In the Quiet Morning

I had to say goodbye to Lillian last night. She’d been wobbly for several months, but she’d rally, we’d breathe a sigh of relief, and she’d get some extra treats and snuggles.

This dog was the QUEEN of shade.

She took a turn for the worse this week, and despite our vet’s best efforts, she declined rapidly. The vet recommended an ultrasound, which nobody in Tucumcari has the equipment to perform, so I loaded her into the car last night and drove her to the emergency clinic in Amarillo to find out what was going on and whether it was fixable.

Even relaxing with Riggy, she couldn’t resist letting me know she was judging me.

Lillian — who has never been known to complain in the car unless someone was eating something interesting and refused to share –cried all the way from Vega to Amarillo. My pack tends to calm down when I play Joan Baez in the car, so I turned on my iPod, and it shuffled up “In the Quiet Morning,” the song Baez wrote in the wake of Janis Joplin’s death. The lyrics say, in part:

In the quiet morning
There was much despair
And in the hours that followed
No one could repair
That poor girl
Tossed by the tides of misfortune
Barely here to tell her tale
Rode in on a sea of disaster…

You’d have to know Lillian’s habits and likely backstory to appreciate how thoroughly that describes her.

By the time we got to Amarillo, Lillian was flushed, struggling to breathe, and could barely hold her head up. The folks at the emergency clinic couldn’t offer much hope. And Lil looked about like Scout had a couple of weeks before we put her down.

I failed Scout by waiting several weeks longer than I should have, stubbornly waiting for a miracle that never happened. I’ve never quite forgiven myself for that.

I thought about Lillian. I thought about the lyrics to that Joan Baez song. And I thought a lot about Scout and what she would do if I ever let another dog suffer even one minute longer than necessary.

What Scout would do is bite the snot out of me, and I would deserve it, because she taught me better than that. She was 15 pounds of sheer badassery, and nearly a decade after she left us, she still occasionally glances down from the Rainbow Bridge and growls at me to get my sh*t together. So I did. It hurt, but it was time.

In Lil’s world, either you were offering her a piece of bacon, or you were a peasant, and she had no time for your nonsense.

Lillian, my shady little stinker, I hope you’ve found your peace. I love you and miss you terribly already.

When you see Scout, buy her a beer, because she’s the reason Mommy got her sh*t together this time.

Emily

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Classroom reveal, Part 2

I forgot to do this earlier, but here’s the updated classroom reveal, featuring my tissue-paper truffula forest and IKEA leaf canopy, along with a few flourishes I’m pretty sure weren’t there when I did the first reveal.

A few details:

The inflatable chair lasted about two weeks before it developed a leak. Disappointing, but I didn’t expect much for $5.

I can HIGHLY recommend the mermaid pillows, which have a soothing effect on kids and adults alike.

When we read <em>Beowulf</em>, my seniors thought it would be hilarious to have a plushie of Grendel’s arm hanging above our door like the entrance to Heorot, so of course I made them one.

The truffula trees were time-consuming but very easy; I’ll post a tutorial later if anybody wants one.

The bulletin board on the desk is made from old ceiling tiles.

The big leaf is a baby-bed canopy I picked up for $15 at IKEA. The balloon lamp is another IKEA find — $6, IIRC.

The lights on the “Pride and Joy” board are battery-powered fairy lights that came with little clothespins attached. I use them to display student work, school pictures, etc.

The shoe organizer is a cellphone parking lot. I stuck a power strip to the underside of the chalk tray next to it and plugged in chargers with extra-long cords to give kids an incentive to surrender their devices without a fuss.

The file pockets hold copies of the week’s Common Core objectives. I’ll share how I use them in a future post.

Not pictured: my beloved wax warmer, which makes my room smell like a cinnamon roll, thanks to dollar-store wax melts.

I wanted my room to feel like the children’s section at Barnes and Noble. It ended up being better. Elementary kids come in and hang out after school just because they like it. Colleagues wander in occasionally when they’re tense and need to unwind. Meetings are less stressful when I host them. I suspect part of the magic is that it allows people a safe space to be childLIKE, so they don’t feel the need to be childISH.

