What a productive day:

Attend parent-teacher conference … check.
Cover Algebra I class during plan time … check.
Teach good-natured freshman to isolate variables … check.
Listen to “Strange Fruit” six times … check.
Lead six class discussions about racially motivated violence … check.
Help with academic team practice … check.

I’m worn out after a whole day of listening to “Strange Fruit” over and over (for the record, its impact does NOT diminish if you listen to it six times in a row) and leading six separate discussions about an ugly, painful period in American history … but it’s a good kind of exhaustion, because I feel as if we got somewhere today.

Like the imaginary monsters that haunted the closets and dark spaces of my childhood, racism is a bully that lurks in the shadows but loses its power to frighten or harm when you drag it out of its hiding place and expose it to the light. Dragon slaying isn’t always easy, but it’s glorious to watch, and I’m proud of my kids. We’ve got some great swashbucklers in that bunch, and I expect one of these days, with their help, we’ll rid the world of that beast.


Strange Fruit

Sorry for the extended silence. Things have been nuts around here this week. We’ll just call the video above a belated Folk Thursday offering. I’m not sure Billie Holiday constitutes “folk,” but this is definitely a protest song, and I would go so far as to say it is quite possibly the most important protest song ever recorded.

It is also part of tomorrow’s lesson plan. The kids are going to start class by writing paragraphs about their perceptions of the media’s impact on race relations, and then we’re going to compare and contrast “Ballad of Birmingham” (a Dudley Randall poem about a church bombing that killed four young girls) with the lyrics to “Strange Fruit.” Powerful, yes, but I think that’s what scares me. I’ve taught “Ballad of Birmingham” before, but I’ve never taught “Strange Fruit.” It’s a pretty unsettling song, and I hope it doesn’t freak the kids out too much. I know they listen to violent music all the time, but this is different. It’s scary. It’s dark. And it elicits some pretty strong emotions.

I’m trusting my kids to turn those emotions into a productive discussion. This is something of a leap of faith, but the poetry unit always is. I think that’s what makes it so magical.

We’ll see how it goes.


Little lifts

… Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
Matt. 6:8

“My angels are exalted thoughts, appearing at the door of some sepulchre, in which human belief has buried its fondest earthly hopes. … By giving earnest heed to these spiritual guides they tarry with us, and we entertain ‘angels unawares.'”
Mary Baker Eddy

I’ve had kind of a rough week. I received some bad news about two old friends this week, I’ve had a couple of extremely long days and a lot of unnecessary hassles to contend with, and some of my students have been unusually difficult to manage

I was feeling pretty frustrated and run-down by the time one of my girls stopped me this afternoon to hand me a little note telling me how much she enjoyed my class and appreciated what I was doing for her and her classmates.

She couldn’t have known it at the time, but her sweet note was exactly what I needed to turn my thought around.

From that point on, blessings seemed to pour in: A colleague told me about a grant she was writing that would allow both of us to do a project I’d been dreaming about; another colleague came to my rescue in an awkward situation; and when I got home, I found a sweet e-mail message waiting for me from someone who was enjoying my blog.

Not only does the Father know what we have need of before we ask, but he isn’t shy about directing his children to take the human footsteps necessary to meet those needs.

I’m very grateful this evening for the people who listen and follow those directions.


A thought

Just a thought this morning as I head out for an 11-hour day at school:

“… Keep your minds so filled with Truth and Love, that sin, disease, and death cannot enter them. It is plain that nothing can be added to the mind already full. There is no door through which evil can enter, and no space for evil to fill in a mind filled with goodness. Good thoughts are an impervious armor; clad therewith you are completely shielded from the attacks of error of every sort. And not only yourselves are safe, but all whom your thoughts rest upon are thereby benefited.”

— Mary Baker Eddy

My thoughts are resting upon several people this morning who could use an impervious armor. Please join me in filling your mind with Truth and Love today. There’s far too much error flying around. Let’s crowd it out, hey?



I just spent the past 10 hours or so building a set of shelves for all my computer equipment and reorganizing my office. I knew it was a mess, but I hadn’t realized what an unmitigated disaster it truly was until I got into it. This room probably isn’t even 100 square feet, but I’ve got so much stuff crammed in here that I had to drag half of it out just to find a starting point. I’m exhausted, but it’s a much nicer workspace now. I wish I’d thought to take before-and-after pictures, because it was really a mess.

It still looks pretty cluttered, but that’s mostly because Walter’s new furniture is in here. I bought him a kitty jungle gym at Target last night. It’s cute, and he likes it, but it’s a lot bigger than I was expecting based on the size of the box. It’s made of PVC pipe and parachute material, with some nylon mesh here and there for climbing. It had two toys hanging off of it, but Walter pulled one of them off this morning and brought it into the bedroom so he could play with it and pester us at the same time.

This is a little thing, but I’m really excited about it: I finally tacked up the racing bibs I had lying around. I’ve been procrastinating on that forever, for no particular reason. I started hanging up my bibs a few years ago to cover up the prissy-looking wallpaper border that goes around the top of this room. They look kind of cool. I’ll try to take a picture of them when I get to the end of the first wall.

Hope you had a productive day.


Let there be lights


I was in the mood for New Mexico this evening. Specifically, I was in the mood for the open-air arts market at Tijeras — all twinkly lights and chile ristras and pinon smoke.

I have a couple of commitments Sunday, so I couldn’t really get away with hopping in the car and driving 600 miles just for the fun of it. (Couldn’t really afford it, either. Ron is working this weekend, and believe me: I should NOT be trusted with my credit card in New Mexico unless I have adult supervision. Especially if I’m spending most of my time hanging out with a bunch of hippies who are selling shiny handmade objects while some acoustic-guitar-wielding guy who sounds like James Taylor sings folk songs in the background.)

Failing that, I went over to Grumpy’s Garden and picked up a tabletop chiminea, a bag of pinon chips, and a small chile ristra for less than I would have spent on gas to drive to Tijeras and back. I also picked up $15 worth of soft white Christmas lights from Target — enough to cover the pergola in tiny bulbs.



I really like the effect. I don’t know why little white lights look so magical, but they always do. My timing was good, too: I need instant gratification when I do a project, and it was just past dusk by the time I got the extension cord plugged in and the lights on.

It’s not New Mexico, but it’s a nice place to spend a cool fall evening, anyway.

Incidentally, I’m rather proud of these photos. I didn’t use a tripod, and I had the shutter slowed down to 1/10th of a second on all of them except the ristra, which I shot at 1/6th of a second. Go, me!



Today was awesome. This is the game I made not too long ago to help my kids review stuff they’ve learned this quarter:






We played the game a couple of weeks ago and had a lot of fun with it. I am just getting around to mentioning it tonight because A.) I finally got the pictures off my camera and Photoshopped them the other day, and B.) I had occasion to show off the game — and my syllabus, “mileage chart” for tracking grades, and over-the-top classroom decor — to our superintendent this morning. I had gone downstairs to ask my principal a question this morning when I looked up and saw him coming down the hall with the superintendent. In my usual audacious fashion, I walked up, introduced myself, and invited the guys upstairs to see my classroom, as the superintendent had used a Route 66 theme in his opening speech this year, and I thought he might find it amusing that I’d had the same good idea.

I don’t especially gain anything by impressing the superintendent (it’s not as if he can just say, “Hey, you’re awesome — I think I’ll give you a raise now just because your class looks fun”), but my principal is a real sweetheart, so if I can make him look good to his boss, I’m going to do it.

On an unrelated note, homemade gingersnaps are lovely on a cool, misty fall evening like this one.




I made myself an excellent treat the other night: Mexican corn on the cob.

Ron and I have been buying this stuff from the taco trucks for several weeks now, and it’s so addictive that I have decided I have to have 24-hour access to its awesomeness. Taco trucks are not open 24/7 (more’s the pity), so I am now keeping corn on the cob in the freezer for just this purpose.

The difference between Mexican corn on the cob and regular corn on the cob lies in the toppings. While most Americans are content with a little butter and salt, Mexican corn on the cob is a lively jumble of mayonnaise, chili powder, lime salt, and grated cotija cheese (similar to Parmesan). It doesn’t taste like anything else, and odds are good it doesn’t taste like you think it does. It took Ron half an ear to decide he liked it; I was hooked after two bites. The citric-acid kick of the lime salt takes some getting used to if you aren’t already familiar with the flavor, but it’s worth taking the time to settle in and acclimate your tastebuds.

To make Mexican corn on the cob, just fix the corn as you normally would (in my case, that would be in the microwave, because I am lazy and impatient), slather with a thin layer of mayonnaise, and sprinkle generously with chili, lime salt, and cheese. You can substitute Parmesan if you don’t have access to cotija cheese, but the flavor will be slightly stronger.

Good stuff. I think I might have to make some more for a snack this evening.


Saturday in the yard

This was how I spent the latter part of my Saturday afternoon:




It was almost dark by the time I finished, so I couldn’t get great shots of my handiwork, but you get the idea.

I forgot to take a good “before” shot of the front flowerbed — which was overgrown with a few weeds and a lot of half-dead mint and droopy, played-out lilies and grape hyacinths — but this is how it looked after I started clearing it and before I cleaned off the porch and started planting new flowers:


While I was outside with the camera, I decided to take a shot of an earlier project. Remember the little corner fence I installed last spring? Here’s how it looks now:


It could use a good weeding, and I was disappointed that most of the flowers I planted didn’t take, but at least the bachelor buttons are pretty:


I have blue ones and dark maroon ones as well. They look pretty nice and don’t require much maintenance, so I’ll probably plant more next year if they don’t reseed themselves (which they probably will). I’m thinking I might sprinkle some California poppy seeds out there to go with them. California poppies are awesome — very pretty, and vigorous self-seeders. That’s about all you can really ask.

While I was dumping photos onto my Mac, I found some older images I hadn’t uploaded yet. Here’s a cute one of Walter having fun with a milk-carton ring:


I thought these were rather striking images of the patio after a rainstorm a few weeks ago:



I have a few more images of recent projects, but I’ll save them for another post.

Hope your Saturday was pleasant and productive. I’m heading out in a few minutes to get some odds and ends at Bed Bath and Beyond. I am trying very hard to cat-proof the house over the next couple of weeks. We’ll see how that goes….


Folk Thursday: Carole King

Have I already posted this one? If I have, it’s been a while. I’m using the song as part of a figurative language lesson next week.

The kids are really getting into the idea of listening to a song and then identifying the literary devices used in the lyrics. Meanwhile, I’m really getting into watching the kids’ reactions to various songs.

I have learned that their taste in jazz is rather unpredictable (they loved Jaimee Paul’s cover of “Orange-Colored Sky,” but they weren’t wild about Ella Fitzgerald doing Gershwin); there’s at least one Beatles fan in every class; and the Temptations are universally adored, regardless of the listener’s race, creed, color, age, gender, orientation, or attitude. Such is the awesomeness of “My Girl.”

Next week’s playlist includes “Tapestry”; Jimmy Buffett’s “Fins”; Trout Fishing in America’s “My Hair Had a Party Last Night”; and Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song.” Should be a hoot….