Sunday, August 23, 2015

Folk Art and Friends

Earlier this summer, an artist friend of ours came to town because she had several pieces in local art exhibits.  My favorite pieces of hers were little boxes filled with seemingly incongruent objects that somehow pulled together to suggest a narrative (to me--always the story finder).  I loved this box with the crow best of all.  He didn't  sell at the exhibit (it was more of a "tasteful glazed bowl" type of exhibition really), and so just a week or so ago (time has really gotten away from me now that school is back in), our friend came back to town with him--the crow--and we were able to buy him.  I just love him!

I really have been so incredibly busy with school, and getting up and leaving the house before 6 a.m., that blogging has been sadly neglected along with many other little pleasures.  Honestly, I have knit a scarf that only has 16 or so more rows and each Friday I am sure that I will be done by the weekend, and yet it hasn't happened.
However, I did get the chance to go to the Folk Art Festival which I always enjoy.  It's fun to stroll by the booths and browse.
Not art really, but part of a bunch of "junk" in a side room!

I liked the ax.  It was about he irony of an ax handle being made of wood.

Today we went off to an old family friend's birthday celebration.

And here it is Sunday night again, and if I don't get to bed I'll be in trouble when that alarm goes off.
More soon!
Hope you are all enjoying these end-of-the-summer days.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Little More Wilderness Before School Starts

Summer still has a full fiery month to burn.  Oddly, to me, school starts up at the top of August. Why we start school at the peak of this long lethargic season is a mystery to me.  I know it costs huge amounts of money to air condition the schools.  Sports teams and the marching band are always facing heat alerts.  Girls wear the teeniest bit of clothing possible.  The rest of the world may be on vacation, but those of us here are headed into the classroom.  An optimal time for learning, I am sure--Not.

We've been out in the woods again--in spite of the heat and insects.
Here was a happy little guy feasting on mushrooms.  (Even if squirrels do steal my tomatoes, I still like them a lot.)

And all insects aren't annoying.  Really, most of them are amazing and beautiful.

We saw this beaver lazily paddling along.  His body is buoyant and boat like.  I don't think he could sink if he tried.  

And here's all that's left of some early settler's place up along the Chattahooche River.  Once again I admire the scrappiness of the people who put together a life in this type of wilderness.

Well, back to school then.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Celebrating Summer's Vegetables

Summer is on in its full and mighty heat.  The sky is often (to quote Tennessee Williams) 'like a big white sheet of paper.'  Cicada choruses buzz.  Ripping storms pelt the earth for awhile, then subside temporarily.  Hours of withering sun scorch between periods of incessant damp.

I find myself staying indoors behind bamboo shades.  But plants love this weather and thrive. We have been lucky to eat our own grown vegetables most days, supplementing it with some we buy from farmer's markets.  In the last few weeks, squirrels (I think) have stolen all of the tomatoes, and the peppers are not nearly as productive as last year.  But, I have not given up hope.

Too hot now for sugar snaps.

Happy Eggplant--My #1 Favorite!

Grown and gifted to me by a neighbor!!

Health-wise, I try to eat 2.5 cups of vegetables each day and 2 cups of fruit.  This is surprisingly hard for me.  When hungry, I tend to eat a piece of bread or crackers (or cookies, I admit).  I am trying to shift that.  It takes concentration!

Making Asian soup stock

Using veg NOT grown by me
In summer, everything tastes so good and fresh. My son pointed out that there is an emphasis on the word fresh in reference to food lately that he finds annoying.  He is right about the emphasis, though I don't think it is annoying at all.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


When I was very, very small this book lived in the top of my mother's closet.  Lying on her bed, I could see it up there.  I remember my mother telling me the title which intrigued me even before I was old enough to read.

Years later and in a different house, I pulled this book out of a collection on a shelf of my mother's books one summer when I was looking for something to read.  I was surprised and excited to find that the main character was a kid.  It hadn't occurred to me that a book for grown-ups would have a child main character.

This book, to me, a thirteen year old white girl living in New Mexico, was a sort of primer on the American South.  All the concern about social class and identity was as foreign to me as screen porches, swept yards, and collards.  I remember being captivated by the trial section of the book.  The injustice was terrible to me, although not unexpected.  I remember when I read the line "Hey, Boo!" I cried so much the words on the page blurred.

Many years passed and I found myself living in the South.  I was delighted by real screen porches, "haints" and "hot steams."  Just like in To Kill a Mockingbird, women were known by "Miss" and their first names.  This puzzled me, but seemed harmless.  Less harmless were racially prejudiced and assumptive comments given as asides in many conversations with older white people.  I was uncomfortable at parties where the black housekeeper served food, cleaned up, and took care of children while the hosts lounged in chairs discussing golf.  I didn't understand people's pride in the civil war, a war the South lost and fought to keep others enslaved.

And then, I came to teach in schools where the majority of students were black.  Most of my students were not born in the South.  Most of them had been shuffled through as many schools as their age.  Many were living with a single parent, grandparent, aunt, or affiliate who was hoping to give them a better life in a suburb where inexpensive housing and trailer homes were nestled in amongst modest subdivisions and farmlands.  The kids wore their idea of "the hood" like armor.  Residents of the modest subdivisions and many teachers I worked with saw the neighborhood "turning" and jumped to "get out of the hell hole" (an exact quote).

The book I had to teach to ninth graders was To Kill a Mockingbird.  Repeatedly in the beginning of the book kids would ask me, "Wait, is this girl white or black?" Or, "So, is Dill black?"   And they would slumber through the book until the trial part, which they found somewhat engaging--but which I found to be almost intolerable as I realized that this was a sort of self-congratulatory story about a white man who stands to assuage white people's guilt.  The students were less uncomfortable--truly because some were really only pretend reading--but more importantly because for them, that's the way with stories, with books.  The black man loses, the white man wins, and da, da, da. School, books. Yeah, yeah. Boring.

