Category Archives: Challenges

Coming soon: New weekly features

In the interest of making this site more practical and taking it back to its roots as an erstwhile quasi-almanac, I’m adding a pair of new features for 2014.

The first new feature: Eco-Saturday. Every Saturday in 2014, I’ll post a tip for reducing your environmental footprint. We’re not talking about big, expensive projects like installing a solar array on your roof or a woodstove in your living room (although I highly recommend both if you can manage them). We’re talking about cheap, simple projects like making your own laundry detergent; upgrading to LED bulbs in the light fixtures you use most often; or using power strips to eliminate phantom loads. Most of the projects I have up my sleeve can be done in an afternoon or less, and all but a handful cost well under $20 apiece.

The second new feature: Vegan Friday. In the interest of reducing my environmental footprint, I’m going to try to incorporate more vegetarian meals into my diet. Full-time vegging isn’t a viable option at this point, but a weekly vegan meal? Yeah, I can swing that. To expand your culinary options and keep myself honest, I’ll be posting a vegan recipe every Friday. Most of these recipes will be quick and easy, and of the 60 possibilities I put on my master list, only six depend on ingredients you’re not likely to find at the average supermarket.

Oh, and I’m also working up a list of Folk Thursday possibilities so I can share a more diverse assortment of videos with you. Expect to see classics like the Freedom Singers, Leadbelly, the Weavers and the Kingston Trio, along with some lesser-known artists and quite a few non-folkies covering folk and/or protest songs.

If your New Year’s resolution involves being nicer to the environment, be sure to check back here every weekend in 2014. I’ll make it easy for you to keep that resolution.


New adventure

I may be in a Red Fork State of Mind, but my failure to update this blog on anything resembling a regular basis for the past three weeks stems from the fact that I’m about to be in a Cape Girardeau State of Body.

Let me ‘splain. No, is too much. Let me sum up:

On March 14, I sent a resume and clips to the Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau, Mo. The paper had an opening for a cops reporter. Less than 24 hours later, I had an e-mail from the editor, asking when he could call and when I could get to Cape for an interview. I had a nice phone interview with him on March 18, booked it out to Missouri on the 21st, and interviewed March 22.

I got an e-mail on Monday, saying I had the job. I put in my notice Monday afternoon and left for a house-hunting mission on Tuesday night. I looked at three houses, put an offer on the second one I saw, and went out for a cappuccino.

I have spent the past two days packing like a madwoman. I took a break last night to go see Leon Russell in concert. He was amazing. I will take another break on Thursday to drive to Kansas to see Judy Collins, then drive back after the concert that night, sleep a few hours, and let the movers in at 1 p.m. Friday so we can head out with the U-Haul on Saturday. (We’re taking possession of the house a week and a half before the closing because I’m due in the newsroom bright and early Monday morning.) In between, I have to finish the Trip Guide and tie up some loose ends at work.

My editor is floored. He’s never seen anyone buy a house that fast.

I told him I worked well under deadline pressure. I wasn’t kidding.

Anyway, if I don’t blog for a couple of weeks, it’s because I’m coordinating the logistics of a 450-mile move and starting a new job. Watch this space; as soon as I get settled, I should have all manner of eye candy for you. Also, if you know anybody who wants to buy a three-bedroom house in Red Fork with solar panels on the roof and ridiculously cheap power bills, we’re asking $74,900. Safe neighborhood, fenced backyard, and the white trashy neighbors who liked to get stoned and shoot fireworks at the house have moved away, so it’s pretty quiet around here.


See me, feel me

Riggy had a rough weekend. A longstanding problem with his eyes — for which he was undergoing veterinary treatment — declined suddenly. He was fine Friday night; by Monday morning, he couldn’t see anything at all.

Don’t feel sorry for Riggy. He felt sorry for himself for about an hour Monday. Then he got tired of pouting and claimed his birthright as a rat terrier.

Ratties may be the smartest little dogs on this earth. The average rat terrier can and will perform a cost-benefit analysis on every request you make of him. He will comply if and only if he is convinced the benefits outweigh the costs. Ratties are also creative thinkers. Scout once improved her running technique by watching our late greyhound run, and she routinely used her paw to extract sticky treats from jars if she couldn’t reach them with her tongue.

Riggy hadn’t demonstrated quite that level of proficiency up to this point, but then, he hadn’t needed it, either.

He needed it Monday.

He looked pretty depressed when we got home from the vet’s office, so I bought him a McDonald’s sausage biscuit, which perked him up considerably. (I didn’t hand him the whole thing; instead, I tore off pieces and made him earn them by finding them with his nose.) By Monday evening, he’d learned to follow our voices all over the house; figured out how to get on and off the deck by himself; used the tips of his ears as feelers to avoid bumping into things; and begun plotting a new cat harassment strategy that did not depend on actually seeing Walter.

Ratties are irrepressible little problem-solvers. It’s their most endearing trait. They may encounter setbacks, but those setbacks are always temporary; if they can’t remove an obstacle, they will simply run around it, climb over it, or knock it down on their way to whatever they want.

Having a rat terrier in the house keeps me honest. Whenever I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself, I look at the little dog bouncing around my living room like a pinball, and I remember that problems are best handled with intelligence and creativity. After all, you can’t hassle the cat while you’re pouting in your crate — and everybody knows hassling the cat is way more fun than pouting.


Starting the new year right

I got home from New Mexico at 4:30 p.m., went to dinner and picked up some groceries at 5, started working on the third draft of the novel at 9, and greeted the new year with a printout at 3 a.m.

Not bad. The last 20 pages or so will need some more tinkering, but considering how many changes and additions I’ve made since the first draft, I’m pleased.

Happy new year, kids. I’m going to bed for a couple of hours before I head to work.


I’ve gotta be me

I’ve been feeling out of sorts for several months, and for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why. It finally clicked for me the other night:

I’ve forgotten how to be me.

From 1984 to 2008, my life pretty much revolved around journalism. Then a pink slip sent me into a tailspin, and I landed at the front of a sophomore English classroom. Teaching wasn’t quite as worn-out-Birkenstock-comfortable as journalism, but it appealed to my sense of social justice and felt important enough to be worth doing, so I dove in and let it permeate my life in ways you can’t imagine if you’ve never been there. Done right, teaching is a 24/7/365 job, and if you are not very careful, you can lose yourself in it.

I wasn’t very careful, and by the time I surfaced four years later, I realized that in becoming Ms. Priddy, I’d misplaced Emily, in all sorts of little ways that didn’t occur to me at the time.

I wasn’t too worried. I landed a new job and figured I’d find myself at work.

I didn’t.

My new job is fine, but I’ve been accustomed to having my identity inextricably tangled up in my profession, and PR just isn’t the sort of thing that absorbs your soul and penetrates your heart, so for the first time in my life, Who I Am and What I Do were not synonymous. It was a little disorienting.

The farther I’ve strayed from myself, the more my health — physical, mental, and especially spiritual — has suffered, and a few weeks ago, tired and adrift, I broke down and called a friend of mine who has the dual advantage of being both a Christian Science practitioner and an incorrigible hippie, which was precisely the combination I needed to talk some sense into me. I don’t remember her exact words, but they made me feel better, and I managed to wake up from a long evening of sobbing without the sinus headache that usually follows such indulgences. That may seem a small victory, but given the number of headaches I’ve endured over the past five years, it gave me reason for hope.

Since then, I’ve begun finding scraps of myself here and there, in little things that seem trivial in and of themselves but collectively are much more important than they appear: a trip to a plant nursery to lift my spirits on a cold, gray afternoon; a jar of alfalfa seeds sprouting on my kitchen counter; a conversation with a colleague about our mutual fondness for Neil Diamond; a stroll through the backyard to daydream about gardening projects I might try this spring.

I’m still missing some pieces. But I don’t think they’re lost; I’ve just mislaid them, and I’m kind of enjoying the process of rummaging through my thought to find them again.


We’re live!

The Southwest Tulsa Bell is live! Go take a look.

I’m really excited about this project, partly because I think this end of town really needs its own news outlet, and partly because some of my former students have agreed to help me with it … which means I can get my journalism fix and keep corrupting contributing to the delinquency of encouraging young writers at the same time.

Now I just need some readers….


Not on my road, you don’t.

We don’t watch TV, so I have no idea how long this monstrosity has been out, but Wyndham Hotels has released a Microtel commercial in which an announcer makes some snarky comment about how “with some hotels, you never know what you’ll get” while images of mom-and-pop motels run in the background.

I wasn’t able to identify the first property shown in the commercial, but the second was so iconic it was impossible to miss: the Wigwam Motel on Route 66 in Holbrook, Ariz.

Got that? A multinational corporation which by its own admission has over 7,000 properties apparently feels so threatened by one tiny mom-and-pop motel that it has to attack it on national TV.

Wyndham is right about one thing: You never know what you’ll get with mom-and-pop motels — and that’s the point. I travel to faraway places to have experiences I can’t have at home.

I like to sleep in concrete tepees. I like to cool off in a Texas-shaped pool. I like to bask in the soft blue glow of neon swallows under the high desert air. I like to listen to the quiet whir of a box fan in the window of an asphalt-shingled cabin in the Pennsylvania mountains. I like to unwind in vintage travel trailers. I like to listen to trains clatter past in the Arizona night as I fall asleep imagining the ghosts of long-ago Harvey Girls whispering in the corridors outside my room. I like to imagine Clark Gable’s bare feet touching the same honeycomb tile I stand on as I shower. And when personal tragedy forces me onto the road unexpectedly, I like to draw comfort from the compassionate hug that greets me at the door of a favorite haunt as the owner assures me that I am not alone, but that I travel with her thoughts and prayers.

I like all those things, and I regard all those places and their owners as friends.

I don’t take kindly to bullies picking on my friends. I’m guessing my readers don’t, either, which is why I am asking all of you for a favor: Watch the commercial, if you haven’t seen it yet, and then take a few minutes to write Wyndham a little note explaining that you will not be staying in any of its affiliate hotels — Wyndham, Tryp, Wingate, Hawthorn, Microtel, Dream, Planet Hollywood, Ramada, Baymont, Days Inn, Super 8, Howard Johnson, Travelodge, Knights Inn, or Night Hotel New York — until it withdraws this unethical and dishonest ad and replaces it with a nationally televised commercial promoting the Wigwams and formally apologizing for its lapse of ethics in falsely implying that they are undesirable. If that motel shown at the beginning of the commercial is still going, Wyndham owes it an apology and some free advertising, too. (Anybody recognize it? I’m dying to throw it a little business.)

Click here for Wyndham’s e-mail contact form. If you’d rather send snail mail, you can send it to Wyndham Hotel Group, P.O. Box 5090, Aberdeen, SD 57401. Or, if you prefer, you can simply call Wyndham at (800) 468-8737 or (605) 229-8737.

When you finish, please share this with anyone else who might be willing to do the same.

Thanks in advance for your support. This really has me hopping mad.



For various and sundry reasons both practical and metaphysical, I am in the process of performing an informal cost-benefit analysis on my day-to-day activities and prioritizing them accordingly.

This basically means I intend to spend more time blogging and reading Tony Hillerman novels (shhhh … don’t tell Ron, but I think I’m secretly in love with Lt. Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police) and less time playing Angry Birds and Facebooking about overpriced decaf.

I doubt I’ll blog every day — I’m not sure I can swing it, and daily blogging tends to produce a lot of useless filler — but I do intend to post more regularly than I have in the past few months, and I hope what I post will be worth the bandwidth it takes to load the page.

With that in mind, here’s another photo from our recent trip to New Mexico. I think photos from New Mexico are always worth the bandwidth. 🙂

Remember that novel I was working on last year? I finished the first draft in February and am now in the process of rewriting it. One of my goals on this trip was to soak up inspiration for that project. I got more than I bargained for when life imitated art: One scene in my novel has the narrator, Sierra, sitting in the lobby of an old motel on Route 66 in New Mexico, watching a thunderstorm blow in — so you can imagine my delight when I found myself standing in front of the long-shuttered Western Motel in San Jon, watching a storm blow in and realizing that every single detail was exactly as I’d described it in the novel.

Suffice it to say that “finish second draft” moved from the bottom of my to-do list to a spot near the top, right under planning next week’s lessons and cleaning the bathroom (which is starting to resemble a Superfund site). If all goes according to plan, I’ll be able to rewrite a few chapters Monday night, as the IronPigs’ playoff series against Columbus doesn’t start until Tuesday.


The third-base coach waved me home.

Sorry I’ve been so quiet; I’m nearing the end of a 10-day road trip. I’ll post a full report when I get home, but in the meantime, I’m contemplating the strange and graceful way a figure from my childhood keeps sending my thought into familiar places with new eyes.

