The corners of my mind …

So. I’m on the phone, talking shop with my mom tonight (her official title may be bookkeeper, but she is hands-down the best teacher I know), and she asks me, “Do you remember the name of the SRA math program we used with you when you were little?”

This prompted a lengthy Google-while-racking-our-brains session that ended with me remembering — in disturbingly vivid detail — the graphics on the side of the box, at which point I suddenly recalled that the name of the program was The Skills Ladder.

A quick glance at a cached eBay page found via Google turned up this image.

In class the other day, my kids were reading “The Raven,” and we were discussing the line in which Poe talks about the air being “perfumed from an unseen censer.”

We talked about the power of suggestion and discussed how the narrator’s obsession with his lover’s death was such that the presence of the poem’s eponymous bird caused him to imagine that he was smelling the incense that had been burned at her funeral. One group was particularly fascinated by this, and we spent several minutes chasing rabbits and talking about the kids’ own experiences with this concept before we found our way back to Poe’s chamber.

I was thinking about it later, and it occurred to me that of all the physical senses, smell is probably the one most easily influenced by suggestion. That certainly seems to be the case for me, anyway. I was reminded of that tonight when I found the eBay picture of The Skills Ladder and saw a familiar worksheet.

Like Poe’s narrator, “methought the air grew denser” — but instead of imaginary smoke, I could smell the heavy paper and richly colored ink used to print the worksheets; the transparent plastic sheets I laid over the worksheets; and the china markers I used to write my answers without spoiling the worksheets.

Somehow that memory was strong enough to override the smells of both the caramel-apple pie I baked this evening and the bottle of peppermint extract that fell out of the cabinet and shattered on the counter while I was trying to put away the sugar after my pie project.



Lessons in empathy

I have two assignments for you tonight:

1. Take an hour or so out of your weekend to watch this video. You may think you know all you need to know about race relations, but unless you’ve seen this video … you don’t. This is well worth the time you’ll invest in it.

2. Read this entry on my friend Sara’s blog. Her young son was diagnosed with autism a while back. This is the clearest explanation I’ve ever heard for what it’s like to live with this disorder.


Folk Thursday: Politics and fond memories

At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I had two run-ins with adults who refused to take me seriously and felt they should be allowed to exercise prior restraint over my stories simply because I was young.

It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. But there wasn’t a bloody thing I could do about it, and that frustrated me to no end. If I could have snapped my fingers and aged 23 years overnight, I would have done it.

Then something amazing happened. On a sunny autumn afternoon in late October 1992, at a press conference following a get-out-the-vote rally I was covering in Carbondale, Illinois, Hillary Rodham Clinton looked into my then-17-year-old eyes and answered my question. She did not talk down to me. She did not ask to read the article before it went to press just to make sure I hadn’t misquoted her. She did not treat me like a little girl playing dress-up with a press pass and a reporter’s notebook. She simply responded to my question — just as she would (and did) for any other member of the press.

I rewound my tape of the event and listened to it over and over, and when Bill Clinton won the election a few days later, I taped the front page of the local daily newspaper to my bedroom wall, where it hung until I moved out of my parents’ house my senior year of college.

As far as I was concerned, that press conference was the journalistic equivalent of a bat mitzvah or a quinceanera — it was the day I officially became a grownup, and I remember every minute of it, from SIU professor Barb Brown greeting me warmly before the rally to press secretary Lisa Caputo collecting everybody’s press passes and taking them to the future first lady to be autographed afterward.

Toward the beginning of the rally, a local band called St. Stephen’s Blues played a Bob Dylan cover. I’ve thought of that song often during this campaign season:

And while we’re on the subject of great songs from that campaign cycle:

If don’t like the way things are going in Washington and want them to change, get off your duff and vote.

If you love the way things are going in Washington and want them to continue, get off your duff and vote. (WARNING: Sound file starts automatically.)

If you care at all about your country, get off your butt and vote. 


Itty-bitty honeybee toes

Honeybees are just about the cutest creatures on the planet, and I think this photo proves it. Just look at that fuzzy fur collar, that tiny little tongue, and those itty-bitty bee toes. Eeeeeeeeeee! As they say over at Cute Overload: “Teh cute — it burns!”

I love my bees.


who still needs a macro lens to do justice to these adorable little girls

Working for the weekday

For the second time in as many weeks, I’ve kept my classroom open until 6 p.m. to students who are interested in raising their grades. This evening’s work session was very productive. Four students came in to work. Three of them improved their grades — two by an entire letter, and one by several percentage points — and the fourth got a list of missing assignments and discussed them with me, so I expect to see that grade go up soon.

We had a good time, too. I brought snacks this time, which made it more fun, and I suspect once word gets out that the snacks in question include stuff like hot-wing-flavored Pringles and homemade brownies, I’ll end up with more participants.

It’s funny: You’d think I’d be exhausted after spending all day up to my teeth in kids, but these tutoring sessions are actually energizing. I think I get as excited as the kids do when I record the grades and see the percentages rise, and it’s fun to shoot the bull with my students in a more relaxed environment. I think it’s good for them, because they can ask me questions and not feel intimidated by the work, and I know it’s good for me, because it gives me a little better insight into where they are, where they’re coming from, and what is and isn’t working. Plus we all get to see each other as real people when we don’t have a lesson plan to follow or a bunch of classroom procedures to worry about.

Now, if I can just figure out how to teach them to recognize and understand metaphors, we’ll be in business….


Late flowers

Just a couple of shots of the little gorgeous things growing in flowerpots on the deck as we head toward November:

This blossom appeared on a stalk that sprang up from a neglected plant in a mesclun mix I’d planted in a hanging basket. It looks like a bachelor’s button, except it’s growing on a lettuce plant. Weird….

I don’t remember planting portulaca, but it came up in one of the baskets this spring, so I let it go. It’s still blooming its heart out. I think I must have bought a basket of portulaca from Li’l Sprouts last year, and it just reseeded itself when I wasn’t paying attention. Some of the seed found its way into another pot (where a volunteer tomato is growing next to some dill and a Trail of Tears bean) and is producing crinkly white flowers. 

I like the things I plant on purpose, but it’s the freelancers that delight me most. At our old house in Belleville, it took about three years to get to the point where everything in my garden (except the tomatoes and peppers) was either a perennial or a self-seeding annual. It was an unruly collection, more like a crazy quilt than the neat patchwork I’d laid out when I started the garden, but I loved it, because spring planting meant putting out a few tomatoes and peppers and then walking through the garden, crumpling dried seed heads in my hands, and letting the seeds fall where they may.

If I didn’t move the hens back and forth every year, I think we’d have reached that point here by now.  


City Farmer

This garden is about 3,500 miles from Red Fork, but I hang out in it all the time, thanks to the magic of City Farmer’s excellent Webcam feature. City Farmer, based in Vancouver, B.C., is an urban agriculture program whose comprehensive Web site (so comprehensive that one site couldn’t contain it all, so it was expanded into a blog) taught me how to raise red wiggler worms in a plastic shoebox under my sink and showed me an environmentally sound way of managing the waste generated by three dogs

Although the program focuses primarily on greening up Vancouver through community gardens, composting initiatives, and the like, a lot of the information on City Farmer’s two Web sites can be used right here in Red Fork — or anywhere else in the world.

The Webcam updates every hour. Go check it out. Click here to see a nice time-lapse slideshow of the garden and the changes it goes through in a year.

If I ever became a millionaire, I think I’d blow my money on Webcams for places I love but don’t get to visit nearly often enough: Makanda (especially Dave Dardis’ garden), the Blue Swallow, the open-air arts market at Tijeras, La Posada, the Turtle Playground, the City Museum, Venice Cafe, Viviano’s, the Gloss Mountains, the Painted Desert, Roy’s, the Ludlow Coffee Shop, Fender’s River Road Resort, the Wigwam Motel, Uncle Fun’s, the Start Your Day With PORK barn, Mom’s yard (you never know when Jamie might stop by to see the bok-boks), the Hamel cross, the Sidewalk Highway, Eisler Bros., John’s Modern Cabins, and a thousand other spots. I’ve never been to the Lost Gardens of Heligan (WARNING: chirpy bird sounds in link), but I was pretty excited to discover their wildlife-centered Webcams, too. 

Where would you like to have a Webcam? Discuss.


Homecoming parade

We had our homecoming parade this evening. It was getting dark, so I didn’t get the world’s greatest pictures, but I managed to pop a few shots of the kids having a good time.

Here are our Warrior Chief and Miss Daniel Webster (what we call the homecoming king and queen). The queen is one of the sweetest, brightest, and most relentlessly upbeat girls you’ll ever care to meet. She’s one of those kids who is popular for all the right reasons. All the kids on the court are like that, really — I can’t think of a single instance when I’ve seen any of them mouth off to a teacher or put down other students. The fact that these kids were elected to the court makes me proud of our whole student body. 

Speaking of royalty, I watched the parade with Princess Wiggly, her daddy, and their faithful sidekick, Liza. Mom and big brother showed up later, after they finished a gymnastics lesson. The kids made sure Wiggly got plenty of candy, and one of the guys on the sophomore float threw us a T-shirt, which Wiggly’s brother wore for the rest of the parade. (Unfortunately, my picture of him in the shirt didn’t turn out well, as it was getting really dark out.)

I went to a chili supper after the parade. I think it was a fundraiser for our alumni association or something. When I got home, I had a nice phone conversation with a student’s mother, revamped my lesson plan for tomorrow, made a studyguide on the prologue and first scene in Antigone, and pulled together a list of assignments and instructions for a boy who is failing my class and needs to make up a lot of work in a short time. I ought to grade some papers, but I’m really tired. I think those vocabulary assignments can wait for tomorrow.