This year, my boyfriend and I exchanged gifts on the solstice, since we wouldn't be home on merry Christmas, and now my head is filled with ideas to celebrate next year's solstice. So I thought I'd record them here to inspire me next year:

a candlelit dinner and a fire in the fire place
exchanging of gifts (before flying off to family)
a solstice tree (to be planted if possible and with edible decorations for the birds: popcorn strings, apple slices, etc.)
a moonlit/starry walk
and maybe some yoga and sun salutations to remember that days are going to start getting longer.

Here comes the sun, doo doo doo dooooooo.


time to be gourmet

This Christmas vacation was spent with my boyfriend's family in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the snow continuously fell on the Mississippi River, and all I had to do was cook, eat, and read. So on Christmas, I made chocolate truffles and venison meat balls with spaghetti (next time, I want to make fresh pasta), yesterday was brined and roasted chicken with acorn squash stew, and then, tonight was the piece de resistance:

For a first course, mushroom, bacon, and sherry chowder which I used several recipes to make, creating thereby a recipe of my own. To redo, I would say cook 4 pieces of bacon in the soup pan until crisp and then set aside. Add 2 tbsb. of flour to the warm bacon grease, whisking until smooth. Add 2 cups of vegetable/chicken broth, bringing to a boil. Then lower to a simmer and add 4 cups mushrooms, 1 shallot, 1 leek (which I didn't use this time), 2 stalks of celery, 2 sprigs of time, a sprig of sage, and kosher salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove sprigs and add 2.5 cups of whole milk and half of the cooked bacon. Keep warm until ready to serve, at which point you add the rest of the crumbled bacon.
Second course was surf and turf: NY strip steaks grilled med.-rare and lobster tails with a beurre blanc.
Since I wanted a lemony bb, I added a couple of narrow pieces of lemon peels.

 My boyfriend did a fabulous job rubbing down and grilling the steaks, and he also made a wonderful apple pie. He is the pastry chef in our little family, although he learned a lot about making crust from my talented mother, who makes delightful pie.

And I, because I never had before, and because my boyfriend's father loves it so much, made bread pudding. Yum yum yum yum yum. I found this delightful holiday recipe that calls for eggnog and bourbon or brandy, and I used brandy. I didn't change this recipe much, but I did add a few dashes of cinamon in addition to nutmeg.

And yes, we all watched "Julie and Julia" last night, which inspired me, and Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking is officially on my wish-list.

Bon appetit!


Examiner article: tea for Christmas

I just published my first Examiner article in over a month (lost password, etc.); it's a brief introduction to blending tea with a recipe included. Check it out. I will be trying to keep my blog and the Examiner site more up-to-date moving forward.

cookies and pizza

Above are raspberry linzertorte thumbprints that I made for a Christmas party I went to; the recipe is from the December/January Readymade. They have hazelnuts, lemon zest, cocoa, cinnamon, and curry in them! I also made pistachio and cocoa truffles and the gingerbread men, women, angels, etc. below and set up a cookie decorating station at the party.

I bought my boyfriend a pizza stone for Christmas. Here's a picture of our first pizza, which we undercooked. But the second pizza turned out great; maybe our best homemade pizza to date with a great, firm crust, mozzarella cheese, goat cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms and brussel sprouts sauteed in wine, green olives, red onion, and thick sweet bacon.


Acoustic liberation

For those who love to craft and read, check out Librivox, an "acoustic liberation of books in the public domain." Perfect for when one wants to craft and read at the same time. Today, I'm going to make teas and Christmas cookies while listening to Emma by Jane Austen.

Black Rock City

For the past two nights, I have dreamed about BRC. I believe the universe may be telling me something.


kittens, crafts, books

Elijah and Leno

CD coaster that I collaged.

An old photograph from Mexico that I collaged over.

Why I love the library.


daily tea

This morning started with the concoction of a sore-throat-be-gone! tea. I need to look for some additional ingredients when I go to the store tonight, but here's what I consumed a whole pot of (except for the one cup I shared with my boyfriend):

sore-throat-be gone! tea: (in order from most to least)
rose hips
raspberry leaf

This brewed into a lovely, fruity red tea that sated me for a while.

I've been finding thousands of amazing, inspiring blogs lately, filled with amazing links and photographs of textures and patterns in nature, embroidery and typographic stitch work by Evelin Kasikov, interior design, sock puppets, felt animals, applique, and all things artistic and crafty and motivating. After scouring these blogs all afternoon yesterday, I went  home to collage my sketch book, finish designing a costume for BRC, and work on some embroidery. I am mad. I am filled with lust for knowledge. I want to know: How do I make that?! I feel more and more compelled to learn and create. It drives me, especially through these long nights and short cloudy days when I can't garden in the sunshine.

Tonight, I learn to knit. But really, I am currently more interested in embroidery like that of Kosikov, applique, and the blending of creative form and function.

Current projects:
braided rug (almost done!)
"reading is sexy" embroidered bookmark
applique curtains to hang below turn tables
applique grocery store bags...guerilla style?
"dome sweet dome" cross-stitch pillow
collage desk
paint bedroom and craft/art/spare room
and, I just started designing a new style of embroidery/cross-stitch influenced by Kosikov

Here's my collaged sketch book.

I'll see where this takes me. I have a feeling I'm at the beginning of an endless, twisting, narrow road with vistas only limited by my imagination.


Crafty Christmas

For Christmas this year, tea and catnip-stuffed felt mouseys, hand-sewn. The pleasure of medicinal, delicious herbs, spices, flowers, and teas for feline and human alike.

Last summer at Burning Man, this lovely girl named Melody, dark-haired, dark-eyed, and elfish, made our campmates and guests tea that she'd blended and brewed herself. Drinking it made me feel nourished, spirited, ready for a night of adventure and dance. Since then, stomach troubles and a desire for nourishing liquids awakened my memories of Melody's tea and curiosity. Why not blend my own? I'd already done a lot of reading, through my interest in gardening, about herbs and their medicinal value. Thus, the birth of my new daily habit: homemade tea. As gifts, I've made Dancing Tea, Tum-Tum Tea, and Elijah's Sleepy Time Tea. Blending tea, for me, is like composing poetry, playful, creative, but also deliberate, with purpose.

Tonight's tea: green, jasmine, and orange peel. This tea was, admittedly, a bit of a mistake from my Christmas blending. I didn't label the bag completely and discovered that what I thought was assam tea was actually green. Oops, beginner's mistake. Still, yum.

grow brain, beat heart!

I've been reading, skimming, scanning, studying a lot lately. Here are a few of the books that make my little brain grow and my little heart beat:

The Virgin Suicides
by Jeffrey Eugenides:
This book is about the danger of generalizing, the mystery of the human heart, and the aching, painful adolescent longing for love. It's about time past and youth lost. It's about change and decay and the inability to hold on. Certain images make the groin throb; others make the heart ache. Sometimes, while reading, every moment of adolescent awkwardness and longing flashed through me. Other times, I remembered the dreams that I can't have back again. The novel is dark, humorous, nostalgic, sad, lyrical. The writing is astounding, almost perfect. Wonderful.

Housekeeping by Marilynn Robinson
Haven't finished this one yet, but I can see why it's the favorite of some. Every sentence is carefully crafted. Every word seems painstakingly chosen. Each image speaks upon the theme of the temporal. The sentences are poetry. This book is dense, beautiful, like a song echoed across a lake.

Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
I had to buy this book. This book revolutionizes. Practical. Smart. Political. Confident. Hemenway guides the reader through the reasons and ways to create an edible garden that acts like a natural ecosystem: balanced, holistic, organic.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
Prose helps the writer study, savor, and love the ultimate writing guides: great literature. This book might not make the reader want to write, but it will make the reader want to read more slowly, more carefully, with more appreciation and joy and love for each deliberately chosen word and carefully crafted sentence.

Creation is.

There is so much talent out there. Inspiration in every nook. It floods me, fills me up. I want to shout! I want to dance! I want to add to the beauty of the world, to celebrate it by becoming a part of it. It's incredible to think about the lives of people, and how they have destroyed or created (Hitler vs. da Vinci for example). And then there's the nuance. Many of us destroy and create. I believe that a beautiful life is one lived in the pursuit of creation. Creation is love incarnate. Creation is god.


Bee resources on-line

Thanks to the blog Linda' Bees I have discovered a treasure-trove of sources and information on scientific research on bees, including CCD and efforts to preserve bee's health at eXtension.org. Also, there are educational articles about honey, beekeeping, etc.


October in Our Garden

We spent quite a few hours this weekend in our backyard, converting dull lawn to future Eden. On Friday, we attempted to sheet mulch one of our new jigsaw beds, a process of composting right in the garden bed that apparently works better if given enough time. Therefore, fall is a great time to sheet mulch. We dug the dirt from the bed, laid down a layer of green mulch (fresh grass clippings and comfrey), cardboard and newspaper, more green, and then we refilled with dirt (although the directions that we read instructed us to just put mulch) and put a few inches of maple tree mulch. We'll let that winter over and decompose into lovely rich soil, hopefully!
I also planted garlic bulbs: organic Germain porcelain garlic along eastern border of strawberry patch, organic silver rose garlic toward center of strawberry patch, and organic early Italian garlic near the rose bush.
I planted green onions and borage in with the strawberries as well. Next to the rose bush I created a bed of garlic, strawberries (I need to get better with names), mint, and catnip. Most of what I'm doing, despite all of the reading that I've been doing lately, is experimental. Will the garlic and onions grow? Will the borage reseed and if so, did my planting it in the ground have an effect? These are questions to be answered next spring.

I also dug up my neighbor's over-crowded daffodil bulbs (Or so she says they are. They were very crowded under her fig tree and extremely small. Even the larger ones--the size of Elijah's foot--were small) and planted them around the tree stump in my front yard, near the rose bush, and around the mistletoe tree (not sure what kind of tree it is as of yet, but so we're calling it for now). I know for a fact that I planted some iris bulbs that have been cooped up in an over-crowded container for I don't know how long. I also planted some bulbs that I believe to be grape hycinth, although again, a guess. But who knows what will appear next spring: hosts of daffodils and grape hycinths? Nothing at all? Some surprise tulips--a girl can dream.

I also created another bed where I put the lavender, sage, and heebies that my neighbor gave me. I plan to also throw down some crop cover seeds there and anywhere else I decide that I don't have the materials to sheet mulch.

Finally, in the front bed, I threw down lupine, phlox, and poppy seeds as well as planted two pink daylillies. Hooray!

I believe my fall planting may be over (with the exception of crop cover seeds); now the joyful anticipation of what will happen in the spring.


geodesic dome greenhouse

Last year's snow storm led to the collapse of many hoop houses in the north west. Therefore, how do we who want a back-yard greenhouse prevent this problem? Consider building a geodesic dome greenhouse.

Article idea: how to build an affordable, portable, and EXTREMELY durable geodesic dome greenhouse.


Backyard Transformance

We have a lot to accomplish in our future garden paradise, as seen in the photo on the left. My boyfriend recently trimmed the apple tree so that our garden would have more light. Now, what to do with the branches? Build a wooden garden fence? Have a few fires in the fire place?

To the right is a photo of our new raised beds that B. built after I told him where the best lighting in our yard is for veggies. We're now in the process of composting with homemade compost, chicken manure, and dead leaves to get ready for spring planting.


First article for Examiner.com

My first article for as a Portland Gardening Examiner has been published: it's about planning and planting a bee-friendly garden. Check it out here. And please subscribe to my homepage and to read future articles on topics listed in my earlier post.


Ideas for articles

I am starting my freelance writing career. More to follow on that. For now, a list of possible articles for my gig as a Portland Gardening Examiner.

Share Cropping in SE Portland, see OR Public Radio for week of 9/28
Gardening for/with people with disabilities
Urban Guerrilla Gardening in Portland
Urban Homesteading
Permaculture for lower-middle income
Permaculture vs. Homesteading: What's the Difference?
Urban Homesteaders Potluck???
Home Orchard Society
Steve Solomon: guru of organic gardening from Oregon
Portland Permaculture Institute
Growing Gardens

How to make your own incense
Rating local nurseries
Gardening events in Portland
Bee Keeping
Benefits of Chickens and City Ordinances
A butterfly garden
planning for winter
winter projects: creative containers, window boxes, planning for spring, indoor gardening
the indoor garden
local gardens: Japanese, rose garden, peninsula park, classical chinese garden, berry botanic garden
community gardens
volunteer opportunities
where to go for cheap merchandise (bulbs, etc.)
butterfly houses
benefits of bees
think eco-native plants
starting tomatoes
growing tomatoes upside down
fall planting
how to build raised beds
cat garden
companion planting
using color
OR garden in Silverton
homesteading on low income without a car


The Berry Botanic Garden

The Berry Botanic Garden in SW Portland offers educational experiences galore for the novice gardener. They need volunteers to help with gardens, greenhouse, research, education, public relations, and administration. For example, the greenhouse volunteer position offers opportunities to assist horticultural staff, including planting seeds and cuttings, helping with transplanting and divisions, and helping maintain the greenhouse and nursery areas. This position is a weekly commitment from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays, but most positions look fairly open-ended. Something to consider if you feel the itch for hands-on learning opportunities but can't afford to take classes.


over due entry: Iron Chef Drink On

Is there anything better than early summer in Portland? The clouds are gone; the sun is here until nearly 10:30 at night; and the strawberries, salmon berries, and cherries are sweet and ripe. Why not celebrate with a garden cocktail party? Invite your friends over and create your own Iron Chef contest using Portland's characteristic herbs and fruits, your favorite types of liquor, a mortar and pestle, a blender, and a few typical mixers, such as lemon and lime juice and club soda. If your garden is rather small, have friends bring fresh pickings from their own gardens or borrow from your neighbors. Recommended selections would be in-season fruits and berries as well as white sage, rosemary, and mint. And in Portland in June, cherries, rosemary, and sage can be found almost as easily as blackberries can be in late summer. The rule for the Iron Chef contest is that contestants must create a cocktail using at least one of the garden ingredients, but here are some ideas. Gin infused with rosemary is surprisingly delicious. Cherries and mint muddled in lime soda will leave you wanting more. Muddle and strain salmon berries for a sweet martini. Sage goes surprisingly well with lemonade. So put on your cocktail dress, throw on your favorite lounge records, and celebrate the summer with some creative mixing and using the bounty of your (or a friend’s or neighbor’s) bounteous herb and fruit garden.


Saturday is National Honey Bee Awareness Day

My friend sent me this link about honey bees, that includes a checklist for getting started as a beekeeper, something that I'm interested in for several reasons: the way the bees will help my garden grow, to help the health of the bee population, interest in the fascinating lives of bees, and to collect my own honey and wax. There's something literary in this hobby as well, something rather poetic (see Sylvia Plath, William Shakespeare, William Butler Yeats, etc). Plus, it's not overly time-consuming, so I need not worry about traveling East for two weeks in the summer, etc.

I'm also using my interest in helping me plan my fall gardening, including planting some fall flowers (if I can find them) such as asters and foxglove and planting some bulbs for next spring. This will attract bees and aid in their dwindling population.

I'm also currently reading Plan Bee by Susan Brackney, an informative introduction for novices like me interested in beekeeping, chock full of information but written with a narrative, witty tone.


All the Shah's Men

All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror by Stephen Kinzer

The major premise of this modern history of Iran is that the 1953 coup orchestrated primarily by the C.I.A. that ousted Mohammad Mossadegh from power can be linked to the 911 terrorist attacks. Kinzer argues that the coup caused a chain reaction of events that wouldn't have taken place had President Eisenhower's administration taken the same attitude toward interference in developing country's progressive, nationalistic governments that President Truman took. During Truman's admin., the U.S. was a real friend to Iran, despising Britain's tyrannical, greedy control of their oil industry and appalled by the working and living conditions Iranian oil laborers were subjected to.

Mossadegh's mistake, according to Kinzer, was not recognizing that neutrality or apparent indifference to the spread of communism was considered, during Eisenhower's admin., to be synonymous with complicity. The U.S. saw Iran as a Soviet target as long as Mossadegh was in power.

Imperialistic and racist attitudes towards Iran on the part of Great Britain's Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and Winston Churchill's administration were the prelude to this act. The refusal to compromise on shared profits and working conditions created the great rift between Iran and the west, with Mossadegh leading the charge against western imperialism. Today, he is considered a symbol of freedom (although many, such as Islamic extremists, are threatened by this symbol).

The U.S. pulled the rug out from under Iran: it was the great betrayal. Prior to the coup, Iran considered the U.S. a great friend and ally, but since 1953, the animosity has only grown. The U.S. supported the Shah's tyrannical reign, and Iranians were outraged when President Carter gave him asylum after he was ousted in the 1979 revolution. The coup and the Shah's reign fed into extremist views; weakened Iran's moderate, nationalist party, the National Front; and helped pave the way for the take-over of Islamic extremists.

This is a fascinating account of a dangerous success that served as a precedent to the orchestration and planning of coups in Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, the Congo, and Vietnam, all of which caused countless deaths and great bitterness against the U.S.


The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera reminded me not only of why I loved Kundera's work prior to reading this but also of why I love to read. While I won't pretend to have understood much of this book and feel that it's definitely one to buy and re-read and savor, certain moments resound with poignant truth, such as the following:

" 'You begin to liquidate a people,' Hubl said, 'by taking away its memory. You destroy its books, its culture, its history. And then others write other books for it, give another culture to it, invent another history for it. Then the people slowly forget what it is and what it was. The world at large forgets it still faster.'
" 'And the language?'
" 'Why bother taking it away? It will become a mere folklore and sooner or later die a natural death.' " (218)

After reading this, my experience on the White Mountain Apache Reservation came to mind, and I thought about the history of the Native Americans since the arrival of European colonialists up through today.

Another passage that I loved: "Mirek rewrote history just like the Communist Party, like all political parties, like all peoples, like mankind. They shout that they want to shape a better future, but it's not true. The future is only an indifferent void no one cares about, but the past is filled with life, and its countenance is irritating, repellent, wouding, to the point that we want to destroy or repair it. We want to be masters of the future only for the power to change the past." (30-31)

How often do people change who they are in the hope to escape who they were? How often do we construct the future in order to erase or to emulate the past? This passage struck me with its truth on an individual level and on the level of new groups, cultures, governments tearing down statues, changing streets' names, burning books.

That's the forgetting. He writes about the exaggeration of forgetting, of the past being wiped away as if never existing, and he writes about the inability to forget, of being trapped, paralyzed in memory. And he writes beautifully about the laughter of angels and demons and how irreverent laughter can be, destroying moments meant to be sacrosanct. The humor of bodies, of love, of remembering, of living.

Mmmmm, yum. I want to add his work to my library.

Seeds for next year's garden

For next year:

Self-harvest poppy seeds (red, blue, pink)
self-harvested onions
unidentified small pinkish red flowers on tall green stalks that form small seed pods, easily harvested (I'm assuming they self re-seed easily)

Debating whether or not to sow the beet seeds, but packet says they do not fare well when sown after mid-July. So I'll probably hold off.


Gardening to-do

So, this month has comprised of a 200-mile, 2-day bike ride from Seattle to Portland, a wedding in Davis, Cali., a trip to the redwoods, searching for a new house, finding a new house, painting 2 rooms in that house, moving into that house (partially, still in the midst of it), a camp-out party with friends, and a funeral in Minneapolis, Minn. Needless to say, hectic and no time to blog.

I have harvested poppy seeds and onion seeds from my garden. The poppy seeds are easy. If dead-headed, they keep blooming, but when not dead-headed, the flower petals drop off and when the stalk is dry, the seeds easily fall out of the dried bulb. Have envelop on hand, clip off the top, and tip it upside down into the envelop.

I plan to transfer raspberries, salmon berries, mint, lemon balm, my marigolds and maybe my cosmos, and some baby trees that grow fast and furious and bloom from late summer through fall (first white flowers and then purplish red flowers) that I've yet to identify. I need to remember to harvest some more poppy seeds as well, because not all of the pink stalks were dry enough yet to harvest.

Also, I'm not a big fan on my dwarf asters. I don't think I'll get them again next year. Nasturtiums need work as well; they seem sun-burnt and are not flowering hardly at all.


Tobacco Mosaic Virus

I'm worried that my petunia has Tobacco Mosaic Virus due to the mottled discoloration on both the leaves and the flowers. I think that I may need to throw out this plant to prevent it from spreading to other plants, especially to my tomatoes, which fortunately are far away from both this plant and the ashtray that was sitting next to it! I will no longer be keeping an ashtray near my plants. Also, I need to remember to wash my hands after picking up cigarette butts/smoking.


You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening

Summer in Portland, Or is here, and to supplement getting my hands in the dirt a few times, I bought myself You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening by Gayla Trail. The book is filled with basic tips on everything from acidity to organic composting to guerrilla gardening. There are tons of crafty projects, such as building one's own planter or making an apron, so I'm looking forward to testing some projects from this book. This summer's focus, for me, will be the container garden, because I do have to move at the end of July. But I look forward to tips on transplanting, harvesting seeds, and building that planter. I want to take some strawberry and raspberries with me to my new home, and I have poppies growing in my yard and would like to harvest the seeds.

Meanwhile, I will read, dream, and container garden away!

There's also a sweet blog and website (actually started before the book was written) at yougrowgirl.com.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

This graphic novel by Craig Thompson is painstaking, lovingly done. He is a master of his art, telling stories through lyrical language and images.
Blankets is his story, a memoir about a childhood that was often painful, an awkward and lonely adolescence, and his first love, unabashadly portraying sexual abuse, poverty, questioning of one's identity and beliefs, sexual development, and learning how to love. This bildungsroman's chronicles his rivalry and playful love of his younger brother, his first heart-break, and Thompson's slow and gradual break from the strict Protestant faith he was raised in.

For high-school students, I would recommend permission slips: swearing, nudity, sexual content, and alienation from religion.

Recommended! Also, check out www.dootdootgarden.com, Thompson's online blog.

Cairo by G. Willow Wilson

Finished reading Cairo the other day, a graphic novel about a group of people trying to escape from an evil-doer who kidnaps and kills in an attempt to control a box that contains the ancient word "east" from the divine language.

Interesting conflicts include a reluctant young hero's journey from becoming a would-be martyr driven by anger to an altruistic young man driven by love and curiosity; an impassioned Egyptian journalist's and naive American girl's struggle to understand the other's desire to help the people of the region; and a drug-smuggling arrogant Egyptian discovering love with an Israeli special forces operative. It's a story that blends ancient myth with modern realism--sort of a magical realism-- about love, acceptance, and repositioning of egos.

High-school student appropriate: little swearing, no nudity.

Illustrated by M.K. Perker.
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Published by DC/Vertigo 2007


Only 12 more days of school after today and then, back to subbing? I'm not going to think about how much I'll miss knowing that I'm a high-school lit. teacher with a myriad of responsibilities and the task of taking students on a dive into the wonderful literature of the world and guiding them to think about characters, motives, author intent, etc. Instead, I'm dreaming of summer, summer, summer.

Summer to-do: (when not gardening, biking, reading novels, picnicking, camping...)
Constitution class/workshop
reapply for teacher's license
research teaching abroad jobs


living...and writing

Unlike my initial launch of this blog, I no longer want it to be about anything. If I feel like writing about my parents, books, learning how to knit, my students, my vices, my fears, my hopes, I'm going to write about them. I've always been terrified by the idea of an audience, to the point where it's ruined my writing. It's prevented me from being really honest, and it's stopped me from taking real risks, both killers in writing. The idea of having an audience even led me to demand that all of my writing was something worthwhile, which totally negates the purpose of most expressive writing: to express one's feelings, thoughts, ideas, frustrations, dreams, fears. Not to be a Woolf or a Cisneros or a Marquez. At least, not on the first draft. Not in the journal.

So I'm trying to redirect my thinking. I want both my journals and my blogs to be places where I can express myself in words rather than through lesson plans or dance or bicycling or gardening. And right now, I don't want or need an audience. So if you're out there reading, know that I'm no longer focusing this blog on the economy or on teaching, but rather, simply on "living in interesting times."


April Biker

This morning, I was a bird in the April rain. Not a particularly coordinated or fast bird, but a bird nonetheless, flying down the suburban hills on my bike, hundreds and thousands of droplets of water splashing up onto my biking pants and around my eyes and cheeks. And I could smell that rare, wonderful smell that only those in green climates who pay attention get to smell: the scent of April rain at dawn. The smell of the earth awakening to spring.



Cody Cosay, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, died last week, almost 13 months after his second lung transplant. He was in my 8th grade language arts and newsletter/yearbook classes for the small portion of the 2007-08 school year that he was able to be in school. Vivacious and full of laughter and energy, he drove me crazy with his constant chatter and laughter in class, but I loved his creativity and passion. He'd always leave a trail of tissues and markers and papers behind him, forgetting his binder here or book there, and then he'd laugh at me when I'd try to lecture him. In fact, it was impossible to be angry with Cody; he was a hero.

He was sick as a baby with bum lungs, and he fought his whole life for his health and peace. Last year, I was as prepared for his death as I think I could have been. He'd had his first lung transplant when he was in 7th grade, and he rejected those in Aug. 2007. Around Christmas 2007, when I went to visit him, his mother told me before I saw him that he was dying. And it sounded as though Cody was ready for some peace. But he continued to fight, and on Feb. 17, 2008, he was given a second lung transplant. He returned triumphant for the last month of school, and I was grateful for every chatty moment and bit of laughter that I got to share with him. I was especially thrilled to celebrate with him his 8th grade promotion ceremony from Canyon Day Junior High. We also told him that we'd be there when he graduated from high school.

Cody, our Geronimo (your hero), I can't believe you're gone. Go in peace, angel.



Today I feel discouraged, but hopeful in my discouragement. Without these low moments, how would I grow? I'm trying to ask the right questions so that I might discover the right answers.

I feel discouraged by the majority of my students who lack any intellectual curiosity and front a total apathy to the world around them, confronting me with statements like, "Persepolis [the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi] is boring," or questions like "Why do we have to learn about Iran?" I'm discouraged because if I were a more inspiring or articulate person/teacher, I wouldn't have to be bombarded with such attitudes. How do I inspire them to learn for the love of learning and to inquire for the desire to know? I watched "Harold and Maude" last night, and thought, wow, what spirit, what curiosity, what joy at the unending mystery and beauty of life. How do I convey that to my students?

For one, I have to live it. I have to be it. And I can't criticize my students when I'm not inquiring, when I'm not feeling grateful for every moment of being and every mystery of the universe and every puzzle there is for me to solve. I need to be inspired in order to inspire, and honestly, sometimes I am, and sometimes I'm not. It's like seeking enlightenment to seek that constant feeling of blessing and joy and gratitude for life!

And I'm discouraged because of the students I don't know how to help. How do I reach the students who don't try to succeed? How do I help the students who just sit there, tuned out, not seeking my help, especially when I have 29 other students in the classroom and 20 of them are raising their hand? How? I want to help them. I need to help them. Or else I doom them.


The Temp

This weekend I went out with some coworkers, and I asked one of them if she'd heard any buzz about me in the English department as the newbie since I sometimes feel a bit invisible. I was seeking positive or constructive feedback, but she said no, there was no buzz. In fact, she said, everyone's so worried about what's going to happen to his/her job next year that they just view me as "the teacher who's not going to get her job back next year." Or that I'm viewed almost as "a student teacher": here now, gone tomorrow.

This comment was a bit brutal. Is it the stigma of being "temporary" that makes me so easily dismissed or is it something lacking in my work/work ethic? (I think I'm doing a stellar job for coming in at the middle of the year and teaching four courses and replacing the most popular teacher in the school and being liked by my students! Boo yah!--That was a little self-encouragement that sometimes I forget to give myself. It's easy for me to take to heart unintended criticism.)

