All posts by redforkhippie

Raised by hippies. Aging and proud of it.

Remote nonsense

Can we just talk for a moment about the absolute ridiculousness of online education?

Everything sucks about the software I am required to use to teach my core classes, but I have to use it because we are standardizing everything to make it easier to switch back and forth in case we go back to school and then get sent home again a week later. I am not pleased, but I am less worried about this than my colleagues, because I have already accepted as given that A.) my kids are going to be about a year behind by the time we get back to normal, and B.) it doesn’t matter, because I routinely close much bigger gaps than that. (That’s not bragging; it’s just a function of spending part of the No Child Left Behind era teaching in an overcrowded Title I school in Oklahoma, where teachers were the wingnut politicians’ favorite scapegoats.)

Our mandatory software does not have any automated journalism classes, and my district is all excited about Google Classroom, so I had to set up a new Google account and log into Chrome with it to set up a virtual newsroom. Teachers do not have school-issued laptops, which means I have to do this on my own computer. The problem, of course, is that Chrome is my primary browser, and I use it to research and write my novel. When I am logged into my school Google account, somebody at the regional ed office in Portales can monitor everything I do. On my own computer. At home. Outside of school hours.

I will NOT be offended if somebody starts a betting pool on how long it takes before I am called into the superintendent’s office to be interrogated about my interest in obscene 12th-century grotesques because I forgot to switch accounts before typing “sheela-na-gig” into my search bar. Anybody who thinks it will take more than a week is probably an incurable optimist.

Meanwhile, ENMU has standardized exactly nothing, so two professors are Zooming their classes, while a third is using Microsoft Teams, and while two of them seem content to email information to students, another is communicating almost exclusively through Blackboard.

And people wonder why my retirement plan is to go off the grid and stay there. Yeesh.

Emily

Things I’m Doing

Here are things I am doing at the moment:

1. Getting ready for the first day of school. The jury is still out on whether this will happen from my office or from my classroom, but either way, I have to learn Google Classroom and digitize (read: rebuild from scratch, using the mandatory prefabbed software) my entire curriculum as soon as I find out what I’m teaching. Which I still don’t know, because my boss asked NMPED a question May 20 and didn’t get an answer until Tuesday night, after calling umpteen people and bugging hell out of them until they deigned to respond. I am not surprised; I’ve dealt with our state bureaucracy before. I realize the pandemic creates uncertainty, but our question was unrelated to that, and if they didn’t know the answer and didn’t have time to research it, they should have just said, “We’re not sure; hold off this year, and we’ll send this up the food chain and get you an answer next spring” instead of keeping us in limbo all summer. I really needed enough lead time to do some advance planning this year, because I am also …

2. Taking three grad-level classes. In a moment of weakness last summer, I let my boss talk me into enrolling in grad school. We’ll see how well I can juggle a full-time master’s program and a full-time teaching gig, all while …

3. Fostering a four-legged abuse victim. Shelters aren’t great places to work through PTSD, so Fionn the Chiweenie is now curled up under my desk, giving my feet a wary look. We’re pretty sure somebody kicked him hard enough to break a couple of ribs.* Riggy and Walter politely welcomed him to the pack, Tootsie is ignoring him, and Ramona reallyreallyreallyreallyREALLY wants to make friends and can’t figure out why he keeps snapping at her. (She will win him over. She wins everybody over. She is the consummate Hufflepuff.)

Emily

* Dog abuser, if you’re reading this, please understand that “Fought a descendant of Boudicca” sounds much more impressive than “Kicked a 15-lb. Chiweenie,” and I would be DELIGHTED to help you upgrade that line on your resume. You’re welcome. Happy to help.

I hope to God it’s good.

“Finished this day — and I hope to God it’s good.”
— John Steinbeck, upon completing The Grapes of Wrath

It’s not likely to be as good as Steinbeck, but I have just finished the second draft of my sequel to Greetings from Coldwater. Surprisingly, it bears a closer resemblance to the draft I posted here this spring than Greetings from Coldwater’s second draft bore to its first. This probably has something to do with the fact that I was working from an outline and actually had an idea of where I was going this time.

I’m still not completely happy with the last chapter, but the rest of it feels solid, and a friend from church who very much enjoyed Greetings and the first draft of this still-untitled prequel/sequel has agreed to give it an edit. I’m looking forward to his feedback.

