Thursday, December 29, 2011

Obligatory Yet Useful New Year's Reflection

Time to look back at the year, back at my New Year's Goals from last year, and reflect. 

For one thing, I am resolved to stop using sentence fragments such as the one above which sound like the script for a local news broadcast:  "Local citizens waking up in flames.  Migraine striking one pedestrian at Speedway and Swan.  Reporting from downtown.  Writer, cringing inwardly at local news broadcasts."  Usually, all that is missing is a helping verb, and sometimes a subject.  I wonder how many extra super-cute Youtube videos of kittens teasing turtles they can squeeze in by eliminating helping verbs.  Eliminating the subject of the sentence seems downright irresponsible.  The recipients of my e-mails and readers of my blog will be happy to know that although I am not relinquishing fragments altogether, I'll do my best not to sound like I'm reporting on a police shooting.

Here were my goals (not resolutions!) from last year, with commentary from how the year actually went...
1. I will do less yelling in my house and work on strategies to encourage my kids (and husband?) to do the same.    I'm not really sure I accomplished this, though Rich is doing pretty well at it!

2. I will maintain a consistent interest in and commitment to exercise and physical fitness. I will use my gym membership at least a couple of times per week, and get out for hikes at least a couple of times per month. I will try to get out to do the following activities more often: walks at the park, biking to work and for fun, tennis at Catalina H.S.. I'll try to expand my repertoire!  Uh, yeah, that one.  I did pretty well in the springtime, but once we started working on remodeling our investment property, most of my physical effort went there all summer.  Luckily, it was pretty good and exhausting exercise.  We did walk around the park a lot more this year, though not so much since November.  I am getting antsy though!  I want to hike so bad.

3. I will bike to work more often when the schedule allows.  Nope.  Didn't do that at all. 

4. I will recycle more-- too much is making it into the trash can.  Did pretty well until the last month or so.

5. I will end 2011 weighing less than I weighed on the way in-- 10-20 more pounds?  I'm about the same.  So that in itself is some level of success. 

6. I will be more consistent about cooking meals and eating lots of fruits and veggies-- and the kids, too.  I definitely did better with this throughout most of the year, especially having my dad around during the summer.  A lot of this is due to dwindling budget for restaurant food!  I don't miss the drive throughs much, though, I'll tell you.

7. I will get the kids out into nature more and have fun learning the lore-- plants, animals, weather, geology, geography, etc.  The remodeling project kind of got in the way of this in terms of hiking, but we have spent a lot of time at the park for various activities.  We need to clean up the back yard.

8. I will read more books and try to be less susceptible to checking out Facebook and watching whatever trash is on TV.  I have definitely accomplished this, despite Rich's jealous behavior when I read books (which I find interesting and slightly amusing.)  I need to thank my friends and students for inspiring me to read more... and I have truly enjoyed it, though I no longer have any idea what is happening in the news.  Unfortunate side effect.

9. I will continue to work on buying less crap I don't really need ($1 bin shit, stupid office supplies I covet but never use, stuff like that) and stuff that has tons of packaging (this is a tough one...)   I have definitely, definitely bought less crap this year.  Yea!

10. I will create time for friends and family and work on nurturing my adult relationships-- more fun time for me and me more fun for others!  I need to do much better with this.

11. Attitude: Empowered, positive... stop whining, internally and out loud.  I think I have done better with this, although working on my National Board Certification has definitely caused me plenty of anxiety and panic from time to time.

ALSO-- I have been writing much, much more this year.  So, yea!  I feel like if I had more time and focus to devote to it, the writing itself could be a bit more serious, reflective, well-researched, well-crafted.  But... one step at a time, my friends.  And I have written a few poems that I really like, and participated and WON my first NaNoWriMo.
Three additional goals for this year:   Accomplish my National Board Certification.  Travel more.  Write notes and letters to friends and family.


Due to my years of playing violin, combined with having multiple little brothers, I have realized I have highly conflicting connotations connected with the term "nutcracker."  That is all.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Snapshot of Life

O is painting watercolor hearts with a friend at the dining room table.

G is playing x-box with a friend who brought it over-- games he doesn't have in his limited collection of Wii games.

Homemade tomato garlic soup is on the stove.

Sink is full of dishes.

House smells of quesadillas, douglas fir...

I am lying fully clothed under the covers with the computer on my lap.  Taking advantage of not having too many obligations just right this second.  I do feel like some exercise would do me good after grading papers for the last three weeks without (it seems) moving.  Tomorrow, movement.  I'll be painting tomorrow-- that'll get me moving a little.  And maybe it won't be raining.  And I'll be caught up with my sleep.

Finished re-reading The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood.  I had been thinking about that book, but haven't read it since...  when?  College?  I must have read it since then, no?  It reminded me why I really like her writing, and how much her prose style has influenced mine, how much I learned about images by reading her books and short stories, even the more heavy-handed ones.  The weird thing is that I remembered Offred actually being pregnant and actually having the baby in the novel... and I won't give anything away, but it is a little different than that.  Strange.  So maybe it has been that long since I read it.  I remember I wrote an essay on it in college about cultivating a pearl-- and I focused on the image of the women being like pearls.  I could have sworn that I talked about her daughter as a pearl. But that wasn't in the book!  And there were only one or two mentions of pearls at all.  I must have really milked that image!

