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.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Emily Dickinson and Tucson's Big Read

Many of my classes will be participating in one form or another in The Big Read, sponsored by Kore Press and NEA.
The Big Read is a program through National Endowment for the Arts, and this year the featured poet is Emily Dickinson.  Many other organizations are partnering up throughout the fall, including the University of Arizona Poetry Center, to put together an incredible run of events.  Teens may be especially interested in Logan Phillips' Slamming Emily writing and poetry slam workshops.  Logan visited my classroom last year, and really connected with my students and inspired them to write some great poetry.

Emily Dickinson at age 16
Emily Dickinson at age 16
Many students are totally unfamiliar with Dickinson's work, and others may stereotype her as an old maid and a hermit writing old-fashioned poetry, but Emily Dickinson was a pre-modern poet, bending and breaking the rules of the poetry of her time. Though she lived in 19th Century Massachusetts, her voice is modern and always surprising. Together with Walt Whitman, she is credited with helping develop a truly American poetic voice. However, I see her as having a more individual voice, especially seeing that her poetry was not widely recognized until the middle of the 20th century.

Below, find a list of some poems which may help engage you with her work. Her poems are categorized by number and title.  The poems were not originally titled, but are conventionally given a title using the first line. The capitalization and punctuation of the titles is true to the original-- Dickinson was known for her unconventional use of punctuation and capitalization. In early volumes of her work, editors changed the capitalization and punctuation to their tastes, but the poems are now treasured for these idiosyncratic details.  Below the poems is a list of Emily Dickinson resources I've collected.

I will continue to revise this page as I find new resources.


Selected Poems:

I measure every Grief I meet
Because I could not stop for Death
I heard a Fly buzz
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
There's a certain Slant of Light
The Soul unto itself
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--

Fantastic Video:
Emily Dickinson – Her True Self from Flash Rosenberg on Vimeo.


Emily Dickinson Links

Monday, September 12, 2011

Writing in the Margins

Thinking about my role as a teacher after the news that yet another of our students committed suicide over the weekend, a freshman. Not one of my students, but it just as well could have been.

Writing in the Margins

I try to write in the margins
not sprawl purple ink on your precious words
and I'm not saying precious with a snarl
What I am skirting around is the truth
that whether or not you will ever be literary
or grammatically correct
or well-organized
is really irrelevant
although I do kind of fall for the literary types
they are my favorite, I won't lie
as long as they are open to feedback
those and the truly witty jokesters
and the strong girls

But where I am headed here is that...

Your words are precious
You are precious
Too precious to allow the words or thoughts of others
to have the power to destroy you
So long as you use words
you are human
and you are vital
the moment your voice goes mute
whether by noose, pills, force
or silent withdrawal
you lose the power to save yourself
to save others
to discover what you cannot save
to hope to save
to love
to let go
to free yourself

you lose it all
and we lose you
and, really, we need you
the world needs you
you have a place within it

I'm sure there is a metaphor
that will say it better
but listen
I'll leave it to you
to critique this poem
suggest more figurative language
talk back to it
write all over it
I don't care
I'm sure it has greater possibilities
but so do you.

Teacher Angst


Working on National Boards this year, I feel like this is one of the first times I have really made the effort to COMPLETELY do my job since I gave birth to my children.

Don't get me wrong, I work hard every year. I try to be creative, hold to some level of standards, get to know my students, try to stay positive, be a resource for them. I try, but when you have your own kids that level of commitment to the late nights, the crates of papers coming home for the weekend, it just changes. It has to, and overall it is a healthy change.

But now I feel compelled to be the best teacher I can be, to show myself what I have really learned about how to teach students to read and write after 16 years, and to give my students the best experience possible.

And, I am finding that my deep-down belief that our jobs may truly be impossible within the time we are given here on earth, and within the time we are given with each student, may indeed be true... Holy Cow, when you really try to do it all, it really never ends. But I'm trying. I really am. And it does make me treasure my students all that much more.

Signing off from school at 6:00 after a very long day, encouraged by the lovely photo writing of my creative writing class...

Stay tuned, folks.

Saturday, September 10, 2011



Passing Marana I covet a farmstand watermelon
alongside the frontage road
they are lined up on a board, all sizes
green rinds filled with quaint black seeds
summer's last bursting bounty
large white sugar spots
I glance them as they glide by at 75.

The storms between me and the mountains
mediated by miles and mechanization
tresses falling from the sky, not virga
but lavishing from the clouds
flinging themselves passionately to earth
but in slow motion
savoring the seduction
they offer all of themselves
sweetly, generously they
give and give.

The generosity of the storms
pulls me toward them,
their perfect dark clarity
their turbulence beckons from afar
water, everywhere, falling from nowhere, lovely
I think, to lose myself within them
like the thirsty desert and
thieving farmland, to absorb
their flood of what is good.

These meditations are punctuated by
thrills of lightning, light not muffled within the heavens
but bright white against the deep gray of the storms
possibly fictional
a sideways glance from a would-be lover
from an unpredictable corner
leaving only a longing
possibly another

But I am on the thoroughfare. There are no side streets
no intersections to carry me there.
I drive at seventy-five
toward home

and then, after one long straight curve,
past acres of industry
and the suburbs
there it is.

I find that the storm is home
Hail, wind and water
awaiting my return
offering up all its bounty
within sheets of sudden rain.

Poet's Muy-Post Post-script:  This poem is dedicated to my husband.  As I was driving, watching these unbelievably intense and visually incredible thunderstorms sweep across the desert, I thought about how in life, sometimes you yearn for something you have already won... or earned... or coaxed into being, or whatever.  And sometimes you don't even allow yourself to realize you've asked for it, and yet in that strange sort of yearning yet not-quite-daring to ask you've already moved the universe to grant you what you need.