Last summer, I spent three days watching Ryne Sandberg manage the Iowa Cubs in a series against the OKC RedHawks. I got back to Tulsa to find that most of my friends and colleagues were unfamiliar with my childhood hero.

I thought, This would never happen in Southern Illinois, and three days later, I was sitting in a dugout at Diamond Three in Herrin, reading a W.P. Kinsella novel and watching a thunderstorm roll in while I made my peace with my hometown.

At the Triple-A level, the manager coaches third base. Last summer, my favorite third-base coach waved me home.

This summer, Ryno is managing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Allentown, Pa., so Ron and I used that as an excuse to head east on the Lincoln Highway. Along the way, I discovered that it might be possible for me to survive somewhere besides Route 66: I fell in love with the farmland of Iowa; the vibrant energy of Chicago; the charming downtowns of Goshen, Ind., and Van Wert, Ohio; the giant teapot in Chester, W. Va.; the winding mountain roads of rural Pennsylvania; and the ethnic neighborhoods and skinny townhouses with old men killing time on their front stoops in the narrow side streets of Allentown.

Everywhere we went, I mumbled, “I could teach here,” until this afternoon, it suddenly occurred to me that I don’t want to live in any of the places I’ve visited; I just want to gather up what makes me happy about those places and bring it back to Tulsa, the way I gather up little souvenirs and glue them all over my dashboard. That love-the-one-you’re-with ethos that drove me to paint pictures on cabinet doors and turn my ordinary Honda into a unique artcar suddenly spilled over, and it clicked for me: Tulsa does not understand its own potential. Forget the Glenn Pool. We are sitting on a much larger reserve of a much more powerful resource: our own diversity and creativity.

After tonight’s game, we’re heading back to Tulsa, and I am bringing a boatload of shiny objects to glue on my town’s metaphorical dashboard. From here on in, I am indulging all of my artistic impulses, and I am encouraging others to do the same, even — and maybe especially — if those impulses involve public acts of eccentricity, because it is high time we tapped this giant pool of creativity we’ve been sitting on all these years.

Once again, the third-base coach is waving me home.

Stay tuned. I feel a massive, contagious creative outburst coming on.


Silence must be heard

Today was another of those days that remind me why I teach.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do an activism unit with my second-semester English classes in which the kids are required to choose a social cause, research it, and promote it through a series of writing assignments. This year, several students’ projects focused on bullying. One girl, not content to confine her efforts to fact sheets and letters to the editor, began encouraging her classmates to participate in Day of Silence, which is a nationwide awareness-raising campaign designed to bring attention to the verbal and physical abuse many LGBT students face every day.

As the name suggests, Day of Silence participants take a vow of silence, speaking only when required to by their teachers. If you remember yourself at 15, you can well imagine the sacrifice and commitment such a move requires.

Because speaking is so central to my job description, I had initially planned to encourage my kids from the sidelines … but last night, as I read all the excited Facebook posts by young activists preparing for their first demonstration, I decided they deserved to have at least one grownup standing in solidarity with them, so I revised my lesson plans to give my own vocal cords a day off.

What followed was utterly beautiful.

The DoS participants were, of course, delighted to find an ally standing at the front of the classroom — but more remarkable was the response from the other students. One girl fell silent after finding out about the demonstration halfway through the day. Another wrote a heartbreaking message about a friend who had been attacked on the basis of his orientation. One boy was a little skeptical about the whole thing, but since he wasn’t participating in DoS, he graciously loaned us his voice, reading my typed messages aloud in a strong, clear, expressive tone that made the lesson easier for his classmates to understand.

Meanwhile, the situation gave me an idea for a nice impromptu lesson about the role of media and technology in activism — a perfect discussion topic for an interest-based magnet school that focuses on broadcasting and digital media — and the break from our usual routine undoubtedly made my pre-EOI pep talk and review of literary terms more memorable for everyone concerned.

Best of all, my kids got to see firsthand the power of direct action. Did they eliminate homophobia from our building? Probably not. But their consciousness-raising efforts were wildly successful, prompting scores of conversations about the issue, and their infectious enthusiasm rekindled a spark of idealism in the heart of an English teacher who’d been teetering on the edge of burnout for a long, long time.

God, I love my kids.