a child is a risk to other students to remove these students from a regular school.

Let’s take an historical look at what happened with shootings at schools (from Wikipedia’s statistics on school shootings): In the 1800’s a small percentage of students were in high schools, mostly smaller high schools. There was one recorded shooting at school in the 1800’s. As cities grew, high schools grew and the expectation for all students to go to high school increased. From 1900 to about 1970 the nation averaged about 14 shootings per year at school.

Since the 70’s we have seen two simultaneous events: 1.The increase in serving all students in school due to Special Education laws, increased graduation requirements, higher age requirements before dropping out, and general societal expectations that all students will go to college. 2. We have seen a significant decrease in hospitalization for mental illness with an increase in medication for mental illness. I suppose we might all agree these are in concept good. Together it means we have more mentally ill students in our schools than at any time in history.

I have served in administration for 21 years starting in 1995 at a high school of over 1,000 students. During these years I have taken knives, guns and a bomb from students. I’ve deal with threats and rumors and have used metal detectors at a prom. The threats were not all by mentally ill students and not all of our mentally ill students were dangerous. However, the first two assaults on staff members were made by a student who had previously spent seven years of his life in a mental institution. Now, that student would never have been institutionalized. Thirty years earlier he would have never been allowed out to attend a public high school. The correct choice is someplace in between these two extremes.

During my years dealing with discipline and threats at school I have dealt with reports from students, parents, police and the FBI. All of the threats were taken seriously and treated seriously. However, special education laws prevented keeping certain high risk students off the campus for long periods of time. Removing them for short periods of time often just made the students more angry and frustrated. Our counselors do a great job but they are not equipped to treat the truly mentally ill even though special education laws often require these very students attend regular public schools. (Let’s be realistic most charter schools and private schools would not take them.) Due to special education laws and the interpretation of special education laws, we now accept and expect behavior in our public schools that previously was only seen in mental institutions or jails.

Most of the shooters in the recent mass murders at high schools have been deemed mentally ill. So many voices are crying out to fix our services for the mentally ill. This would be a good first step! However, we can not fix our laws on mentally ill children without revising our laws for special education. There needs to be a better provision for principals who believe a child is a risk to other students and themselves to have more options than we currently have for these high risk children.

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