Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Follow My Donorschoose Projects

I just got another project fully funded through  Within two days, my request was posted live, fully funded by a single anonymous donor, and ordered and shipped.  A new laptop is on its way to my classroom.

My goal is to build a "lab" one laptop at a time for my classroom, since the State of Arizona doesn't seem overly concerned about my students using 21st Century tools to become better writers.  Luckily, some folks are.

The link to my teacher page is:

Friend Hikes Trail of Tears. Hike of a Lifetime!

Our friend Ron Cooper, married to a dear old friend Kristal, is currently hiking the trail of tears.  He has been planning this hike for years, and has a website and blog:

He discusses his experiences better than I would, so check it out!  He is getting quite a bit of press, it seems.

May he find plenty of Angels along the trail!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thoughts and Impressions after Together We Thrive and Obama in Tucson

This will not be a coherent essay with a well-conceived thread of imagery from beginning to end, or a story with a moral, or have any literary merits whatsoever.  I am still processing the experiences of the week, and just wanted to give myself a venue to capture some experiences, feelings and observations.  I may tinker with this entry later, or add another entry to capture some of my other impressions of the week.

First of all, on Saturday, January 8, I filmed this video right about two hours after Jared Lee Loughner shot up a Safeway in Northwest Tucson, near where my grandparents used to live, a Safeway where I have shopped many times:

I figure this was about the time Gabrielle Giffords would have been in the middle of brain surgery that appears to have saved her life.

We had taken the kids up to Mount Lemmon for a snow play day.  We parked at the gate of Marshall Gulch Road, closed for the season, and walked and slid down the quiet, snowy road through the pines.  Several other families were out to explore the snow, with babies and children, some with full winter gear, others simply layered up, sledding on, I kid you not, traffic cones, or homemade sleds made from aluminum trailer siding ("Don't let another man define your fun!" the father advised us.  Well-put.)
We at Tucson High heard on Wednesday that Westboro Baptist Church was planning on picketing our school.  These are the people who picket soldier's funerals and hold signs saying that the dead soldier is rotting in hell because the United States supports homosexuals.  They are hateful.  They were planning also on picketing the local funerals of Christina Taylor-Green and federal judge John Roll, who were killed in the shooting on Saturday.  Tucson High has a very open LGBTQ community of students on campus.  But to me it was clear that the WBC was simply riding the coattails of the media attention to Tucson in general, and to TUSD's Ethnic Studies program in particular. However, trying to make sense of these people's reasoning is futile.

For two days I worried about one of my students talking back to these folks, throwing dimes at them, worse things growing out of the exchanges.  I counseled my students using the guidelines that I had received from an Angels of Action member.  I told them that this group is not from Tucson, doesn't care about true dialogue, doesn't know them and doesn't care at all about their well-being.  This seemed to make sense to them, although they still joked about at least flipping them off on the way into the front gates. 

This morning, I arrived at work early in case I was needed, along with many of my colleagues.  I walked into the main building from the back parking lot, walked upstairs to drop off my backpack, and came down the stairs above the library corner of the building.  When I turned the corner, this was the first thing I saw:

I swear that those angels were at least three times as tall as how they appear in this photo.  My throat closed up and, as cliche as it sounds, the tears came...  I immediately doubted whether I could stand in the face of hateful people and calmly guide my students peacefully into the school.  I didn't think I could speak without blubbering.  I breathed deeply and continued into the school lobby, where a few dozen teachers stood wearing red sweaters and t-shirts, talking over their feelings and concerns, worried looks on their faces, their staff I.D. cards clipped in prominent places, not something I usually see at our school.  

I moved outside, slowly mingling, finding my place in the crowd, and eventually joining the group of students, teachers and staff near the front gate, marveling at the sight across the street, wondering what was going to happen, all of us.  Another teacher was slowly making her way around, informing students that the Angels were the "good guys," not the protesters.   Looks of understanding spread as the students re-examined the line of Angels through the bars and across the street.

On Saturday, January 8, on Mount Lemmon, we did not have cell phone service.  However, some texts and Facebook updates came through on our phones.  As I drove down the mountain, Rich checked his Blackberry. 
     "Oh, no..." he said ominously, putting his hand up to his face.  It sounded bad.  Who had died?
     "Something bad...  I can't tell what it is." 
     We drove silently down the bright highway, giving a generous margin to the vehicles parked along the side of the road with children and grown-ups crawling over the tumbling drifts of snow left by the plows.  Some were shoveling snow into the beds of pick-ups, others exuberantly threw snowballs into the clear asphalt of the road.  Neither of us spoke as Rich scrolled through his Facebook profile, but our own children in the back of the car continued on:  "What is going on?  What happened?  Dad?  Mom, did something bad happen?  Can I have more hot chocolate?"
     By the time we made it to Windy Point Vista, Rich knew that Gabrielle Giffords had been shot.  A few miles later we knew that it had happened at a Safeway on the Northwest side of town.  When we were almost down the mountain, we tuned into KNST and found out Giffords was still alive.  The radio hosts were relaying news as quickly as it was coming in about what had happened.  They were visiting Loughner's YouTube channel and relaying the content of his writing and the list of his favorite books.  I was having trouble reconciling how a person who touted his study of grammar could make so little sense in his statements.  I thought it was tragically hilarious that he believed the government had brainwashed us with grammar.  I couldn't figure out how someone who had listed To Kill a Mockingbird as a favorite book could do such a thing.  At that time, I formed my opinion that this person was seriously delusional, narcissistic, and borderline illiterate.  A scary combination. 
     Of course, being an Arizonan in 2011, the question of whether Jared Lee Loughner considered himself a tea partier occurred to me.  Yet among his favorite books was The Communist Manifesto.  
     When the talk radio hosts mentioned that some people were posting things on the internet blaming Sarah Palin for the shooting, my heart sank.  Here we go, I thought.  Being fairly left of center myself, I was embarrassed for liberals that would go there so soon after the shooting.  At this point, reports were going from 6 to 11 to 18 people who had been shot.  The death toll was rising.  There was news that a 9-year-old had died.  Information was still fresh, uncertain, ever-changing.  And people were already blaming Sarah Palin?  [side note:  Sarah Palin -- not a fan.  I do not appreciate her politics or political presence.]


This whole week, Rich has been out of town for work.  The kids and I have the daily logistics down, but more of the burden of transportation, morning and evening rituals, and care and attention of the children falls on me than did when he was around. 

Monday, when I learned that Obama was coming to Tucson for a memorial, I mentioned it out loud, and G began jumping up and down, practically screaming "We have to go! He's our president! It's Obama! He's our president! We have to go! We have to!"  A good friend called who has a 7-month-old and a 5-year-old.  She thought we should go for it.  But we couldn't go until we got out of school-- at the earliest we would have gotten to campus around 4:00.  So when there were news reports about the tens of thousands of people lined up to enter McKale Center, she called me and made the decision not to attend.  

On my way home, I reflected that at least visiting the U of A Mall and writing on the chain of expression might be do-able with my kids, who were older, sans diapers or stroller.  I thought that might be memorable in and of itself.  I saw buses coming from El Con, and decided to take the kids on the shuttle to campus and just do whatever seemed possible to do. We boarded the buses, peanut butter sandwiches in our pockets.  I was totally impressed with the Sun Tran employees' ability to inform us of what to expect.  They told us upon boarding that we would not get into McKale, and upon disembarking, exactly which lines to avoid and how to get into the stadium for the ceremony.  

At Cherry and 6th, we saw the wide line of people stretching from McKale, out to 6th street, and out of sight down the street.  Two college kids who were selling water to make a few extra bucks gave G a bottle free of charge. So far so good. At 4:40, we walked through a sidewalk-full of folks standing in line for McKale, past state troopers, secret service with coiled cords down their necks, and TPD, and straight into the stadium.  We found seats on the 50 yard line.  

Most of these photos were taken by the kids in my effort to keep them engaged in something quiet.
 We bought lemonade and ate our sandwiches.  Listened to the musical performances piped in from McKale, gospel music and symphony.  Watched the people file in, watched the sun go down.  The mood overall was subdued, but people were talking. 
On the jumbotron was the logo for the event, Together We Thrive.  
When I first saw that title emblazoned on the buses, the signs toward the shuttle stop, and on T-shirts, I was uncomfortable with the idea that this memorial service needed a slogan or a logo.  I did not reach to try to grab a t-shirt when they distributed them in the stadium.  Still, as one person sitting behind me pointed out, the sentiment was in the right place.
At one point, a row of teenagers a few rows behind me started the wave, complete with "woooOOOOOOoooh."  After three repetitions, I stood up and reminded them that this was a memorial service.  By this point, around 5:15, I was beginning to get tired of being distracted by the presence and ongoing attentional demands of my own children.  I wanted to sit, people watch, think, reflect.  You know, what most people do in football stadiums.  A teen girl with long dark hair who was not part of the group opposed me: 
     "Leave them alone.  Your own kid just laughed when that little boy hurt himself earlier." 
     "My kid is eight years old, and I also spoke to him."
     "They're just kids, too."
     "Well, I'm a teacher, and I teach kids, and I'm reminding them that this is a memorial service."


The teenagers, of course, knocked it off.  Someone else would have called them on it if I hadn't, I'm certain.

I took a video of the scene on my little camera.  I asked O why we were there.  "To see the game?"  No.  "To see the president?"  Closer.

G is beside himself because the men behind us tell him that the space station is supposed to go across the night sky at 5:57.  G calls Rich and tells him to look for it.  He promises to.

During the blessing, O is giggling hysterically and the women in front of us keep turning around.  G keeps leaning across me and reprimanding her harshly to stop "being a jerk!"  The women finally move down four rows.  I move G down two rows.  I put O on my lap.  She wriggles.  I put her on the other side of me.  She wriggles.  Much giggling.  I smack the side of her butt.  I try pinching her.  She laughs more loudly each time.  Somehow, throughout all of this, I am hearing the blessing, yet missing the readings from the Bible.  I appreciate how Dr. Carlos Gonzales asks for a sense of humor out of the South.  Yes.  That would be nice.  I have lost mine by the time President Obama speaks.  Thankfully, the children settle a bit.  G listens to much of the eulogy.

After the president eulogizes the hopes and beliefs of Christina Taylor-Green, but before he is finished speaking, before the poem, and before the symphony plays "Simple Gifts," people begin to file out of the stadium in large numbers.  I wonder that they would sit waiting for 90 minutes in the bleachers for the event to begin, but yet leave the event as though it were a losing football game.  However, most stayed and seemed as baffled as I was why people would leave.

On the way out of the stadium, the kids race each other down the huge concrete ramps.  We pause to listen to the Pride of Arizona play the Battle Hymn of the Republic on the corner, and on the way down to 6th street, we pass the fire trucks all lined up.  I ask G why he thinks there are fire engines here.  He says "In case someone blows up the whole stadium?"  Ouch.  His obsession with seeking disapproval from me through the mention of explosions or gunfire seems especially misplaced.  I tell him it makes me sad that he thinks of things like that first, and that other emergencies could happen such as a trash can catching fire from someone's cigarette.


Thursday evening, during a moment of quiet, I pass O's room.  She and G are examining the youth edition of Gray's Anatomy I had picked up at the library book sale.  On the page about hemorrhoids, G is explaining to O, using the diagrams, how poop comes out.  

I figured they'd get to genitals next, which of course they did.

But then, they joined me in my room, and G had supplemented his sources with another anatomy book more aimed at younger children.  He flipped through it, saying he wanted to find out the parts of the brain.  He wanted to discover what kind of brain damage Gabrielle Giffords might expeience.  He asked several detailed questions about where the bullet entered her head, what it might have done to her skull, and then analyzed and explained to O that she might have problems with speech, feelings and movement.