Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Yesterday's storm knocked some trees over.  The parkway was blocked by branches; all Gloucester/ Yorktown bound traffic had to take an alternative route home.  I recalibrated to I-64 E where traffic consistently moved at 5 miles per hour.   Midway across the Coleman Bridge, sirens sounded: Emergency!  All vehicles moved aside to let the ambulance pass.  Except for one silver car, license plate:  ?DP 7225 ( I kindly exclude the first digit) whose driver took advantage of the now free lane to speed to the front of the queue. Such nerve!  I laughed and settled in for the remainder of the hot, humid crawl home.

 At least the girls were at grandma's house, and not waiting on me.  I stopped to get a rehumanizing pedicure, and almost fell asleep in the chair massage.  Then home where I fell asleep for real, at an unprecedented 8:30.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Snake moves

  A child bit away my fingerprints; now I take refuge in snake moves.  I have at least two hands, sometimes thousands, all anonymous but open. Arm movements are my most accessible identity.  Villagers approach on tiptoe.  They can't remember whether round eyes mean poison, or if slit eyes do.  Venom is not in my bag of tricks, but I appreciate their caution.  I synchronize two arms, a thousand, in a cold-blooded trance. Then the show is over. The villagers go back to their shopping carts.  I'm okay walking home.  The moon understands.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Solar cooking

Building useful contraptions is not my strong suit, but I can make a solar cooker.  I made my first solar oven, because it was the right thing to do.  My class was studying the electromagnetic spectrum; a solar cooking experience clearly belonged in the unit. I began to gather information out of a sense of duty, but quickly became enthusiastic about the project.  Since then, I have made solar ovens with students and neighbors.  Steve Jones, physics professor of BYU, designed the solar cooker that I make.  For directions, click here.

The cooker is easy to make and works great.    I usually cook soups, but next Thursday the kids at solar camp will make gingerbread.  Here is more information about cooking with your solar cooker.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Diverse classroom

My  class last year was only white, middle/upper-middle class American children , but their diversity tested my limits.  What looks homogeneous is not always so.

Multi-culturalism is valued by most liberal educators.  We want our classrooms and curricula to reinforce a global perspective.  With teachers from Poland, Trinidad, Italy...and children from many countries and religions, my new school is diverse in this way.  I'm happy about the diversity because, well, I am a liberal educator. It is, however, interesting to me that when we talk about diversity we are usually talking about ethnicity, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Rarely do we consider socio economic diversity as important to our community.  Even less common is the acknowledgement that diverse political perspectives can create a valuable learning context.

 When parents contemplate enrolling a child in our school, I am clear about the controversial topics which will be explored during the school year.  Parents may decide that lessons like human evolution or sex education undermine family beliefs, but at least they have clear information with which to make decisions. Once parents know that I will respect family values, they are usually comfortable enrolling their child.

I've had students who have no place for God.  I've had students who have no place for science.
For the last two years I had two students from families with strong Tea Party leanings.   The different opinions that they brought to the table went beyond God vs. Science.  These boys loved Glenn Beck, Fox News, and Ronald Reagan.  I started reading Glenn Beck's blog just to apprise myself of what I consider to be the man's mad irresponsibility. From my point of view, Beck has a few reasonable moments. Overwhelmingly; however, he is a huckster, a rabble rouser trying to cash in on people's lack of critical thinking skills. Sadly, he's playing with just the kind of idiot fire that may burn down our barn. The boys are inspired by Glenn Beck. To them Beck speaks only truth.  I walked by many heated diatribes in the classroom and on the playground.  The kids were not just saying things that I disagreed with.  They were saying things that hit me on a  visceral level. I had nights of soul searching on how to respond to some of the more hateful opinions in class.

Because I had to respond.  When one is a leader--- and a teacher is a leader---and part of your population makes hateful and repeated generalizations about a group (immigrants, Muslims...whatever), how does one not respond?  At the same time, I didn't want to humiliate two children.  I also did not want to undermine the children's parents.  It was a balancing act.