Emily

Anniversary celebration

Today was the anniversary of my first day at my current teaching gig.

My kids didn’t know it. I forgot to tell them. But they helped me celebrate anyway.

I had an observation today. Because we’re a tiny district with only one administrator, our superintendent does one of our two mandatory observations every year, but in the interest of fairness, she brings in an outside evaluator to do the other.

Knowing our outside evaluator would be observing English IV today, I decided to let the kids teach. The class developed a rubric for grading the discussion leaders and another rubric for grading themselves on their class participation. We’re reading John Gardner’s <em>Grendel</em>, and the kids are REALLY getting into the part of the book in which Grendel encounters a dragon with some decidedly nihilistic views. The kids LOVE dragon symbolism and spent the hour connecting the dragon’s words to other books they’ve read, movies they’ve watched, mythology they’ve studied, and discussions we’ve had earlier in the semester. I participated, but only a little, and only when the conversation had gotten so interesting that my English-major soul simply couldn’t resist joining the fun.

I won’t know how I did on my evaluation until I meet with our guest on Thursday, but I think it bodes very well that she asked the kids a few questions, which they answered beautifully — including a couple of questions about their objectives for the lesson and how they’d know when they’d achieved them, which is the kind of question evaluators generally ask teachers during a post-observation debriefing. (They were a little baffled, as she hadn’t asked any questions like that in their other classes. I assured them that was a good sign: They taught like grownups, so she treated them like grownups.)

I don’t know how many points I scored. I don’t really care. My kids were awesome, they knew they were awesome, and somebody besides me got to see them being awesome.

That’s a pretty great way to celebrate an anniversary.

Emily

Lost among the stars

I really need to find myself a good constellation map. The stars out here are incredible. I’m pretty sure I knew what some of them were when I was little and Daddy used to take me out stargazing in a vacant lot a couple of blocks from our house, but I’ve forgotten most of what I knew, and at this point, I’m lucky if I can find the Big Dipper and Orion’s belt.

Emily

View from the Sidelines

If someone had told me, two years ago, that I could be happy sitting on the sidelines, watching other journalists work, I would have organized an intervention, because I would have been absolutely convinced that person was smoking crack.

As it turns out, the view from the sidelines is rather striking.

About a month and a half ago, Ron got an unexpected job offer from our local weekly newspaper. A week later, I took over the journalism program at the tiny, rural high school where I teach.

I’ve spent most of the past 30 years chasing stories, designing pages, and mentoring the occasional promising rookie. I’ve known the frustration of fruitless investigations, the excitement of breaking stories on deadline, the tedium of crunching crime stats, and the frenetic energy of a newsroom on Election Night. I’ve pored over court records, coached young reporters through their first breaking stories, redesigned entire pages in less than 10 minutes after technical glitches suddenly ate two hours’ worth of work, and done shots of peppermint schnapps to remove the stench of dead bodies from my sinuses.

Living like that, a girl can get jaded.

The past few weeks have been nothing short of magic. I’m watching Ron rediscover the unique rhythm of weekly deadlines, the exhilarating madness of covering four events in a single day, and the fun of getting to know a community intimately by talking to its residents.

This afternoon, I watched my students distribute their first issue of our monthly school newspaper. It looks incredible. Their writing sounds professional. Their photos are well-composed and technically sound. And their superintendent is delighted (even if we did unnerve her a bit by using her as our guinea pig to practice filing Freedom of Information requests).

Their enthusiasm is palpable — and contagious. Watching them discover the joy of journalism at the very moment Ron is rediscovering it, I remember how the business felt when I was a 17-year-old high-school senior freelancing for my hometown weekly, young and hungry and hopeful, and I am content.

There’s something to be said for vicarious joy.

Emily

Bye, Felisha

I deleted my Facebook account this morning.

I’ve considered it for years. I even went so far as to deactivate it once, but I relented later.

This week, several circumstances aligned, and I decided it was time to delete, not deactivate.