It’s been a ride. I know more about Celtic mythology now than I ever imagined I’d need or want to know four years ago, when Miss Shirley began bugging me in earnest for a prequel, or even seven months ago, when I sat down with a stack of real books and a Kindle full of ebooks and began taking notes. If my interior monologue is worth a damn, I owe Beverly Cleary a beer. If my fantasy elements are worth a damn, I owe J.K. Rowling and the late Rudolfo Anaya a beer. If the dialogue is worth a damn, I owe Quentin Tarantino a beer. And if the book reaches its final form before Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine goes into mass production, I probably owe the notorious M.L.G. (New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham) a beer. That shelter-in-place order lit a fire under me and gave me a nice block of time without a lot of distractions to get this project to this point much faster than I would have otherwise.

As the Dead once said: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Emily

Annoyances and updates

Once again, I find myself apologizing for neglecting my blog. This summer has been … a lot. I’ve been working a few mornings a week at the Roadrunner Lodge, adding to my office mural (still not done; I’ll try to post an update soon), making gifts for my free boutique project (46 items so far, not counting stuff I tried that didn’t work), gardening indoors and out, making faux-barkcloth curtains for my kitchen, and working on the second draft of my new novel, which still doesn’t have a title.

Meanwhile, somebody stole my credit-card number in early May and spent three days using it to buy a bunch of stupid crap, including a subscription to some weight-loss scam out of Lithuania. Commerce Bank responded instantly when I called, which is good, but they took four days to get around to dropping my replacement card in the mail, along with a form I was supposed to fill out and return to them to help their investigators. They mailed the card and form June 23. The deadline to return the completed form to them was June 30. Both items arrived in my mailbox July 3.

Ain’t nobody got time for that, so I transferred all my recurring charges over to Ron’s Discover account.

If anybody but AT&T provided reliable service from here to House, I’d switch cellphone providers, too, because I could devote an entire blog post to the runaround AT&T gave me when I tried to update my credit-card information. I finally got that sorted out this afternoon, but if they provoke me again, I’ll cancel my account and not look back. I don’t have to pay for service to be able to call 911 in an emergency. I already downgraded to a ’90s-style Nokia last week after my poor old iPhone’s screen cracked (again), so at this point, I am basically paying $30 a month to accommodate people who can’t be arsed to email me.

Annoy me again, AT&T. I DARE YOU.

Despite those hassles, it has been a productive summer thus far. I’ll try to update here as time allows. With the iPhone out of commission, I’m not on Instagram, and that’s about the only social media I’ve used for the past year, so maybe I’ll have time to blog once in a while.

Emily

Work in Progress

Amid all my other projects, I decided to create a houseplant-themed mural in my office to use up some leftover paint. I’ve been working on it, a few minutes here and an hour there, for about a week and a half. Here’s how it’s been going so far:

The big challenge of painting in the desert is that acrylic dries almost instantly, so you have to work really fast and do really small sections at a time to keep it from drying before you finish blending it. It doesn’t help that my office is hot in the afternoons, and most of the paint is several years old. The latex tends to get thick as it ages, which makes it dry out even faster. Still, it’s been a while since I painted a mural solely for my own enjoyment, and this is a pleasant way to use up some leftover paint I’ve had on hand for upwards of 10 years.

Emily

Planning ahead

“We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
— Mother Teresa

During this pandemic, I’ve thought a lot about the best way to leverage the resources I have to bring the greatest possible benefit to the greatest possible number of people.

Three resources I have at the moment are surplus craft supplies, creativity, and time. I am using those resources to stock a sort of free gift shop that will launch in October to make Christmas a little easier for people in my area who may be struggling financially.

My goal is to create classy-looking gift items in a range of sizes/types/apparent price points and distribute them at no charge to anybody who needs them. If people want to pay for the items, I will encourage them to donate whatever amount they deem appropriate to a local nonprofit, but it won’t be required. The fundraising component is mostly just there to provide cover for folks who can’t afford to buy gifts but don’t want anyone to know, and to give them a way to pay it forward if they wish. I use a similar approach with my obedience classes, and it seems to work very well.

Today, I took some small terra cotta flowerpots and dressed them up with leftover paint from other projects. I’m making little macrame hangers to go with them, and this fall, I’ll fill them with potting soil and tuck baby spider plants or burro’s tail cuttings into them.