Plans:  I would like to write letters this week, for once, and feel like a good girl. Especially for my grandma.  Maybe bake.  Definitely make and eat more soup.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blog for G

Today, I celebrated the ninth anniversary since the wee hours of the morning after the long hours of a night in labor with my son.  Five days after G's Pearl Harbor Day due date, when my brother Bill came down from his nearby condo and knocked on the door.  He told me that, if I was willing to try castor oil (to induce labor) he'd try it with me.  What a guy.  The oldest sibling anywhere nearby (his half sister/ my stepsister lives farrrrrr away) I was the first to be pregnant, and G would be the first nephew anywhere within visiting distance.  Bill was pretty excited-- and he's a little OCD, so when he gets going on an idea, you can either fight it and pay the price, or go with it.  And really, we had just attended (or, I had barely managed to sit in a chair long enough for) Rich's grandfather's funeral that day.  All our major obligations were finished.  I was finishing making a lampshade for the nursery when Bill knocked.  Rich was visiting his family or maybe playing racquetball.  And I was physically uncomfortable and ready to be done being pregnant.  (That probably sounds callous, the funeral being a social obligation, and I did feel grief that day, but let's face it.  Very pregnant women process these things much differently than normal people-- all the energy is focused inward.)

We made a trip to the drug store.   We filled shot glasses with the thick oil and took a photo.  I chased my shot of castor oil with grapefruit juice as my mother had suggested over the phone.  It was a gloppy mess and I would have gagged without the bite of the citrus to follow it.  Shudder.

I will spare the readers of my blog the details of the next several hours, but I called Bill at about 11:30 to find out how his evening had gone (Rich was home and passed out asleep by this point, of course.)  He said his gut was pretty much emptied.  I was still cramping... turned out to have worked.  Rich was a very effective coach.  I can still hear him at my side, in my ear, "Go! Go! Go!"  My mother's method was a bit more nurturing, rubbing my feet, giving me stiff backrubs along the back of my pelvis, providing counterpressure until I had to turn onto my back, putting up with my comments about her coffee breath. I think G was born by 4 a.m., maybe even earlier.  Time was irrelevant by that point; I was experiencing an altered state of consciousness which was not induced by drugs but by complete physical transformations of all sorts. The date was Friday, the 13th. 

My first impression of my son was that, somehow, I recognized him-- it was a feeling of seeing something I had imagined in a dream brought to life, as though he looked exactly as he was meant to, and I experienced the joy of fulfilled expectations. Beyond that, he was a wrinkly, shriveled little thing, like any newborn.  I was struck by how much he looked like an old man, actually.  Our first couple of days were a series of negotiations-- mostly he won.  He still negotiates each an every situation, behavior and consequence with me, though he is much more helpful around the house.  He is a meticulous and focused artist, a willful and belligerent non-homework-doer, a gifted thinker and designer, a hiker of endurance and fortitude, and an avid reader of imaginative literature and nonfiction (and Calvin and Hobbes.) He cleans his room better and more efficiently than I have ever managed to do.  He creates endless versions of his "mini-man," a roughly cut-out paper man about two inches tall who goes on adventures and inevitably ends up limbless and decapitated.

Though G has been the greatest challenge of my life, he is also one of the greatest treasures.  As he grows older one of my greatest hopes is to disentangle him from media and video games for enough time that he continues to use his imagination and keep a sense of his own mind.  And that he can learn to control the idiosyncratic behavioral things that make it so difficult for him in school.  He is strong-willed, so if he chooses to do these things, he will.

Happy Birthday!  I apologize that until you are grown, this will always be finals week for me. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Planning For Ekphrasis Poetry

Whenever I have a lot of papers to grade, I find some other way to occupy my mind.  Something that is urgent, creative, fun...  usually planning my next units.

I'm not sure exactly how it will work out, because I want to cover various poetic forms and techniques at the same time, but I want to teach poetry through its relationship to other art forms, and somehow I found out that there is a word for this:  Ekphrasis.  A work of art based on another work of art.  Fantastic concept!

I've started a small Diigo collection of websites I am tagging "ekphrasis" for use in my unit.  I would love ideas!

Poetry about Art.
Art about Poetry.
Poetry about Music
Music about Poetry
Poetry about Other Poems & Lit.
Poetry & graphic novels
Related Topic: broadsides  (Drooling to do broadsides!)

List of Possible Works to Use:
"My Last Duchess" Robert Browning
"Ode on a Grecian Urn" John Keats
Pictures at an Exhibition Mussorgsky
"Green Light and Gamma Rays" by Thylias Moss
Iliad-- description of Achilles' shield
"The Man With the Hoe" by Edwin Markham based on painting by the same name by Jean Francois Millet
"Yadwigha, on a Red Couch, Among Lilies, A Sestina for the Douanier" by Sylvia Plath (based on Yadwigha, on a Red Couch, Among Lilies by Henri Rousseau

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Turkey Carcass

I love turkey soup, but the experience of breaking down the carcass of a 23 pound turkey so that half of the remains will fit inside my inadequate stock pot is an exercise in coming face to face with one's own mortality.

The endless labyrinth of skin, roots of feathers remaining in the pimpled, fatty skin, layers of muscle, perimysium (ooh, new word), cartilage, tendon, bone... the popping of joints and the snapping separation of vertebrae.  The greasiness of it all.  Using my fingers to pick the meat, so we can consume it later.  This is enough to make turkey soup less appetizing.  All the parts of the turkey:  drumstick, wing, thigh, and breast-- they all become unrecognizable as I become more and more disoriented by the insides of the bird and as, part by part, they disappear into the pot.  The bones in the wing are impossibly large-- the size of three or four chicken drumsticks, and I find myself both awed and disgusted by modern farming methods.   I turn what is left of this creature over and over on the cutting board, trying to figure where there might be another deposit of meat I may have missed.  And, sure enough, I keep finding more.  We can easily eat for a week off this thing, and my cousin took home at least three pounds of meat on Thanksgiving.

About half the bird is now dismantled in the pot on the heat.  The rest will go into the freezer for the next batch.  I can only hope that if I can keep the stock clear, spoon off the fat, and create small enough morsels of meat that by the time I eat the soup my imagination will have separated itself from this gruesome process.  Perhaps a squeeze of lemon and several handsful of fresh parsley will help.

Random Dickinson Inspiration:

Soup is the Thing with feathers
In storage in the fridge
With most of the feathers Plucked
And greasy pimpled skin

It sat-- once--in Confinement
Ate steroid-soaked grain all day
And never stopped to Thank--
For its bounty in its Breast

Its heft weighs on Extremities
Unconscious-- to the pot
to Feed the family for a year
Consumed-- consumed-- we eat.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Accidental Rip-Off. NaNoWriMo Tragedy.

Like I needed any bad news today. 

I went to the library catalog online to see if they had a copy of the children's book about the boy who swam with the seals, which is supposedly based on a Chinook story, which I was hoping would help me with my story. 

So, turns out after searching "boy" AND "seals" that The Secret of Roan Inish is basically a rip-off of my book.  Or actually, my book is a semi-rip-off of that movie, except the problem is that I have never seen this movie. 


I mean, my "novel" (i.e. collection of disjointed scenes and concepts which is working its way toward being a novel) is a little more complicated.  There are two strands written in two different POV's.  The first is a girl who is a double amputee & competitive swimmer, and sort of her coming of age story and story of getting her first prosthetic legs at an older age.  The second strand is a story she is writing or creating in her mind in which her mother turns out to be a selkie (but they are called something else in my book-- they are sea lion people) and it turns out that instead of losing her brother in the ocean as a baby, he transformed into his selkie form and has grown up in their community, and is now a leader of sorts and is figuring out how to transform into his human form.  Then I haven't decided whether in that story she actually figures out that she is a selkie, too.  I think she probably does, because why not?  It's all part of her fantasy world that she is creating.  I think there will be tsunamis in both stories-- one more devastating than the other.

So, now my question is, do I go watch the movie just to make sure I'm not completely ripping it off?  Or do I refuse to see it just so I am not tempted to rip it off or refer to it in any way, shape or form?  Or do I incorporate the movie into my novel purposefully?  The third option could make some sense, because both stories are based in the selkie and chinook mythology anyway already.  But I don't like the idea of popular culture references because they go dead after a while for the reader-- they date the story.

Rgh.  Just when I need to be chugging out amazing word count which is going to wrap up this sucker...

Friday, November 18, 2011

I Need a Hug.

Just, you know, putting that out there to the universe.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Art Hike / NaNoWriMo Day 12 / Should Be Doing Nat'l Board Portfolio

Here I am at the TOB (the Transitional Office Building) which sounds like quite an uninspiring place to write, but in fact is filled with the history of dozens of SAWP writers buzzing away at their keyboards and notebooks; before that it was filled with hundreds of sorority girls for however many years blow-drying their hair and writing each other's mid-term essays.  We are not sure what it is transitioning from or to... but we are part of that mysterious transition.  It's been this way for years and years.

Yesterday, I took the kids for a hike to Pontatoc Ridge trail, I think my favorite trail with quick and easy access. It's closer than Sabino, with fewer people, and within a couple hundred yards you are pretty much in the lush desert, with lots of ups, downs, arroyos and, intermittently, gorgeous views all around town and beyond. I get tired of having to hike the road at Sabino. 

We took a)  the dog, and b) sketchpads for each of us.  Oh, and my daughter would not want me to leave out c) snacks. 

My son spent at least an hour going through my drawer of hiking equipment and packing his small frame pack so that he could carry the dog in back.  I took out many of the items he had included, such as hand-warmers and the knot-tying game.  But I enjoyed seeing him so focused and excited about the hike.  Both kids did great-- many of the rocky parts of the trail were a real challenge to my daughter, who is a tall five-year-old, but she loved scrambling up them and felt very accomplished.  Markey was patient, though a little anxious, in the backpack, and we didn't even receive any disapproving looks from ethical hikers who follow the rules (no dogs).  I don't think Markey would have run after a javelina or taken down a bighorn sheep.  He only weighs 4 1/2 pounds.  My daughter carried her own water in a reservoir-- yea!  That was (literally) a load off my shoulders. 

We had kind of a late start, and it's getting dark early, now.  We made it maybe 3/4 of the way up the switchbacks, and ran out of time, so we found a good spot and stopped to sketch. 

I am amazed at his drawing.  We only sat for about 30 minutes.  Wow.
My daughter drew this and that-- she would draw something and then have me guess whether it was something that she saw around her, or something that wasn't here.  First she drew part of the ridge across from us, which I recognized.  Then she drew vampire teeth.  Then a butterfly.

Good times!

Now I'm warmed up and should move onward toward my NaNoWriMo novel before my students out-wordcount me into oblivion.  Perhaps I will have a scene of artwork en plein air. 

Friday, November 11, 2011


Swinging with my Daughter

I give her a small push
seat myself in the swing next to her
pump my legs two or three times
then hold my legs in front, swinging, watching her.
She pulls and pumps.

Me in my windbreaker and work pants
She in knit pants, snags in the knees
    her unzipped sweatshirt hanging from her shoulders
    her mouth orange from cheese puffs

I slow and wait
until we swing in unison

Then, as she accelerates
I pump my legs and we keep time with one another


for the melody

of this fall day


She watches my legs


and back


and back

and keeps rhythm with me.

her face parallel to mine
her satisfied smile, her two missing teeth

her dark hair flies off her forehead

and back into her face.

two strands trapped in the corners of her smile

I pull and push faster
climbing higher
toward the palms
silhouetted in  a pure blue






We defy gravity

opposite one another. 

ahead, she turns to laugh

behind, I lean back
to view my topsy-turvy girl.

I slow my legs
allow the earth its pull.
She pumps hers...

then stops. 

We slow

arcing past each other

at odd


our feet trail in the sand

we hop off

I offer my hand

Photo from another lovely Himmel Park visit:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pink Martini at Starr Pass amid Documented Accomplishments

Shuffling Pink Martini on my iPod.

Documenting my teaching accomplishments.

Curled up on a couch in a boulevard-sized passageway outside the ballrooms with massive glassed views of saguaro, ocotillo, a golf course, and, farther down the vale, the city stretching across the floor of the valley.  The crispness of the day refreshes me.

Enjoying the last couple hours of solitude among colleagues and music, writing and thinking.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

NaNoWriMo No Naps! Day 5

I'm sitting here in my room at Starr Pass at my National Board Candidacy Working Retreat, trying to write the instructional context passage for Entry 1 of my portfolio.  And it is so quiet.  So quiet.  And my eyes keep drooping mid sentence. 

Several times today, I took a break from my National Board work by opening up my novel and adding to it.  I am writing in fragments, writing the chunks I know I will need.  I am allowing myself long paragraphs of telling, figuring I can go back and turn those passages into scenes at a later time. 

I have decided to have the point of view shift from first to third person throughout the novel, although I'm not going to tell why... that would be giving too much away.  If it doesn't work out I could always go put it all in first person...  see?  right there I was falling asleep in the middle of a sentence.  It's so quiet here.  I haven't had a good night's sleep in weeks.  The weird thing is, I haven't had any vivid dreams for a long time, either.  I was hoping writing fiction would maybe bring some dreams on, but so far, no.  Not even anxiety dreams.  Isn't that funny?

I'm going to go lie down, now, and snooze a little.  I'm sure I'll be continuing to work tonight.  On my professional writing and my nanowrimo novel.  The professional writing, I'm sure will be fine if I devote the time and effort to it. The novel?  Well, it's getting better as we go onward.  I'm thinking it's a young adult novel... unless I can find a way to bust it free.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Can My Setting Be Wonderland? Young Writers Want to Know! NaNoWriMo and Intertextuality

Yesterday, a student wrote me with a great question.  She wanted to know if she could set her NaNoWriMo novel in Wonderland. 

I answered her question the best I could, saying that fanfiction was all about borrowing from other texts, and literary allusion was all about borrowing from and referring to other texts.  To me, the biggest issue is one of ethics.  Are you openly borrowing and transforming, reinterpreting, and reinventing?  Or are you stealing under the guise of originality?

She answered the question for herself somehow by finding out about the issue of public domain.  To her, now that she knew there was no copyright ownership of Wonderland, she could use it in her novel.  But I told the class that although copyright is certainly a consideration, the issue really goes beyond that to one of ethics and artistic integrity, but that there were multiple grey areas we could discuss.

I googled intertextuality, and of course a boatload of postmodern academic linguistic semiotic mumbo-jumbo came up, which I could read and interpret and try to simplify for my high school students... or I could spend the next half hour working on my own word count on my novel, from which I am drawing on Celtic mythology, and Chinook stories and language. 

If anyone out there knows of a plain-language explanation I could use with my students, or an interesting and accessible set of interconnected texts we could use to discuss the issue, please leave me a comment.  Thanks!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NaNoWriMo Day 3

Word Count: 3817

Well, I am quailing.  My ideas are getting more fragmented vs. more linear.  No plot is materializing.  In addition, I have realized the extent of the research I need to do to pull this off.  Also, my scenes feel devoid of motivation for the characters.  Maybe I should just throw the selkies and the tsunami back in there and just go with it, cheese or no cheese.   At any rate, I have another 900 or so words to write today. 

I wish I had some books of Northwest native american stories. 
I wish I had spent more time at the tidal pools in Oregon.
I wish I could talk to Rich for an hour about prosthetics and the ins and outs of C-legs vs. conventional legs.  For instance, can a person walk up stairs with a C-leg?

Off I go to... rescue this novel from mediocrity and half-assedness. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo Day 1

I am attempting this alongside my students because I don't think it would be very fair to expect them to do something I had never done.  Besides, I would be envious if they had won NaNoWriMo and I hadn't.

Once again, I am discovering that I don't think in plots.  I think in places.  Sometimes I can think in people.  I think in images, in abstract notions, and even in sound.  But plot is beyond me.  So we will see how it goes.  These students!  They think in plots!  I am so envious.

So, the first scene that I write is my character on the cold Oregon beach in a wetsuit, thinking about entering the water despite her mother having forbidden it.  She doesn't go in, but that's not the problem.  I kind of like the scene, except that my character is a double amputee and is on the beach with her sand wheelchair with huge ridiculous plastic wheels.  She wakes up from a nap on the sand, and has a few moments with her two dogs, and... how the hell does she get off the beach?  Her single mother can't afford a motorized sand wheelchair.  She probably had to rent the sand wheelchair she has.  Who the heck pushed her out onto the sand, and how is she getting back home after these solitary moments on the beach?  Perhaps I'll have to turn it into a dream.  Damn it.  Leave it to me.  This is what I'm talking about.

At any rate, my word count is 1880.  Woo-Hoo!

Monday, October 24, 2011

bell hooks and National Boards

Last week, someone tossed out the name bell hooks, and I remembered reading Teaching to Transgress in one of my education classes years and years ago.

I no longer have a copy of that book, but I think I need one.

I just read this article:  and it reminded me how powerful her ideas are, especially in the face of accountability measures such as those being put into place across the country that evaluate teaching based on multiple factors, many of which are somewhat outside the locus of control of the individual teacher who is 1/7 of a student's day for not even ten months.  (See my blog entry Anger and Education for some references to what is happening in Arizona).  Conversations about education so desperately need to turn to the care of students as whole people, and the nurturing of an imaginative and intellectual freedom for each student.  Toward that end, schools need to be humane for teachers and other adults as well.

"The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom with all its limitations remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labour for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom." (hooks 1994: 207)

This takes greater personal energy than teaching to the standards.  But hopefully, it is an energy that is self-renewing, like giving love:  the more we give, the more we have to give.

I find it fascinating that the National Board Certification journey, despite its emphasis on standards and a very specific kind of writing, manages to get at these deeper and much more satisfying levels of involvement with our students' education.  I suppose that one could approach National Boards with an eye to columns of rubric scores.  I should probably be doing a little more of that.  But there is something very powerful and transformative about turning our eyes toward the very people we should be watching all the time, our students, and realizing how often our gaze is drawn away by other forces.  The NB process pulls us back.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bisbee 1000

My internal monologue and I drove to Bisbee today and walked the Bisbee 1000. My internal monologue and I really should have trained for this, because we took 30 minutes longer than last year, but that was fine. 2 hours of uninterrupted walking, stair-climbing and thought. Nice.

I love Bisbee. The architecture, the smell of fennel and concrete steps through rocky hillside lots remind me of my childhood San Francisco. The blooming galardia, poppies and other scraggly wildflowers remind me we are in Southern Arizona. Walked right past my old house from when I taught in Douglas. It is now a bright pastel grass-green. All throughout, folks came out to their porches and encouraged us.

Didn't wear headphones most of the time due to regulations, but also because they had live music at each staircase. However, here is part of my playlist for the walk and the drive home. I can't get enough Red Hot Chili Peppers, but can't play them when the kids are in the car (due to f-word), so... makes me wish I had learned to play bass better. Enjoy.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chicago Blog 3: Anyone? Anyone?

Chicago Blog: No Ketchup Allowed
Chicago Blog 2: Inventions of the Monsters

The Wobblies and the lovers photograph themselves in fun-house reflections.

We stand back with our arms crossed, reserving judgment.  We are ditchers.

The Hobo College carries the banner with worn-out soles and can't catch a lift.  After 26 miles the runners hobble through the streets, weighed down by their medals; the anarchists still serve up deep dish portions of a monumental White Castle.  No substitutions.

Who will bail out the students?   Where will they park their parents' cars?  The new pilings have sprung a leak deep down and we will discover the flooded basements much too late.

The ashes of the old city congeal into plexiglass and steel.  The miles of grasslands have become urban renewal. Condominiums sail by. 

We taxi the tarmac hunched in our capsule of air and close our eyes.

Side note:  I found this really cool wikipedia article on Wobbly lingo:  I had no idea!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Chicago Blog 2: Inventions of the Monsters

Chicago Blog: No Ketchup Allowed
Chicago Blog 3: Anyone? Anyone?

In the second installation I offer an Art Nouveau triptych: three female forms, tousled tresses scented with crushed marigolds.

A mosaic window. Endless subway tunnels of humanity. A marathon wheelchair. Soviet Backscatter X-Ray technology reveals knotted balloons of nostalgia swallowed to pass through customs. They have burst.

Sandburg sends the hog butchers packing to the suburbs in a flight of granite steps. They take the blue line.

Poverty is the Italian beef of angry foam-board. The buoy bells they ring for me.

Ceres blesses the towering corn cobs along the uphill river. The Sears Tower follows the Tao to the tune of blues harmonica.

Three reenact the past propped on elbows over sprinkles and buttercream. Protests, protests everywhere.

Salvador Dali:  Inventions of the Monsters

Deva's Senior Photo w/ Us

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Chicago Blog: No Ketchup Allowed

Chicago Blog 2: Inventions of the Monsters
Chicago Blog 3: Anyone? Anyone?

Coming soon, Dada poem of lime-flavored art and lionesque piers of Ferris Wheel gin, complete with celery salt.

In it, The Venus de Milo sports mink pompoms. Homeless black men give me The Onion free for $2. Hundreds of porta potties escort us to the lakeshore, serenading us with the drumming of a thousand empty dill pickle buckets.

Frank Sinatra voiced-over the William Tell overture to berry-burst explosions of pointillism.

Obey the Metra. Throw Miró a dulce cupcake. Wash your face in Blue Chagall. Occupy Wall Street with a New World Order chosen by musical experts. The teacher at the Prairie School pastes her broadsides into windows and names her boat Semi-Precious. Blow out the candles; it's time to fly.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Diary of Turning 40

I awoke this morning to find my father padding around my living room in his saggy tighty-whities, wearing an undersized Daniel Boone cap, waiting for the pear sauce to cook that he made from my dry, grainy Costco pears. This is not a metaphor.  I wouldn't have my father any other way, though I think Rich was secretly relieved that he had stayed in bed and therefore was not forced to witness this level of body confidence in a beer-bellied 63-year-old father-in-law.

My 5 year-old daughter anxiously brought me a colorful reused birthday gift bag with wadded up reused tissue inside, under which she had placed several gifts: my barrel brush for blow-drying (that I already owned), a face made out of a taped-together paper towel drawn-on with black Sharpie, a "worm" made out of the same material, and a butterfly she made out of paper plates the first week of kindergarten. Very sweet.  Many hugs and kisses.  She had been checking in with me every twenty minutes since 6:30 to try to get me out of bed.

Later, she had re-filled the bag with similar gifts wrapped in bath towels.  I think she just wanted the hugs and kisses. It was lovely to be able to give and receive love and good wishes in the forms of hugs, kisses, and items I already own.

Last night, after Jeff, Dad and I worked at tile, grouting and caulk all day, a bunch of us gathered at The Home Plate, a Tucson dive that just happens to have a respectable selection of batting cages in the back, and serves very good pizza and burgers.  My dad, brother Jeff, Rich, the kids, my brother Bill, Angel and their two little girls, and friends Mike and Jill.  Mike, after several years of chronic back pain and other medical problems, seemed to be in a happy mood, giving me shit about feeling sorry for myself, telling me how great life would be when the kids were out of the house... that kind of thing.  Turns out he had busted into my Seagrams that had been under the kitchen counter for two years while we were over working on the house.  Rich forgave me for running to Walgreens for athletic tape so he could hit balls, and then leaving the tape with the cashier after I had paid for it.  That way, he wasn't forced to embarrass anyone with his prowess in the Majors cage.  Bill and Angel brought me a huge bottle of Cuervo margaritas.

This morning, my mom, pregnant sister Grace, Benchy and their two kids showed up, and the 11 of us went to breakfast.  They had brought with them a baby cottontail bunny that they had found orphaned in the road the night before, barely a handful big.  Cute thing, but still, I did not want to keep it.  Nice try, Grace!

Breakfast with 11 people turned out NOT to be a cluster-            and we actually had a pleasant time, despite the sometimes disappointing chain-restaurant breakfast.  The tiny kids didn't screech; my kids didn't pick at each other.  My mom and Jeff got to catch up, since they had only met a couple of times before, and I got a balloon jester hat.  I was able to get a photo with my mom and my dad at the same time. Loved that.
Dad-- could you smile?  For me?
It's funny-- I forget how much older I am than my siblings.  If Dylan had been here, maybe I wouldn't have felt so old, but without him, I began to feel almost parental.  But still felt like my mom's and dad's little girl.

At some point during the day, I realized that I could have been conceived on New Year's or Christmas. 

This afternoon I finished reading The Educated Imagination, by Northrup Frye.  This series of lectures was an excellent suggestion from a friend.  I realize that reading literary criticism/philosophy may not be everyone's idea of fun, but it was nice to take focused reading time.  I haven't watched shitty reality television in weeks.  It feels good.  And this book articulated a lot of ideas about why literature is important, even essential, in educating the mind.  Steve R told me that if I read it, I would become a warrior with a vision.  I have to say, he was not too far off.

I also spent a couple extra hours reading Fight Club.  I am enjoying the book and can really see the appeal for young skeptics of today.  For me, reading this alongside The Educated Imagination helped illuminate both books-- it really clarified for me the importance of educating the imagination, because the educated imagination understands two things about that book that make the story less utterly frightening.  First, let me say why the book is (so far) utterly frightening:  because the need of the characters to find something essentially and primitively meaningful in their physical life on earth seems to carry a lot of truth-- the point of fight club is for the men to re-discover their true power, their physical ability to alter the state of things, even if it only comes down to actually feeling the sensation of pain and surviving it.  If I am understanding correctly.  Northrup Frye makes two points in his argument that seem to me to be key in reading a story like this:  1)  the inherent separation in reading literature between the reader and the story (i.e. it is not happening to you; it is not a recipe for how to live) and 2) the difference between a romantic reading of Tyler Durden, and an ironic reading of Tyler Durden.  To me, Tyler Durden requires an ironic reading.  And from my experience with young people, only a certain number of students have the reading chops to read complex literature ironically.  My juniors last year, despite lesson after lecture after example, still did not understand that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was satire, that Twain did not approve of Huck allowing Tom to torture Jim throughout the whole last several chapters of the book.  I had to cut our final panel discussion short and flat out tell the group that Twain was poking fun at and criticizing Huck, and Tom, and the reader for our complicity.  That Twain was not being a racist so much as deeply questioning the racism of his time.  I was so disappointed that they would have believed I would have made them spend 7 weeks studying a simple reflection of "how racist it was back then," including Twain. So, it worries me not that this book exists, because it is so well-constructed and has some memorable details and descriptions, but that students may not be equipped to read the book in a way that does not destroy their judgment.  On the other hand, this generation has learned to look at a lot of things ironically.  I guess it's a matter of motivation:  If you feel like creating anarchy, you read Tyler Durden's character romantically.  If you feel like there could be a better way to survive the modern world, you read him ironically.  The last chapter must be taken into account-- the main character is scared shitless of Tyler Durden, even though he created him.  At that point, he wants normalcy, and the girl, and that makes the book (as Palahniuk says in the afterword) a romance.  A reader's response is also a matter of the breadth and depth of literary experiences of the reader-- so no teenager should find Fight Club and stop there.  They have to keep going.  It is a great read, though.

Tonight, Rich took me out on a date.  Yes, it's true.  We actually went out on a date.  First, he took me shopping for certain articles of essential female attire.  Then we went to dinner; Pastiche was tasty.  I hadn't been there since we celebrated our 9th anniversary, when we drove up in my anniversary gift, my little red Porsche that was too good to be true, and which is no more.  We had a little corner of a booth, and were able to sit right up next to each other.  The food was delicious; the wine was good.  On the way home, he drove me through the back alleys near the Arizona Inn, where he and his friends used to ride their bikes home from Saints Peter and Paul, and he looked for Superman's Forest.  He was going to show me the small wild spot in between houses where he and his friends said they would bring girls if they ever got brave enough to try to get some action.  They never got brave enough to bring any girls there.  After half a bottle of wine, I was kind of hoping to make out in the car at Superman's Forest.  But, sadly, Superman's Forest had been in-filled by buildings or landscaping-- he couldn't recognize it anywhere.  Still, the idea was very sweet.
 So, overall, I have had such a good time celebrating and relaxing and reading, I didn't even really have a chance to feel sorry for myself.  And that's the way it should be.  I'm not so old, after all.  I'll never catch up to Superman.  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Big Stuff

Warning:  Self-Indulgent Reflection Ahead.  It's All about Me Here.

I've been thinking about all of the big things that happen in my life that I haven't really written about on my blog, and why.  The events and people that impact my life the most deserve recognition here... so why don't I sometimes write about them?

My best answer is that they are too big.  If I'm going to write about them, I want to do them justice.  I haven't snippeted them down into digestible blog entries, each with an insight and thesis.

Also, I obviously do not write anonymously on my blog.  As a public school teacher, I felt it was better to just put my name on my blog and then filter what I post, rather than write anonymously, be tempted to put something inappropriate on my blog, and then live to regret it, which has happened before in many real-life morality tales where people end up losing their careers.  It's silly to believe that we are anonymous online. No, thanks. 

Many of the topics I haven't touched have intensely personal and private aspects to them.   I don't really think of myself as a private person (surprise, there), but when I stop to list the things that I have not written about on this blog, I realize that indeed, there are things that I have kept private.  And those things I will keep private, but here is a list of topics that are just too dang big that I haven't mined for my blog, yet, but which may make their way here eventually:
  • Hiking '10.  Including: hiking with my 7 year old son.  Including:  Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim!
  • Hiking '11.  Including:  backpacking Aravaipa with my brother Bill and three little boys.
  • Double Adobe & Moffett Homestead family history.
  • My Mom.
  • My Dad.
  • My amazing husband.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Baby in the Back Yard. Our Northern Mockingbird.

This summer, G was throwing baseballs up against the wall in our terribly unkempt back yard.  He came running into the house saying that there was a baby bird on the ground.  We went out and looked at it, and it was moving around among the leaves, making occasional peeps.  Since Rich and I had awakened, we had heard the anxious chirping and calls of the birds outside our window, and wondered what was going on, and this seemed to explain it.  The poor little guy(?) seemed pretty helpless-- his feathers were not fully formed, and had kind of a sweaty, matted look, and his little beak had yellow "lips" and that wide-mouthed look that made it seem as though meals must come from a doting parent.  I can't find the photos I took of the bird at this stage, but he didn't look ready for this adventure.

 I looked into the tree and saw three separate nests at different places.  There were adult birds flying around the tree and wall in the yard, chirping and scolding.  I have no idea about birds, and wondered if they had accidentally pushed this little one out of the nest early?  What should we do?  So, I did a little bit of internet research and found some good links about finding baby birds.  Based on this info. we built a replacement nest out of a plastic basket filled with twigs and leaves, and G climbed into the tree and zip-tied it up there.  G helped me carefully place the bird within the nest, but when we came back that evening, he was gone, a single downy feather drifting in the breeze below the tree.  Oh, no!!  I assumed a cat got him.  At least G knew that we had done our best to try to help him.

     However, three days later, G came running inside again saying another bird was out there.  Here is what I found:

He was hopping energetically around the base of the wall and calling out for his parents.

I did some more research, and decided that it was probably the same baby bird grown up a few more days.  We celebrated-- he had somehow survived!  Probably the plentitude of overgrown grasses gave him plenty of camouflage.  After looking online, we decided that maybe it was a northern mockingbird, a northern mockingbird who had thrived in our dried-up and un-maintained back yard for several days now. If you have a better theory about what happened, let me know.  The parents were hanging around the whole time, and occasionally became worked up about one thing or another.  Sometimes we would hear the little bird calling his parents.

Two days later, here is who I found under our terribly overgrown bush:
I saw him once more up in the branches later that day.  After a day or two more, we no longer heard him calling his parents, and the frantic adult birds disappeared from our tree and wall.  I'm hoping that means he made it.

Here are some of the links I found:
Backyard Birds of Tucson  This site was really comprehensive about lots of local bird species.
Some Q & A Site that acually helped.
Audubon Society birdweb.  From Seattle-- but I bet a lot of the same species migrate through.
Place for Wild Birds.  This site was incredibly helpful for figuring out how old the bird was.
Blog entry about Mockingbird behavior made me almost certain that's what these were because his description of the behavior was extremely similar to what I saw in the adults.
Tucson Bird Count has audio of the bird calls, which was really fun.

Astrid Viking Girl Halloween Costume

Last year, my daughter agreed to be Astrid from the movie How to Train your Dragon. 

I say "agreed" because, of course, she only "came up" with the idea after we suggested it to her subtly a few times.  I really wanted to make this costume, and it turned out awesome.

Unfortunately I didn't take very many photos of the process, but it's pretty easy to see what we did.  I'm not big on patterns or anything... I just sort of go for it.

First of all, we started with borrowing G's sleestak long-john bottoms from last year's costume, and take a trip to SAS Fabrics by the Pound on Speedway.  We bought fake naugahyde in brown, and some real leather chamois strips of varying thicknesses and colors.  We also picked up a bag of very inexpensive plastic "gold" buttons of various types, and a little bit of fake fur (for the boot cuffs).  A small piece of striped fleece worked for the shirt.

I sewed the shirt by pinning the fabric to her inside out, sewing it together and cutting the neckline.  It was pretty rustic, but worked fine.

The skirt was made by taking a length of brown trim that had aluminum-reinforced holes in two lines down it.  We cut strips of the naugahyde using a cardboard template I made from a cereal box.  I sewed the top ends of the strips along the belt, and created ties out of some of the thin leather to tie it in the back.  We made the skulls around the waist with leftover foamboard from a school project, and printed out the skull face details, cut them out and glued them on, then cut the skulls out around them.  I punched holes with a small screwdriver and laced thin strips of leather through the skulls, then tied them through the holes in the belt.  For the bronze "studs" on the skirt, we used scissors to snip the plastic nubs off the backs of the buttons, used black craft paint to dull the surfaces, and then hot-glued them to the skirt strips.  We used some of them around a strip of leather for the headband, and created ties for the headband with the thin leather as well.

We bought an inexpensive pair of fake ugg boots (which L ended up wearing the entire winter afterward) and cut out pieces of fur and tied them with leather. around her ankles above the edge of the boot to look kind of like a cuff.   We also wrapped her wrists in some of the soft chamois leather, although we didn't do that for these photos.

The shoulder armor was made with papier mache (newspaper and flour paste) over cardboard pieces cut from cereal boxes.  After they were dry we painted them with inexpensive silver craft acrylic paint.  We used three on each shoulder and punched holes and laced them together with, again, thin leather strips, using foamboard skulls on each shoulder.  We used more leather laces to tie the two shoulder-pieces together so she could wear them without them sliding off and take them off over her head.  

For her hair, I bought a long blonde wig from Savers, and did an inside-out braid just like Astrid's in the movie.  A huge axe finished off the look, though we should have shortened the handle.

Not counting the boots, this costume cost no more than $30.  Sweet!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

English Department Meeting

I love our department chairperson.  I love my colleagues.  We are so awesome and powerful, and we mean so well.  And we would never deliberately trash an agenda.

But today at our meeting, it disintegrated into a general despair, a desperation arising from two weeks that have gone something like this:
  • 156 English students to get to know, whose writing I need to read, who I want to be okay and believe that I know not only their names, but their styles, their reading tastes, what skills they have at this point.
  • 23 advisory students I'm supposed to be tracking and getting to know personally so I can become their advocate.
  • National Board Coaching Saturday
  • Open House
  • Freshman commits suicide
  • Parent Teacher conference night
  • My own children's parent teacher conferences
  • Professional Growth Plans due
  • Progress Report Grades Due (not to mention the grading)
  • National Board Workday (include:  making sub plans)
  • Evaluating opportunities to earn extra $ tutoring for AIMS or teaching after-school classes.  Deciding it's just not possible, even though funds would be helpful.
  • My own son gets kicked out of school and I have to interrupt teaching to go pick him up
  • Multiple real estate transactions we are working on
  • Conference time with students replaced twice by a) pep rally and b) PSAT proctor training (rgh).
  • Computer lab taken over by another teacher who went there on the wrong period; lab not available another period because the office doors are all locked and nobody is anywhere to be found.
  • Planning, grading, planning, grading and planning and grading for three separate courses.
  • Trying to track down and help several individual students who worry me.
  • web development on seven separate wikis.
  • flat tire on the very warm roof of the parking garage.
  • tech work orders for network connections, software installation, etc.
  • National Board candidate support meeting.
Well, that's my list anyway.   About every other item could be replaced by every other teacher in that room with their own personal troubles and obligations.  Several expressed that they feel like first year teachers again with the class loads we have.  I have been feeling that way, but I thought it was because of National Boards, which is really causing me to look closely at my students and what they are learning or how they are developing as readers and writers.

No, it turns out we are all feeling the pressure.  Classes start so early this year it is hard to meet with students individually.  The bell schedule is all wacko.  We are all trying so badly, as we always do, to compensate for the difficulties of the system-- it's the nature of being a professional in the educational system.  You are a trooper.  You go for it, despite...   You care, despite...   You can't stop trying out new instructional ideas, despite...   You make field trip plans, despite...

It's a wacky time, folks.  I'm feeling alternately exhilirated, refreshed and re-energized in my teaching and also exhausted, overwhelmed and helpless at the same time.  It's a cliche, but it's true that the students keep me going.  And it's only week 6.  How long until we all catch bronchitis and stay home for a few days?

Well, that thought-dump really helped.  I'm off to bed.  To sleep?  Perchance to dream?  For more than 5 1/2 hours?  A pleasant thought indeed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Things That Make No Sense #2

Freshman commits suicide.

Teachers are asked to read aloud official announcement that he has "died at home" over the weekend.

Teachers are asked not to condone rumors and gossip during times like this.

Students report that it was due to bullying.

Teacher downplays rumor but allows discussion to continue.

Students say that they perceive that teachers, staff and admin do nothing about bullying.

No official communication regarding bullying issue.  Other children continue to get bullied each day.

Cyberbullying workshops are arranged and scheduled.

Nobody ever admits that the workshops have anything to do with the recent suicide.


If we address the issue of bullying, we do so based on a variety of assumptions instead of being able to provide whatever real information may be available.

Meanwhile, kid is dead.  A kid described by my students as "warm," "kind," and "just a baby."

Feeling That Seaside Need

This is sort of a follow up from my previous Seaside reveries.

Haven't been sleeping well.  And when I'm trying to relax at night, convince my lungs to expand and admit cleansing breaths that extend throughout my body, I visualize the beach in Seaside, Oregon.  My healing place, spiritual fountain and mind blank place.

More photos and memories.