Circumstance 1: I’m thinking about running again. I think about running every time the seasons change. But this time around, in considering the practicalities, I realized that in the time I spend on social media, I could be running anywhere from a 10K to a half-marathon DAILY, if not for the security issues associated with running alone after dark. Which leads me to …

Circumstance 2: I’m seriously considering adopting a large dog to be my new training partner. (I’m thinking Aussie shepherd pup, but this guy looks awfully promising, and this mutt reminds me of someone I used to know.) Introducing a new dog is a time-consuming proposition, and I can’t see wasting hours talking to humans on Facebook when I could be sitting on the living-room floor, supervising a play session between Riggy and his new sibling or teaching a pup to do Stupid Pet Tricks. (I’ve decided summoning a Patronus is way funnier than calling a dog, and “Allons-y!” is a better command than “Walkies!”)

Circumstance 3: Murphy Brown is back on the air for the first time in 20 years, and the new season of Doctor Who starts Oct. 7. PRIORITIES.

Circumstance 4: Every couple of years or so, somebody will forget what I do for a living and post things on Facebook that have the potential to create disruptions or controversies at school (e.g., inappropriate language, anecdotes embellished for comedic effect, jokes about youthful indiscretions that never actually occurred, pictures of scantily clad women who supposedly look like me, etc.) I had to delete one of those this week, which reminded me of the risks inherent in Teaching While Facebooking.

Circumstance 5: I’m sick of Mark Zuckerberg’s crap. He can’t be bothered to keep Russian propagandists from using his service to disseminate divisive memes, crack down on bots that spam legitimate users with friend requests from fake accounts, or protect the massive quantity of personal information users were stupid enough to entrust to him. Bye, Felisha.

Hopefully ditching Facebook will free up more time for blogging, which I’ve missed lately.

Emily

Duck update

I haven’t really moved in until I have a fire ring full of compost in the backyard. The five-gallon buckets are the latest in my epic quest for an acceptable duck-pond filtration system.

Plan A: Adopt four ducklings, free-range them in the backyard, and give them an $8 kiddie pool to play in and a $60 doghouse to sleep in, because it’s cheaper than investing $300 in the prefabbed chicken coop that I want but Ron says we can’t afford.

Plan B (four weeks later): Get tired of draining the kiddie pool with a bucket every two days. Build pond and biofilter — with hose bibb attached to the top to make water changes fast and easy — out of a $60 stock tank and another $60 worth of gravel, plumbing parts, and other materials. Feel terribly clever.

Plan C (12 hours later): Discover that biofilters made from five-gallon buckets float, even when filled with water. Cuss. Add sand, gravel, and various other media to try to get submersible filter to stay submerged.

Plan D (12 hours later): Discover that five-gallon buckets full of waterlogged sand and gravel also float, because to hell with the laws of physics, that’s why. Cuss. Jury-rig $4 system for anchoring filter in place.

Plan E (12 hours later): Discover design flaw in anchoring system that keeps pump from functioning in new filter. Cuss. Spend another $30 on parts to build an external biofilter.

Plan F (5 days later): Discover that ducks generate way more particulate matter than a simple biofilter can handle, thus choking down the pump approximately 37 times a day. Cuss. Rummage through shed, find small plastic tub and some bungee cords, and construct mechanical filter to protect the pump.

Plan G (3 days later): Discover that pump is way too powerful to get away with using half-inch fittings for the entire project. Cuss. Blow another $70 on parts and materials to construct a finer mechanical filter, a clarifier, and a filter with outlets of increasing size. Damage filter while building it. Cuss. Repair it with duct tape and caulk, because hell with it. Watch in amusement as duct tape and white-trash engineering one-up all previous efforts and filter works better than all previous attempts, ostensibly because of better engineering, but probably because duct tape fixes everything.

Plan H (Somewhere in the middle of all that): Discover, on first warm day, that duck poop attracts a veritable plague of flies. Research problem. Determine that deep-bedding method will control flies while generating good compost starter. Make plans to invest $250 in enough fencing to confine the ducks to a comfortable corner of the yard with their pond, their house, and their favorite tree.

I’m so glad we didn’t waste $300 on a prefabbed chicken coop we could have assembled in one afternoon….

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring