Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Orientation

My mom is in town for my wedding this weekend.  As such, she is staying at a local hotel.  I went to the front desk to pick her up tonight and was met by a former student from East Central University.  He had transferred to OU and is in the Poli-Sci department.  Good kid.  We caught up and he asked me what I was up to.

"Getting married. This weekend."
"Oh, um, congratulations!"
"I'm marrying a guy, Felipe. I'm not a lesbian."
He had the decency to blush.
The thing is that I allowed my students to make a bad assumption about me.  Not bad as in I think lesbianism is bad, but bad as in poorly reasoned.  Since I am over 30 and was not married and am highly independent, my students at the university tended to think that I am not heterosexual.  I am fine with that.  It is a testament to them to fight through their own social mores to want to take a second class with me.  I was one of the most popular teachers not because of the way I look or how I am perceived, but in spite of it.

And that made me feel damn good.  It also made me believe in the power of education, because seriously, Ada is in the podunk middle of nowhere.

Besides, there are way worse things than being a lesbian; it's not an insult to be perceived as such.

I explained this to Felipe and he shook his head at me.  Still being his teacher.

I just had to share.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Uncontrollable

I was not going to mention it, but it tears me up not to write about my life, so I'm just going to admit what I have tried to do.

I got a job interview.

It was in Washington state, at one of the state universities.  They are looking for someone to run their developmental education programs and writing center.  It paid ok and is in a good part of the state.  Small town next to Seattle.  Perfect for me and wired enough to make Grey happy.  And they called me.

Now, there are many factors to consider when we have been looking at jobs outside of Oklahoma.  The primary one is location.  Neither Grey nor I wants to be in backwater nowhere, living in a swamp or a desert wasteland.  And Grey agreed that if I could get a job, he would follow me wherever it went.  But with that comes responsibility to not just pick a place in the middle of racist or homophobic nowhere.  We both want some sort of cosmopolitan center nearby.  Neither of us wanted to live in California (though it's a great place to visit), Las Vegas, Arizona or Mississippi.  We would move overseas though.  Anyway, that was the criteria.  So I applied and they called me the next week.

I got an email with my itinerary.  I expected an all-day interview and I was right.  Nobody spends that kind of money and time for a two-hour meet-and-greet.  Included in the email were instructions to prepare a 15 minute public forum presentation.

So I did what any self-respecting Ph.D. would do: I emailed my professors to ask a million questions and express my anxiety. Baines wrote back advising me to come see him and that he would help me through the process.  We talked about what to wear, what to say, what not to say, and rhetoric.  Apparently, I scare people.  *sigh*.  Here was Baines' last piece of advice:

Modest and very smart (though understated), you would be easy to get along with.  Everybody loves Mindie.

LB

I also talked to Cathy and picked out outfits with Grey.  He suggested one that I had not thought of and I think it was the right decision.

And then I was off, on a plane.  And here are some things I know about faculty interviews:


  • The interview begins when you are picked up at the airport.  
    • Grey and I picked out a "getting off the plane" outfit as well.  
    • The search chair picked me up himself. We had two hours to talk and say hello on the ride to the university. I used that time to be informal and talk about my professional passions- teaching and education theory.   
  • Eat lightly!
    • I was nervous the whole two days.  It was tempting to not eat much at all, but I found soups and salads to be comforting and also not too filling so I wasn't slowed down. 
    • No drinking~ I was offered a martini with lunch.  I used that as an opportunity to say that I don't drink liquor and that more than a glass of wine makes me sleepy.  
  • Be affable
    • The schedule changed throughout the visit.  Every single time, I said "hey, no big deal. I'm cool with that".  The search chair remarked at what a nice attribute that was.  
    • This also bought me the opportunity to meet some unanticipated people and learn from them.  
    • Also, people mentioned the wind several times and asked if it would bother me.  I answered honestly: that the wind comes sweeping down the plain and I was used to it.  
  • It doesn't hurt to over-prepare
    • I read a dozen articles on developmental education theory and issues of reform
    • I also talked to people and bounced ideas off of them as far as what I would say. 
    • The presentation was in powerpoint, and I had two readers scrutinize it.  Then I sucked it into a prezi just to be sure.
  • Things will go wrong~improvisation is good
    • My tablet wouldn't connect to the overhead they had.  They had a vga connection and my connector was for a pokey thingy.  So I used their laptop and the prezi.  Problem solved! 
    • I also didn't get much of a campus tour, so after the meeting with the search committee, I was walking with one of the members across campus.  She kept talking about a Japanese garden so I asked her to show me.  It was beautiful and charming. 
  • It's a personality contest.  Seriously.  
    • This maybe was the hardest part for me.  I work damn hard and don't want to rely on my looks and a winning smile.  But people do want pleasant co-workers and I don't blame them.  So I talked about what kind of a co-worker I would be.  
      • Also, just be a good listener.  Lots of times people want to tell you stuff and it pays to only answer direct questions sometimes. 
  • You are going to repeat yourself a lot
    • I told the same story three times. 
  • The interview doesn't end until you are at the hotel or airport.  
    • So yeah, I got there at 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon and got back to my hotel in Seattle on Wednesday at 6 p.m.  
I was exhausted by the time I got home on Thursday afternoon.  There is a two hour time difference, I hadn't eaten properly and got up at 3:30 in the morning to catch my flight home.  I slept for 12 hours and ate a decent and healthy meal.  

This is me halfway through.  I'm tired but very focused
I controlled everything I could.  Really, I did.  Sent a follow up email and spoke well.  The search chair and I got along very well, which is good as he would be my boss.  

Now, as with anything else I cannot control, my only job is to do my part and to let everything else go.  I might get the job. I might not. I will probably find out the day before my wedding.  Either way, we are going to have a great time.  

Speaking of the wedding, there are so many other things I cannot control that I have almost forgot to stress out over it.  The interview, whether or not my relatives will behave, where I will be in three months, and what the weather will be like in a few weeks.  Oh, let's not forget the ambush-style bridal shower that my friend Kimberly Stormer set up and which others completely surprised me with.  Cake, food, gifts and games.  I have to admit I had a great time. 

Ah well. Right now the sun is up and it's getting hot.  I'm going to go outside and snip a few things and plant a few things in the yard. 

Easily Controlled

Sweet Basil

Gnome, Vinca, Strawberry, Wandering Jew, Rhodendron

My Personal Reminder to Chill 

I Love Petunias! 

Shamrock For Luck

Wandering Jew- Probably My Favorite


I'm not sure where this blog is going to go today.  I think it will be about control. There are so many things that I cannot control right now and I really, really want to.  Let's start with things that I can control. Like my lawn and the growing stuff in containers on my porch.

I can also control what I put in my body and, to a certain extent, the well-being of my dog.

These things are formulaic in nature.  I mix soil, seeds and sunshine and add water and up come little sprouts.  I dig a hole and put a stick in the ground and five years later, there are apples forming in the early spring.  I know about things that seed and root.  I know about luck and temperature and Miracle Grow plant food.  I know when an apple tree is dead and sadly, I pulled up my three year old Braeburn this weekend and said goodbye.

Grey is allergic to cats, except Eleanor
Likewise, I have had animals my whole life.  Dogs, cats, sheep, goats, you name it.  I was around livestock for a good long time too, and worked at both a veterinarian's office in Las Vegas and at the Tulsa Zoo.  I mean, I have seen a good deal of the lifespan of animals.  I even have a degree in Biology.  So keeping Eleanor alive for these last 16 years is not a surprise.  I do tend to spoil her so she wakes me up early.  Hence, I like to write on Saturday and Sunday mornings while everyone else is sleeping in.  She got sick a few years ago and stopped eating properly and began limping in her hind quarters.  I diagnosed arthritis and some sort of stomach disorder which prevented her from getting food from her stomach through the duodenum.  She was throwing up quickly after eating but was hungry all the time.  She went from ten pounds to 7.5 in a hurry.  My veterinarian concurred and he put her on a couple of medicines.  Today she is 9 pounds 4 oz.  The problem is that I thought she was going to die so I babied her like nothing else.  So Eleanor did the natural thing for a cat and took advantage of the situation. I have to use a spray water bottle to keep her in line- meowing for food, wanting to be petted in the middle of the night and clawing me playfully while I'm sleeping when she wants attention. I created a monster!  She is the sweetest monster ever though.

Big Happy Dog
Big Dogg is different.  I hadn't noticed until this spring that he is getting older.  I estimate that he is about 6 now and still spry.  His favorite buddy is still Tobey.  We go walking but he can no longer do three miles without significant slowing down and even a rest along the way.  Then the next day he will limp on his front left shoulder.  Poor old guy.  His muzzle is getting greyer too.  I put him on a diet since that will help with limping.  I realized that my buddy is old and fat.  I'm controlling what I can!

As for me, I have a wedding coming up.  I am watching what I eat and making sure I get plenty of exercise and sleep.  I haven't had a bronchitis flare-up for a month now, and school gets out on Friday.  I am excited to think it might be some time before I get sick again!  The puffiness has left my eyes and I'm sleeping better (except for the attention-starved kitty) because I'm not up all night coughing, then taking cough syrup to get to sleep.  I fear addiction above all things and cough syrup with codeine could be habit-forming.  So I'm careful of what I put in my body.  Speaking of that, I ate like crap last night.  My friends threw me a surprise bridal shower (in collusion with Mr. Grey Cavitt) and I ate chips and queso, a cheese enchilada and a gorgeous piece of cake.  So this morning I was craving something with fiber and green deliciousness.  Of course, this time of year that means asparagus.
My Springtime Addiction

I do love asparagus. And I have some damn good friends.  

My last realm of control is my yard.  It's no secret that I dislike running a lawnmower.  Just look through my blogs and listen to me cyber-complain.  I have a lot to do for this upcoming wedding and I love to do container gardening since I have no idea where we will be in three months.  I also don't have an edger and really wanted my family to see a neat and tidy home.  So I did something very smart and hired Tim Albrecht to do some work.  Mowing (and bagging- something I never do), weed eating and edging.  He did a wonderful job though he told me that he killed three baby copperhead snakes.  I mentioned that I am perhaps the only woman in this county who doesn't mind snakes and that yes, I had seen them.  They eat bugs you know. He must have thought I had lost my mind because copperheads are poisonous.  Eh, we get along just fine.  One should make an effort to live in harmony with all nature, not just the nature that is cute.  I hope he missed one of the babies. I don't want my house overrun with bugs.  In any case, now I can concentrate on things I like, like sprucing up the house for a visit from my relatives, friends and soon to be in-laws. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

On A Personal Note

One Of My Healthy Trees
Now that the difficult part of school is out of the way, I wanted to catch up on things happening in my world, my personal world; my home, my family and my life.  I'll add some pictures too.

Sick Tree
I am mostly happy with my house and home.  My front porch is filled with plants and the yard is manageable.  The mulberries are mostly done and one of my apple trees is turning an ugly color.  That's too bad because it is such a heavy producer and normally so healthy.  Let me know if you have a suggestion of what to do for my poor tree.  Also, if it turns out that we stay in our house, we are going to do two things.  The first is put down wood flooring.  The carpets have always been nice but over the last year have started smelling like a dog. Steam cleaning, carpet deodorizer and vacuuming help to some degree but I always notice the smell and dislike it.  Second, I want a deck on the back of the house.  I should change out the windows, but that's a project for another year. These two are relatively inexpensive and I can do them myself.  Well, myself and my cousin Christian and my wonderful almost husband...

Spoiled.  Just Spoiled.
Eleanor, the queen of all things inside and outside of the house, is still the queen.  She gets prednisone twice daily and this has really improved her quality of life since about two years ago.  I know that I am only extending her life and that she is on borrowed time.  I have been telling myself this for the last six years.  I want to make her life as comfortable as possible and enjoy every minute and I have operated under this assumption for too long.  The result is a very spoiled and demanding cat who wakes me up at will and meows like crazy until she gets what she wants.  She has put on weight, going from six pounds to about ten, which makes me ecstatic.  I have taken squirting her with a water bottle when she acts inappropriately.  It has some effect- mostly on my roommate and on Grey.  They are surprised and relieved that I might insist on some discipline on our little grey and white tyrant.

I noticed this spring that Big is getting older too.  He has some obvious arthritis in his left front shoulder and cannot walk more than two miles nor cavort for much longer than half an hour.  He continues to be the sweetest dog and he loves to play with Tobey, my roommates dog, and they seem to be lifelong companions.  They do not like to be separated at all though Big is the dominant one.  Tobey is the tiny vocal one but Big always seems to have the last word.  He likes much more lately to just lay at my feet or at Veronica's and just be with us.  He is still highly respectful of the cat.

Getting Older
Veronica is still my roommate. She is finishing up her Masters in Library Information Services and looking for a place to be once she is through.  She is one of the most determined people I know, continuing to get up at 5 a.m. two or three times a week for boot camp and doing zumba several times a week too.  We talk a lot and coordinate schedules and give each other endless advice.  The only real place of conflict is in the kitchen where we are both used to being the person in charge.  I wouldn't even say that this is real conflict as we don't yell at each other or be rude or anything like that.  She makes me feel like I am capable of living with someone and not destined to be hermit for the rest of my life.  Thank God, because living alone is almost impossible when you get married.

Grey and I both turn 39 this month and I for one am grateful for my health.  I know I have had continuous and chronic bronchitis this last year from my work place, and my asthma was out of control for awhile,but other than that, I am a mostly healthy person.  All of my limbs work and I do not have diabetes, high blood pressure and I can do almost anything I want.  I took Grey to prom with me this year. Every year I chaperon the Pathways High School prom with Cathy, Jackie, Mandy and Becky.  Cathy, Jackie and Mandy are all teachers there. Becky is like me, a volunteer.  It is always a hoot, with girls wearing too short (in my opinion) dresses, boys dressed for the first time in tuxedos and everyone on their best behavior dancing to music that was meant for grinding.
Our First Prom!

Yesterday we went for a walk and ended up going about 8.5-9 miles.  There is a little fitness park on the route with a kind of adult playground designed to assist people with exercise and doing outdoor stretching, sit ups, push ups and so on.  There were also a few straight bars, We took it upon ourselves to play on the equipment and took a couple of photos, congratulating ourselves on being almost 40 and still getting blisters on our hands from playing on the monkey bars.

:) 
Upside Down Smile
Then we went to Grey's family gathering for their Mother's Day and May birthday celebration.  I like his family.  Even if I didn't know they read my blog, I would still say that.  They are genuinely nice people and over the course of the last six or seven months, I have enjoyed slowly getting to know them.  I do take pains to curb the rough edges I know I have.  It's not lying; they know I teach in a ghetto, that I taught in a prison and that I'm a generally tough sorta gal.  But I also know how to behave in polite company and am careful not to swear in front of children or pick my nose or wear anything slutty (not that I ever do) or do anything... untoward. However, like all relationships, at some point you have to just admit who you are.  I can't avoid the fact that I have had some very colorful experiences and last night I accidentally related one of those to Grey's family.  Grey's family, who is about to become MY family. Permanently.  Now, they have all been kind and not pressed me too much and I like to just listen to the conversations.  Last night's centered around squeamishness and what happens to people in the sight of blood.  Somehow I said something about offering to clean the gunk out of a dog's eye.  That led to the slippery slope of how I was accepted to vet school. That lead to me blurting out that if anyone needed anything castrated, they could just let me know.  Now, I was trying to demonstrate how that particular skill set no longer serves me, how farm life was wonderful but it's not something I am likely to return to.  As soon as those words left my lips, I wished I could grab them from the air and stick them back in my mouth and swallow them.  Instead, they hung invisible in the air.  In the dead silence that ensued, my face got beet red.  I looked at Grey.  No help.  He looked as stricken as anyone else.  Then Grey's brother in law noted that absolutely no one in that house would need that particular service.  There was laughter all around, then everyone took turns adding to that sentiment, and I realized that they were going to tease me about it forever.  I think I'm ok with that and even added that since everyone in the room had daughters, they might find my knowledge helpful after all.  Then I knew to shut up.  I did not add that I taught my brother-in-law to castrate pigs last summer or that I can perform lots of small surgeries. I think I over-shared enough for one night.  Ramblina had done her damage for the evening and I disabused people of the notion that I am all sweetness.  Not that they ever thought that.  I'm going to shut up now.

For our honeymoon, we decided to go to New Orleans.  I have not spent much time there and none in the last 8 years.  Grey has likewise only visited once.  We are going to spend time on historical tours, eating at the Cafe DuMonde and drinking coffee.  Since his parents and younger sister live in Louisiana, I asked if we couldn't stay a night with them on the way home.  I particularly connect with his sister and I hope that spending time with each part of the family will help all of us to become closer. To do that, though, I have to do my part and that involves not just putting my best foot forward but finding a balance between honesty and too much honesty.  Grey didn't tell me that he told his family that I have a May birthday too.  They surprised me with gifts and cards and hugs.  It was, on the whole, a neat time.

In the meantime, I have to finish teaching at my middle school.  I will whip the yard and house into shape for all of the festivities and hopefully get to start going to zumba again with Veronica.  We will see how my lungs hold out. Oh, and enjoy my life.  I'm going to remember to appreciate the people I have and be grateful for the life I have been given. And I'm going to hang out as long as I can.
Look! No Hands!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Someone To Learn From

Whew! Finals week is over at OSU-OKC.  I graded three classes worth of the fourth essay and the final exam, figured out the grade book and entered the grades into the system with almost three hours to spare yesterday.  Since Monday, my routine looked like this:  wake up around 6:45.  Hit snooze until 7.  Add coffee and shake.  Go to work- I carpooled this week not only because it's with my best friend but because it saves gas and money and a bit of the environmental impact of my suv- and be there by 8:40 or so.  Teach all day until 4.  Come home, deal with house stuff for an hour and hit the grade books until about 11 or until my eyes give out.  Talk to Grey for half an hour in there somewhere.  Try to sleep by midnight.  Actually sleep around 1:30.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.  This week I probably put in 65 hours of work between Monday morning and Friday at 4.  And I'm done for the semester!  Woohoo!  Our middle school gets out on May 31st and until then, it will feel as though I only have one job. 

My final exam for the online Composition I class is to make an argument for your grade.  Seems easy, right? Not if someone took the assignment seriously.  And people tend to.  They can write the essay in any of the four styles we learn during the semester, or a combination thereof.  Nobody who doesn't have an "A" ever asks for an "A".  In fact, some have said it's the most challenging part of the course. I often get their most insightful writing on this last assignment.Said one student "I never understood the requirement for taking English and History along with all the other classes that do not really "pertain" to most degrees.  It has always been frustrating to be told that if I want to continue on and get my Associates Degree in Nursing that I will need to take anywhere from 8-15 additional classes depending on the school.  Well, let me tell you that I understand now, I can hardly believe I am the same person that started in your English Composition class in January 2012."   

That was from what I would term an "easy" student, one who is polite, asks questions and reads the syllabus.  Students don't always read the syllabus before they stress out.  And sometimes that stress and misunderstanding can lead to me getting my butt chewed out through email. About halfway through the semester I learned that one of my students, who is 62, is taking care of her mother who is at the end of her life.  I know this because she turned her essay in about ten minutes late and caps-locked it while mistakenly telling me that since her paper was late she wouldn't even get any credit and that I am a horrible person.  If I were in a Harry Potter book, I would think of this as one of those messages where the person screams at you. 



But I gently emailed her back and reassured her that things would be ok, that I accept late work and inviting her to call or text so we could work out details.  It was the right thing to do. Compassion and understanding are always the best choice. Even if someone is just being a jerk, it's important to me to not be one back because that doesn't teach anyone anything. In this case it paid off.  While I did not hear from her for some time, she sent an email at the end of the semester. 

To be honest with you, I was embarrassed at how I reacted.  It is not my norm.  I was just so stressed out after having worked so hard on that paper then it was too late to turn it in.  It was just too much for me.  I do appreciate you accepting my paper.....Thank you for your concern.


I'd rather turn a cheek and sometimes see a change in someone's personal rhetoric than be angry and punitive and shut them down, even if they deserve it. Yeah, I do specialize in the more prickly students.  I like that at least they say something to me, rather than go behind my back or try to hold it in. Even if my answer is "no", at least the communication can be positive. 

There is payoff for me too.  I can go a long ways on just a compliment. I sent an encouraging email to a student after everything had been graded and she sent me a reply: 

This brings tears to my eyes. I am truly amazed by teachers like yourself, you are what gives students the drive to go on and make a difference in society be it a nurse who cares, an engineer who builds or a doctor who heals. It all starts with a teacher that truly cares and inspires others. 

So thank you for all you do.   

And know you truly gave me the knowledge and faith I needed to succeed.

I kinda felt like a million bucks. I'm looking forward to teaching this summer too. 

At my middle school, life is still going on.  It was my student intern's last day and we did a fun project all week that involved art and poetry.  We did presentations and had a little free time- something that doesn't happen very often in my classes. "Free time" involves chess, checkers, jenga or word puzzles and sudoku.  For teacher appreciation week, my principal brought in two dozen donuts for the teachers. I'm not certain if there was an announcement because there is no intercom in my room, nor did he send out an email or speak to the people in the portables. The church group that comes to do work in our school, Faithworks, brought us all lunch from Chik-fil-a, which I thought was extremely nice and totally unexpected. While I don't eat meat, the thought was much appreciated! I'm often highly critical of organized religion.  Faithworks and Jase, who works in our school, are effective, kind and extremely open and honest. Jase has been working in our community for 7 years and has known many of my kids their whole lives.  He loves them and they love him. And he speaks fluent Spanish. If I had to pick one teacher to thank this year, it wouldn't even be a "certified" teacher. It would be Jase because he is a good listener, a caring heart and a good role model for my kids of what a man should be. As someone who calls himself a Christian, it would be my not-very-leared but strong opinion that this is what a Christian might want to look like. I strongly suspect that his whole group operates on a model of Jesus-like behavior.  

Speaking of behavior, one of our teachers took it upon herself to organize a potluck lunch for the faculty and staff for teacher appreciation week. She is also one of those wonderful people- head of special education, loving towards the kids and prickly as a pear to people she doesn't respect.  She's been teaching "in the ghetto" for more than 20 years.  She also lives in this community and knows not only the kids, but their parents as well.   There is just no room in her life for bullshit of any kind. So when she said "everyone bring something", almost everyone brought something. And it was lovely to have lunch, for the first time, with my fellow teachers. 

And in the afternoon, the letters arrived.  

One of our other teachers asked her students to write a letter to their favorite teacher saying "thank you" to them. I was teaching at the time and my intern was trying to get out the door.  Then I didn't get plan because I was covering another class and then cover afternoon bus duty for a teacher who did not show up. Then I had to rush home and get to my weekend of sitting in front of a computer typing while the love of my life sleeps in, enjoying an hour of typing, thinking, sipping coffee and reflecting on my teaching week. But sitting on my desk are several hand-written notes. I will probably write all of them back, to reward and reinforce that behavior.  

Before I do, however, I'm going to sit and be quiet at my desk and read those and feel glad. The important part is the students and their futures. It doesn't matter much if I didn't get any sweet letters from schoolchildren- my kids struggle with basic literacy and writing letters can be difficult. It meant just as much that on Mexican Mother's Day, they wished me "Happy Mother's Day" in the hallways and the classrooms.  

Sometimes my job is difficult and thankless.  My principal obviously couldn't give a rat's ass about me or any other teacher except as warm bodies who can raise test scores. Teachers in this country are under fire and every day I step into that classroom, it's a political act. Anybody who doesn't know that hasn't thought about it. Any teacher who denies this is unconsciously colluding with an established and usually oppressive system, or they don't know that it used to be illegal to teach African-Americans to read and write because it would ruin them as slaves. that's the point, though, isn't it? It's worth it-even in parts of the world where it is dangerous-to be a teacher. To help people change their lives and to let your life be changed by those interactions. I may never make a whole lot of money but my life is made full, meaningful and blessed by those whose lives intersect with my own. 

If you are a teacher, thank you. 

THANK YOU!  

And thank you to all those who have been my teachers, either in a classroom or out in the broader world.