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

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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

Classroom Reveal, Part I

Sorry I’ve been so quiet all spring and summer. I’ve been busy — state testing, prom, honor society induction, professional development, graduation, finals, ducks (shoutout to our ag teacher for taking the noisy, destructive little SOBs off my hands), travel, side hustles, curriculum writing, and last but certainly not least, painting an elaborate mural on all four walls of my classroom.

I finally wrapped up the mural on Monday. It was a long process that began last spring, when I wandered into my superintendent’s office and asked how much trouble I’d be in if I painted literary characters all over the walls of my classroom. She basically gave me carte blanche and waited to see what would happen next. About 103 hours of actual work later, this was what I came up with:

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I still have a truffula forest made out of pool noodles and tissue paper to mount on a particle-board stand, a couple of giant IKEA leaves to install near my desk, and a few more strings of fairy lights to hang on not-quite-finished bulletin boards, but I’ll post all that when I do an official classroom reveal in August.

My goal with this project is to remind my kids of how they felt about reading when they were little — back when they were exploring the Hundred Acre Wood and having wild rumpuses and sneaking through Hogwarts under an Invisibility Cloak instead of being assigned a million pages of stuff they didn’t really care about. I want to recapture some of that joy and maybe get them excited about reading again. We’ll see how it goes.

Emily

P.S.: In case you’re interested, here’s an update showing the finished room.

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

Duck yeah!

I can’t believe I got away with this.

They already smell weird, and I’m pretty sure they are going to annoy me beyond belief, but don’t act like these aren’t the cutest little things you’ve ever seen.

I hired some help for the garden.
Complaining already. It’s gonna be a long four weeks.

Walter is a bit more curious than I’d like, but I can lock him out of my office easily enough to keep them safe when I can’t supervise.

“Mom! Mom, what is that? Is something alive in that crate? Can I make it dead?”

We’ll see how this goes. The good thing about ducks is that they grow faster than chickens, so they should be big enough to kick out into the backyard in a month or less.

Emily

Broody.

My late buff Orpington hen, Pushy Galore, was one of the funniest animals I have ever owned.

As I do every year at about this time, I’ve gone broody.

I need chickens.

Actually, what I *really* need is quail, but they aren’t available locally. Failing that, I’d like a duckling. Or two. Or six. Whatever. Ron is balking, but I’ve seen a couple of people in town raising them as backyard pets, and they appear to be thriving. Sure, their wading pool will probably add a coupla bucks a month to the water bill, but that’s still cheaper than buying eggs at the grocery store. Plus if I ever adopt that Border collie I’ve been thinking about since January, it will have something to herd, so it won’t get bored and spend all day annoying me. And if we end up hating them? Duck is DELICIOUS. I’m not seeing a down side here.

Anyway, one way or the other, it is that magical time of year when a Rubbermaid tub full of shavings and a screen are supposed to appear in my office, and a heat lamp is supposed to hang over them, warming a flock of stinky-yet-adorable balls of fuzz.

My favorite chicken breed, as anybody who’s spent much time on this blog knows, is the buff Orpington. Orps are good layers with great personalities — curious as cats and almost as friendly as dogs. They get along well with other chickens, they’re decent foragers, and they’re entertaining enough that I could probably cancel my Britbox subscription if I had a flock. WIN.

Tractor Supply — the only local source for chicks that I’m aware of at the moment — does not carry buff Orpingtons. Or any other variety of Orpingtons, for that matter. They do, however, have a few barred Rocks, and if I’m completely honest with myself, I’ll admit that Rocks are probably a better choice for our yard than Orpingtons, because they’re much more aggressive foragers, and I’m told this neighborhood is lousy with scorpions in the summer. A flock of feisty barred Rock hens would happily knock down the scorpion population for me.

I think I’ll head out to the shed to take a quick inventory of my chick-rearing equipment, and then I’ll cruise down 66 to Tractor Supply and see what kind of feathered friends I can rustle up.

Emily

No “Stairway”? Denied!

Things that happened today:

1. I started my morning feeling a little groggy after a recurring dream in which I kept trying to listen to a Led Zeppelin album but kept waking up a split-second before the needle actually touched the vinyl. (This was considerably more stressful than it sounds. In retrospect, I think it might have been an omen.)

2. Got to school and literally had to put out a fire. Not a big fire, mind you — just a little grease fire that flared up when a kid spilled bacon drippings on a burner while preparing the FFA’s annual faculty breakfast — but exciting enough to shake off the grogginess, anyhow.

3. Met with the outside evaluator who visited my class Monday. Got a good score but was told I needed to set up a “mindful classroom” with a “social contract” involving some kind of hand signal the kids could use whenever someone failed to use “the language of peace,” because I was at a tipping point, and “the energy in [my] classroom could go either way at this point.” Was also advised that I might want to consider “cleansing the room” of the last teacher’s “negative energy,” because she could still feel it in there. (When I ran this suggestion by the kids, they told me to call in an exorcist, because a little sage wasn’t gonna do the job. X______X )

Got that? During my professional evaluation, the evaluator’s ONLY criticism was basically that I’M NOT A BIG ENOUGH HIPPIE.

(Yep. That weird Zeppelin dream was definitely a sign.)

I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that somewhere, Bob Waldmire is disappointed in me tonight. Or laughing his arse off. Or both.

In case you’re wondering, my plan for improving my score next time involves burning patchouli incense, schlepping around the room in Birkenstocks, and playing the Dead’s “Europe ’72” album on vinyl while the kids munch on homemade brownies and discuss that Kerouac quote about how “the only people for me are the mad ones.”

Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.

(And I’m buying a stairway to heaven.)

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring