Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gluteus Helios or a quick 15 min between classes

I have a coworker who hates or is persecuted by everything and everyone. If I gave her a diamond encrusted rose that magically made her young again she would cut her nose on the diamonds, get some horrible infection and it would instead of putting her out of her misery cause her some protracted misfortune that would make her car break down and cause her to get fired. I mean seriously everything she comes in contact with sucks AND she attempts with great determination to suck the joy from those around her. Today she told me I was too happy and that it irritated her, I take this as a compliment.

Attitude is everything, I always tell my students that the only way out is through and you get a choice you can be dragged through life in chains or you can dance through, it is up to you. I know that this sounds a bit like I am trying to shoot sunshine out my butt but it is my firm belief that no matter what the circumstance one can make it better or worse by making a choice how to deal with it.
I have had some pretty horrible things happen to me in my life, I have had some pretty fantastic things happen to me in my life. I think I will focus on the joy cause honestly I would rather remember that than the shitty parts.
There is a parlor trick where in one person puts his or her arm out to the side, parallel with the ground and another person uses 2 fingers on the wrist of the out thrust arm and tries to push it down. The first time you do it the person with the arm out thinks of the saddest or worst day they can think of and blamo the arm goes down without even a fight. Then you do it again and tell the person with the arm outstretched to think of best day they can remember or something great and what do you know the same amount of resistance results in the arm staying up. This is not a scientific test by any stretch. Be that as it may I believe I will choose to dance through whatever comes my way rather than be dragged through in chains; cause the only way out is through.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When I read The Hobbit in the 4th grade 2 things struck me the first was I thought I must be a related to hobbits because I had hair on my feet and the second was wanted a hobbit hole of my very own.
Just the description of them is enough to make me dreamy . . .

“. . . it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with paneled walls and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats--the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill--The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it--and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the left hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river” The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
Although in my Christinaland the door is red but I digress.
So today I was dreamily contemplating building my very own hobbit hole and I started browsing around the internet as I am wont to do and voila some fantastic Hobbit holes appeared

The first is in Wales (the picture above and below)

The second (and my favorite) was built to house a very valuable collection of Tolkien manuscripts and other miscellanea and is in Pennsylvania.

I wonder how long I will need to save on my teacher’s salary to have one of these puppies made. I guess if I really want one than going after my PhD is not longer merely an option (pout). It doesn’t quite go with the prehistoric garden exactly but I think a good bunch of ancient ferns and old growth forest would pacify me.
If you are interested in finding out more about these houses here are the links. .

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Prehistoric gardening

I went to the Houston Garden Center this weekend because they are having a half off sale. I got the COOLEST plant since my stag fern; it is called a rabbit foot fern (Davallia fejeensis). It looks like an ordinary fern except it has little furry rhizomes that snake out of the dirt and cover the pot entirely and look very much like little rabbit or squirrel feet. The cheap white plastic hanging basket this plant is in is completely covered by the rhizomes, can’t see it at all. It looks like a ball of furry roots with fern fronds shooting out of it hanging from my porch ceiling.

While at the garden center I found a new plant for my backyard garden, called Australian Tree Fern (Cyathea Cooperi) . It is a Cyanth which is one of the oldest types of trees in the world, virtually unchanged since the Paleolithic period. It grows well in subtropical areas (whoo hoo that’s me with my zone 9b butt), it gets to be 40-50 feet tall with individual fern fronds approximately 6-8 feet long and fiddle heads the size of my FIST! I can also grow orchids, tillandsia (air plants) and other small ferns in the scars where the fronds break off .

It just so happens that where my AC water drains is perfect for horsetail ferns (Equisetum hyemale), also at the garden center and also 50% off. They are cool for several reasons- one can snap off each segment with a satisfying pop and even put them back together, they make attractive dried specimens AND they are a natural soap. My favorite thing about them is the satisfying snap they make when I pull the sections apart, sort of like an organic bubble wrap.

I want to make my back yard look like a raptor could hop out of the undergrowth at any moment. One of the really grand things about creating a prehistoric subtropical garden is that almost all the plants are very hardy and once established need very little care. I am also planning to put in an outside aquarium/pond where I will grow water lily and the odd pond fish.

I am so excited about gardening here, it is completely different than in Michigan- I can grown my own bananas for Pete's sake. Michigan is zone 4, four as in -30 to -24 for the coldest winter temperatures (good GOD!) and now I am in zone 9b as in 30 to 25 for the coldest winter temperatures, staggering that I survived in zone 4, let alone my plants.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Focus, work and irises

I have the pleasure of shepherding 38 single mothers who, for the most part, are living in or coming from dire circumstances to a diploma in medical coding and insurance. They almost all have had bad educational experiences before coming to me. Many of them don't read very well. Most of them get up at some god awful hour take their children to daycare then either come to class then go to work or go to work then come to class. Very few of them can afford child care so a family member usually provides the care. This system is usually fraught with difficulty that only a family can bring. I have had students come to take a final with a small child or 2 and have one student watch the children while the mom takes the final. The thing that amazes me is that they are thriving. I can see the change that this academic success is creating in them. I see them standing up straighter, putting up with less crap, stating their needs in a calm and polite manner and making choices that are moving them closer and closer to their goals of financial independence. I am honored to be the individual who gets show them what they need to know to be outstanding in their field. I am excited that they are going to be going out into the industry to make their fortunes. I particularly like it when I can recommend a student to go on for her bachelor’s degree. I love meeting their children and family and I am full of pride at their progress and where they are headed. In a world where so many people are full of lazy ennui and entitlement blasé my students are in a full hammer and tong forward motion to their goals, despite all their hardships, despite their exhaustion, despite the statistics.

Once I lived in a small house in Indiana. The back yard was full of trash and junk. My grandma and I cleared out the old shingles and boards, removed years upon years of trash, trimmed back the bushes and mowed the grass. A few months later we had hundred of irises coming up; they were gorgeous and had been hidden under all those old boards the entire time. I hope that I can bring as much to the teaching as they do to the learning.

Dr Wicked, rambling, my students and throwing perfection to the wind

Several of the people whose blogs I frequently read are singing the praises of not only the 15 min timed writing but "Dr Wicked" as a tool for writing. Well, I decided to give it a whirl. . .

Intellectually I really want to blog, to share my keen (snort) insights with the world and also offer a sort of ongoing letter to the people I know and love. I find the prospect of having something meaningful to say daunting at least when the ideal is to regularly produce something. Academic writing I can do all day, give me a subject and point me in a direction and blamo 15 pages for you, meticulously researched but to write formlessly or worse yet to have to decide on something “meaningful” to write about, ekes.
If I were writing a letter on paper to my friends I would have no trouble rambling on about this and that odd minutia in my life, why should this be different?

Today I am thinking about how difficult it can be to deal with the people I love in my life. I have 2 very close friends who absolutely despise each other with a purple passion. Normally it is possible for me to avoid this area with them but lately they just can't shut up about each other and I am tired of hearing it so I am avoiding both of them as much as possible. This solution is not working so well because even though they are in a cold war with plenty of propaganda I love both of them and want to see them. This ugliness is poisoning not only them but my relationship with them.

Also today I find that I am craving more free time, aren’t we all. I work a strange schedule, Monday - Thursday I teach from 8:00 am until 10:50 pm with a break in the middle for office hours and if I am lucky a nap. I do not make the trek home because gas is just too expensive. What it boils down to is that I am gone from my house from Monday until Thursday all day and most of the night. I have to sleep biphasically or I will die, (in my twenties 5 hours sleep a night was all good but now in my 40s it just seems mean). I have no time during the week for anything other than the school I teach and the school I attend. It seems to be working out, my students are happy and I have excellent grades. I am pining however for just a nice evening after work when I can lounge about and chat with friends or have a leisurely dinner that I get to cook. I miss cooking. The upside to this is that I have a 3 day weekend. I love having 3 days off in a row, and to some extent it makes up for being gone 4 days a week. I am right now, however, craving a less feast and famine approach and more of a steady stream. I feel a bit ungrateful to be complaining at all as many people don't even have a job. I just miss my house, my dog and my front porch during the week. Sigh

I am running out of stuff to talk about and Dr Wicked is reminding me to keep going, this sure seems like a long 15 min. I could always talk about how much I love Texas and how happy I am to have left Michigan but that will become repetitive soon enough in inspired posts so I think I will leave that off for now.

Ugh pink screen, this is kinda tricky. I am so touched by my students. Most of them are single moms trying to make changes in their lives and they are so inspiring. They have kids, usually more than one. I have 2 students who have twins under the age of 3. They work all day or all night and come to class. Most of them get good grades, all of them are trying very hard to become more than what people have called them all their lives. Most of my students have had bad experiences with education, most of my students had to drop out of regular high school and go to an alternative high school because they were pregnant. Most of my students have never been taught critical thought or even had a formal introduction to grammar. Most of them come from bad neighborhoods and poor schools where they were lucky to have textbooks. Somehow they have made it to me from their myriad of paths through violence, bad teachers, divorce, single motherhood, and poverty. They have arrived on the shores of my class ready to learn and change. I have 9 months to instill in them what I can. To teach them about simple things like code switching, dressing for success, how to write relatively well, as well as all the curriculum I can squeeze in. More importantly they learn that they can do it. They learn that they are valuable and worthy, that they deserve to be proud, happy and treated with respect and dignity. That with work and dedication they can make a life for themselves and their children that doesn’t involve waiting on a welfare check or being dependant on spotty child support.
I think I need to come back and write a real blog about my students as my 15 min are up.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How my Gran and Pop Met

Yes Ma'am

On my way to work I drive down the main street of my town that is actually a ‘main street’ (think Frank Capra movie version of “Main Street” and bingo yah got it). There is any sort of store you would want and not the big homogenized chains but odd little thriving shops that are actually owned by people who live in my town, everything from coffee shops to batting cages to an archery range to a bakery. My town has a street named Beauty Shop and there is, amazingly enough, a beauty shop at the end of the street with a sign that reads “The higher the hair, the closer to God”. I see my neighbors in the grocery store and we chat, I see the people who own the shops in town at the free concerts in the park and they wave. My neighbor is a single fella, a paramedic, and people frequently bring him casseroles so he doesn’t starve on his 24 hour on call shifts.

The other day I was coming out of the grocery store and I needed to pick up a bag of ice from the giant freezer outside the store. I am short and the freezer is tall and I was struggling to hold my groceries and deal with the door and the ice and a man came running up and with a smile said “Excuse me, ma’am, let me help you with that” and got my ice for me AND insisted on carrying my groceries and walked me to my car while chatting pleasantly with me, apparently without ulterior motive.

Today I turned off my main street onto Space Center Blvd, which takes me right by the Sony Carter Training Center for astronauts and right behind the Johnson Space Center. Just past the intersection big glossy cows with clear brown eyes and calm dispositions were being lead by large men in cowboy hats and dusty boots at a cattle auction in the field behind the bank, there were petite oil drills working in the back of the field and the smell of sweet grass from the freshly mowed median was in the air.

I feel like a refugee from a harsh world coming here after Detroit. It feels like I can finally breathe free and relax. In Detroit I felt beset and tenacious and proud of my staying power and ability to navigate safely in a hostile environment and thrive in spite of the world around me. Not since I lived in Port Huron have I felt this sense of comfort. Here I feel like I am home, I am in a place where I fit, where my roots are suited to the soil.