I only taught this book once.  Eventually most teachers at my school (the ones who stayed) decided to teach something else.  I don't think of this as a loss.  After all, I found To Kill a Mockingbird on my own.  I never read it in school.  I still think that is the way people find the best books anyway.  The book is still out there; people still read it.  And it is still special to me in its own way.  But it isn't holy.  It's a story.

Now, some people are up in arms about Go Set a Watchman, a draft of a story that maybe was never meant to be published.  I am not up in arms.  In fact, I'm not really interested in reading Go Set a Watchman. I understand very well how a writer sets what she knows or thinks to be true on a paper, and how the story takes over and shifts and changes and tells the writer a truth she might not have wanted to know.  I know very well how you have to dump everything out of a story, like dumping out a drawer, and resort and make something new.  I have little interest in analyzing Lee's work in this way.  I've had enough of Harper Lee's South.  There are many, many other books I want to read--many, many other places I want books to take me to.

The clamor over this new book tells me though, that stories move people.  A story can shake someone to the core.  A story!  And to me--that is really, really cool.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Snake Hunter

One of the reasons we were exploring the uncomfortable summer wilderness recently was my son's desire to find some interesting and rare snakes.  I know this sounds pretty weird.  But ever since he was a little boy, he has loved snakes.  He used to catch them and bring them home and keep them in his room for a few days and then we would take them back to the creek or wherever, and he would let them go.  Sometimes he would have as many as six or so snakes in his room.  Only one small one ever escaped (and I found him days later peeking from around the edge of the couch and was very relieved he hadn't crawled down the A/C vent), and one had live babies.

Gradually, he quit feeling the need to tote them home for a visit, and was content to handle them a little and let them go on their way.  Sometimes just sighting them was enough, and he let them lie.

With his perpetual field guide
He is very, very good at finding snakes.  And also good at identifying them.  When he was about seven years old he would ride in the back of the car with his Field Guide and say, "Mom, quiz me.  You say the common name and I will say the Latin name."

First grade science project

When he found a blind snake in Key Largo, Florida, I told him it was a worm.
"No.  It has scales, see?" He insisted, offering me a closer look at the worm in his grubby hand.
"It's a worm," I insisted.  Except then, the worm flicked it's tongue, which of course, worms do not do.  "It's a blind snake."

When he came to the pool at a vacation condo in South Carolina with a snake that was primarily brilliant red, I was out of the water in a flash repeating to myself, "Red touch black friend of Jack; red touch yellow kill a fellow!  Red touch black--red touch black!"  The snake had a long white belly, but that did not calm my alarm.  "Mom, mom, it's only a scarlet snake.  Isn't it great?  He was just over there near the elevator."
scarlet snake

Well, he is now a twenty-something young man but as his grandpa says, he has not outgrown his "snake-ism."

In his elementary school  Spanish class, he had to design a poster and write a little paper that described a job he might like to do in the future.  I laughed in surprise at his project.  "A Frito salesman?"  I exclaimed.  "I didn't know you wanted to sell Fritos!"  He shrugged, "Well," he explained, "I didn't know how to say 'wildlife photographer' in Spanish."

Friday, July 3, 2015

Update on Makes

Okay--so I finished these mitts!  And I am so happy with them and happy with myself for sticking it out and figuring out how to knit them.  They are by far the most challenging thing I have made.  They are the Maize Mitts  from Tin Can Knits.

I am also involved in an online community (#clmooc--the same one from last summer) of educators who experiment with creative ways to make things, often using digital tools.  The idea is connect, inspire, and experiment.  For me, it's a way to try out digital tools that I could use in the classroom.  I want to try them out first before directing students to use them, so I can guide them in choosing and using these tools.  During the school year there often isn't time for me to experiment with these things.

So, the first challenge was to make something that connected with identity and the changeable-ness of it as a sort of self introduction.  My little video does not introduce me exactly, though anyone who knows me will know I love little animals and woodlands.  My video is just a short half minute of childlike whimsy.  Here it is:


Thursday, June 25, 2015

More Great Outdoors

One of the places we went on our days in the wilderness used to be a rice plantation but is now a wildlife refuge.  The hikes are mainly on the dykes or levees above the fields.

The car temperature gauge read 97, so walking around above the vegetation was not something we wanted to do.  Luckily, there was a narrow driving trail atop some of these levees, so we drove along and watched the murky waterways.

Aside from a wide variety of waterfowl, we spied many alligators as well!  (Truthfully, none of our alligator pics turned out, so this is an alligator we saw in a totally different wilderness--).

The hottest and buggiest day by far though, was the day we went to a State Park looking for gopher tortoises and indigo snakes.  My youngest son abandoned the trail after being attacked by swarms of sweat sucking flies.  He stayed in the shelter of this covered bridge while my older son carried on. This was one of those times when I just didn't know which kid to accompany--but I ended up staying back instead of pursuing the trail.

View from inside the bridge

I had a brief moment of intense panic right before my older son returned.  I mean, what if he was bitten by a snake out there hiking alone in the heat?  But, it was not a long trail, and he did see a grand old gopher tortoise which he said was worth the torment of the hellish heat and insects.

The best thing about going to this park was the drive through the farmland to get there.  Each little old building or house looked like it held a million stories.

I think the scraggly little crop here is peanuts.

The very best house and barn were partially collapsed and abandoned. (My roadside picture of it was totally not exciting so I haven't included it here.) My son got out of the car and went around taking terrific pictures (property of him and his artistic purposes) until we both felt a little like a crazy might come out of nowhere with a shot gun and rail at him for trespassing.

Maybe we've seen too many movies.