I learned from these boys.  The tension that they brought led to many valuable conversations and lessons.  When we talk about diversity, it is easy to forget to bring political difference to the table.  Different ethnicities, races, religions, genders, sexual orientations may have an important dialog.  But bridging the gap between two conflicting political viewpoints is also valuable, and should not be neglected.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Empty bottles

This week is my first  at a new job.  It is nice to be  in a relatively sane environment.  I like the koi pond off of the back porch of my classroom.  I like being part of a dynamic (not going out of business) workplace.  It's fun getting to know new children.  I'm doing a solar energy camp for a couple of weeks, a good way to become familiar with new people, and protocols.

Right now I'm trying to figure out what to do with 30 wine jugs, gallon sized, donated by a friend of the school.  The philanthropist who donated them thought that they would make great solar night lights, and that's my favorite option. I haven't found a good recipe for making said nightlights with young children.  I have found some really neat ideas, though.  Go to this site if you want to make beer bottle Christmas trees, chandeliers, or monastery.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Monkey mind

 Only my feet are planted firmly on June 22, 2011.  My time traveling brain does her usual mental archaeology; she digs up archive files piecemeal.  I scan files while making decisions about June 22, 2011. I can't put the damn past down.  Everything I do on June 22, 2011, I do  while  reading  files, these outdated archive files, that my brain excavates.

Monday, June 20, 2011


It's so nice to be able to hear a favorite poet read What happens to a dream deferred.
And here is Hughes collaborating with Charles Mingus.

I remember searching the Little Rock public library unsuccessfully for such recordings 20 years ago.  The internet makes everything too easy, but anyway:                  

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Anaerobic, subterranean prokaryotes are what one smells most here. I watch Escher draw birds landing and leaving  until I can take the methane smell no more. It's time to boogie. Out of here. Am I wasteful to drop half empty glass, and muddy clothes in the marsh?  I ask the artist to draw me naked, flying away.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Flat tire

I have a flat tire, and I am not totally sure about how to change it.  I can drive myself, but can I change my own tire?  The unpleasant side of liberation...


Friday, June 17, 2011

I will drive myself

Joni is washing dishes and Tzippi is either asleep or very quietly reading Harry Potter under the covers.
Lately much has been in the news about women driving in Saudi Arabia.  I had decided that in solidarity with our Saudi sisters, it would be a good day to take Joni out to practice driving.  But after a long day packing, and meeting with ESL students, I fell asleep on the couch.  So, we'll drive tomorrow.

Joni can fix things, and put things together.  She sets up tents intuitively.  Somehow I thought that this would mean that she would get into a car for the first time and just drive.  After more observation, it may be a while before she is able to incorporate blind spots, turn signals, and other traffic out on the open road.

I'm glad that she is learning, but also scared.  With a car, Joni will be more independent.  She will drive herself to summer camp, her sister to ballet. She may also have opportunities to get into trouble.  Freedom always brings choices.   She might drink and drive.  She might meet boys when she is supposed to be going to band practice.  Whatever guidelines I give her, please believe there will be a way around them.  Joni is an excellent daughter.  I trust her.  But this is planet Earth, I am a mother, and I worry.

All of this is just to say,  I understand the desire to limit other people's freedoms.  If minimizing Joni's choices gives me control, or at least a delusion of control...I sort of like the idea.   However, I also understand how futile, petty, and dehumanizing the act of limiting other peoples freedoms can be.. I do not want my daughter to get into trouble, but I want her to become independent. I want her to realize that her choices inform the quality and direction of her life.   I will drive myself is a good slogan for the women trying to bring about change in Saudi, and also a good metaphor.  No matter how much we need one another, it is wise to drive your own car and to direct your own life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Good man

 We met almost twenty years ago,  both of us negotiating with a ticket taker for admittance into a sold out Alan Ginsburg reading.   We have been friends ever since.  We know little about each others' depths, but at the same time give mutual emotional support.  We may not be in touch for months, a year, but our bond remains.   Since Joni was born,  he has been lifting weights to intimidate potential suitors someday ( when she was nine he could do pull-ups with her hanging on to his bicep). He has been there for both daughters. Not a day to day presence, but always present.

 His mother recently told him that he doesn't know what it's like to be a black man, and what can I know or say about that?  I think he's a good man, one of the best.  He gets mad when his mother talks crazy. He leaves her house for a while, but eventually returns.  He calls me to vent, then returns to do yard work, housework, whatever his mother needs.  My friend used to travel: Cuba, London, Mexico. Now he works all the time.  He likes to listen to jazz on Sunday afternoons, and has been engaged too long to a man who doesn't like jazz.  He has no biological children, but he's getting Father's Day love from my daughters.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Man waits

While his mother and I work in the cool, he spreads mulch.  He does odd jobs and waits for things set in motion to move more definitively. He waits for the hiring freeze to end.  He waits to talk to a lawyer, and for child protective services to do their job.  Mostly, he waits to get custody of his son.   A scattered, sarcastic kid, he has risen to the challenges of fatherhood thus far; Sunday will only be his first, maybe second, Father's Day.  I hope that he gets his son soon, and that they lock the child's mother up for a long time. That would be justice.  And that would bring his mother, my friend, peace.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Horse bones

Mother made us carry the sun-bleached horse bones back to the truck. We were at a picnic, somewhere in Texas.  One of my old step-dad's distant relatives had killed and was roasting a pig.   My mother happened upon horse bones, scattered in a field; for her this was hitting the jackpot. I didn't want to help haul the bones, but what choice did I have?

Today I put the bones, labeled so that a child can reconstruct the leg, and skull in a box.  When my mother retired from teaching, she passed them on to me. I also have her fossils, writing rubrics, rock collections, 24 cards, and seedpods. Works that I have made also go into the boxes.  I pack homemade lung model, polydensity bottle, toy bicycles made of trash, and other treasures collected for the classroom .  Things that I've collected, and things that my mother collected fill box after box.

Last year

A year ago today, Joni and I walked down the airplane steps into a muggy, hot night.  A lit up Akwaaba sign directed us across the tarmac into the airport.   It was not a mundane thing to us, standing in Accra.  It was real because we saw the signs, but it was also unbelievable. We had no holy, or important reason to visit, just an invitation, and the desire to go.  I felt lucky and happy to live for the short time with Madame and her family; their hospitality will stay with me.  To be able to take my daughter along was pure pleasure. 

We went to school most days.   To give teachers a chance to mark papers, I rotated from class to class.By teaching whatever lessons were needed, I got to know teachers and students better.  Joni had class with people her age.  Of course we visited Cape Coast Castle, Elmina, Kakum Natl. Park (all we could hear in the rainforest were vuvuzuelas and people screaming for Ghana vs. Australia game).   However, the things that made me happiest  were simple: going to Makola Market with Madame to buy cafeteria trays, hugging/screaming/singing/spilling out into the street when Ghana beat USA in World Cup (I am happy to be an American, but the Black Stars are the only football team that I follow)....eating (okro stew, shitto, banku, plantains prepared many ways, pineapple, etc. etc.), meeting people, walking through Tema and also Accra simply absorbing the energy.  It was especially wonderful to experience these things with Joni.  I hope we'll have another chance soon.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Today is the first official day of summer vacation.  It  feels wonderful to be officially through.  I slept late, and have had a lazy day. I'll maintain inertia for another couple of days if I can stand it.

I said two days ago that I would try to post something here every day for a month. My hope is that this self-inflicted task will force me out of habitual lethargy, and lead me closer to my voice. Have you ever walked through a giant labyrinth?  Walking and meditating the elaborate turns of a labyrinth is supposed to help answers emerge for whatever question is at hand; in my limited experience, the process does inspire personal revelation.  Writing is my labyrinth.  I begin with an idea, or maybe a string of provocative words.  At the end (if I can ever stop editing), I always walk away with new insight.  So, I'm hoping for new insight and direction this month.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Universal health

  Occasionally I stalk someone's public online romance, sort of like watching a train wreck.   I'm horrified.  I'm fascinated. I think it's a bad idea, but I'm also humbled.  Maybe it's healthy to pour the syrupy love crush into public waters.

  I talk a lot, tell way too much, but I'm too shy to throw hopes and dreams into the public forum. Reading various aspects of  people's romantic drama on social networking pages induces spiritual nausea.  At the same time, I am in awe of these lovers.  With vulnerable, corn-sweetened, and often--on the flip side--furiously incriminating posts, they assume great risk. To publicly admit to infatuation, jealousy, anger, lust, or need to be loved is to make the bold statement: I am human. Why let wants and needs limp from subconscious spaces in a distorted form?  Just tell all in a clean, forthright manner.

I don't think that I'll ever describe my feelings for anyone---including my children---in much detail  on a Facebook page.  It's not the way I was raised; it's not within my comfort level.  Too Much Information makes me instinctively cringe, but perhaps public disclosure gone amuck is good for universal mental health.  Widespread revelation might be the revolution to bring down world peace.  Once every Homo sapiens-sapiens has disclosed all, once the crazy ensuing chaos quiets, won't we recognize ourselves more easily in one another?  Won't there be more acceptance and love?

Thursday, June 9, 2011


 I have written two novels: both were absolute crap: good beginnings that disintegrated into navel gazing.   I see the world differently than storytellers do.  I don't intuit plot and structure in an epic way.  I'm closer to a universal sieve. As experiences, and voices enter, I struggle to maintain a few boundaries. I can record the forest, but  trees exist only as representation of abstract relationships.  Not a story teller, but I do like to write.  I collect fragments; writing them down keeps me sane.

  I write, I always have written.  Poems, journals, emails......I write to figure out what I want to say.  Sometimes I can see your past, and often I can read the future.  Writing is powerful, even at small unpopulated crossroads.  I have wanted to try something new with writing; now that life things are a bit less chaotic, I can.  I shall try to write something in this blog every day for a month. Just to see where that takes me....  Omphalos: doorway to the mighty ocean? Or bodypart that has outlived its use?  We shall see! Please read!  Please comment!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sun and Rain

 Approximately 3.8 billion years ago, young sun went mano a mano with volcanic gases, beat their molecules down into atoms. From the one-global ocean floor, I watched these carbon atoms hydrogen and oxygen atoms nitrogen atoms rain down,  forge chains, replicate, reorganize, mutate, and god knows what else was needed to incite life.  I would guess that our current arrangement of molecules is also transient. So have patience. Whatever ails you will be chemically changed, redirected, resurrected in due time.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Morale was bad in the elementary classroom.  All week children had been picky and nasty towards each other, so I decided that we'd do a simple exercise in appreciation.  I had the children make a circle; each child took a turn sitting in the center of the circle.  The people on the circumference said nice things about the child in the center.  What do you like about this person? When did this person make you laugh?  When has this person made you feel better?  Most children like to share in this context.   Some people aren't comfortable spilling their guts in public, so I don't force anyone to speak.

One boy didn't say anything nice about anyone.  When it was his turn to be center he jammed a finger into each ear; however, as students began saying sweet things about him, he removed both fingers.  A few more children shared (more sunshine and love), and my boy smiled wide.  Quickly he laid his head in his lap so that nobody would see his pleasure.

This is smart, funny, thoughtful, but also difficult student.  He's learned to protect himself, to shield his heart from anticipated rejection. He keeps the fortress walls locked most of the time.  To witness his self-conscious acceptance of love was one of those pure joy moments that represent the best of teaching.  I still get teary eyed when I recall his face.

This challenging year has had many long days where I have not liked my job.  I have questioned whether teaching is a good fit for me, or I for it.  But moments like this.....I know that I'm home.