I watered down some paint to get the weathered effect.

I really like this Southwestern color scheme.

Propagating plants. These will be pretty big by Christmas, but I’ll have more little ones by then.

I hope to offer at least a dozen different products, including houseplants in cute containers, spice mixes, mug-brownie kits, lotion bars, sock monkeys, bead jewelry, paintings, garden kits, hot-process soap, bath bombs with small toys hidden inside, and a few other items.

I’ll be posting recipes and tutorials as I go.

This won’t cure coronavirus, fix the economy, or end racism, but it might make life a little easier for somebody, and that’s all I really need it to do.

Emily

I do not fear the time

“So come the storms of winter,
And then the birds in spring again.
I do not fear the time…”
— Sandy Denny

I turned 45 today. There’s nothing especially magical about that, but it’s a comfortable age. Five years into it, I’m still thoroughly enjoying my 40s, despite my elders’ assurances that I wouldn’t when I was a kid.

I have everything I need and most of what I want. Thanks to the surgery I had last summer, my most obnoxious and persistent health problem is gone. I have a rewarding career; supportive family and friends; a house full of pets and plants and mid-century furniture; a schedule that leaves time for creative pursuits; and a view of Tucumcari Mountain out my front window. I feel productive and appreciated — a feeling that was only reinforced this evening when three of my students were out for a walk around town and just randomly showed up in my front yard to say hello. (I don’t think they knew it was my birthday, but after all this social distancing, their unexpected visit was definitely a gift.)

I spent this morning celebrating the decade in which I was born by listening to the ’70s channel on Sirius while repotting some new houseplants and moving some old ones outdoors to give them better growing conditions.

I had a good day. I hope you did, too.

Emily

Abandoned

I really like this little building.

I’m fascinated by this little building and its mysterious walled backyard. It’s just a few blocks from our house, and we pass that fabulous arched gate several times a week when we walk the dogs. Seeing the Coke sign from a distance, I thought it was a long-shuttered corner store, but as I was taking a picture of the sign the other day, I realized there was a ghost sign above the door:

A beauty shop in this neighborhood makes more sense than a grocery store.

The hours should have been a pretty good tipoff that this wasn’t a grocery store.

This little archway just knocks me out.

Exploring Tucumcari with Ramona is one of my new favorite pastimes. We go out for a walk or a jog almost every evening. She likes sniffing stuff, and I like slowing down and seeing cool stuff like that abandoned salon.

Our evening workouts actually made the Washington Post website recently. Click here to see it. Our part starts at 1:20.

In other news, I worked on office upgrades today. I now have a mount that gets my monitor and laptop up off my desk and a curved shower-curtain rod above my desk with a pretty curtain hanging from it to reduce distractions during Zoom calls with students.

I also went to the hospital today to get a blood test to see whether I had COVID-19 when I got sick in early March. People who have already had the virus can donate plasma to help active patients. I should know whether that applies to me by the middle of next week.

Emily

Free time

Here is some of the stuff I’ve been doing in my free time since I finished the draft of the novel last weekend:

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In February, I pulled up our stained, worn-out wall-to-wall carpet to find a beautiful hardwood floor hiding underneath. Instead of spending the better end of $5 a square foot on cork-look luxury vinyl tile, I spent less than $100 on sandpaper and Danish oil.

Before I could start working on the floor, I came down with bronchitis. Then the pandemic hit, and I had to figure out how to teach, put out a paper, and coordinate the production of a yearbook, all remotely, while writing the first draft of my latest novel.

I finally got a hand free Monday to start working on the living-room floor. At my dad’s recommendation, I sanded it by hand and gave it a couple of coats of Danish oil. It was time-consuming, physically demanding work, but I think it turned out well. We used part of the money we saved on the floor to buy a new wood-slice coffee table with hairpin legs. *Swoon*

To keep my neck and shoulders from completely seizing up on me while I was sanding and oiling the floor, I stopped every hour or so to stretch and spend a few minutes working on the new mural I just sort of randomly decided I needed in my office. I’m designing it on the fly, but I think it will look pretty cool when I’m done with it.

I’ve always sort of wondered what I could accomplish if I had a big enough block of time on my hands with relatively few distractions, and the pandemic has pretty well answered that question. I have several other projects brewing. We’ll see how many of them I finish before the world reopens.

Emily