Friday, May 3, 2013

Don't Miss These TED Talks!

I am in love with TED.  My husband knows this, and understands; I suspect he might also be in love with TED, and that makes me happy.

TED Talks provide a window into worlds outside of my Missouri existence (which is a good existence - I'm simply acknowledging my own limitations here).  I subscribe to TED updates and I regularly tune in to a daily dose of information and inspiration.  If you haven't tried it yourself, I highly recommend that you direct your browser to TED TALKS and it out for yourself.

In honor of National Teachers' Day, TED hosted a series of educators to share their talks.  This one by Rita Pierson is especially good, and possibly I enjoyed it even more because of meeting Rita in person several times.  She is a teacher you would want your child to have, a teacher you would want to work with.

You can watch Rita's TED Talk here:

And enjoy excerpts from some of Rita's other presentations here:

TED Teacher talks, here:

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Popcorn & Opera

Source: Metropolitan Opera
There are many ways to enjoy yourself on a Saturday afternoon - and going to the opera at the movies is definitely one on my list of favorites.

Opera at the movies, you say?  Yes, that's correct.  Of course, being blessed with a husband who is an operatic tenor, I have been introduced to the world of opera.  I am not an aficionado; I am an "apprecianado" who lacks technical expertise but has abundant appreciation for the beauty of the art.

No, I don't sit around listening to opera.  But I do have selected arias in my iPod playlist.  Thanks to the wonderful music teachers I've had in my life (Mrs. Wagner, Mr. Larsen, Nancy Osman, Jack Foster, Bruce Barr) I can even recognize some melodies and call them by name.

Opera at the movies, with Joyce DiDonato in the title role - it doesn't get much better.  We are treated to a real-time, video-streamed performance, live from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.  With buttered popcorn.  And Diet Coke.  In our jeans. Right here in Kansas City.

Joyce DiDonato is a KC native - and we adore her.  Last November, we attended her performance at the Folly; we sat in the second row, and we were mesmerized.  (And I've come up with a great idea for the ABC comedy, Modern Family: Joyce should guest star in an episode, as Cam's - Eric Stonestreet is also from KC - childhood friend who is his musical nemesis but who agrees to be a guest speaker in the music class he teaches.  I can't get anyone to pay attention to my Twitter posts, though.)

It was a family event, with Megan and Brandon.  Our friends, Matt & Becky Foerschler (Bruce and Matt are operatic tenors, Lyric Opera performers) joined us for the performance.  We snagged six seats in a row near the front; with the high-definition broadcast. we could see every detail in the pre-performance backstage tour as well as in the performance itself.

And what a performance it was!  Simply glorious!  The sets, the costumes, the make up!  The orchestra, the chorus, the principal vocalists!  The drama!  Never mind that the Donizetti opera is not historically accurate; it's based on a fictionalized account.  See the opera, then read the history.  (It's similar to the inaccuracies perpetuated by the dramatized Diary of Anne Frank; the play departs from fact in several instances to heighten the drama and the emotional impact.)  In this production, Elizabeth I is the very likeness of Henry VIII; she is no waif-like character, she is bold and brusque, she moves like a linebacker in her male-dominated field.  Neither Elizabeth nor Mary are innocents: they have both plotted and plundered to secure their power.  The trio of dominant males influence the events, both intended and unintended.  We know the result--we know our history, that Mary is doomed, that there will be an execution.  And yet, we gasp in shock at the final moments.

As afternoons go, this one was perfect.  During intermission, our MET hostess interviewed the principal characters, beginning with Joyce DiDonato.  At the conclusion of her interview, DiDonato called out a fond greeting to those of us in Kansas City--something she always does--and we cheered.  (Many of us clapped along with the New York audience during the performance, even though we were well aware that our applause went unheard.  I--we--simply could not help it.)

A bonus for our family: Brandon's cousin, Scott Dispensa (and Kansas City native) was a chorus member.  Brandon didn't know this in advance, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Scott on stage.

The next live MET at the movies performance is Verdi's Rigoletto, on February 16.  We've got a date with Matt and Becky.  Being transported to the MET stage in New York City for an afternoon of opera and popcorn is just irresistible!

Monday, January 14, 2013


I finally succeeded in following the instructions and teaching myself the "granny square." 

On a whim this morning, I picked up the book, crochet hook, and strands of yarn left over from making stacks of dish rags. 

I'd been thinking about my journey to learn yoga. 

Since my friend Laura invited me to go to classes with her at Legacy Park last July, I've been regular in my attendance, and set a goal to master the "salute the sun" sequence poses in a year. 

That might not sound like a big goal, but for me it is, especially considering the weeks I took off for each cornea transplant, and the resulting challenges to my balance. Besides that, I have a history of being averse to exercise, and I have zero upper body strength, couldn't do a push up if my life depended on it. 

The thing is, I've continued to surprise myself by suddenly mastering poses that I've previously never attempted. (Our teacher, Victoria, reminds us that if a pose doesn't feel right or we can't do it, we can assume the "child's pose." I am a master of the child's pose!)

A few weeks ago, without even thinking about it, I did a decent "plank" and followed that with an amazing - for me - lateral inclined plane. I did it without thinking about it. Of course, I've been watching all the other people in my class for all these months, and I've been mimicking the pose, trying with baby steps, keeping one knee down for balance and to put less weight on the one arm.

This morning, I decided this might be my day to amaze myself by mastering the granny square. I DID IT! Now, I realize that "mastery" is relative in this instance. I know I am not a granny square expert. I realize that I am not "proficient" or "advanced" in granny square production. Heck, I'm not even "basic," I'm "below basic." And I will probably never be a granny square master. The point is, I did what I had previously failed to do many, many times before. I did what I had convinced myself I was not capable of doing.

I recently finished reading Laurence Gonzales' latest book, SURVIVING SURVIVAL. (His books are fun non-fiction, and I always learn from reading them.) In this book, he examines how people cope with the after-effects of trauma. One of the hallmarks of survival is to engage in organized activity that institutes patterns, rhythms, and counting. Activities that are physical, patterned, repetitive, organized, and directed toward a goal have tremendous therapeutic value for people suffering from grief or trauma. Gonzales provides examples of people who survive by writing, exercising, and even knitting.

It occurred to me that I've done that - used writing, exercise, and crochet as survival techniques. I've dabbled with blogging (which I liked and should be more organized so I could do it regularly) and exercise (yoga and walking) and knitting (crocheting, which I picked up this summer after Carrol Brennecke Wood gifted me with dish rags she'd made - hers are a beautiful bounty of stitches I don't think I could ever master).

The stacks of silly dish rags that I stitched this past summer represent a physical activity that is organized, patterned, repetitive, requires counting, and is directed toward a goal. I even managed to make two baby afghans (tucked away for the future) and more than a dozen "infinity scarves" that I gave as Christmas presents. Not once while I was doing that did I think of the activity as therapeutic - but it surely was.

And now, after recent failures to produce a granny square (and years of me telling myself I could not read and follow instructions and could not, as a consequence, crochet a granny square), I have defied failure, and I have achieved a personal victory! Nice to know I can still learn new skills.

With four new skeins of yarn in hand, I'm planning a granny square project - probably a sofa blanket, if I can manage to produce enough squares (a good activity paired with evening television viewing).

Thursday, November 8, 2012



I've taken a cue from Kathi Whitman, and have placed my bird feeder outside my office window.  It's a a sturdy metal pole platform feeder - advertised to be squirrel-proof:


Our neighborhood is home to many of these critters.  On my way to our mailbox the other day - a trek across the street and up the block to the community mailbox - I encountered one poor fellow,  face-down, body splayed half on the sidewalk and half in the grassy easement.  I confess that I was startled, and I did a small backward hop.  (Memories of the Hastings College red attack squirrels that populated the oak trees lining the sidewalks to the library and chattered and chased students remind me that these guys can be fierce.)  But this guy had met his fate, thus decreasing the scurry (or dray, if you prefer).  They are greedy at the feeder, but it is, afterall, an equal-opportunity feeder, and the sparrows, bluejays, and cardinals do seem to each get their share.

Sorry that my photos are not crisp and clear.  That is the one downside to my between-the-glass blinds (which I love, because it enables my slothful tendency to forget to dust).  I can't seem to find a good angle to make the slats disappear in the photos - and if I step outside to my stoop, the birds won't visit.  As comfortable as they are living in our back yards and feeding on our gifts of seed, they are distrustful and protective - and that's how they survive.

I usually add to the feeder in the morning, either on the way across the street to the bus stop with Jackson, or immediately after.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays (and some weekends) I add peanuts for the bluejays (the squirrels like these, too).  

The sparrows and the nuthatches like the smaller seeds.  I provide a blend of already-shelled sunflower nuts and some that are still in the shell, and the mixed-grains that are supposed to be a songbird favorite.   

This fellow is ready for take-off, peanut secured in beak.  He's headed for the tall oaks in the back yards of neighbors to the west.  We used to have trees that boasted bluejay and cardinal nests, but lost those in the ice storm of January 2002 and the windstorm and ice of October 2004.  We're still making an effort to nurture trees for our front yard - the pin oaks we planted seven years ago are not flourishing as we had hoped, and next spring we may dig them up, transplant them, and replace them with another species yet to be determined.  I'm favoring smaller trees now, after seeing so many homes damaged when the larger ones are uprooted in storms.  The smaller ones accomplish the same objective: shade for the landscape.  Without that, our grass was toast in this summer's drought.  It's back to a lush green now, after verticutting and overseeding and fertilizing and watering this fall.

Though you can't see in this photo, this morning dove boasts a reddish underbelly, and is a gentle presence at the feeder.  Our doves greet us with tender calls of "whoo, whoo, whoo" and remind me of childhood times - before my younger sister was born - when my mother would bundle me up with instructions to play outdoors, "And stay in the yard."  My parents had created a play ground in the side yard of their rental house - the first house we lived in when our father took his big leap of faith and moved us there from their home town in Kansas.  I had a swing set with climbing bars and a sand pile and two pedal-vehicles (which I wish I still had, as they would be worth a fortune today!) and even a giant slide; staying in my own yard was not a punishment.  And I didn't mind playing by myself on the days when other neighborhood kids weren't around.  That gave me time to think and so silly things that I wouldn't have done around them, like imitate the bird calls.

My eye is on the sparrow - and the other visitors at my bird feeder this morning.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Will Miss My Yoga Workouts...

But it's for a good reason: my left eye surgeries on September 4th, and the weeks of post-op recovery following the cornea transplant.

I have fully integrated to yoga beginner status.  I mostly understand what's going on, and there are even some of the poses that I've got memorized.  Yesterday afternoon, even though my friend Laura and I are now attending the "advanced" yoga to accommodate her school-year schedule, I thought we both kept up pretty well; it helps that our instructor is so encouraging and constantly reminds us to do what feels right for our bodies.

Here is what I felt like:

I know it's what our instructor, Vickie, looks like.  Most of the time, I am watching her closely to figure out where my legs, feet, arms, and hands are supposed to be--which means my head is out of position 90% of the time while I'm on this learning curve.

We practice our yoga in a room with full-length mirrors on both sides.  I try not to look at myself in the mirror, though I do look at other people in the mirror--because I want to see if what I'm doing is what they are doing.

Yesterday, we did this pose, and it felt, to me, like I was doing it very well:
 Anyway, I was mostly doing this pose.  I am a total weakling when it comes to arm strength, so I keep one knee on the mat while I lift the other and grab it with one hand.  I was feeling pretty good about this, until I unwittingly glanced in the mirror and caught my own reflection:
Obviously, I was not wearing a bikini or a sun hat.  Imagine this woman in full yoga garb, sans hat.  That would be me.

I searched online for a graphic to illustrate what I looked like versus what my inner self felt like I looked like.  You've probably seen those funny tennis ball cartoon characters, thick in the middle and spindly in the arms and legs.  It was kind of like that; only thick in the middle and thick in the arms and the legs.  See above.

Inside, I feel my core lengthening and strengthening.  I feel the tension and flexion of my muscles.  I feel graceful (well, except for when I lose my balance, or it takes me two or three tries to arrange my appendages into a pose).  Vickie is the perfect exemplar for the poses: she is lean and limber, and I'd guess she's 5'6" and weighs 110 pounds.  I'm 5'5" and I'm nowhere near 110, and can't even remember when I was (junior high school?).  I'm plump as a fat hen.

I nearly blurted out this revelation to the entire class, it was such a shock to my system.  Luckily, I remained mum and did not embarrass myself.  But when we moved into the child's pose, I took a good look at Vickie: she was neatly folded onto herself, nearly flattened to the floor, arms outstretched in front of her.  And I took a sideways glance at my own figure: a rounded lump with arms extended as far as they could go.

I've written before that yoga is a great exercise for multiple reasons, including the fact that the poses get you close up and personal with all of your jiggly bits--if you have any.  And I have jiggly bits I'd like to turn into lean muscle; in particular, my flabby upper arms, my flabby thighs, my flabby calves, my flabby belly.  My neck, ankles, and wrists are in good shape.  I'm not a total wreck.  And my big goal is to get into better shape by my birthday next May.  When it comes to weight loss and exercise, I believe in slow and steady, with attainable milestones.

So, I hate to lose my rhythm of going to class and working out.  Post transplant, however, most of the poses would place too much physical pressure on the eye tissue.  I know I'll need four to six weeks before I can reintegrate myself back into my current routine.  During my absence from class, I think I'll play the yoga videos that I purchased and have yet to use.  Maybe watching the yoga workouts will have the same effect as when students listen to tape recorded lectures while they sleep the night before an exam--subliminal learning.  Right.  Don't dash that hope.

And, in the meantime, I've got this image of myself, firmly fixed in my mind:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Back To School

Lee's Summit public school is back in session on Wednesday.  The school buses have been making trial runs of their routes through the neighborhoods, adding another means for measuring my time throughout the day, with their pick-up and return times.

Summers are more relaxed, with  no bus or bell schedules.  I find myself undisciplined without a routine to establish boundaries.  Serendipity reigns.  The scenic route beckons, and I take the long road home, with detours and interesting diversions.  The days are longer, and my work is interspersed with play. 

Routines and deadlines give me the illusion of organization and efficiency.  During the school year, I round up my creativity, set up boundaries, and challenge myself to rein in my impulse to let the days unfold without forethought.  Left to my own devices, I would tinker and putter and delve and dabble.  On a timetable, following a prescribed plan, I am on track, on task, engaged in the flow of creative productivity.  There is no doubt that I get more done. 

But it is work to discipline myself with a daily routine.

Of course, I've been "back to school" in my work projects for the past seven weeks, and I'd been planning for three weeks before that, so "back to school" is more of a state of mind than a physical state.  I'm already deep into October, developing curriculum for the last two weeks of that month.  I live in August while thinking of mid-term assessments and student progress mastering learning targets.

And soon, my timeline will have me into November and December, checking off each week's curriculum as I march through the year in advance of the teachers' implementation.

Back to school.  Jackson in the mornings, with cartoons and cocoa and conversation.  Brittany and Ryan back in Missoula so Ryan can finish up his work at the University of Montana.  Megan back in her classroom with a new brood of second graders.  Our hearts beat in time with the pulse of the school year and the school day.  We are a family of teachers and students.

Back to school and back to comfortable routines.  It's time.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tension, Flexion, Breathing, Balance

We had a substitute teacher for our yoga class on Monday; of course, class was just not the same without Vickie leading us through a routine.  Our substitute--a lovely young 20-something who is in superior physical shape--paced us through a series of abdominal exercises that repeated the same motions again and again.

I guess that word had gotten out that Vickie would not be there, because some of the regulars--folks in my age group--were not in attendance, and there was a crowd of new young men and women I did not recognize.  They loved the routine.  I couldn't keep up.

I shouldn't have tried.  I strained something in my back, and I haven't felt the same all week.  Yesterday was bad--and I almost didn't go to the 10:30 AM class.  But I did, Vickie was there, and though she included, because one person requested it, an ab workout, I was glad I'd kept my commitment to be there.  I loosened my back muscles, and that has helped me feel better.

I realize that yoga's spiritual roots don't mesh with the Methodist beliefs I acquired in my Nebraska small-town up-bringing.  But I do believe in meditation, and that is something I enjoy about the yoga classes: being encouraged to leave everything else behind for those fifty minutes.  My temperament is such that I meditate my way through every day--I've always been one of those pensive types, observing others, sensing thoughts and feelings, and working out my own feelings and thoughts.  Maybe that's why I like the meditation part.

I like feeling as if my muscles are becoming stronger.  It seems as if my legs are becoming more toned, and I can feel the muscles there.  I am still a weakling when it comes to my upper and lower arms; I knew I was not strong, but I really did not know just how not-strong I am until I was challenged with yoga poses that require arm strength for balancing.  Seriously, there is no way I am able to handle these.  Yet.

Slow learner that I am--when it comes to physical tasks--it finally dawned on me that the poses are all about tension and flexion.  When Brittany was a baby and we went two or three times every week to occupational therapy, her exercises were all about tension, flexion, and weight-bearing to strengthen her left brachial plexus.  I got that.  So, in yoga, we tense and we flex and we grow strong.

And we have to remember to keep breathing while we do that.

And find our center, find our balance.

Isn't that life?  We go through a series of challenges in which we alternately experience tension and then relief and flexion.  We learn to keep breathing.  We learn to focus to maintain balance.

Thinking back to elementary school, junior high, and ninth grade physical education classes, I can't remember any times when I had fun or felt good.  I was not athletic, and I was not one of the kids who would be at the top of any team captain's wish list--so I know how it feels to be one of the last picked for a team.  I hated Dodgeball (we had one sadistic male coach who loved to aim the ball right at the girls' chests).  I hated our blue "onesie" PE uniforms; hated having to take community showers.  We would do exercises to a lovely little ditty on the record player, titled, "Go You Chickenfats, Go!"  Of course, I felt just like a big ole chicken fat blob.  Lovely.  My dad had suffered a broken neck during gymnastics in phys ed his junior year in high school; I did not enjoy our gymnastics units.  Do I need to continue?  You get the point.  If I could have opted out of physical education and taken up crocheting class instead, I would have been first in line.

Now, I think yoga would have been a good physical education class.  Not "hot yoga" or other fast-paced yoga workouts, but the slower-paced classes that I attend.  No sweat; therefore, no showers required.  Nice stretchy "uniforms" that could pass as street clothes.  Nice mood music.  Meditation,  Breathing.  Tension.  Flexion.  Balance.  Challenge to do your personal best.  Strength, endurance, and health benefits.  A practice you can maintain throughout a lifetime.

So, if someone made me the PE Czar, I would proclaim yoga as the new PE curriculum for students of all ages.  And all other PE classes would be electives.  I'm sure that's why I will never be made the PE Czar, but I think it's a dandy idea.  (Just like I'd like to be the Lunch Lady Czar and implement menu guidelines--you just don't want to go there, I'm sure my ideas on school lunch would be even more unpopular than my yoga proposal!)

I am the "PE Czar for Cathy Barr," so I can proclaim yoga as my current official physical education regimen.  I'm going to go meditate on that for a while.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wobbly Bits

Okay, I haven't been blogging.   I do feel the need to state the obvious before I move on to my explanation.  I've already stated that I've found it difficult to find the energy to write after I spend a full day writing curriculum to meet project deadlines. 

And mostly, that's what's been going on for me: ten hours a day, researching and developing.  Writing lesson plans for other teachers to implement is not the same as writing a lesson plan for yourself.  If you're writing for yourself, you already know what's in your head, and you don't have to provide written instructions to connect the dots from one step to the next.  You are also in complete control of the classroom resources, and can tap into texts, videos, internet to supplement the lesson.  Furthermore, you know your students, and you can accurately predict their reactions to the activities, and how quickly they will internalize the concepts or skills.  The lessons I write must be detailed. must provide the logic for how each step leads to the next.  The activities must include all the materials the teachers and students will need.  And there should be minimal need for teachers to duplicate hard copies of documents to students.

The format I've developed includes a detailed lesson plan and a PowerPoint (because I know that this client has provided a projector connected to the internet in every classroom, and many classrooms also have SMART Board technology).  The PowerPoint is the visual aid that the teachers need to provide the visual input for students.  Some lessons also have handouts for students that the teachers must duplicate--but I do that only when it is the sole means of providing the information.

I've almost completed the lesson plans for the first five weeks of the school year.  After that, I will be developing a workshop for the teachers, to explain the plan for the school year, how the materials can be accessed, and what to expect in the plans and materials.

My production schedule keeps me two terms ahead of what the teachers are implementing.  So, by the time students arrive for the first day of school on August 13, I will be developing the third of six units (their semesters are sub-divided into three terms--most are six weeks, though the final term of the school year is seven weeks, and the first term is five).  That means I'm not writing at the last minute, and not writing "on-demand" like a short-order cook.  But it also means that when things need to be adjusted, I'm making those adjustments to future lessons, not to the ones that are currently being delivered.

I'm allowing two weeks in September for my left eye cataract surgery and cornea transplant.  I know that I have to lie flat on my back for two days post-surgery, and I'll have two follow-up appointments during the first two weeks.  The air bubble makes seeing difficult, and that doesn't dissipate fully for five-to-seven days.  I figure the most I can do during that time is listen to audio books--and let's face it, anything I could actually use in my lesson plans would be very boring listening!  I've got a couple of mysteries in my iTunes Library waiting for the recovery period.

Does that help explain things?

Ten hours of research and writing pretty well leaves me exhausted, mentally and physically.  I'm not sure I could even type accurately at the end of the day.  And if I started out the morning by blogging, I think I would work past my time allotment, and I'd have my brain divided thinking about my blog topic and the lesson plan topic.  It's not that I can't focus on more than one project at a time; I can, and I have.  It's that I get caught up in what I'm doing, get into a "flow" and I just don't want to stop.  I'm that person, the one who works ten hours on a project, barely stops to eat or drink, and then stays up until four in the morning--turning a ten hour day into a twenty hour marathon.

There may be redemption for me.  We will see.  Though I have repeatedly broken my promise to myself to post five essays each week, I have been faithful with my weekly Tuesday sort and toss.  Though Bruce and I started--and failed to be faithful to yet another round of "Let's be really healthy and follow our Slim4Life diet!" I have made a new commitment to take charge of my health and well-being as I round off my fifth decade of life, and I have managed to go three whole weeks and stay on track.  Not bad for a woman of a certain age.

I would never have done this, but my friend, Laura Tewes, called me in late June and asked if I'd like to join her.  At the Legacy Park Recreation Center.  For yoga class.

I really like Laura.  She promised it would not be too difficult.  She said that yoga has changed her life--she even took her yoga mat with her to Barcelona, Spain on vacation!  She told me she had an extra yoga mat I could use, and she would come get me.  And when I said I didn't have the right kind of workout clothes, she told me that my seersucker capris and a t-shirt would be just fine.

She was right.  Well, almost right: Yoga is difficult.  But our teacher, Victoria, makes sure that we know we can modify any of the poses to meet our own restrictions and to be comfortable.  And, much to my surprise, I did like yoga.  (My friend and former student, Stephanie Rieser Globus is an enthusiast, and she told me I'd like it, too.)

There are yoga classes that I attend on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  With drive time, it's a 90-minute commitment.  I'm driving myself, and I meet Laura for classes.  I bought some yoga capris and yoga tops on sale, and a mat and mat carrying bag.  And two yoga DVDs.  I figure that the more skin I have in the game, the more likely it is that I'll continue following through with my commitment. 

What I've found is that I have zero upper body strength.  Well, actually, I've known that my entire life and Ive just never done anything about it.  Back in my youth, I could never do push-ups or pull-ups or arm-hangs.  Thank goodness we didn't have the rope climb or other such tortures that kids endure in PE (I guess you can tell I am not the athletic type). 

And, my balance is off.  Of course, I've been complaining about that for the past five months--and especially after my right eye surgery.  My balance is off-kilter and my depth perception is terrible.  So, I cannot do any of the poses where you are supposed to be on one foot or one knee.  And I cannot manage to reach behind my back and take hold of a foot.  But Vicki says it's okay to hold on to the wall or the dance bar (we're in a dance class room, surrounded by mirrors).  So, I watch Vicki and I watch the other students and I do my best to try all of the poses that I can--even if I am wobbly and weak and really do look quite comical.

I also cannot do any of the poses that have me upside down with pressure on my eyes or legs in the air with pressure on my eyes.  I don't want to jeopardize my donor tissue--or the integrity of the healing process.  Regaining sight in my right eye is a miracle, and I'm taking great care of what I've been blessed to receive.

The thing is, in yoga you get up close and personal with your body.  Three times each week, I've been face-to-face with my cellulite and thunder thighs and my old-lady arm fat.  I know exactly where those 20 pounds I'd like to lose need to come from.  Wearing the yoga pants--spandex--is as much about the fact that every ounce of "wobbly bits" shows as it is about having the right clothes.

Sitting at my desk doing research or writing, I don't have to think about my lack of muscle tone and the abundance of cellulite and fat cells.  But for an hour three times each week, it's all out there for everyone in class to see--and more importantly, for me to see.

When it comes down to it, we all know that we have the power to change ourselves.  I told Bruce that my goal is to attend yoga classes regularly so that by August 2013 I will be able to do all of the poses.  I don't expect to have all of them mastered, mind you, but I want to be able to do a decent job of trying.

And if I see less and less cellulite and fat cells and wobbly bits, that will be a good thing, too.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Farm & Home

The only family history I'm sure of is my own.  Sometimes, hearing my mother or sister tell their versions of past events, I even wonder about that.  It's amazing how three people each have a different account of what occurred!  What?  You think it happened that way?  No, no, let me tell you how it really happened!

After Dad died, my sister and I helped Mom get things in order.  As we worked, we reminisced; as we talked, we found that each of us had entirely different relationships with our parents, and we had different memories as well.  Shari is five years my junior; she was born three days after I turned five years old, so when I was off at school, she had Mom all to herself (just as I had, before Shari was born).  Then, again, after I set off to college, Shari faced her junior high school and senior high school years with our parents' full attention.  We had different experiences with the same parents!

Of course, we shared memories with events in which we both played a major role.  Our summer in Huron, South Dakota holds vivid memories of living in a rented trailer, picnics and fishing along the James River (where I caught a huge northern pike), and car trips where we sang, "Who Put the Bop in the Bop-Sha-Bop-Sha-Bop?" at the top of our lungs and had one unfortunate incident with spilled lemon shushes all over the backseat.

Growing up, the family history I knew best was that of my parents; I heard the stories about them growing up in oil boom towns that no longer existed, of the physical education accident when Dad broke his neck, of how Mom left home at age 14 to live and work and go to high school on her own.  We would visit ElDorado for a week in the summer, dividing our time there between Grandma and Grandpa Brown, Grandma Laura, and one visit to Grandpa Chase's house.  I knew that all of my grandparents had lived part of their lives on farms in Oklahoma, in Woodward County.

Grandma Brown told the most stories about her Oklahoma years.  Her father, James Winton Rhudy, and mother, Mary Jane Shepherd Rhudy, had a homestead not far from Fargo.  I met Grandma's sisters, Emma and Hettie at Grandpa's funeral.  Her brother, Basil had died in 1941; I don't remember meeting her other brother, Robert.  After my great-grandparents died, they left each of the four living offspring a portion of their homestead.  Lottie (Grandma) inherited 79.36 acres of pasture land and crop fields.

Shari and I had never been to the farm.  We'd heard stories about rattlesnakes, copperheads, and coral snakes; we'd heard it was a desolate place.  We didn't even know how to get there--and we knew that Mom wouldn't be able to navigate us.  For years, a local farmer has planted and harvested crops; when he contacted Shari to let her know he'd harvested the wheat and sold his share, she told Omer that we planned to visit, and asked if he'd be kind enough to be our guide.

That's how we met up with Omer's cousin, Mike Schneider.  Omer has decided to retire from farming, and has sold his farm to move to the city.  Mike has made a career in local construction, farming, and ranching; we are fortunate to be in business with him.  It's never been our plan to be absentee landowners who let the old homestead turn into a wasteland.

We had a great plan:  Bruce and I drove to Wichita on Thursday evening, to spend the night with Shari.  She had already prepped Mom for the road trip.  We were on the way before our 10 AM estimate, and enjoying lunch in downtown Enid, Oklahoma at noon.  Even in the heatwave, our trip was calm and cool.

Then, we met trouble in the form of a two-mile swath of road debris just north of the entrance to the Gloss Mountain Park.  There was no way to swerve to avoid what hit us--a chunk of razor sharp steel-belted radial tire that tore up the underlining of the front right bumper and ripped a hole on the inside sidewall of the right rear tire.  We heard and felt the impact, which was immediately followed by the thwack-thwack-thwacking of the flat tire.  It was 2 PM and 105 degrees with no shade.  We were at the top of a hill and couldn't see the traffic behind us; luckily, Bruce had pulled off the road and onto a grassy private entrance to a fenced pasture, so we were completely off the road, not even on the shoulder area.  And, we had eight bottles of ice water in our cooler, with two large hunks of dry ice.  We called AAA, and thanks to the magic of GPS, we could tell the operator our exact location--sort of right in the middle of nowhere, forty-five minutes from anywhere.  We would have to be patient and wait for roadside assistance.
Phlat tire!  Victim of road debris.

Quite a few trucks and cars passed by in the first forty-five minutes of our wait.  Then, a white pick-up crested the hill and slowed down...drove ahead...then turned around and came back.  These two wonderful people had just suffered the same fate, down the hill behind us.  They had moved to the area just recently, and had set out on an afternoon drive while they anxiously waited to hear if their offer on a house in Waynoka had been accepted.  They were on their way to the tire store in Fairview.  We refused their offer for assistance, knowing we'd already called AAA.  But they insisted on exchanging names and phone numbers, and they even called us from the tire store to check on us.

Shari hunted for rocks, picked up some samples of the road debris, and kept urging us to drink water and stay hydrated.  Mom sat patiently and didn't complain once.  I think she enjoys getting to go with us on day trips and for weekends and holidays.  
Mom was a good traveler.  At 84 she is going strong.

Gloss Mountain Park.

Our view for the afternoon.  Not too bad.

Wild flowers - thistles.

More folks passed by.  A beat up red sedan stopped, and another kind soul, a local woman, stopped to offer help.  A bit later, another pickup truck, an oil field worker, checked to see if we needed help.  Finally, the AAA-contacted mechanic arrived, and in short order, the flat was replaced with the spare.
Bruce and our roadside assistance mechanic.

Shari passed the time by rock hunting and making sure we all stayed hydrated.

We had a leisurely drive to Woodward--out of necessity because of the spare tire.  Our plan to visit the courthouse offices went flat with the tire.  Our appointment with Mike was rescheduled to Saturday morning.  The hunt for the right size of tire was on.  We settled for a near-match--and if we hadn't, we'd still be in Oklahoma!

I cannot recommend Woodward for fine dining.  We drove around, settled on a steak place with a lot of customers, which is usually a sign that you are going to be fine.  It was okay--basically not "homemade" food.  Mom and I had chicken strips--and they were what I'd call frozen chicken nugget quality.  Shari had ribs with St. Louis style sauce, and Bruce had steak and shrimp.  Again, not "homemade."  But one meal isn't a fair indicator of the local cuisine, so I'm trying not to let this one experience determine my overall impression.

Saturday morning, we met Mike.  Shari and Mom rode with him in his truck; Bruce and I followed behind, the new tire securely in place for our "off road" driving.  Mike was a terrific guide.  We can navigate on our own next time.

I can remember two houses that my parents owned while I was growing up, plus their house in Wichita.  We don't have, like some families do, home that's been in the family for generations.  What we do have is this farm.  James Winton Rhudy participated in the Oklahoma land run, had staked a parcel, only to find that another fellow had flagged it before him, and had to find a new parcel to claim.  Grandma talked of the covered wagon trip from King City, Missouri to the homestead.  Sadly, I don't remember many of the specific details.  But I felt a sense of awe standing there on the land where ancestors trod.  Shari and I scooped up jars of soil to take back home with us; Mom wants to sprinkle some on Dad's grave, and I like having a reminder of that part of my heritage.
Looking east and north toward the pasture land.

Looking west toward the wheat field.

It's not that far and it's not a bad road trip.  We will need to return soon, and take my girls and their husbands.  Mike recommended that we replace the fencing and dig a well.  We agreed.  The fence is old and not tall enough for penning cattle in the pasture; without a well, and no creek running through the property, grazing cattle would not be an option.  So, Mom will invest in improvements to the property, and we will want to see the land in the spring, when things are green.

I brought home some wild sand plums from a thicket growing alongside the road.  I also picked some gourds from vines growing wild in the ditches--something we don't have in Missouri.  No snake sightings, thankfully.  Lots of ant hills.  And flies.  Sunflowers.  Wheat and rye.

We left Woodward around noon, and arrived back in Wichita without incident.  Bruce and I were home and in bed by 11 PM.  Long day, but a good one.  We traveled from the homestead and across Kansas, and arrived back home in Missouri, not too far from where the Rhudy family had started their journey over a century ago.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


It's been several years since we've had a back yard vegetable garden.  Our house was built in the summer of 1987; we planted a strawberry patch, tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer of 1988.  The strawberry patch eventually gave way to pepper plants, we expanded our vegetable selection to include zucchini, and filled the northeast corner with tomatoes and cucumbers.  Dad fashioned tomato cages from wire fencing, nailed more of the wire fence to our wooden privacy fence so I could train the unruly vines and constructed a compost box for me.  The summers when we had our privacy fence were summers of gardening abundance: we had more tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini than we could possibly eat or freeze.  We shared the bounty with family and friends.

This year, I am enjoying the container garden experience--and learning that containers require different maintenance than in-ground gardens.  Specifically, I am finding that it is absolutely necessary for me to thoroughly soak the soil at least once a day--and on particularly hot days, maybe twice!  The topsy-turvy tomatoes must be watered daily.

Last week, during the first hot and windy day, I peeked out the dining room window to find two of the tomato containers blown over into the lawn; their soil had dried out completely, and they were so top-heavy with little green fruits that the wind had toppled them.  Of course, I rushed for the garden hose, set the containers upright, and soaked the soil until overflowing.  When I checked them early the next morning, the soil was nearly dry again!  Whatever our summer plans are, I am now certain that I must make provisions for daily watering and tending of the tomatoes. 

The zucchini and spaghetti squash beg for a drink each mid-afternoon.  If I don't keep my drink date with them, they simply collapse as if in mourning, limp and sad.  So far, they have been easily revived--in fact, it has been amazing to actually watch their leaves soak up the moisture, transform from droopy to perky.

The cucumbers had me fooled.  They had seemed impervious to the heat.  But on Friday, the day of my shameful neglect, even the cucumbers wilted in the heat.  The topsy-turvy tomatoes threatened to shrivel up and never bear fruit.  Yet, a suppertime liquid libation, overnight cool spell, and promise of Saturday showers rejuvenated them and all of the garden plants.

The garden strives to grow.  We've already been rewarded with an abundance of cucumbers, banana peppers, and zucchini, and even a handful of ripened tomatoes.  One large spaghetti squash hangs ripening from its vine; several green peppers have grown to a size nearly suitable for harvest; the container tomatoes boast vines heavy with unripened fruits.  I strive--in my own way--to tend the garden.  I keep a watchful eye, and I water daily--if not exactly at the same time each day.  I'm not saying my striving is perfection--because it's not.  I'm not a gardener whose day is consumed with gardening tasks.  I'm not up at 5 AM to work in the garden before I get on with my other work (though I had considered the possibility of adopting this routine).  My "striving" might be described as more of an experiment in just how self-sufficient the garden can be; how much time and effort I need to invest in the garden's maintenance to yield positive results.

You might say that my garden thrives despite my neglect.  I might say that; it's true.  No one could accuse me of being a "helicopter" gardener, hovering over each plant, pruning and fertilizing and testing the soil staking and mulching and watering throughout the day.  I plant, I water, I harvest.  Some of the garden residents are flourishing; others have wilted, withered, died.

That's what got me to thinking: why?  We used the same potting soil in all of the containers.  I added the same measure of Miracle Grow to each container, eggshells and epsom salt to the tomatoes.  I am equally negligent in watering all of the plants.  Mostly, the plants have grown and blossomed and thrived on their own.  Why have some--under all the same conditions--failed to grow, failed to live?

Take, for example, the case of the two herb planters.  Both are planted with sage in the top tier, Italian oregano in the middle tier, and "rambling" rosemary in the bottom tier.  One planter is thriving.  The sage has take root, the oregano has nearly overtaken the space, and the rosemary has rambled.
 Just beside the first planter, the other shows mixed results.  Its sage has grown fuller and taller, its oregano is hardy; however, the rosemary failed to thrive.
 In metaphorical terms, gardens are like classrooms, and the plants are like our students.  Why do some students fail to flourish, while others thrive?

Teachers always worry about the students who don't thrive in our classrooms.  At the secondary level, teachers may only have 45 minutes a day or 90 minutes every other day to interact with a classroom of 25 to 30 students.  Our students range in skill level from reading below grade level to reading at the college level; their economic resources may range from poverty to wealth; their home lives may range from chaotic to stable.  During the class time that we control--or think we control--we strive to provide instruction that is simultaneously the same for all and different for each.  We know we must meet high standards and hold all of our students accountable for that learning, but we must individualize to meet the students' differentiated needs.

It's not an easy enterprise.  Students don't arrive in the classroom with little tags, like a gardener's plant does, to tell us if they prefer sun or shade, dry soil or moist, will sprout tendrils and vine or grow bushy.  Teaching is both art and science, and it is personal.  We share lessons that reflect how we think, and in the process, we intend to engage students, inspire and motivate them to think, to learn, to know, and to do.  We are rewarded when that happens--and worried when it doesn't.

Teachers cannot be negligent gardeners.  They must be constant in their attention to their students, responsive to those who need more care, determining the right balance of challenge and support, so that the students will strive and thrive and ultimately survive on their own.  Most do.  They willingly learn the lessons, pass the tests.

It's the students who don't thrive that perplex us.

Why didn't that rambling rosemary survive?  Was there something lacking in the soil?  Did I water it too much?  -Too little?  Did it get too much sun?  --Not enough?  Did I neglect it?  --Give it too much attention?

Who knows?

Who knows why some students don't thrive in our schools?  All I do know is that, as a classroom teacher, learning was fun when the students wanted to learn, opened themselves to the educational experiences.  That was the single variable that made the difference--not reading ability, not special education designation,  not social or economic background.  It was the pro-learning attitude.  Without that, anything I did would have been futile.  The pro-learning students had already taken on responsibility for their own knowledge and skill acquisition; every experience in their lives was a learning experience, in the classroom and outside of the classroom.

If I had a magic wand--like the sprinkler wand I use for watering my garden--I'd wave the wand and proclaim every child to magically possess a pro-learning attitude.  That would be my fix.  It's as good a guess as any.  And as hard to prove.  Certainly not a gift that someone can magically bestow.

How do we influence society to adopt a pro-learning attitude so that all of our children will strive and thrive and survive?  That's the question that I'm pondering.  It's personal.  It's political.  It's what's bothering me.