But I wonder how people who profess to the desire to build community and solidarity at this time can be so dismissive of anyone. Rather than take this personally, I have to consider that in their eyes, I won't be around long, so what's the point in building a relationship? I understand that. I get that. I will try not to be like that, though, and to always make others feel welcome, wanted, and appreciated for their time, effort, and hard work. Especially when they are most obviously working hard.

As for that particular crew, a combination of social studies and English teachers from a couple of schools, who cares: I didn't feel like I belonged with their crowd. Several of them were quite friendly, smart, witty, but overall, I got this feeling that they were a pretentious group, proud of themselves for their ability to use erudite lexicon and several of them greeted me with all the warmth of an arctic blast. Hot air and cold air: I'd rather have fresh air.



Those old fat cats in Salem are feeling the heat and maybe a little burn. Last week, Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced that teachers need to work for free if schools are to stay open. He offered to lead the way, volunteering to work for four days for free (note, his salary is around $98,000 per year while the average teacher's salary is around $40,000). Meanwhile, if "rainy day funds" aren't tapped into, districts are looking at closing school for 4-20 days, depending on final budget assessments, union demands (such as closing schools in a manner that makes us teachers eligible for unemployment), and the needs of the particular district.

But now, the legislators are working to spend some of the nearly $400 million set aside in a "stability fund" for education, though Kulongoski said he will veto any plan that spends that now. "He insists it be saved to weather darker economic times in 2010 and 2011," says The Oregonian.

Last week's rally and now some legislatures are saying no to closing schools early and breaking teachers' contracts. Tapping into these funds now would potentially cut the aprox. $17 million that my district needs to cut by JUNE to only $4 million.

Of course, when it comes to money, I'm as dumb as they come. So maybe it's hopeful naivete on my part, and I've seen enough to know the answer to this question, but I'll throw it out there anyway: Can things really get worse than finding out you have three months to save $17 million and may need to close down your school in one of the best districts in one of the most progressive states in the country?

I hope not, not just for the sake of my own bank account, job security, etc. and not for the students being short changed on their education, but for what that means for my friends out there who are already eating shit because of this economy: inability to find jobs, inability to get promoted to better jobs, not getting enough hours to make do. It sucks.



What is a rumor?

A story that is spread orally, akin to gossip, a cousin of a lie. A rumor has a life of its own, it grows new appendages and personality traits with each new telling. But aren't rumors sometimes based in truth? Aren't rumors sometimes, occasionally, fairly accurate?

Not according to our school principal. According to him, a rumor is a narrative that lacks any basis for discussion. When a teacher asked today if it was possible that 20 days could be cut from the end of the school year, his response was, "That is a RUMOR. Nothing will be decided until after Feb. 20th, and all decisions will be made by the board."

One might wonder why he didn't address the possible validity of this rumor: that yes or no, there is or isn't a chance that the school board will buy teachers out of their contracts for a fraction of the pay and will or will not end school 20 days early. Sounds like evasiveness rather than being up-front, which is his supposed goal. If he really wants to be honest, he could address all of the rumors, discussing which ones may happen and which ones won't and which ones truly are just fictions.



Today, my department chair came into my classroom, sat down, and rapped with me for a while about lesson plans, books, job security; we briefly mentioned the economy and the massive budget cuts our school district is facing: $17 million.

He said, "The Chinese have a saying: 'May you live in interesting times.' I think that we're living in interesting times."

Turns out, that Chinese saying is actually a curse. It's the first of three:
May you live in interesting times.
May you come to the attention of those in authority.
May you find what you are looking for.

That's what I want this blog to be about: interesting times in the recession, in the days of President Obama, in the world of education. My classes are already close to 35 students in 10th and 12th grade lit. classes, and yet, I face a hiring freeze. Several teachers are going on maternity leave, not to be replaced, and my position, as a temporary teacher, will probably be cut. With a moment of joy and then a catch of breath, my new dream job could be gone.

May we live in interesting times.